The Direct to Video Connoisseur

I'm a huge fan of action, horror, sci-fi, and comedy, especially of the Direct to Video variety. In this blog I review some of my favorites and not so favorites, and encourage people to comment and add to the discussion. If you click on an image, it will take you to that post's image page, which includes many more pics from the film and other goodies I couldn't fit in the actual review. For announcements and updates, don't forget to Follow us on Twitter and Like our Facebook page. If you're the director, producer, distributor, etc. of a low-budget feature length film and you'd like to send me a copy to review, you can contact me at dtvconnoisseur[at]yahoo.com. I'd love to check out what you got.

Announcement

Announcement

Hi everyone, it's been a while since I checked the page, and I wanted to make a few announcements.

First and foremost, it appears a dubious site has claimed the old url, meaning any link in any review that goes to the old mattmovieguy url is corrupt. I'm in the process of trying to remove them all, but it's a lot! It's best not to click on any link without hovering over it first to make sure it doesn't have mattmovieguy in the url.

Second, it appears since my last trip to the blog, Photobucket has decided to charge for third party hosting, meaning none of my images are appearing anymore. That's simply an aesthetic issue, but still annoying.

Thank you all for your patience, and again, hopefully this will all be fixed soon.

--Matt

Saturday, January 18, 2020

Navy Seals vs. Zombies (2015)

When I started doing reviews again, I saw that Dudikoff was doing movies again as well, which was exciting, because according to imdb he hadn't made anything since 2002, and we had exhausted his DTV output.  Combine that with the idea of Navy Seals vs. Zombies, and this felt like a no-brainer--and unfortunately, in the DTV world, no-brainer more-often-than-not turns out to be not-so-good.

Navy Seals vs. Zombies follows a Navy Seal unit that is called into Baton Rouge to rescue the vice president, played by former NBA standout Rick Fox.  Turns out the reason they need to rescue him is Baton Rouge has been overrun by zombies.  With all of their elite, tactical training, can the best of the best handle this mindless, relentless, murdering menace?



So maybe Ed Quinn isn't hanging his head in shame, but anyone watching this could be forgiven for feeling exasperated.  He was hanging his head after one of the most lackluster, afterthought-ish helicopter explosions I've seen--like the post-credits Infinity War helicopter explosion thought the one here was mailed in.  The ultimate issue as I saw it was an identity crisis.  It's meant to be a celebration of the military and what they go through to protect our country, and the sacrifices they make and the bonds that are formed with their comrades.  I could totally get behind that, if they weren't fighting ZOMBIES!!  You can't be The Hurt Locker if you're fighting zombies!  It doesn't get more sauteed in wrong sauce than that.  This needed to be camp on ten, more Charlie Sheen tracking down his repoed vintage car in a high-speed bicycle chase set to Mr. Big's "Strike Like Lightning" than bros strapping on gear and saying things like "copy that" while chuckling at a joke.  From there, I think the helicopter explosion is a metaphor for the rest of the film: it felt perfunctory and repetitive.  I could have gotten what I got from any number of zombie films.  There was nothing "Navy Seals" about our heroes, they didn't show off any special training, didn't do anything special, and got their brains eaten and their carotid arteries chewed apart just like anyone else.  Ultimately this felt more bait-and-switch than the good time its name suggested it would be.

So what would make a Navy Seals vs. Zombies work?  First off, compelling characters like Charlie Sheen and Michael Biehn's in Navy Seals.  That iconic scene of Charlie Sheen chasing down his car on a bicycle then jumping on the back of the truck to get it down, again, all set to "Strike Like Lightning" did more in 1:45 to establish who Sheen's character was than any of the characters were established in 90 minutes of this.  When we think of the character that I think was the one we were supposed to root for, we see him with his wife, and know that she's pregnant; and that's how he's established as someone we should be invested in.  Again, the latter is great when we're making The Hurt Locker; the former though is what gets it done in a Navy Seals vs. Zombies scenario.  From there, the action needs to be fun and explosive.  Guys aiming machine guns at zombies, and asking their superior if they should shoot, isn't going to get it done.  Give me a guy who runs out of bullets, and starts taking out zombies with a knife; or maybe like Guile in Street Fighter bicycle kicks a zombie's head off.  Get campy, get fun, and make it awesome, and maybe you have a cult classic.



