Camelia La Texana

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“Approximately 900 times longer than the song which inspired it.”

“A woman, if she loves a man, can give him her life.
But you must be careful if this woman is hurt,
For betrayal and smuggling are incompatible.”
Contrabando y Traición, by Los Tigres del Norte

I almost gave up after 20 episodes, as it had largely degenerated into a telenovela version of American Idol. [Seriously: the heroine had partnered up with a wannabe singer, trying to break into show-business] But literally in episode 20, Camelia finally got her act together. She gunned down both a corrupt Border Patrol officer, then pumped seven rounds into her boyfriend after he announced he was going back to his wife and child. Ok, I’ll watch a bit further. Turns out, the show seemed to operate on 10-episode arcs. Episode 30 saw a Godfather-like wedding massacre, which rewarmed my interest. By part 40, we had a former Interpol agent, who had taken the veil and was hiding out in a convent, while still having her “very particular set of skills” And at the 50th show… Well, we were close enough to the end – the series had 60 episodes – it seemed kinda pointless to stop.

The problems were the nine episodes in between, which were much more a chore than a pleasure. The basic story has Camelia (Maldonado) being seduced away from her family in San Antonio, Texas, and ambitions of a career in dentistry, by hunky Emilio Varela (Hayser). He’s working for drug lord Antonio Treviño (Gama), who is actually Camelia’s father, and who wants her to join him in Mexico. Emilio’s mission diverts badly off-book, and ends up dying in a Californian back-alley. Thereafter, it’s a meandering tale involving the battles for turf between Don Trevino and his rival, Arnulfo Navarro, as well as the extended families on both sides, and various other elements, such as corrupt Army officer General Urdapilleta, who may (or may not) also be a serial killer.

This will happen: significant expansion is obviously needed when you adapt a three-minute song into about 45 hours of TV drama. For the inspiration here was 1972 song Contrabando y Traición, by Los Tigres del Norte. While colloquially known as “Camelia la Texana,” the original title of this narcocorrida – a genre once described as “gangster rap with tubas and accordions” – translates as “Smuggling and Betrayal.” That’s a fairly accurate summary of both the song and the series. It tells of a couple who drive from Tijuana to LA with marijuana in their car tires. There, as in the show, Emilio tells Camelia he’s breaking up with her after they cash in their cargo. The result? “Seven gunshots rang out, Camelia killed Emilio/All the police found was a discarded pistol/Of the money and Camelia, nothing more was ever known.”

The song had previously been adapted into a 1977 film, starring Ana Luisa Peluffo and Valentín Trujillo – though the dynamic was rather different there, with the leading lady being a couple of decades older than her lover. (More than 20 years earlier, Peluffo had caused a significant scandal, when she appeared nude in 1955’s La fuerza del deseo, the first such scene in Mexican cinema) The song was also adapted into an opera in 2008, and has been acknowledged by Arturo Pérez-Reverte as a significant inspiration for his novel, La Reina Del Sur. The author said, “The day I heard Camelia La Tejana, I felt the need to write the lyrics of one of those songs myself.

It’s an interesting decision to set the series in the seventies, at the time the song was released, rather than in the contemporary era. Though, outside of the cars and the preponderance of vintage facial hair, it’s easy to forget this is a period piece. The story is little more than a hodge-podge of telenovela cliches, semi-randomly stitched together. Emilio has a twin brother! Unexpected pregnancies! Long-lost siblings. And vengeance. Damn. So much vengeance, to the point that it was more of a surprise on the rare occasions when somebody didn’t have a deeply-held grudge. Emilio’s wife Alison against Camilla, for killing her husband. Don Trevino’s current wife, Lu, against the previous occupant of the position, Camilla’s mother, for rendering her infertile. Navarro against Camilla, for burning his face at a cockfight. And so on.

Hell, even ten-year-old blind girl Alma (Ana Paula d’León) is seeking revenge on those who killed her parents, before her adoption by Don Treviño. She’s actually one of the more interesting supporting characters, because she seems to have second sight, able to see things before they happen, and act to prevent them. It’s a shame the story lose sinterest in her entirely during the second half, because this concept could have developed in a number of intriguing ways. Someone with Alma’s talent would be a great weapon for any drug cartel, effectively keeping them one step ahead of their enemies. She’s not the only decent supporting character: “Queens of the South” La Nacha in the first half, and Concepción “La Cuquis” Olvera during the latter stages, both demonstrate it’s not just a man’s world.

