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.
Thursday, November 15, 2007
This is the most recent effort from The Muscles from Brussels. I think I keep giving him a chance in the hopes that he'll eventually come back to that 1990s form that won us all over. His last five films or so, with the exception of Wake of Death, have all been truly uninspired and difficult to watch. Yet, as long as he keeps making them, I'll probably keep watching them, just to see if he's good again.
Until Death has Van Damme as a low-life cop who's addicted to heroin and losing his wife to another man. He does some really shitty things to the people around him, and it's starting to catch up. Stephen Rea (V for Vendetta, The Crying Game) is his former partner. Van Damme ratted him out for being a drug dealer, and now he's on a crime spree to try and take over the city (New Orleans) and become its greatest crime lord. Only Van Damme stands in his way, so he sets up a hit on him. Van Damme survives, but is left in a coma. When he comes out, he tries to make himself a better man. Slowly-- and I mean slowly-- he regains the love of his wife, his job on the force, the respect of those he wronged, and finally, vanquishes Rea.
This film plays out like a more violent and dirtier Lifetime crime drama than it does a Van Damme film. Replace him with Valerie Bertinelli, and I think you're all set. That being said, this wasn't all bad. There were some great shoot-outs, including in the end when Van Damme goes after Rea who has his wife. If the spurts of great action weren't separated by such long periods of exposition and inactivity, you might have had something here.
Van Damme does a great job playing an asshole. Looking over his movie history, I think he's really only played a baddie once or twice, Black Eagle being perhaps the best. (I'm not sure you count Replicant, because he plays both a good guy and a bad guy in that one.) I think this is a good look for him, and I'd like to see him do it more often. I'm sure if he was a baddie, he'd have to have it in the contract that he couldn't be beaten in a fair fight, just to assuage his ego. I'm good with that. Maybe whoever the hero is could drop an anvil on his head or something.
As the real bad guy, Steven Rea did an excellent job. He's not as one-dimensional a baddie as say a Bruce Payne, but the subtle nuance he brings to the job is a pleasant change of pace from the norm. I've often wondered how these sophisticated British actors feel doing a bad action movie with a guy like Van Damme, but I guess they grin and bear it and think of cute vanity plates for the new sports car they'll buy with the money they earned. I could almost see Rea doing it in this one when he had a gun to Van Damme's wife's head: "GDHLPME"!
One thing we know about Van Damme is how much he feels he has to show his audience how well he does with the ladies. As such, it was to no one's surprise that he eventually wins his wife back after he wakes from his coma. Also to no one's surprise was when he redeems a bad pre-coma sexual performance with a hooker by satisfying his estranged wife later on. I think out of every action hero, Van Damme's the one who insists the most on demonstrating his manhood through his on-screen prowess with the ladies. I've yet to view one of his films with anyone, guy or girl, who really gives a shit. It might have to do with the Pride film he did very early on in his career, but he needs to get over that. It's the New Millennium, baby, you gotta be more open minded.
Van Damme had some hilarious faces in this. When he was banging the hooker in the back room of a bar was one. Then there was the one he had when some guys duct taped him to a work-out bench and almost used a power drill on him. Even better was when he was being operated on after getting shot in the head. One of my personal favorites was when he shot some heroin, and a transvestite visited his car while he was high. There was something very Fellini-esque about that one.
I don't know what to tell people about this one. If you like Van Damme, you may find some redeeming qualities. It's another in his attempt to distance himself from the straight-up action films he did earlier in his career, and though it's not so bad, it's not anywhere as good as the stuff he did back then. The long periods of inactivity when the film thought it had a plot it needed to explain to us made for a pretty boring hour-and-a-half, and the action scenes that were solid just made me wonder why they couldn't do that for the entire movie. At this point I'm hoping his next film, The Shepherd, is good, but I'm not too optimistic.
For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0783598/
Monday, November 12, 2007
After seeing the first BloodRayne and knowing how bad it was, I should've steered clear of this bad boy when I saw it in the video store. But I'm a glutton for pain when it comes to bad movies, and try as I might, I had to watch this. Man, did it hurt.
