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. 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. And check out my book, Chad in Accounting, over on Amazon.

Saturday, January 16, 2021

Boyka: Undisputed aka Boyka: Undisputed IV (2016)

Scott Adkins is back, and back with a character he's become well-known for. It was sitting in my Netflix queue for a long time, and once I got back into doing the site again, I figured I'd make it happen. Of course, now it's no longer on Netflix, because, as we know, that's how Netflix gets down. In addition to us, our friends Ty and Brett at Comeuppance and Mitch at the Video Vacuum have covered this, plus Bulletproof Action, so you can go to their sites to see what they thought as well. Now, without any further ado.

Boyka: Undisputed has Adkins back as the eponymous hero. He's making it happen in Eastern Europe as an MMA fighter, and he's ready to make the big time. That's until he accidentally kills his opponent in the ring. Now, right before his big break, he sneaks back into Russia to make amends with the fighter's wife, Alma. Turns out, her husband was into a local mob boss for a lot, and that debt reverted to her when he died. To pay it off, she's working as a waitress at his club at night--a club that just so happens to host fights as well. Boyka makes a deal with the mob boss to fight for him to pay off Alma's debt. The thing is, mob boss aren't good about keeping their deals.


 

This was really good. In terms of the Adkins films I've seen, I'm not sure where I'd rank it. Definitely after Avengement, probably after Savage Dog, but maybe above Accident Man? Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning? This takes the Boyka character to another level, as Adkins delves into him more and really flexes his acting chops; but by the same token, the action and fighting never suffers. It's like the filmmakers and Adkins know what we want from this movie, but then Adkins and the filmmakers also want to do something a bit more with it, and they're able to do both without sacrificing either. We seldom see that kind of mix in a movie, let alone a DTV production. 

Since I've been back from hiatus, we've seen some great Adkins, and as I mentioned above, this definitely is one of those. The action and fight scenes are the kind of high-octane stuff we love from him; at the same time, he acquits himself well in the dramatic scenes as well. He did an interview with our friend Jon from After Movie Diner for his Booth Talk podcast, and he told Jon that the common knock on action actors is that they can't act, which was something he wanted to prove wrong. I think that's part of how these guys all are, they're very competitive and very driven to succeed, and so even if we don't need them to be great at their dramatic scenes, the idea of not being good at something is such anathema to them that they need to be good at that too. For sure I can say in this one, at least in my opinion, he made it happen.


 

Isaac Florentine didn't direct this outing, but he did produce it, so I gave him the tag. According to the IMDb trivia, Florentine's wife passed away, which is really sad and explains why he was unable to direct. Stepping up for this one is Todor Chapkanov, who has had some second unit director credits on a lot of DTV flicks, including Boa vs. Python, which was the first film we ever reviewed here on the site. I think that second unit director experience works well here, because Todor seems to do this well in the style and feel of a Florentine film, which I really liked. In 2020, Florentine and Adkins put out Seized, which I haven't seen yet, but our friend Todd Gaines at Bulletproof Action reviewed it and said it was great, so I'll have to check it out--I mean, I would have to check it out anyway because I'll have to do all the Adkins DTV films eventually one way or the other.

The final fight in this is with Martyn Ford, and he is a beast of a man. 6'8", 300+ lbs. body builder, looks like Sagat from Street Fighter. The thing is, he has one fight at the beginning, and then we don't see him again until the end. It speaks to what this movie was about, Boyka's redemption, not the standard fight film where Boyka needs to train to overcome this extreme challenge. When you juxtapose that with the paint-by-numbers that was Kickboxer: Retaliation, you can see how this really did something different and made decisions that really were different in trying to pull that off. More movies should look at some of the choices that were made in Boyka and realize that they don't need to stick to the same old tropes when they're making their movies. You can take chances, and as you can see in this, the chances can work too.


