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, December 18, 2008

I Am Omega (2007)

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After The Da Vinci Treasure was such a success, The Asylum was given new life and it's shot at potential DTVC Hall of Fame-dom was back on the tracks. For the next film of theirs I decided to play it safe again and rent I Am Omega, which stars another potential Hall of Famer in Iron Chef America's Mark Dacascos. I also thought it would be interesting to review a Dacascos film the same week I did a Brandon Lee one, because we know Dacascos played Lee's Crow character on the syndicated TV series, and is kind of looked at as in the same mold of actor.

I Am Omega is The Asylum's attempt to make a little money on the highly successful (because it had Will Smith) I Am Legend. In this take on the novel, Dacascos plays a dude living outside of a city that I think is LA, in a fortified house that has tons of electricity, despite the fact that most of the human population has fallen victim to a virus that turns them into zombies. Anyway, he plans on bombing the city to kill a huge nest of them, but before he does, some military dudes from a small group of uninfected humans living in a settlement called Antioch come to ask for his help. They want him to get a girl out of the city who has the cure to the virus in her blood. Madness ensues as the Dacasc-inator kills some zombies.

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This was all right. It had its moments. It was kind of weird for the first half or so, because all we got was Dacascos and the occasional zombie killings. We don't really know anything about him or his past, or why he has any of the abilities or knowledge that he does. All the time he's going around doing banal tasks like getting gas or eating, we could be learning these things. One thing that really irked me was at the end, when the bad guy shoots Dacascos in the legs and arm to disable him so he can take the girl; and without medical assistance, and in a very short amount of time, Dacascos is able to use these limbs with no difficulty. It made no sense, especially when no one had to shoot him. The baddie could've just hit him from behind, knocked him out, and left him for the zombies, and Dacascos could've escaped, then recovered believably in time for the final confrontation. I know I'm supposed to suspend belief for the most part, but that was just ridiculous.

I loved Dacascos here. My one issue, of course, was that he didn't use much of his martial arts. He really isn't the quintessential zombie killer, but probably better suited for fighting vampires a la Wesley Snipes. Just the same, I'm really beginning to like his stuff, and am looking forward to reviewing his next picture in my Netflix queue, Scorcher, starring DTVC Hall of Famer Rutger Hauer.

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The Asylum is a different story. This was pretty good for another of their rip-offs, but it also had its quintessential Asylum moments. Probably worst was when the baddie had the girl lying on the ground, and he put his dead friend's head in between her legs. Weird. And I'm not sure in a good or a bad way, but definitely in an Asylum way. I'm still afraid of trying another one of their films without a big name in it, and I think I may play it safe again and try Alien vs. Hunter with William Katt for my next one.

When I looked up adaptations of the novel I Am Legend on Wikipedia, this one wasn't mentioned. According to imdb, the film does give credit to Richard Matheson, so The Asylum does at least consider this "mockbuster" a legitimate adaptation. I was wondering, because in watching it it seemed close enough to the novel to warrant the need to get the rights to avoid copyright infringement, and that just doesn't seem like something The Asylum would do. Now, looking at imdb, Fox has tried to go after them for The Day The Earth Stopped, but nothing came of that. Maybe the net's closing in.

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Another thing I learned when I looked up I Am Legend on Wikipedia was how much it influenced the modern vampire and zombie genres. I guess I just never cared that much. I was always more concerned with how Die Hard and Yojimbo and Raiders of the Lost Ark influenced the action genre. That was an error on my part. Reading that article on Wikipedia was pretty cool, and, if anything, made watching this Asylum picture a positive experience.

I don't know where to go here. It's good to make fun of, but has large parts of inactivity. Dacascos is good, but The Asylum is still The Asylum, and not always in a good way. If you're a huge fan of the novel and other movies, I'd watch this just to see what it's all about.

For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1075746/

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Laser Mission (1990)

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I had heard of this movie a long time ago, but had completely forgotten about until reminded by my friend at Movies in the Attic. I knew it was vital to have this reviewed for the DTVC, especially since it has Brandon Lee before he died, and Ernest Borgnine.

Laser Mission has Lee working as a freelance spy-type dude who's hired to free Ernest Borgnine from the Soviets, or the Germans, or the Cubans, or some guy who likes to hunt... or... I don't really know, and does it matter? He's joined by a hot blond he thinks is Borgnine's daughter, and they travel to Trinidad and Tobago... or maybe it's Angola... or Namibia... or Grenada... again, does it matter? Hella explosions, sweet Brandon Lee martial arts: just a good old time.

