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Red-Barracuda

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Despite the misleading title, this is a pretty serious-minded drama, 18 July 2017
6/10

I'm guessing that this movie was re-titled back in the 70's in an attempt to align it with the then popular Blaxploitation sub-genre. The original title 'Street Sisters' and 'Black Hooker', the one it went on to be known as, both suggest that the film will be a contemporary urban-based genre piece revolving around black characters from the ghetto. As it turns out, while this certainly is a black-themed movie, it is a period-set family drama set in the country. I suspect that its distributor thought it might be a hard sell and so re-titled it to appeal to the Blaxploitation audience. Whatever the case, the title is somewhat misleading, as this one turns out to be quite serious minded, looking at topics such as prostitution, family, religious hypocrisy and mixed-race identity. I'm not saying it necessarily covers these topics especially brilliantly but it was nice to see a very low budget movie have the ambition to at least try to.

The story is essentially about a family. A mixed-race boy is brought up by his grandparents when his mother, the hooker of the title, decides he is too much hassle to look after. It might be sensible to mention firstly that the son is pretty clearly not mixed-race in the slightest! So you need to just go with this anomaly from the get-go. The grandfather is a religious zealot prone to sexually predatory behaviour, while the hooker mother is completely immoral and uncaring. In between these two extremes is the grandmother who is the peace-keeper and the son's only good moral compass. Interestingly, none of the characters are named at any point, with the hooker mother being named in the credits as 'The Painted Lady'! The film-making is certainly pretty raw, with a definite roughness all round, yet this did give the film a certain grit which didn't do it too much harm. In direct contrast to the harsh story, the location was quite appealing with some attractive sunset photography of characters in overgrown fields for example; so the look of the movie often has a pleasing glowing ambiance to it which I thought was pretty nice. On the whole, while this one has a definite lo-fi rawness, it does also have some ambition, decent acting and sense of place. I reckon it's one that deserves to be given a chance.

More early 70's fun from Crown International, 17 July 2017
8/10

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

I have increasingly come to realise that I am a definite fan of the types of movies Crown International Pictures were knocking out in the early 70's. This was a time period when the influence of the American counter-culture was still very apparent and Crown were clearly tapping into this with a string of flicks which featured themes revolving around the hippy lifestyle, drugs, sexual liberation and alienated youth. In fairness, most of these films also had at least one foot in the sexploitation bracket too. For my money, this period is easily the most fertile and interesting in the history of Crown's output, with great films such as Pick-Up, Best Friends, Trip with the Teacher and various others providing excellent entertainment as well as thoroughly enjoyable time-capsule fun. The Sister-in Law is yet another to add to this selection of drive-in delights. After traveling around America to find himself, a young guy called Robert indulges in affairs with the wife and mistress of his writer brother Edward, who in turn lives a secret life as a drug peddler. Edward finds himself in deep trouble with his crime bosses and eventually ropes his brother into his world in an underhand way that leads to a path of destruction.

This one could perhaps best be described as a melodrama with thriller elements. It doesn't really have much of a focus on suspense and for the most part is a tale of two brothers. The title of the movie is pretty misleading to say the least, as the sister-in-law doesn't especially have a pivotal role in this one and is merely one of two women who interact with both brothers. I guess the title was used to imply this might be a soft-core romp. It does begin like this may be the case with the opening credits introducing us to the sister-in-law of the title strutting through the streets in a seductive manner. The actress who plays her is Anne Saxon. It appears that this was her only film role which is a bit of a shame as she was a bit of a fox for sure and most of the erotic content of the movie revolves around her appearances. The top billed actor, however, is a young John Savage, who also provided the folksy songs on the soundtrack and in fairness he is the most impressive actor on display here for sure, fleshing out his troubled character pretty well. I enjoyed the deliberate pace if this one and never at any point found it boring at all. After all, quite regularly the drama is interspersed with some nudity, a catfight in a pool, drugs, gangsters and…water-based basketball. Pleasingly, it also opts for that other staple of the times - the insanely nihilistic downbeat ending. I like these types of endings, as they indicate the unfortunate truth in life that bad people sometimes get away with extremely nasty deeds and other people pay for it. Yeah, what can I say other than this is yet another early 70's Crown International movie that I connected with and enjoyed very much.

