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.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Dream a Little Dream 2 (1995)

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Back in high school, this was one of those, it's on Cinemax all the time, and everytime we're at so-and-so's place, and he's got Cinemax, we're watching it. I'd probably seen this like 5 times total if you add up all the times I'd seen half of it, or the first fifteen minutes, or whatever, and put them all together. I decided, through the magic of Netflix, to watch it all the way from the beginning to the end in one sitting.

Dream a Little Dream 2 picks up where the first one left off, with our heroes, the Two Coreys, living in LA, with Haim's sister, played by Robyn Lively. Coleman has sent them a pair of magical sunglasses that, when worn, allow the wearer of one pair to control the wearer of the other pair with his or her mind. Naturally, some baddies want the glasses, and Haim is somehow caught between them and framed for the theft of some other sunglasses at the sunglass store he works at. Now Feldman and Lively must find the magical sunglasses, find the stolen unmagical ones, and clear Haim's good name. In the process, they fall in love.

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This is classic Two Coreys post the big fame. It's awesome. There's a hint of Lost Boys and License to Drive, mixed in with a dash of the boys have grown up. This is much better than the too silly National Lampoon's Last Resort, and the too silly thriller Blown Away. This is vintage 80s Two Coreys for the mid-nineties.

In the Two Coreys debate, I've always been a little more partial to Feldman. This has only been reinforced by watching The Two Coreys reality show on A&E. As such, the fact that this film has way more Feldman than Haim is a total plus for me. Even funnier is the way Haim and Feldman seem to mimic their real life selves with Haim as the irresponsible one and Feldman as the one with his shit together. Even though Lively plays Haim's sister, making her not available to Haim, it makes sense that Feldman gets the girl.

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Like Meatballs 4, this film also mocks Feldman's one time obsession with the King of Pop. Here, Haim gets Feldman to put on the pair of glasses that gives the other person control, and Haim has him dress and dance like Michael Jackson. I'm not sure if Feldman takes himself too seriously now to pull this off, but I think any future film makers should consider having Feldman do this in their movies. I'd love it.

There is one drawback to this film, though: if you're not a huge fan of the Two Coreys, this isn't much fun. In terms of plot and action and humor, it's like watching the Bloodhound Gang without the charm and the fact that it was the Bloodhound Gang. I'm such a huge Two Coreys fan, so I could get past how dumb this was. Make sure your audience is a fan too, or you'll have some bored people on your hands.

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If you haven't seen this, and you dig the Two Coreys, it's gotta be on the top of your list. This also fits well in a Two Coreys film fest at the end of the first night, right after Lost Boys and Dream a Little Dream one. If you don't dig the Two Coreys, avoid this, it won't do you any good.

For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0109666/

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

X-treme Fighter aka Sci-Fighter (2004)

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I found this movie when I was looking up Lorenzo Lamas films to rent. I saw it also had Don "The Dragon" Wilson in it, so I knew I needed to rent it. The idea sounded cheesy, but I felt the star power would see me through.

X-treme Fighter is the ridiculous story of a boy who gets his brain trapped in a virtual reality video game. The game is designed by his grandfather, who gives it to him as a birthday gift, despite his son, D "The D" Dubs', resignations. Now it's up to Donny to go inside the machine and beat all the fighters one by one to save his son. Lorenzo Lamas and Cynthia Rothrock also star.

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This movie could've been so good, and it so wasn't. Forget the ridiculous idea that a virus in the game has trapped the kid's mind in it, and for whatever reason that means Don has to beat all the other fighters; what they did with the video game idea was boring. All Don did was fight bad guys. It would've been cool if he had to get things in the game to make him more powerful, or figure out how to get into new worlds. How much would it've taken to play Mortal Kombat or Street Fighter and see what made those cool. Give me some fireballs. Give me some finishing moves. Give me some hyper-combos. Just give me something.

That was too bad, because the film had some top notch talent. Beyond Lamas, Wilson, and Rothrock, there were also a bunch of professional fighters with championship status in a host of disciplines. None of them were in cool outfits, or did anything special, or even have any sweet one-liners. Come on, put some make-up on these people and make them teleport or, or, or something.

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As far as Wilson goes, he was all right considering what he had to work with. I've seen better plots in his Bloodfist movies, and those are usually just one man against the world yarns. Also, the fight scenes weren't choreographed that well. There was a lot of him putting a foot out and guys waiting to be kicked. Even Seagal and Van Damme don't do that. Maybe not his best, but not his worst either.

Lamas was completely wasted. He's barely in it, and when he is, he's mostly flirting with Rothrock, even though she's got the hots for Wilson. In one seen, they put Lamas and Wilson together, saying it was a glitch in the system, and Lamas is gone before we know it. Again, a complete waste. He should've teamed up with the glitch Lamas. Just another missed opportunity. Not worth it at all if you're a Lamas fan.

