Convict 762

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“In space, no-one can hear you dream…”

A good idea – even if one borrowed about equally from Pitch Black and Aliens – gets sucked into the void and drained of all life, thanks to some of the most turgid direction imaginable. A ship with an all-female crew has to land on a prison planet for fuel, but finds only two people left. Which is the mass murderer? Can they find out before they get picked off, one by one…?

It’s a premise with promise, but all the opportunities for tension get thrown away so badly, that the end result is simply dull and plodding. One example will suffice – when they’re exploring the planet, the guard left on board is attacked. Rather than rush to her rescue, in a thrilling race against time, the rest of the crew stroll back at a leisurely pace, all but pausing to admire the scenery. I fell asleep: not once, but three times

On the plus side – and I confess to struggling here – it’s nice how the fully female crew is not deemed worthy of comment, nor is it exploited in obvious fashion. The actors do what they can, but Drago is such a scenery-chewing psycho, he’s either the world’s most obvious murderer, or the world’s most obvious red herring, and neither would come as any surprise. Let’s lay the blame for this one firmly at the door of Bercovici and sell the tape quickly on Ebay, before anyone sees this review.

Dir: Luca Bercovici
Star: Shannon Sturges, Billy Drago, Frank Zagorino

Black and White

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“Training Day meets Basic Instinct”

Gina Gershon showed previous action heroine potential in Face Off; here, she moves a little further up that line with an effective whodunnit in which she plays a thoroughly unconventional homicide cop with a shady past. Cochrane is her rookie partner, who begins to suspect she may be the serial killer who is taking out the local garbage. There’s almost inevitably a sense of disappointment in twisty thriller like this one; when the film-makers reveal the real culprit, the viewer tends to feel let down. Black suffers less from this than most, though still requires some suspension of disbelief. The script, by the director and (one assumes, his brother) Leon Zeltser, crackles along nicely, with convincing dialogue and good pacing, revealing information at just the right rate to keep the audience guessing.

Must confess, seeing Gershon play a heterosexual takes some getting used to – c.f Bound and Showgirls – but she does an excellent job here, even if her best line remains the sexually ambivalent “Is there anyone in this room who doesn’t want to fuck me?” The rest of the cast back her up well, in particular, Ron Silver, as Mr. Internal Affairs (and ex-lover), delivers his usual slimy turn, while Cochrane hits the right notes of bewilderment. Gershon’s character comes over more as a coiled spring than a loose cannon. Even sitting at a bus-stop, she looks primed to explode, but never really does. This lack of action is about the only thing stopping this from getting the seal of approval – otherwise, for the most part, this is a solid and effective thriller.

Dir: Yuri Zeltser
Star: Gina Gershon, Rory Cochrane, Ron Silver, Alison Eastwood

Toughwoman World Championships

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“Just like the real thing – every bit as corrupt and tacky as professional boxing!”

If you’re not familiar with the Toughman concept, a brief summary: two amateur fighters, box it out for three one-minute rounds. The short duration means tactics are largely reduced to whaling away big-time, which makes a version of the sport suitable for the post-MTV generation. This pay-per-view special was a knockout tournament, with 16 female entrants from across the U.S…which naturally had me carping about the “world” in the title (clearly from the same parochial mind-set as “world series”).

Credit where credit is due, and that must go to the participants, who (mostly) carried themselves with a fair bit of dignity and grace; you could only admire their heart, tenacity and grit. It was gratifying to see that participants hadn’t been chosen on the basis of looks, though I do have to say that no-one weighing 275 lbs really deserves the nickname ‘Pretty Woman’. But that’s just my opinion, and I certainly wouldn’t argue the point with her. :-)