When we last saw Mr. Dudikoff, we were looking at the Noirish thriller In Her Defense in 2011.  I think the problem here is all he was doing was playing the jerk commanding officer who gives people are hard time and doesn't listen to them, but wants to have the back of his guys in the field.  We all know what we needed in this one, don't we?  All of his men are taken out by the zombies, and he's America's last hope.  He dawns those ninja PJs, loads up on throwing stars and other ninja weaponry, and, sans parachute, jumps into the war zone and takes them all out.  The bonus is, dressed in ninja PJs, you can swap in any number of stunt men to handle any scenes Dudikoff doesn't feel up to anymore.  We needed Dudikoff, as the film's one hall of famer, to get in there and save this thing, and unfortunately it never happened.

The other big star in this for me was Rick Fox, who played in the NBA, most notably for the championship winning Lakers of the early 2000s, but also a member of my Celtics prior to that.  One thing I noticed was his scenes felt really unnatural, and that didn't square with a Hallmark Christmas movie my wife Jen and I saw a month or two ago that had him in it.  I think the difference in the two performances had as much to do with the directors as anything.  The Christmas movie was directed by the great Fred Olen Ray; this was directed by stunt coordinator/stuntman Stanton Barrett, and this was, you guessed it, his first ever work as a director.  In fact, they wrote "(attached)" next to his name on imdb.  He had done some second unit work in four films before this, but I think you can see the difference between how someone with the directorial experience like Fred Olen Ray can get something more out of an actor, even under a tight schedule and tight budget--which is why directors like Ray get hired, either to make a script like this happen in short time for short money; or save something like that after a couple rewrites to get something respectable out there.



One of the other stars in the film was Chad Lail, a professional wrestler who also served in the US Marine Corps.  The film leaned on his military background, which makes sense, but, again, we're dealing with zombies, we should also be focusing on his wrestling career too.  He needs to somehow end up in full wrestling garb, and then start ripping zombies apart and giving them Frankensteiners.  Again, if this is a serious military movie, Chad Lail turning in a sobering performance where the sacrifices and bravery involved in military service are highlighted and celebrated really fits; but when the enemy is zombies, I need a zombie's head smashed with a Tombstone Pile Driver.

Okay, let's wrap this up here.  The idea of a Navy Seals vs. Zombies should work, but this one didn't get the degree of camp we needed to make it work. If the villain weren't zombies, I would get their approach; but zombies are supposed to be campy and fun. Maybe the Walking Dead has given film makers the idea that you can make it a serious drama, but that show is next level, and it's hard to pull that kind of thing off.  When it's Navy Seals vs. Zombies, I think it needs more camp, especially when it's done on a low budget like this.

https://www.imdb.com/title/tt4511566/

Saturday, January 11, 2020

Street Hunter (1990)


After inducting Reb Brown into the Hall of Fame recently, I decided to do White Ghost for his induction post, but had considered this one too.  Then, when I had Ty and Brett from Comeuppance Reviews on the podcast, they reaffirmed that this was a good one, so I knew I had to make it happen.  Also, they've reviewed this one as well, so you can go to their site to check that one out.

Street Hunter has the late, great Steve James as Logan Blade, a former NYPD detective who left the force and now works as a PI.  At the same time, John Leguizamo is taking over the drug trade by using a skilled mercenary, Reb Brown, to train his men to crush all of their enemies.  After some cops are killed in one of their missions, James makes it his job to take them all down.  Can he overcome this expert military tactician?



This is really fantastic.  It's exactly what you want from a James-Brown actioner (no pun intended).  In particular, I liked that they kept the two separate for most of the film, so when they had their final showdown there was a lot of anticipation, which the fight then lived up to.  In between though, there was no shortage of great scenes, plus Steve James chewing up scenery, and Reb Brown as a crazy colonel quoting former military leaders and screaming things like "Fire at will!"  Plus we had supporting roles by John Leguizamo, the great Richie Havens, and DTVC favorite Frank Vincent.  This is the great late 80s/early 90s action you came for.

Usually we reserve this paragraph for the film's Hall of Famer, but I think it's more apt to use it for Steve James.  I loved him as Curtis Jackson in the American Ninja movies--his "I want fresh meat!" line in part two is still one of my favorites in any movie--, but it was great to see him here as the lead.  He died in 1993 at only 41 (which is the age I'll be in 2020), and one of the great tragedies is that, not only did he die so young, but also, his potential as a lead was never fully realized, which was something this film showed he really deserved.  The reality is, 30 years later, how much better is it for African American leading stars in either DTV or big screen action flicks?  For DTV we have Michael Jai White, and then Wesley Snipes has dipped down to DTV from the big screen; from there there's Will Smith and Denzel Washington in some films, Chadwick Boseman leading the Black Panther franchise, and I really liked Mike Colter as Luke Cage on the Netflix series; but overall, it's still more supporting roles like Steve James had to settle for.  I think at the very least, the DTV sphere needs to fill the gap better--and I as fan can do my part to support them more.  There are Michael Jai White films in my Netflix queue that I haven't reviewed yet, and since I've been back from hiatus, most of my films have been big name white guys like Dolph, Seagal, and Daniels, so I can't blame the industry for not making more if I'm not supporting and reviewing what's out there.