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Me and some friends watched this the night after seeing Lorenzo Lamas and Mystikal in 13 Dead Men (which I've reviewed below), and one of them couldn't take it anymore. He wanted to watch "something good", and we rented that James Bond movie Casino Royale on On Demand. I know I usually sound facetious when I make comments like this, but I thought Laser Mission was better. Other than the best foot chase since Point Break, Casino Royale had nothing going for it that I couldn't get out of a Steven Seagal flick. Laser Mission, on the other hand, was hilarious, and plot wise wasn't much more of a stretch than the yarn I was served in the Bond film. Just because the store packages the generic cola in a better looking bottle, doesn't make it taste more like Coke.

For a Dr. Rocket or Mr. Pibb, this wasn't a bad alternative to Dr. Pepper. I mean, it was cheap as hell; the plot made no sense; and I had no idea who anyone was or where in the world we were. One minute Lee's in a desert, the next he's in Trinidad and Tobago. But it hit it's spots. The main baddie kept coming back to life, and finally died when Lee rammed him into a concrete wall that exploded when he hit it. That's what I'm talking about. The movie also had it's surprises. There was a helicopter that managed to avoid being blown up. I was shocked.

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Brandon Lee was pretty sweet in this. He wasn't used as effectively as I would've liked, with the director favoring shots of him hanging outside of a van with his mouth open firing an uzi, as opposed to him flexing his martial arts; but overall, he was good. He was as funny as he was in Showdown, which is impressive, when you consider how often these bad movie fall on their face when they try to make jokes (see the recent Zombie Strippers! for example). It's really a shame we only have a few movies with him before he died, because he'd have been a definite in the DTVC Hall of Fame after his career waned with Van Damme and Seagal's (you know it would've, I'm just keeping it real).

Ernest Borgnine was totally wasted here. He was given a crappy accent. I just don't get this fetish people have with making actors affect crappy accents. They sound stupid. Granted, some sound funny and stupid, which can be great to laugh at. But most seem to me as ways to ruin what could've been otherwise great appearances by great actors. Would anyone have liked The Wild Bunch better if Ernest Borgnine had a bad accent in it? No, they would've thought it a stupid move on the film maker's part. As an aside, Borgnine won the Best Actor Oscar in 1955 for Marty, even though I've always thought James Dean was better in Rebel Without a Cause and East of Eden, both from the same year.

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One thing that was interesting about seeing Casino Royale and Laser Mission in the same night was the juxtaposition between the Cold War and espionage, and now the attempt to remake the genre with international terrorism as the monolithic bad guy. I guess there isn't much to juxtapose: whether it's big budget gritty new millennium fare, or campy low-budget Regan era fare, it's pretty much the same thing. I haven't seen Quantum of Solace yet, but I'm not too excited about the prospect either. I think the spy film needs an overhaul, and selling it as hard-edged because a guy gets hit in the balls a lot and another one cries blood out of his eye, isn't reworking it. These people need to go back to some greats like Le Samourai or The Maltese Falcon, neither of which is about spying, per se, but the suspense and action and cool characters are all elements we'd want out of a good spy picture.

You need to see this if you haven't just for the Brandon Lee factor. He doesn't have much work out there, but what he has is all good-- at least he is in them, in my opinion. It's a fun actioner with plenty to make fun of, but beware, it's very bad and very low budget. Be ready to crack plenty of jokes.

For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0099978/

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Zombie Strippers! (2008)

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This one's been a long time coming. I saw a trailer for it while watching a Dolph movie in the spring. Then I found out Sony thought they could make a little money giving it a limited release in small theaters in big cities. So I had to wait for it on DVD. Then I got it from Netflix, along with a Corey Feldman movie, and accidentally sent it back before I watched it, thinking it was the latter. Finally, I was able to take a look at it last Sunday.

Zombie Strippers! takes place in the near future, after George W. Bush wins his fourth term in office. Some research lab calls in an elite military unit to deal with a zombie outbreak, and one of the soldiers is bitten, and escapes to a nearby underground strip club. He bites Jenna Jameson, the best stripper, and she turns into a zombie too. For some reason, though, being a zombie stripper is hot, and the guys can't stop throwing ones at her. Robert Englund, the club's owner, knows gold when he sees it, and when Jameson starts eating the clientèle, he looks the other way. Now other strippers see the opportunity to make more money, and they have Jameson bite them. But, as we all know, whenever you involve zombies, things tend to get out of hand.

