The Silencer

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“Soft gun-porn with hidden depths. Probably too hidden.”

This is an odd little film; heroine Angel (Walden – by some reports now a ski-lift attendant) is an assassin, ordered to take out the leaders of a white slavery ring. After the first killing, she finds solace in the arms of a random guy, and you think you know where this is going: a killing, then a sex scene, for the rest of the movie. Yet this first is also about the last, from then on, the erotic thriller angle is largely ignored, in favour of her former partner George (Mulkey), who takes out any man with whom Angel forms a relationship. It’s almost like she’s working for SD-6.

The film may be all the better for this avoidance of the obvious, and certainly improves as it goes on – though after an opening credit sequence that appears to have been shot directly from the screen of a ZX Spectrum, it could hardly be otherwise. [It’s also the distinctly cheapskate method by which Angel gets her orders] Morton Downey Jr. makes a cameo, and the movie even brushes against self-reference, when one of Angel’s hits takes place on the set of a girls-with-guns movie.

Walden certainly looks the part, and there was one major surprise at the end. But the surreal, dreamy approach for which Goldstein appears to be aiming, comes off more as if the whole cast were dosed up on ketamine. Is there any reason why George is able to follow Angel’s entire life on the screen of an arcade game? It’s a rare genre entry, in that it was directed by a woman; however, it did take her eight years to make another movie. Read into that what you like…

Dir: Amy Goldstein
Star: Lynette Walden, Chris Mulkey, Paul Ganus, Jaime Gomez

Fallen Angel

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“Workmanlike but largely uninspired serial killer thriller.”

Paul plays Philadelphia detective Laura Underwood; while investigating a string of deaths in which men have fallen from buildings, she discovers they are all her high-school classmates. Someone is clearly delivering payback for old misdemeanours. That someone would be Vicky (Johnson); the film is upfront about this, and indeed, there’s very little that isn’t out in the open. We know the who and the why, which leaves the film short on suspense. Paul is hardly credible playing a cop either, and Hall as her ex-fiance Brian is simply irritating.

Fortunately, the script is better than you might expect, with some thought going into the actual detective work – a phrase used by the killer during one of her taunting calls, eventually leads to the discovery of her identity. Brian gets his just reward, and the obvious cliches we expected, never quite materialised, though it teetered precariously close on occasion. There’s also a nice circularity; the opening scene, in which Underwood disarms an abused wife, who is threatening her husband with a gun, is more significant than you’d think.

The film still plays too much like an ABC movie of the week, or perhaps a discarded pilot, and there’s no reason to feel anything at all for the victims. If this one has a moral, it’s likely less the oft-stated, “Never trust a man after midnight,” and more “Don’t climb over railings to have sex with suspiciously-blonde women on the edge of seven-storey drops.”

Dir: Marc S. Grenier
Star: Alexandra Paul, Vlasta Vrana, Michelle Johnson, Anthony Michael Hall

PB 82 (Police Branch 82)

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“Dirty Harry with breasts. And angst. And a partner scared of roaches.”

Okay, pardon me if I’m confused. What the IMDB says is the plot for Metropolitan Police Branch 82 is actually Tokyo Blue: Case 1. However, there are multiple parts to the series, and I think that this tape from ADV may be the first. Or perhaps the second. Not that it’s important, but just so you know. :-) Mika (Inoue) is a cop with a liking for her Magnum, who loses her partner while capturing the criminal Nezu (Yamato). He then escapes, and she gets a new partner (Tayama), who is more concerned with fashion than the down and dirty world of criminal detection, and also hates cockroaches to the extent of unloading a full clip on one in the police station. Mika rolls her eyes a lot at this, but in Mika’s past lurks a dark secret when she shot first and asked questions later.

