Survival Instinct

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“Gratuitous violins.”

survival-instinctStacey and and Thom are on their way to a friend’s wedding, where she’ll also be providing the music, when their car breaks down. Stacey walks back to a garage they passed, but while she’s away. Thom is accidentally shot by father and (unwilling) son hunting duo, Weaver (Coughlan) and Rex (Smith). Realizing their victim was not alone, they wait for Stacey to return, so her presence as a loose end can be tidied up. But Rex’s reluctance to pull the trigger gives her a lifeline, and begins a game of cat-and-mouse through a remote, wooded area of the Derbyshire Peak District.

I guess the aim is something like a British version of Deliverance, but the resources aren’t there – and neither are the performances, direction and script, none of which reach above workmanlike at best. The worst offender is the script, which frequently had me rolling my eyes at the stupidity of the characters, who frequently behaved in ways that made no sense in real-life, purely for cinematic purposes. Not the least of these is the way Stacey suddenly opts to start carrying her precious violin around with her for the final sequence, having not apparently given a damn about it before that point. You don’t have to be a seer to predict why this is needed.

The idea isn’t a bad one, and the cinematography is solid, with the locations used photogenic. However, the action is nothing short of awful, possessing absolutely no impact. While Crevel’s performance as Stacey is okay, she needs to be a much more pro-active heroine, trying to turn the tables on her attacker. Instead, she spends the first hour doing virtually nothing but running away, save for dropping a sign with a nail on it, hoping Weaver will stand on it. [Spoiler alert: inevitably, he does!] Coughlan does exude a nice, unhinged menace as the villain, and the script does attempt to give him both motivation and a back-story. Unfortunately, this isn’t conveyed organically, rather in large gobbets of monologue that tend to bring the film to a halt.

Clocking in at 75 minutes, including credits, is likely a wise decision given the paucity of the material present. It’s clear the budget here was limited – simply because how expensive can four people running around a forest be? Lawson deserves credit for not letting those resources be too obvious. On the other hand, money doesn’t excuse the apparent lack of effort put into a lazy script, apparently worked out on the back of a beer-mat one Friday lunch-time. The fact it had different titles while shooting (Rites of Passage), from its limited cinema run, then a third name for its DVD release, is perhaps another indication more forethought would have been helpful.

Dir: Steve Lawson
Star: Helen Crevel, Andrew Coughlan, Sam Smith, Jay Sutherland
a.k.a. Footsoldier

Pearl: The Assassin

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“Fake pearls.”

pearlI think perhaps the most memorable thing here was that, while doing my usual pre-review Googling, the search results returned with the warning that, “In response to multiple complaints we received under the US Digital Millennium Copyright Act, we have removed 35 results from this page.” I’m not sure whether I’m surprised or concerned that 35 sites apparently deemed this worth their while to rip and upload a bootleg copy of this, because it probably doesn’t deserve it. I may be particularly disgruntled due to the presence on the sleeve both of helicopters that don’t exist, and someone totally different from the heroine; half a star was docked from the grade for this. In reality, the star  (Patton, the director’s wife – he plays the florist she’s garotting in the picture, right!) looks more like Marilyn Manson, with a high forehead and close to no eyebrows.

Not that this is necessarily a bad thing – indeed, there’s something to be said for a heroine who challenges conventional notions of beauty, and Pearl does that, even if the distributor chooses to hide this behind a leggy, long-haired model type. She looks like a pissed-off killer, out for vengeance – not any longer on the people who killed her parents, for they were taken care of years ago, as others of that same type. Which would be criminals, drug-dealers, pimps, etc. She kidnaps meth scientist Erik (Morales), using his inside knowledge to work up the chain toward top boss Tre (Brown), while Detective Wyatt (Morafetis) follows the trail of bodies left behind Pearl, from the other end.

Even given my tolerance for independent, low-budget cinema, the action here was particularly poor, barely choreographed and possessing absolutely zero impact. Surprisingly, what worked better than expected were the characters, particularly Erik, who actually possesses something of an arc, going from a meth-head with few redeeming features into something of a tragic hero. By comparison, Pearl doesn’t move the needle very much: she starts off the film as a stone-faced killer, and more or less ends it as a stone-faced killer. You do get to see some of her backstory, but it seems more perfunctory, and it’s also simplistic in the extreme: someone killed her family, now everyone must pay. That might have worked for Charles Bronson forty years ago; now, audiences expect rather more nuance. Still, there was one genuinely shocking moment, demonstrating Tre’s utter ruthlessness, and I actually laughed at one of Erik’s lines. Overall, it’s a case of being able to see where the film-makers are aiming; unfortunately, the results fall significantly short of that target, and you’re probably better off sticking with the obvious sources of inspiration here, instead of this attempt to imitate them.

