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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Blu-Ray Review: The Handmaiden

Director: Chan-wook Park
Screenplay by: Seo-kyeong Jeong, Chan-wook Park
Based on a Novel by: Sarah Waters
Starring: Tae-ri Kim, Min-hee Kim, Jung-woo Ha, Jin-woong Jo, Jin-woong Jo
Country: South Korea
Running Time: 146 min (also available in an extended version)
Year: 2016
BBFC Certificate: 18

Chan-wook Park is a director who can do no wrong in my eyes. I’ve loved all of his films, even his divisive English language debut Stoker (although I haven’t seen his earlier pre-Vengeance Trilogy films or I’m a Cyborg). So, like many world cinema fans, I was excited to see what The Handmaiden, his return to South Korea, had in store, and I wasn’t disappointed.

The Handmaiden is based on the novel ‘Fingersmith’, by Welsh writer Sarah Waters, but with a change of setting from Victorian era Britain to Korea under Japanese colonial rule. Sookee (Tae-ri Kim) is hired as the new handmaiden to a Japanese heiress, Lady Hideko (Min-hee Kim), who lives with her ageing uncle Kouzuki (Jin-woong Jo), a cruel man who wants his hands on his niece’s fortune. Sookee however, has actually been hired by a swindler, posing as Count Fujiwara (Jung-woo Ha), who plans to have the handmaiden help him woo Hideko so he can marry her, then declare her insane and keep her money for himself. Sookee’s part in the plan becomes complicated however, when she falls in love and forms a sexual relationship with Hideko. The plot thickens further as the film goes on, but I wouldn’t want to spoil anything.

Like Stoker, The Handmaiden is a sexually charged, big, brash erotic thriller that may not necessarily be subtle or original, but enthrals nonetheless. As is to be expected from Chan-wook Park, the film is meticulously well made, and this is why it works so successfully, despite potentially trashy source material (no offence to the original novel, but I’ve seen plenty of these twist-laden, sex-filled thrillers before). The film looks ravishing, shot artfully and filled with lavish, yet imposing production design that creates the darkly beautiful prison Hideko is trapped in (her uncle’s house, that she is rarely allowed to leave).

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Blu-Ray Review: Body Double

Director: Brian De Palma
Screenplay: Robert J. Avrech, Brian De Palma
Starring: Craig Wasson, Melanie Griffith, Gregg Henry, Deborah Shelton
Country: USA
Running Time: 114 min
Year: 1984
BBFC Certificate: 18

With the recent documentary De Palma and labels like Arrow re-releasing some of the director’s earlier work on Blu-Ray over the past few years, it seems like there’s a lot of love for Brian De Palma going around. The films he made since the turn of the millennium haven’t exactly set the world on fire, but he made enough great thrillers and cult classics in his heyday that it would be foolish to dismiss him. I must admit there are far too many of his films that I’ve not seen, but I’m a big fan of some of his most well known titles, such as Carrie and The Untouchables (although I haven’t seen the latter for a long time). So I was particularly interested in reviewing Powerhouse Films’ new Dual Format release of Body Double, aided by the fact the film had been recommended to me by a fellow film blogger.

Body Double sees the not-particularly-successful actor Jake Scully (Craig Wasson) come home early from set one day (after a panic attack due to claustrophobia) to find his wife having sex with another man. He’s devastated of course, but the incident also causes a practical problem in that he has nowhere to stay (the house was in her name). An actor acquaintance Sam Bouchard (Gregg Henry) takes pity on him and lets him house-sit a luxury apartment he was watching for another friend. The apartment is first rate, but Sam shows Jake something that makes it extra-special – it has the perfect view (with the assistance of a telescope) into a neighbouring apartment housing Gloria (Deborah Shelton), an incredibly attractive young woman who performs a semi-naked erotic dance at the same time every night.

Jake soon becomes obsessed with Gloria and when he spots a suspicious looking character also spying on her and a late night visitor abusing her, he follows Gloria to make sure she’s safe, as well as to find an explanation for her unusual behaviour and unpleasant company. To give too much away following this would be spoiling the fun, but the film takes some drastic twists and turns through its just-under two-hour running time.

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Trailer: Manhattan Night

Adrian Brody can get a lot of mileage out of his facial expressions and tics. Here he plays a reporter that gets caught in the web of a story involving a femme fatale, sexual obsession and blackmail – one that escalates in sleaze to threaten his job, his marriage and his life. The trailer for Manhattan Night just popped on line, and while there is a certain sleepy vibe to the whole affair, the fact that this kind of eroticized thriller is an increasingly rare animal might be enough to get me into the cinema. Also, the leading lady, Yvonne Strahovski, seems to be doing her darndest in channeling Rosamund Pike’s performance from Gone Girl.

