Wynonna Earp: season one

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“Wynonna the Demon Slayer”

After a long absence, Wynonna Earp (Scrofano) returns to her home town of Purgatory, near the Rockies. There, we discover the truth about the death of her father and disappearance of her sister, events which precipitated Wynonna’s departure. Turns out the great-great-granddaughter of the legendary Wyatt Earp has a supernatural duty to fulfill, using her ancestor’s equally legendary 16-inch barrel “Peacemaker” revolver. Wyatt kept demons known as “revenants” in check, and the mission has been passed down the family line since, with Wynonna the current incumbent. Fortunately, mystical borders keep the revenants within the “Ghost River Triangle,” and she has the help of Deputy Marshal Xavier Dolls (Anderson), an agent in the “Black Badge” division of the US Marshals Service; Doc Holliday (Rozon), the now-immortal former friend of Wyatt; and Wynonna’s kid sister, Waverly (Provost-Chalkley).

Yeah, as the tag-line above suggest, there’s more than an echo of Buffy here, from Wynonna being the unwilling “chosen one”, through Purgatory being a hot-bed of supernatural activity (or “Hell Mouth”?), and the associated “Scooby Gang” who help out the heroine. Doc is a parallel for Angel, being a somewhat ambivalent immortal who has an on-again, off-again relationship with Wynonna. Dolls is Giles, the sensible adult of the group. And Waverly is a lumpy combination of Giles (research skills), Dawn (bratty little sister) and Willow (gratuitous lesbian tendencies). I’m not sure how many of these similarities come from Beau Smith’s comic which is the source here. It first appeared in 1996, when Buffy was still a failed movie, and not yet the successful TV series it would become. But the showrunner admits, when pitching Wynonna, she would describe it as “Buffy meets Justified.

So, if you’re looking for originality, you are far better off elsewhere, certainly. That said, the horror-Western is some way from being an over-familiar genre, and the obvious influences certainly do not mean it is without merit or appeal. There has been a real shortage of action heroine shows on American television – which leaves me happy to see, even one as derivative as this. I particularly liked Scofrano, who brings a cynical world-weariness to her mid-twenties character.The show also does a good job of disseminating information, striking a nice balance between revealing its secrets, and keeping the audience guessing. The middle episodes do degenerate a bit into ‘Occult Monster of the Week’ territory, yet the writers redeem themselves with a strong final arc that sets the stage nicely, and not too obviously, for the second season.

Wynonna [a spelling which looks plain weird, with at least one N too many] takes to her destiny with gleeful abandon, dispatching revenants with enthusiasm. It’s refreshing to see a heroine who doesn’t agonize endlessly about dispatching the enemy – even if in this case, it’s probably because they are already dead. Overall, I think the show will likely go as far as Scrofano can take it. If it takes advantage of the chance to improve, and does so to the same extent Buffy did (the cast there didn’t grow into their characters until perhaps the third series), it’ll certainly be worth another look.

Creator: Emily Andras
Star: Melanie Scrofano, Shamier Anderson, Tim Rozon, Dominique Provost-Chalkley

The Creature Below

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“Two tentacles up! Well, one  tentacle, at least.”

The mad scientist has been a staple of horror/SF for almost 200 years, since Victor Frankenstein first cranked up his machine. The worlds of literature and cinema have frequently returned to it since. A survey showed mad scientists or their creations to be the threat in 30% of horror films over a fifty-year period, and examples from one or other, include Dr. Moreau, Dr. Jekyll, Herbert West, and Rotwang in Metropolis. But they have been almost exclusively male: after Frankenstein, it was 75 years before any comparable female character existed, the title character in George Griffith’s Olga Romanoff, from 1893. They have been rare ever since, with only the occasional entry such as Lady Frankenstein to break male domination.

This is another rare example, and what makes this movie particularly unusual, is the Lovecraftian overtones. While not based specifically on any of the works of H.P. Lovecraft, it is certainly set in the Cthulhu Mythos where his stories took place. Indeed, at one point, heroine Dr. Olive Crown (Dawson) hangs up her credentials from “Miskatonic University”, the fictional establishment often referenced by Lovecraft. Yet Lovecraft wrote almost exclusively about men, to the point where female characters are notable by their absence. Here though, it’s likely necessary, due to the maternal aspect of the storyline.