Unfortunately, these delights are all rather minor. The great bulk of the episodes are unaffecting, not least due to a heroine whose middle names appear to be “Questionable Life Choices”. If there’s a poor decision to be made… Camilla makes it, with an inevitability previously associated only with characters from 19th-century Russian novels. Up until the very last episode, she’s less an action heroine than a reaction heroine, and you would probably need two hands to count all the female characters elsewhere in this show, who are more interesting than Camelia. The series seems tacitly to accept this, hence falling back on a tangle of subplots in which the supposed heroine is only tangentially involved.

The series ended as it had consistently done throughout: another 10-episode arc, ending in interest being piqued once more. [Spoiler warning] Camelia became the head of the Treviño family, and took her revenge on Navarro, spitting out the line, “No man made me a legend. I chose my own life, and I’ll choose my own death.” But there was also a schism, with Alma and Lu heading off, suggesting they would go up against Camelia in a second series. However, it has now been more than three and a half years since the first season ended, and the chances of any sequel seem increasingly slim. It isn’t too surprising. Adapting a three-minute pop song into a movie can be done: Convoy and Harper Valley PTA come to mind as examples. Stretching it into something of this length, however, is likely a remix too far.

Star: Sara Maldonado, Erik Hayser, Andrés Palacios, Dagoberto Gama

Zenabel

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“A comedy, from the director of… Cannibal Holocaust ?”

I’m not kidding. Director Deodato is best known as the man behind one of the most notorious of all “video nasties,” a film which created such a furore, he had to produce the actors to convince the Italian courts he hadn’t killed them. But in almost fifty years of work (he’s still active today), Deodato has done everything from spaghetti Westerns to science-fiction. And more than a decade before Holocaust, back in 1968, he directed this bawdy action-comedy.

Set in the early 17th century, the titular heroine (Love) is a peasant girl who discovers she is actually the daughter of a duke and duchess, overthrown and killed by evil baron, Don Alonso Imolne (Ireland). She sets out with her “virgin army” – initially consisting of two other local women, but growing along the way – to take revenge, with the help of the local rebels under Gennaro (Parenti, the film’s producer and also Love’s husband). However, the baron has his own plans, which involve burning Zenabel at the stake.

The main problem is Deodato’s inability to pick an approach and stick with it. Love actually makes for a very good heroine: she’s feisty, brave and smarter than just about anyone else in the film. However, these positive aspects are perpetually battling against the chauvinistic or flat-out elements of sexist comedy. These have not aged well – and, indeed, hardly seem less than Neanderthal, even by the dubious standards of sixties Italy. Let the rape jokes and blatant homophobia flow! Though the latter is at least defused somewhat by Stander (best known as butler Max from Hart to Hart) as a randy villager who pretends to be gay, in order to come along with the all-female army. Hey, I laughed, even if subtle, it certainly ain’t.

As the salacious German poster, and title which translates as “Countess of Lust”, likely suggest, there is no shortage of nudity from Love and the rest of her recruits. That’s likely because it’s an unofficial adaptation of Isabella, Duchessa dei Diavoli, an erotic comic which ran for a decade, starting in 1966. This beat the official film version, starring Brigitte Skay and directed by by another cross-genre veteran, Bruno Corbucci, to Italian screens by a year. I’ve seen that, under its US title of Ms. Stiletto, and it’s tilted significantly enough to the sex side, not to qualify here [though not so far as the 1975 French re-release of Zenabel, under the title La Furie du Desir, which had hardcore scenes inserted!]

This take is still an almost schizophrenic film. The wild swings from the empowering to the crude make it feel like two directors were involved, with sharply contrasting visions, and the poor editor was caught in the middle. Similarly, the viewer will be pulled in a number of different ways from scene to scene, and the end result for me tilted somewhat toward the negative. Though as far I know, at least Deodato didn’t get hauled into court this time, it perhaps does show his talents are not in the comedy genre.

