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 sometimes the images are blurred with a watermark and you have to click on the image to see them. That's an aesthetic issue, but still annoying. One workaround I've found is to go to the url bar and add "https://" before the address, then hit enter.


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

--Matt

Saturday, April 4, 2020

Assassin X aka The Chemist (2016)

When I came back from hiatus, I was looking at Dolph Lundgren and Gary Daniels's numbers, and started to think about who else had 40+ and 30+ movies reviewed on the DTVC, and from there gave that status a special recognition with the 40 and 30 Clubs. Kind of like how there's the baseball Hall of Fame, but also players in the 500 and 600 home run club. Anyway, I had Art Camacho just below 40, and was going to use this film to celebrate him joining the 40 Club--until I checked again and found 3 movies he was in that hadn't been tagged yet, putting him already above that milestone. I guess instead it's just an Art Camacho celebration, which is well-deserved as well.

Assassin X has DTVC Hall of Famer Oliver Gruner as a well-paid assassin who uses poisons to avoid any hand-to-hand combat. When it's time to kill a young woman he's taken a fancy to though, he turns on his employers, led by Patrick KilPatrick. Now the bounty is on his head, the hunter has become the hunted--but this prey strikes back!



I saw on imdb that this film won awards, and while I can see why, I also ran into the issue where the shaky cam was so pervasive that I needed Dramamine. That kind of shocked me a bit, because one of the awards this won was for Camacho's fight choreography, so why distort something so great behind a mess of shaky cam and quick edit effects? One thing I've learned over time is that that may not have even been Camacho's call, meaning we don't know who to blame for my nausea. I think without it, this really would have worked in that slimmed-down stylized actioner format, especially with someone like Gruner in the lead, and with Camacho's fight choreography. The other issue is the film's runtime. 102 versus 90 minutes doesn't seem like a big difference, but in movie terms it is, especially in a film like this where the added minutes run contrary to the slimmed-down stylized actioner tone. Overall though, I feel like the good outweighs the bad here, and especially appreciate that this wasn't just cobbled together and shot on the quick in Michigan or Baton Rouge to try and get it on Red Box and Prime as soon as possible; Camacho and the rest of the cast and crew involved are invested in trying to make something great, and it paid off in the awards the film won--and for me makes me want to judge it with the respect it deserves, even if parts of it didn't work for me.

This is no longer the post I had planned it be in celebrating Camacho's entrance into the 40 Club. Before writing this I discovered that he was an inaugural member along with Dolph, Daniels, and Albert Pyun, I had just missed a few films that he had worked on as either stuntman or fight choreographer. Just the same, he is someone whose DTV work deserves to be celebrated just because of the scope and influence he's had over the years. I was looking at his directing work, and he did one of my all time favorite PM Entertainment flicks, Recoil. I'm not expecting every film he does to be Recoil, but there are some elements in that that this didn't have that may have helped it work better. First, no shaky cam; second, a shorter runtime with more action--Recoil hits the ground running and instantly grabs us and won't let go. This film was ambitious in different ways from Recoil, and I appreciate the attempt, it just wasn't the home run Recoil was for me.



It's good to see Gruner back on the DTVC. Yes, he had a small cameo in Showdown in Manilla, but seeing him here as the lead reminds us why that cameo he, Rothrock, and Wilson had was so sauteed in wrong sauce. It's just fun to watch him kicking ass, and between scenes, be the coolest guy in the room. One thing I realized when I was going over his imdb bio to see what other films of his I could do in the future, was that I had totally forgotten to do Sector 4: Extraction, which was written by friend of the site Richard Pierce. He had asked me to review it right before I went on hiatus, and I lost track of it. For that Richard, I'm really sorry, but hopefully we'll get to it soon!

Martin Kove is the film's other Hall of Famer, and like many roles for him, he's not in this too much. On the other hand, he's in this much more than he's been in some other stuff we've seen that credits him. He unfortunately has the distinction of being one of the Hall of Famers with the fewest tags, yet maybe has the biggest filmography, so we have a lot of places we can go to get more of his films up on the DTVC, the issue is finding the ones where he has a bigger role--and I'd settle for a role as big as the one he had here!



