Monster (2014)

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“Bravery is just not understanding the peril of your situation.”

MonsteNot to be confused with the Charlize Theron movie, this Korean film is truly an odd beast: unlike some, it’s difficult to imagine a Western remake. For the heroine here, Bok-Soon (Kim Go-eun) is what could politely be called “developmentally challenged.” She can just about function, running a vegetable stand, but is largely dependent on her smarter younger sister to keep Bok-Soon out of trouble caused by her quick temper. Tragedy strikes when the pair cross paths with a vicious serial killer, Tae-So (Lee), who uses his pottery kiln to destroy the bodies of his victims. This results from a chain of events which involves a blackmail plot using a mobile phone; Tae-So’s brother (Kim), who tries to turn Tae-So’s psychotic tendencies to his own ends; and Na-Ri (Ahn), a young girl who knows the location of the crucial phone. Tae-So kills Bok-Soon’s sister, leaving her to fend for Na-Ri, while also grabbing a knife and setting out to take revenge on Tae-So. But how can someone like her, who is no match for the killer, physically or intellectually, possibly hope to prevail or even survive the encounter?

My first guess was that Tae-So’s brother was going to play a part; perhaps, realizing the creature he had unleashed could not be reined in or controlled. That absolutely nothing along those lines happens, gives you an idea both of the film’s main strength and its most obvious weakness. It’s far from predictable, yet some of the changes in direction and approach end up being more disconcerting than surprising. At times, it feels like the director couldn’t decide whether to make the film about Tae-So, his brother, or Bok-Soon, and the division of attention feels like it consequently sells all three of them short. If a film can’t commit to a single character, why should the audience? On the other hand, Hwang has a good eye for visuals, and the contrast between the villain and heroine is one of the most striking in recent history. There’s no denying the final encounter between them, in a restaurant already strewn with broken bodies, is a hardcore brawl of ferocious intensity.

Generally, I’m a big fan of intelligent characters, yet Bok-Soon is such a total contrast, it’s a refreshing change: instead of being smart, she has incredible loyalty, indefatigable perseverance to her cause, and absolutely no semblance of fear. Though is it still being brave when you genuinely don’t appreciate the severity of the danger into which you are deliberately placing yourself? That’s the question here, and part of which makes this one both appealing and incomplete. It’s a curious mix of genres, styles and approaches, perhaps making more sense to a Korean eye, But, as Kay Cox wrote, “I love the courage and freedom that comes with being a crazy old lady… no holds, no barriers, no fear.” Apart from the “old” part, that’s true for Bok-Soon: just as with the film, her weakness is also her strength, and makes for a heroine unlike any other I’ve seen.

Dir: Hwang In-ho
Star: Kim Go-eun, Lee Min-ki, Kim Roi-ha, Ahn Seo-Hyun

Mockingjay, by Suzanne Collins

Literary rating: starstarstar
Kick-butt quotient: action2action2action2

Mockingjay-Suzanne-CollinsGoing into this book, I was very much aware that reader opinion about it was deeply divided, and had picked up bits and pieces of partial “spoilers,” though not enough for me to predict exactly how events would turn out. Having now read it and made my own call, I have to agree with those reviewers who feel that Collins did drop the ball, big time. But my reason for this conclusion consists of eight lines in the penultimate chapter, in which Katniss does something completely out of left field and completely foreign to her character. Granted, they’re extremely crucial lines, that color my impression of the entire book. Everything before and after that could have made the book a five-star read. If I rated those eight lines by themselves, I’d give them negative stars if it was possible. I adopted three stars as an overall rating to reflect my disappointment, but also the fact that, for most of the time I was reading, I was really liking the book.

On the plus side, the book is a definite page-turner. I relished my reading time, hated to put it down, and was eager to take it up again. The prose is vivid and smooth-flowing (I’m completely used to Katniss’ present-tense narrative voice); the author evokes powerful emotions; the plotting throws us frequent surprises I did not expect, even after, as I said, picking up partial spoilers here and there; there are thought-provoking moral dilemmas that are usually resolved appropriately (with one lulu of an exception!), and action scenes are handled well. For the most part, the characterization is life-like (again, with one exxception). To be sure, this is a very dark read. Characters the reader deeply likes die, often horribly. The painful cost of war, even necessary war that’s waged to eradicate great evil, isn’t glossed over and minimized. But that isn’t necessarily a flaw in the book.