Dr. Crown is part of a deep-sea expedition, testing out a new underwater suit. A dive goes badly wrong, with Olive barely surviving, and being blamed for the accident, though she remembers very little of what happened. When checking the suit, she discovers an egg-like sac. Having already been fired, she smuggles it off the boat, and back to the basement of the house she shares with her boyfriend (Thrace). It hatches, and the creature begins a growing relationship with Olive, that’s part-psychic, part-mental and almost all creepy. Especially after she discovers that human blood is about the only thing it will consume. Fortunately, there are no shortage of potential snacks to hand, including her former boss and her adulterous sister (Longden).

If you were to describe this as a cross between The Thing and Hellraiser, you’d not be far off. There’s the creepy, tenticular monster of the former, as well as a soundtrack which is so close to John Carpenter’s electronic minimalism as to invite a lawsuit. Meanwhile, you have the lurking horror behind suburban walls from the Clive Barker adaptation, with a seemingly nice young woman luring victims in, to feed her monster pal.  Onto this combination, the film piles common Lovecraftian themes of growing insanity, against a backdrop of the “Old Gods” – once the object of cult devotion, these entities have not been destroyed, and are merely sleeping, waiting for their time to come again.

There are certainly a couple of mis-steps on the way, not least some horrendous CGI which is not needed at all – a painfully artificial shot of a ship sailing could easily have been skipped, and takes the viewer out of the mood entirely. The ending, similarly, goes at least one step (if not several) further than it needs to: this is one of those times when leaving things to the audience to fill in the blanks would have been a better bet. But the monster, in its various stages of growth, is impressively realized, especially given the obvious limitations of resources here. If falling short of the movies which it most closely imitates, those are some large, black boots to fill, and there’s enough here of merit to provide a creepily decent pay-off for the viewer.

Dir: Stewart Sparke
Star: Anna Dawson, Daniel Thrace, Michaela Longden, Johnny Vivash

Sailor Suit and Machine Gun: Graduation

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“Fails to make the grade.”

The 1981 original movie of which this is a part-remake, part-sequel, made an impression with some solid performances, lurking behind an obviously exploitative title. This? Not so much, despite sharing many of the same elements. For example, both films cast a pop idol singer in the lead role, and the central concept is similar – a schoolgirl finds herself suddenly thrust into the mantle of a Yakuza boss. Here, however, we initially find Izumi Hoshi (Hashimoto) already having gone through the situation she inherited after her uncle was assassinated. She took revenge on his killer’s after which her gang, the Medakas, was disbanded. Now a high-school senior, her sole retained asset is a small coffee-shop, though Izumi has trouble getting the employees, her former minions, to call her “Manager” rather than “Boss.”

She is dragged back into the underworld when a classmate begs for help in her problem with a sleazy “model” agency. It turns out that behind the agency were the gang who were once her enemy, the Hamaguchis, who are also selling drug-laced cookies on her turf. When one of these disco biscuits leads to the death of a schoolmate, Izumi decides to come out of retirement and take up arms once again. Unfortunately, she takes her time about it. Indeed, after the flashback which opens the film, you’ll have to wait 100+ minutes for the next machine-gun moment; in between, it’s entirely sailor-suit. There’s also an extended subplot involving Yasui (Ando), a corporate raider with plans to redevelop the entirety of Izumi’s neighbourhood, whether the inhabitants want it or not.

At virtually two hours long, it has huge pacing problems: that running time isn’t much more than the original, yet here, it drags terribly, and desperately needs to be at least thirty minutes shorter. It doesn’t help that Hashimoto is almost entirely bland, with nothing here to distinguish her from the millions of other idols. [The Hello Kitty tie-in marketing shows more personality, even if they replaced the machine-gun with a pop-gun!] This generic portrayal might make more sense if she was initially still an innocent schoolgirl, as in the original. Here, we’re supposed to believe she’s someone who has been the head of a Yakuza gang and come out the other side? I’m not buying that in the slightest.

In the film’s defense, I’ve read reviews suggesting elements of social satire which are likely not apparent or meaningful to a Western audience, such as the property shenanigans. That doesn’t do much to excuse the main issues, however, and even local critics were largely unimpressed by a largely forgettable feature, that only occasionally reaches the level of moderately interesting. Managing to waste such a cool concept, and in particular the iconic moment where the heroine sprays her automatic weapon while yelling “Kaikan!” – roughly translatable as “Feels so good!” – should be a jailable offense. I guess it’s nice to realize that pointless remakes are not purely a Hollywood problem.

