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

Even Lambs Have Teeth

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“Romy and Michelle’s Vicious Vacation.”

Katie (Skovbye) and Sloane (Prout) are teenage BFF’s, who head off to spend time on an organic farm – though their real goal is the weekend shopping in New York which will follow it. On the way, they are distracted by a couple of bits of prime young, rural manhood. But before you can say “roll in the hay,” they are drugged, the pair waking up to find themselves chained to duplex shipping containers, from where they are rented out as sex slaves to anyone interested. Their sudden dropping off the grid concerns Katie’s uncle Jason (Richards), who happens to be an FBI agent. He heads to the area to investigate, unaware the local sheriff is in on the plot. However, there’s only so far you can push a person, before they break. When Katie and Sloane snap, and escape, rather than heading for safety, they decide to stick around, so they can get thoroughly medieval on those responsible.

This could have gone thoroughly grindhouse, as is the usual approach in the rape-revenge genre. Credit Miles, therefore, for zigging in another direction, with the actual assaults far more implied than actually shown. This is something of a double-edged sword: there isn’t the same resulting sense of horror or outrage, but on the other hand, I’m always far more about the revenge half of the equation. As the review tagline above implies, the film also manages to be surprisingly light in tone, given the subject matter. That’s particularly the case in the second half. For instance, the ladies get the shopping spree they want – except, it’s in the local hardware store, picking up tools for their vengeance, rather than going down Fifth Avenue.

It’s also as much about the relationship between the two women, with the switch in their characters between the two sections. Initially, Sloane is the outgoing and dominant one; however, it’s Katie who instigates the switch from passive to active, and takes charge thereafter. When they were making up alternative personas for the trip, shortly before departure, let’s just say there were apparently good reasons why she chose “Ripley” as the name of her alter ego.

The main weakness is likely the overall sense of restraint, which unfortunately applies equally as much to the revenge – precisely the aspect which needs to be ramped up to 11. And, really, given the entire town is apparently in on it, including the police department, I was expecting much more of a reaction from the locals. Even when Katie and Sloane drive through town in a stolen truck, dragging the body of one victim behind them… nobody so much as notices. There’s not any sense of escalation either. Arguably the worst fate, happens to their first target, although some credit is due for imaginative use of a weed-whacker.

The results are all amiable enough entertainment – and that’s probably the first time I’ve ever used the word “amiable” in regard to a rape-revenge flick. If these lambs have teeth, this movie is more an affectionate nibble than a fully-fledged bite.

Dir: Terry Miles
Star: Kirsten Prout, Tiera Skovbye, Michael Karl Richards, Garrett Black

Bleeding Heart

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“When good yoga instructors… GO BAD.”

Yoga instructor May (Biel) is delighted when she finally tracks down her long-lost biological sister, Shiva (Mamet) whom she has never met. However, the reunion is soured because May discovers the abusive relationship in which Shiva is embroiled. Worse is to come, as she finds out that Shiva is actually a hooker, and her significant other, Cody (Anderson), is more pimp than boyfriend. May’s efforts to help her sibling run into stormy water – not just from Cody, but also her own boyfriend, Dex (Gathegi) and adopted mother, who think Shiva and Cody are just shaking May down. Eventually, the point comes where May has to come out of this middle-class comfort-zone, because the downward dog position isn’t going to help her and Shiva escape their increasingly perilous situation.

As director Bell – herself, once a yoga teacher – put it: “It’s easy to be peaceful and feel blessed when everyone around you is like that. But… what is the correct choice, when confronted with someone who doesn’t want to sit down and have peaceful talks?” For it’s a relatively uncommon, even subversive, idea proposed here, especially in a Californian indie film [although Bell is a fellow Scot, the setting here is 100% Los Angeles]. While non-violence is clearly preferable, any realist must admit, it’s not necessarily the solution to every problem, and there are times when more direct action is not only justified – it’s required. It’s also interesting that both the conventionally villainous Cody and “nice guy” Dex are portrayed as controlling their women: one physically, the other psychologically.

I guess “interesting” is a good word to sum this up in general – it’ll make you think, rather than feel. Not that there’s anything wrong with thoughtful film-making as a concept. It’s just that the particular topic is one which should affect the viewer on a gut level. I kept thinking, “Is this the scene which will make me angry?”, and it never quite gets there, with my emotional needle failing to go past “somewhat annoyed.” It’s perhaps partly a result of the two leads being almost stereotypical in their lives: May, in particular, embodies just about every trope of the happy hippie chick.

The film becomes rather more satisfying after she realizes that pacifism and chanting are not going to address this particular problem. Especially amusing is the scene in which she bursts into the house where Shiva is working, ending in May bidding the client farewell with a cheery, “Namaste, motherfucker.” It’s a cheap shot, for sure, yet it worked for me. More of this intensity would be welcome, though since we enjoyed her in Blade: Trinity, Biel’s credible performance as a bad-ass didn’t come as a particular surprise. The trailer and cover do pull something of a bait and switch, significantly emphasizing the thriller elements over the dramatic ones. However, I can’t confess to feeling cheated: what it provides over and above expectations, balances out those shortcomings, and the venture proves to be a satisfactory overall experience.

