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 23, 2010

Prayer of the Rollerboys (1990)

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When RepoGenetic sent me the Universal Soldier: Regeneration screener and a copy of Drive, he also included this bad boy. I had been looking for an opportunity to review it for some time, and with Sutekh's Space Chase last night, I figured this was as good a week as any to make it happen.

Prayer of the Rollerboys takes place in the future after the US economy has collapsed, turning it into a Third World country. In LA, gangs have emerged amid the chaos, and one of them, the Rollerboys, has become very powerful. Led by the be-mulleted Gary Lee, they preach hate and a pure white America owned by Americans. Corey Haim is another Rollerblader trying to make ends meet and keep he and his younger brother out of the dreaded homeless camps, when he saves a Rollerboy's life. Turns out he grew up with Gary Lee, they're old pals, and he wants Haim to join. First Haim says no, but when his younger brother joins up, he instead takes the police up on their offer to join undercover for them.

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This was a very interesting movie. How interesting? At moments I forgot I was watching Corey Haim. I'm serious. The idea of the US becoming a Third World country with the rest of the world picking our bones of course is unrealistic-- as we go, so does the rest of the world-- and some of the things, like Harvard being transported to Japan, were pretty silly; but as a what if concept, it was pretty interesting. My favorite scene was the one where the Rollerboys are feeding starving kids out of their van while inundating them with propaganda through their comic books. It's a common occurrence in the world to see anti-government groups provide all kinds of social needs programs that the government in power should be providing but can't or doesn't, from food and schooling, all the way to public transportation. It was a cool touch of realism. There were some bad parts, like Haim's kid brother was annoying, and some of the acting and dialog was off, but overall it was interesting enough for me to get past that.

This is our first Corey Haim film sans his partner in crime, Corey Feldman, that we've reviewed here at the DTVC. I've got some other ones in the queue that I could go to, I just haven't gotten around to it yet. On imdb he was listed as having 9 films in various stages of production, meaning the Two Coreys show did its job and got Haim back in the business somewhat. This 1990 version of him, twenty years younger, is kind of the vintage Haim we're used to, and it's hard for me to imagine him cast in more age appropriate roles today. At 39, he could play a very believable dad to a 15-year-old in a film. Can you imagine that? Not when he's 19 in Prayer of the Rollerboys I can't.

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Speaking of playing parent to older children, Medium's Patricia Arquette is in this as a fellow undercover cop/Haim's love interest. Prayer of the Rollerboys was three years before True Romance, which is probably the film we most know her for prior to her role on Medium. There's no doubt, she's pretty hot. I wonder if she was star struck working with Haim at that time. I wonder if anyone would be starstruck working with Haim now. I know Arquette wouldn't be, but like an actress just starting out. I wonder if I'd be starstruck if I met Haim. I'd have to be, I grew up in the 80s.

Nine Inch Nails' "Head Like a Hole" played in the background of one of the party scenes. You often don't get mainstream music used in indie films like this, so it was really cool. I was trying to remember how mainstream the song was in 1990 though. I couldn't remember if it was on MTV during the day, or only during 120 Minutes. I love NIN, especially that song.

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New England is Dunkin' Donuts country, which is kind of too bad, because we miss out on some other greats, like Krispy Kremes. As such, the Dunkin' Donuts product placement made me a little uneasy. You can't go two miles in any direction without seeing a Dunkin Donuts somewhere, which is somewhat disconcerting, so at the very least, I hope my DTV movie watching will at least allow me to escape, and it's there too... God I need some Krispy Kremes...

This is an interesting movie. At 90 minutes, it's not much of an investment in time, it's got Haim, which is always good. Sure, there were some bad parts, but as a concept it was cool enough to work-- at least for me. There is some suspension of belief necessary, though. If you're expecting a film based in legitimate macroeconomics, you may want to look else where.

For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0102703/

Monday, February 22, 2010

Space Chase (1990)

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One of our readers, Sutekh, sent this to me all the way from Australia. After seeing the trailer on YouTube, I was excited give it a whirl. It's been a while since I sunk my teeth into something so bad, yet so good.