I would, having read the book, defend it against some of the criticisms I’ve met with. Although my own daughter thinks it preaches a message of ultimate despair and negation, I honestly did not take that from it; I found it much more positive and hopeful than that. (In that respect, I was actually pleasantly surprised, having expected much worse.) Through most of the book, I found Katniss’ character pretty consistent with the one we met in the first two books. Frankly, I did not find her selfish, self-absorbed, or immature here, allowing for the fact that for large portions of the book she’s traumatized (with good reason) and heavily drugged. There are plenty of instances throughout the book where she acts with enough selflessness and sacrificial concern for others (and more maturity than some of the adults) to absolve her from these charges, IMO. All but one of her actions in the book are, in my estimation, either justified –even if they’re gut-wrenching– or excusable and understandable. Some readers have criticized Collins’ plotting decisions in places, but I find all but one defensible and justified, including the crucial one of how much of the action Katniss is privy to. And while the author makes the point that even justified revolutions can have some leaders who are only motivated by desire for their own power, and who would willingly betray the revolution once they get a chance (historically, that’s happened frequently!), I did not see any message that armed resistance to tyranny is always automatically wrong and futile.

I’m not sorry I finished reading the series and made my own judgment of it. I’m just sorry that Collins didn’t respect her main character (and her readers!) enough to let Katniss consistently be who she’s been shown to be through hundreds of pages and virtually an entire immersive reading experience.

Author: Suzanne Collins
Publisher: Scholastic Press, available through Amazon, both for Kindle and as a printed book.

A version of this review previously appeared on Goodreads.

Miss Nobody

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“Climbing the corporate ladder can be murder.”

missnobodySarah Jane (Bibb) has been working for years as a unassuming secretary in a pharmaceutical company, and egged on by colleague and best friend Charmaine (Pyle), eventually gets up the courage to apply for an executive position. With some embellishment of her resume, she gets the post, only to have it yanked from under her when a new hotshot arrives. The hotshot makes a pass at her, leading to his accidental death; Sarah Jane has her position restored as a result of this untimely demise, and discovers her late rival had the plans for a wonder-drug with the potential to reverse Alzheimer’s. However, she soon realizes that further deaths will be necessary, both to keep her secret, and also continue her rise up the chain of command. Complicating matters, she starts dating one of the policemen (Goldberg) involved in the investigation of the slew of suspicious corporate deaths, by train, photocopier, gas explosion, etc.¬† Worse yet, someone clearly knows what Sarah Jane has been up to, and starts trying to blackmail her.

The film could have gone a number of different ways in terms of its approach, such as black comedy – Heathers would be the best example of that approach. However, Cox strenuously avoids the darker tone, opting to keep things frothy and light: there’s little or no doubt, for example, that Sarah Jane’s victims deserve some kind of retribution [although you can certainly argue whether their crimes reach a level where the death penalty is merited]. It does, of course, rely heavily on the stupidity of just about everyone beyond the heroine, the rest of the characters behaving in ways that would only happen in this kind of film. However, the cast are good enough to pull this off, with Bibb endearingly perky in the lead, and getting good support from Pyle (Cleaners), as well as Vivica A. Fox (Kill Bill) as another corporate rival, plus Barry Bostwick as the local Catholic priest, who has some difficulty coming to terms with the heinous crimes to which Sarah Jane confesses.

I was, however, unconvinced by the ease with which she slides from mouse-like secretary into serial-killing predator. Especially given – or, depending on your view of religious zealotry – even allowing for, her devout faith [she prays nightly before a shrine to St. George, a statue of whom played a formative role in her youth], it’s a slippery slope down which Sarah Jane less slides, than cheerfully sprints. The bubbly approach also seems awkwardly at odds with the subject matter, though the performances help deflect attention from this while the film is in motion. I’d likely have preferred a sharper edge to the corporate satire; there’s no shortage of potential targets there, yet this has about as much edge as a letter-opener, and that limits the impact, turning this into little more than a competently fluffy time-passer.

