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

Perdita Durango

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“The two greatest pleasures in life are fucking and killing.”

perdita_durangoDespite flaws, this merits your attention simply because of the title character, even if describing her as a “heroine” would necessitate a wholesale redefinition of the term – the quote above is entirely typical of her attitude. When she teams up with bank-robber Romeo Dolorosa to traffic a truckload of foetuses to Las Vegas (as you do…), it’s like putting a lit match to fuel. You just know there’s trouble ahead.

Romeo is into Santeria, and Perdita convinces him to perform a human sacrifice; to this end, they kidnap a slumming young WASP couple (Cross and Graham – and yes, it is Heather’s sister, though notably less well-endowed), and the film goes into nightmare mode. You get the horrible feeling that absolutely anything could happen, and de la Iglesia shows that he has no problems pouring on both sex and violence. [I should mention at this point that you should track down the German DVD, which is the only uncut version currently available, AFAIK] It’s difficult viewing – and Rosie Perez always seemed so nice. You certainly won’t sustain that view afterwards.

The film does run out of steam when this extremely menacing section is completed, and ends up petering out somewhat, as the focus moves off the couple and more onto Romeo – Perdita is pushed into the sidelights, and she deserves a much better fate. If there’s also a sense of deja vu, it’s because the story comes from the same writer as Wild at Heart, and both depict a twisted love-story/chase. Despite this, there’s enough perverted nastiness here to satisfy the most jaded palate.

Dir: Alex de la Iglesia
Star: Rosie Perez, Javier Bardem, Harley Cross, Aimee Graham

Bad Girls: season two

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“Back behind bars, but brilliant as before.”

Somewhere around the middle of the series, I realised that this is soap-opera, pure and simple. As someone who’d never be seen dead watching a soap, this was disturbing. Fortunately, moments later, Jim Fenner did something else truly rotten to the core, and my attention went back to H.M. Prison Larkhall. Such is the joy of the show: it defies categorization.

All our favourites return, though both good and bad show more character development than previously. Evil guard Fenner (Ellis) in particular demonstrates amazing depth, and we find out why resident bitch Dockley is that way. Top plot-arc this season was a through-the-bars romance between lifer Niki Wade and former governor Helen Stewart, that sprouted wings, flew, then crashed-and-burned (apparently) in the final ep.

Of the new characters, gangster’s wife Yvonne Atkins made the biggest impression – a nemesis for her arrived too, but was offed after only a couple of episodes, in a disappointing second case of “sudden fatal illness as plot device”. While there wasn’t perhaps anything as heartrending as we saw in the first series, the breadth and depth of storylines remains a joy to watch. Soap opera or not, we’ll start season 3 sooner rather than later.

Star: Mandana Jones, Simone Lahbib, Debra Stephenson, Jack Ellis

Killers 2

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“Heather is sick and twisted…”

Director Latt and star (and wife) Little came to our attention through a highly-amusing comedy about TV, Jane White is Sick and Twisted. This is radically different, but still effective, thanks to Little’s performance as Heather. The sole survivor of a warehouse massacre, she is taken, catatonic, to a mental hospital. The bad news is, associates of the gangsters she killed want her dead – try convincing a doctor his staff have been bribed to off you. [They skip the potential ambivalence as to whether Heather actually is imagining everything.] The good news is, she has developed ‘hunter craze’, and is capable of enormous strength and savagery when threatened; hence her nickname, ‘The Beast’.

The detailing is poor: Heather’s hair changes length at random; crop-tops & make-up are apparently easily available; she dislocates her shoulder to escape a straitjacket, but five seconds later, she’s 100% well. Yet there is a lot to admire, especially a final battle where the gangsters give up trying to make Heather’s death ‘accidental’, and storm the hospital – it’s an excellent sequence, albeit underlit, like much of the film. We also liked co-incarceree Emma (Martin), in for clinical depression, and not the best hostage for the villains, since she wants to die. There’s something of Angelina Jolie in Girl, Interrupted about her. We haven’t seen Killers, yet happily recommend the sequel, though it ain’t One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. Refreshingly free of romantic interest, this is a straightforward story, vigorously told and largely avoiding low-budget pitfalls.