I said “mostly”; the sole exception was Leah Stuker, an arrogant ex-stripper. She didn’t even deserve to win her first-round bout – okay, one bad judging decision can be excused. She also got the decision in her next two bouts – let’s be charitable, and say they were close enough to be arguable. But in the final, against veteran Becki Levy (above, right), she barely landed a punch…and still triumphed. Perhaps her arrogance was because she knew all along she was going to win, providing she remained conscious. I wouldn’t have minded it being staged if, like the WWF, the other contestants had been in on it. They obviously weren’t, and were giving their all in the cause of a sham. Levy, Nicky Eplion, Cassandra Gieggar, even Paula ‘Pretty Woman’ Soap – they all deserved victory more than Stuker. I note with interest that Stuker had been the poster-girl on the Toughwoman site since before the contest took place. Just a coincidence, nothing to worry about…

It didn’t help that in-ring announcer (and Toughman owner) Art Dore and corner-interviewer Jimmy Smith both left trails of slime behind them in their interactions with the contestants. Outside, things were slightly better: Larry Michael was informative and non-patronising, but then, sitting next to Christie Martin would keep anyone in check. To Martin’s credit, she seemed to be seriously biting her tongue about the final result – I would personally have been delighted to pay a further $19.95, and see her give Stuker the serious kicking she deserved. It all left a bad, bad taste in the mouth, and pretty much guarantees I won’t buy any more of their PPV’s. Hey, if I want to see pre-arranged fights, Wrestlemania’s coming up…

From Leah ‘the Katz’ Stuker, 2nd May 2004
This is 2002 Toughwoman World Champion Leah Stuker – I was told how your site dogged me out. Well, why don’t you see it from my point of view. Yes, I had won and was very surprised that I won, until I watched the video after I got home. Then I saw how it was possible: if Becky deserved that fight, then she should have been doing some hitting, because the whole time, all she was trying to do was sit on me.

What’s really shitty is, I went in there to fight and win just like everyone else, and I had no-one sponsoring me, no-one training me, no-one but my family to back me. Then they decide to give me the name ‘stripper’ – something I did ten years before this, and the only reason they knew about that is because one of the corner men had seen me working a month before a fight I won in Montana. So all my family and friends got to see my name rubbed in the mud on national TV. I got 50 questions about that from my Dad, thanks to that asshole Art. If you read anything, my name was Leah ‘the Katz’ Stuker, not ‘the stripper’.

Needless to say everything I learned, I learned from the streets, books or even watching some TV bouts. How many girls can say they went in there with no formal training and no boxing coach whatsoever – just heart and strength! As for the pix on their website, I was told to get some done, because all the girls fighting were getting them posted on the site. I got some done, but they didn’t like the ones I sent – and since they paid the photographer, they picked which ones they liked.

If I knew I was going to win this thing, I sure would have gotten a lot less bruises and asked for a little more money, because 4 fights in 2 hours is not what I wanted to do. And if I was their “poster child” how come I never heard from Toughman or Art Dore ever again after this bout? Why did I get paid and never get any thing after this point, including this pro contract that I was supposed to get? Not one person from Toughman said they would ever have me go pro.

Since you were so sure I was on their side and so sure this fight was staged, then come to my house and tell my kids the 4 to 6 hours in the gym a day were for nothing; the learning I did on my own was for nothing; everything I did was for nothing. Leaving them for almost a week was for nothing since I am a very devoted mother and leaving them was the hardest thing I ever had to do!! Tell them that: because even if you assholes don’t think I deserved it, my boys think I am their biggest hero.

I cross a bunch of hurdles everyday and never look back to see if I knocked any down, only ahead to make sure the path is still there. Here’s to all who think I didn’t win – I won fair and square, have got the money, trophy and jacket to prove it, and am now back to being a single mother raising her boys on her own.

[With hindsight, it looks as if we were harsh on The Katz – though we still don’t feel she deserved to win, and suspect the organizers decided the winner beforehand (likely based on factors outside the ring), it seems that Stuker was trying every bit as hard as any other competitor and was an innocent victim – we apologise for suggesting otherwise. It sounds like she got screwed over too, and deserves sympathy for the treatment she received. Besides, any woman bringing up kids on their own is a heroine every single day…

Road Kill

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“Woman Bites Dog.”