This definitely would have been a better Hall of Fame post for Reb Brown than White Ghost.  I think this was the first time I've seen him as a baddie, but he was great.  He played the crazy military leader really well.  At the end when he's fight Steve James, he's lecturing him on military history, lauding the accomplishments of Benedict Arnold before he turned, and he's screaming "Saratoga!" at James while they're trading punches.  In a modern setting, I would love to see Brown play a similar role where he's the military dictator of a small country, screaming at people and throwing things and firing up random places with a machine gun.  The problem of course if you'd have a Destro Effect, because who would want to see a hero take him down?

The last time we saw one of my all time favorites, the late Frank Vincent, he was in the Lorenzo Lamas Noir-ish yarn Undercurrent.  Here he had a cameo as a mob boss.  Even when he was playing the despicable Phil Leotardo on The Sopranos, he was always great to watch.  I think losing Vincent at 80 was such a blow, because we thought we'd always have him playing characters like these and making any film he was in that much better; I think I almost took for granted that he could be called on to do his thing whenever he was needed.  Here's to you Frank Vincent, you were one of the great ones.



One thing I couldn't help noticing though, our hero Logan Blade drove around in a van that, for lack of a better term, seemed like something a predator would drive.  Maybe not a child predator, but it would work just as well for a serial killer.  Why not give him a slick sports car?  Or even a truck?  Something a little less "I could throw you in the back of this and no one would know you're here as I whisk you away to some unknown location and do God knows what."  Or if it's going to be a van, make it like the A-Team van, something fancy with all kinds of bells and whistles.

But that was my only complaint with a film that overall was great.  As I mentioned above, this was the late 80s/early 90s actioner you came for.  They don't make 'em like this anymore, but there's no reason why they shouldn't.

For more info: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0100706

Saturday, January 4, 2020

Dead Trigger (2017)

I saw this was on Prime, and listed on Dolph's imdb, and it seemed great.  Two-word title, Dolph blowing up zombies, 90-minute runtime.  How can this be bad, right?

Dead Trigger is based off a first-person shooter game I've never played.  In the near future, a virus has turned a huge portion of the population into zombies--not enough though for there to be enough infrastructure to have an evil corporation that wants to monopolize a possible cure.  To get it, they send Dolph and his rag-tag group of zombie killers into a zone full of zombies to find the scientist who think figured it out.  The only thing worse than dealing with zombies, is evil corporations, but we trust Dolph can handle it.



But can we?  This is extremely low-budget, like Asylum pre-Sharknado, maybe even lower budget than that.  Retrograde might be the closest Dolph film I've seen on this level, and there's something about him being in a movie of this quality that feels off.  There are some other names, like Isiah Washington, Oleg Taktarov, and Autumn Reeser--also Dolph flick mainstay James Chalke--, but they--other than Chalke--feel just as out of place.  From there, I think you run into the classic zombie movie dilemma: how do you keep the "zombies walk in, shoot zombies in the head, someone gets bit, repeat" cycle from becoming redundant?  This movie thought the corporation would do it, but they weren't in it enough.  They also tried to add in characters, but they didn't develop them enough either.  It felt like any scene that didn't have Dolph didn't work, and any scene that had Dolph only worked because of him.  I think this could be a fun Dolph Fest addition, for hardcore fans that haven't seen it before, but beyond that, there is so much more Dolph out there that's worth seeing instead.

This is the 50th tag for Dolph here at the DTVC, but I don't know if we can officially say he's the first member of the 50 Club yet, because one of those 50 tags was the Jean-Claude Van Damme film fest for my 400th post.  That's okay, I have a lot more Dolph in the can after I watched a bunch for My Dolph Lundgren List on Letterboxd (https://letterboxd.com/dtvconnoisseur/list/my-dolph-lundgren-list/), so he'll get to a more official 50 soon.  This one definitely falls in the lower half, just because it is so low-budget, and feels unremarkable.  That 90 minutes was a long 90 minutes, longer than it needed to be for something that could have been fun.