Finally, when we see Gruner make his first kill, he has a dog with him that he needs to get rid of, so he just gives it to a child. Very irresponsible pet guardianship I'd say. You adopt a dog to get your hit, then pawn it off on some kid? What if the kid can't keep him? The parents drop the poor fella off at a shelter, then what? You hope he gets adopted again, but there's no guarantee. What if it's a kill shelter? So you've just killed an innocent dog just because you need to get close enough to poison your target? That's the hero we're rooting for? A dog killer? It's little details like that that can make or break a movie. Hopefully in the next Gruner/Camacho collaboration, we'll have a little more respect for our furry companions who aren't able to advocate for themselves.

And with that, let's wrap this up. For a Camacho celebration film, this may not have been his best--I reserve that honor for Recoil--but I think it's an earnest attempt to work outside the box and do something a little different in the action genre. The fact that it's available to stream for free on Tubi means you're only investing your time, which is still very valuable, but at least you're not out as much if you end up disappointed.

For more info: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt3616894

Saturday, March 28, 2020

Silk (1986)

In looking to get more Cirio H. Santiago on the site, I came across this when Ty from Comeuppance Reviews posted his VHS copy on his Instagram account, tyactionrocks. If you're not following that account on Instagram, you need to, it's fantastic! Anyway, without any further ado, let's see how this one did. This was also reviewed by Ty and Brett at Comeuppance, Cool Target Action Reviews, and Mitch at The Video Vacuum, so you can see what they thought as well.

Silk has Cec Verrell as our eponymous hero, working as a detective on the Honolulu police department. She's as bad as they come, and criminals don't stand a chance. When an affluent English gentleman decides to set up his criminal empire shop in her backyard, there's going to be hell to pay.



When an action heroine has her own Pat Benatar-ish theme song, you know you're in for something great, and this only delivers from there. Cec Verrell is fantastic in the lead, the action is consistent, and when the action isn't there, we have other fun moments. This is the kind of movie the DTVC was made for, and the fact that we're almost 1000 posts and 13 years in and I'm just getting to it now is a travesty. Better late than never I guess, and we're here now making it happen. Cirio H. Santiago reaffirms his place in the DTVC Hall of Fame yet again.

This is back-to-back posts with Cec Verrell in them, with her having a part in Hollywood Vice Squad as well, and her third film overall, the other being Hell Comes to Frogtown. In looking at her imdb bio, there isn't much more that we could do of hers, which is too bad, because you feel like from a movie like this she could've had a bigger DTV action career, maybe not quite at Cynthia Rothrock's, but something in the 30 movie range--she wasn't even in Silk 2, which I can't believe after how great she was here. Alas, while the quantity of films was smaller, we left with the quality, and there is a lot of quality in a film like this for us to celebrate.



I joke often that the biggest trope in movies is film review bloggers using the word trope, but I couldn't think of a better way to describe the damsel in distress trope than as a trope. Anyway, for whatever reason, Cec Verrell couldn't escape it, and despite being the eponymous heroine upon which the film is based, still finds herself captured by the baddies, tied up, and used for bait in the final scene. And the thing is, it felt grafted on, like the helicopter that's only there to be blown up and otherwise serves no other purpose. I'm all for paint-by-numbers, but I think if you're going to make a movie with a woman in the lead who's as badass as Verrell is here, why not skip that part, or have a different female character that you can use for that instead. When we look at some of the other movies we've done this month, Altitude with Denise Richards, Skyscraper with Anna Nicole Smith, Honor and Glory with Cynthia Rothrock and Donna Jason, and Hollywood Vice Squad with Verrell and Carrie Fisher, none of them needed to use the damsel in distress device--the closest I think was Anna Nicole Smith when the baddie in leather pants tries to rape her, and she stabs him with a letter opener and sends him out the window to his death--and all of those movies worked, just like Silk worked. We're okay skipping the damsel in distress, you can trust us to survive if it doesn't happen.