 

Let's wrap this up by talking about how big Adkins's career could be in just the DTV action world alone. He's been putting out 4 or 5 movies a year for the last five years or so, and it doesn't look like he's slowing down anytime, as he had five this year alone, when a lot of stars don't have anything coming out. This is going to be his 17th on the site, and by my count, I have 18 more I need to do, some of which I've seen and just need to write the review on. But you can see, if he keeps on his current pace, he'll have another 15-20 in a few years that are eligible to review here too. Other than the backlog of Fred Williamson movies I need to catch up on, no one else has that kind of potential for films on our site. What will be fun, if that is the case, is we'll see the bulk of the progression of his career evolve in front of us throughout the time the site has existed, which is really cool.

And with that, it's time to end this post. You were able to get this through Netflix until they dumped it. I think now you may need to pay to rent it, which isn't horrible, but it would be nice if Tubi or another free streaming site could pick it up. I could say this about a lot of Adkins's 2010s catalog, which is too bad, because his action counterparts like Dolph and Seagal have a ton more of their films from this era available. 

For more info: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt3344680

Saturday, January 2, 2021

Power of Grayskull: The Definitive History of He-Man and the Masters of the Universe (2017)

Last year for Christmas I looked at the documentary on Roger Corman's never released Fantastic Four adaptation, and I thought it might be nice to do another documentary for the same time this year, especially since I'd seen so many over the course of the year that I could cover. Out of all them, this stood out as the perfect Christmas one, because as a child I had fond memories of Santa--whose handwriting was suspiciously similar to my mother's--bringing me all kinds of He-Man figures I'd picked out in the Sears Wishbook that season. Anyway, let's see if the documentary lived up to my childhood Christmas morning expectations.

Power of Grayskull is a comprehensive, 90-minute documentary that takes us through the creation of He-Man at Mattel, his rise, his fall, and the attempts at reboots, along with everything that came with that, like the cartoon and the movie. We hear from the players involved, how and why they came up with this or that, plus the forces of evil that prevented them from doing other things they wanted to do. And it has Dolph.



I really enjoyed this. If there was going to be a documentary on He-Man, this feels like it, which I appreciated. The other thing though, now as an adult, I could hear the people involved in He-Man's creation and evolution from that standpoint--I could both remember being a kid and getting He-Man figures, and now be an adult and get a kick out of the stories they told about the process. I think the most interesting part about He-Man is that he and Masters of the Universe were created out of thin air, they weren't based on an established book or movie. I don't think that could be emphasized enough, and this documentary leaned on that more than anything I felt, which did it the most justice. 

As I watched, I couldn't help but go back through my own memories of collecting He-Man figures. I got Man Ram I think when I was 4, at our local Osco Drug, while my mom was picking up a prescription for my ear infection. When the Toys R' Us in Newington, NH first opened, the He-Man section was overwhelming with how many figures they had, the end cap towering above me, and me wishing I could have every one of them. That may have been what started my desire to collect things overall, to have all of something--that and an early love of comic books. Maybe my best memory was of me getting the Slime Pit for my birthday. I was the first of my friends to get it, and I remember how crazy everyone at my birthday party went when I opened it. I stupidly put Moss Man in it, which ruined him and I had to buy another. 


 

But what I don't remember is when I stopped getting them. Somehow I transitioned to GI Joe, and then Ninja Turtles, but I can't point to a specific time where I said "I'm not getting He-Man anymore." The movie tries to put that into context for me, which is crazy to think, right? I need the documentary to tell me why I did something when my memory fails me. I think that was another fascinating aspect of this: the film was filling in gaps in my memory--or in some cases, it was correcting my memory. We have these memories of life as a kid that feel so real, and then we watch something like this, and realize, no, that didn't quite happen that way, or based on what they're saying, that couldn't have happened when I thought it did. Probably a good reason why I make sure I watch a movie close to the time I review it now.

This is Dolph's 57th film on the site, as he cruises toward being the first person in the 60 Club--after recently being joined in the 50 Club by Gary Daniels--, but this marks the first time he appeared as himself on the site. It's a great and engaging interview as he discusses what it was like for him to make the movie, the challenges it met in production, and even how he felt about the whole idea. When we think of the roles that have defined him, it's He-Man, Ivan Drago, and Punisher, which, when you put them all together, should have made him one of the biggest action stars of all time; and maybe that's why we love him so much on this site, he still has that larger than life quality, even if he didn't have the box office returns to go with it.