BloodRayne II: Deliverance has Rayne tracking the vampire Billy the Kid to a town named Deliverance that's waiting for the railroad to be built through it. After he takes over the town and fortifies his position, Rayne tries unsuccessfully to fight him on her own. She fails and is almost killed, and has to come back with Michael Pare-- who's Pat Garrett, and a member of vampire fighters Brimstone-- and two other dudes he recruits: a hired killer with bad teeth and a reverend who swindles people out of their money with the promise of salvation. With well-manicured nails and a professional make-up job in a town full of hygienically challenged individuals, Rayne makes the Wild West safe again and vampire free.
Wow, this was bad. Not like the first BloodRayne bad, but like Skin-a-max film quality bad. The acting, other than Pare, was tough to deal with. The whole thing was so amateurish I could envision the set and crew around the actors. I wanted to yell cut after each scene. The reason a Skin-a-max movie can get away with such poor production value is its high soft-core porn sex content. Without that you're left with a bad film school student's final project.
Painkiller Jane took a pass on this because she had to do Painkiller Jane. That's her story, and she's sticking with it. I'd like to think she saw how much of a stinker the first one was, and without great actors like Michael Madsen and Ban Kingsley to entice her to get on board, she stopped returning their phone calls. To replace Painkiller, they got a chick named Natassia Malthe, who you may remember as Typhoid Mary in an even poorer film called Electra. She was also in the shortly lived (as in one weekend in the theaters) DOA. As an actress, I can see bad film adaptations of video games as her thing: she has the physical attributes with none of the acting ability. She'd make a good Kitana if they make another Mortal Kombat movie.
The idea of marrying the western and the vampire genres is interesting. It'd be nice to see it done in a good movie. Here we get the director's lame attempts to emulate Peckinpah and Leone. The close-ups of weapons and facial features didn't create the tension we'd get from a good western, but rather created annoyance because we just wanted the movie to get on with it. Also, the pauses before action sequences where we'd get these close-ups and whatnot happen at times that don't work in the film, like when the vampires would have guns trained on people and should've shot them but didn't just so the film can have it's "tension". If you're going to make a vampire/action film, just do it, and don't try to get cute with it. If you were a good enough director to get cute, you wouldn't be directing BloodRayne II.
The Billy the Kidd character sucked as a bad guy. In real life the guy who played him looks kind of cool, but in the movie he had this gross stringy hair and beady little eyes. He was no Ben Kingsly. Nor was he any Emilio Estevez. Was Bruce Payne or Wings Hauser that busy? Or even better, were they that far above such a horrible project? You know you're bad when you can't get them to be your bad guy. A semi-decent baddie would've made this film bearable considering the chick playing Rayne wasn't bad on the eyes. But instead he, and the extras they had playing his henchman, all sucked.
Perhaps the worst character was the fat little newspaper guy who suddenly can handle a gun and guilts/bullies the townsfolk into fighting the vampires. The character was annoying as hell when he was the meek reporter, and even worse when he berated people who probably weren't in the mood to die to go get killed. What script writer liked this guy? Who thought his transformation when it was convenient to the plot would play well? Why do movies have annoying fat guys with high pitched voices in them anyway? Just another aspect of the film that made my skin crawl.
This film is chock full of bad lines. Early on, Rayne plays cards with some guys, and one has an Irish accent. He asks her if she knows what an Irishman sounds like, and she says "the cross between an asshole and a dead man." When she goes to fight them, the mayor tells her she doesn't know what she's up against, and she says "that's fair, because neither do they." When she's captured by the vampire sheriff and put in jail, she's scheduled to be hanged at "high midnight". Then my favorite came at the end, when Michael Pare tells the newspaperman: "Life is like a penis. When it's hard, you get screwed, and when it's limp, you can't beat it." To go the Pare route, I'd say: "BloodRayne II is like a bad dick or fart joke. It's crass, immature, and only makes you laugh because it's so stupid."