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This one was a slight disappointment. It was chock full of political commentary that wasn't that funny. Maybe that's why Obama was elected so easily: we were all so sick of the same Bush and Cheney jokes. And I figured Zombie Strippers! of all things would be safe from politicization. In addition, it further hurt the film because, as I mentioned above, we're in a totally different political and economic climate. These are "Yes We Can" times, not "You're doing a great job, Brownie" times, and gas isn't $4.00 a gallon, it's $1.75. I guess that's the gamble in making a horror film that's really poor political satire in disguise: it might become dated.

On the other hand, this movie has another really great message about strippers. The whole becoming a zombie thing is a metaphor for women who get breast implants and other cosmetic enhancement surgeries in order to gain a competitive advantage in the marketplace. Obviously, becoming a zombie means you're dead and it's pretty permanent and bad, and the idea of doing that to be a better stripper is a crazy concept. What the filmmakers try to tell us is that being a stripper shouldn't be an occupation that one invests in, especially at the expense of one's body. Computer programmer taking night courses to make more money: makes sense. Strippers, on the other hand, should be taking their earnings and instead of using them to make themselves better strippers, should be using them to take the same night courses so they don't have to strip. I think that was a better message than the political ones, because at least this is one we haven't heard before.

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Jenna Jameson. Looks kinda scary. Emaciated, pale, lots of cosmetic surgery herself. Yet, when she takes her clothes off and hits the stage, she still has it. She really knows how to move in ways that men like. I'm a guy, I can vouch for that. Her character reads Nietzsche, which is interesting, because I'm not as up on his stuff as I was in college, but wouldn't being a stripper be as anti-Nietzchian as it gets? Maybe a hooker would be more so. Robert Englund, as the strip club owner, would probably turn to Nietzsche to make himself feel better for the stuff he was doing, but a stripper getting down on it would just be delusional.

Speaking of Robert Englund. Not too bad a job here. Is he that hard up that he needs to take roles like this? I can't imagine they could afford to give him more than a warm meal. For someone thats' not that bad at playing the kinds of parts he gets, it's surprising he was in this. According to imdb, he's making money doing voice work as villains for comic book based cartoons-- I mean I'm assuming he's making money at it. He's not listed as a producer or anything, so it's not like he has anything at stake. Maybe he just loves strippers and hates the Bush Administration.

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I want to use this last paragraph before my final verdict to discuss one of my favorite cultural phenomenons, the Goth Chick. I love them. Probably any my age have long since put away their red plaid skirts and dark eye make-up for a desk job somewhere, which is fine: we all have to grow up sometime. I bring this up because one of the strippers is a Goth Chick. I was disappointed when she turned into a zombie. I guess what makes the Goth Chick so intriguing is the possibility that deep down she might have a soft side, and that goes out the window when she becomes a member of the walking undead.

This is a toss-up. Just know going in that it's politically charged. After the past year, I'd had enough of that kind of thing, but you may dig it. It's plenty gory, plenty gross, and Jenna Jameson fights her rival zombie by sticking pool balls in her vagina and firing them at her. It had it's moments, but it just wasn't as off-the-chain as its name suggests.

For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0960890/

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

13 Dead Men (2003)

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A friend of mine called me a few weeks ago to tell me he'd found two potential gems cheap. One of them was this film, and when he mentioned it had DTVC Hall of Famer Lorenzo Lamas and the often hilarious hip hop star Mystikal, I was immediately amped. Then I tempered my amped-ness, knowing first that this film could be a potential Lamas bait-and-switch; and second, knowing that I've seen too many of these and been let down too many times to get my hopes up.

13 Dead Men is about some no named actor who's on death row for killing a cop, and who knows where a lot of money in stolen diamonds is. The warden wants to know where they are before he's executed. Lamas is his former partner, and he wants to break him out so he can find out too. Mystikal is just some fat dude in jail who can beat people up in poorly choreographed fight scenes.

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Funny in parts, but overall a total disappointment. First off, the dialog was edited. What? All Mystikal does is swear, so all of his speaking parts sound like S%#T (sorry, couldn't pass that up). Why would someone do that? The movie's bad enough as it is. The fights were poorly choreographed, which hurt, considering the film was directed by famed fight choreographer Art Camacho. Lorenzo Lamas was the only one who knew any martial arts in the picture, so even his fight scenes sucked, because he wasn't fighting anyone trained to make it look good with him. And don't get me started on Mystikal's fight scenes. It looked like an old serial western without any of the charm.