I should clarify here that the fact that it's low-budget alone isn't enough for me to dislike this.  I really enjoyed Clownado, and that probably had a lower budget than this.  But that one felt like everyone was more on the same page.  The other thing is, Todd Sheetz is a veteran director who knows how to manage that budget, whereas here we had two directors who had never done a full length film before.  It would be interesting to see what a Todd Sheetz, or another schlock auteur like Fred Olen Ray or Jim Wynorski could do with this; or Albert Pyun, a fellow member of the 40 Club with Dolph, I think he would've taken this script, made fun, compelling characters, and shot the thing in a way that, yes, we would've known it was still low-budget, but maybe that 90 minutes would've been more entertaining.

This movie also really borrows from Soldier Boyz, the Michael Dudikoff goof fest where he takes a group of juvenile delinquents into a war zone to help him on a mission.  The rag tag group of kids thing is always hard to sell, but I feel like in 2017 one would have to know it didn't work with Soldier Boyz in 1995, and maybe consider a different tract.  If they could've just made one character compelling enough to want to see them in a scene without Dolph, that would've helped.  Maybe make one of them a ninja.  Ninja's always help.  Or Sasquatch.  You could've replaced the whole rag tag group of kids with a ninja and Sasquatch, but played it straight, and it would've been a classic.



As I mentioned above, the zombie as a baddie can be difficult to work, but the genius of George A. Romero was that he made it look easy.  I think this movie though shows how hard it is.  How many times can our characters walk into a room, get attacked by zombies, kill them, and either almost get bitten, or have someone get bitten to thin out the cast?  Romero did other things, like used unique locations, created people we cared about, and set an overall tone that made the whole thing compelling.  I'm not saying I needed Dead Trigger to be that good, just a serviceable fun time, and it unfortunately couldn't even be that.

Time to wrap it up.  I think this is a good one for Dolph completists, but with so much else out there Dolph-wise, there are a lot of other ones to check out first.  It's a shame with such a great title and a nice, compact runtime.

For more info: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt5662550

Sunday, December 29, 2019

Doomed: The Untold Story of Roger Corman's the Fantastic Four (2015)

I don't remember where I first found out about this, I think it was recommended on Amazon Prime, but I knew it was something I had to see.  Recently I had Mitch from The Video Vacuum on the podcast to discuss this film, in addition to the other DTV Marvel movies, and what the genre is like now with all the blockbusters.  You can check out that podcast on our Talk Shoe site, or by searching for us on iTunes.

Doomed: The Untold Story of Roger Corman's the Fantastic Four is a documentary that takes us behind the scenes of a movie that was finished, but never officially released, and now lives on in bootlegged versions.  It takes us back to a time when Marvel was hard-up for cash and sold the rights of their films to lesser entities like Cannon.  In this case, a producer had the rights to the Fantastic Four, and wanted to get it made quickly and on the cheap.  That's where Roger Corman came in, and the movie did get made; but before it could be released, it died on the vine, and before we knew it, FOX had the rights and the film was made on the big screen, and the rest was history.



I really enjoyed this.  I think as a comic book fan growing up in the 80s and 90s, this may have captured the feeling of that time better than any of the dramatic adaptations of any of the comics.  The interviews were compelling, the sense of expectation and what this movie could mean for everyone's careers, coupled with the misgivings they had around things like the budget and timeline they were working with, really took us behind the scenes in a way that, at least for me, put a lot of how all this works into a new perspective.  The idea that maybe this low-budget film was being used by Marvel to leverage FOX into a deal, or that perhaps the person who had the rights was using Corman to leverage Marvel to buy him off, and that ultimately it's the actors and crew--and to some extent us as fans--who suffer when the film is shelved and buried.  To my mind, we needed this movie and to hear what the people involved had to say, almost as much as the people involved needed to get their story out.

I have to confess, I haven't seen any of the bootlegged copies of the finished product that are floating around, but I would like to.  From what I've seen, I think it would be a great accompaniment to The Punisher, Captain America, and Nick Fury.  The fact that Marvel, under Disney, is trying to bury these DTV installments is a shame--and shortsighted.  While no one is clamoring for a special edition of the 2015 Fantastic Four reboot that barely covered its budget at the gate, a Shout Factory blu-ray with all the extras for the 1994 version would definitely be a hit--and would also gin up interest in a new incarnation if they ever wanted to try it on the big screen again.  The thing is, I don't know if the Fantastic Four is the kind of thing that can pull in $4 billion worldwide.  Maybe now that Disney has it (I think, right?), a Disney+ series with all the characters they have at their disposal would be way to go.



