“A forest frolic which is bear-ly satisfactory.”

This starts off brightly, and ends not badly – if a little predictably – it’s the middle where it falls apart, spending the best part of an hour fiddling around to no particular purpose. Amick plays a forest ranger whose fiance is murdered by a bear poacher (Pasdar, looking disturbingly like Al Jourgenson of Ministry) – she nearly dies too and, rather than helping the authorities, vows to take revenge herself.

The wilderness portions of the film work well, with cool ideas like the poacher finding the bears through the radio collars put on them by the rangers, and there’s also a grisly grizzly graveyard scene which is quite spooky. After she’s shot, however, the movie wanders back into civilization. This could still have worked, with the poacher hunting down the only witness amid an “urban jungle” theme, but he just comes to town, taunts her a bit, kills a supporting character and heads back to the wilderness for the obvious finale.

Amick isn’t bad, conveying smouldering hatred effectively enough to make her unwillingness to help the police more than an obvious plot device. There’s also a nice twist where the buyer of the bear parts helps out, after deciding his supplier has become a loose cannon. However, the second act is so lacking in energy, with the heroine doing little more than sitting round, gazing into space and answering the telephone, that my attention wandered severely. A good idea, doomed largely by a serious lack of development.

Dir: Richard Martin
Star: Madchen Amick, Adrian Pasdar, Graham Greene



“Hell hath no fury like a mother separated from her daughter.”

Karen and Will Jennings have an idyllic life – money, a really nice house and Abby, the sort of six-year old daughter only ever seen in Hollywood films. That is, it’s idyllic until Joe Hickey (Bacon) and his family enter, kidnapping Abby for ransom, just after Will has left for a conference. Their scheme of terror has proven effective several times before, and the Jennings have just 24 hours to save their daughter.

This film is a contrast between the Jennings and the Hickeys, and in particular Karen Jennings (Theron) and Cheryl Hickey (Love), who are polar opposites in looks, lifestyle and background, but share a fierce dedication to their families – especially, their daughters. Both are prepared to go to any extreme, even violence, to right what they perceive as an injustice [if the preceding sentence sounds awkward, it’s because I’m waltzing around a spoiler!], and I defy you to watch the scalpel scene without a twitch.

Karen has to handle the ever-dangerous Joe, while Will (Stuart Townsend) is kept occupied by Cheryl, and Joe’s cousin (Pruitt) looks after Abby, who turns out to be severely asthmatic. The cutting back in forth is designed, partly to increase tension – it does – but perhaps more importantly, cover some dodgy plot elements. As with all kidnappings, how do the criminals expect to collect the ransom? This is never made quite clear, and as the film goes on, it unravels to a frankly implausible finale involving a light aircraft, a logging truck and a mile of busy highway.

Which is a shame, since the actors involved are good, even if none of the roles are much of a stretch: Courtney Love playing a white trash slut doesn’t exactly show imagination in the casting department. Still, if you want a Discovery channel documentary about a mother bear defending its cub, in human form, this is effective. I just wish they’d developed that side more, and the usual thriller aspects less. Hell, who wouldn’t want to see Theron in a 2 Days in the Valley-style catfight with Love? :-)

Dir: Luis Mandoki
Star: Charlize Theron, Kevin Bacon, Courtney Love, Pruitt Taylor Vince

Steel and Lace


“Rape, revenge and robots, cheap and cheerful.”

Inside ten minutes, we’ve had heroine Gaily Morton (Wren) raped and her attackers acquitted in court, not to mention her subsequent leap off a roof-top to her death – this isn’t a film which hangs around, boys and girls. Luckily, her brother is a NASA boffin (Davison – you might recognise him as the Senator from X-Men), who builds a robot in her image, in order to wreak gory revenge on the perpetrators five years later. Cleaning up behind are a cop (Naughton) and his ex-girlfriend, a courtroom artist (Haiduk) who joins the dots.