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According to imdb, this is the last film Cynthia Rothrock has been in. That's kind of too bad. I think if anyone has a shot at being the first woman in the DTVC Hall of Fame, it's her. I think the one thing keeping her out is the low quality of some of the films she's done so far. I know what you're thinking "low quality here?" Yes, most of the films at the DTVC are bottom barrel stuff, but some of her movies were pushing that Bruce Penhall Julie Strain level. As such, other members of the DTVC panel are unfortunately unfamiliar with her work. I'm hoping through the magic of Netflix to change that.

This is a pretty dumb and boring movie. It has all the right credentials, and sounds like it might be a good deal, but it really isn't. My fear is that you rent this with a group of friends ready to make fun of something, and then the ADD kicks in and people start firing up laptops and browsing the Internet. If anything, this is not a film for people saddled with ADD.

For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0390463/

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Rise aka Rise: Blood Hunter (2007)

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Some friends got this as a free rental from Hollywood video, and they brought it by. I didn't have anything else going on, so I was up for it. Good thing it was free.

Rise is about vampires. Lucy Liu stumbles across them while doing her journalist stuff, and two of them, one of whom is Carla Cugino, try to kill her. But she doesn't die, and instead becomes a vampire too. Now she's on a quest to kill the people that made her vampires, and luckily it didn't take her long to learn how to fight and use a continuously loading crossbow. Pursuing her is Michael "Dick" Chiklis, a cop after the people who killed his daughter. This also has a bunch of cameos from people like Nick Lachey, Marilyn Manson, Mako, former MTV VJ Simon Rex, the big guy from Mighty Ducks, the chick from Entourage with the short hair that was also in the Hanson video for "Penny and Me", and the dude who played the bounty hunter that fell in love with Pam Grier in Jackie Brown.

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This was a boring assed movie. Scenes were just put together with some kind of loose connection that somehow formed a useless plot. What we saw was the unrated version, so I'm assuming that one was longer than the original. Maybe I could've saved myself some suffering. The film makers thought it would be cool to tell half the story in flashback mode. All that did was take a boring plot and make it more tedious. These people aren't Werner Herzog and Klaus Kinski.

Vampires seem to be able to do different things in different films, and this one was no exception. Here, the vampires didn't seem to be stronger than other people, just immortal, I guess. They didn't have fangs, but used some kind of little knife instead to cut people's throats so they could suck their blood. Using the Blade standard for judging vampire films (that's my gold standard), this film sucked.

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Lucy Liu was hot. She gets naked a couple times, but it's not that big of a deal: first she's in the morgue on a metal slab in a cooler, then she's hanging upside down. What's weirder to me is that she's in this sack of asscrack at all. I thought she had a deal with GM to advertise OnStar. I thought she was a Hollywood A-lister. I can't imagine she's still working with the same agent after this debacle. Come on Lucy Liu, you're better than that.

Mako is one of my favorite actors. Sadly he passed in 2006, and this was his last feature film. Many of you may remember him from Conan: The Destroyer and the third Highlander movie. In this he has a great scene where he and Lucy Liu beat the crap out of each other. He tried to smother her with a shower curtain, which was awesome. Probably the only redeeming part of the film.

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This had a who's-who of other actors. You've got Michael "Dick" Chiklis of The Commish and now The Shield. My mom worked with a dude who I guess went to acting school with him. A cool feather in that guy's cap. I dug the Marylin Manson cameo personally. He didn't have much make-up or that weird contact lens he usually has on, which was cool. Nick Lachey was barely in it, much less than in the Hard Easy, like two scenes. Somehow all these people either had a bunch of favors called in by the film makers to get them in this, or they were sold a bill of goods telling them this film would be a hit. Poor them.

I'd only bother with this if you can get it free like my friends did. Any money spent would feel like a waste. Even for free, it's a hard recommendation, because it's so long (over two hours if you get the unrated) and so boring. Why put yourself through that if you don't have to. And if you're one of those cats that rents movies to see if the female leads get naked, again, Lucy Liu does, but it's not that big of a deal. I shouldn't say that, because if you are one of those kind of people, it would be kind of funny if you sat through the whole thing and was disappointed.

For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0389328/

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

American Ninja 4: The Annihilation (1990)

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Dudikoff is the man. There are no two ways about it. And one of the major components to his coolness is his role as Joe Armstrong in the American Ninja movies. When American Ninja 3 was sans Duds, we were all understandably disappointed. As such, we awaited this film with bated breath.

American Ninja 4 pairs Dudikoff with the dude who played the American Ninja in the third one. That American Ninja is captured by some baddie after he tries to rescue some captured American special forces dudes. This baddie isn't fooling around: he's got his own army of ninjas. It takes a lot of prodding from the US government to convince Dudikoff to leave his job as a school teacher in Africa and go in and save the day, but he finally relents. With a group of Mad Max-ish rebels from outside the bad guy's compound, Dudikoff invades it, kicks some ass, saves the day, then walks off into the sunset.

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This movie is ten kinds of awesome. Unlike its predecessors, I think this one is played up for laughs. In one scene, a bad ninja jumps on the hood of Dudikoff's car. Without a second thought, Dudikoff punches him through the windshield. In another scene, two ninjas have Dudikoff by both arms, while a third shoots an arrow from some ways off. Dudikoff catches the arrow in his teeth, then stabs one of the ninjas in the neck with it, while still in his teeth. How can you not love that?