Dir: T. Abram Cox
Star: Leslie Bibb, Adam Goldberg, Missi Pyle, Kathy Baker

Fair Cop: A Century of British Policewomen

edithtmithThis month marks the 100th anniversary of the first British female police constable with the power of arrest, Edith Smith (right). The documentary below looks back at the history of women in the police force over the past hundred years, and how the role, attitudes (of both the public as well as their male colleagues) and even the uniform has changed during that time. Interesting to discover that the organized format started as the result of two effectively “vigilante” groups, who were formed to carry out volunteer patrols. One was mainly suffragettes, who were also fighting at the time for the right to work; the other, more genteel group of middle-class ladies, were the ones who obtained official sanction. At this time, the Great War was taking place, and just as World War II opened the doors to women in many areas, so did this conflict, with a large percentage of the male population being enlisted into the armed services.

Initially, women constables were tasked solely with handling children and other women – one of Smith’s main tasks was to address the prostitution problem, due to the large army presence near the town of Grantham where she was stationed. There were also restrictions which were not applied equally to men: they were forced to quit the force if they got married, it being deemed incompatible with the job. Some of these took a very long time to overcome; it wasn’t until 1994, for example, that policewomen in Northern Ireland were allowed to carry firearms for personal protection, something which had long been standard practice for men. But slowly, and not without some push-back, doors opened to other fields, from detective work through to the specialist units, and now certain areas have a majority female presence, such as the mounted police.  Now, there is no separation at all, something the film does acknowledge as not without its issues, in particular leading for a time to a horrendously primitive and uncaring approach to rape victims.

I think what I enjoyed most were the anecdotes told by the various women who had served, about their time in the police-force, and how they handled the situations in which they found themselves, which does a good job of bringing out the human side of the topic. Virtually every one of these officers comes over as resilient – likely a necessary attribute, I would imagine! – and sharp; the men interviewed largely praise the womens’ skills and abilities as equal to their own. It’s not a job I imagine is ever easy, and you’ll probably leave this film with a new-found respect for the women who take it on.

Stalking Ivory, by Suzanne Arruda

Literary rating: starstarstarstarstar
Kick-butt quotient: action2

stalkingivoryThis second installment of Arruda’s Jade del Cameron mystery series reunites us, not only with our heroine, but with other characters from the first book as well, especially best friend Bev, Lady Dunbury; her husband Avery; 12-year-old Kikiyu lad Jelani; and safari guide Harry Hascombe. I’d recommend reading the first book, Mark of the Lion, first to get a better feel for the characters, and to be aware of events there that have continuing relevance. My comments about setting and style in my review of that book are mostly relevant here as well.

Here, though, it’s now 1920; and Jade’s assignment from her magazine is to photograph elephants and other wildlife up in the Mount Marsabit area, near Kenya’s border with Ethiopia (here referred to as Abyssinia). So our setting will be almost entirely in the bush; and the author evokes it masterfully. (Mount Marsabit, like the settings of Mark of the Lion, is a real place, and Arruda draws on contemporary descriptions by African travelers of the period, cited in the short Author’s Note, to bring it to life; the level of authenticity achieved by this research is impressive, and a definite strength of the series.) But Jade has also promised Kenya’s chief game warden that she’ll be on the lookout for the activities of ivory poachers in the area; in the Africa of the 1920s, elephants aren’t yet endangered, and are still legally hunted by “sportsmen” who buy licenses, but they’re already the prey of vicious ivory poachers who brutally slaughter whole herds. She’ll quickly find poaching activity –with slave trading, gun running, and murder thrown into the mix, in the shadow of a political unstable Abyssinia, where raiding across the border is a common occurrence.