Dir: Kôji Maeda
Star: Kanna Hashimoto, Hiroki Hasegawa, Masanobu Ando, Takurō Ōno

Confessions of a Slightly Neurotic Hitwoman by J.B. Lynn

Literary rating: starstar
Kick-butt quotient: action2action2

I guess there is at least something logical about this, in how its heroine, Maggie Lee, becomes the assassin of the title. She takes on her first contract to pay the medical bills of her niece, left in a coma after a car accident which killed her parents and injured Maggie. That’s the kind of motivation which I can see, causing a person to take desperate steps. Unfortunately, it’s a rare island in a sea of largely implausible plotting and uninteresting characters.

First is how she comes to the attention of the mob: visiting her niece, she stumbles across a man assaulting another patient and fights him off. Turns out the patient is the head of the Delveccio crime family, who decides to hire Maggie to whack the assailant, his son-in-law. Quite why he prefers to entrust this to an insurance call-centre employee, when he clearly has far more experienced and capable personnel to hand, is never explained. Nor his decision to entrust Maggie with a minder, somewhat bent cop Patrick Mulligan, who trains her in the finer arts of killing. And I mean that sarcastically, since he has to explain that rule number one is, “Don’t get caught.” Really.

Then there’s the other cop, Paul Kowalski, who pulls Maggie over to give her a traffic ticket, which ends up with him asking her on a date. I’m not sure what purpose he serves in this store, except to set up the inevitable love triangle between him, Maggie and Patrick. Oh, and did I mention that Maggie can converse with animals, including her niece’s pet lizard? Why? Because her mother is in the loony bin, I guess: either that, or perhaps this talent was triggered by the accident. It’s such an incongruous element, in a series which is trying to remain relatively grounded in reality, it appears to have strayed in from another book entirely. I was also unimpressed with Maggie’s family, who are annoying more than endearing and whose drama occupy reams of pages, to the point that I wondered if Lynn was being paid by the word.

Once she has got through her first mission, turns out that’s far from the end of it, as Delveccio’s regular hit-man takes credit for the job, and Maggie has to get rid of him as well, in order to collect her fee. This is about the only sequence which managed to stick in my mind, bringing home effectively the point that killing someone can be difficult and unpleasant, especially when it’s not just a case of squeezing a trigger. But I’ve got to be honest: this book took twice as long to get through as most I’ve reviewed here. For when I went to bed, and it was a choice between reading some more chapters and fluffy, pillow-shaped goodness… The lure of Morpheus was generally a lot greater than the lure of Maggie.

Author: J.B. Lynn
Publisher: Avon Impulse, available through Amazon as an e-book – used copies of the paperback are… kinda pricey. As in five hundred bucks!

Quarries

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“Questionable quarrels.”

It’s not often a film manages to be under-written AND over-written. Yet this tale of wilderness survival does both. A group of women are out on what’s supposed to be an empowering hike through the forest, designed to boost self-reliance, esteem and all that good stuff. But they come under attack from a group of local men, apparently intent on a hunting expedition, with the woman as the prey. They’ll need to learn survival skills, that’s for sure.

There’s a not-so-subtle message of gender politics here. The males here are all utter bastards or completely ineffective. Heroine Kat (Johnson, who also co-wrote the script with the director) is there to get away from an abusive relationship. It’s brick-like in its obviousness, yet it’s almost half-way before the two sides face off. Until that point, it’s virtually a poster-child for demonstrating why one of the rules of cinema is “show, don’t tell”. This does far too much telling, and to negligible effect. Maybe there are just too many members in the party, to allow for decent fleshing out? Beyond Kat, none of them are given any depth, defined by one or two simple characteristics. And I note the film’s fondness for liberal gender politics doesn’t extend to issues of race, perpetuating one of the most common genre stereotypes [minor spoiler at the link].

After an immensely annoying first half, things become somewhat better, when the film climbs off its soapbox, and gets down to the raw meat of rednecks vs. disgruntled women. However, we’re never given anything approaching an explanation for the huntsmen. There’s some vague hints in the intro about this being a former mining area, and one of the participants has a nasty burn on the side of his face. Quite how this ties into creating a pastime inspired by The Most Dangerous Game, is never clear. Given all the screen time (ineffectually) put into the victims’ back stories, you feel they could have spared two minutes and given a coherent motive to the other side.