Advertised with the fetching slogan, “Guns don’t kill people – she does”, this is a film about a film, specifically the graduation documentary being made by Alex (Palladino), who has the good fortune to live opposite hitwoman, Blue (Rubin). She just happens to be going on her final job, and agrees to let him and sound-man Lars (Jayne) come along. On the way, however, things come out of the closet about Blue’s background, and Alex finds himself crossing the line between documentarian and instigator.

There are certainly good ideas here, but not enough to keep you interested – Alex is a bland, uninteresting character with little to reveal beyond him almost becoming a pro-baseball player. Blue is better, but the details and mechanism of her job, its origins and her motivations are never made clear either. Lars is actually the most interesting character, a flakey artist with lactose intolerance, who doesn’t believe in daylight saving time. Lovely. There’s also a loan shark who specialises in student loans and a barman missing a toe. Oh, if only Alex were half as entertaining.

Rubin, given the chance, does a good job, though it’s only in the final confrontational scene that we get to see what she is really capable of doing. Until then, the job of assassin seems little more interesting than that of a travelling salesman – she drives cross-country, pop-pop, and drives home again. It’s all rather too prosaic, making it hard to see why Alex (or, indeed, the viewer), would want to get so involved. It certainly isn’t the glamour or the excitement.

Dir: Matthew Leutwyler
Star: Jennifer Rubin, Erik Palladino, Billy Jayne

Warrior Women – the Amazons of Dahomey, and the Nature of War, by Robert B. Edgerton

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“A little-known piece of African history…and rather too much other stuff.”

Back in the mid-19th century, the West African kingdom of Dahomey had a singular army, led not by men, but by women. Even now, the “Amazons” of Dahomey represent an almost unique fighting force, the only confirmed case in history where the best soldiers in a male-led society were female. Their origins date back to rules forbidding men from being in the royal palace after dusk, leaving women to act as palace guards. When King Gezo took the throne in 1818, he was so impressed by the loyalty of his female protectors that he made them his army’s elite. So they remained, as many as 8,000 of them, until wiped out at the century’s end by vastly better-armed French colonial troops. Even then, they commanded respect. “These young women were far and away the best men in the Dahomeyan army, and woman to man were quite a match for any of us” – and this wasn’t any regular French soldier writing, but a member of the elite Foreign Legion.

Edgerton’s book tells their history, as well as seeking, though failing to find, parallels elsewhere in history. He also discusses Dahomean society, which followed a dual cosmology, balancing life/death, left/right, and male/female, appointing for each male official a kjopito or “mother”, who would shadow them. These diversions into areas of doubtful relevance e.g. how the king maintained power, are due to a shortage of firsthand data. While sometimes memorable (aware of the shortage of marriageable women caused by his massive harem, the King financed a corps of royal prostitutes, to serve the needs of his male subjects at low cost), unless you’re interested in 19th-century African culture, these sidetracks are largely padding.

Even so, it’s still under 200 pages, including notes, bibliography and index. There is some fascinating material, just not enough to justify the recommended retail price. I picked up a remaindered copy, though, and at the princely cost of $3.00, certainly have no hesitation in recommending it.

By: Robert B. Edgerton
Publisher: Westview Press, 2000, $25.00

Alien Blood

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“Aliens? Vampires? Scenery? Horrible start wrecks this strange genre hybrid.”

After thirty minutes, I was toying with the idea of giving this the first ever 0 star rating. On that basis, eventually creeping up to two counts as something of a miraculous recovery. The heroine is an alien, transporting her child across the English countryside, while being pursued by white-masked hunters. There is almost no dialogue, which is so obviously a penny-pinching device it hurts – the video stock and woeful “martial arts” don’t help.