Down below is our good friend Vic Diaz. He, along with our other good friends Joe Mari Avellana and Mike Monty (credited first as Mike Monte, then later as Mike Monty) all make appearances in this. Seeing them in a Philippine action film, especially a Cirio H. Santiago flick, is like watching an old Johnny Carson rerun in bed, or smelling French fries cooking in a fast food joint as I walk by. There's a comfort in knowing they're there, like I know I'm right where I'm supposed to be watching exactly what I'm supposed to be watching at that moment. When we talk about Martin Scorsese's comments about how Marvel movies aren't cinema, maybe what he meant was, they had neither Diaz, Monty, or Avellana in them, and as such couldn't be cinema. I hope that's what he meant...



Cirio H. Santiago is the film's one Hall of Famer, so it's rare to have the Hall of Famer not discussed until this paragraph, but here we are. This is only Santiago's 9th film reviewed on the site, which I believe is the lowest of any Hall of Famer. This is, and has been, a major oversight on my part that I've been meaning to amend. I've mentioned this in other posts, but when I came back from hiatus, I focused too much on newer movies, especially in trying to catch up on all the new Dolph, Seagal, and Van Damme out there, plus the Gary Daniels, Scott Adkins, and Michael Jai White; the thing is though, how often does one of the newer movies hold a candle to something like this? Cirio H. Santiago is in the Hall of Fame for a reason, and one of his films is less of a roll of the dice than a lot of the newer stuff that's out there.

Right now you can stream this on Tubi, or if you have the Shout Factory subscription on Prime you can stream it there too. I think streaming is your best bet, and then you can make the decision after on whether or not you want to ante up for the blu-ray DVD version. However you slice it, this is what you came for, and what we at the DTVC are all about.

For more info: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0091957

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Hollywood Vice Squad (1986)

I was looking to get a film by Penelope Spheeris on the site, and I saw this was on both Prime and Tubi, so I decided to make it happen. Between the great cast, and the 80s nostalgia aesthetic, this had DTV Connoisseur written all over it. Let's see how it did.

Hollywood Vice Squad follows a team of vice cops in LA led by their captain, played by Ronny Cox. When a woman from Ohio comes to find her runaway daughter (played by Trish Van Devere and Robin Wright in her first film respectively), she goes to Cox, and he realizes that she's in the hands of one of the worst pimps in the city, played by Frank Gorshin. Cox puts his two best cops on it, Leon Isaac Kennedy and Cec Verrell, hoping they can get her out in time. At the same time, Carrie Fisher is new to the squad and trying to make her name, so she works to take down an S&M video ring that's using underage actors. Her partners don't take her seriously, so she needs to earn their respect first in order to be successful.



This is a lot of fun, as much fun as a movie like this can be despite some of the extreme content. Evil pimps getting young girls from Ohio strung out on drugs and making them turn tricks, or a BDSM porn ring using underage kids in their films, isn't exactly fun; but there are definitely a lot of fun moments, like this one above where Carrie Fisher is undercover trying to get Marvin Kaplan from Alice to solicit her for sex. To some extent, you can see with all the fun moments where we get the Spheeris films from the 90s like Wayne's World or Black Sheep, and that juxtaposition with the tense, harsh moments, combined with the great cast and 80s nostalgia I talked about, makes this one overall a winner.

There's something about the Penelope Spheeris movie, whether it's a feature film, a documentary, or a music video, that feels like the 80s and 90s I grew up in, and this film captures that vibe I've always gotten from her films. I'm a little bit younger than the John Hughes slice of Gen X, maybe a little more Nirvana than Simple Minds--I think they call us "X-ennials" because we're between the two generations--but for me Spheeris is up there with Hughes as an influential a filmmaker in that period, plus her influence went further into the 90s. When I look at her filmography, there are probably some others, like Suburbia, that technically fit the DTV definition, so we could include them here on the site, but I think out of all of them, this is the most DTV in tone and feeling, it's very much a late 80s/early 90s late night cable offering or video store pick, which is something I love going back to.



Out of everyone in this, Ronny Cox is the one most known on this site. He's also on the list of people who have played presidents on this site, along with Jerry Springer, Roy Scheider (twice), Rutger Hauer, Mel Novak, and now Vivica A. Fox after our Crossbreed review. In the Captain America post I said I had trouble reconciling him as a good guy after all the baddie turns I've seen him in, and after seeing him in this, I realize that was a bad take. He's great in this kind of positive leader role, and the same way every scene he was in in RoboCop had a sense of impending menace and doom, here every scene had a sense of good and that whatever was wrong with the world would be taken care of. Here's to you Ronny Cox, you're one of the great ones.