There was plenty of other bad stuff in this. imdb said the budget was ten million US dollars. If that's true, they didn't use it for sound effects. When vampires were killed, they sounded like neighing horses or snorting pigs. When Rayne put her blade threateningly near Pare's crotch, it made the sound of steel hitting steel. In an attempt to put Rayne in a no win situation, Billy the Kid sets it up so the kids he's held hostage are all in nooses that are set off when Rayne enters his room, causing a large rock to be lifted up as a counterweight. For some reason if the stone's lifted, the kids immediately die of strangulation, which makes no sense. Finally she lets the rope holding the stone go and cuts the nooses off the kids all at once. Why she didn't do it the moment she entered the room is anyone's guess.
When it comes to bad movies, this is almost as bad as it gets. We're almost at the Bruce Penhall Julie Strain level. If this shows up on TV, I'd say maybe watch it with your friends because it is laughably funny. But don't spend any money on it, especially not new release money, because you'll feel the people who made it accosted you with a ski mask and a gun.
For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0896036/
Friday, November 9, 2007
I first saw this film back in high school when some buddies and I rented it. We heard there was this really cool scene where The Warlock turns a guy into a piece of art. Unfortunately, the scene didn't really live up to the hype. As a more mature viewer, I now appreciate the film for its silliness and Julian Sands, who's a pretty cool dude.
Warlock: The Armageddon is the second in the Warlock series, and it follows our hero Julian Sands, as he collects some stones in order to complete a ritual to bring Satan to Earth (The Devil, not the famous hockey player Miroslav Satan). In his way are a group of Druids in a small town in the US. Two of them have kids, and those two kids are supposed to be the warriors that'll stop Sands from fulfilling his mission. Though the two are in high school, one is the 29-year old Paula Marshall, and the other the 22-year old Chris Young (who you may remember as the kid going for the tour in PCU). All they needed was Luke Perry and Ian Ziering to make it perfect. Anyway, Sands comes close to bringing about the end of the world, if only he'd understood the invention of headlights for automobiles in the past 400 years.
The first Warlock was somewhat original and had some interesting death scenes and whatnot. This film tried to carry on that tradition, and failed miserably. When he turns the guy into an art sculpture it was more weird than it was cool. For some reason it didn't kill the guy, so the sculpture had blinking eyes, making it look like an element in a Peter Gabriel video. For me, the only thing close to as awesome as Julian Sands was the local jock who had a too sweet mullet.
I'm not sure what you can say about Julian Sands that hasn't already been said. He makes this movie. My favorite part was when he picked up this midget woman and threw her into an iron maiden. There was another pretty cool part when the old Druid guys try to shoot him with a shot gun, and he kills them by making a firearm out of his fingers. Then for good measure, he blows the smoke off them. I'm not surprised he left the series for the third movie, because he must've been bored with these silly scenes; but I have to say the silly scenes wouldn't have been as enjoyable without him involved.
Paula Marshall's in this. She's one of those actresses that looks better in her forties than she did in her twenties. Not that she didn't look good then, she just looks better now. I remember her as being pretty hot in a Diagnosis Murder episode my mom was watching recently. Anyway, her claim to fame seems to be killing shows, because everyone she's in dies out before the end of the first season, most notably Snoops with Gena Gershon, and Cupid with Entourage's Jeremy Piven. According to imdb, she's been guest starring on Nip/Tuck lately, so we'll see what happens there. Maybe she wouldn't mind killing a few of the ten or so crime dramas that've taken over the airwaves.
Speaking of Jeremy Piven, this film also has the kid from PCU who came to campus to take a tour. He's supposed to be a geek turned hero in this movie. I'm wondering if screenwriters who come up with this type of scenario are trying to right some wrong from their past, as if every heroic thing the geeky kid does removes one more wedgie, or relieves the pain of one more swirly. I'm not saying every hero should be some beefy Dolph Lundgren type with a character name like Smoke Man Musk (or maybe I am), I'd just rather not have to deal with the writer working out unresolved issues from his childhood when I'm trying to enjoy a bad Julian Sands film.
This film didn't a have a great opinion of organized religion. It painted a picture of it as this close-minded, out-dated, intolerant, belligerent institution. I'm not a very religious person myself, but I feel I'd be remiss in ignoring the same kind of monolithic approach to a subject that I berated in films like Hunt For Eagle One and Second in Command. It's like we have here an ultra liberal stance on religion like the ultra conservative ones on terrorism or communism in the other two films. I've always had a problem with being preached to when I watched movies, and it doesn't matter if it comes from the far left or the far right.