She takes refuge in a house, and that’s where things start to perk up, as it’s occupied by a group of vampires – albeit really wimpy ones with no apparent powers, even “Dracula”, who’s there too. A siege then begins, with vampires and alien teaming up against the human attackers, before…well, let’s just say you can tell from the finale that the director’s background is in FX. There’s some effective gore, and the vampire girls (rapidly abandoned by their malefolk) strip to their lingerie for no readily apparent reason, save to fire off automatic weapons. Though must say that the cast is perhaps the ugliest ever assembled for a motion picture.

It’s a nice idea, which could have been so much better. Imagine the humans’ shock, if they found out who they’re facing. Maybe the vampires were aliens too, just from a different planet. The unexplored possibilities are almost endless, and speculating on them will provide a good chunk of the entertainment value to be found here.

Dir: Jon Sorenson
Star: Francesca Manning, Glyn Whiteside, Vanessa Stevens, Catherine Whitaker

If They Only Knew, by Chyna

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“Now we know. We just don’t care…”

This is probably the first WWF bio from a wrestler who never won the world title. Yet Chyna made her mark, largely through her abandoning the T&A of the women’s division, to take on the likes of Triple H and Stone Cold. This would seem to be an interesting angle, from which to report. So why is the result so goddamn…well, whiny? Part of the problem is that any wrestle-bio has to compete with the genius which was Mick Foley’s first book, Have a Nice Day – for insight and sheer good humour, it’s almost impossible to beat. Yet that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t bother trying. Chyna, on the other hand, runs out little more than a “woe is me!” tale about what a horrible life she had, all the way from her childhood, up until the WWF plucked her from obscurity to make her a star.

If she’d paid her dues, I might have more sympathy, but there’s hardly any info on her (apparently brief) time as an indie wrestler. You get a fair bit on the training at Killer Kowalski’s school, but otherwise, you can’t help wondering if there are any number of other women who are more deserving of the chances she’s had (Intercontinental Champion! Playboy centrefold!) and wouldn’t complain about everything so much. Hell, she could always go back to her planned career as an air-hostess – indeed, this might yet be her best option if she doesn’t meet with success outside the WWF soon, and that’s something notable by its absence since her departure. What insights there are come from other people e.g. WWF heavyweight champ (at time of writing) Chris Jericho, who says, “Women’s wrestling is kind of dead in the States almost. In Japan, it’s awesome”, though subsequent comments about “porky, chubby lesbians” may merit a visit from Manami Toyota and Mima Shimoda.

But the best quote comes from Luna, daugher of Maurice ‘Mad Dog’ Vachon: “We’re shit-out-of-luck. We’re not strippers. We’re not bimbos. We’re not empty-headed females. We like this sport. We love to entertain. We didn’t want to be in this sport to be close to men – we got in this sport because we love wrestling. But SOL, baby. You know what the men have done to us? Besides paying us tons less than the men, objectifying us into eye candy, T&A, the little wet dream for the little weenies? They turned us on each other… And the real bitch is, you try and get tough, you show ’em you’re into the moves and counter-moves and that you can take a dive off the top rope as good as any of them, they start calling you a man, a dyke, a ‘roid junkie, a muffin diver, all that crap. SOL, Joanie, SOL.” This is far more honest and to the point than anything Chyna comes up with – any chance of Luna writing a book?

By: Chyna
Publisher: Harper-Collins, 2001, $26.00

The Spree

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“Xinia, Burglar Princess, learns that crime does pay.”

Good films about women burglars are hard to come by, for some reason. Mind you, good films about male burglars are also kinda thin on the ground; need I say any more than Hudson Hawk. This isn’t quite as bad (at least they don’t burst into song at any point), but falls well short of something like License to Steal, and comes closer to The Real McCoy territory. Xinia (Beals) is a burglar, who falls in love with snake rancher, Bram Hatcher. Bad news: he turns out to be an undercover cop. Good news: he wants a new career…as her accomplice.