The women handle themselves surprisingly well in the battle, making good use of the environment – which, basically, means clobbering the men with branches, rocks, and anything else the environment can provide them. Possibly a bit too good, given the absence of anything to explain why they can go toe-to-toe with opponents who are generally bigger, better armed and have the advantage of home territory. Yet these heroines seem curiously averse to taking weapons off those who are attacking them: I’d be looting the bodies and powering up with anything I could find.

The closest parallel I can provide in overall tone, might be to think of this as like an above-ground version of The Descent. Yet it’s not as entertaining or well put together: there, the lack of any real explanation for the cave-dwelling creatures didn’t pose any issue – because monsters. But when you introduce a human element, there generally needs to be at least some kind of motivation provided, or it just seems like lazy film-making. Despite some decent performances – not least from Johnson – it falls flat and forgettable. On the evidence here, she’s a better actress than a scriptwriter.

Dir: Nils Taylor
Star: Nicole Marie Johnson, Leisha Hailey, Carrie Finklea, James Devoti

Butterfly

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“A terrible moth-take.”

Veteran B-movie director Nick Cole (Laisne) wakes up to find himself tied to a chair in a warehouse. The perpetrator of his abduction is Laney Darrow (Kreisher), who is clearly familiar with Cole’s body of work, and wants to show him some of her own productions. This starts with a film depicting the abduction and killing of a young man, which turns out to be a snuff film. That genre is Laney’s specialty, and her victims are not taken at random. They are all people with whom the director has worked in the past, and it gradually becomes clear that Laney has a very specific personal agenda, both in the kidnapping of Cole, and the creation of her filmography.

It’s a premise with potential. Yet it’s entirely squandered, and that’s painfully clear by the end of the first “film within a film,” which lasts far too long. I will admit to a particularly derisive snort after it, when Cole praised the special effects – for they were particularly terrible. If you’re going to make a faux snuff movie, you can’t be cutting away with a tablespoon of blood. That ship sailed, as far as any well-informed horror fan goes, with the Japanese Guinea Pig series, in the mid-eighties. It doesn’t help there’s no consistency in style there either. Is Laney holding the camera herself? Using a tripod? Got an accomplice? At times, it seems like it’s all of these.

But the main problem, I think, is likely the structure. The film keeps all the most relevant information away from the viewer until right at the end. As a result, you’ve got to sit through about 80 minutes of wondering “Why should I care about any of this?”, alternating with “Whose side am I supposed to be on?”, before the movie allows you to take an informed stance. This kind of moral ambiguity can work, though it takes a lot of skill. Hard Candy would be the example which comes first to mind; it’s not dissimilar, like this, being largely a two-hander between a young woman and her captive. But the gulf in quality between the two features only becomes increasingly obvious the longer this goes on, and it’s no coincidence Candy also explained the situation much earlier in proceedings.

As a result, I simply gave up on this, because it failed to give me any reason to care about the fate of either of the participants. Kreisher does have a certain edge to her performance; you certainly get the sense that Laney is a loose cannon, easily capable of going off the edge – if she isn’t there already. But watching Laney and her captive flapping their lips at each other, interrupted with bad home invasion footage, is hardly going to be anyone’s idea of entertainment. This is micro-budget horror [no possible way was the budget for this the claimed $250K], which aims low and still manages to miss its targets.

Dir: Edward E. Romero
Star: Mandi Kreisher, Jay Laisne, Sky Kelley, Garrett Penwel

Girls With Guns Calendars 2018

Welcome to our seventh annual round-up of girls with guns calendars, just in time for your Christmas shopping delight. Below, you’ll find prices (generally excluding shipping), sample images and links to purchase for all the calendars we could find. We’ll add more if we find them, feel free to email us if you know of any others. It has been a rough year in some ways, with several familiar names apparently not publishing this time around, including Alex Smits, Guns & Camo and (for a second successive year, so we’re calling them D.O.A. for now) Magpul. But we have also found a couple of new entries!

TAC GIRLS

TacGirls.com – $16.95

“Tactical Girls® 2018 Bikini Gun Calendar starts in January of 2018 and brings you 13 months of beautiful women with some of the world’s most exotic weaponry in realistic tactical settings. The 2018 Tactical Girls Calendar includes the Cadex Tremor .50 BMG Precision Rifle, the Kel-Tec KSG-25 bullpup Shotgun and last but not least the DRD Tactical Semi-Auto .338 Lapua Magnum! All of these, along with a variety of carbines, battle rifles, machine guns, pistols and sniper rifles, all with gorgeous models in realistic settings.”