This time, the mystery element is more deftly constructed, with a solution that’s not as readily apparent. I guessed the identity of the villain as soon as the character was introduced, but that was more a matter of intuition than anything else; my wife (I read the book out loud to her) didn’t guess it until Arruda revealed it. Jade’s deductive abilities are correspondingly more in evidence here. She continues to be one of the coolest heroines in contemporary fiction, and a favorite of both my wife and I! (The Kikiyu call her Simba Jike, or “lioness,” and the titular “mark of the lion” from the first book is the tattoo of a lion’s talon on her wrist, placed there by a Kikiyu shaman.) Here, Arruda also presents Jade with a real moment of moral choice: how far is she prepared to go in inflicting justice –even vigilante justice– on the perpetrator(s) of genuinely heinous crimes? And while I didn’t characterize this book as supernatural fiction, as I did the first one, it definitely has a plot strand that hints at the supernatural, though here the supernatural just adds a flavoring to a basically descriptive-fiction yarn.

One reviewer liked this even better than the first book, and I’m inclined to agree! In any case, it’s a strong continuation of a fine series, and one that Barb and I will definitely continue to follow.

Author: Suzanne Arruda
Publisher: New American Library, available through Amazon, both for Kindle and as a printed book.

A version of this review first appeared on Goodreads.

Final Girl

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Hannah and her sister…”

horrorThe ‘final girl’ is a concept familiar to horror fans, being the last survivor who confronts the killer at the end, and typically defeats them (until the sequel, anyway!); mostly chaste, intelligent and resourceful, examples could include Ripley from Alien, Laurie Strode in Halloween, and one we’ve previously reviewed here, Erin in You’re Next, which somewhat subverts the concept. This movie, boldly claiming the trope for its title, goes further down that road, but I’m not sure it does so with as much assurance or wit. Set mostly in a deliberately-indeterminate time (judging by the fashions, the fifties seems a reasonable guess), it begins a decade or so earlier, with new orphan Veronica being quizzed by William (Bentley) as to whether she’d like to learn a “special” job. Fast forward 12 years, and she is about to go on a mission: taking care of four thoroughly unpleasant, upper-class young men, who have formed a “killer’s club,” that takes young, blonde women out to the woods, then hunts down and murders them. But in Veronica, they’re going to find themselves taking on a victim more than capable of handling herself.

It’s the annoying gaps here that manage to derail a potentially great idea. We never know who William is, or quite what happened over the following 12 years; in some ways, Veronica is remarkably ill-prepared for the events that unfold, so it doesn’t seem like she was training full-time. Nor can this have been the goal all along, given the killers are hardly any older than Veronica herself. And once she is finally taken into the forest, having successfully “flirty fished” for the gang of four, there is an overlong scene of them sitting around playing Truth or Dare, which sheds zero light on proceedings, and offers no insight into the characters on either side. It’s a good example of a film not being as smart as it thinks. However, good to see Breslin, whom we’ve wanted to adopt since Signs, shifting into more mature roles, and she does well, adding credibility to some of the more ludicrous plot elements e.g. a drug that causes you to hallucinate your worst fears. C’mon, that’s barely even trying.¬† It was also nice to see Cameron Bright as one of the killers; I think the last thing I saw was him playing the carrier in Ultraviolet opposite Milla Jovovich.

The forest scenes is lushly photographed, and once things finally kick off, the payback is decently delivered. It just takes too long to reach that point, and of all the ways the concept could have been used, Shields and the four writers apparently chose the least interesting path. You can tell it’s the director’s first feature, and while his background gives him a good handle on the visual aspects, the script is too weak for any amount of style to cover up the cracks.

Dir: Tyler Shields
Star: Abigail Breslin, Wes Bentley, Logan Huffman, Alexander Ludwig

Angel Terminators 2

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“Angels of death”

angelterm2I have not seen Angel Terminators, so cannot comment on its merits or flaws. However, it does not appear that this impacted my thorough enjoyment of this slice of early 90’s Hong Kong goodness, and nor did the mangled subs which leave me a little vague on some details. The two heroines are Chitty (Lee) and Bullet (Oshima), who are… Cousins? Sisters? Not sure. Bullet has just got out of prison, having turned to delinquency after blaming her policeman father for the death of her mother. He and his partner (Hu) – who adds to the confusion because everyone calls her Big Auntie – try to achieve a reconciliation, but Bullet is unimpressed. She goes to her former gang boss for money, having taken the fall and gone to jail for him, but he just wants Chitty to become a hostess. The fight than ensues, kicks off a chain of events which leads to Bullet stealing some jewels belonging to the boss, who unleashes the accurately-named Brother Mad (Wong).

