Strange Empire

“Strangely appealing.”

strangemepireThis Canadian TV series ran for 13 episodes, but was not renewed at the end of the first series, leaving the double shock which occurred at the end of the final episode, with no hope of resolution. That’s a shame, since there was a lot to like about its grubby portrayal of 1869 life, just north of the border between Canada and Montana. It begins when a wagon train of settlers, passing near the mining settlement of Janestown, is attacked and almost all the men are killed or driven away, leaving the women to fend for themselves. In particular, there is Kat Loving (Gee), a half-Indian sharpshooter who seeks the truth about her husband’s fate, and Rebecca Blithely (Farman), a female medical researcher, something almost unheard of at the time. But they are up against John Slotter (Poole), who runs Janestown as his own personal fiefdom, and whose wife Isabelle (Jones) is a match for the new arrivals in terms of her wits, and likely surpasses them when it comes to crafting of intrigues.

It’s the characters – the three women, and let’s not forget John, who eventually becomes the glue that binds them together in common cause – which drive this. Kat is certainly the most conventionally “heroic,” becoming the town’s sheriff, a position which brings her into direct conflict with Slotter; yet, she also has a murky past, being a wanted woman for the murder of a surveyor. Rebecca is the most difficult to get a handle on; while possessing a brilliant mind, she has a near-total lack of “people skills”, to the point of near-sociopathy. Finally, Isabelle possesses no scruples and is prepared to do absolutely whatever may be necessary to achieve her goals and escape her low-born upbringing – including seducing her husband’s father, when access to his money becomes necessary. They make a fascinating trio, well-drawn and well-portrayed by the actresses concerned.

The past year has seen a number of new takes on the Western genre, from Bone Tomahawk and The Hateful Eight to The RevenantEmpire does, perhaps, try somewhat too hard to be subversively revisionist, not least in the gratuitously transgender “cowboy”, who seems to have been added to the story for no reason than to appeal to trendy modern sensibilities. It’s much better when not attempting to pander to those, sticking with the Slotters’ efforts to keep their teetering mine business afloat, along with its probably more profitable brothel sideline, by any means necessary. This is balanced with Kat’s refusal to let John act like some kind of medieval baron, and insistence that he face the consequences of his murderous actions, which are becoming increasingly more frequent – if she can’t get justice for the massacre of the male settlers, perhaps there are other crimes that can be pinned on him.

While there are a number of side-threads (the strong role of Chinese businessman Ling is also very interesting), it’s this which drives the plot forward, and I was kept watching in the fervent hope of seeing Slotter get what he deserves. It’s to the show’s credit, with its unwillingness to collapse into a simple “black hat/white hat” mentality, that the outcome remained in doubt until almost the last few minutes of the final episode.

Created by: Laurie Finstad-Knizhnik
Star: Cara Gee, Melissa Farman, Tattiawna Jones, Aaron Poole

Hooker With a Rocket Launcher

promo6Some titles conceal their meaning behind layers of depth. Needless to say, this is not one of those – but it is, instead, one that demands your attention, and I was not surprised to hear that, according to its Canadian creator, Chris Greenaway,”The title definitely came first.” However, inspiration for this short came from a number of sources. Most obvious among those is Hobo With a Shotgun, the fake trailer originally part of the Grindhouse double-bill, directed by Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino, before eventually becoming a real (and wonderfully trashy) movie, starring Rutger Hauer.  But Chris says the project additionally “drew inspiration from 80s ‘hooker movies’ such as Angel and Vice Squad. As Misty’s weapon of choice indicates, we were also heavily influenced by the awesome Cannon Films action movies of the 80’s like the Death Wish sequels and Delta Force.” I’ll pause here, for anyone of a certain age to sigh nostalgically.