 

The film finishes with a kind of "whither He-Man" idea, which makes sense: this massive cultural and financial phenomenon that had such a huge impact and then disappeared almost as quickly feels like a reservoir of untapped potential, especially now with the technology we have to do cinematic adaptations. The film focused on new action figure releases and reboots with cartoons, but I think there isn't the market for that the way there would be for a DTV franchise with Dolph at the helm. But do it right, make it closer to the original He-Man, only with Dolph as the too sweet He-Man he was in the film. My biggest fear if a studio were to make a DTV He-Man franchise is that they'd cast someone like a Kellen Lutz in the lead. If it's not going to be Dolph, it needs to be someone of that stature, which I know isn't easy to find, but if they can make it happen, I think it would be a huge a success.

With that, I think it's time to wrap this up. You can see this on Netflix now, and it's totally worth it if you haven't seen it. Even if you were too young or too old for the He-Man craze, just how it all went down and the backstory behind it is compelling enough; but if you did live through it like I did, it has the added nostalgia factor that makes it even sweeter.

For more info: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt5338774/

Saturday, December 19, 2020

Chain of Command (2015)

With this post, we're inducting Michael Jai White into the DTVC Hall of Fame. I think like most, it's something that's long overdue, but we're making it happen now. I was hoping to find something a bit better as a film to post for this, but with me running into issues getting posts up, and having already had this in the can, I figured it was better to do it now than delay any further.

Chain of Command is not the Dudikoff film from the mid-90s, but rather a modern tale with White as a special forces vet who has come home, only to find his brother murdered. Not only that, but the brother was into some stuff. Now White has to play detective and track down who did this, but as he digs, the people involved push back. When those people discover that White isn't your average war vet brother, they send in their own big guns, Stone Cold Steve Austin, who plays a military assassin. What exactly could be worth all this trouble to kill in order to cover it up? Who knows, but the reality is they picked the wrong man to push back against.


 

This has a very low-budget feel to it, which I wasn't expecting. When you look at that cover, there's an expectation of a certain level of DTV quality. It begs the question then of how White and Austin got involved, because I imagine that got the film's budget up, and got it a distribution deal with Lionsgate--and then with Lionsgate, that's probably where that nice cover came from. It does have its moments, especially with White's martial arts, but also Austin has a great presence, and the third face on the cover, Max Ryan, is good in this as well. It was just hard to get past the limitations of what I was seeing onscreen.

I think one reason why we hadn't put Michael Jai White in the Hall of Fame sooner, is he kind of gets lumped in with Scott Adkins and some of the younger stars as part of the new wave, so there's a sense that there are older stars who need to get in first. The reality is, White is closer in age to Mark Dacascos than he is Adkins, and White is older than Van Damme or Daniels were when they were inducted. Thinking of it like that, this is more overdue than it is that we have others who need to get in first. The one thing I love about White is how he merges the technical aspects of fighting with the theatrical. He knows how to put on a show, but do it in a way that lets us in the audience know that he's also an expert practitioner. He is one of the best to do it, and its good that we can take this first step to honor his great work. This is his 17th film on the site, so the next step for him is getting him into the 30 Club.


The other name underpinning this film is Stone Cold Steve Austin, and unfortunately this is another one where we don't get so much Stone Cold. I liked his character in this, he's very menacing and dangerous, but we still haven't had that real Stone Cold character, the one that really allows Austin's natural charisma that won over WWE audiences to shine through. They could have used that to take his baddie up a notch, and made the showdown with White next level. That may have also mitigated the film's other issues more, and maybe then you don't see as many bad IMDb reviews killing it for the budget.

From a Lionsgate or other distributor standpoint, the key is to get people to stream the movie, and the cover they created is very effective at doing that. How am I to know it's not something of the quality of The Hard Way with White and Luke Goss, and directed by Keoni Waxman? It could almost be like "I just watched The Hard Way, what else is out there? Oh, let me check this out..." and then the opening scene tells you you aren't there anymore. The thing is, we seldom see action done on this lower scale anymore because it is so expensive, and this has the look of a low-budget indie horror film. So then if you're Michael Jai White or Stone Cold Steve Austin, you look at this after and think "this is forever on my CV. What do I do with this?"