Space Chase takes place in 2097, and has a bounty hunter that owes a lot of gambling debts, so he agrees to rescue this scientist that's been captured by the evil Dr. Croam and his drones. This dad scientist has uncovered the secret to unlimited energy, which would be the perfect marriage with a drone army to make it unstoppable. So his daughters get the bounty hunter to save him, and he does.

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If you're looking for a bad movie night film, look no further. Maybe not as great as Space Mutiny, but very close. The hero looked and sounded like a guy who sells motorized lifts for stairwells or reverse mortgages in advertisements during Game Show Network and RTV TV shows-- dressed like Han Solo, of course. The drones looked like a cross between Darth Vader and the Long Haired John Saxon guy from Cave Dwellers. I could go on, from the blue guy (a Chameleoid, meaning he turned other colors later), to the toy models set in terrariums that were supposed to be docked space ships. This was 50s style cheese made in the late 80s/early 90s.

This is definitely the kind of film I got into this for. You can sometimes find these gems on DVD in those 50 packs or something, but they're getting rarer. There are just too many bad movies being made in the theaters that can be sold in three or four packs with established names associated with them. The same goes for channels like USA and TNT that used to play them late at night. Why put one of these on, when Morgan Freeman and Ashley Judd just made another sack of asscrack based on a best-selling mystery novel? Mel Gibson's Ransom alone has accounted for myriad broadcast slots that a Space Chase would've been allotted back in the early 90s.

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I have to feel like George Lucas watched movies like these, ripping off Star Wars, and must've seen the special effects and thought "mine aren't much better." I personally wouldn't say that, but if it was my movie people were ripping off, I might be a little more self-critical. The problem is, the backlash created by him trying to make what he did before better, or not as much like a Space Chase, killed the rest of the movie. It wasn't the special effects that made Star Wars, The Empire Strikes Back, and Return of the Jedi so great, it was how exciting the stories were, how much Darth Vader was the ultimate baddie, or how cool Harrison Ford was a Han Solo. Space Chase wasn't just bad for it's special effects, it was bad for the horrible acting, the script where lines felt like non sequiturs, and the fact that it was a bad rip off of Star Wars. Somehow Lucas lost sight of that, and replaced the awesomeness of those earlier films with a whining kid as a young Darth Vader, more computer generated content than quality story, and nothing anywhere as cool or iconic as the elements we grew up with that were such a huge part of our popular culture.

Watching a film like this makes me wonder how hard it would be to make. Like, could you do it for under $100,000? Paying actors would cost the most. You'd have to round up all the rejects from the local community theaters. I imagine in New York or LA you'd find willing participants easier, and maybe cheaper. Could you raid a costume shop for the wardrobes? Maybe see what people are selling on eBay. It's looking like it may run more than $100,000, huh? Then you gotta throw in the time spent spraying cardboard boxes Flat Black and adding white dots; and don't forget scratching trademarked logos off toys bought at yard sales. Still, I bet it would be a fun time. For an 82 minute movie, I could whip together a script in less than a week-- maybe even less than that depending on how derivative I wanted to be. The hero's name is Han Trio...?

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I didn't recognize anyone in this except for one girl, whose name is Julie Nine. Where did I recognize her from? A movie called Kill, Kill Overkill that I saw on USA Up All Night back in the mid nineties. In it, she and her two friends are staying in a remote cabin, are attacked by a crazy guy and his brother, and held hostage. She definitely got more screen time in that one than Space Chase, but she spent most of that screen time bound and gagged with duct tape, so I don't know which one was better for her. Those are Julie Nine's only two imdb credits, so who knows what happened to her. Probably married a rich investment broker out in Van Nuys, lives in a gated community with three kids, and keeps her boots and gold lamé dress she wore in this movie in her closet for whenever she needs a Halloween costume on short notice.

I want to thank Sutekh again for giving us this gem. If you can find it anywhere, it's well worth your time, especially for a bad movie night. This is late 80s/early 90s bad sci-fi Star Wars rip-off cheese at it's very best.

