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.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

The Cutter (2005)

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I'm not a big Chuck Norris guy. I kind of liked watching Bruce Lee kick his ass, and Good Guys Wear Black wasn't so bad. Walker, on the other hand, was just a whole mess of Conservative propaganda served up in a dude in a pick-up who drove around and beat the crap out of stunt men. The only way I could handle that was on Conan with the classic Walker: Texas Ranger Lever.

The Cutter has Norris as a disgraced cop-turned-PI who's helping a woman find her uncle. Her uncle's an expert diamond cutter, and he's been kidnapped by none other than DTVC fave Daniel Bernhardt. Bernie needs him to cut some huge stones that he's stolen from some archaeologists. Norris chases him around, Bernie kicks his ass, an asshole FBI dude gets in the way, and finally for no good reason other than he's Norris, he bests Bernhardt and saves the day. Tracy Scoggins is in this as well.

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Bernhardt was awesome in this. If he didn't murder seven innocent archaeologists in cold blood, he'd have been perfect. As it was, he was way more of a sympathetic figure than Norris was. This film had some religious undertones, which wasn't a surprise considering Norris' recent support of Huckabee as a presidential candidate. It was cute listening to Norris quote the Bible here and there. Otherwise, this is the same schlock fare of good guy with a good heart who triumphs over the bad guys, and its predictability is hard to cope with.

Norris is a pretty bad actor. I think I always knew it, but here it was worse than usual. He was like a Rudy Giuliani or Peyton Manning on SNL. The thing was, most of his fellow actors weren't that bad, which exacerbated his lack of ability, like a Will Farrell trying to work with Britney Spears in a sketch. I can accept this poor acting if the martial arts are there, like I do with Don "The Dragon" Wilson, but Norris was lacking there too. He got his ass kicked by Bernhardt for most of the film, and when he did best him it was because the plot demanded it, and it was really unrealistic.

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Let's get back to Bernie. Here's a cat that's totally lobbying the panel for induction into next year's Direct to Video Connoisseur Hall of Fame. He was too sweet in this as an international professional criminal. The mustache was a great touch when he was sneaking into the country. His demeanor far surpassed Norris'. I know he was presented as the slick European juxtaposition to Norris' good ol' American values, but I can't lie, Bernie sells the former better. I love a beat up old Chevy truck as much as a fully loaded Mercedes, but if the beat up old Chevy ain't getting me from point A to point B, give me the fucking import and let's go balls to the wall all the way to Albuquerque. I wouldn't have minded it at all if Bernhardt succeeded in his plans and won the movie. I also know a Norris production could never be that creative to give as cool an ending as that.

Marshall Teague is in this as Norris' good buddy in the local police department. You may remember Teague as the guy from Road House who fucked guys like Dalton in prison, and had his throat summarily ripped out for making said declaration. After a role like that, I have trouble trusting those dudes. He needed to double cross Norris, and it never happened. He should've been on the take helping out Bernie, and Norris could've found out and ripped his throat out too. Had that happened, it would've been the coolest non-Bernhardt thing in the film.

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Tracy Scoggins is in this. Many probably remember her from Babylon 5 and her great role as Cassandra in Highlander: The Series. That story arc with Methos and The Four Horseman might have been one of the best ever for a syndicated TV show. This also has Joanna Pacula, who was in the previously reviewed Warlock: Armageddon. I wonder how she felt acting with Norris after acting with Julian Sands.

This is not a movie to rent by yourself. You need about four or five like minded people to sit with you and help you make fun of this. Bernhardt's awesomeness is overshadowed by Norris' stupidness, and it'll take some work from you and your friends to withstand Norris by mocking every minute of this film. If you watch it alone you might stab your eyes out, and we here at the DTVC don't ever want to see anyone hurt by these films.

For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0432267/

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Pentathlon (1994)

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During my senior year of high school, we were allowed to list what activities and clubs we participated in for our four years there. I had a few, like soccer for one year, but nothing to write home about. So my friends and I decided to put in a bunch of fake ones. Modern Pentathlon, was one of the ones I used. After that, I used Modern Pentathlon whenever I needed to list a sport for a security question for an online service. It just seemed to fit years later when I really became a huge Dolph fan that he'd have a film based on this useless sport.

Pentathlon has Dolph as an East German gold medal winning modern pentathlete who defects after the Seoul 1988 Olympics. In the States, there ain't much use for a modern pentathlete, so he works at a diner for TC, because there's not much work for a helicopter pilot after Magnum PI either. At the same time, his former Nazi/Stasi coach, played Hutch of Starsky and Hutch fame of all people, has tracked him to LA in an attempt at revenge. As Dolph plans his comeback for the '96 team, he has to deal with all this crap from these neo-Nazis. If he wasn't Dolph, he probably wouldn't pull it off.

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This movie is a silly as it sounds. I checked it out on www.dolph-ultimate.com, which is also where I got the great images from the film, because the movie's unfortunately only available on VHS. The dude who runs the site had this to say about it:

Easily one of Dolph's best movies. The script is well-written and carries an engaging storyline, and Dolph is in his prime. There's definitely a lot of action in here, but above and beyond that, Dolph portrays his character using a wide range of emotions (humour and drama being the two most notable), which makes for a great movie.