Carrie Fisher is the main person on the cover, but her role is more the lead of one of the side stories. It's kind of crazy to think that 1986 was only three years removed from Return of the Jedi. At that time, beyond Harrison Ford, the rest of the cast was having trouble getting roles, and I think this was one here for Fisher to do something outside the Star Wars realm. While I like the film's running time, and overall think it worked, one complaint I might have is that it would have been nicer if her storyline had a bit more meat to it, because the small amount we did get was great.



This is only our second Frank Gorshin film, the other being Bloodmoon, the Gary Daniels classic. Here he plays a real baddie, much more so than the fantastic Riddler he played on the old Batman series--which, as you know, is the definitive version of Batman for me. According to his imdb bio, he has a ton of other credits, especially in the 90s and early 2000s, that we should get a hold of. Hopefully we'll make some of those happen soon, because I can't think of anything better than an alum from one of my all-time favorite TV shows making it into the DTVC Hall of Fame.

On that note, let's leave it here. This is the Penelope Spheeris late 80s late night actioner that you came for. Great cast, great action, and great nostalgia factor. Right now it's on Prime and Tubi, so you can stream for no money. Definitely worth a shot.

For more info: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0091213

Saturday, March 21, 2020

Honor and Glory (1993)

It's been a long time coming, but with this post, Cynthia Rothrock officially joins the 30 club. I had originally planned to do a movie called Star Raiders: The Adventures of Saber Raine with Casper van Dien for this post, but Rothrock is only in that for one scene at the end, and when I discovered that this post would have been her 30th movie, I decided I needed to do something that had her as the star to celebrate that milestone at the DTVC. So without further ado, let's see how it did. Also, our friends Ty and Brett at Comeuppance Reviews and Karl at Fist of the B-List have looked at this as well, so you can go to their sites to see what they thought.

Honor and Glory is about some kind of nuclear thing that has fallen into the hands of an evil banker, played by Undefeatable's John Miller. The only ones who can stop him are two sisters, Cynthia Rothrock and Donna Jason--until Miller's bodyguard, played by the great Chuck Jeffreys, defects over to their side, so now he's also one of the only ones who can stop miller. Are they successful?



This was a lot of fun. It's directed by Godfrey Ho (credited as "Godfrey Hall"), but it's more like Undefeatable than it is like his cobbled-together ninja flicks. When you don't have action, you have dialog that feels just unnatural enough to be fun enough to keep us from being bored; and then when we get the action, it delivers--plus we have fun moments, like when a Pepsi Machine in one scene has a visible logo, and in another there's black tape across it. When you see Cynthia Rothrock on the tin, and Godfrey Ho is directing, this is the movie you came for. In an age where we can never trust the cover to deliver what it purports to be selling, it's refreshing to be able to go back to 1993 and have some comfort food to remind you that things were once good. Bill Clinton as president, the Gin Blossoms on the radio, Arsenio Hall on late-night TV, and Cynthia Rothrock in a green leather jacket, blue cable-knit turtleneck sweater, and 49ers baseball cap kicking ass and taking names. God it was a wonderful time to be alive then.

Part of the reason why Rothrock's numbers stalled out in the upper 20s was I couldn't get my hands on movies like this for a good price. Now a lot of them (including this one) are on Prime, Tubi, or YouTube for streaming, which makes it a lot easier and allows me to get more of her films up. Getting her into the 30 Club was important, and something I probably should have made more of a priority when I first came back from hiatus, because she is the only woman in the DTVC Hall of Fame, and as such should have at least 30 movies reviewed, if not more. When we look at her CV, it's not just her as a DTV action star, it's a lot of films with her in the lead, and both Hong Kong films and US films; plus multiple DTV franchises of two or more movies that she's carrying. She's not just the greatest DTV woman action star of all time, she's one of the best DTV action stars of all time period, and one thing we're definitely going to do at the DTVC is take advantage of the fact that more of her films are available now and make getting more of those reviewed on this site a priority.