Lead actress Adrianne Winfield needed no convincing, having worked with Greenaway previously: “Adrianne enquired about the role when I posted a casting call so I didn’t actually have to pitch it to her at all. She really liked the premise.” The actual production was relatively quick, just 2-3 evenings – one of those a reshoot day – with between two and four hours of shooting each night. Perhaps surprisingly (or not, if you have experience of how tolerantly placid our Northern cousins tend to be!), the film-makers didn’t have any problem toting large weaponry round the streets. “We had no issues with the rocket launcher because up close it looks VERY fake,” laughs Greenaway. “We also shot at night when most people were out of the downtown area.”

Chris came relatively late to production. Originally a writer, of everything from comic strips to travel articles, he transitioned into making films after returning home in 2006, after teaching English in Japan. He recalls, “I went through a number of training workshops, and worked as a P/A on a number of sets while making the transition into writing screenplays.” He has been making web series since 2008, with six to his name so far, as well as a host of shorts, and directed his first full-length feature, Witchstalker, in 2013, which was released by Screamtime Films the following year. His IMDb filmography reads like a love-letter to pop culture and bad film, with titles such as Beach Blanket Lucha, Ninjas of the Caribbean and Escape From Ridgemont High.

But what of Misty, whose armaments would make the residents of Sin City‘s Old Town deeply envious? “The reactions have been very positive from the get go. We’ve had several very positive reviews and feedback from my existing fans on Youtube has also been great,” says Greenaway, who would like to see Hooker follow in the footsteps of its Hobo predecessor, and blossom from a trailer into a full-blown movie. “We’re hoping to do a crowdfunding campaign to make it into a feature film. Once I’m done with a few other projects I’m involved in at this time, we can go all in with this!” We certainly hope that’s a project which comes to fruition – some day, we will get to utter the immortal line, “Play Misty for me…” Here’s the film, in its glorious, full 132 seconds.

Garm Wars: The Last Druid

“In serious need of more tell, don’t show”

garmwarsOshii is best known for his anime work, but this isn’t his first foray into live-action; we already reviewed Assault Girls, and this has much the same strengths and, unfortunately, weaknesses. It looks wonderful, but the script here is virtually impenetrable, leaving the viewer on the outside, looking in. I had to watch this twice, because an hour into the first time, I realized I had absolutely not been paying the film any attention for at least 15 minutes. The setting is the planet Annwn, where a long, ongoing war has reduced the original eight tribes to Columba, who rule the air, versus the land-based Brigga, who also have the support of the few remaining members of the Kumtak tribe, who specialize in information technology. When an Brigga escape pod is retrieved, it contains Kumtak elder Wydd (Henriksen) and a druid (Howell), which is a shock, because druids, who provide a direct line of communication to the gods, are supposedly extinct. Wydd offers the druid’s potential power to the Columba in exchange for his tribe’s freedom, but the Brigga mount an attack and re-capture them. Pilot Khara (St-Pierre) leaves in hot pursuit, but is forced to crash-land and team up with Brigga warrior Skellig (Durand, a ringer for Benicio Del Toro), as Wydd’s agenda becomes clear.

Well, somewhat clear. Like many of the other plot elements, it’s never quite clarified to the point you’d be willing to swear to them. For example, the druid’s power is shown when plugged into the central computer, resulting in… a swirling, red-tinged CGI sphere. What is it? Why should we care? Oshii is untroubled by such concerns, being more concerned with creating a universe that, like Sucker Punch, appears almost entirely green-screen. It looks very nice, certainly, but only occasionally provokes anything more than wondering “Is this available in a format suitable for framing?”. An early narrated sequence gives you the setting; after that, you’re on your own, and the visuals come wrapped in some particularly leaden and indigestible pseudo-philosophical dialogue, that is neither as deep nor as interesting as Oshii seems to think.