As a Julian Sands vehicle, this ain't half-bad, but beyond him, this is a poor film. It's no where near the seminal work the first Warlock is, and if you're considering renting something, try that first. If you see it on Sci-Fi like it was recently, you may want to TiVo it, but I wouldn't go much further. It's fun to make fun of, but you could probably do better renting something else. I personally got a kick out of it, but not enough to spend any money on it.
For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0108517/
Wednesday, November 7, 2007
This film seems to pop up from time to time on Sci-Fi at 3AM. I saw it a while ago at that time, and it's been on twice since in that same slot. I would imagine a cheesy sci-fi movie with Mark Hamill would do best at that time when World of Warcrafters are burning the midnight oil and need a little background noise. Or, when morons like me scan my program guide for potential horrible movies.
Time Runner starts in 2022, when aliens are invading the Earth, and things look grim. Mark Hamill goes back in time thirty years to find then senator Brion James to stop him from killing funding for a space station that would've prevented the alien ships from attacking. In 30 years, Brion is "World President". Anyway, he meets Rae Dawn Chong, who just happens to be a rogue alien of the same ilk that plans the invasion. Surprising no one, Brion actually is an alien too, and he gets elected for the sole purpose of stopping the space station so his alien boys can invade. Now the question is can Marky Mark and his funky bunch get to the church on time and stop ol' Brion so he doesn't do bad things thirty years later?
This movie is right where it belongs at 3AM. It made zero sense. Hamill lands thirty years in the past, and he suddenly gets these visions of the future. Then, for the convenience of the plot, Rae Dawn can see them too if she touches him. Also, there was nothing particularly alienly about the aliens. It wasn't like they pretended to be humans but looked like aliens with the disguise off. As far as I could tell, they were humans. The only thing that made them less human was they displayed no emotion; but Brion, running for public office, was an exception to that rule. He was very charismatic. I would say, though, that this is a pretty solid cheesy film, and the addition of Mark Hamill makes it pretty fun to watch.
Mark Hamill. What else can you say? The entire movie he seemed to speak in that voice that said: "But I wanna go to Tashi (sp?) station and get some power converters!" It amazes me that the kid who played the young Darth Vader in the new ones hasn't been relegated to the same bad movie fate, because he sucks even more than Hamill. Hamill's at least silly. That other kid was a sulking moron. If Lucas didn't take his new bad Star Wars movies so seriously, he should've just cast Hamill as the young Vader. I like that better.
The late Brion James is so amazing as the World President. I never thought anyone could be cooler than the Jerry Spring pres in Defender with Dolph Lundgren. Even if he is a sinister alien masquerading as a politician, I'd still vote for him. As in many films that feature Brion James, though, he's not in this too much. That's too bad, because he really outdoes himself in this role as a man running for, and eventually winning, public office.
Rae Dawn Chong is in this, and she doesn't sport her classic poofy hair. Instead she has a kind of bob cut that just goes past her ears. On the one hand, it looks better, but on the other, it doesn't feel like it's Rae Dawn Chong. People watching this will be like: "That's not the same chick from Commando!" Or Soul Man. Cut it out with the Saleisha from America's Top Model hair-do, Rae Dawn, we expect it big and poofy. (I have a roommate that watches that show, honest!)
In order to amp up the geek factor here, I'm going to mention some Highlander: The Series connections this film has. Rae Dawn Chong, you may remember, played a young immortal who was a savant musician. Brion, of course, played the ogre-ish fur trapper who made good a century later after a local school teacher in the 1800's taught him to read. Also, Gordon Tipple, who plays the local airplane mechanic that helps Hamill and Chong get to James was the hangman in the episode where the businessman blackmails Duncan. It's not like it's all that uncommon to see people who guest starred on Highlander: The Series in one movie, considering how many people were on that show at one time or another; but I just thought it would be cool to add to the Star Wars mentions. Unfortunately, no one in this that I could tell had an appearence on Star Trek, otherwise I could really put this blog into geek overdrive.
