Blu-Ray Review: Black Widow

Director: Bob Rafelson
Screenplay: Ronald Bass
Starring: Debra Winger, Theresa Russell, Sami Frey, Nicol Williamson, Dennis Hopper
Country: USA
Running Time: 102 min
Year: 1987
BBFC Certificate: 15

The late ’80s and early ’90s saw a slew of erotic or at least sexually charged thrillers that took the idea of the film noir ‘femme fatale’ and gave her a modern, more blatantly sexualised twist. At surface value, this might seem like a forward thinking trend of giving women powerful roles instead of throwaway ‘eye-candy’ appearances, but, as film historians Julie Kirgo and Nick Redman discuss in the commentary included on this release, the reason behind this wave of strong villainous women was likely down to the still male-dominated industry (and male-dominated business world in general) being scared of the growing power women were enjoying at the time. Back in the late ’40s and early ’50s, when film noir was born, women were more frequently entering the workplace due to the war, so men were afraid of them taking their traditional places as the breadwinners. In the ’80s, women were finally starting to attain positions of power in the business world (although things still aren’t balanced), so the fear came back.

Black Widow was part of this wave and sees Theresa Russell play the titular Black Widow, a chameleonic character (of too many names to pick one here, so I’ll stick with the title) who makes a living by seducing rich men, marrying them, then undetectably murdering them, so she can keep their fortunes to herself. She then changes her identity and moves onto the next victim. So it’s very much playing into those ’80s fears then, but writer Ronald Bass put a bit of a spin on things to prevent the film from being too blatantly a symbol for male fear, by making the protagonist a woman too. Debra Winger plays Alexandra, a Federal Investigator who is bored of her desk-bound research job and longs to be in the field, solving cases first hand. She comes across some strange deaths of wealthy men and looks into the cases to find the wife of each victim looks similar, even if on paper they are different women. She begs her boss to let her take on the case, which he lets her do, as he thinks she’s crazy. There’s no evidence of murder and the Black Widow’s hair and make-up changes make it hard to prove she’s the same woman.

When Alexandra gets close to catching the Black Widow in the act though, her next victim, William (Nicol Williamson), is found dead. Alexandra is devastated as she had a chance to tell William about her theory about his wife, so she quits her job and heads to Hawaii (the last known location of the Widow) to put an end to her reign of terror herself. To do this, she must learn to be like her nemesis and the closer she gets to the Widow, the more she discovers her own sexual powers, turning from a tomboy into a ‘true’ woman.

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My Love of Film in A Snapshot #18

With the passing of Tony Scott so jarringly sudden and bizarre. Let us use this space to reflect on was is possibly the best scene of his career, and personally, one of my favourite scenes in cinema. Christopher Walken gets do do what he does, that is to say, monologue, menace and entertain. Dennis Hopper gets to act up a storm playing a father protecting his son by forcing another man to kill him before they torture answers out of him. The body language alone (and note that the monologue is actually about how body language gives away whether someone or not is lying) is staggering. In an ironic footnote to this brilliant scene, the gangsters find the son’s forwarding address in Los Angeles pinned to the refrigerator. The sudden violence, the Robert Richardson-esque cinematography of harsh overhead lights and grain, shot by Scott’s regular DP, Jeffrey Kimball, the tour-de-force character actors doing their thing, which when you think about it, is the greatness of True Romance in the first place: Great actors chewing on a great screenplay (one of the first things to get made from Quentin Tarantino) and top-shelf Tony Scott visuals before the director went all epileptic-Avid-And-Colour-Filter-crazy.

Blu-Ray Review: Rumble Fish

Director: Francis Ford Coppola
Screenplay: S.E. Hinton & Francis Ford Coppola
Based on the Novel by: S.E. Hinton
Starring: Matt Dillon, Mickey Rourke, Diane Lane, Dennis Hopper, Vincent Spano, Nicolas Cage
Producer: Doug Claybourne, Fred Roos
Country: USA
Running Time: 94 min
Year: 1983
BBFC Certificate: 18

Francis Ford Coppola is responsible for making four of my all time top 20 or so favourite films of all time, more than any other director. His run of work in the 70’s – The Godfather Parts 1 & 2, The Conversation and Apocalypse Now are all staggeringly great works of cinema in my eyes as well as many others’. However, his name doesn’t spring straight to mind when people ask who my favourite director is. This is largely down to the fact that after this extraordinary foursome, his work ranged from curious, to pretentious, to mediocre to downright baffling (what made him take on Jack?). Rumble Fish, made in 1983, came somewhere in between though for myself and many. I’d not seen it for a long time and with Masters of Cinema releasing a stunningly well restored Blu-Ray edition, what better time to revisit this interesting addition to Coppola’s filmography.

The film follows Rusty James (Matt Dillon), a misguided youth that wants to rule the streets with his gang of friends, much like his older brother ‘Motorcycle Boy’ (Mickey Rourke) who mysteriously disappeared a few years ago. During a violent fight (or ‘rumble’) between Rusty and another gang leader, Motorcycle Boy returns. He’s not quite his usual self though and doesn’t seem to share his younger brother’s enthusiasm for bringing back the gang warfare of old. The film becomes a coming of age tale, with Rusty struggling under the shadow of his legendary sibling and the disappointment of his alcoholic father (Dennis Hopper) and long gone mother. Lacking the intelligence and maturity of his brother, he doesn’t seem to realise that he’s better off without them all.