Once the foursome reach their heavily wooded destination, things perk up somewhat, with a nicely-staged battle against a set of robotic guardians that is likely the film’s high-point. There are other potentially interesting, yet under-explored aspects, such as the way dead soldiers on both sides are resurrected to continue fighting – Khara is currently on her 23rd incarnation. However, the film ends just as things look about to kick off seriously, in an Attack on Titan kinda way, with far too many plot threads left unresolved. I can only presume this is intended to be the first in a multi-episode saga, since on its own, it feels severely incomplete. If I can’t argue with Oshii’s amazing eye for visuals, he really needs to ensure his scripts are  better developed.

Dir: Mamoru Oshii
Star: Melanie St-Pierre, Lance Henriksen, Kevin Durand, Summer H. Howell


“More than a trick, yet just short of a treat.”

hellionsJust in time for Halloween comes this atmospherically and spooky tale, in which teenager Dora (Rose) has a day – and a night – to remember. It begins with her discovering that she’s pregnant, news which initially causes her to stay home and brood over her future. She changes her mind and texts her boyfriend to come pick her up; he never shows, and instead she finds herself increasingly tormented by young, masked figures, who repeatedly knock on her door. The doctor (Sutherland) makes a house call, only to discover Dora has gone from four weeks to four months pregnant in just a few hours. Dora is also being plagued by nightmarish visions sacrifice, and it becomes clear that those little figures have some very unpleasant plans for our heroine and her baby-to-be.

The religious symbolism here is not exactly subtle: Dora’s Halloween costume is that of an angel, and once you see one of the creatures dissolve when accidentally exposed to salt, it’s clear they’re from down below (well, clear if you’ve ever watched Supernatural, at least!). It’s an angle I’d like to have seen better explored. The script perhaps needs a Peter Cushing type, to pop up as Reverend Exposition and lay some groundwork, instead of forcing the audience to figure everything out on the fly, such as the rules to the occult universe this inhabity. What it does deliver, is atmosphere by the bucketload, with McDonald drenching the screen in every kind of filter imaginable, creating a world where you’re never sure what’s real, and what’s a product of Dora’s escalating and deranged imagination. It’s helped by a very creepy score from Todor Kobakov and Ian LeFeuvre, which takes the first four notes of Silent Night, and riffs on them to impressively unsettling Carpenter-esque effect.

There’s also something thoroughly striking about the image of a shotgun-wielding angel (as shown), even if the cartridges have been re-loaded with salt, and Rose makes for an engaging heroine, who manages to be smart, without toppling over into Juno-esque slappability. McDonald was also responsible for the off-kilter zombie film, Pontypool, and the film is at is best when Dora is engaged in an Assault on Precinct 13-style – again, more Carpenter – battle against the ongoing siege of the hellions, with the help (or is it?) of a local cop (Patrick). Unfortunately, the story can’t quite sustain that pace, and runs out of steam notably in the final reel, which brings us round to where the film started, with Dora waking up in hospital. You could do worse in terms of a choice for your own Halloween viewing than this; if not quite a full-size chocolate bar, it’s definitely better than a stale Tootsie Roll.

Dir: Bruce McDonald
Star: Chloe Rose, Robert Patrick, Rossif Sutherland, Rachel Wilson

Mutant World

“Well, it’s no Sharknado 2. It’s not even Sharknado 3.”

mutantworldThis SyFy original movie takes place mostly after an “Earth killer”-sized meteor has struck the Eastern seaboard of the United States. A group of Doomsday preppers, with slightly more warning than most, are able to take shelter inside their refuge, a former missile silo, and settle down to wait out the apocalypse going on above ground. 10 years later, they’re forced to send a small group back up to the surface as the result of damage to their solar panels. Leading that patrol is Melissa King (Deveaux), whose father Marcus (Kim Coates, whom you will recognize if you’re a Sons of Anarchy fan) was the leader of the group, but was trapped outside their sanctuary when the meteor hit. The patrol discovers that the radiation resulting from the impact has wiped out most of humanity – but the survivors have been mutated by it, and turned into thoroughly unpleasant monsters. Exploring further, they find what appears to be sanctuary, populated by other survivors, only to discover that when the sun goes down, they too are no longer human. Fortunately for them, assistance is at hand in the former of the Preacher (Ashanti), a motorcycle riding, warrior-priestess, who appears to be in contact with the actual remnants of mankind.