In their review of this, Ty and Brett call John Miller "a national treasure." I couldn't agree more. As great as he was as the hero in Undefeatable, he might be even better here as the baddie. Beyond the mean mugging you see above, he does all kinds of other great evil banker baddie stuff, like firing an older gentlemen that had worked for their bank for twenty-five years; or doing shirtless kung fu exercises to show off his muscles. Beyond this and Undefeatable, and a 20 episode run on Homicide, he didn't do much else in acting, which is too bad, because we could use more John Miller.

Rothrock's costar is played by Donna Jason, and she was great as well. Like John Miller, she hasn't done much beyond this film, and I think to some extent that shows how big Cynthia Rothrock's career has been, because we see a lot of women in action movies who are great but either only do a few movies like Donna Jason, or are like a Karen Shepherd or Cec Verrell where they have some memorable movies, but don't have the multiple franchises and prodigious CV that Rothrock has. And it's not just female costars. Look at names like Loren Avedon or Jeff Wincott that she's worked with. They're great as well, but have had nowhere near the career Rothrock's had. She's beyond just a DTVC Hall of Famer, she belongs in that further rarefied air of being now only the 6th actor/actress to have 30 or more movies reviewed. (The other five are Dolph, Daniels, Dudikoff, Wilson, and Lamas.)



This movie was also done by the guys at Rifftrax, and while they caught a lot of the good stuff in here that I had caught--like how Chuck Jeffreys above plays a famous bodyguard--I guess akin to a famous bouncer? One thing though that I didn't think as off that they caught was when Donna Jason's character is attacked by the knife-wielding daughter of a senator that Jason disgraced in a previous news article. I'm so mentally in the action movie mindset, that I also didn't see anything crazy about the senator's daughter attacking Jason with a knife, and then that being the end of it. As the Rifftrax guys rightly pointed out, this would have been the leading news story for weeks; and while crazy things like this happen and no longer matter in a Godfrey Ho (Hall) movie, I should be catching them as much as the Rifftrax guys are, but I've been so mentally affected by action movies that I was as fine with it as Ho was.

I think that was as good a moment to wrap this up on. This is available on Prime in both regular and Rifftrax versions. I suggest watching it first without the commentary, then see what they thought after. This is as fun as you'd expect a Godfrey Ho/Cynthia Rothrock movie to be.

For more info: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0105900

Saturday, March 14, 2020

Skyscraper (1996)

When I had Brett and Ty from Comeuppance Reviews on the podcast to discuss their favorite PM Entertainment movies, right after we stopped recording, one of them mentioned that we forgot this movie. I had never seen it before, but it was one they wanted with their honorable mentions. The fact that I hadn't covered this, and have a review site called "The DTV Connoisseur"--no matter how tongue and cheek the name--was definitely something I felt I needed to rectify as soon as possible, so now we're here. A whole slew of other sites have looked at this, including Ty and Brett at Comeuppance, Will at Exploding Helicopter, and RobotGEEK's Cult Cinema, so you can go to their sites to see what they thought about this as well.

Skyscraper has Anna Nicole Smith as a helicopter taxi pilot that gets a job from some baddies that are trying to get some top secret weaponry. When their deal goes bad, they need to take over the skyscraper they're in. The one thing they didn't count on: that the scrappy helicopter pilot that flew them there would be the fly in their ointment.



This is pure PM Entertainment goodness. In the opening 15 minutes, we have Malibu from American Gladiators wearing only the vest and pants of a three-piece suit while spraying a bunch of guys with an uzi, who then try to escape by backing their car out of the alley they're all in, leading to them crashing through a Bud Dry truck and causing an explosion. Re-read that run-on sentence again. Is that not the most amazing thing ever? Give me that all day. Now this is a bit more Skin-a-max than your usual PM flick, as they tried to take advantage of Anna Nicole Smith by giving her a couple sex scenes that show off her assets, and which I think makes this a bit harder of a sell for a bad movie night, depending on your audience; but if you're looking for a fun PM Entertainment actioner that you can stream on most services, this does the trick about as well as any of them.