Dir: Ruggero Deodato
Star: Lucretia Love, Mauro Parenti, John Ireland, Lionel Stander

Strip Club Massacre

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“Secondary staged carnage.”

After Megan (Watson) loses her job, boyfriend and the roof over her head in the same day, she decides to head off to Atlanta, where friend Amanda (Riggs) puts her up for a bit. Amanda’s boyfriend (Rollins) is manager at a strip club, and gives Megan a job as a cocktail waitress. But after realizing the gap in earnings between those employees who keep their clothes on, and those who don’t, Megan decides to make the jump into strip-tease. This rapidly brings her into conflict with Jazz (Brown), another stripper who rules the club through terror and intimidation, along with the help of her cronies. She takes it upon herself to make Megan’s life hell. However, she can only be pushed so far, before Megan and Amanda, push back.

A classic grindhouse title, which somewhat delivers on its premise: nearer to the “massacre” than the “stripclub” side, I’d say. Indeed, it’s rather more restrained in terms of nudity than I’d have expected. The gore, on the other hand, is plentiful in volume, if not necessarily quality: some of the special effects count as “special” in roughly the same way as “special education”. The story is basic to the point of simplistic: Megan is somewhat sympathetic, yet you’re never brought along on her descent into psychotic violence. It’s more like a switch is suddently flipped: I can imagine the film-makers thinking, “Right, 15 minutes to go, enough of this characterization nonsense, time for the rampage sequence.” It’s still about 20 minutes too much, and this perhaps needed a better outside hand, to cut down on what often feels self-indulgent fan fiction.

The most interesting character in all this is probably Jazz. If Brown looks familiar, you should probably be somewhat ashamed of yourself. That’s because she was previously known as Misty Mundae, and starred in a large number of films with titles like Gladiator Eroticus, Lord of the G-Strings and Spiderbabe. About which, I know absolutely nothing. :) She has now moved on from such things, and clearly knows her way around a script in a way that Watson (understandably, this being her feature debut) doesn’t. Jazz thus becomes hateable, in the same way Megan should have been likeable. She’s a vicious, coke-snorting bitch, who treats the club as if it were high school, and Jazz head cheerleader. A great villain, they should have made the film around her.

As a result, Jazz’s death is about the only one which packs any kind of emotional impact – it’s not too dissimilar to one I saw in La Esquina del Diablo, actually. The rest are mostly exercises in sloppy gore – as noted, some of which work, others which don’t. For instance, the (male) death by crowbar rape is perhaps more likely to put you off tacos than anything. [They could at least have used a fireplace implement, and had Megan cheerily quip, “How’s that for strip poker?”] And why does Amanda enthusiastically join in the mayhem? No credible explanation is ever offered. It’s all very clearly a small-budget effort, made with more passion than anything else. Unfortunately, outside of Brown, it does little to escape the obvious limitations imposed by its resources.

Dir: Bob Clark
Star: Alicia Watson, Erin Brown. Courtney Riggs, Stefan Rollins
a.k.a. Night Club Massacre

Butterfly

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“A terrible moth-take.”

Veteran B-movie director Nick Cole (Laisne) wakes up to find himself tied to a chair in a warehouse. The perpetrator of his abduction is Laney Darrow (Kreisher), who is clearly familiar with Cole’s body of work, and wants to show him some of her own productions. This starts with a film depicting the abduction and killing of a young man, which turns out to be a snuff film. That genre is Laney’s specialty, and her victims are not taken at random. They are all people with whom the director has worked in the past, and it gradually becomes clear that Laney has a very specific personal agenda, both in the kidnapping of Cole, and the creation of her filmography.

It’s a premise with potential. Yet it’s entirely squandered, and that’s painfully clear by the end of the first “film within a film,” which lasts far too long. I will admit to a particularly derisive snort after it, when Cole praised the special effects – for they were particularly terrible. If you’re going to make a faux snuff movie, you can’t be cutting away with a tablespoon of blood. That ship sailed, as far as any well-informed horror fan goes, with the Japanese Guinea Pig series, in the mid-eighties. It doesn’t help there’s no consistency in style there either. Is Laney holding the camera herself? Using a tripod? Got an accomplice? At times, it seems like it’s all of these.