For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0294931/

Friday, February 19, 2010

The Incredible Hulk (2008)

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I actually hadn't seen this one until I rented it for this review. I don't know why I didn't see it, it just wasn't on my priority list. I figured now, though, if I'm going to call the 2003 version to the carpet, I better see what the 2008 one did, at the very least for comparison's sake.

The Incredible Hulk is part reboot part sequel that cuts right to the chase, giving us Bruce Banner and the Hulk's backstory in a Cliff's Notes version in the opening credits. Bruce is now played by Edward Norton, Liv Tyler takes over as Betty Ross, and William Hurt is her father. Hurt wants Banner so he can make super soldiers with him, and tracks him down in Brazil. Of course, as the Hulk, he wastes them all, but the leader of the special forces group sent to take him in, Tim Roth, wants a second crack at him. He's given the super soldier serum, and it works okay, but it's not enough. Anyway, Banner makes it to the States, where he and Liv Tyler run to New York to find a scientist who might be able to cure him. It's a collision course to wackiness when the army meets him there, and everything looks perfect, until Roth stays behind and gets that scientist to turn him into the Hulk too, only with the super soldier serum in him too, he becomes the Abomination instead. I smell a showdown.

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Right away I liked this one better for its CG Hulk. He wasn't green enough, but he also didn't look like a giant tool like the 2003 version did. I still like the idea of a real person like Lou Ferrigno as the Hulk, but I can see that maybe that end fight would've been difficult, because how does one do the Abomination without making him CG? Going the Godzilla route might be too much. I also liked how the plot of this one fit in with the Marvel universe better, especially with Robert Downey jr.'s cameo. One of the cool things about the old TV movies was how they used other Marvel characters too; but also the Marvel universe in general is one contiguous entity, and I understand if some of them would prefer to stand alone, but I like this approach better of crossing them over.

That doesn't mean this was the greatest thing ever. I did like Edward Norton better than Eric Bana as Banner, but none of them capture that mixture of cool and geek that Bill Bixby brought to the role. Norton was closer than Bana, though. Liv Tyler was wholly unconvincing as a scientist. There's not much else to say about that. Tim Roth was kind of weird too as a special forces guy. I understand indie actors need to make a living too, but they need to find the right role. Here's a great place for a Gary Daniels as a cheaper replacement with less suspension of belief. Finally, this film tried to replace the 2003 version's slowmoving plot with more action, but that action did little to move the story forward, making it just as useless, and not much of an improvement if you ask me.

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William Hurt was much better as a villain than the 2003 version's directionless Sam Elliott. Hurt is a better actor anyway, and at no point did I confuse his lines with things like "Beef: it's what's for dinner", and had Norton stabbed a note that read "It was Tails" into his dead body with a knife, it would've made no sense either. The key to the better performance wasn't just how much better defined the character was. Hurt embraced the role more. Elliott can only do one role: haggard cowboy. Road House was the best attempt anyone made to make him play something else-- haggard legendary bouncer.

One major difference between this one and the 2003 one was the use of a major villain for the Hulk to fight, even though it didn't happen until the very end. What makes all action movies great are multiple fights, and the Hulk destroying a couple waves of soldiers in pitched battles doesn't count. Look at Spiderman. He fights the Green Goblin a couple times. Bring these villains out sooner. The only one I can think of that really worked without an earlier confrontation was Fantastic Four, but that went in a totally different direction as a comic book movie. Again, if the idea here was to right the wrongs-- perceived or real-- from the 2003 version, replacing a meandering plot with meandering action scenes isn't the great improvement it purports itself to be.

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The best part of the movie to me was the Robert Downey jr. cameo at the end. Perhaps that's not saying much about the movie, but I love RDj. I think what made that Iron Man film so good was having a talent like his embracing the role of comic book hero, and the fact that he's embraced it to the point of playing the role in cameos in other comic book movies is even better. I can't wait for Iron Man 2, and it's been a while since I said "I can't wait" for a comic book movie. (If you're wondering, it was Spiderman 3. How well did that work out for me?)