As they chase after Nezu and his accomplice (Lilico), there is a load of naked flesh, portrayed in the enthusiastic yet restrained approach typical of Japan. It probably isn’t worth your while, and you kinda wish they hadn’t bothered. In between times, there’s also a lot of the usual “mismatched cops” routine, and it’s no more fresh or interesting here, than in all the Hollywood movies which use it. However, the finale, set in a deserted amusement park, is well-staged and imaginative, with an underwater fight which makes you wish for more of the same. Inoue’s performance also lifts this one up a notch, doing a good job of the “hard case with a soft centre.” It’s still a cliche, but she brings enough life to it to deserve credit.

Dir: Daisuke Goto
Star: Harumi Inoue, Mamiko Tayama, Yukio Yamato, Lilico

Angel Fist

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“Proof that it’s easier to train an actor to fight, than a fighter to act…”

Cat opted not to follow in the footsteps of her father, shampoo magnate Vidal, preferring instead to win various karate titles (allegedly) before moving into movies. Between two parts of the Blood Fist series, she popped over to the Philippines, and made this one for Roger Corman, under the gaze of familiar GWG director Santiago (TNT Jackson, etc.). She plays an LA cop, who comes to Manilla to investigate her sister’s death – she was killed after photographing a political assassination. And, hey, whaddya know? She was also taking part in a karate tournament… I trust I need not extend the plot synopsis any further.

Quite how Sassoon won her titles is unclear from the evidence on view here; perhaps screen fighting isn’t her forte, but there seems to be a lot of doubling and not much apparent ability. She does, however, possess the necessary lack of acting talent – the only things more fake than her dialogue delivery, are her breasts. Which we see, along with Melissa Moore’s, frequently, to no real surprise or, being honest, effect (though the topless kung-fu in which Sassoon engages is a sleazy piece of inspiration, albeit one borrowed from Santiago’s earlier Silk 2)

There is a semi-interesting subplot, in that the villains are actually opposed to American bases in the Phillipines, and this allows for a slight level of political complexity. However, before too long, we’re back to mediocre fist-fights and more titty action. Sassoon, meanwhile, died at a New Year’s Eve party a couple of years back from a heart attack. Which is kinda sad.

Dir: Cirio H. Santiago
Star: Cat Sassoon, Melissa Moore, Michael Shaner, Denise Buick

Avalon

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“Infuriatingly uneven cyberworld pic: looks great, but loses its way far too often.”

While this is live-action, Oshii is best known for his anime work, such as Ghost in the Shell. That also had an action heroine, great visual style and lost its way in philosophical navel-gazing. There, it was the nature of self – here, it’s the nature of reality. Set in Poland, which may be a first for a Japanese film, the heroine, Ash (Foremniak), is addicted to an illegal computer game called Avalon. When she hears about the existence of a special level in it, she’ll stop at nothing to find the entrance. But, for her, the line between life and pastime is becoming more and more blurred…

It’s a fabulous concept, and the virtual world is realised beautifully, with CGI that are carefully made to look like CGI. There are any number of cool touches, such as how the only people in Ash’s “real life” who move are animals and other players – everyone else is frozen in place. But the tedium of her real life is hammered home to such an extent that it becomes every bit as dull to the viewer, as it is to her. Worse still, the final confrontation is interrupted by lengthy, pointless shots of an orchestra playing portentous classical music; what could, and should, be a gripping climax is brought to a grinding halt.

Still not quite convinced it completely makes sense, with a lot of unanswered questions at the end, some of them significant: suspect David Cronenberg’s eXistenZ covered similar ground with much more confidence. However, even if Oshii needs to exercise tighter control on scripting, this is probably still worth a look, purely for the eye-candy of the game sequences.

Dir: Mamoru Oshii
Star: Malgorzata Foremniak, Wladyslaw Kowalski, Jerzy Gudejko, Dariusz Biskupski

Golgo 13: Queen Bee

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“A tale with plenty of sting, but too much sexual bee-haviour.”

