The Wild Wild West: The Complete TV Series
If there was ever a better male ass than Robert Conrad's on TV, you go find it. And bring it to the thing that is The Wild Wild West, drop it from the bloody vice grip of your canine incisors and see if it stacks up against the painted-on pants of James West's stupendous keester. Do I have your attention? Good. Because this sweet, 27-disc set with extras galore of the genius show that ran on CBS from '65 to '69 is worth, as Iggy says, looking into, and not just because of Conrad's ass. (And don't write off the TV show just because you didn't like the big-screen approximation from 1999).
Where to begin? Two post-Lincoln assassination Secret Service agents, James West (Conrad) and Artemus Gordon (Ross Martin), travel the country in their customized train to protect President Ulysses S. Grant, taking on formidable foes that include a genius dwarf, Dr. Miguelito Quixote Loveless, and Voltaire, played by Richard Kiel, the gargantuan guy that played Jaws in Bond epics The Spy Who Loved Me and Moonraker.
West and Gordon utilize loads of high-tech gadgets that are utterly anachronistic (and who cares?), plus engage with plenty of massively sexy women in distress (both good and evil) that make exquisitely sensual use of classic kink accoutrements: well-cinched corsets, lace-up boots, heavy kohl. And yes, man's man West always saves the day and corners the distressed chicks for himself.
While it all may seem a bit camp (it is), the show holds up extremely well, with plenty of fight action (Conrad performed all his own stunts) and a heavy dose of implausible but fascinating plot lines.
Bonus extras in the set offer two full-length WWW TV movies, newly restored. Cheesy as hell, but mandatory. —Peter Gilstrap
There's no denying the cinematic talents of director Jack the Zipper, the man who brought us smart, alt-ish porn delights such as Stuntgirl, Blacklight Beauty and King Cobra, and now, with his latest outing, there are many pluses. Gorgeous, dedicated sluts who know how to do what they're being paid to do, suitably depraved conceits based on raw, craigslist.com hook-ups, and the feeling that you're watching work from a talent who knows what his audience wants.
Having said all of that, for the true jack-aholic, in this latest outing Zipper sometimes lets his technique get in the way of the full-on message. Which is easily relatable porn that fulfills its sole purpose, to get the viewer off. There's no denying the skills of his ladies — Roxy DeVille, Ashley Roberts, Nikki Rhodes and longtime filth vet Annie Cruz — but, as in the case of Nikki's scene, the action is hot, yet it's shot through a kind of off-blue filter. I do find an artistic touch interesting, but only for about 30 seconds. After that, let the living color bloom, in all the hues of pink and red and cream that speak to the reality of sex as we know and want it. It's no fun trying to squint through the artistry to get aroused. Damn nice try, though. —Fern LaBott
Can we please be real for a moment? Water Lilies is marketed as a "provocative and perceptive portrait of teen angst," a "coming-of-age" film, and another in a long line of daring movies that could only be produced by a nation as devoted to the purity of the cinematic arts as France. And, while it may be those things, none are the reason you'll be watching. No, this tale of three French teenage girls on the cusp of their sexuality — along with all the emotional hostility, naïveté and nubility implied therein — is interesting not because of its plot (predictable) or pacing (plodding), but because, well, it's about three French teenage girls on the cusp of their sexuality. The perceived libertine French attitudes about sex and cineastes' "artistically" excused penchant for explicit sexuality come together in Water Lilies in a way that nearly defies the viewer to not feel a little creeped out. Both because of what's onscreen — three teenage girls on the cusp of their sexuality — and what's going through the viewer's mind: "This is in French, so it must be art, right?" "If my wife/girlfriend/mom catches me, I've got a good excuse, right?" "I'm ashamed to buy a copy of Barely Legal, but the latest film by Céline Sciamma is totally aboveboard ... riiiiiiight?" Rationalizations about subtext, philosophy, and vérité are available by the Kleenex-box-load for those viewing Water Lilies, and had Sciamma actually delivered on the contextual possibilities of the subject matter here, perhaps the movie could have been a truly great piece of art. As it is, though, it's just like any other piece of porn: you'll be fast-forwarding to get to the good stuff, and when you're done, you'll be left with a sense of sticky guilt. —Jason Ferguson
Revenge of a Kabuki actor
Samurai Bloodletting takes a backseat to cerebral melodrama in Kon Ichikawa's fitfully enjoyable Revenge of a Kabuki Actor. In his 300th film appearance (take that, Michael Caine), Kasuo Hasegawa plays the Kabuki actor of the title, seeking vengeance against three merchants who drove his parents to suicide when he was a child. In the process, he falls in love with one of the villains' daughters, which complicates things, as love is wont to do. Appearing as a woman on and off the stage — per the strict Kabuki regulations — the chalk-faced Hasegawa makes for an unusually androgynous hero, using brain and brawn to vanquish his (or her) captors. Ichikawa seems to acknowledge the artifice of many of his sets (as if they were Kabuki stages), on which play out battles given existential heft by the painting-like backdrops. The major flaw — besides the sometimes rote narrative and one character who stupidly talks to himself — may be the result of the subtitles on this AnimEigo disc. Fulfilling a pet peeve, the subtitles are loaded down with too much American slang — too many "ain'ts," from its lower-class female characters, like we're watching Judy Holliday in Born Yesterday. We can figure out she ain't a lady of high society without the Americanization. —John Thomason