As a comic book movie, perhaps this one works better than its 2003 counterpart, but like I said before, the latter's aimless plot is replaced by a lot of action that doesn't move the story forward any more than that. I also think for all the improvements-- and there were many-- the fact that the film couldn't decide if it was a reboot or a sequel was a bit of a sticking point too. Overall, though, this was a much more fun time, and for a comic book movie, unfortunately with their track records, a fun time is a pretty solid accomplishment.

For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0800080/

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Hulk (2003)

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In my post on Superman IV: The Quest for Peace, one of my readers, Heolstor, wondered why everybody was so down on Ang Lee's Hulk. Last week on the Catwoman post, another debate ensued about what to make of the 2003 film. I realized then that it had been a while since I'd seen it, and so maybe it wasn't as bad as I originally thought.

Hulk has Eric Bana as a dude who inherited some altered gene from his scientist dad (eventually played by Nick Nolte), then becomes a scientist, is bombarded with gamma rays, but with the altered gene, survives-- only to find out when he gets angry he becomes the Hulk. Now his ex-girlfriend/research partner's (Jennifer Connelly) dad (Sam Elliott), a four-star general, wants Bana so he can make super soldiers, while Nolte wants him so he can make himself stronger. It's just a big old mess.

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Any questions as to how I was going to receive this film now after some time away from it were quickly answered when I saw the CGI Hulk in action on the DVD's menu screen, and I laughed out loud. He looked like that fat, beady-eyed, obnoxious guy at every frat house in college whose whole raison d'etre was simply being big. You know the type: gets drunk, breaks things, then brags about the stuff he broke the next day. It's one thing to have him look cartoonish, but to also have him look like a tool made it impossible to like. And considering the film wasn't all that beholden to special effects, why even have him be a CG Hulk? The one from the old TV show worked fine for me, and when you consider stage make-up for movies has gotten so much better in that time, it would've been a better choice.

I watched a little of it with Ang Lee's commentary, and it was apparent that he tried here, and that he had the best intentions to make a quality film-- maybe not Brokeback Mountain-- but something better than what we got. One thing he said though that showed how wrong he was about this one was something to the effect that his CG Hulk could show more emotion than an actor. The old Avatar apologist syndrome. First of all, Lou Ferrigno was a great Hulk, and he brought his own personal demons he had been fighting with to the role, emotions that none of us would've had had they gone with a fake Hulk. Second, are you going to tell me Heath Ledger should've been replaced with a CG cowboy in Brokeback? Finally, the Hulk is right behind Superman, Batman, and Spiderman as far as popularity and status as an icon in our culture, and a big part of that is from the TV show. If you're going to give it a reboot, you need to improve on it, and going from a real person to a CG tool is a step in the wrong direction.

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A step in the right direction, of course, was mega babe Jennifer Connelly as Betty Ross. Not only is she hot, but she was believable as a genius scientist. I was trying to think, and you may have to go back to Michelle Pfeiffer's Catwoman in Batman Returns to find as attractive a woman in a comic book film. My sense is that one probably only has one shot with an actress like that to get it right, and when this one missed, she wasn't available for the 2008 reboot, which left us with Liv Tyler, who wasn't believable as scientist at all. That's too bad.

Another thing Ang Lee tried was a cinematic technique that attempted to replicate comic book panels. I'm kind of a minimalist when it comes to films, so it didn't really work for me. People have also suggested that this was supposed to be deeper or somehow existential or something. I'm not sure I saw that either. For me it was two hours and 14 minutes of I don't know what. The old TV show had six seasons and however many TV movies to explore all of these issues. It's just hard to both give the whole backstory, then try and tell a new story too; but I can think of a lot of success stories, so that's not an excuse.