 

The director is Kevin Carraway, who doesn't have a lot of credits, but one he does have is one we've done here, 7 Below, with Ving Rhames and Val Kilmer. That movie doesn't look anything like this in terms of quality and production, so my hunch is, his name was able to get names like White and Austin, which in turn got Lionsgate in on the distribution side, and then something--or maybe a bunch of somethings--went wrong, and here we are. I don't know what you do with that if you're anyone involved. Maybe you get an IMDb account and place your own user review to let us in on what happened.

And with that, it's time to wrap this one up. The film itself is a bit of a Siren song, especially with that cover; but the main thrust of this post, the induction of Michael Jai White into the Hall of Fame, is the most important thing here, and shouldn't be overshadowed by how good or bad this movie is. If you're looking to get into Michael Jai White's films, you can click on his tag and see what else we've got here. My favorite is Black Dynamite.

For more info: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt4340720/

Saturday, December 5, 2020

Skin Traffik aka Hitman in London (2015)

This is it, Gary Daniels, with this post, joins Dolph Lundgren in our most exclusive of DTVC clubs, the 50 Club. That's right, this is the 50th film we've reviewed that has Daniels in it, and only Dolph has more on here. It's an amazing and well-deserved honor for him as one of the best to do it. In addition to this review, we also did a podcast with Simon of Explosive Action, so you can check that out as well for more Daniels discussion. Now, without any further ado.

Skin Traffik has Daniels as a hitman who, in carrying out a job, accidentally kills the mark's pregnant daughter. Distraught, he goes dark in a bad neighborhood of London. As luck would have it, a bad brothel run by some bad Russians is in that same neighborhood, and he needs to sort those guys out and free the women, one of whom is Dominique Swain, and she enlists Daniels to help him find her sister. At the same time, Daniels's old boss, Eric Roberts, isn't happy he went dark, and in working with the angry people running the brothel, tries to take Daniels out.


 

This one isn't bad. From the description, it sounds like your typical hitman redemption by saving white slave victim who marries him and they live happily ever after, but that ain't this. Dominique Swain brings more nuance to that role, and I could also tell Daniels appreciated that this gave him more to work with than that standard tired trope. On top of that, his action scenes were top notch--I'd say some of his best, except he has so many great ones that he's set such a high standard on his own, so we'll stick with "great" to describe them. On top of that, while the massive cast individually isn't in the film much, they all do a great job in their small parts to enhance everything else about this that's good. I think this just works.

Again, Daniels is joining our most exclusive of clubs here at the DTVC. From a pure actor/star standpoint, there may not be many others who can catch him in tags and reach this club. Art Camacho at 46 would be next, but those are mostly behind the camera credits. Same with production companies like PM and Canon. Cynthia Rothrock is at 35, but I don't know if there are 15 more movies to do for the site for her. Don "The Dragon" Wilson is at 34, and I'm cracking some of his early stuff that barely has him in them, but same thing, are there 16 more? Perhaps it would be someone like Fred Williamson, who only has 18 so far but has a bunch out there that we need to do. It could be years before he gets there though. The fact that we don't have another actor outside of Dolph and Daniels in the 40 Club, let alone the 50 Club, should give you an idea of how big of a deal this is, and again, it's well-deserved.


 

From a performance standpoint, say what you want about this movie, Daniels brings it. Yes, some of his tags come from early PM films where he didn't have a big part, but most are like this, where he doesn't short-change us on the action. I think that's what I've always appreciated about Daniels, when it comes to action and martial arts scenes, he gives us what we've come for. I do think there was also a part of him that liked the idea of this being not your usual hitman redemption story, because he seemed to lean into that aspect. In that sense, I think this was a good one to look at for a post like this to honor his entry into the 50 Club. If you're looking for more Daniels to explore, I have a Letterboxd list where I rank them, which may be easier than clicking his name on the tags and browsing through 50 movies.