This movie is good for the insomniac or person up late writing a paper or something. There's much worse to watch at 3AM in the morning. I'd also go as far as saying give this a look if you see it at the local video store. It's pretty funny in its cheese, and you can't go wrong with Mark Hamill and Brion James.
For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0108342/
Monday, November 5, 2007
I learned about this film from a trailer I saw with Gangland. I believe the connection to the two films is producer David DeFalco. In Gangland he played the cut yet weird looking bad guy with the greasy ponytail. He casts himself in a smaller role in this as a biker tough, and he's a bit buffer than he was in the other film. What's odd is how he's wearing a whisper thin tank top, because in Gangland he wore no shirt, yet had a poorer physique. Who knows what goes through the minds of bad action movie producers that cast themselves in their own films?
Whatever It Takes is about two undercover cops, Don "The Dragon" Wilson and Andrew Dice Clay, who are sent by the DEA to investigate Fred Williamson and his trafficking in a designer steroid. As the case unfolds, Wilson falls in love with a really hot personal trainer in one of Williamson's gyms. Wilson now must mitigate his desire to put Williamson behind bars, with his desires of a more carnal nature.
It's crazy how ahead of it's time this film was. DeFalco must've known something, being the buff guy that he is, about designer steroids and high profile athletes' use of them. Of course, Fred Williamson is way cooler than Victor Conte and his BALCO people, unless Conte was whacking people in his private nightclub and we just didn't know about it. On the other hand, Williamson's steroid didn't have a name, which made it less cool than BALCO's The Cream and The Clear. For a really bad action movie (and this is bottom of the barrel kind of stuff), it's weird to see it out in front on something like this.
This was a rather poor outing martial arts wise for D "The D" Dubs. His moves seemed really telegraphed and not choreographed well. I'm not sure if he mailed this in, or was feeling a little under the weather, but it was obvious, and the film lacked some for it. There was this two second delay between when a guy left himself open for an attack, and when Donny hit him. Knowing what a top notch martial artist Wilson is made this even more disappointing.
Andrew Dice Clay was interesting. He went on a few trademark Diceman riffs, which brought me back to a simpler time when my friends and I were in grade school repeating his nursery rhymes at recess. When he tried to be serious, like when he discussed an on the job tragedy with Wilson, he fell flat, and it seemed way too contrived. When he was funny, though, his pairing with Wilson made for a very interesting buddy picture. DeFalco should work his magic and pair these two together again.
I can't say enough about Fred "The Hammer" Williamson. As a baddie or a hero, he brings it every time. He was absolutely amazing in this as the drug lord. He had a love affair with the chick from Cleopatra 2525 that wasn't Cleopatra or the chick that went on and did Firefly. She got naked in front of him in his bedroom, and he asked her if her high heels were uncomfortable. She answered in the affirmative, and his reply was: "then leave them on... then you'll have to work that much harder to forget how much they hurt." That's 40 to 50 times cooler than anything Van Damme's done in any movie with any chick. Van Damme wishes he was as cool as Williamson.
Wilson's love interest in this was really hot. In order to gain her affections, he goes to the gym she volunteers at, and loses on purpose in basketball to her little brother. Anyway, so their love affair ensues, he gets some, naturally, and then all hell breaks loose. Williamson gets wind from the chick he's doing that Wilson'll be divulging some secrets to his woman, and this leads The Hammer to get proactive on Donny's ass. What he does shocked the hell out of me, though. After a night of love making, Wilson's woman takes his car to the store to buy milk or whatever. Unfortunately the car's rigged with a bomb, and she blows up. It was so sudden, my mouth fell open. I felt like I needed to mention it in the blog, but I felt like if someone read this and it ruined the surprise I had, I'd feel bad. I've always felt the classic damsel-in-distress situation where the hero's love interest is kidnapped by the baddies is a little cliched; but now, seeing the alternative, I'd say go back to the perfunctory kidnapping.
One other thing got me in this. Williamson employed some white Italian guy that was supposed to be his nephew. Whenever he did something wrong, Williamson would cut off a small appendage, like a pinky finger. It was supposed to be funny, but it was just gross to me. Who comes up with shit like this? I'm blaming you, DeFalco.