Dir: Guy Patton
Star: Dana Patton, Scott Michael Morales, Justin Brown, George Morafetis

Sin Dejar Huella

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“The road through Mexico.”

sindejaThe title translates as Leaving No Trace, and is entirely appropriate, since it focuses on two women who, each for their own reasons, are very keen to disappear off the grid. There’s MariLu (Sánchez-Gijón), a.k.a. Ana, a.k.a. a bunch of other names – she has three different passports – who works in the murky world of art smuggling, and is first encountered sneaking across the border from Arizona into Mexico [a nicely-ironic reversal of the usual traffic]. She is being pursued doggedly by cop Mendizábal (Ochoa), who is trailing Ana to find out who she works for. Then there’s Aurelia (Scanda), a single mom who is on the run after stealing and selling the stash of drugs her boyfriend Saul (Altomaro) was holding for the cartel, and who is on the run with the resulting cash. The pair meet up and agree to share the drive to Cancun, though neither is willing to reveal the truth about themselves. However, a red car with tinted windows is tailing them: is is Saul or Mendizábal behind the wheel?

This plays a little like a Mexican version of Thelma & Louise, although the women here begin as strangers instead of friends, and their film is as much about the growth of their relationship as the interaction with the outside world. It’s also very much a road movie, with the landscape through which they move almost another character; there are some amazing locations, such as the abandoned and derelict plantation mansion, now taken over and inhabited by the local peasants, or the near-deserted hotel in which the final act unfolds. Novaro does a great job of contrasting the grinding poverty and stunning natural beauty, and there’s an undercurrent of political subtext, with apparent nods toward NAFTA and the female homicides in Juarez. However, it is all kept light enough to teach Callie Khouri a thing or two about the benefits of subtlety and understatement.

Aurelia is likely the more sympathetic character, mainly because we know the truth about her situation – Ana appears almost pathologically incapable of telling the truth to anyone, about anything. However, the motivations and eventual goals of the women are left murky and unclear; this is a film definitely more interested in the journey, both physical and spiritual, than the destination. This is most apparent in an unsatisfactory conclusion, which zigs in one direction before inexplicably zagging back in another, without adequate explanation for either. The two pincers closing on the women do cross, only for one then apparently to meander off, as if distracted. And that’s a shame, as the film had put together a number of compelling elements and memorable sequences, including one of the more brutally realistic crashes I’ve seen [cars don’t fly, they plummet]. You should accept going in, this is much more drama than action; do that, and it’s an enjoyable enough ride, even if the final objective is rather disappointing.

Dir: Maria Novaro
Star: Tiaré Scanda, Aitana Sánchez-Gijón Jesús Ochoa, Martín Altomaro

Hush

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“What’s ASL for yippee ki-yay?”

hushThere’s one moment here, where the heroine leaves a final message, certain she’s going to die, that’s poignant to a surprising degree, not often seen in the genre. It’s the moment I really bought into this, which was made for a mere $70,000, and is a very nicely assembled machine for creating tension. Deaf author Maddie Young (Siegel) has moved to a house in the middle of nowhere to try and finish her second novel. But one night, the peace and quiet is interrupted the arrival of a masked man (Gallagher), whose intent is clear, even if his reasons remain obscure: the terrorising, and eventual murder, of Maddie. Cut off from all outside assistance, and after all efforts to escape have proved futile, she eventually realizes there is only one way to survive.

Equal parts Stephen King and Wait Until Dark, the Audrey Hepburn film in which a blind woman is similarly the target, this is an object lesson in doing the most with what you have. A cast numbering only a handful and a single location, are not necessarily a barrier to entertaining and effective cinema. The first section is very much a careful build-up: set the central character in her location, establish her strengths (imagination, self-reliance) and vulnerabilities (obvious). Then, unleash the threat, triggering an escalating series of cat-and-mouse incidents, bringing your heroine to the point of desperation mentioned above. Finally? It’s likely no spoiler to say, the tables get turned – but the less detail I provide there, the more you’ll be able to appreciate it.