This film has a really prodigious cast, including Eric Roberts, who many think would have been the one with the most tags on here. He's only at 11 though. Obviously, with over 600 credits, he could be another contender to get to 50 and beyond, but because a lot of his roles are like this, a small supporting character, one to two locations, mostly sitting and talking by himself, how many of those do I want to tackle if they don't have a big name like Daniels attached? That's the thing though, he's done so many of these with DTVC Hall of Famers, it is possible that he could get to 50 just by the sheer volume of these roles.


 

Of the many others in this, one I really enjoyed was Michael Madsen. It was a very Michael Madsen-esque performance, which is all you can ask for when you see his name on the tin. He has a scene with Eric Roberts that may or may not have been shot with him, which is the kind of thing I love in a film like this. Jeff Fahey has a small part at the end that I also really enjoyed. Finally, the fact that they cast Dominique Swain in the part of the victim of white slavery was a really good choice. She added some harshness to a part that in a lot of action films is glamorized and there strictly for the hero to rescue and marry after. No one would have missed a beat if they'd just cast an Eastern European fashion model and called it good, but the fact that they didn't elevated this above the usual trope--which again I think was why Daniels went for this part too.

And with that, it's time to wrap this up. You can stream this for free on Tubi right now, and I think it's worth a look. It's not perfect, but the action is there, and Daniels doesn't mail it in. What more can you ask for? Also, check out the podcast Simon and I did on this film. There are links on the left, or you can subscribe on iTunes, Spotify, and Stitcher.

For more info: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt3120960

Monday, November 23, 2020

Vice (2015)

 

I saw that Tubi was close to dumping this, so I figured I'd make it happen before they did. I think, but I'm not sure, that they actually extended it after I did, but either way, I'd watched it, so it's time to review it. In addition to us, our buddy Mitch at the Video Vacuum has checked it out as well, so you can go to his site to see what he thought. Now, without any further ado.

Vice has Bruce Willis as a meglomaniacal business owner who has created this resort where people can act out their worst fantasies on human-like robot people. Want to rape and kill a hot blond? Sure, we all do! What can go wrong with that? Plenty, as one of the hot blonds, Amber Childres, starts to gain some level of self-awareness, and she escapes. That leads to the involvement of police detective Thomas Jane, who has wanted to bring down Willis's resort for a long time--why would he want to do that?--and he and the escaped robot woman work together toward that end. Fortunately for both of them, Willis's contract stipulated that he couldn't shoot in multiple locations, so they know where to find him when they want to take him down.


 

This felt like a Philip K. Dickensian concept that may have wanted a bigger budget theatrical release, but ended up here in DTV. For me I think the reason why is the overall concept is pretty macabre. The idea of a resort-like location where people can act out their fantasies is one thing, but when the fantasies are violent and sadistic that's something else. "Vice" isn't an apt title, but I guess "Psycho" was already taken. From there, there are some good cat and mouse elements, and I liked Jane and Childers's performances, but we could see those elements in anything. The hook is supposed to be this PKD-ensian idea of the resort, but when it's so disturbed it's hard to get into it. "Imagine a place where you can rape and kill a woman with no repercussions!" No, I'd rather not.

This was made in 2015, and around that time Willis was becoming increasingly known for these DTV flicks where he's either not in them much, does all of his scenes in one location, doesn't do his reverse shots, and there's a sense that he's mailing it in and just collecting a paycheck. What do we do with that? The movie is casting him because his face on the tin makes it worth more to the studios and distributors, and that gets more streams and rentals--and more folks like me reviewing it for our sites, which gets it more run as well. I'll be the 39th outside review on IMDb, which gives you a sense of the ecosystem we're all working in here with these. This isn't Klaus Kinski or Ernest Borgnine working for a paycheck in a low-budget flick, but they still turn in a great performance; this is Willis trying to get in and out with the least work possible, and there's almost a sense of disdain for the material as he does it. Again, what do we make of that? Is it more fun as a novelty, or less fun because it's so cynical? The movie should have been the resort allows you to pretend to be an actor in your favorite movies, and Willis plays a robot version of himself who can't be bothered to do the scenes with a housewife, and he needs to be reprogrammed. That would have been more interesting than sick rape and murder fantasies.