Four stars but no seal of approval? That’s because this is about the most wildly variable animated film I’ve seen. The story and characters are great, but the frequent sex scenes are incredibly tedious and clearly put in solely for the teenage male fan (all pneumatic breasts and moaning). It’s rare for me to say this, but they are genuinely gratuitous, and the film could have coped fine without them.

Between times, there’s certainly plenty going on in terms of plot. Ultra-taciturn hitman Golgo 13 is hired to kill narco-terrorist Queen Bee, who has been sending threatening letters to a presidential candidate. From here an entire web is spun (sorry, failed to come up with a bee analogy!) of deceit, double-dealing and death. The anti-heroine comes across rather better than the anti-hero, since you see more about her background, and she’s certainly a fascinating personality, even in a grim world where no-one is innocent.

The animation uses every trick in the book to mixed effect, with some of the violence particularly well-executed. The tape I saw was dubbed, which is another reason to deny it the seal, though the voice acting here is largely painless (it helps that Golgo 13 has about five lines!). It may yet make it: I’ll likely pick up the subtitled DVD sometime, with a director’s commentary, apparently revealing that the candidate and his adviser were shown as gay lovers in a deleted scene. Frankly, I’d have been happy to trade that for one of the heterosexual encounters.

Dir: Osamu Dezaki
Star (voice, English dub): Denise Poirier, Carlos Ferro, Dwight Shultz, John Dimaggio

Freeway

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“Little Red Riding Hood: the crack whore years…”

Right from the opening credits, a debt to the Brothers Grimm is clear. In this modern-day version, Red’s stepfather is a sleazebag crackhead, and her mother a street hooker; when both get carted off to jail, Vanessa Lutz (Witherspoon) heads, with basket, up Interstate 5 towards Grandma’s house. Except that on the way, she meets Bob Wolverton (Sutherland), the notorious I-5 killer. And what big teeth he has!

From there, the tale diverges a bit: I don’t remember a prison catfight in the original, and recall Red relying more on a woodsman with a large axe than her own handguns, but it has been a while since I read it. This is, however, unashamedly grim with a small G. Er, and one m. :-) The Lutzs take “dysfunctional” to new levels, and it’s frankly astonishing that Vanessa has retained any sense of morality, albeit a severely skewed one. I wasn’t surprised when her only decent relationship was terminated by a drive-by.

The cast is a mixture of has-beens (Sutherland, before resurrection in 24, and Shields) and will-bes (Witherspoon and also Brittany Murphy), but all deliver fine performances. The weakest point is a script more concerned with satire than logic – would they really let a convicted arsonist carry a lighter in jail? No wonder Oliver Stone is a producer, given the undeniable echoes of Natural Born Killers. As a benchmark, at one point, when Vanessa shows Bob a photo of her “real” father, it’s actually serial killer Richard Speck. If that amuses – and must confess, it did us – this film is probably for you.

Dir: Matthew Bright
Star: Reese Witherspoon, Kiefer Sutherland, Brooke Shields, Bokeem Woodbine

Picture Claire

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“Bit of a tossed salad – in need of more tossing.”

Set over one day, more or less, in Toronto, this can’t make up its mind whether to be a tense thriller, or an art-house drama. The result is an uneasy blend, where most of the elements are fine, yet the overall result falls short of completely satisfying. Quebecois Claire (Lewis, spouting an irritating French accent, and shouting “Beelee!” a lot) travels to Toronto in search of a photographer with whom she had a brief relationship. She doesn’t initially find him, but ends up chief suspect in a murder committed by Lily (Gershon), and also the only person who knows the whereabouts of Lily’s film canister, which is being sought by a psychotic criminal (Rennie).

It’s definitely Canadian: Claire’s lack of English and Toronto’s ignorance of French, jab at provincialism in a country with two official languages. Still, it’s fast-paced, and Beresford’s use of split screens sometimes adds tension, as when Lily chases after Claire’s taxi, which is stopped at a red light. Of course, at others, the results look like a pointlessly frame-obsessed website. Either way, Gershon is particularly good, and you’re left feeling there’s much more to discover about Lily. This is made clear from her casual, broad-daylight garroting of the sleazy Eddie (Rourke) in a cafe, when she merely suspects him of a double-cross. How Lily got hold of that film-canister is probably a movie in itself.