Oh, dear. The potential is here, but is buried deeper than a nuclear fallout shelter, because there is hardly any aspect that is not badly botched, right from the start: Coates, the only real “name” in the cast, is barely in the film, the kind of bait-and-switch which is rarely a good sign. The script is just terrible: what’s supposed to be a quick mission up top to fix the power, somehow spirals off into a jolly road-trip, with no apparent regard for the people back in the bunker. While the mutants’ glowing green eyes are kinda cool, that is about as far as both the imagination and the budget goes; there’s no explanation provided either, for why some people are totally mutated, some are only mutated at night (!), and others, like the Preacher, are apparently entirely untroubled by mutantism, despite wearing no more protection than a long trench-coat. And don’t even get me started on Ashanti’s performance, which is about as unconvincing as you’d expect from a singer-slash-dancer-slash-whatever.

The film is clearly trying to establish Melissa’s credentials as some kind of a bad-ass, judging by the poorly-choreographed fight she has with the shelter leader, before heading up top [also worth noting: no-one appears to have aged or been changed in the slightest by the passage of a decade, whether underground or on the surface]. Outside of very intermittent moments, it doesn’t work, though in comparison to Ashanti, Coates is positively an Oscar-winner. I did somewhat appreciate the element of role-reversal found here, with the most bad-ass roles given to the actresses. However, good intentions are never enough to overcome execution as horribly flawed as we see here. By the end, I was hoping for another meteor strike, to put both the characters and the viewers out of our mutual misery.

Dir: David Winning
Star: Holly Deveaux, Ashanti, Amber Marshall, Jason Cermak


“Revenge – less eaten cold than luke-warm leftovers.”

evangelineWhile I can’t find any sources to back my memory, I vaguely recall hearing a while ago about plans, either for a sequel or a reboot, to make a female version of The Crow. This seems like much the same thing, though based on the incoherent results here, they probably should bury the concept alongside Brandon Lee. Eva (de Lieva) is a preacher’s daughter, who has apparently led a sheltered life before enrolling at college. It’s not long, however, before she is attending her first frat party; unsurprisingly, this leads to her driving the big white bus. Things then go from bad worse, as a subsequent invitation from a fellow student leads to her being drugged, taken to the forest, gang-raped by a trio led by Michael Konner (Harmon), and left for dead. Or perhaps actually dead. For what happens next is either a) Eva’s corpse is possessed by some kind of demonic entity, and restored to life to take revenge, or b) she merely thinks that’s what happened, this being her psyche’s way of explaining and justifying said revenge.

Both, widely disparate explanations are equally plausible, and writer/director Lam seems to have little or no interest in clarifying matter, perhaps because, from what I’ve read, she was more interested in making “feminist response horror,” whatever that is. As the quote mis-attributed to Sam Goldwyn put it, “If you have a message, call Western Union.” While I’ve no problems at all with messages in films, feminist or otherwise, they should always be secondary to the film, and you don’t get the feeling that’s the case here. Admittedly, this is because so little effort is put into telling a decent story: when you’ve so little idea of what’s going on, there’s no reason to care about any thing the creators are trying to say. Here, for example, there is also a confused and superfluous subplot about a PTSD-afflicted veteran, living in the woods, as well as an apparent serial killer, “Mr K”. The purpose of both these are obscure, since neither seem to add much of significance.