While I was on hiatus Dolph, Seagal, and Van Damme had been very busy, not to mention Scott Adkins, Michael Jai White et al., so when I came back, I felt like I needed to catch up on all that stuff and get it reviewed, which meant movies like this were getting lost in the shuffle. After seeing Skyscraper, I realize what a mistake that was. They don't make movies like this anymore. They wish they did. They think they do. The fact that they made a movie with The Rock that has the same name as this tells me that they think they're better than this. They're not. What should have happened was, this should have been released in the theater, and instead of making Skyscraper, The Rock should have made another Fast and Furious spin-off, this one called Hobbs and Hartley, where Bob Newhart reprises his role from The Bob Newhart show, Dr. Bob Hartley, and he and The Rock have to save the world from a ruthless super criminal, played by Kelsey Grammer. That was a round-about long-winded way of saying I'm going to put more of a priority on these older movies.



You're probably waiting for me to go for the low-hanging fruit of making fun of Anna Nicole Smith's acting in this. It's not going to happen, in part because she's no longer with us, but also in part because no one cares about anyone's acting chops in a PM Entertainment flick! Part of what makes PM Entertainment so great is that they can do a film with Anna Nicole Smith in it and make it so great that we can love it unironically. I mean, if you want to look at models in action movies, this is definitely superior to Cindy Crawford's Fair Game with William Baldwin. And I don't think this is good in spite of Anna Nicole Smith either--in fact, I think the need to shoehorn in two gratuitous sex scenes to take advantage of Anna Nicole Smith's Playboy past wasn't necessary for this movie to work, but rather detracted a bit, because, again, it loses something in a bad movie screening if you can't show those scenes.

PM Entertainment is not the only DTVC Hall of Famer attached to this film. Art Camacho did stunt work in this, which makes this the 40th film on the DTVC that he's been involved with in some way--40 that we know of, because I often go back and find his name attached to something we've reviewed before that I missed. Either way, the 40 Club is very exclusive at the DTVC, as he's now only the fourth member, along with Dolph Lundgren, Gary Daniels, and Albert Pyun. The reality is, I thought this was only his 39th movie, and I had a film that he directed to be his real induction into the 40 Club, but before I wrote this review, I discovered that I hadn't tagged him for his fight choreography on T-Force, which bumped this up to number 40--and like I said, who knows if he hasn't been in the 40 Club long before this and I just haven't caught up to tagging it yet.



This movie brings up a real ethical issue surrounding the exploding helicopter trope in movies: how often are the helicopter pilots baddies themselves, and how often are they independent contractors like Anna Nicole Smith was here? How heroic does that make our hero then when he blows them up? I went back through some of the more famous ones, and more often than not they don't seem like contractors, but rather part of the gang, and I guess if you have the resources that some of these criminal enterprises have, finding a baddie pilot who can handle that part of the operation doesn't seem too far beyond the pale, so maybe it's Skyscraper that's the outlier. A gang that has guys dressed like Malibu here maybe look great, but probably don't cross all their Ts and dot all their Is, which leaves them in a situation where they need to contract out something that would have been better handled in-house.

I guess that's as good a note as any to wrap this up on. You can currently stream this on Prime and Tubi. If you haven't seen this before--like I hadn't--there's no excuse to not get it taken care of. This is pure PM Entertainment gold, and well worth your time.

For more info: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0114467/

Tuesday, March 10, 2020

Case 347 (2020)

Recently Michael and Jenna from Dark Coast asked me if I could review this film on the DTVC. I've been trying to do more independent movies like this, so I thought it would be a great opportunity for me too. Full disclosure though: this is a found footage film, and I'm often not a big fan of those. Let's see if this one won me over.

Case 347 is, as I mentioned above, a found footage movie, starring Maya Stojan (Agents of SHIELD) as a professor at 90210's California University, studying the psychological explanations behind people reporting that they were abducted by aliens. She hires a documentary film crew to help her in her efforts, and she starts by going to her late father's house to see what information he has. His obsession with alien abductions was her impetus for following this line of work in the first place. As she and the filmmakers dig deeper and peel back the layers though, they discover that maybe her father wasn't as crazy as she thought, that maybe there is something to all this. The question is, do they find out before it's too late to save themselves?