But the main problem, I think, is likely the structure. The film keeps all the most relevant information away from the viewer until right at the end. As a result, you’ve got to sit through about 80 minutes of wondering “Why should I care about any of this?”, alternating with “Whose side am I supposed to be on?”, before the movie allows you to take an informed stance. This kind of moral ambiguity can work, though it takes a lot of skill. Hard Candy would be the example which comes first to mind; it’s not dissimilar, like this, being largely a two-hander between a young woman and her captive. But the gulf in quality between the two features only becomes increasingly obvious the longer this goes on, and it’s no coincidence Candy also explained the situation much earlier in proceedings.

As a result, I simply gave up on this, because it failed to give me any reason to care about the fate of either of the participants. Kreisher does have a certain edge to her performance; you certainly get the sense that Laney is a loose cannon, easily capable of going off the edge – if she isn’t there already. But watching Laney and her captive flapping their lips at each other, interrupted with bad home invasion footage, is hardly going to be anyone’s idea of entertainment. This is micro-budget horror [no possible way was the budget for this the claimed $250K], which aims low and still manages to miss its targets.

Dir: Edward E. Romero
Star: Mandi Kreisher, Jay Laisne, Sky Kelley, Garrett Penwel

M.F.A.

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“Like father, like daughter”

I say the above, since the father of the star here is Clint Eastwood, possibly the most famous vigilante in cinematic history. He gave us Dirty Harry, who memorably spat out lines such as, “When an adult male is chasing a female with intent to commit rape, I shoot the bastard – that’s my policy.” This apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. Though Noelle, the art student who becomes an avenging force after being raped at a party by a fellow student, takes a little longer to get to that point of unrepentant street justice. Her first victim is purely accidental, her attacker falling over a balcony after she confronts him, in the hope of getting some kind of apology. Doesn’t happen, and his death doesn’t exactly cause her sorrow. When she realizes she is also far from alone in what she has gone through, she decides that active retaliation is the best approach.

There’s something particularly timely about watching this, the same week that the truth about Harvey Weinstein finally came out. For it’s clear that the film world is far from the sole province of jackasses who use their power to abuse women: the music business, for example, is no better, and colleges appear to be another rat-fest. Yet despite this, the script here is considerably more measured than I expected. Given the current climate, I certainly wouldn’t have blamed writer McKendrick (who plays Noelle’s room-mate Skye too) for going off on a misanthropic rant about #AllMen. It’s to her credit she doesn’t, adopting instead a laudably nuanced approach. The men here run the gamut from good to bad – perhaps more surprisingly, so do  the women. The campus victim support group is entirely useless; the college psychiatrist is worse still, actively engaged in suppressing incidents so they don’t enter the public record.

Even the vigilantism at the film’s core is not portrayed as universally the right thing. The film suggest it may do more harm than good when you carry it out on behalf of other people – perhaps doing more damage by re-opening wounds they are trying to heal. For some victims would rather forget it and move on, writing off their experience as “one shitty night,” and refusing to let it define who they are. Noelle’s action robs them of the ability to do that, arguably an abuse of power in another way. It’s all remarkably complex, and the film doesn’t shy away from any of the mess. I haven’t even discussed how Noelle takes her experience and transforms it through her (initially mediocre) art, truly a case of the Nietzschean aphorism, “That which does not kill us makes us stronger.”

It’s all far more thought-provoking than I expected, and it helps there’s something of a young Angelina Jolie about Eastwood, between her high cheekbones and expressive eyes. Though it did take me virtually the entire movie to figure out what the title meant; I’ll spare the torment and let you know it’s a peculiarly American phrase, being an abbreviation for “Master of Fine Arts.” In the UK, there’s nothing “fine” about those degrees, they’re just M.A’s. Never let it be said we don’t educate as well as entertain here…

Dir: Natalia Leite
Star: Francesca Eastwood, Leah McKendrick, Clifton Collins Jr., Michael Welch

I Spit On Your Grave 2

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“Model prisoner.”

This sequel is almost entirely unrelated to the original, beginning with a new, fresh character who will be tortured within an inch of her life, before escaping and roaring back for revenge. However, it manages to be a little more coherent, even as it replaces the redneckophobia of the original, with much more straightforward xenophobia.