Lamas doesn't mail it in here, which is a testament to his professionalism, if nothing else. Still, it was such schlock fare, that it hurt either way. I guess we can at least feel okay that we weren't hit with the Lamas bait-and-switch, like Succubus, because he's in this film for at least a third of it. The next film of his I have lined up is Terminal Justice, and he's listed as the main protagonist in that one, so hopefully we'll have a better product. Hopefully.

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Mystikal. I really don't know what to say. Maybe if I'd had a chance to hear him swear it would've been all right. Without his real lines, though, he was a shell of himself, and left with his acting skills and ability to fake fight on screen, he sank. Okay, maybe he sank because he weighs so much. Was that bad? I've battled the bulge myself, so maybe I should be a little more sympathetic. Just the same, I would love to see Mystikal on Celebrity Fit Club.

This is the seventh film directed by Art Camacho I've reviewed here. I don't know if it was his decision to edit the dialog, but if it was, it may have been his worst ever. I don't know him personally, so I can't say for sure, but if he cut all the swears out, he's gotta be regretting that one. Okay, maybe he's not, maybe he doesn't care anymore. Maybe he does, though. Maybe the decision to clean up the language wasn't his, and it's something that's haunted him to this day. What if he's like the kid from my high school that was watching one of his basketball videos at a party, and says "I made a bad decision there", to which my buddy says "why, what does it matter? You think some D-1 school cut your scholarship because of that decision?"-- which almost started a fight. I still haven't gotten around to adding in tags for all of Art Camacho's other roles in films other than director. Maybe I'll do that someday.

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One final footnote to this review: the night after seeing 13 Dead Men, my friend's girlfriend dug out some of her old mix CDs, and one of the songs she had was Joe's "Stutter", which featured Mystikal. I didn't remember five years ago thinking it was as funny when he jumped in with his "watch ya self" in his trademark raspy voice, but this time we were dying. I guess, as in all things in life, when you're irrelevant, you're really irrelevant.

I have to say this is a major gamble. If the edited version is the only version, then this sucks. If, and this is a big IF, because I don't know for sure, but if there's an un-edited version out there, then this might be serviceable. And if you find one, tell me, because I'd really like to know.

For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0367136/

Monday, December 8, 2008

Revolver (2005)

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This was released on DVD by Sony Home Entertainment, and as such, I kept seeing trailers for it on all the other bad Sony DTV films I watched. I stuck it on my Netflix queue, and it finally made its way to the top. I've been trying to figure out how a film directed by Guy Ritchie could only gross $75,000 over 12 screens here in the US. I was about to find out.

Revolver is a psychological whatever that takes place in Las Vegas. Jason Statham has just been released from jail, and he wants revenge on the guy that put him there: Ray Liotta. He gets his revenge, ripping him off of a bunch of cash, but is then caught up with two con men, played by Andre 3000 and the dude from the Sopranos that's in everything as a mafioso. He hemorrhages cash while trying to figure out what the con men are up to. Then he's gotta deal with Ray Liotta, who wants his money back. What a mess.

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The only explanation I could find for why this film was given such a limited release was its complicated plot. Maybe it's just me, but I didn't find it that complicated. Sure, Ritchie put all sorts of little inside things throughout, but who needs to look for that crap? It's not germane to the plot at all, making it extraneous in a lackluster film like this. I don't know, I just wasn't feeling this one. I think Ritchie tried to go outside the box from his previous two efforts, but he didn't go outside enough, and so this movie suffered from an identity crisis that one of his psychiatrists he has at the end of the film could understand.

Jason Statham was pretty cool, but I've seen him in cooler. He never flexed his martial arts at all, which I would've loved to see. Maybe Ritchie could've dumped out the annoying stream of consciousness stuff he was doing and replaced it with scenes from The Transporter. I can't blame Statham for working with Ritchie on what must've sounded like a good project in pre-production.

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Ruh-ruh-ruh-Ray Liotta. I kind of feel like he was wasted in this as a Tanorexic paranoid crime boss and owner of a casino. He wasn't wasted as the dad in Blow. He wasn't wasted as the main star in Goodfellas. He wasn't even wasted as the biker in Wild Hogs (an otherwise atrocious movie). But he was wasted here, and it sorta kinda hurts. Why make him Tanorexic? It's funny, and it'd be great if Dennis Hopper was a Tanorexic in a film (asking a goat if he could drink it's urine for the psychedelic properties). But not Ray Liotta. It made him look old and gross.

I liked Andre 3000 in this. He seemed a little off at the beginning, but as the picture went on, he got better. I think this, Idlewild, and Semi-pro are his better movies, and I think that might have more to do with the movies than him as an actor. Most rapper-turned-actors other than Tupac really aren't that good, but I think Andre 3000 might be the exception.