This simple tale of infatuation, inevitably, turns out to be not so simple. The problem is, it’s still pretty simple-minded, with only one real twist, which is so unsurprising, it probably fails to count as a twist. Tommy Lee Wallace (Halloween III) handles the burglary scenes nicely, in particular an opening which has the heroine progressively more cornered in a house. She ends stuck in a bathroom, behind a shower curtain, with the owner in the room and about to have a shower; her escape is audacious, but it’s all downhill from there.

Could have done without the frequent sex scenes too; the use of a double for Beals is laughably obvious (breasts and face never seen together), while Boothe was 47 when this was made, and really should know better than to flash his ass. Rita Moreno, who won an Oscar for West Side Story, also turns up as Xinia’s mother – should probably have given Beals some dialogue coaching, as her accent wavers between doubtful and AWOL. Your interest will likely do the same.

Dir: Tommy Lee Wallace
Star: Jennifer Beals, Powers Boothe, Garry Chalk, John Cassini

A League of Their Own

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“A chick flick with balls…and strikes.”

Deserving credit for being about the only female sports film of note, this is actually pretty good, despite a pointless and schmaltzy wraparound, which gives us nothing but some wrinkly baseball, one of Madonna’s least memorable songs and Geena Davis as a thoroughly unconvincing pensioner. Which is a shame; if the bread in the sandwich is stale, the meat is tasty and filling.

From 1943 to 1954, women played professional baseball, a fact largely forgotten until this film. Davis plays the star catcher, taken from the countryside to play ball – giving a new meaning to “farm team”, hohoho – along with her sister (Petty). The movie covers the first season, under a recovering alcoholic coach (Hanks), leading to a face-off between siblings in Game 7 of the championship.

Davis is excellent and entirely convincing (she’d go on to make final trials for the US 2000 Olympic archery team): the interplay between her and Hanks is great, and most of her team-mates are also true personalities. However, Madonna is superfluous, given the similar presence of Rosie O’Donnell [I’m struggling to avoid obvious jokes here]. Jon Lovitz steals the first quarter as an acidic scout, and it’s a shame when he leaves.

If the characters are great, there’s a lack of narrative drive; how can you get excited over playoffs, when it looks like every team qualifies? The friction between Davis and Petty vanishes for much of the movie, in favour of a series of entertaining but – being honest – unimportant diversions. When we reach the finale though, it’s great; ever bit as exciting as any World Series Game 7. And coming from an Arizona Diamondbacks fan, that’s praise indeed.

Dir: Penny Marshall
Star: Geena Davis, Lori Petty, Tom Hanks, Rosie O’Donnell

Blood Games

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A Deliverance of Their Own

I guess Blood Sport was already taken? It’s softball beauties vs. rednecks after: a) the visiting ladies thump the home side 17-2, b) the team owner has to extract his fee at gunpoint, and c) the gals resist – forceably – the crude advances of the locals. Before you can say, “duelling banjos”, they’re being pursued through the woods, and picked off one by one.

This 1990 movie starts slow; any viewer will know exactly where this is going, yet they still take half an hour to get there. It’s not as if the time is spent on characterisation either; most of the softball team were clearly chosen for their appearance, while the yokels are straight from Cliched Casting, Inc. Yet if they’re stereotypes, they are undeniably creepy ones, well-portrayed by Cummings and Shay. Rosenberg uses them with enough skill to make you wonder why she never directed again, and ones things get going, she keeps the film going, without much slack.

Playing Babe, daughter of team owner Ross Hagen, Laura Albert is about the only one of the girls to make any impression as a character; she’d go on to become a stuntwoman, working on the like of Starship Troopers. The rest of her colleagues take showers, get assaulted (a sequence verging on the nastily gratuitous), die, turn psycho and take revenge, all without exhibiting any significant personality traits. Quite an achievement in itself. Another one of those movies which will put you off going to rural, Southern parts of America.

Dir: Tanya Rosenberg
Star: Laura Albert, Gregory Cummings, Luke Shay, Shelly Abblett