The victim here is Katie Carter (Dallender), a wannabe model who takes advantage of a free photography portfolio session, offered by sleazy, Eastern European cameraman Ivan (Absolom) and his assistant, Georgy (Baharov). The latter becomes obsessed with her, and won’t take no for an answer. When Katie’s screams alert her apartment building’s caretaker, he’s stabbed by Georgy, leaving Ivan to clean up the mess. Still, it’s nothing that a large crate, stamped “Bulgaria”, can’t solve… When Katie discovers what’s awaiting her in Sofia, she’ll wish she’d been the one left in a pool of blood.

The narrative here is a bit more coherent. For instance, an early scene establishes that Carter is no shrinking violet, being a Midwest girl who knows a thing or two about hunting vermin. We also get to see more of the period between her escape, and her returning to take action – she survives with the help of a kindly local priest. He’s about the only Eastern European character here who is not an utter scumball, and in that aspect, I was reminded a fair amount of the first Hotel movie.

Initially, I thought it was going to spend the entire film in New York, and that might not have been a bad thing. Monroe is good at capturing the “urban jungle” aspect of the city, in much the same way as Abel Ferrara. There are a number of elements early on that brought Ms. 45 to mind, with that classic of the rape-revenge genre also having a sequence in a photographer’s studio. Dallender has the kind of willowy steel look as Zoe Tamerlis, too. It’s a shame it didn’t retain that approach, instead of becoming some kind of cautionary tale about foreign travel.

Once it leaves that setting, however, and scurries off to Sofia, the film becomes less interesting, more or less going down the same path as the original. Indeed, some of the beats are exactly the same, e.g. the heroine appears to find sanctuary in an authority figure, only to have that yanked away from her. Some of the resulting unpleasantness is hard to watch – please note, I’ve seen more than my fair share of cinematic nastiness, so I do not squirm easily – and that applies on both sides of the brutality. But its impact is never more than a visceral shudder. To be truly effective, it needs to pack an emotional punch as well, and in the main, that’s not present. It’s technically solid, and that may be part of the problem; it perhaps should be a little less polished, and rougher around the edges, in line with the content.

Dir: Steven R. Monroe
Star: Jemma Dallender, Yavor Baharov, Joe Absolom, Aleksandar Aleksiev

I Spit On Your Grave

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“The Hills have thighs.”

Having been pleasantly surprised by I Spit on Your Grave 3: Vengeance is Mine, I thought I should rewind and catch the first two films in the series, see if they were also above expectations. Sadly, the answer is “not really”. The first, in particular, suffers as a direct remake of the notorious original, directed in 1978 by Meir Zarchi (originally released, to little attention, as Day of the Woman). It fails from our perspective for much the same reasons, mostly through being more interested in the rape than the revenge. Though there is a certain, nasty inventiveness to the latter, which salvages the final third.

Writer Jennifer Hills (Butler) moves into to a remote cabin she has rented, in order to have peace and quiet while she pens her next book. Before she has even arrived there, she has crossed paths with the local rednecks, a trio led by Johnny (Branson). Things escalate from there, until the trio – along with the “developmentally-challenged” local plumber, burst into Jennifer’s house, and brutally assault her. She manages to flee, seeking sanctuary, only for things to go from bad to worse. But she is just able to escape with her life, falling into a creek and vanishing from her assailants.

At this point, she effectively vanishes from the film as well, which is part of the problem. There’s a logical gap here, in need of explanation. Who takes care of her? And if she’s working on her own, how is a skinny little thing like Jennifer, whose background is entirely in writing (rather than – oh, I dunno – construction), capable of dragging around the unconscious bodies of the men as she takes her revenge? I mean, she suspends one of them up in the air, dangling over a bathtub like a trussed chicken. That’s not trivial. I did enjoy the imagination in the savage vengeance, which does surpass that of the original. We get a face dissolving, fish-hooks and the ol’ rape by shotgun. Jennifer is not messing around, shall we say.