 

On the other hand, Thomas Jane really brings it, and I wonder if on his side he's looking at it as "if I show up here, maybe I'll get bigger parts down the line." Or maybe he didn't have the disdain for the film overall that Willis did. It's not like he's hurting for work either, but unlike Willis who has had a bigger career to fall back on, I think Jane was expecting The Punisher to lead to the kind of franchise blockbusters that Toby McGuire got with Spider-man and Hugh Jackman got with Wolverine, and instead he ended up with Ben Affleck in Daredevil. For me, this performance shows us how much that Jane Punisher didn't work through no fault of his. Had it been more close to the comic book canon, and Jane had been allowed to be more Frank Castle, maybe we get two or three films out of it. It would be nice to revisit.

As I mentioned above, I thought Childers did well in this too, considering she was playing a part that I don't know there was any precedent for. Yes, robot having an existential crisis happens all the time, but coupled with remembering horrific events like being raped and murdered hundreds of times? And to some extent she as an actor is having to do the same thing in this role: she's playing the standard DTV younger pretty woman, usually clad in black leather or something similar, there to appease the planned male demographic this was intended for, and in her performance she has to say "I'm more than that, you can't just swap me out for another actress and give her the same outfit and call it good," though we as the viewer have often seen a lot of these, and we have seen her part played by myriad other actresses before. That's not what matters though, who cares if we've seen the same thing hundreds of times, if she can stand out, not to us but to people looking to cast her in other things, then she isn't just any woman playing this part, and that does make her performance give the film a little more depth than these movies usually have. 


 

I think I already teased one idea for how I would have wanted the resort to be instead of a place where people can go and act out their most sadistic fantasies, the idea of being able to act out scenes with famous actors. I was trying to think what I would've wanted though for a place like that. First off, I'm married, and I think anything sexual, even if it's with a robot woman, would be cheating--and again, the idea of using a robot person for that kind of thing is off-putting. What if you had robot versions of dead musicians? Like I never got to see Eddie Money before he passed. Or my wife and I could see the Temptations with David Ruffin and Eddie Kendricks. Or Teddy Pendergrass. Imagine that, a movie where a robot who thinks he's Teddy Pendergrass discovers he's a robot, and that's the existential crisis. You could call it "Close the Door".

And with that, I think it's time to wrap this up. This is no longer on Tubi, but you can stream it with Showtime. If you don't already have Showtime, it's not worth spending money on, so I would wait for it to show up on Tubi again--and even then, I don't know how much you need to bump it up in your queue on there. We've seen this before, and the elements that try to make it different, make it a little too much for me.

For more info: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt3480796

Tuesday, October 27, 2020

Droid Gunner aka Cyberzone (1995)

We continue our Hall of Fame month at the DTVC with our next inductee, the great DTV director Fred Olen Ray. There were a lot of options for a film of his to cover for this post, but I liked that this one had a lot of names in it, plus it was free to stream--can never go wrong there. In addition to us, our friend Mitch at the Video Vacuum has covered this in his "It came from the video store" series, so you can go there to see what he thought.

Droid Gunner (or Cyberzone as you'll see it on the streaming services), has Beastmaster Marc Singer as "Jack Ford," director of such great films as The Grapes of Wrath and Stagecoach--or rather a guy who hunts down androids for a living in the future. When four pleasure droids turn up missing--stolen by one Matthias Hues--, the corporation missing them turns to Singer to find them. Tagging along is a droid specialist from the company, Rochelle Swanson, someone who can deactivate them without damaging them, which is very important when it comes to pleasure droids. Will our hero be able to make all this happen and save the day?


 

This is pure late-night 90s schlock, and I loved it for that. It had your classic Ray Skin-a-max elements, plenty of T n' A, but also great performances from a whole host of names, including, beyond Singer, Hues, and Swanson, Ross Hagen, Peter Spellos, Brinke Stevens, and Kin Shriner (which for someone whose mom watched General Hospital when I was growing up, he was a fun sight). Sure, this is done on a budget, and it bites on all kinds of popular films, like Star Wars, Blade Runner, and For a Few Dollars More, but for the midnight insomnia theater fare that I'm watching it for, it more than delivers.