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Vincent Pastore. That is the only time I'll mention his name. From here on it's the Guy From the Sopranos. I know he'd been around quite a bit before the hit HBO drama made him huge, but now it's like we can't see enough of him. Anyone that needs a Wiseguy character actor goes to him. It's ridiculous. And here we were supposed to believe he was some kind of super con man? I believed Andre 3000 as the chess master, but I couldn't see the Guy From the Sopranos as anything but the Guy From the Sopranos, and I'll probably never see him as anything but that.

If you're one of those people who gets all geeked up trying to find hidden meanings in things and don't have the wherewithal to tackle Finnigan's Wake, you might like this. Me, personally, I don't need to impress anyone with that kind of thing anymore, so I'm fine watching Dolph Lundgren blow shit up.

For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0365686/

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Cyborg (1989)

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There's been a kind of back and forth between myself and my friend who runs the site Movies in the Attic (a link to which you can find in the section labeled Other Great Sites) as to whether or not this movie belongs on the Direct to Video Connoisseur. I always thought it was a bit too mainstream, and he thought I was being a little too restrictive in the movies I picked. As you can see, I've finally relented. I had actually planned on making this the 250th post, but I miscounted, and Toby Keith's Beer for My Horses ended up being that one. I am a moron.

Cyborg takes place in a post apocalyptic future where the world sucks, and the only one who likes it is Vincent Klyn. He runs a gang of baddies that capture a cyborg woman carrying vital information for the cure for a bad plague. The goal is to head down to Hot-lanta from New York and meet up with some scientists there. Van Damme meets the cyborg before Klyn's baddies get her, and he's talked into rescuing her after she's captured by some random woman he meets. Van Damme gets down to the A-T-L and deals with Klyn before they reach the heart of the city.

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The moment I saw the opening credits again, I realized I'd made a mistake in not including this gem. It is DTV in all it's glory, it's just that rare DTV flick that made the big time. It's the Skip to My Lou of bad movies. (For those that don't get the reference, Skip to My Lou is Rafer Alston, a streetball legend who made the NBA, and currently starts for the Houston Rockets). I can't think of a better movie for post 251.

This is really good Jean-Claude Van Damme. I know a lot of people aren't big fans of his, and I think they look at his sillier work from the early to mid 90s as their reasoning. I can understand that, but his stuff from Bloodsport to Universal Soldier, is just so off the chain, that you've got to give him his props as a great action star. I mean, Cyborg was set up so well with Van Damme as the protagonist and Klyn as the baddie, that we not only wanted him to win, but we wanted him to dispatch as many dudes using awesome martial arts moves in the process. It just doesn't get any better.

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For my money, this is Albert Pyun's best movie. He's made some other ones I dug, like Captain America and Kickboxer 4 and Omega Doom; and he's done some ones I couldn't stand, like Crazy Six. It's too bad he can't only do good ones, or great ones, like Cyborg, but I guess he thinks going in they're all going to be great, so I can't get on him too much. He deserves his spot in the DTVC Hall of Fame, there's no doubt about that.

Back off War Child, seriously. The only thing that detracted from Klyn being the perfect villain was the weird fake blue eyes they gave him. I don't know why they did that. Anyway, it was fine when he had his sunglasses on, so I can't complain too much. One small gripe for a movie with so little to gripe about isn't a bad deal. Klyn hasn't done anything since the Albert Pyun 2004 film Max Havok. Why? He should be in such high demand he has to turn down calls from Scorsese and Spielberg.

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The Dirty South. Hot-lanta. The A-T-L. That's the city that was chosen by the writers to be the last bastion of civilization. I can't say I disagree with them, because as far as I can tell, Atlanta has a pretty decent airport. I've never actually been outside of it to see the city, but that's a minor technicality. Van Damme and his female companion actually walk from New York to the A-T-L. I looked it up on Mapquest, and even though Mapquest isn't entirely accurate, because it keeps one on the highway, and they'd be traveling almost as the crow flies, I still got a number of 883 miles between the two. I don't know exactly how many days it took, but it didn't seem like more than a few in the movie-- I'll say four-- so they were traversing about 220 miles a day. Subtract 8 hours for sleeping, and that means they were walking close to four minute miles.

If you haven't seen this, I'm not sure what's wrong with you, but are you sure you've found the right blog? If you have seen it, and it's been a while, give it another look for old time's sake. I did recently, and it felt great. I think I need a Van Damme Fest, with this, Lionheart, Kickboxer, and Bloodsport.

For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0097138/