I don't know if I'd say Roger Corman's reputation takes a hit in this movie, but I don't know that he looks good either, and it was a bit of a disappointment to see that.  I'm going to get into Lloyd Kaufman's small part in this later, but it's almost like he predicted what was going to happen here.  At the very least, Corman lost control of this picture, and I think that's what happens when you take on someone else's property.  For us, the idea of The Fantastic Four being shot on the Carnosaur set is too amazing for words, but it sounds like when Stan Lee saw it, he crapped himself.  Anyway, the way the documentary paints it--or at least the impression I got--is that Corman was substantially compensated for the trouble he went to in producing this and subsequently allowing it to be buried, but he wasn't exactly forthright with the cast and crew about that.  If that's the case, I don't know if it takes some of the shine off Corman as a low-budget producer, but it does give us a more realistic understanding of the business he's in and the decisions he has to make.

One of the things Mitch and I discussed on the podcast was if there was a place for the DTV comic book movie in the modern blockbuster environment, and I think there is.  I don't know if the Fantastic Four is it, but I think with the way DTV and straight to streaming has become bigger and includes bigger names, there are a lot of Marvel and DC properties that would work in the modern DTV world.  Moon Knight is one I've brought up before, with Dolph Lundgren at the helm--though Scott Adkins would work too.  With all the DTV work Nicolas Cage has been doing, Ghost Rider seems to be another obvious one.  She-Hulk is one that hasn't been done yet, and while I wouldn't see a big screen market for her, a DTV film using a WWE star the way WWE has taken over DTV properties like The Marine sequels would work.  Winter Soldier is another that could be done well, especially in an Eastern European setting, where a lot of DTV films are shot.  Finally, what about some of the X products?  Maybe a Domino DTV flick that slots in between Deadpool sequels?  One thing that may hurt us with possible new DTV comic book flicks though is the success of The Joker.  A $55 million budget that was turned into over $1 billion worldwide at the gate might have studios thinking with the right story and talent, they don't need to spend $500 million and have to make $4 billion to be a success. 



Finally, I wanted to talk about Lloyd Kaufman's small part at the beginning of the film.  We find out that Kaufman and Troma were also approached for the Fantastic Four adaptation, and Kaufman turned it down.  His reasoning was, what's in it for us?  We have our own brand, and our own characters, I don't see the benefit in us trying to make a film for someone else with someone else's characters.  As I mentioned above, I wonder if he foresaw the trouble that Corman ended up having--at the very least, he knew he would be beholden to someone else creatively, and he didn't want that.  As much as Corman and the 1994 Fantastic Four that never happened get to the heart of what DTV films are all about, there are very few who embody the spirit more than Kaufman, and this appearance and his explanation on why he declined to work on this project really showed why he's so great.  Here's to you Mr. Kaufman, you're one of the good ones.

I can't recommend this enough.  If you have Prime, I would check it out, or even rent it if you need to, it's really worth it.  In terms of the podcast, that was also a great episode worth checking out.  Mitch and I did almost 2 hours on the subject of comic book movies, so if you're traveling for the holidays, load it up have it on in the background while you're on the road/in the air/ridin' that train, high on cocaine, etc.

For more info: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt3113456

Saturday, December 21, 2019

Code Name: Wild Geese (1984)

When Will from The Exploding Helicopter podcast asked if I wanted to be a guest on his show, he suggested a few movies, and this was on the list.  As I had been looking to do more Antonio Margheriti, and get some more flicks with DTVC Hall of Famer Klaus Kinski, this seemed like the perfect choice.  As an aside, if you haven't been checking out the Exploding Helicopter site, and podcast, you really must--not to mention following him on Twitter, where he posts great gifs of some of the best exploding helicopters in cinema.

Code Name: Wild Geese has Lewis Collins as a guy who leads a rag-tag group of mercenaries in Asia.  USA DEA agent Ernest Borgnine contracts with Collins's crew to take out some heroin dealers in the Golden Triangle.  The problem is, they get all the way out there, blow up the drugs, only to have a henchman blow up their helicopter.  Not only that, but they discover another drug depot.  Now they need to destroy the second one, survive, and get home.  Oh, and there's also Klaus Kinski, he's never up to any good.