If you’re wondering why this stalk ‘n’ slasher is here, consider this quote from Siegel: “We do credit Wait Until Dark for being the driving force, but we always thought this movie is more like Die Hard; we wanted to beat Maddie up, we wanted her to use the whole space. We just think Die Hard is a perfect movie, and I’ve always wanted to be that kind of action hero. One of my all-time career goals is to be Ripley in the next remake of Aliens!” Having watched the film, much of the above makes sense. It’s certainly a punishingly physical role, though since she also co-wrote the script with the director, she has no-one but herself to blame [they’re now married, so it clearly wasn’t too distressing…]

While obviously operating on a much smaller scale, much of it works almost as well, though the absence of any motive for the attacker is a little bit of a cop-out. Even something simple, as in The Strangers (“Because you were home”), might have been better. There’s also one moment where it felt like our deaf heroine reacted when her phone rang, which seemed odd. But the positives here easily outweigh any complaints, with Maddie a great heroine, who refuses to be defined by her disability – even if it puts her at a significant disadvantage in this situation. It’s also an experience thoroughly grounded in reality, where things might play out like this, given the scenario. And if you were considering moving to the country, Hush will probably make you think again.

Dir: Mike Flanagan
Star: Kate Siegel, John Gallagher Jr.

Lady Ninja Kaede 2

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“Secret technique, reverse dildo return!”

ladyninja2I am uncertain whether this is related to the other Lady Ninja series, or if it’s an entirely separate series. I’m leaning towards it being independent, as there appear to be magical overtones here, that weren’t present elsewhere. But just to confuse matters further,while this is on Netflix at the time of writing, there’s no sign of part one. Perhaps, if I’d seen that, this would suddenly become entertaining? Nah. Pretty sure it wouldn’t make a difference. This is slightly elevated over its predecessor by not being a po-faced ninja story with soft-porn sex scenes. It is, in fact, a barking mad ninja story with soft-porn sex scenes. What? You want specifics?

The heroine, Kaede (Akatsuki), is basically a member of the sex police, punishing those who are too lustful. There’s a religious sex cult who have combined the penises of three men into one supercharged dildo, leaving them with an apparent gaping void at the crotch. After fulfilling her first task, or retrieving the hyper-dildo, it’s up to Kaede to fix things, by finding the three donors and having sex with them, which restores their genitals. She is accompanied on her quest by a gay samurai.

Not included in this film. Any significant ninja-ing by Kaede; what action there is, is more carried out by the samurai. And, contrary to the sleeve, nor is she tied up at any point, so any bondage fans will be particularly disappointed. There is, of course, plenty of aardvarking, as Joe-Bob Briggs used to put it, and actually, I can’t say I minded the performances too much. The division of the population into those for whom sex is positive and those for whom it’s negative, reminded me (bizarrely!) of a Japanese medieval take on Cafe Flesh, Kaeda supposedly being on the anti-sex side, but in reality being the most active of anyone.

There are moments of twisted creativity that made this not unwatchable, and there’s a mad aesthetic here that could be appealing if you’re in an undiscerning mood. But if you’re looking for any kind of action beside the horizontal variety, you are going to be extremely disappointed. Finally, I did have to snort derisively at subtitles during the magic ceremony which referred to “Casper Howser”, who is presumably Doogie’s occult-inclined brother. I imagine that should instead have been “Kaspar Hauser”, a 19th-century German figure with mystical significance, about whom Werner Herzog once made a movie. Bit of a toss-up whether distributors Tokyo Shock did not know, or just did not care.

Dir: Takayuki Kagawa
Star: Luna Akatsuki, Kazu Itsuki, Yuka Sakagami

When Animals Dream

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“Let the right lycanthrope in.”

when_animals_dream_poster_1200_1773_81_sIf the vampire has been an equal-opportunity cinematic monster over the years, that’s less the case for the werewolf. Maybe it’s all the hair or the brutal strength, but from Underworld to Twilight, the ‘wolves have tended to be dogs rather than bitches – much though the latter might have been improved by a pack of ladies running around, like Taylor Lautner, with their tops permanently off. [I’d certainly have been on Team Jacobetta…] There are some exceptions – most notably the Ginger Snaps series, the first of which is among the best horror films of the 2000’s. This shares a similar theme, of a teenage girl who is disturbed by the changes in her body, which turn out to be more than just standard puberty. But the tone is rather more introspective, and to be honest, a good deal less successful.