This is a bit of a shame, since the look of the film is much more decent than its content, aspects such as the photography, sound design and special effect meshing to an okay degree – even if some of the visual techniques do appear to have been lifted wholesale from a far better film about someone’s sanity falling apart and/or demons, Jacob’s Ladder. That creature, mostly seen in its grey, spindly fingers, is undeniably a creepy motif. However, particularly in this genre, style can only take you so far, before it emphasizes and exacerbates a lack of content. In that area, I kept hoping the film was going to deliver enough to justify its existence; but the end-credits rolled, and I was still left entirely unsatisfied.

Dir: Karen Lam
Star: Kat de Lieva , Richard Harmon, Mayumi Yoshida, David Lewis

Agency of Vengeance: Dark Rising


“Hello, film poster. You appear to have my full attention.”

darkrisingThis makes a great deal more sense when you realize it’s actually a sequel, not only to Cymek’s earlier Dark Rising, but also the TV series that followed. The US/Netflix title and blurb cunningly manage to avoid mentioning this, which certainly explains the sense that you have walked into the middle of a story. For instance, none of the characters are apparently fazed by the fact that interdimensional portals have opened, allowing all manner of icky creatures to enter this Earth’s realm from a “Dark Earth”. It’s up to the Rising Dark Agency, a Government department [apparently staffed by about six people] to keep the resulting mayhem in check. Chief among its operatives are Jason Parks (Cannon, a dead-ringer for Dolph Lundgren) and Summer Vale (Kingsley, also the director’s wife), whose combination of human and demon DNA you have probably noticed on the poster. And are perhaps still staring at.

Anyway, beginning with the munching of Summer’s fiance by a giant worm during their wedding ceremony, this installment sees the arrival of wannabe deity Mardock, who appears to be trying to target Summer, as the biggest threat to his/her/its rise to power. As the RDA investigate, they also come under attack, and it’s up to the small band of survivors, along with demonic nerd Bulo (Nahrgang), to try and prevent the resurrection of Mardock. But before they get there, they discover that somebody left for dead in a previous episode, might not be quite as deceased as thought, and has now switched sides, largely out of bitterness at being abandoned.

At the risk of blowing my own trumpet, I did a much better job of explaining the plot than the film does, and it’s less a story that you follow, than one where you cling on to the roof-rack, presuming that it will all make sense, or at least come to a halt eventually. Hard to know how much blame is the makers, and how much the marketers for not mentioning all that has gone before. However, if you’re prepared to cut that aspect some slack, there are aspects that are fun, not least Kingsley, who seems to spend half the film in her underwear for one thinly-generated reason or other. It’s all in good fun though, and the non-serious tone is generally very obvious, most particularly in Bulo, though his character occasionally veers close to the line where endearing becomes irritating. It’s nice to see a matching villainess as well, with a similar… ah, taste in costumes, and I’ll confess that despite a budget well short of the imagination, overall, I was entertained, and left with a non-zero interest in going back to check out the previous installments. Hopefully, they will make rather more sense than this one.

Dir: Andrew Cymek
Star: Brigitte Kingsley, Landy Cannon, Julia Schneider, Nug Nahrgang

Burlesque Assassins


“A strip off the old block.”

It’s the mid-1950’s, and Bourbon Sue (D’Lite) is recruited to join the titular group (hehehe… He said, “titular”…), under leader Johnny Valentine (Shanks), and immediately thrown into the heart of a vital mission. There are three codes needed to operate a Nazi death ray, which has been dormant since the end of WW2 a decade previously. But the son of Mussolini, a clone of Hitler and the not-as-dead-as-reported Stalin are convening with the codes in a burlesque club, and it’s up to Sue and the other girls to ensure the weapon is not activated. “Seduce and destroy,” as their slogan goes, and the fate of civilization hangs in the balance – though there’s clearly no rush to save the world, with plenty of time to take in a number of performances at the club.burlesque

I’m kinda ambivalent about burlesque. The basic concept – attractive women undressing – is one I can get behind (hehehe… “behind”…), but having attended a number of shows, while entertained, I found maybe 5% of the acts at all erotic. It feels more to me like a modern dance recital, with limited clothing. And this one’s appeal is probably directly connected to your interest in burlesque; I think my wife probably enjoyed this more than I did. It’s not obviously low-budget, but its limitations are obvious: virtually the entire last two-thirds of the film takes place in the club, alternating between the stage and the dressing room, as Sue and her colleagues try to pry the codes from the axis of evil. It’s pretty limited and quite repetitive in terms of story, despite the makers’ efforts to jazz things up with flashbacks and other cut scenes. I’m not sure burlesque with a plot is something the world really needed, to begin with.