LIBERTY BELLES

LibertyBellesUSA.com – $19.99

“Liberty Belles takes a glamorous glance at the world of tactical military jobs with a sexy twist! This project honors the special operations military forces within the US Navy, US Air Force, US Marine Corps, and US Army by boosting morale and creating awarness for various career fields within the armed forces. We believe our tactical bikinis and attention to detail helps our brand stand out above others in the same field. The 2014 Liberty Belles Calendar followed the same precedence as it’s 2013 Clips and Hips predecessor that was created by Chasen Grieshop, Gary Stevens, and Jarred Taylor. In 2012, these original three creators set out to create a tactical girl calendar that surpassed the average tried and true girls-with-guns idea, thus Clips and Hips was born. Since then, the creative forces behind Clips and Hips have gone their separate ways; however, the idea has since taken new form.”

GUNS AND GIRLS

GunsAndGirlsCalendar.com – $19.95 (inc. shipping)

The 2018 GUNS AND GIRLS wall calendar is packed with beautiful pin up models and many of today’s most popular weapons, everything from handguns to AR15s. This 16 month large format calendar is 17″x 28″ when hung up and a perfect gift for any Armed Service Member, Police Officer or Shooting Enthusiast. Also includes a bonus 12 month poster inside giving you two calendars in one package!

GUNS AND CAMO

GunsAndCamo.com – $13.95.

While there does appear to be a cover image for this one, it looks like the domain expired in early November, and at least one source says it has been discontinued. I’m not optimistic.

HOT SHOTS

HotShotsCalendar.com – $16.95

“Returning for the 11th year running, Hot Shots Calendar went on the road for the 4th of July. The girls experienced true independence, travelling freely through the state of Wyoming; locked, loaded and ready to shoot (for the calendar)! This year’s theme showcases the deadly combination of the amazing Hot Shots girls and some serious weaponry. As always, Hot Shots Calendar aims to support the bravery and sacrifices made by the armed forces who continually risk their own lives to protect ours. Proceeds from the calendar are donated to charities in the UK and US such as Help for Heroes in honour of their service to their country. Gracing Hot Shots once again are veterans Rosie Jones, Kelly Hall and India Reynolds. Hot Shots also welcomed new girls Lauren Houldsworth, Tina Louise, Charissa Littlejohn and Liberte Austin to complete our sensational seven.”

ZAHAL GIRLS

zahal.org – $23.90

It’s finally ready! The Zahal Girls 2018 calendars are ready and waiting to be shipped all around the world! The 2018 Zahal Girls calendar features all of our girls with Israeli & US made rifle accessories & tactical gear. All girls are IDF veterans that server in combat positions such as: Infantry & Infantry shooting instructors. The calendar is made out of 14 high quality chromo paper sheets, all joint together with a metal spiral, a small hook at the top (for hanging) and printed with high quality ink HP printers.

  • Lovie M. – Shooting Instructor & Range Master
  • Natasha P. – Infantry “Caracal” Battalion
  • Shiran A. – Shooting Instructor & Range Master
  • Esti S. – Infantry “Caracal” Battalion
  • Shir E. – Shooting Instructor & Range Master
  • Orin J. – Combat Search & Rescue

RED BUBBLE

RedBubble.com – $28.00

  • Tough wire binding and hanger
  • Stunningly sharp digital printing
  • Start the year with the month of your choice
  • 200gsm satin art paper with a tougher cover

GURLS N GUNZ

CafePress.com – $19.99

Keeping track of important dates is easy with our high quality 12-month Wall Calendar

  • Choose your own start month and year
  • Pages measure 11″ x 8.5″; calendar measures 11″ x 17″ when hung on wall
  • 100 lb cover weight high gloss paper, wire-o bound
  • Full-bleed, full-color printing

CCFR Gunnie Girl

Canadian Coalition for Firearm Rights – $19.95

Finally, if you’re looking for something more PG-rated, you can head north of the border for this gun advocacy group. “This year’s calendar highlights and promotes some of our amazing CCFR women with beautiful, tasteful and stunning photos of them and their favourite firearms. The funds raised from this project will be used to financially support the women’s program. Each calendar comes with a registration number for prize give-aways. Quantities are limited.” Not sure if the price is in US or Canadian dollars.