The heroine here is Marie (Suhl) who has just started a job at the local fish-processing factory, when she starts to experience changes, both physical and mental. But it turns out not to be just Marie. Her mother (Richter), whose wheelchair-bound state Marie had always presumed was the result of a mundane illness, turns out to have the same affliction. After she had killed a local, her husband (Mikkelsen) had come to a pact with the local doctor, to prevent his wife from being… oh, dragged out of the house by a mob of angry villagers, wielding pitch-forks and torches, near enough. Her near-catatonic state is actually the result of a heavy regime of pharmaceuticals. And, now that Marie is beginning to exhibit the same symptoms, perhaps it’s time for her also to begin the same regimen. Or figure out an escape, with the help of her new boyfriend and co-worker, Daniel (Ottebro).

As the intro to this review hints, Arnby appears to be trying for a similar atmosphere to another Scandinavian monster mash, Let the Right One In. But too much of this comes over as flat and uninteresting, without enough development of the plot or characters. The performances are mostly good, Suhl underplaying things to the point of emotional deadness that’s actually entirely appropriate to the dead-end life into which she would otherwise be headed. It’s part of the point: her disease is also the cure for the disease of achingly tedious normality. Unfortunately, the movie spends too much grounded in that normality, and delivers on the aching tedium in full measure, mostly of slow and plodding. Arnsby eventually gets to the meaty stuff, with an impressive climax on board a ship at sea – nowhere to run, nowhere to hide – and if you’re in the right mood, looking for something more contemplative, this would perhaps hit the spot better. Unfortunately for the film’s grade, I was wanting something more traditionally horrific, and consequently found this to be no full-moon; probably a half-moon, at best.

Dir: Jonas Alexander Arnby
Star: Sonia Suhl, Lars Mikkelsen, Jakob Oftebro, Sonja Richter

Wicked Blood

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wickedbloodLittle Miss Sunshine no more.”

The obvious inspiration here is Winter’s Bone, with its similar tale of a teenage girl trying to rescue her meth-infected family. Indeed, given the title here goes so far as to share the same initials, this feels almost like a “mockbuster,” hoping to capitalize on RedBox or Netflix consumer confusion. That said, it’s solid enough, even if there’s just something… wrong about watching Abigail Breslin, one of our most beloved of screen moppets since we saw her in Signs, blowing people up with hand-grenades. She plays Hannah Lee Baker, a bright young girl with a fondness for chess, but an orphan. Along with her older sister Amber (Vega), she lives with her Uncle Donny (Temple), who cooks meth for local crime boss, Frank Stinson (Bean). As Amber falls for Stinson’s rival, Hannah works on a chance to move away from their precarious position, but “Uncle Frank” isn’t exactly going to let any of them leave easily.

It’s a good cast, though both Breslin and Vega bring some baggage in their filmographies: Vega was one half of Robert Rodriguez’s Spy Kids series, so is clearly growing up as well. They aren’t the only ones in unusual roles, Also kinda weird to see the very Yorkshire Bean sporting an American accent; while I won’t say whether or not he lives up to the Sean Bean meme, this is probably the third-creepiest Uncle Frank in cinema history [behind the ones in Hellraiser and Blue Velvet]. The chess metaphor is nice, if somewhat over-used; it’s clear Hannah is the smartest tool in her family, and the only one that’s capable of thinking further ahead than the next meal. She desperately wants to avoid becoming like Donny, having seen the terrible toll “hillbilly crack” has taken on him and his life, and is prepared to go to any lengths to avoid the same fate.

However, there is certainly a sense that we’ve seen this all before, with nothing particularly new in the storyline department. While I certainly admire the way Heather went about things, some of her actions were rather poorly explained, seeming to serve no purpose for her expressed goal. In particular, she opts to start stealing meth from Uncle Frank, but doesn’t appear to have any particular plan with what to do with her box o’ drugs. I’d like to have seen more of the heroine using her intellect, playing the factions off against each other, and using her smarts for leverage, because that’s obviously Hannah’s biggest edge, and the film doesn’t make enough of it. However, the performances are effective, and they help this one pass the time perfectly adequately, even when the plotting leaves a considerable amount to be desired.