I had fun with this.  It wasn't the greatest, the characters weren't well developed, especially the star, Lewis Collins, whom I thought they could've done more with.  Also, despite having a consistent action quotient, it did get repetitive at times--how many times can you see guys being shot and falling from high up, or shimmying to death as they get sprayed with gunfire?  On the other hand, Margheriti's model-work was fantastic, including a great car chase, a train explosion, and blowing up buildings that he rendered from the actual structures they were shooting--in fact, this was so well-done, it took Will telling me they were models for me to catch it.  I also enjoyed Kinski, Borgnine, and Lee Van Cleef, who played the helicopter pilot.  I think you could do a lot worse for a low-budget military jungle actioner.

When I did the pod, I talked about a kind of Chekhov's Gun theory I have with Klaus Kinski: if you have Kinski in your movie, he has to eventually be a baddie, and that's what happened here.  It's not the Kinski on 10 that we love though.  He's kind of subdued, wearing jumpsuits, chewing up scenery.  Also, he's dubbed, I guess because his lines were in German in the original, and that tempers some of his punch as an actor.  I think as a Kinski enthusiast, it was fun to see him here, but it wasn't the full-on Kinski we love.



I wasn't familiar with Lewis Collins before doing the Exploding Helicopter pod, but Will being from England, knew all about him.  His show, The Professionals, didn't air here in the States, but I discovered in reading up on him on imdb, that he was up for the role of James Bond, I guess at the time Timothy Dalton got it.  After seeing Lewis Collins in this, I think he would've made a great Bond--or at least an interesting one.  I think Margheriti tried to tap into that here, combining a bit of international man of intrigue with grizzled war leader.  Again, like a lot of the character development, it was uneven, so we never got a full sense of either.

Anytime we get an Oscar winner on the DTVC it's great.  Usually it's Nicolas Cage or Cuba Gooding Jr., but Ernest Borgnine is another winner with a strong DTV CV.  One of the things I liked best about this was seeing his scenes with Kinski.  We know Kinski was very anti-Hollywood, and the Oscar is the greatest honor Hollywood can bestow on an actor, so I got the sense in watching him with Borgnine that he was like "Oscar huh?  I'm not impressed."  Borgnine for his credit was doing his thing, and even opposite Kinski there was a sense that he could care less and felt like he had nothing to prove.  One thing I appreciate about both actors is they treat acting like a profession, and if the money is right, they'll take the job and do their work.



Finally, because I was a guest on the Exploding Helicopter podcast for this film, I feel it's necessary to discuss the exploding helicopter action.  As I told Will, what impressed me here was how the exploding helicopter was integral to the plot.  Usually the exploding helicopter is a quick and easy way to infuse action into a film, but beyond possibly killing off a baddie in the denouement, it doesn't have any impact one way or the other on how the story unfolds.  When I think of movie tropes, the exploding helicopter is up there with damsels in distress and car chases as one of the most prevalent, but unlike those other two, for me it's the one that's tacked on the most, so to see it have that kind of impact on the characters was refreshing for me.

I found this on Prime, and thought it was a fun time.  It's not the greatest, but not the worst way to spend 90 minutes.  Thank you again to Will for having me on the Exploding Helicopter pod, and for everyone who hasn't checked out yet, definitely do.

For more info: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0087068

Saturday, December 14, 2019

Rumble (2018)

We've been back for almost 3 months now, and this is the first time we've got Gary Daniels up here.  Not sure why it's taken us this long, but we're here now and ready to make up for lost time.  Let's see how this one turned out.

Rumble has Gary Daniels as a former MMA champ whose girlfriend is into a pimp for money, so he needs to keep fighting to make the money back.  While in Mexico for a fight, his girlfriend is kidnapped, and the man holding her is a mysterious cartel leader who forces Daniels to fight in order to get her back.  Will Gary be able to figure out who is holding his girlfriend in time to save them both?


I'm not sure where to go with this one.  This is meant to be a different kind of Gary Daniels movie, up to the point it isn't, and I think that identity crisis is its ultimate undoing.  At times it's trying to be your traditional Daniels actioner, like when he's taking out three guys who are chasing him at once.  But then you have non-Daniels elements, like how it tries to be this Hitchcockian-Usual Suspects suspense thriller, where we don't know who is after Daniels and what he ultimately wants, but we think it could be any of the people Daniels has been in contact with to this point.  The biggest issue for me though was just how many times Daniels's character got his ass kicked.  Like, at the end, when he wins a fight, I'm like "oh yeah, that's right, he can do that."  Maybe that's the key complaint with this film: they spend so much time diminishing Daniels's abilities as a hero, that when he finally shows he can prevail, it actually stretches credulity.