Dir: Diane Bell
Star: Jessica Biel, Zosia Mamet, Joe Anderson, Edi Gathegi

Two Wrongs

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“…don’t make the ending right.”

twowrongsThe first half of this is actually well-written, asking some difficult moral questions that left me intrigued, and wondering how they would be resolved. The answer, unfortunately, is by an escalating series of plot twists, culminating in one of the more ridiculous climaxes I’ve ever seen. I could go on to say, “even in a Lifetime TVM”, but that would be unkind, since I’ve seen both good and bad examples from there over the past year. Though as an aside, I note Netflix being increasingly quiet about the ties of films to Lifetime, which is interesting; but given the severe inaccuracy of their synopsis (No, the heroine does not get “sucked into a dangerous underworld”), that’s more likely a Netflix issue.

Sarah (Zinser) is a single mom, devoted to her daughter, who also works as a nurse. It’s clear from the get-go that someone is stalking her, and eventually the daughter is abducted on her way home from school. Sarah is called by the kidnapper, but his demands are not anything like you’d expected. For it turns out, one of Sarah’s patients is trying to escape his own past, where he was accused of kidnapping a young girl himself, who allegedly died while in the trunk of his car. Acquitted on a technicality, he moved away, but the father of his victim – whose mother also suffered a complete psychological breakdown as a result – has tracked the perp down, and is now intent on using Sarah as a vehicle for his revenge.  How far will she go, in order to save her own daughter?

Like I said: it’s a difficult moral question, not least in the early going, when the film maintains a nice sense of ambiguity as to whether or not the target of her second-hand wrath is guilty. If so, then the entire situation becomes a cascading series of wrongness, potentially culminating in the death of at least one other innocent. While a fascinatingly dark scenario, it’s not exactly Lifetime fodder, and things start to go off the rails when Sarah’s mother [from whom she clearly gets her style of “helicopter parenting”] shows up, extracting a confession that removes any ambiguity. He’s guilty as charged, m’lud – and probably guilty of a lot of other things, too. Hanging’s too good for him. From then on, the script staggers from one ill-conceived mis-step to the next, through everyone going on a road-trip and an amazingly coincidental meeting at a gas-station, to an ending that literally drips everywhere. There is, apparently, no loose end which can’t be tied up by someone drowning randomly and floating off downstream, resolving all those tricky moral dilemmas. Though Zinser is solid enough as a mom prepared to do anything to get her daughter back, she could have been Meryl Streep here, and still wouldn’t be capable of papering over the glaring flaws in the later portion of the script.

Dir: Tristan Dubois
Star: Gillian Zinser, Ryan Blakely, Aidan Devine

The Assignment

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“(Gender) Identity crisis”

I’m a big fan of any film with an outrageous premise, and this one certainly delivers. Mob hitman Frank Kitchen (Rodriguez) carries out his latest job with no qualms, killing a debtor. What he doesn’t realize is, the victim’s sister is a talented but EXTREMELY twisted surgeon, Dr. Rachel Jane (Weaver). She vows to take revenge on Frank by removing what she feels matters most to him: his masculinity. Kitchen is knocked out, kidnapped, and wakes up in a seedy hotel room, to find herself in possession of a couple of things she didn’t have before, and missing something she used to have. But gender reassignment does not make the (wo)man, and an extremely pissed-off Frank vows revenge of her own, both on Jane and Honest John Hartunian (LaPaglia), the former employer who betrayed Kitchen.

Said director Hill, “Is it lurid? Yes. Is it lowbrow? Well, maybe. Is it offensive? No. I’m just trying to honor the B movies that we grew up with.” Maybe he needed to take that actual step and actually be offensive. For I guarantee you, something like Ilsa, She-Wolf of the SS clearly did not give a damn about anyone who took offense at the concept, and was all the better for it. The only time this succeeds in provoking similar feelings of “What is this and why am I watching it?”, is when we get to see Rodriguez come out of the shower as male Frank, sporting a prosthetic penis.

The issue here is not the concept: if you have an issue with it, the solution is simple enough. Don’t watch. It’s fiction. It’s not intended to be an accurate portrayal of gender reassignment surgery, any more than Face Off was a documentary about facial reconstruction. I’m more amused by the reactions of people who can’t distinguish reality from cinema, asking questions like “Why is gender reassignment being depicted as a cruel punishment?” The answer is blindingly obvious: because it results in someone trapped in a body that’s the wrong sex for them. I would have thought the trans community might empathize with that. Apparently not.

No, the problem is… It’s not actually a very good film. It’s told mostly in flashback, Dr. Jane telling her story in a straitjacket to a psychiatrist, Dr. Ralph Galen (Shalhoub), and this helps leads to a muddled and confusing structure, when a straightforward linear narrative would likely have served the story better. The action scenes are also almost perfunctory: I’d have expected a lot better from the man who gave us an all-time classic in The Warriors. Mind you, that was a long time ago [though the script which formed the basis for this, also dates back to the seventies], and he hasn’t done anything of note since – pauses to check Wikipedia – uh… Last Man Standing, maybe? That was 1996. I saw it in a Dublin cinema, and fell asleep. Though that might have been the Guinness.

It may also have been a misstep (cisstep?) to have Rodriguez play both halves of Kitchen. She’s fine on the female side, delivering her usual tough attitude, entirely befitting the project’s original title, Tomboy. But she’s less than convincing as an “actual” man, looking more like Captain Jack Sparrow after a metrosexual makeover. I did like Weaver, delivering a mix of coolness and taut insanity that is interesting and unsettling to watch. However, the negatives outweigh the positives, and we’re left with a film that’s difficult to defend, purely on an artistic level. It is, however, the first time I’ve ever been uncertain whether a film should be included here, due to uncertainty over the “heroine” part of “action heroine”…

Dir: Walter Hill
Star: Michelle Rodriguez, Sigourney Weaver, Tony Shalhoub, Anthony LaPaglia