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Cinecast Episode 169 – Stone Dildos

Today we are joined by Killerfilm’s Serena Whitney to pontificate on the the latest multiplex horror film, Sex And The City 2. Matt Gamble chimes in with the herding of the drunken and frocked chattel to sold out screenings. Mucho negativity ensues. We also revisit The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, to delve into the films shortcomings and another one of those ‘book to movie adaptation’ discussions. Lots of Movies We Watched, spanning Norm MacDonald‘s post-SNL flop to an obscure French New Wave release. There is also a smack-down of Andrew on his flippant dismissal of The Iron Giant and a fairly lengthy tangent on George A. Romero‘s filmography and orbiting remakes. The whole crew gives their DVD picks, which turns into a limbo game of trying to dodge the slew of Clint Eastwood releases coinciding with his 80th Birthday. Enjoy.

As always, feel free to leave your own thoughts in the comment section below and again, thanks for listening!

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Bookmarks for April 6-8th

  • 20th Anniversary of the Death of Laura Palmer – How Twin Peaks Changed TV
    “”Twenty years after the influential cult television show began, David Lynch’s sci-fi, absurdist murder-mystery soap opera continues to scare and befuddle legions of viewers. Without it, there would be no ‘Lost’, ‘The X-Files’ or any of the countless serials habitually labeled “quirky” and/or “weird” since the show’s debut on April 8, 1990.”
  • Some Love for Tina Fey: No More Catty Best Friends
    “She makes me laugh, unexpectedly, sheepishly, loudly, thoroughly and consistently. She is, without question, one of the ten best comedians working today. She’s John Belushi doing Joe Cocker. She’s Richard Pryor killing on the mic. She’s Norm MacDonald cracking jokes about O.J. Simpson, Vince Vaughn standing on a diner table and Johnny Carson direct addressing his audience as K-Mart shoppers. I believe in Tina Fey because she makes me laugh, and that’s why, for the first time in my life, I’m going to see a comedy entirely because of its female star.”
  • Slumming it in the movies
    “The history of American indie film happens to be dominated by lowlifes and inarticulates. This is what happens when the godfathers of independent film are John Cassavetes and Melvin van Peebles, both attracted to working-class sparks. Complaining about intelligent guys wasting their talents on “low-lifes” smacks of snobbery, but it also ignores the fact that American indie film is and always has been primarily oriented towards the marginalized, who aren’t going to make movies about themselves, and certainly aren’t about to be the stars of mainstream films.”
  • My Friend Francis, The Commentator (DVD Commentary as Art?)
    “”What you really need—yeah, there it is—what you really need is a filmmaker commentary situation. Straight art, straight cinema—it’s gonna hit you between the eyes too hard. You need a buffer, someone talking, someone intelligent to talk you through the night and the images. And damn if Francis Ford Coppola is not the man to do it. He is. Yeah. In fact I believe Francis Ford Coppola could single-handedly bring anyone through heartache with his combination of DVD commentaries, wine, and pasta sauces. But let’s focus on the DVD commentaries.”
  • Dennis Hopper Blues: The Mix Tape
    “Doctors are more than likely telling Dennis Hopper to take it easy while he battles prostate cancer. It’s not easy to rest comfortably when he’s in court in a divorce battle and now ordered to pay his estranged wife $12,000 a month. Dennis Hopper, fighting until the bitter end. Let’s create a set of music around his situation, his films, etc.”
  • Chuck Norris is Dead. Werner Herzog Killed Him.
    “The San Francisco Guardian recently reported that the hottest new Twitter trend is the “Werner Herzog vs. Chuck Norris” tag, which modifies a Chuck Norris fact to showcase how film director Werner Herzog is infinitely more awesome. A choice example: “Chuck Norris counted from 0 to infinity. Werner Herzog counted backwards from infinity to 0.”


You can now take a look at RowThree’s bookmarks at any time of your choosing simply by clicking the “delicious” button in the upper right of the page. It looks remarkably similar to this:

Cinecast Episode 115 – It’s Only a Movie!


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Episode 115:
Miss Serena Whitney from KillerFilm helps the boys out with a semi-drunken discussion of torture-porn and death. Specifically a SPOILER REVIEW of The Last House on the Left and some Jason Voorhees. More flip-flap on the ‘torture-porn vs. exploitation’ labels in horror films and some of this weeks DVD releases.
As always, thanks for listening. And the comments section is available for complaining about our complete lack of professionalism or narrative coherence.

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Cinecast Episode 96 – Ya Know, for Grown-Ups


Episode 96:
In which we discuss: Transsiberian, Elegy, a new top 5, DVD picks and plenty of off-kilter tangents.

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Review: Hell Ride

Awesome poster for Hell Ride

Director: Larry Bishop
Writers: Larry Bishop
Producers: Larry Bishop, Michael Steinberg, Shana Stein
Starring: Larry Bishop, Michael Madsen, Eric Balfour, Dennis Hopper, Vinnie Jones, David Carradine, Leonor Varela
MPAA Rating: NR
Running time: 83 min.

Frankly I’m a bit surprised that Mr. Tarantino agreed to have his name stamped all over this picture. It does have a bit of a Robert Rodriguez feel to it – who has collaborated with Quentin a lot in the past; but this has zero amount of the charm, wit and coolness factor that oozes effortlessly from the like of those gentlemen. No, Larry Bishop just doesn’t cut it with his first outing; though I can see a little of what he was going for.

Probably the simplest plot of all time is somehow managed to become convoluted as hell by the ineptitude of direction and screenplay. It involves three biker buddies who rule their little plot of land in the southwest and are known as The Victors. The youngest of The Victors is a new recruit named Comanche. At the same time Comanche enters the little gang, a rival gang rides into town. Apparently the leader of this rival gang (the “666’s”) is responsible for the brutal murder of the girlfriend of the leader of The Victors (Larry Bishop), Pistolero. So revenge is certainly on the schedule. Also, a mysterious safe deposit box key is floating around as well. Yay.

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