This was a notch or two better than I expected, with Wren managing to bring a surprising degree of emotion to her role as the robo-revenger. Despite obviously not being a large budget movie, most of the deaths are impressive (one meriting a spontaneous round of applause from the GWG viewing panel) and the android effects are decently realised. The plot holds few surprises – actually, the count probably falls short of two; while that one certainly nailed me, Chris did spot it – though the whole brother/sister thing had a nice, creepy and unhealthy edge.

If the main plot works, the cop/courtroom artist thing doesn’t, and the two characters are largely superfluous. There’s no chemistry to speak of, and their sole purpose appears to be occupying screen time between the killings. When they’re on screen, the movie dies – yet much like the heroine, it keeps coming back, until the perfectly executed ending which is sudden, memorable and fitting.

Dir: Ernest Farino
Star: Clare Wren, Bruce Davison, David Naughton, Stacy Haiduk

Alias:Recruited and A Secret Life, by Lynn Mason


“Before she was CIA, before she was SD-6…and largely, before she was interesting.”

To tide you over the summer until the new series starts, as well as an ‘official companion’, Random House has published two novels, which fill in the back story before the show. Recruited tells of how Sydney Bristow was brought into SD-6, while A Secret Life details her first overseas mission, infiltrating a Paris fashion house being used as a cover for gun-running.

Neither are exactly great literature; they seem to be aimed at early teen readers (not that you’d know from the covers), and of necessity, the plot-lines are linear and straightforward, this being before Sydney realised SD-6 were evil, her father’s involvement, etc. There’s disturbingly little action, and a significant quantity of Mills & Boon-esque romantic prose. Bizarrely, it’s mainly over Noah Hicks: viewers of the show know how well that turned out. Save Francie, few other regulars make appearances – Sloane and someone who might be Dixon get cameos, and that’s it.

Recruited is the stronger, rating half a grade higher; the mechanism of the recruitment is well-handled, and we initially see a very different Syd from the uber-confident one of the TV series. A Secret Life hardly contains enough meat for one episode, the prose frequently toppling into drool, especially when it talks about Hicks. However, as light summer reading, these are harmless stuff, and as an afternoon would likely suffice, they won’t waste too much of your time.

By: Lynn Mason
Publisher: Random House

Bury Me An Angel


“Nowhere near as good as the advertising.”

Though with a tagline of “A howling hellcat humping a hot steel hog on a roaring rampage of revenge”, how could it be? Dag (Peabody) sees her brother get blown away for stealing some guy’s motorcycle, and goes on a hunt for the killer, all the while tortured by visions of her dead sibling’s death – which is perhaps not a good move, since it lets us see how woefully inept the effects were. Accompanied by two male sidekicks, she tracks the killer down as he heads towards Canada.

This 1971 film is a rarity for an action heroine movie (and also for a biker flick), in that it was written and directed by a woman, Barbara Peeters, who’d go on to make Humanoids From the Deep. This shows itself in little touches throughout, but mostly through the heroine’s over-frequent mental anguish – the ‘roaring rampage of revenge’ never materialises much. Dag makes for an interesting heroine, determined and obstinate (she hangs on to her shotgun, even when visiting a school!), but Peabody never seems to get the tone of her performance right, under- or over-acting at random.

The best moments see the trio interacting with other people, be this taunting a midget cop, provoking a bar-brawl with locals, or being out-weirded by a witch. Apart from this, and one impressive nightmare where Dag repeatedly blasts her brother’s murderer with a shotgun, only for him to keep coming back, there’s way too much sitting around, and not enough action. Selling largely on sizzle, this is truly a classic of exploitation, and as such, deserves grudging respect – if not perhaps any further attention.

Dir: Barbara Peeters
Star: Dixie Peabody, Terry Mace, Clyde Ventura, Stephen Whittaker

Hot Wax Zombies on Wheels


“A special level of hell should be built for those who make this kind of self-consciously ‘cult’ garbage.”