Dir: David Michael Latt
Star: Kim Little, D.C.Douglas, Mellisa Martin, Nick Stellate

Fatal Conflict

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“Die Hard in space – no ifs or ands, though plenty of butts…”

Wuhrer plays Sasha, a space pilot coerced into attempting to stop a rocket, hijacked by evil emerald dealer Conrad Nash (Rossi) and his creepily incestuous sister Carla (Rubin), from ploughing into LA. The proper pilot (O’Keefe) provides assistance, with much running around corridors and plunging into a glycerine tank. Yes, glycerine: a feeble excuse to give our heroine the wettest T-shirt of all time. Between this and the “ass panning” (as Chris described Simandl’s fondness for shooting at waist level), it seems disturbingly fetishistic, though a large chunk is due to footage spliced in from another movie – see Jolly Roper’s review for full details. Hack out all that stuff, and you’ve got a serviceable little movie in the Die Hard vein, with the cast doing surprisingly well. Wuhrer, Rossi and Rubin are all interesting to watch, and are entirely responsible for this being half-decent.

Well, I thought it wasn’t bad – Chris, in her regular role as voice of sanity, pointed out several gaping plot holes. Not least, when Sasha gets the drop on the villain, she doesn’t simply kill him, but embarks on a convoluted plot to con him into believing she’s an escaped prisoner. This was perhaps to justify earlier jail footage, large chunks of which also look suspiciously like they came from somewhere else. If I’d watched these other movies, I’d probably feel significantly more cheated – as is, it gets the benefit of first sight and so proves an acceptable time passer. If all else fails, start the drinking game where you take a swig for every gratuitous buttock shot. Unconsciousness will soon be upon you.

Dir: Lloyd Simandl
Star: Kari Wuhrer, Leo Rossi, Miles O’Keefe, Jennifer Rubin

Outside the Law

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“A reminder of the inalienable rule of Rothrock films: the US ones suck.”

This is the first Cyn-flick seen in a while: rumour has it, she made a brief diversion (after implants) into erotic thrillers, but the good news is, she’s back in the martial arts arena. The bad news is, er, the film. It starts with her DEA colleague, about to bust a Colombian drug-lord, promising Julie (Rothrock), “Four kids, a dog, and a house with a white picket fence.” You know he’s dead, though given his willful lack of a bullet-proof vest, he also has a death-wish.

Before dying, he hands her evidence on the sale of US-government supplied equipment to the cartel, making Julie a target. Returning to Florida (how, exactly?), she goes on the run, with a dog, a truck and a sense of justice. Eating in a restaurant, she breaks up a fight, and gets fully involved when the woman running the joint is murdered by a guy connected to (tah-rah!) Colombian drug-dealers.

All of which might not be so bad; you watch this kind of film for action, not plot. But the director has no idea how to shoot fights, and the results are so poor as to make it look as if Rothrock has been replaced by a stunt double in a bad wig – oh, sorry, that’s her hair. The results are a pale imitation of her work in Hong Kong, and are even less interesting than the likes of China O’Brien. If she is, as the sleeve claims, “the queen of martial arts”, a popular coup must surely be imminent.

Dir: Jorge Montesi
Star: Cynthia Rothrock, Jeff Wincott, Seamus Dever, Dan Lauria

Supreme Sanction

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Alias kicks back with a martini and some valium.”

Director Terlesky starred in one of my favourite guilty pleasures, Deathstalker II, but this shows he still has much to learn about directing and, particularly, scripting. There just isn’t enough going on here to sustain attention, with too many scenes taking twice as long as necessary. Swanson plays Jenna, assassin for a government counter-terrorist agency which is now creating incidents in order to get increased funding. She switches sides and protects TV journalist Jordan McNamara (Dukes), whom she has been ordered to kill – her handler Dalton (Madsen) must now take her out.

Subsequent events have given this 1999 film a creepily prescient air, and I’m always up for a good conspiracy. But neither Swanson nor Madsen ever provide the necessary energy, which we know the latter at least can deliver (though he gets the best moment, shooting the journalist, then offering him a BandAid). Faison makes a mark as Marcus, Jenna’s gadget man who avoids the usual stereotypes, but Dukes is so irritatingly whiny, it’s hard to see why Jenna chose to save him.

There are moments proving the ideas have potential, such as Jenna and Marcus disguising themselves to penetrate the enemies’ base. More of this invention would have helped enliven what is instead just marginally acceptable entertainment. The climax also relies on chief villain Ron Perlman willingly confessing all to his “helpless” captive. Guess he must never have seen any Bond films.

Dir: John Terlesky
Star: Kristy Swanson, Michael Madsen, David Dukes, Donald Adeosun Faison