Pretty low quality comedy-western from Italy, 17 July 2017
3/10

A couple of con-men discover gold in the desert. They have to ward off a gang of bandits who, needless to say, also want the booty.

This quite tiresome film is of the specific sub-bracket that can best be described as the comedy-spaghetti-western. These seemed to rear their ugly heads in the 70's, once the main sub-genre was beginning to run out of ideas. It's a typical tactic for film-makers to add comedy to a genre to try and revive it. It rarely does anything of the kind of course and in the case of the Italian westerns it certainly produced little in the way of memorable movies. Anything For a Friend feels like the combination of a spaghetti western with the British TV sitcom 'On the Buses'. The only problem with this idea is that I have never come across any evidence that suggests that anyone actually was waiting for a combination of a spaghetti western with the British TV sitcom 'On the Buses'. To this end it almost goes without saying that in this one the action is extremely minimal, while the humour is broad and plentiful. Not very funny though and that's the main problem. The overall result of this nonsense is a very inconsequential film indeed whose comic emphasis makes it a little more distinctive, while at the same time ensuring that it is even less good than normal.

A future cult classic..., 2 July 2017
7/10

I didn't know what to expect with this one when I caught it in a theatre last night. But it became clear from the audience reaction that this was not going to be an ordinary movie watching experience, as from early on there were laughs emanating from all around. But these were laughs that suggested people already knew this film, in other words this feels like a movie that is garnering something of a cult reputation. People chuckled throughout at cheesy dialogue and over-the-top action in a way that suggests Guardians has a potential future as a midnight movie cult classic. Oh, and when it finished it got a boisterous round of applause, so trust me, folks lapped this one up big time. I don't usually like super-hero films but I have to say I sat with an inane grin on my face for the whole thing.

This Russian take on the comic-book genre has four superheroes created during the Cold War who are sent out to battle an evil genius. That's all that really needs to be said about the plot. The heroes compromise of a were-bear, an invisible babe, a man with rock-based skills and a super-fast swordsman. They are led by an aviator shades wearing statuesque cropped blonde military woman and their nemesis is an overly dramatic bald-headed villain who wants to rule the world. It actually has great special effects for a five-million-dollar movie. But more importantly it is highly entertaining with lots of pathos and melodrama which was so overwrought that it was genuinely funny, the action scenes are well done over-the-top nonsense, it has some seriously hot women, a training montage scene and a bear with a machine gun. Seriously, what is not to like here? I hear there is going to be a sequel – count me in.

1 out of 2 people found the following review useful:
Lightly amusing documentary about some Kiwi chicken eccentrics, 2 July 2017
7/10

Pecking Order looks at the rivalries and obsessions of a group of New Zealand chicken breeders from Christchurch on the months leading up to the National Poultry Show. Like many similar documentaries its focus is a very unusual activity and the eccentrics who partake in it. Needless to say, there are a few funny moments along the way but not maybe as many as you might expect. This is partially down to director Slavko Martinov who commendably does not make his subjects look foolish with cheap editing techniques. He fairly depicts everybody in an even-handed manner and allows us to see the wider picture as much as is possible. There is perhaps a lack of true dramatics here, aside from some background politics amongst the members of the chicken club. But it is all fairly minor stuff and there aren't really any major dramas. It's probably partially on account of these people being even headed Kiwis that things don't get out of hand, if this had focused on chicken people from a more volatile part of the world I guess the feathers would well and truly be flying. The participants here do genuinely seem like a nice bunch of folks, so there aren't any pantomime villains. Nevertheless, like all good docs you find yourself drawn into a world you know literally nothing about and I started to think I could spot a good-looking chicken. This is definitely an enjoyable watch which goes for a lightly amusing approach as opposed to full-on comedy, as a result it feels a little truer to the people involved.

1 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
I didn't especially enjoy this but it does have impressive energy and drive, 2 July 2017
5/10

Made over six years between 1977-83, this film reminded me strongly of the films labelled the No Wave. These were underground lo-fi movies made primarily in New York in the late 70's / early 80's. They often had political messages and were uncompromisingly uncommercial. I'm not sure but I would think that Lizzie Borden's feature Born in Flames must surely qualify as one, as this is a wilfully challenging and direct bit of underground cinema which is a rallying cry to women generally. It has a sci-fi premise. In the near future, America is celebrating the tenth anniversary of a socialist revolution but despite this, many issues remain the same, such as racism, homophobia and sexism. A militant group called the Women's Army have been formed, they take direct action to fight for women's rights. Their leader is arrested for a minor offense and mysteriously dies in custody in prison, leading to further revolution.