Few things are more painful than a film that wants to be cult, forgetting that such things grow organically and cannot be created at will. Witness this, which tries desperately to be hip, knowing and self-aware, but is permanently crippled by the fact that my bowel movements are more entertaining than its script. A new beauty salon opens in a sleepy town – and soon, residents are ridding themselves of “pesky body hair” thanks to its owner (Somers)…and also becoming mindless automatons. It’s up to the local exotic lingerie shop owner (Miller) to stop them, and save the world from depilation.

Okay, I look at that synopsis and have no idea what I was thinking when I bought this. Very early on, it was clear this was a mistake: possibly when the characters started laughing at their own witticisms, or perhaps when we realised the director believed sped-up footage to be the acme of cinematic humour – though anything that ended the movie sooner was fine by us. Only Somers’ enthusiastic scenery-chewing makes her scenes bearable, with the rest of the cast ranging from the uninteresting (the heroine) to the hugely irritating (her boyfriend and sidekick).

We almost turned it off 50 minutes in, but want you to know that we bravely soldiered on, so you don’t have to. The most annoying thing is, knowing that there are a thousand movies out there which can’t get distribution. This waste of film stock certainly doesn’t deserve it.

Dir: Mike J. Roush
Star: Jill Miller, Gwen Sommers, Tre Lovell, Jon Briddell



“Hard-hitting early female cop flick, stands the test of time better than most 70’s movies.”

This is the kind of film Chris describes as “hokey”. I’m not quite sure what that means – the last to get the label was Deathstalker II, so I suspect it’s Chris-speak for “sucks”*. Luckily for the movie, she isn’t writing this review: I actually liked it, but spent the 70’s in the far North of Scotland, so the fashions do not evoke ‘Nam-style flashbacks. Chris denies, with some venom, ever having a pair of patchwork pants; I just find them quaintly amusing.

Anyway, if you ignore the stylings, it’s not bad. Currie plays Lacy Bond, a cop sent to crack an all-female crime ring, after overcoming the sexism of her colleagues. It’s pretty hard-hitting, with Currie showing impressive action skills (along with Jeanie TNT Jackson Bell as a gang-girl). Unfortunately, in the middle, she and a partner are sent to Catalina. Their “investigation” involves sailing, horse-riding, eating hot-dogs and falling into bed with each other, to a hideous easy-listening soundtrack; the film dies for 15 minutes as a result. Otherwise, for 1974 this is impressively feminist, with Lacy rescuing her partners, rather than the other way round, and it has brisk, crisp plotting, although it’s a shame the title gives away a major plot point.

The tag-line for the DVD has inexplicably been changed to, “Before James Bond…there was Lacy Bond”. But when Policewomen came out, there had been eight Bonds released and we were already in the Roger Moore era. Go figure.

* Chris has since confirmed this, with the qualification that ‘hokey’ implies a particularly flavoured subset of suckiness…about which I’m still vague!

Dir: Lee Frost
Star: Sondra Currie, Tony Young, Elizabeth Stuart, Jeanie Bell

The Touch


“Opens brightly, peters out into sub-Indiana Jones heroics, with some awful use of CGI.”

Yeoh’s English-language follow-up to Crouching Tiger was highly anticipated, but the end result is a disappointment. Yeoh plays Yin, the head of a family of acrobats who guard part of the key to a Sharira – a holy relic with potential for good or evil. The latter is supplied by Carl (Roxburgh), who hires Yin’s former boyfriend Eric (Chaplin) to steal the other elements needed to get the Sharira. Eric, however, switches sides, and teams up with Yin to race Carl to the prize.

It starts well: Carl has an excellent line in sarcasm, and his army of bungling henchmen provide plenty of ways to use it. And while the action scenes use an annoying ‘drop-frame’ technique, they are at least frequent. Once Yin and Eric hit the road, however, it grows steadily less interesting, among much “without good, there can be no evil” banal chatter. Yin’s kid brother (Chang), kidnapped by Carl, also becomes irritating, and it’s clear that Pau’s talents lie in cinematography (as in CTHD), not direction.