Overall, I enjoyed this. The found footage aspect did still give me problems, which I'll discuss below, but it really had the elements of a good horror film that I want. It was a slow burner, building up to the big finish, that, when it came, totally paid off; and in the meantime, there were moments here and there that were enough to spook me while we were intensifying things to get to that big finish. This kind of horror is not always done, because it's not easy to do--it's easier to just give us a kill every 10 to 15 minutes, which I like as well, but I think when horror is done the way Case 347 was, if it's successful, I definitely prefer it to the slasher style.

I think it would be easy to write off my issues with found footage movies as just another Matt hang-up, and I would understand if anyone reading this thought that, but I think I do have some valid reasons for that style not working for me. The first one is when the picture deliberately goes fuzzy or drops to add an element of verisimilitude. My brain is trained to see that as an annoyance, like I need to hit the TV to get it to stop, so having it there deliberately is even more irksome. On top of that, using surveillance cam footage. It doesn't look good, and I don't understand making something purposefully look bad. Another issue is, the movie making landscape has changed quite a bit since Blair Witch came out, especially with YouTube. Now found footage has the aesthetic of an "#urbex" guy on YouTube exploring an abandoned cabin in the woods with his buddies. That means professional film makers need to do more to distinguish themselves from the mass of content available on places like YouTube, and a found footage approach brings them closer to that level. Finally, there's the fact that movies are shot a certain way to make them more visually manageable. When two people are talking, it looks nicer to cut back and forth between the two parties, than it does to have one camera that is swinging back and forth to move between them as they speak. Watching a scene like that plays havoc with my eyes. I think one great way to split the difference is to do like a Christopher Guest mockumentary approach to how the film is shot, so it looks like documentary footage, but it has edits that make it more visually appealing. Considering someone technically had to edit the found footage to make it into the movie, it wouldn't be that beyond the pale.



All that being said, there's an earnestness to this film that I think makes up for any misgivings I had with the found footage aspect. I could feel from writer/director Chris Wax and lead Maya Stojan all the way down through the rest of the cast and crew that they were invested in this project and wanting to see it succeed, and there's no substitute for that. Once there's that buy-in, all the elements of this story that work are enhanced that much more. It's a different investment required of the audience in a movie like this as well. With the standard slasher horror, you just need to have a member of the cast investigate a strange sound in the basement, and then use a piece of gardening equipment to have the most creative kill possible. In a horror film done like Case 347, we have to understand and believe the characters' motivations, and be able to put ourselves in their shoes, otherwise the payoff isn't there when the rug is pulled out from under us; and everyone involved felt like they were making sure we got that payoff.

As I mentioned above, Maya Stojan plays the lead, and among the many great performances in this, hers really stood out, in part because it needed to for the whole thing to work. Right away, in her first scene where she's explaining what her research is about, it's a long take that she nails, which I think sets the stage for how her performance is going to anchor everything else. This was particularly important, because later in the film we're introduced to her father's colleague, played by Richard Gilliland, who was also excellent, and had Maya Stojan not really established her character as the anchor, Gilliland's could have taken over the film, and I don't think that would've have made this work as well. According to their imdb bios, Chris Wax and Stojan have worked before, and often that can make or break a low-budget effort like this, getting to work with people you know who will get your vision and help it succeed like we saw here.



I don't know if Chris Wax is a fan of Beverly Hills, 90210, but as I mentioned above, Maya Stojan's character was a professor at the fictitious California University, which was the name of the school the 90210 cast went to after they graduated from high school. I didn't catch any other 90210 references in the film--no characters named "Steve Sanders;" and there's a diner scene, but because this is found footage, there were no establishing shots so we didn't see if it was called "The Peach Pit." Still, always great to see a 90210 reference, whenever we can get it.

Before this becomes a 90210 nostalgia post, it's probably good to wrap things up. I think for horror fans, this is definitely worth a watch. Also, for people like me who have hang-ups with found footage movies, this better than the usual efforts, and shouldn't stop you from giving it a try. This is available to buy on DVD on Amazon, and Jenna told me this will be available to stream on FLIXFLING, Vimeo on Demand, Vudu, Amazon, iTunes, and Google Play. I don't see it on Letterboxd yet, so hopefully it'll be there soon too so you can check it out and share with your friends when you do.