I would've said: a most ridiculous concept for a movie, yet so hilarious that Dolph fans won't find a shortage of great a material to mock. I first screened this with my friends at Dolph Fest '07 a few months ago, and it was an instant hit. The hairdos, the Dolph running, the Dolph in a Speedo, the TC from Magnum, the Hutch from Starsky and Hutch, and the fact that this action film centered around the sport of Modern Pentathlon, all made for entertaining viewing.

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As we've said many times at the DTVC, Dolph Lundgren is the pinnacle of the bad action hero. No one does Direct to Video better. Just the same, I must say I have been remiss in not seeing this way sooner. Dolph Fest '07 was the first time, and I'm a little embarrassed to admit that, because this is a Lundgre-classic. It's not as bad as the guy who was having a conversation with me about Shakespeare who said: "ooh, yeah... I haven't read Macbeth," or my old roommate who was a self-styled Mel Gibson guy that hadn't seen any Mad Max films, but in my mind it's pretty close. At least now I've seen it, and I own it, so no one can impugn my integrity as a Dolph fanatic.

I have to include a couple of words about TC here. He's kind of an Apollo Creed type character from Rocky III, as he leads Dolph on his comeback to former Olympic glory. The interesting thing is that he's killed during the film, while Creed isn't killed until the Rocky after, and by Dolph Lundgren, no less. I still can't get over that scene where Dolph kills Creed in Rocky IV, because I'm a boxing fan, and I've never seen a fight where there weren't doctors on site to monitor the event, yet at this huge deal between Creed and Lundgren that had James Brown at it, it takes Stallone cradling Creed in his arms to yell "Can someone call a doctor!" before help arrives.

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If you're ever lucky enough to find this at a video rental store or a place selling used VHSs, get it immediately: you so won't be disappointed. I'll even go as far as to say if you and your friends really love watching bad movies and making fun of them, go to Amazon and order this puppy. I've never made that kind of recommendation before, but I'm doing it now, because this film is worth it.

For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0110805/

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Kickboxer 3: The Art of War (1992)

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I first saw this film on TV who knows how long ago. I didn't remember liking it, but I wasn't sure if it was this one or 2. I decided to put it on my Netflix queue along with 4: The Aggressor, which came packaged together, just to see if it was the one I didn't like. I could've been wrong, you know?

Kickboxer 3: The Art of War takes its name from the famous Sun Tzu book. There's a line in one scene where Sasha Mitchell's trainer quotes from it. Anyway, the film's about Mitchell, who, in dire need of cash, heads down to Brazil to fight some Argentinian. While he and his trainer are eating, a street urchin steals his camera. Mitchell befriends the thief along with the kid's sister, only to have the sister kidnapped by a dude who looks like a cheap Joe Isuzu, and who runs a brothel with street urchins he's taken off the streets. This low-rent Joe Isuzu also manages the Argentinian set to fight Mitchell, and after he asks Mitchell to throw the fight, Mitchell insults him. Luckily for him, Mitchell and his trainer try to free the girl, and are captured by Isuzu, who takes the opportunity to force Mitchell into an unorthodox training regime in an attempt to tire him out for the fight. It would've worked, except Mictchell's trainer's Asian, and like every Asian in every martial arts film, he knows a few herbal tricks up his sleeve that get Mitchell ready to hand out an ass-beating. Good stuff. Good pants by Mitchell in the final scene as well.

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This was, in fact, the one I remembered as being bad. The street urchin thief annoyed me, the plot was pretty lame, the bad guy wasn't cool, and the Argentinian didn't impress me. If you're going to replace a villain on the scale of a Tong Po, you gotta bring me more meat than that. I need a reason to watch this film instead of just watching the first Kickboxer with Van Damme in it again, right? For instance, Bloodsport 4 has Ben Franklin as the baddie. That's why me and my friends watch that on occasion instead of the original. If the bad guy in this film actually was Joe Isuzu, we may have something to talk about, but as it was he was a low-rent version. I guess the real Joe Isuzu was busy making Empty Nest at that time.

Sasha Mitchell was all right in this. He was no him from 4: The Aggressor, and with that as my standard, I have to say I was somewhat disappointed. Here he was a bit too Cody from Step by Step, which is kind of a waste, because part of the novelty is seeing Cody from Step by Step playing a bad ass who's nothing like his character on the popular TGIF sitcom. Overall, a darker Mitchell would've worked better.

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One thing that was kind of cool that the film played on a bit was the rivalry between Argentina and Brazil. It's something we hear very little about in the US, but anyone who's a soccer fan like me knows all about it. Of course, with the bad fighter in this being from Argentina, this rivalry is told from the Brazilian standpoint. As such, I feel it's necessary to, in the spirit of fairness, give Argentina equal time here. If you're a wine drinker without a lot of money (and I definitely am), you can't go wrong with the wide variety of great Argentinian Malbecs available in the States right now. For ten bucks, you can get a bottle that drinks as well as a Merlot or Chianti that costs twice that much.