I'll come out and admit it straight away that I didn't fully enjoy this one. Not on ideological grounds but merely because I did not find the film fully engaging due to its fragmented experimental presentation. Having said that, I do respect what it was doing and it does have an unmistakable energy to it which I found interesting. It's clearly low-budget as underground films always are but it definitely has ambition for sure. It takes the form of a pseudo-documentary and mixes in some real news footage in with staged material. The actors are all amateur but this does ensure the feel remains more radical and less watered down. It focuses on feminist politics primarily and it does have to be said that many of the issues discussed still exist today so it does still have a relevance in terms of what it is saying. I also enjoyed the punk soundtrack which had a sort of proto riot grrrl feel to it. So, while I cannot pretend to have fully engaged with this one, I do respect it and admit it has a certain unique feel.

Entertaining look at the influential wave of Scottish indie guitar acts that emerged from Glasgow in the late 80's, 2 July 2017
7/10

In recent years, we have had a couple of documentaries that have focused on areas of the Scottish indie music scene. Big Gold Dream (2015) looked at bands from the early 80's independent labels Fast Product and Postcard Records, while Lost in France (2016) cast its eye over the Chemikal Underground label and its 90's scene. Teenage Superstars is the missing link between these two films, as it looks at the alternative Scottish music scene in Glasgow from the mid 80's through to the early 90's. In a lot of ways this period was the most fertile in a worldwide sense for indie pop, a time when it was flowering and moving into all kinds of new musical directions just prior to alternative music becoming massive and ultimately more commercialised and watered down. Unlike those previous two documentaries, this one doesn't focus on a particular record label but more looks at bands from a general geographic location who shared a raw guitar sound to their music, which was definitely going against the grain of what was happening in the mainstream in the 80's but which would soon become much more popularised in the 90's.

The bands featured include noise-pop legends The Jesus and Mary Chain, the early progenitors The Pastels, future superstars Primal Scream, eccentric oddballs the BMX Bandits, indie-dance icons The Soup Dragons, perennial guitar favourites Teenage Fanclub and cult lo-fi legends The Vaselines. It is a pretty interesting selection of bands to be fair, with most being acts which have garnered little in the way of documentary attention over the years, so it does make for fun and informative viewing for sure. The approach to the material is a little scattershot in some ways in that it isn't totally chronological, nor is it organised especially any other way; while it was unfortunate that some of the main players such as the Reid brothers or Bobbie Gillespie did not contribute interviews, nor was there featured music from the likes of Primal Scream for budgetary reasons. These factors are slight negatives but they are definitely not deal breakers here either, as there are plenty of other lively contributions by many other of the, often unsung heroes, of the scene as well as comments from influential folks such as Creation boss Alan McGee and Sonic Youth's Thurston Moore plus a voice over from Pixies legend Kim Deal. The music that is included is often pleasingly naive, shambolic and DIY, carrying the punk spirit into the late 80's and it does truly indicate that there really was influential music coming out of Glasgow at that time, after all the biggest alternative icon ever, Kurt Cobain, wanted to be in the BMX Bandits, covered several Vaselines songs and idolised Eugene Kelly. It's a film which should definitely appeal to fans of alternative rock from the earlier days and, as all good music docs do, it will provide a few bits of new music for you to go back and check out.

Double Date (2017/I)
2 out of 2 people found the following review useful:
A genuinely funny British comedy-horror, 1 July 2017
8/10

Going into this one I have to admit being a little wary. I thought there would be a reasonable chance it could turn out to be a bit of a misfire. After all, British comedy-horror isn't the most reliable of sub-genres. I have to say though, right from the outset I was more than pleasantly surprised. The opening credits began with some cool stylised red on black drawings that suggested a bit of care and effort – this early indicator proved to be accurate as what transpired was a genuinely funny movie with some great characters and a little bit of sex appeal thrown in for good measure. The story focuses on a couple of friends Jim and Alex, the latter of which tries to help his friend lose his virginity before he turns thirty. Enter a couple of beautiful murderous femme-fatales called Kitty and Lulu, who don't take long to raise the temperature considerably.