I think this film might be too much for a lot of people. You have to be a real bad movie honk to get any kind of enjoyment out of it. I'm that guy, so this hit the spot for me. Also, I dug the sports implications, and I know not everyone out there's a huge sports fan like me. I'd say only rent it if it's a rent on get one free kind of deal. Otherwise, proceed with caution.
For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0161084/
Friday, November 2, 2007
In the endless search for more Klaus Kinski films, I found this bad boy. Also listed among the stars is Scorsese and Tarantino mainstay Harvey Keitel. Kinski paired with Winston The Wolf? This had greatness written all over it, and I didn't hesitate to pull the trigger when I saw it on Amazon.
Star Knight is a Spanish sci-fi/fantasy film involving an alien visiting a medieval Spanish manor. The lord's daughter finds the ship while swimming naked one night, and falls in love with the one alien aboard, a man who looks like the lead singer of any 80s New Wave band. Kinski plays a mystic employed by the lord from time to time to help him out, and he talks to the daughter upon her return. While everyone in town believes the ship is a dragon, and the alien a warrior of evil riding it, Kinski and the daughter know better. Enter Keitel as a swordsman looking to become a knight and also looking to marry the lord's daughter. He promises to slay the dragon and kill the alien controlling it. He and the local priest give it a go, and hilarity ensues. They take the ship from the alien, and accidentally fly it into space, while the alien stays home and marries the lord's daughter.
This movie is remarkably horrible. This was like MST3K bad. Think Deathstalkers and the Warriors From Hell, only add in Keitel and Kinski, which makes it all the better. This passed the true test of a great bad movie, when it entertained people who usually don't like to watch the crap that I do. There was just no way you couldn't find this funny.
Kinski was Kinski in this. He's in it slightly more than in The Creature, so I'd say it's worth a look if you're a fan of his. He lives up to his standing as a card carrying DTVC Hall of Famer, especially in the way he wears his ridiculous outfits. We spent the movie trying to guess how much he made, what demands he had for the production, and how he might have gotten along with Keitel. His name was top billing, so I have to assume that that was a stipulation on his participation. I must say, he's pretty tame in this, though. No Cobra Verde style freak outs, so in that sense, it was a little disappointing. Overall, a Kinski-esque effort.
Keitel was a whole other story. Anyone who's ever seen Last Temptation of Christ remembers his role as Judas, where he kept his New York accent. In that role, it just seemed to work, and it was one of the more inspired decisions Scorsese made in making that movie, at least for me. In this, he also retains the New York accent, but speaks in this Shakespearian tongue that sounds hilarious. Everytime he had a line, he elicited laughs. "Thow haath fohrsaken me!"
Being a Spanish movie, the Spanish director and Spanish writer included an ode Spain's greatest literary figure, Cervantes, with a Don Quixote like character called the Green Knight. I think we were supposed to juxtapose his genuine chivalry with Keitel's self-interested brand. I dug it. It was especially cool when the alien donned his gear to fight Keitel at the end. The whole thing was a touch of class in a movie that desperately needed it and more.
The inside of the alien's ship looked like something out of The Dark Crystal or Krull, both movies I'd think a film maker wouldn't want to have his film in the same sentence as, or even worse, be accused of ripping off. From the outside, the ship reminded me of Close Encounters. I was worried Richard Dreyfuss might show up, and was thankfully spared that pain. Finally, when the ship left the Earth's atmosphere, for some reason it turned into an animated cat toy, you know the ones with the bell inside the wire cage ball. I know it's 1985, and technology wasn't the best, but someone had to think that looked worse than just continuing to use the toy model of the ship that we saw on Earth. I'm not complaining, because it was just another thing for us to find funny, just curious how that decision was made.
This movie is probably too poorly made to be worth buying for more than a buck or two. If you see it to rent, snatch it up immediately, because it's perfect for a bad movie night. It's the kind of thing MST3K would've made a great episode with, and now you and your friends have the opportunity to see what you can do with it. My friends and I are big Kinski fans, and on that score, I'd recommend seeing too.
For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0088870/