Definitely not what we want from a Daniels action flick.  There are times when his character is getting his ass kicked, and I'm like "I can't watch this happen."  Daniels was the fight choreographer, and maybe that was the thing, he didn't want to choreograph wins for himself in all his fights, and I get that, but I also feel like he has to understand the reputation he's built with his fans.  Cold Harvest, Recoil, Bloodmoon, among many others, showcased a top notch athlete with supreme skills, and while maybe that's not the movie that's being made here, or that Daniels wanted to choreograph for his character's role, there's a certain expectation when his name's on the marquee, and his fans want something that meets that expectation.  Right away, we find out his character is on the run from a pimp.  Gary Daniels is playing a character on the run from a pimp?  The pimp and his henchmen are the intro fodder in a usual Daniels flick, he doesn't run from them, he warms up on them.  I get that this movie is supposed to be viewed separate from the rest of Daniels's flicks, but there should also be an understanding of what expectations seeing Daniels's name on the box evokes from fans like me.



This was directed by R. Ellis Frazier, who did another Daniels flick we've reviewed here, Across the Line, and from what I've seen of his filmography, he does a lot of these DTV flicks shot in Mexico, many of which were written by this film's screenwriter, Benjamin Budd.  This is one of those ones where I would've liked to have had it on DVD and been able to listen to their commentary, if they had it, to see what they were going for in certain spots, especially the unevenness in Daniels character between when he couldn't take down anyone, and when he could beat up the same guys who were kicking his ass earlier.  I get why they would cast Daniels in this role, because he could fight, so playing an MMA champion wouldn't be much of a stretch; but going from having him take down three fake police officers at once, then not being able to beat up a pimp's hatchet man, made it hard to understand what his character's abilities were, especially when we're used to Daniels being more of the former than the latter.  There are a bunch of other Ellis/Budd collaborations listed on imdb, including two on my radar, Misfire with Daniels, and Larceny with Dolph Lundgren.  It'll be interesting to see how either of those go.

Getting back to Daniels, this is his 44th tag here, putting him behind only Dolph Lundgren's 49 (one of which was for the Van Damme Film Fest on the 400th post); and with Albert Pyun's 41, puts him in exclusive company in the 40+ club.  He's been a workhorse for just over three decades, giving us such classics as Bloodmoon, Cold Harvest, and Recoil, and while he also does a lot of small parts in films with bigger stars, he's carried enough as the lead that I think he's put in his work.  I also think too that he's earned the benefit of the doubt when it comes to a movie like this that may have been too ambitious and missed its mark for me.  With 40+ and counting, we still have a ways to go to get caught up on the rest of his films, so it'll be interesting to see how some of those went as well.



The Hitchcockian element was something that, at least I appreciated the effort on, but by the same token, it begs the question: who are you making this film for?  Most film fans picking this up when they see Gary Daniels on the tin want this badass here.  Maybe the better Hitchcockian thriller would have been him losing his girlfriend under mysterious circumstances, but he needs to find out what happened by investigating, as opposed to getting his ass kicked for two-thirds of the film.  Goes to a bar to interrogate people, bar fight ensues, bar's destroyed, but Daniels gets his answers.  Goes to an outdoor market, chase, then fight ensues, local business people eking out a meager existence have their products destroyed, but Daniels gets his answers.  See where this is going?  There's a right way and a wrong way to make a good Gary Daniels film, and it doesn't have to be the in-your-face mile-a-minute action of a PM Entertainment flick either.  Us action fans don't ask for much, but if you give us what we want, we're loyal and grateful.

And on that note, time to wrap this up.  The bonus here is it is Daniels-centric, and he has some good fights which he himself choreographed.  But I think it's hard to split the baby with what this was going for, and the fact that Daniels's character got his ass kicked so much it made it tough to watch in spots.  I don't think this touches his best stuff, but I do appreciate that this wasn't one of his others where he's taking a backseat to other actors, and hopefully we'll at least get more of him in this capacity.

For more info: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt3991302

Saturday, December 7, 2019

T-Force (1994)

This was the feature film on a recent episode of the Exploding Helicopter podcast (which if you haven't checked it out yet, you should!), and my first thought was "let me check out my review on it."  Turned out I didn't have a review for it yet, because it was one I had watched and planned to review before the unplanned hiatus.  I guess now is as good a time as any to take care of that.  In addition to being featured on the Exploding Helicopter podcast, our friends Ty and Brett reviewed this over at their site, Comeuppancereviews.net.