The early 90s bad movie, especially bad action or bad horror movie, has one great feature: the horrible clothes. If this film delivers on anything, it's the startling array of hilarious fashions, many of which are worn by our hero. In the final showdown between Mitchell and the low-rent Joe Isuzu, Mitchell is sporting these hideous pants that even the dumbest lunkhead bodybuilder on Muscle Beach at that time would've turned his nose at. They're like some weird print and they taper down his leg so they bite the ankles like a cheap pair of sweatpants. It's just totally sauteed in wrong sauce, yet at the same time, was probably the only entertaining part of the film for me. Go figure.

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This film is so not worth your time. Even if you see it pop up on your program guide one Sunday afternoon when you're killing time before you gotta do something else, I say avoid it. Watch an old episode of The Banana Splits or Simply Ming or something instead. It should go without saying don't rent this. If you and your buddies want a bad Mitchell film to watch and laugh at, go with Kickboxer 4: The Aggressor instead. And if you've already seen that, rent it again to get your Mitchell fix before you consider this sack-of-asscrack.

For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0104609/

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

From Dusk Till Dawn II: Texas Blood Money (1999)

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Bruce Campbell is one of my favorite actors. From the Evil Deads to Brisco County all the way down to Jack of All Trades and his recent stint on that USA show Burn Notice, if Campbell's in it, I wanna see it. When I saw on my program guide that this film was on Sci-Fi, and Bruce Campbell was top billed, I was stoked. I decided to forego watching the edited version for renting the DVD on Netflix. Again, Campbell was top billed there too, so I figured he would play a prominent role, right?

From Dusk Till Dawn II: Texas Blood Money is really more about Mexican blood money. The guy from Pulp Fiction who brings Bruce Willis and Ving Rhames down to Zed is a bank robber on the run from the law. Sheriff Bo Hopkins (as if he plays anything else) goes to the guy's friend, Terminator II et al's Robert Patrick, to find out where he is. Patrick runs some subterfuge, then rounds up a gang of bad dudes and meets the Pulp Fiction guy down in Mexico. There, all but Patrick are infected with the vampire virus after Danny Trejo bites the first guy while he's waiting for the rest to show up. Anyway, Patrick, Hopkins, and a bunch of Federales take care of business.

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You'll notice Bruce Campbell's name doesn't show up in the plot synopsis. That's because he's only in it for like FIVE MINUTES!!!!! I was beyond pissed. Not at the movie, but at myself. I fell for the old Campbell bait-and-switch hook, line, and sinker. As a veteran bad movie watcher, I knew better than that. Just the same, it still hurt, and I was pretty disappointed. I watched some old Hercules episodes with him in them to make myself feel better.

As far as the rest of the film goes, it's your run-of-the-mill vampire movie. The problem with that is the film makers are intent on giving this to us as something more than the run-of-the-mill. They try all these cute camera angles and throw in these off-beat conversations that are more annoying than cute and more trite than off-beat. I say, if you're gonna make a vampire flick, just fuckin' do it, man. Forget mixing it with some indie-film noir kind of thing. Only the absolute best film makers could pull something like that off, and if you're making something Direct to Video, chances are you aren't that talented.

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I liked Robert Patrick in this. It would've been nice if he'd been able to act opposite Bruce Campbell, but that's neither here nor there. We usually see Patrick as this overly buttoned-up baddie, so it was cool to see him as a greasy bank robber living in a trailer park. One thing I did respect that the film makers did was have Patrick steal Sheriff Bo Hopkins' sunglasses, so he could put them on and remind us of his work in Terminator II.

Danny Trejo and Bo Hopkins shined in this as characters they play in almost every other movie. Bo Hopkins is still solid as the small town sheriff, the role he seems to have been born to play. Trejo was also great as the cut-throat Latino. It seems if Trejo plays a Native American, he's the benevolent friend to the hero who usually sacrifices himself to save him. If he plays a Latino, though, he's usually a bad guy. The Pulp Fiction guy didn't understand these rules, and he made the mistake of getting a ride with Trejo, and of course was bitten after Trejo turned into a vampire. These people never learn.

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I mentioned above the attempts by the film makers to give us something other than a run-of-the-mill vampire flick, and there was one filming device used by the director over and over that annoyed me more than anything else. I called it inanimate object cam. He had rotating fan cam, car radiator cam, bank safe padlock cam, telephone receiver cam... it was like he was totally fascinated with the idea of what inanimate objects see when they observe us. It was cool once, but every scene... it just got old quick. Does this director think people like Kurosawa or Bergman got to be who they were by their gimmicky camera angles?

This is really not worth renting. If you see it on Sci-Fi, and you've got nothing else going on, maybe give it a try, and that's a huge maybe. Otherwise, you're just wasting your time. I think the Blade movies were more entertaining vampire flicks, and that's not really saying much, is it?

For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0120860/