Dir: Mark Young
Star: Abigail Breslin, Alexa Vega, Lew Temple, Sean Bean

The Huntsman: Winter’s War

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“Now with 43% fewer dwarves, and 99% less Kristin Stewart.”

I did not see Snow White And The Huntsman: my tolerance for Kristin Stewart went after Chris decided we should watch all three Twilight movies [to her credit, a decision she bitterly regretted]. So I can’t say how this compares to its predecessor. On it’s own though, it brings us a trio of kick-ass heroines, some truly awesome visuals, and Stewart at a “made in a factory than also manufactures peanut products” level. If not without its problems, I’ll take that as a foundation, every day and twice on Sundays. There are two stories here: Queens Ravenna (Theron) and Freya (Blunt), sisters who part ways after Freya’s child is killed, with the betrayed Freya heading to the frozen North to rule her empire with a will of iron. Ravenna goes on to magic mirror blah poison apple blah blah dwarves – you know that bit – before apparently being killed.

Meanwhile, Freya’s army is spearheaded by a mixed gender platoon of soldiers, trained from young children under her sole commandment: do not love. Naturally, that doesn’t work, with Eric (Hemsworth) and Sara (Chastain) falling for each other and trying to elope. They’re caught, Sara apparently killed, and Eric tossed off a cliff. He survives, going on to become Snow White’s Huntsman in the original movie. Fast forward a few years, and he’s sent to recover Ravenna’s magic mirror, which has been stolen while in transit to a place where its evil power can be contained. However, Freya is also after it, believing she can use the mirror to reclaim her sister’s kingdom and expand her own.

huntsmanWhile Chastain kicks surprising amounts of butt, the love story here is likely the least interesting aspect of the film, though it has some competition down at the bottom with the comic-relief dwarves (look, we love Nick Frost as much as the next people… but this was like watching a beloved uncle get falling-down drunk). Far more interesting is the Freya/Ravenna dynamic: both actresses go full-bore into their roles and it’s quite glorious to watch, helped by some quite incredible costumes, and use of special effects that enhance the atmosphere, rather than just being used for shock and awe. Ravenna’s entrance – technically, re-entrance – is just spectacular, and likely won’t be beaten this year. I was surprised the budget was as low as $115 million, because it looks as good as anything I’ve seen, to the point when I’m seriously considering a Blu-Ray purchase (and I’ve got maybe a dozen of those, so that’s rare indeed).

It’s a shame this wasn’t more successful. Maybe it helps I haven’t seen Frozen either, to which I’ve seen a number of reviews compare this. Admittedly, the story needs more focus, and should have decided whether to be a prequel or a sequel. Hemsworth and Chastain should not have bothered with unconvincing Scottish accents either. Yet it overcomes these issues with sheer force of will from the actresses involved. All three have some pedigree in the action genre; Theron and Chastain most obviously, but even Blunt played one of Boudica’s daughters, back in 2003. They take the material more seriously than it likely deserves (unquestionably, more seriously than Hemsworth, Frost or the other male actors), and their gravitas helps drag the viewer along with them. And even when it can’t quite pull that off, you can still admire the pretty pictures.

Dir: Cedric Nicolas-Troyan
Star: Chris Hemsworth, Emily Blunt, Jessica Chastain, Charlize Theron

The Serpent’s Daughter, by Suzanne Arruda

Literary rating: starstarstarstarstar
Kick-butt quotient: action2

serpentMany of the strengths of the first two novels in the Jade del Cameron series (which I’ve also read, and reviewed) are present in this third installment as well. However, at the end of the previous book, Stalking Ivory, Jade got a letter from her mother, inviting Jade to meet her in Tangier for a trip to Spain (to buy a stallion for the family’s New Mexico ranch). That’s the springboard for this book, which allows Arruda to introduce some new and fresh elements into the mix as well. This time, Jade is all the way across the African continent from her usual British East Africa milieu, and into a vividly-realized 1920 Morocco. Most of our usual supporting characters are left behind, and replaced by well-drawn new ones. For the first time, we get to meet Jade’s Andalusian-born mom, Dona Inez Maria Isabella de Vincente del Cameron, a strong woman in her own right and a fascinating dynamic character, and learn more about Jade’s background. This novel is as much concerned with exploring a complex, loving but fraught relationship between mother and daughter, as well as themes about being true to yourself and the possibilities of second chances and new beginnings, as it is about solving a mystery; and it gains in psychological depth as a result.