Will there be mayhem? Yes. Will there by fisticuffs and much gunplay? Yes. Will there be people strung up from lamp-posts like some kind of novelty Chinese lanterns? I’m not saying: I’ll let the film retain some element of surprise. But for all its broad strokes of characterization, it manages to deliver a relatively-even tone, without any of the slapstick and comic interludes which sometimes plague other entries. Indeed, it does become progressively darker, with a kidnapping forcing action that then goes horribly wrong, setting up even further death and violence. This is all accompanied by high-quality action, right from the get-go, starting with Hu leading an assault on criminals holed up in a restaurant, before quickly bringing you a battle between Lee and the leaders of another training squads in a gym, then escalating from there through to a bloody finale.

It’s easy to become somewhat jaded, particularly when you’re watching films because of their genre, without applying any quality control. But then you find a movie like like this, which looks like just another generic action heroine flick, yet instead delivers everything you could want from low-budget action, easily making up for in energy what it may lack in polish. With Lee, Oshima and Hu, you have a hand of three aces, and the film is only a couple of Khans (Cynthia and Michelle, a.k.a. Michelle Yeoh) from having the best cast ever in a HK action heroine film. Unlike some (hello, Avenging Quartet), it lives up to that.

Dir: Lau Chan + Chin-Ku Lu
Star: Moon Lee, Yukari Oshima, Chi Yeung Wong, Sibelle Hu

Sword and Sorceress XVII, edited by Marion Zimmer Bradley

Literary rating: starstarstarstarstar
Kick-butt quotient: Variable

sword17This is another volume of editor Bradley’s long-running Sword and Sorceress anthology series. Published in 2000, it collects 21 tales by, as usual, a mix of both newcomers to the series and veteran contributors. I’ve encountered stories by at least four of the writers here –Vera Nazarian, Deborah Wheeler, Diana L. Paxson, and Patricia Duffy Novak- in earlier volumes.

Of the stories here, Nazarian’s “Caelqua’s Spring” was far and away the weakest. It has some beautiful passages, but ultimately the world-building is lacking, I couldn’t relate to the main characters, and the plot never gelled enough for me to be able to really have a handle on the premise. The whole thing struck me as very much an exercise in vaguely New Age-style mysticism, without a lot of content. (This author’s “The Stone Face, the Giant, and the Paradox” also exhibited tendencies that way in some passages; but there, the story was well-told enough to compensate for this. That’s not the case here, IMO. All in all, it’s a very inferior work to her earlier “Beauty and His Beast.”)

To various degrees, though, I liked all of the other stories. Jenn Reese’s “Valkyrie” draws nicely on Scandinavian mythology (which I can appreciate, being of Viking stock myself) in a story that assumes that the myths are real. Novak’s “Luz” and Cynthia Ward’s poignant “The Tears of the Moon” are set in fantasy worlds where pagan goddesses really exist; the former is a particularly thought-provoking tale. “Free Passage” by Mary Catelli features Amazons (but not all Amazons are nice or honest people!) and an herbalist’s quest for an herb that will save her people. We have a coming-of-age story of sorts, with a sorceress’ apprentice as protagonist, in ElizaBeth (no, that’s not a typo!) Gilligan’s “Demon Calling.” In “Hell Hath No Fury….” Lee Martindale suggests that even demons are entitled to be treated fairly and honestly. (This is one of the few stories in the series with a humorous tone.) Dave Coleman-Reese (Jenn Reese’s husband, and one of three male writers represented in this volume) contributes perhaps the deepest story in this book, the outstanding “Memories of the Sea.”