T-Force takes place in the near future, and in that time robots are prevalent.  The newest creation: robot cops.  After terrorists led by Vernon Wells take over a building, and the robot cops swoop in and take out a bunch of innocent bystanders at the same time they take out Wells and his men, a decision is made to scrap them altogether.  The problem is, they have a sense of self, and don't wanna die.  Jack Scalia and one of the robot cops who didn't join his robot friends are all that stand in their way.  The robots' way I mean, not Scalia and the other robot...


This is the real deal PM Entertainment.  That Vernon Wells building takeover happens right away, so they don't waste any time with the good action--I think they blow up a helicopter in the first 15-20 minutes.  It's classic PM in the sense that, just when you think the plot may get in the way of the action, they hit us with a too-sweet action sequence to keep us happy.  The only complaint, and I don't know if you call this a complaint, is I felt it suffered from the Destro Effect, in that for me, Evan Lurie as the head robot baddie was way cooler and more likable than our "hero" Jack Scalia.  That's because Scalia's character was essentially a racist.  Between the fact that Lurie is already cooler than Scalia, and then Scalia's character is hard to root for because he's a racist, you end up needing Lurie to kill so many innocent people to make him more unlikable than Scalia, and I don't know if the movie quite gets there.  But Destro Effect aside, this is good PM Entertainment doing its job for you.

Out of all the great DTV action stars, I think I missed Evan Lurie the most during my hiatus.  Unlike people like Dolph, who I might encounter in a non-DTV context, I'm only seeing Evan Lurie in flicks like this.  The reality with this movie is, he shouldn't have been the baddie, he and his partners Malibu and Jennifer MacDonald should have been the heroes, roaming the LA area, blowing up stuff and making cool faces.  I mean, that's essentially what PM gave us with this, it was just, knowing they were the baddies, we understood it all would have to come to a bad end Lurie and his crew eventually.  Here's to you Evan Lurie, you're one of the great ones.



I think this is the first Jack Scalia film we've done here at the DTVC, which is surprising considering he's been in a lot of PM Entertainment flicks.  As I mentioned above, his character was a tough one to root for.  Again, he's already working uphill because he's not as cool as Lurie; but then they make his character a racist against robots.  He changes his tune after he works with the robot in Lurie's crew who doesn't go rogue, but why did he need that to not be a racist?  It's like when there's an incident of violence against women in the spotlight, and some guy will say "I have two daughters, so I think this is horrible."  Why do you need to have a daughter to think violence against women is bad?  And why do you need to be partnered with a robot to think not all robots are bad?

This movie had two messages that it was trying to convey.  One, the nature of self, what makes us human, and furthermore, what gives us the right to stake our claim to life on this planet.  If we create robots, can we just shut them down when we want, or do the robots have a say?  You could also say this about animals we slaughter for food, right?  We breed the pig, but the pig doesn't want to die when it's time any more than Evan Lurie did.  The difference of course, is that the pig can't blow us up.  The second message had to do with immigration and the idea of immigrants coming to America and taking jobs away from blue collar workers.  The problem with that is, they never quite resolved Scalia's mindset on that, rather just had him forget it when he befriended his robot partner.  What's interesting about both of these debates is how they've evolved 25 years later.  In terms of the nature of self and who has the right to live, the plant-based protein market is huge now, but not because people think pigs are sentient creatures, but rather because environmentally factory farming is killing us.  As far as the immigration issue, that has blown up worse than we could have imagined in 1994, with the way Trump revived it as a boogie man and rode that hysteria among white, working class voters to the 2016 election.  That might be why Scalia's character is so hard to root for today: we can see him in his MAGA hat now, and that makes him all the more gross.



Usually that previous paragraph is the one I use for the seventh one, but I couldn't end a PM Entertainment post on that note.  Seeing this again after seeing so many newer DTV flicks for the blog recently, I'm reminded of why I got into this in the first place.  PM Entertainment got it right more often than they got it wrong, and this is a prime example.  How easily could they have gotten too bogged down in the two themes I mentioned above?  But not only did they not let that happen, they had some real kick-ass scenes.  When we see that logo at the beginning of a movie, we know we're going to be in pretty good shape.  Just a smooth-talking Evan Lurie robot in a ponytail blowing up helicopters.  What more can you want?

This is the PM Entertainment you came for.  Sweet action, fun baddies with Lurie and Malibu, and plenty of schlock to go around.  As of right now, this is available to screen on YouTube, so I would check it out if you haven't already.

For more info: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0111345/