Nonetheless, there are very definitely mysteries to solve: a kidnapping, a murdered dead body that seems to be disconcertingly mobile for a corpse, the theft of an ancient amulet, and a sinister drug-smuggling operation. (Drug trafficking between Morocco and southern Europe didn’t begin in recent times, though it’s increased greatly today.) Having read the cover copy –which I don’t recommend because, IMO, it gives away too much that the readers might wish to discover on their own– I was sure I’d identified the villains in the first chapter; but I was still in the dark about some significant things, and Arruda managed to throw me a genuinely surprising curve ball I totally did not expect. I like that! Not having expected to need it in the urban setting of Tangier, Jade didn’t bring her Winchester on this trip. But she still carries a knife in her boot sheath, and her resourcefulness and skill at fisticuffs haven’t deserted her… and that’s just as well, because they’ll be sorely needed. (And where resourcefulness is concerned, the apple didn’t fall far from the tree!). Jade’s deductive abilities, as in the first book, can be a little on the slow side; but she doesn’t have to do much deduction here, and she figured out one key thing before I did.

A unique aspect of this book that I found fascinating was the detailed look at the traditional Amazigh culture of the people usually called by the appellation the ancient Greeks gave them, Berbers (from “barbarian,” the Greeks’ general term for non-Greeks –though, as one Imazighen man points out here, “It is an insult. We are not barbarians.”). There’s a rich cross-cultural flavor here, and a sense of place that’s particularly strong. All in all, this is an excellent continuation of a series that’s become a favorite of both my wife’s and mine, which does more than just run in place; it provides significant developments in the overall story arc. Now, we’re eager to continue Jade’s adventures with the fourth series installment, The Leopard’s Prey!

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

A version of this review previously appeared on Goodreads.

Jessie Graff: From Chick Fight to American Ninja Warrior

“Being strong doesn’t make you manly or unfeminine. It just means you can do more things.” — Jessie Graff

At the risk of touting our own hipster cred, we’ve been fans of Ninja Warrior for long before it hit the mainstream on NBC – we first wrote about it here, and the women who competed on the show, back in 2007, when it was screening on the late, lamented cable channel G4. Since then, America has gone from having tryout for the Japanese original, to its own, entirely independent version of the show – on which both men and women compete, with no mercy to the latter. Success has, understandably, been hard to come by. One of the few to have completed the course is Jessie Graff – even after the qualifying course was toughened up for this season, she still was able to make it through, as you can see below:

But Graff is not just a game-show competitor. She’s a stuntwoman, whose credits include everything from The Walking Dead to X-Men: First Class. She’s also a black-belt in taekwondo, and held the women’s pole-vault record during her time at the University of Nebraska, before moving to Hollywood – initially seeking to follow a career in acting, before her physical abilities led her into the stunt world. She first appeared in 2013, as part of the show’s fifth season, wearing a chicken costume, for reasons we’ll get to. Despite not appearing to take the course as seriously as many of the male competitors, she qualified for the regional finals at her first attempt.

A bad knee injury sidelined her for 2014, perhaps preventing her from becoming among the first woman to complete a qualifying course – that prize went to  Kacy Catanzaro. But it allowed Graff to focus on improving her grip strength, a necessity for a number of the obstacles, and in season 7 last year, she became the only female competitor that series to qualify for the national finals in her own right. This season, as the above video shows, she’s seeking to go even further. Now, we sit on the couch, with our Doritos, and cheer on all the women, from Catanzaro through Michelle Warnky and Meagan Martin. But Graff’s sense of fun – most obvious in her choice of attire – is what had particularly endeared her to us.

If you need further evidence of that, I present you the video below, in which she and fellow stunt-woman Tree O’Toole recreate the “chicken fight” sequence from animated series Family Guy, as a live-action fisticuffs extravaganza. Bonus credit: cameo appearance (at around the 2:20 mark) by veteran stunt-woman Jeannie Epper, who mentored Zoë Bell. Watch it, and Graff wearing a chicken dress on her American Ninja Warrior debut later that year, will make a great deal more sense!