This one benefits from an actual funny script written by Danny Morgan who also plays the hapless Jim. He puts in a thoroughly amusing performance here it has to be said, in particular his chat-up scene early in proceedings being a particular bit of comedy acting gold. He is well supported by Michael Socha as his more confident, yet still essentially idiotic, friend Alex. Both these characters play the comedy really well here and have great chemistry. They are complimented well by their leading ladies. Georgia Groome is Lulu, the less demented of the pair, who works as a good comic foil for Jim, while the almost unfeasibly gorgeous Kelly Wenham plays the deadly seductress Kitty in a very commandingly sexy performance which adds a nice bit of sensuality to compliment the general hilarity that makes up most of what is going on elsewhere. While it is a comedy-horror, the horror side is much more marginalised with it really only going into hyper-drive during the crazed ending scene which gives a knowing nod to the classic 70's shocker The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974). This finale mixes the humour and horror really well but most of the rest of the time its pure comedy all the way, such as the uproarious family birthday party, the visit to Alex's dad's pad and the aforementioned bar-room chat-up scene. Basically, this is a film that shows that you can take well-worn genre material and make it work if you take care to write funny material and have good comic actors to deliver the lines effectively. Oh, and having Kelly Wenham in your film doesn't harm it either.

Rage (2016)
Riveting and disturbing Japanese mystery/drama, 1 July 2017
8/10

This Japanese mystery/drama is made up of three concurrent stories centring on enigmatic strangers who enter the orbits of trusting individuals from different Japanese cities, while a grim double-murder investigation plays out in the background. In Chiba, an ex sex worker forms a relationship with a taciturn young man whom her father is wary of, a confident gay man begins a relationship with a quiet and mysterious man he met in a seedy joint in downtown Tokyo and a young lady newly arrived in Okinawa befriends a drifter who lives alone on a nearby island.

I must say that I found this film to be pretty riveting from start to finish. The detective strand of the story takes a bit of a back-seat while the three main plot strands propel forwards. But the whodunit aspect remains extremely compelling and I was gripped to the end. The various stories all play off feelings of trust/mistrust in regard to how the trio of strangers are perceived and treated by the people they come into contact with. The acting by the ensemble cast is very strong throughout and the different dramas all have a strong dramatic punch to them. The film is pleasingly unpredictable and it really is difficult working out how it is going to play out, which is of course a big bonus for a mystery movie, but while the ending was satisfying it might have been slightly less than the journey getting there. This is a fairly minor complaint as this as a whole is a very strong bit of Japanese cinema. Be warned though, there is one extremely harrowing scene mid-way through the picture which was hell of a difficult to watch and very emotionally tough indeed. A couple of folks at the screening I attended walked out at this point in actual fact, I won't say any more as its best to go into this with no prior knowledge as it is a key scene. So, it is a film which is definitely tough in places. It is a very impressive bit of work though, with strong dramatics underpinned by a compelling mystery framework and it is well worth seeing if you can take films with disturbing content.

Attraction (2017)
1 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
Some brilliant special effects but hampered with a leaden central story-line, 1 July 2017
6/10

An alien spacecraft crash lands in Moscow after the Russian military try to shoot it down. A humanoid alien eventually emerges and interacts with a girl, who falls in love with him but her jealous ex-boyfriend tries to intervene violently.

It's not every day you get the chance to see a big budget Russian sci-fi effects extravaganza. For this reason alone, Attraction makes for interesting viewing. Its Russian setting and flavour give it a different feel which makes it more distinctive. It does have to be said though that the romantic story-line wasn't really all that good, with the alien contact part of the story not done in a very interesting way. The alien himself is a little bit dull in all honesty, I was also a bit disappointed that he was basically completely human looking – I thought they could have come up with a being at least a little different from a regular looking guy from 2017. On the other hand, the special effects work was very good. The crash landing sequence was a blistering spectacle that was exceptionally well delivered to the screen in an exciting and highly visceral way. Unlike the dull alien, the spacecraft and his exoskeleton suit were great bits of design work. So, the overall feeling about this alien contact movie is a bit mixed. On the negative side, it had an uninteresting central love story and alien, yet it gained plus points for its Russian flavour and brilliant special effects and design work. Overall, it's definitely one worth seeing if you are a sci-fi buff, it's just a movie that could have been a lot better with a few tweaks.


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