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When I used to watch the old show, one of the big things for me was making sure the heel or bad guys were dislikable (I made that word up) enough to make me want Bruce Banner to turn into the Hulk and trash them. Ang Lee definitely hit the mark on the head there by casting Josh Lucas from Sweet Home Alabama in that heel role. Who would you want more than a Romantic Comedy lead to get fake thrown around by the Hulk? But then he followed that up by casting Sam Elliott as Connelly's dad. Not so good there. No matter what comes out of his mouth, all I hear is "Beef: it's what's for diner", or "Coors: The Banquet Beer" (what the hell does that even mean, anyway?); and most of all, I expect Connelly to find him lying on a bar with a note stuck in him with a knife that reads "It was Tails", put there by Nick Nolte.

So six or seven years later, my thoughts on this movie haven't changed, and in fact, after seeing the old show again and Lee's amazing Brokeback Mountain, I'm even harder on it than I was before. We'll see tomorrow how I feel about the 2008 one, but at least for right now, I'll stick with the old TV show on RTV, or Netflix Watch Instantly.

For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0286716/

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Hallettsville (2009)

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I've had this film in my Netflix Instant Queue for I don't know how long. It's always been pushed aside for something else-- even in some cases other Gary Busey films-- with the mindset that I'd get to it some other time. When I knew I was going to review Dead Tone, with another DTVC Hall of Famer, Rutger Hauer, I figured this was as good a time as any to finally watch this one too. It ended up being a perfect juxtaposition to that other film.

Hallettsville is about a kid who wants to check out his family's ranch in the Texas town of the same name. He brings some of his friends with him, and his ex girlfriend who wants to reconcile their relationship. The problem is, the land is haunted, after a deranged man killed all the kids in a one-room school house that used to sit on the ranch house's property back in 1901. When his friends start dying, the only one he can turn to is the town's sheriff, one Mr. Gary Busey.

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Quality wise, this is lacking compared to Dead Tone but soul wise, this has Dead Tone in spades. Sure, it's a lower budget indie style horror film, and the story and kills are a little iffy, but at the very least you had something made by someone who loves horror films and made something that exuded that love. You won't see the people involved writing bios of themselves on imdb letting us know that they "conquered the horror game" or the "rap game". It may not be great, but it was made for all the right reasons, and for that alone you got to respect them.

Unlike Hauer in Dead Tone, Busey in Hallettsville was used slightly more. He really only appears for a second in the beginning, when he pulls over the kids; but then at the end of the film he comes in and plays a big part, pretty much saving the day. More than anything, despite an overall low level of Abusiveness due to his small role, in the scenes he was in he maximized the Abusiveness to give us a final respectable Abusive Scale number of 6.5, making it fairly Abusive. Man, it's been too long since I pulled out the Abusive Scale.

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One big problem this movie had was its ten-minute long epilogue. I'm not sure if maybe the two girls and Busey, who were all featured in the epilogue, had a certain amount of screen time written into their contracts that needed to be fulfilled, but it was just weird. Had this been a theatrical release and I had to take a leak, I'd want to kill someone. Luckily, on Netflix, I can just press pause. Still, even at 87 minutes, when the last ten is epilogue, you really gotta know when to wrap it up.

One girl in this, whose real name I think is Brooke Baker (it was hard to tell because on imdb she doesn't have a picture, and I couldn't remember her character's name, so I had to do a process of elimination) was a total hottie. According to imdb, she doesn't have any other credits, but this only came out a year ago, so we'll see what happens. Not to keep harping on Dead Tone and Deon Taylor Entertainment, but a mover and shaker like you with his hands in the rap game and the movie making game should've been able to come up with better talent than what you had, and to have this low-budget indie deal cast a girl much hotter than any of the women you could get was kind of interesting. I'm just saying...

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Finally, this was shot in part in Hallettsville, and in part in Austin, TX, a city I've always wanted to visit. I've been to San Antonio, which is close, but no cigar. As a Mainer who grew up within an hour of Boston, Texas has the feel of a foreign country to me, as does a lot of the US. It's one of the things that makes the US so cool, that you can have a Boston, a Maine, and a Texas all within the same national borders. Also, though, I feel it makes for a great diversity of creepy places to set horror films, and underlies the importance of filming these things in something at least close to the location of where they're set. Replacing Texas for Vancouver might be cheaper, but had that been done in this case it would've made a bad horror film into a bad horror film with no charm or redeemability. One of the things that made Busey so great was you could see the Goose Creek, TX coursing in his veins, which you often don't see when he's working in another part of the country. The same could be said for shooting movies based on Steven King novels in Maine.