Another favorite was “My Sister’s Song” by T. Borregaard, a graduate student in archaeology whose writing is flavored by that interest. This is one story that actually has no magical or fantasy element at all, though the setting is exotic, the narrator’s cultural environment unfamiliar to most readers, and the denouement really unique and unusual; it’s straight historical fiction, a fictionalized re-telling (with invented characters –though there really were warrior women among tribes like the Heptakometes) of a real incident in the resistance of the indigenous tribes around the Black Sea to Rome’s attempt to conquer them.

Charles Laing’s “Weapons at War” is short and light, a humorous gag involving sentient weapons bickering with each other; but it’s meant to be short and light, and that’s fine. And Carrie Vaughn’s “The Haunting of Princess Elizabeth” is neither fantasy (it’s set in Tudor England) nor endowed with a heroine who’s either warrior or sorceress, although she’s certainly a strong-willed, tough-minded young woman; but it’s a good story, probably best calculated to appeal to British history buffs. To be sure, history doesn’t record that the ghost of her mother Anne Boleyn (later joined by the shade of Katherine Howard, and eventually of Jane Grey) watched over and counseled the young Elizabeth until her accession to the throne –but the Elizabeth depicted here didn’t tell anybody, and nobody but she could see them.

Some of the other ten stories, from the amount of back-story or the complexity of the world-building, read like they could be parts of a story cycle. For instance, sorceress Cynthia in Dorothy J. Heydt’s “An Exchange of Favors” (set in an ancient Greek milieu where the Olympian deities are real, and intervene in mortal affairs as selfishly and capriciously as in the legends) could easily be, and maybe is, a series character. A number of these ten are emotionally complex, powerful and evocative stories, on a par with the gems in the previous anthologies I’ve read in the series; the prevalence of that caliber of story in these volumes is a tribute to Bradley’s skill as an editor. Often it’s difficult to make comments on these without spoilers. But I can say that after you read Cynthia McQuillen’s “Deep as Rivers,” you won’t view trolls with the race prejudice you did before.

Diana L. Paxson characteristically sets her “Lady of Flame” in Dark Ages Scandinavia (where the demi-deities of mythology are real) and uses her knowledge of actual early northern European cultures to create a rich cross-cultural narrative. Almost all our protagonists in these selections are magically gifted –healers, conjurors, scholars, etc.– but Blaze in Bunnie Bessell’s “The Summons” is a fighter, called upon to make a significant moral choice in the deepest tradition of serious fiction. Probably the most poignant story here is “The Price of the Sword” by Kim Fryer –which, in our world of post-traumatic stress disorder and addictive violence, speaks to us symbolically of the psychic costs of warfare, even if it’s waged with guns and bombs instead of swords. Lisa Silverthorn’s “Soul Dance” also deserves mention here as another standout and favorite. But all of them are good, and none deserve to be slighted, though considerations of space and time force me to.

If you’re a fan of swords and sorcery, strong heroines, fantasy in general, or just well-written traditional short fiction with a plot, you won’t go wrong with this series, IMO!

Editor: Marion Zimmer Bradley
Publisher: DAW, available through Amazon, currently only as a printed book.

A version of this review previously appeared on Goodreads.

Africa

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“Supermodel goes wild.”

africaKinda dumb, to say the least, yet not entirely reprehensible. Supermodel Victoria Young (Potgieter) is under a lot of stress, having just signed a huge new contract, and to clear her head decides to take a drive across the South African veldt. A close encounter with a truck propels her car off the road, and the dazed Vicky wanders off in the wrong direction, away into the bush. Her manager/boyfriend Josh Sinclair (Wise) is left to co-ordinate search and rescue, though the police seem to think it’s just some kind of publicity stunt, and in the cut-throat world of modelling, there is no shortage of those seeking to exploit Vicky’s absence for their own ends. Meanwhile, by the time she regains her full faculties, she has no clue how to get back to civilization, and has to figure out how to survive a hostile environment. Plus, as time goes on, fend for herself, finding food – as well as avoiding becoming food for the local fauna.