Ray marks the third director in the Hall of Fame strictly for being a director, the other two being Albert Pyun and Cirio H. Santiago, which, for the DTV fans that we are, is fantastic company. Like those two, he's had some that I really didn't like, some that I loved, and a lot like this where I just enjoyed the ride. I think what I love most about his films, especially from this 90s period, is that he shoehorns a lot of sex and violence into them, but then there are a lot of these other touches like calling the main hero "Jack Ford" or how the plot becomes a take on For a Few Dollars More, which makes it more than just a late-nite 90s schlock exploitation fest. The funny thing is, recently my wife Jen and I were watching a Hallmark Christmas movie that Ray directed, and she was noticing similar touches, like the boy in the orphanage who looked straight out of 50s TV central casting. Like Dacascos, Ray's induction is probably one that's long overdue, but great to finally make happen.


 

The same way we needed to bring up Byron Mann in Dacascos's induction post, we'd be remiss if we didn't continue our efforts to spotlight Matthias Hues as well. He plays a bit of a roguish baddie in this, but also has a lot of fun with it, which is great to see. His playfulness underpins the tone Ray was going for, despite some of the dark future nature of the movie overall. As I've said in previous posts, we generally think of the stars as the people who carry these low-budget films, but when you look at the number of supporting people in this, many of whom do a lot of Ray films, you can see how important it is to have people like Hues who can show up and do their thing to round out the film and make it fun despite the time and budgetary constraints. Here's to you Matthias Hues, you're one of the great ones.

It's strange that we aren't getting to Marc Singer until the sixth paragraph, but with the DTVC, it's hard when you're in a Fred Olen Ray film that has Matthias Hues in it. Anyway, I really liked Singer here as the hero. He seemed to get what Ray was going for with the gunslinger-Western type, and he leaned into it well. Looking at his bio, it does surprise me that we don't have more of his stuff on here. I think other than this, we just have Savate with Olivier Gruner and Ian Ziering. He didn't even have a tag yet, which is crazy for someone of his stature. Well, we've at least taken care of that now. I'll need to at least cover the Beastmaster films in the future, so I imagine this won't be the last of him we see here.


 

Finally, among the other costars, I wanted to mention Kin Shriner, who is best known (though probably not known at all to most reading this) for his role on General Hospital. I bring this up, because my mother used to watch the ABC Soaps when I was growing up: All My Children, One Life to Live, and of course General Hospital. At that time, all of the three major broadcast channels had at least two, if not three or four daytime Soaps on--many people were up in arms in the late 80s during the Oliver North hearings, which preempted them a lot if I remember correctly. Anyway, my wife and I decided to check the other day, and on ABC, only General Hospital remains, and then Days is still on NBC, and CBS has Young and the Restless and Bold and the Beautiful. That's it of a once proud TV genre. Who knows exactly what did it, maybe fewer housewives staying home--though in college my bodybuilding buddy couldn't go to class before Days was over--; or my hunch, that the proliferation of talk shows and court shows, which don't require paying writers and actors, made Soap Operas less cost effective; and unlike scripted prime time TV, which saw a revival in the 2010s after being decimated by reality shows and true crime shows in the 2000s, it looks like the Soaps didn't have the same recovery. I want to say it's too bad, but obviously I wasn't watching them to know how many of them had been cancelled already, but it is still too bad for the people out there who did watch them for so long. Maybe saving the Soaps that are left is a good cause for me to take up...

But before we do that, it's time to wrap this up. You can stream Droid Gunner aka Cyberzone a lot of places for free, in particular Tubi, which has a good ad rate. I say, the next time you're up in the middle of the night and looking for something to watch, give this a spin. It'll take you back to the 90s in a good way.