For more info: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt7821116

Saturday, March 7, 2020

Altitude (2017)

This is it, our 50th Dolph movie reviewed on the site. While he already had 50 tags, one was for the Van Damme Film Fest we did for our 100th post, so it doesn't really count. Now we can officially say that Dolph is the first member of the 50 Club. This film was also covered on the podcast with guest Mitch from The Video Vacuum. You can check that out by following the link on the left-hand side of the blog, or by subscribing on iTunes, Spotify, or Stitcher.

Altitude stars Denise Richards as a disgraced FBI agent flying cross-country to face her demotion. Lucky enough for her, the flight is hijacked by a group of expert thieves (Dolph, Chuck Liddell, and Greer Grammer) looking to get the diamonds that another in their group, Kirk Barker, made off with after he double-crossed them. Now Richards is the only one who stands in their way and can safely get all of the passengers on the ground.



Mitch and I both agreed that this was pretty good. He brought up the notion that DTV films should be graded on a curve, and I think that's a good rule here, because it does have its flaws, but overall is a good time. Richards is great in the lead, Grammer great as her baddie antagonist, and Dolph is fantastic as always just being Dolph. There were some points where the action felt a bit claustrophobic, in part because they were filming on an airplane with limit resources, but when we got to our classic hatches open and people in danger of flying out end that we always get in a good plane actioner, this delivered enough to get us there.

What more can we say about Dolph on the site here that we haven't already? This may not be a film that features him entirely--he spends most of the film in the cockpit flying the plane--but the moment he walks on the plane in his suit, and takes his seat in first class, the movie changes, and changes for the better. That's the kind of presence he has, and why we've named him the Babe Ruth of DTV. For a 50th movie on the site, there are other movies out there that have more Dolph, but few that capture what makes him so great. It's interesting to go back through the 50 and all the moments we've shared with him. He had a spiked glove in The Minion, wore a maxi pad on his head in Bridge of Dragons. He's had two daytime talk show hosts as costars, Montel Williams and Jerry Springer. He's been the hero, he's been the baddie, he's even been the bait in bait and switches. The DTV world is Dolph's world, and we're just living in it.



I don't know what I expected when I saw Denise Richards on the cover, but Mitch and I agreed that she was great here. It was very no-nonsense, not a lot of frills, which I think could be a model for other actors and actresses looking to be cast in parts like this. I also really liked her character's snarkiness, and she carried that off really well. Mitch talked about how people say there should be more movies with strong female characters, and I think when you pair Richards with Greer Grammer's baddie, you have a good blueprint for how studios can and should pull it off more often.

The airplane movie has a tendency to get claustrophobic and repetitive, and I think this could have fallen into the trap more, especially since their airplane set felt more closed in. To some extent though it worked better here with a lead like Richards, because her character was able to use the confined space to her advantage; also, Dolph being in the cockpit most of the time meant his height wasn't an issue in that environment. This definitely wasn't the big budget break away plane with multiple parts that allowed for shooting at many angles, but like most lower budget movies, they did the best with what they had, and I think for the most part it worked.



As you can see above, there was some goofiness in this movie too. Some obviously intentional, like using Dolph's imdb photo for his license; some I wasn't so sure about, like when Denise Richards is evacuating the passengers by having them jump off a plane that was accelerating to a speed where it could take off. For me, when it comes to stuff like that, it depends on how much fun the movie is as to whether or not I can forgive it. If the film is boring, preachy, maybe has a sanctimonious message they want to project, I'll kill it for that; on the other hand, if it's a fun DTV flick like this, with material that doesn't take itself too seriously and a cast and crew who give a solid effort, I'll just chalk it up to more of what I find fun about these kinds of films.

Right now, as far as I can tell, this is only available to rent through streaming, as opposed to on some of the free or subscription services like Tubi, Prime, or Netflix. I feel like this is more suited to one of those than plunking down $3.99 to rent, but if it does make it to those kinds of places, it's worth checking out for sure. In terms of Dolph, 50 movies is a huge milestone, and I can't think of anyone in the DTV world more deserving of hitting it first.

For more info: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt4556370