Dir: Bruce Beresford
Star: Juliette Lewis, Gina Gershon, Callum Keith Rennie, Mickey Rourke

Gunsmith Cats: Bulletproof

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“Fast, hardware-heavy fun in Chicago, Japanese-style!”

Watching this dubbed was, for once, viable since despite its Japanese origins, it’s firmly set in and around Chicago. So we did sit through some of it in English, but the accents were woefully Cal-girl and thus we’d recommend sticking with the Japanese, even more unlikely though it might be. That out of the way, this is an action-packed romp, in three episodes but effectively one story. Rally Vincent and May Hopkins, one a crack marksman, the other an explosives expert, own a gun store, but are blackmailed by the ATF into helping nail an arms ring. It’s not as simple as it seems, since the perps have connections at a high level, and the services of a former Soviet Special Forces hitwoman.

The episodic structure means there’s never a dull moment and you effectively get three climaxes for the price of one, with the car chase in #2 perhaps my favourite. If it occasionally teeters on the edge of cheesecake – Rally gets her blouse shot open – it’s made clear early on that the heroines have little time for romantic dalliance. Indeed, there’s little time for anything much, including character development, but the story charges on at a great pace, so it’s not as if they’re wasting time.

You can see why Sonoda set it in America, since handguns are illegal in Japan, and the crowded streets would likely impair the auto quotient. Creator Kenichi Sonoda’s fondness for fast cars was apparent in his earlier work, Riding Bean, and by the end of this, Chris had decided she wants a Shelby GT Cobra, just the like the one Rally drives. Drool. :-) A lot of effort went into reproducing Chicago and wiser heads than mine (who have actually been there!) say it’s accurately detailed. Though undeniably great fun, perhaps the most amusement we got was from pretending the opening song was the theme to Saturday Night Live, to which it bears a spooky resemblance…

Dir: Mori Takeshi
Star (voice): Michiko Neya, Kae Araki, Aya Hisakawa

Aruba Red

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“Hooray, beer!”

Don’t look for Aruba Red in your local video store. You won’t find it, because it is a beer. Yes, an alcoholic beverage. So, what in heaven’s name is it doing on this site? Well, as far as I know, it’s the only beer inspired by a female action heroine, albeit a fictitious one.

It’s only available at the Bahama Breeze restaurant chain – to quote their site: “No one knows where she came from, but over 200 years ago she appeared, leading a pack of pirates spreading mischief and mayhem throughout the Caribbean. Nicknamed Aruba Red for her fiery red hair, she was as sly as she was fearless. She would slip aboard ships at sea in the dark of night, scouting for treasure. At sunrise, her pirate band would board the ship and make off with its valuables.”.

There’s a fair bit more: as yarns go, it’s kinda cool, even if I don’t believe a word. I still approached with caution, since it’s exclusively brewed for Bahama Breeze by the Evil Empire: Anheuser-Busch, makers of Bud and Michelob. As someone who likes beer, it is a tenet of faith that they are the Antichrist. Aruba Red, however, isn’t bad – in terms of flavour, it’s as if someone attempted to make Red Stripe based on a second-hand description. Though the hint of bananas is odd, if fitting the tropical theme. Going by the headache that eventually arrived (though my dehydration probably helped), it seems quite strong, and at only $2.50 for a pint – and a 20 oz. British one at that – is excellent value.

Over at BeerAdvocate.com, it’s ranked #2 out of 38 Anheuser-Busch products. You go, girl. :-) If only it was widely available: the sole thing preventing it from getting our seal of approval, is that you can only get it in the restaurant. For what could be more perfect to accompany that viewing of Cutthroat Island?

Brewer: Anheuser-Busch
Available: Bahama Breeze restaurants