Worst of all, given a $20m budget, you’d think the climax would be more than extremely lame CGI, barely worthy of a Playstation game. Yeoh is her own best special effect, and the finale gives her little or no chance to shine. I suspect she’d have been better off taking a part in the Matrix sequels, which she turned down in order to make this mediocre action-adventure entry. Little wonder Miramax pushed the US release back to Spring 2004 – almost two years after the HK release. Do not be surprised if it quietly gets dumped to video.

Dir: Peter Pau
Star: Michelle Yeoh, Ben Chaplin, Richard Roxburgh, Brandon Chang

The Powerpuff Girls Movie


“Rated PG, for non-stop frenetic animated action.”

Rarely have the MPAA spoken truer words than that – crack open the highly-caffeinated, carbonated beverages, tuck into those sugary snacks and sit through the equivalent of eight straight Powerpuff Girls episodes. Preceded in theatres by a startlingly unfunny Dexter’s Laboratory cartoon, the weakness here is the obvious one of translating a ten-minute TV show to feature length; going by the lack of a crowd when we saw it, few people saw the point of paying $8 for what they could get at home for free. Though this is actually less like eight episodes than one, really stretched out, covering the creation of the girls and how they came to be Townsville’s protector, taking on former lab monkey Mojo Jojo and his evil plot to take over the world through the creation of super-powered simians.

If the above seems breathless and short of full stops – so is the movie. It’s at its best when riffing off pop culture, with a host of Planet of the Apes and King Kong references – I was really expecting an “It was the beauties that killed the beast…” line at the end. The animation is rarely any better than the TV show, but this is mostly a stylistic decision and there are occasional more advanced techniques such as a CGI ball which are used effectively.

Otherwise, it’s largely business as usual, with the tiny heroic trio coming to terms with their superpowers, Bubbles sniffling a lot, etc. It’s just rolled out at greater length, e.g. a hyperdestructive game of tag which might last 30 seconds on TV, goes on here for what seems an eternity (but was probably only five minutes – blame the caffeine). And this is the problem. As the pile of dire Saturday Night Live movies shows, what works great in short bursts often becomes, if not tedious, merely average when extended to feature length.

Creator: Craig McCracken
Star (voice): Cathy Cavadini, Tara Strong, E.G.Daily, Roger L. Jackson

‘Gator Bait


“Swamp saga is buoyantly sleazy, but sinks at the end.”

Between being Playmate of the Year in 1970, and her death in a car accident at the end of the decade, Jennings appeared in a slew of action/exploitation flicks which earned her the title “Queen of the B’s”. Despite unlikely casting as Desiree, an alligator poacher – with perfect hair and make-up, even in the Louisiana swamps – this film comes within an ace of getting our seal of approval, falling short only at the finale.

Desiree finds herself in trouble when she’s involved in the death of a local cop. His family, a bunch of half-breeds of hugely dubious morals (witness the immortal line, “What’re ya tryin’ to do, ya horny little bastard? That’s yer sister!!”), get on her trail, dragging the more or less unwilling police chief with them. But the bayous and backwoods are home turf (the title comes from her father’s habit of dragging her behind his boat as a lure!) and after her sister is murdered in truly repellent fashion, mercy is in short supply.

Rather too much speedboat footage slows the second half down, but it’s an interesting twist on the Deliverance nightmare, with rednecks being hunted rather than the hunters. Jennings doesn’t have many lines (kid bro’ is mute, so there are few chances for conversation), which is perhaps wise. However, she carries herself well, whizzing through the swamps, blazing away with her shotgun – it’s unfortunate she has to rely on assistance to finish things off, a weakness in character which is hugely disappointing.

Dir: Ferd and Beverly Sebastian
Star: Claudia Jennings, Sam Gilman, Doug Dirkson, Clyde Ventura