But that said, the actors are clearly having a lot of fun, not least Shanks, who spends much of the film in a wig and dress, though the beard and cigar are a bit of a giveaway – naturally, he’s the one for whom the Hitler clone falls. You get the sense a lot of the other cast members don’t have much cinematic experience, but they get by, largely through putting over their larger-than-life character with stage presence. The action here is definitely played for laughs more than anything; indeed, the whole escapade is tongue in cheek, which renders it somewhat criticism-proof. However, this also caps the impact at a fairly low level, since there can be little or no emotional connection with such a trifle. This can truly be recommended, only if you’re a devotee of old-school ecdysiast arts.

Dir: Jonathan Joffe
Star: Roxi D’Lite, Armitage Shanks, Carrie Schiffler, Dusan Rokvic

La Femme Nikita: season one


“French kissing in the USA”

To say I approached this show in a roundabout way would be an understatement. 15 years after its original screening, after three separate movie versions and two seaseons of the largely unrelated version of the story starring Maggie Q, I finally got round to it. So, bearing tht in mind, it’s a different beast from what I expected – mostly because it’s a lot less action-oriented. Peta Wilson, as lost soul turned government operative Nikita, looks like she could potentially kick your arse, but (largely for budgetary reasons, I believe) there’s only token moments of hand-to-hand action: the focus is much more on spycraft, undercover work and deceit, rather than full-on assaults. There are still occasional sequences, but even these tend to involve relatively brief gun-battles, not the martial arts brawls which are one of the new version’s trademarks.

The other chance is that Section One, their version of Division, is not malicious – at least not in the same way. It’s certainly a heartless organization, which is utterly ruthless, and prepared to dispose of anyone who may interfere with their actions, but it’s more an awareness that when you’re dealing with terrorists, organized crime or other threats to the country and world, you can’t be unwilling to get your hands dirty. It leads to a significant bleaker overall tone, and is amazingly prophetic, given this was screened well before 9/11 led to this attitude become a necessary part of national security. Early on, it’s established that you can never trust Section heads Operation (Glazer) and Madeleine (Watson, who was also part of the remake, playing Senator Pierce – her given name there was also Madeleine), to the extent that their deceit becomes almost a cliché.

There are some direct nods to Besson’s movie: her first assignment is to murder a target in a crowded restaurant, and the bathroom assassination crops up in a later episode. On the other hand, there is one significant difference from the original film, in that Nikita here is genuinely innocent of the crime for which she is sentenced, simply happening to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Her refusal to engage in the actions Section demands of her is a strong thread of the first season, with a reluctance to compromise her moral code being pitted against Section’s desire to control her for their own ends. Early on, she risks “cancellation” (termination with extreme prejudice) more than once, by disobeying orders, usually to protect others from Section action.

Another area in which this show differs from the current version, is a much more pronounced use of music. There are fairly lengthy sequences, several minutes on occasion, where scenes unfold over almost all of a song. A soundtrack CD was about the only piece of merchandise given any wide-scale release by Warner Bros, including the title track by X-Files composer Mark Snow, as well as songs by Depeche Mode and Morcheeba. Also popping up in the first season, are Morcheeba, P.J. Harvey, Sister Machine Gun and several tracks by neo-classical/industrial band In The Nursery, whom I coincidentally went to see in Hamburg, back around the time these episodes first aired. It’s certainly a trademark of the show, and is an aspect I consistently enjoyed.