Dudikoff lives up to his DTVC Hall of Fame billing here. He totally overdoes the stoicism and hard edge. This is a departure from his quirky everyday kind of guy in films like Bounty Hunter. There's a sense as he's acting here that he's giving us a wink-wink and a nudge-nudge. My favorite scene came at the end when he took off his ninja garb and gave it to a kid in some kind of poignant heartfelt moment. Then he says to the other American Ninja: "If you want to find me, I'll be at the school," in reference to the school in Africa he was teaching at. He had to be laughing all the way to the bank.

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The other American Ninja was kind of a waste. He was cool at the beginning, when he was kicking ass. But the he spent almost the rest of the film waiting for Dudikoff to save him. I was hoping for more of a team-up kind of thing, where they both kick a lot of ass. If I was the other American Ninja, I'd have looked for a better agent, because he got the shaft here. On the other hand, he's no where as cool as Dudikoff, so maybe he was dealt with accordingly by the film makers.

One of the hallmarks of the American Ninja series is the sheer omnipotence of the Ninja against everyone but Dudikoff, and this one was no exception. I saw Ninjas hold their breath for inordinate amounts of time under water, dodge bullets, climb down rocky cliff-faces in mere seconds, and in Dudikoff's case, catch arrows with their teeth. Had the Ninja been this powerful in real life, I believe the Japanese would have forgone the bombers and invaded Pearl Harbor with them instead. According to the movie, our armed military men are no match for the sheer force of the Ninja. It would've been way cheaper in the long run for Japan in my estimation.

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Though the first two American Ninjas will always have a special place in my heart, I believe whole heartedly that this is the best of the series. You'd have to look long and hard to find a more fun movie than this one to watch with your buddies. Not only that, but it seems to be more and more fun on repeated viewings. I recommend buying this if you consider yourself a bad movie aficionado, because it's as necessary to a bad film collection as say a Seventh Seal is to a good movie collection. If you don't want to make that commitment, at least rent it or bump it to the top of your Netflix queue. You won't regret it.

For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0101326/

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Hell Comes to Frogtown (1987)

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This is it. This is the big one. No blog on bad direct to video films is complete without this cinematic gem. It's like reviewing the best films of all time without putting in Casablanca, or the worst films of all time without putting in National Treasure. Well, I've finally got my shit together and here it is. The review, not my shit.

Hell Comes to Frogtown is an hour-and-a-half of pure awesome starring Rowdy Roddy Piper as Sam Hell, a fertile man captured by the women who rule the world in the post-apocalyptic future. His job is to go into Frogtown and free some women and impregnate them. To make sure he doesn't waste his seed on any frivolous sexual forays, the government has equipped him with a chastity belt that will explode if he tries to take it off. Frogtown is this reservation of mutant half human half frog people that smacks of Mos Eisley from the 1st Star Wars. Piper fights his way through them, saves the women, and takes them back across the border to do his patriotic duty.

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This has to be one of the most amazing things ever committed to film. Piper was awesome, the frog people ruled, there were plenty of hot chicks, and even more random explosions. This was also intentionally funny, especially the stuff with Piper and the chastity belt. It may have taken a lot from Star Wars: not only the Mos Eisley feel, but also the desert and the sand people like dudes; and the jump from scene to scene was similar to the way Lucas did it, where a windshield wiper would seem to shoot across and reveal the next scene. Of course, Lucas didn't come up with that effect on his own, he took it from Kurosawa.

Piper used roles like this one to cement his place in the DTVC Hall of Fame. He plays this to the hilt, totally getting the tongue-in-cheek vibe. There's no one else who could've played this part. One of my favorite scenes he did was with this frog man who was trying to remove the chastity belt with a chainsaw. First Piper's telling him not to do it, because it might explode. But then the tracking device kicks in, causing him immense pain, so he screams for the guy to saw it off. The look on the frog's face is priceless. Any Piper fan who hasn't seen this isn't actually a Piper fan.

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The premise of this is hilarious too. Reading the plot summary off my Netflix package to my friends, they thought it was a porn flick. The idea of a post-apocalyptic future where women rule and most men are sterile is cool to start with. Then throw in the frog people, and you're really cooking. The Piper is just the icing on the cake, and there's a sense that the people making the movie understand who he is, because he uses his patented wrestling moves to get through the frog people.

William Smith is in this as a bad guy, as he usually is. He plays an army dude who wants to kick Piper's ass, then later we find out he's also smuggling goods into Frogtown illegally, using his status in the army and position on the border. This guy is an awesome baddie, and his showdown with Piper at the end is classic. I don't want to give it away too much, but it's cool. Also, Sendahl Bergman plays Piper's love interest. You may remember her as Arnold's love interest in Conan the Barbarian, or as the baddie in Red Sonja.

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If you haven't seen this yet, it's an absolute must. If you've already seen it, you may want to see it again. If you don't want to make the commitment to buy it, at least bump it to the top of your Netflix. You won't be disappointed. A definite cornerstone to a night of bad movie viewing.

For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0093171/