DVD Review: 3D Sex and Zen: Extreme Ecstasy

Director: Christopher Sun
Screenplay: Stephen Siu, Mark Wu
Based on the novel: “The Carnal Prayer Mat” by Yu Li
Starring: Hiro Hayama, Leni Lan, Saori Hara
Producer: Stephen Siu
Country: Hong Kong
Running Time: 110 min
Year: 2011
BBFC Certificate: 18

I don’t normally review this kind of film. Softcore porn comedies are not films I have much of an interest in watching let alone reviewing, but this was an exception. After gaining a lot of press attention for its claim to be the ‘first 3D erotic movie’ (which I very much doubt), as well as its phenomenal success in China, I’d been strangely interested in this follow up to the popular Sex and Zen series so jumped at the chance when I was offered a screener to review. From the posters and trailers it looked like a lot of fun too so I actually had fairly high hopes for 3D Sex and Zen: Extreme Ecstasy. Unfortunately it didn’t really live up to these, but it’s still worth writing about.

Sex and Zen’s “story”, which is based on a novel surprisingly enough, tells of a man who marries the woman of his dreams but finds he can’t satisfy her in the bedroom due to his lack of ‘longevity’. He therefore seeks the assistance of an evil prince who is famous for his rampant sexual activities and huge member. In doing this our hero becomes the prince’s slave though and after ‘practising’ on various ladies from his harem, the young man’s wife leaves him. To top this all off our hero also discovers that his minuscule trouser snake is not sufficient to satisfy any woman. This all leads to much silliness, love-making and waving around of giant fake penises.

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42nd Street Forever: Volume 1

42nd Street Forever 1 DVD CaseHello everyone. It’s been a while.

Since I last posted on Row Three, I’ve spent a lot of time exploring the wild, crazy world of what’s commonly known as “Grindhouse”, or exploitation, cinema (both terms seem a bit overused nowadays, don’t they?). To this end, I purchased a series of DVDs, released by Synapse Films, titled 42nd Street Forever, which are essentially a collection of trailers from the Grindhouse era (starting in the late 60’s on through to the mid 80’s). It’s a terrific series of DVDs, and I really have a lot of fun watching them. So, as a way of kinda slipping back into things here on Row Three, I thought I’d devote some time to covering each volume of the 42nd Street Forever collection.

Volume 1 contains over 2 hours of trailers, covering a wide range of genres and sub-genres. Needless to say, many of these trailers stretch the boundaries of good taste to their absolute limit (there’s plenty of nudity, graphic violence, and a whole lot of what we’d today term “political incorrectness” packed into these trailers). But let’s be honest: that’s what makes them so much fun!

Now, instead of me just droning on about the various trailers in each series, I thought I’d take full advantage of all the internet has to offer by presenting a few of them, just to give you an idea of what you’d be in for if you chose to check Volume 1 out.

That said, I guess I better start off with the following:

Warning: the trailers presented in this post are of an adult nature, and contain violence, nudity, and sexual situations. By clicking READ MORE below, you are confirming that you are of a proper age to view this material, and are not easily offended by blah blah blah blah blah).

Now that that’s out of the way, let’s get started:

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Review: Chloe


Chloe may be considered exhibit A in the ever shrinking market for commercial, adult erotic thrillers. Featuring the star power of Julianne Moore, Liam Neeson (who is a tad ubiquitous these days, but at least this is not another action blockbuster) and an on the rise starlet with a very pretty face, Amanda Seyfried, while directed by a much lauded director Atom Egoyan and coupled with the promise of soft-core hanky-panky. This is Egoyan at his most accessible, somewhere in middle of spectrum between Adrian Lyne’s mega-trashy Indecent Proposal and Jane Campion’s seriously underrated In The Cut. And while the director and his young starlet manage to drop the ball during the film’s over-hysteric climax (shades of another Lyne pot-boiler, Fatal Attraction), this is more than made up with a drop-dead performance from Julianne Moore. Perhaps the film should have been titled “Catherine,” albeit that does not quite have the same ring to it.

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Verhoeven Lines Up New Erotic Thriller

Paul VerhoevenAre you ready for it? Ready for the possibility of another Show Girls? Or will this be another Basic Instinct? For most folks, the answer to that is likely a big “Hell no!” but around here, there’s a whole lot of love for Dutch helmer Paul Verhoeven and it’s fairly safe to say that any news of a new project is good news.

Verhoeven is in talks to direct another erotic thriller which is being described as “Risky Business meets Fatal Attraction.”” Right….so we’re going to have have a teenager with big dreams about girls, sex and cars who, while his parents are away for a weekend, gets involved with an older woman who becomes so obsessed she stars stalking him? Ooooo this IS sounding good! Just keep in mind that that’s my idea for the movie, not the official synopsis. I wonder if we’ll also get a young actor running around the house in his underwear…that’s a career maker you see.

I’m definitely curious to see where this goes and thought I’m not one who supports Show Girls as a misunderstood masterpiece, it is a fun film. Not sure I’d like to see another one of those but the thought that this could be another Basic Instinct does excite me a little. I wonder who’s career Verhoeven is going to elevate (or bury) next?