It’s a shame the film didn’t emphasize the intellectual angle a bit more. Initially, it seems that Hills’s brain is the threat to the locals, who have no idea how to handle or even interact with someone who is clearly their mental superior. However, any efforts in this direction are rapidly abandoned, in preference for her simply being physically attractive. Post-attack, too, it doesn’t really appear she’s using her brain, so much as feral cunning. It certainly does go a long way to explaining how royally screwed-up Jennifer is by the time Butler revisited the character (under a different director) in Part 3. Yet, it’s also clear that the lengthy depiction of the abuse suffered by the character does as much to detract from as emphasize the reasons for that damage.

Dir: Steven R. Monroe
Star: Sarah Butler, Jeff Branson, Daniel Franzese, Rodney Eastman

.357: Six Bullets for Revenge

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“As the crow lies…”

It wasn’t until the end, when the credits ran and I saw someone’s name I knew, that I realized this was actually a local production, shot here in Phoenix. Maybe I should have been paying more attention, or maybe that just speaks to the bland lack of place present in this low-budget Crow knock-off. For, despite the poster which is obviously riffing off another comic-book movie, this one is clearly inspired by Alex Proyas’s cult classic. I am, however, pleased to report that the lead star here did actually make it through the entirety of production with a pulse, so they come out ahead of their inspiration in that department.

On their wedding night, Eric – yes, as in Eric Draven – and Jade (Love) have their nuptials rudely interrupted by a gang of thugs belonging to Lyle Barnes (Ames), due to Eric having skipped out on them with Jade and, more importantly, fifty grand. He is killed; she is brutally assaulted and wakes up the next morning beside his corpse, with one though on her mind: vengeance. She trades her wedding ring for a gun at a pawn shop, and with the assistance of a mysterious stranger, Hammer (Williamson), begins a relentless pursuit of those responsible for her husband’s demise, all the way up the chain of command to Barnes.

The problem with being such an obvious copy, from the page-flipping opening credit sequence, to the black, feathery wings worn by Jade as she goes about her business, is you’re inevitably going to be measured at every step against your inspiration. And when you are going up against an undeniable cult classic, it’s unlikely to be a positive comparison. If this had taken the same basic elements, but gone in its own direction, I’d likely have been more tolerant of its flaws, most notably fight scenes which are ploddingly assembled – apparently from flat-packs with an Allen wrench. And a low budget is absolutely no excuse for the apparent lack of originality, which is the main problem here.

Fred Williamson’s presence helps elevate things, but it’s clear they only had him around for a couple of days, and his character’s departure from the film is every bit as abrupt as his arrival [though I was amused by him being called Hammer, that basically being what Fred calls himself!] If he had lurked in the background for the entire movie, providing motivation and guidance, it would have been better. William Katt, playing a sleazy pawnshop guy, also stands out, but Love’s performance isn’t enough to overcome an ill-considered costume, which feels like it came off the remainder rail at Hot Topic. The grindhouse aspects offer a welcome dose of grime, and is perhaps the one area where this does manage to surpass its predecessor, with the film offering copious female nudity (from just about everyone bar the heroine, who may have been body-doubled). This probably isn’t quite enough to justify it as a viewing experience.

Dir: Brian Skiba
Star: Laurie Love, Brian Ames, Krystle Delgado, Fred Williamson

Left For Dead

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I knew I shoulda taken that left turn at Albuquerque!

Coming out of the micro-budget scene in New Mexico, this is a straightforward tale of vengeful “hell kittens”, to quote the official synopsis. Bella Meurta (Kate) is a hooker, who kills one of her clients after he gets rough with her. In revenge, her little sister is savagely beaten and left dead [note: not left for dead…] in the street. Bella gathers together her posse to take out the mobsters responsible: stripper Fageeda Cunt (Blackery), dominatrix Silky Gun (Coi), and jailbird turned home healthcare professional Harley Hellcat (Rebelle). [Look, I’m just reporting these character names, I didn’t create them. Particularly Fageeda’s] But as the saying goes, “Before you embark on a journey of revenge, dig two graves.” Or perhaps more, in this case.