For more info: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0112906

Tuesday, October 13, 2020

Crying Freeman (1995)

It's October at the DTVC, which means Hall of Fame month, and the first of our 2020 inductees is someone whose induction has probably been a long time coming, Mark Dacascos, and what better film to do as his induction post. I had been meaning to make this one happen for a while, and not only did I find it on YouTube, but now Prime has it. Among the many other people who have done this one, we have Ty and Brett at Comeuppance, Cool Target, RobotGEEK's Cult Cinema, and Kenner at Movie's in the Attic, so you can see what they all thought as well.

Crying Freeman is based off of a comic of the same name, which has Dacascos as Freeman, a man turned into a killer by a Triad demon, but still maintains some of his humanity, which causes him to cry when he kills. After sparing the life of a woman who witnesses one of his hits (Julie Condra, who became his wife in real life after), Freeman decides to fight the Triad demons that turned him into a killer. The problem is, the Triads don't want to give up such a weapon, so they try to stop him from retiring. Will our hero get out alive?


 

This is the real deal. I think I have Drive as above this on my Dacascos list, but that's a high bar to be under and no knock on how great this is. To me it's a fantastic combination of style and substance that so few action films embrace fully; but this film not only embraces it, it lives in it. The real shame is that it was never released theatrically here in the States, because it holds up with some of the other 90s greats that got those big screen runs. Beyond Dacascos's performance, Christophe Gans as director brings a unique and compelling vision of the action genre which Dacascos appears to be in lockstep with; and then we have fantastic supporting performances by Mako, Byron Mann, Rae Dawn Chong, and Tcheky Karyo, among others. The whole thing just works.

And with this we're inducting Mark Dacascos into the DTVC Hall of Fame here in 2020. The reality is he probably should have been in sooner based on the career he's had and what he's brought to the table, but I went a few years where I didn't induct anyone, and then a few years where I didn't even post reviews, so that meant people like Dacascos who should have been in missed out, and I'm trying to make up for that starting with this year. When you think action lead, Dacascos is on the short list of the best to do it, and this film really drives that home. A well-deserved and long-overdue celebration of one of the best to do it, and if you're looking to get into his films, this is a great place to start.


 

Another great in this who could be someone to consider for a future induction is Mako, whom we last saw in the PM great A Dangerous Place. He doesn't have a big part in this, but he's still a welcomed sight. As I mentioned above, he was one of many great supporting actors in this, and while this is the Dacascos DTVC Hall of Fame celebration post, it is good to give some shine to actors like Mako who often take on supporting roles, but do them so well that it props up the great performances of the leads. Here's to you Mako, you were one of the great ones.

Again, with this being our Dacascos Hall of Fame celebration post, we also still have our continuing mission to get Byron Mann more recognition, so it's good to do that here in this paragraph. His part isn't as big in this, but he's still great. In looking at his IMDb bio, I'm seeing more major TV roles than DTV movies, which in a way is probably better for his career, but wouldn't it be nice to see him in a good DTV actioner? I know I paired him with Michael Jai White in a previous post, but why not Dacascos? Set it in Honolulu, make it a buddy cop thing, and let them get after it. I know a lot of people who would love to see something like that. They had a great fight scene together on the Netflix series Wu Assassins, along with Iko Uwais, which just makes us want more of that. Maybe Seagal on the tin gets views, but Dacascos and Mann get us to watch and spread the word to get more people to watch.


 

Getting back to Dacascos, sometimes we talk about how people end up doing more DTV stuff and less big screen films, and I think if you put this with Double Dragon you can see what happened for him: Double Dragon ended up being a flop, and this great one never made the big screen here in the States. By the same token, just because he didn't get the big screen leads he deserved, doesn't mean he hasn't had a great career, and I hope this post and his induction into the DTVC Hall of Fame will spotlight that. Dacascos really has been one of the best to do it, big screen or not, and he's provided a lot of great moments for us action fans over the years. Truly a well-deserved honor to get Dacascos in, and again, long overdue.

And with that, it's time to wrap this up. Right now you can stream this on Prime. I can't think of a better way to watch this. And for more talk on Dacascos, you can go to the podcast, where I had Ty and Brett from Comeuppance on to discuss his films. It was a great conversation, and a great place to start for people who want to get more into Dacascos's movies.

For more info: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0112750