On the other hand, apart from the lack of action, the angle I liked least was the relationship between Nikita and her handler/fellow agent, Michael (Dupuis). I’ll come right out and say it: I hate ‘shippers, and storylines that pander to them are nothing more than an irritant to me, especially in shows which I watch for action, where they do little except interfere with the good stuff, in my humble opinion. [We’ve seen this in the new incarnation, where the show has disintegrated from one of the best shows on TV, into little more than Mr. and Mrs. Smith And Friends.] I’m definitely a “noromo”: If I wanted unresolved sexual tension and relationship nonsense, I’d watch daytime soap operas. Right from the first time Nikita and Michael meet, it’s doe-eyed heaven, even though there is obviously little or no honesty, trust and anything else on which a genuine relationship could ever be founded.

There are also a number of aspects of the show which now seem undeniably dated, which is always going to be an issue when a series is trying to be “cutting edge”. Most obvious is the technology – an early episode has tech wiz Birkoff explaining about IRC, something now so passé, an explanation would probably be needed again! – but the opening credits always get a chuckle, especially the final “morph” at the end, which looks incredibly cheap. Meanwhile, Wilson’s accent drifts in and out without rhyme or reason: at times, she seems straight off Bondi Beach, while at others it’s almost entirely subdued.

The episodic nature of this, with less concentration on an over-riding story arc, is both a strength and a weakness. It frees the creators up for some really good stories, but there’s not much incentive to plug in the next episode – I largely watched them in double-bills, but it took me more than seven months to get through the first season’s 22 shows. I enjoyed the bleakness and emotional chilliness depicted here, which as noted above, is probably more relevant now than then, but the obviously lower production values, and its replacement of high-energy action with dramatic angles that Wilson isn’t quite up to handling, brought its overall entertainment value down significantly. I’m probably just about interested enough to pick up the second season at some point: however, that is not likely to be for a while.

Star: Peta Anderson, Roy Dupuis, Eugene Robert Glazer, Alberta Watson

Monica la mitraille


Bonnie et les Clydes.”

I think this really comes down to a question of managing expectations. Hearing this was a film based on the life of Monica Proetti, Canada’s premiere female bank-robber, responsible for 20+ hold-ups before being gunned down by the cops… Well, seems like plenty of potential for action, doesn’t it? The reality is less concerned with the robberies, than the events which lead up to them. Monique Sparvieri (Bonnier) lives in the Montreal slums, working part-time as a hooker, for fun and profit. Her first husband Michael (Schorpion), is a safe-cracker who vanishes after his planned robbery is snatched from under his nose. She then hooks up with Gaston (Huard), another member of the team, and begins her own life of crime. When he is sent to jail in the mid-1960’s, she is left with limited options to provide for her children, and goes full-bore into the banking business, with yet another lover, Gerald (Dupuis).

It certainly shines light into the “whys” of her life, one that offered little or no hope of escaping the poverty of her upbringing. Crime, of one form or another, was the main way out, and that led to an extremely relaxed attitude towards law-breaking for Monica. The film does take too long to make this point: it’s 125 minutes in total, and could easily lose half an hour off that, though the performances, Bonnier’s in particular, are solid enough not to make it too much of a chore. But the raids themselves are perfunctory. They’re more snatch-and-grabs, with the gang aiming to spend little more than 30 second in the bank. The only one where there’s any real tension is the final robbery, where the gang gets lost in an unfamiliar neighbourhood, while Monica’s previously-jailed confederates huddle round a radio tuned to the police-band, from prison.

What we have here illustrates the tension between real-life and cinematic drama. The two rarely align perfectly, and I get the feeling this example was more concerned about factual accuracy and, inevitably, the entertainment value suffers as a result.

Dir: Pierre Houle
Star: Céline Bonnier, Roy Dupuis, Patrick Huard, Frank Schorpion