I could certainly have done without the entire urban shenanigans, which appears to have strayed in from a bad 90’s Lifetime TV movie. Much more interesting is watching Vicky disintegrate from a pristine beauty, into someone who has to rip the leg off a half-scavenged carcass in order to eat, in between bouts of hiding up trees while a pride of lions takes a nap below. Some of the early sequences border on supermodel torture-porn, for example, as she agonizingly pulls a thorn from her foot, even though it is kinda obvious that the actress was never in the same scene with anything larger than a monkey. Similarly, the sequence where she pulls a grub out of a rotten tree, and cooks it on a stick like a disgusting living S’more, would have been more impactful had it then continued, unflinchingly to show Vicky chowing down on it. Though I did kinda snigger at the cut instead, to a rival model throwing up in the bathroom.

I’m not sure how realistic it is intended to be: I suspect that drinking raw water from a water-hole, in which various wild animals have been trampling [and, likely doing other things], would be a fast way to the emergency room. It might have been nice had they provided some rationale for her survival skills, even a token one such as her growing up on a farm; if you actually dumped Kate Moss into the middle of Africa, the real outcome is likely going to be a bit different. I did like how Vicky’s survival was entirely dependent on her own actions – there was no helicopter flying in at the end, as a deus ex machina. However, it would have been greatly improved by having the courage to focus purely on the “Woman vs. Wild” aspect, as the rest of it is mostly nonsense, which adds very little to proceedings.

Dir: Paul Matthews
Star: Dorette Potgieter, Greg Wise, Patrick Bergin, Elizabeth Berkley

Legend of the Red Reaper

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“Putting the ‘myth’ in myth-takes.”

E9_DB9_A2_F463_F4_E83974065_EB26_B06842This received a certain level of notoriety before even being made, after Legendary Pictures rejected the script, citing a whole raft of (entirely legitimate) reasons, yet also saying, “While I am personally drawn to the presence of a female action hero, it is currently a tough sell with the less than stellar way Sucker Punch was received.” Creator Cardinal went public with the rejection email’s content: seems like a good way to ensure no-one will work with you in Hollywood again, but that’s her decision. However, the film did eventually get made, albeit (or so the story goes) only after a production company embezzled 40% of the money, she worked as a pro wrestler to raise funds, a post-production company lost her footage, and Uwe Boll bailed her out. You can only admire her dogged determination to complete the project she wrote, produced, directed, starred in and edited. Unfortunately, when I say “you can only admire”, the emphasis is on “only”, because the end result isn’t very good.

Interesting Boll became involved, since there’s more than a hint of Bloodrayne, another film series of his. Except, rather than an immortal half-vampire redhead heroine, hacking and slashing those who created her, this is about an immortal half-demon redhead heroine,¬†hacking and slashing those who created her. In this case, it’s Aella (Cardinal), the offspring of a human mother (Swenson) and the demon Ganesh (Eddy), who was sold as a slave to the latter by Mom, only to escape later and become a Reaper, part of a clan who protect humanity from these demons. She has fallen in love with a human prince, Eris (Mackey), who is betrothed to another, and also has to handle getting porcupined with arrows by hunters who want her blood, which has magical properties. Though not nearly as magical as Ganesh’s, and it turns out it’s the only thing keeping her mother alive. She’s running out fast, especially after donating some of her precious stockpile to Aella – albeit with some nasty side-effects, triggering an internal struggle between the two halves of her ancestry. Still, the solution is pretty simple: head for the best source of the blood. That would be Ganesh himself.

It’s all over complex, not very interesting, and plagued by just about every faux pas you have ever seen in low-budget cinema. Excessive voice-over? Check. Gratuitous use of slo-mo and strobe effects? Double check. Thoroughly unconvincing day-for-night photography? In copious quantities. I suspect Cardinal’s “Jill of all trades” approach worked against the film: when you’re wearing all the hats, who’s left to take a step back and apply a coolly critical eye to proceedings? That’s really what the film needed, and at 101 minutes, trimming would have helped as well. It strikes me that, if you combined the production values of this and the action choreography from Warrioress, you’d have a good crack at something impressive. Although both demonstrate that passion isn’t enough by itself, Warrioress was at least outstanding in the combat department. Here, there’s much banging of swords together, and little else, leaving the end result all but forgettable.

Dir: Tara Cardinal
Star: Tara Cardinal, Ray Eddy, David Mackey, Eliza Swenson