The aim is clear here, with West looking to create (yet another) throwback to the days of grindhouse and straight-to-rental action flicks. Which explains the faux artifacts like film scratches, I guess – though since it’s clearly shot on video, you kinda wonder why they bothered. Unfortunately, the execution falls a bit short as well. Cheap, I can easily forgive; it’s the occasional sloppiness here that’s annoying. For instance, when we see little sis lying dead in the road, her corpse is in pristine condition. Then, when Bella shows up in the next shot, the body is suddenly blood-spattered and badly bruised. Having a low-budget is no excuse for glaring continuity gaffes such as that.

Even at barely an hour long, there feels like there are significant chunks of padding, such as scenes of Fageeda and Silky at “work”, which bring plot development grinding to a complete halt. Particularly in the second half, the plot seems herky-jerky, with scenes in utterly different locations next to each other, lacking any explanation of how or why the characters went from Point A to Point B. There’s also a weird, almost complete lack of anyone over the age of about 30, which makes this seems like a revenge-based remake of Logan’s Run. And it appears most of the lead actresses are local burlesque dancers. The Venn diagram of the skills needed for those professions is not two superimposed circles, shall we say.

Yet I can’t say I hated this. We’ve been involved with enough low-budget film-making to be able to appreciate what’s involved, and much of the same vibe is present here. There are enough moments of quirky eccentricity, such as the Russian mobster confused by an ignition interlock device, which kept me adequately entertained through the film’s slacker moments. The fight scenes – something we always found a nightmare to try and make look even half way to good – didn’t entirely suck. You certainly will need a high degree of tolerance for ultra-cheap independent cinema to get through this, and I wouldn’t recommend it for beginners in that genre. Yet, I’ve seen worse [much worse, trust me on that], and despite the flaws, have to acknowledge the obvious effort involved.

Dir: Mikel-Jon West
Star: Intoxi Kate, Joy Coy, General Blackery, Holly Rebelle

Blowtorch

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“A mother’s love is relentless.”

Ann Willis (Robbins) is a single mother, working as a waitress and trying to keep family together after the death of her husband from lung cancer. To help out, son David (Abrahamson) abandons his plans to attend college and gets a job in a local factory. But he falls in with some questionable company there and, lured by the prospect of easy money, starts dealing drugs for the local mobsters, run by Canarsie. Things go from bad to worse after his supposed “friend” Mike (Falahee) frames him for the disappearance of some product, and things end with David’s dead body floating in the river, having been beaten to death by his associates. The cops, and in particular, Detective Frank Hogan (Baldwin), investigate – but to be honest, aren’t particularly interested in one drug-dealer being killed.

Ann, however, is made of sterner stuff, and is determined to get to the truth; she doesn’t have the legal limitations which hamper the police either. She realizes that Mike, addicted to the drugs he sells, is the weak link in the cartel. She begins to pick away, relentlessly, at the guilt he feels for having caused the death of David. This brings her into conflict with Det. Hogan. He is not only concerned for her safety in this dangerous world – Canarsie is growing increasingly aware of Ann’s activity – but also the waves she is causing, that threaten to capsize his more measured investigation.

It’s not a terrible film, anchored by a very solid central performance from the thoroughly convincing Robbins. Her mother positively oozes steely determination, and refuses to back down, despite being faced by some authentically unpleasant bad guys. That’s part of a generally good sense of place here: Breslin is born and bred Big Apple, and comes from a family well aware of the scummy side of life. By which I should quickly explain, his father, Jimmy, was a long-time and renowned New York journalist who wrote about organized crime, and was also written to by the “Son of Sam” during the latter’s seventies crime-spree.

However, the script here contains too many missteps to be considered even somewhat successful. Not least is the relationship between Ann and Mike, with Ann acting unfortunately like some kind of revenge-driven MILF. I suspect the intent is to show her “by any means necessary” approach; yet it seems severely out of place with the character established in the first half. The final take-down of the perpetrators doesn’t ring true either, reliant upon that most obvious of saws, criminals who can’t keep their mouths shut – even when, as here, they’re talking to the mother of one of their victims. Really? The net result is a film which builds a solid foundation, and does a good job of populating its world, only to go off the rails increasingly, as it then moves through its story.

Dir: Kevin Breslin
Star: Lois Robbins, Jared Abrahamson, William Baldwin, Jack Falahee