If you have Netflix Watch Instantly and are looking for a bad horror film, this is a great choice. 87 minutes and great Busey (even if it's in a smaller role), plus some fun but not-so-great low budget horror, and you have a recipe for success-- at least you do for me. In any case, it's more fun that Dead Tone.

For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0760169/

Monday, February 15, 2010

Dead Tone aka 7eventy 5ive (2007)

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I first had this film in my Netflix queue under its original title, 7eventy 5ive. I actually think I had it on there twice, under that title and the Seventy Five, neither of which is spelled right. Anyway, it ended up in the Saved portion of the queue, where either films that will be released soon go, or films that are out of print go, and I figured, since it wasn't a new release, it was there for the latter reason. Then mysteriously some film called Dead Tone rose to the top of my Saved queue with a release date of February 9, 2010. I didn't think anything of it, because I have so many movies in my queue that I lose track of them. It was only when I looked it up on imdb before I reviewed it that I learned the truth: it was 7eventy 5ive re-released as Dead Tone.

Dead Tone is about some kids having a sleepover while their parents are having a cocktail party in the same house. They make some prank calls, call the wrong guy, and he shows up with an axe and murders all their parents. Ten years later, some twenty-somethings are being murdered in a similar fashion, and detective Rutger Hauer learns someone is killing the kids whose parents were murdered back then. Now a group of kids, some of whom were there that night, go to a secluded mansion for a party, and one of them is a total asshole who (inexplicably) convinces them all to play the prank phone call game-- with the same disastrous results.

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As much as this is a bad Scream rip-off that didn't get the point of why Scream was good, as a slasher film it didn't seem any worse than say the new My Bloody Valentine or Friday the 13th films-- or really any bad teen slasher film. Former NFL player Kyle Turley was the killer. How much scarier can you get than a former NFL player wielding an axe? You can't escape him, he can out run you, out fight you. There were some great kills too. These are the things you look for in a great horror film, and it had them. Even if it was a little off in the execution and didn't quite work, I can think of many, like See No Evil, that had a better fate than Dead Tone.

That made me wonder why it wasn't held in any better regard, why it was relegated not only to DTV-dom, but this kind of lowest of the low that gets re-released with a new name in the hopes maybe someone would rent it. Sure, the original name was stupid as all get out, which probably necessitated a reboot, but still, I needed some answer as to why this was lost in the shuffle. One thing I realized while watching it was that the only redeemable character was the rich dude who owned the mansion, and the film tried everything it could to cram him into the heel role. The truth was, the guys that were supposed to be the heroes or the ones we wanted to root for were total assholes that deserved the axe much more than the so-called heel. That then leaves another question: why would you not make your heroes cooler characters? How could you not see this flaw during the movie making process?

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That's when I went on imdb for a little info on who made this bad boy. I found a name, Deon Taylor Entertainment, which had a bio, written and submitted by them, that extolled the virtues of one Mr. Deon Taylor. It spared no expense telling us how great he was, how he conquered the "music game", how he had a career in the NBA and still tears it up in the NBA Entertainers League. Now I'm seeing a pattern. I'm seeing Deon Taylor pitching his film, telling people it's the greatest thing ever, because he's the greatest thing ever. I can see him wanting heroes that are assholes like him, thinking they're the bomb when they aren't, like he probably thinks his movie's the bomb, when it isn't. And through all this, I can see distributors at the big dogs thinking "get this guy out of here so I don't have to listen to him again!" (I'm just as sure as I said all of this that if Mr. Taylor reads this he'll call me a "hater" who lives in his parents' basement while Mr. Taylor is out stacking cash. It works as a security blanket to insulate one from criticism, but sometimes criticism is what it takes to make movies that are likable.)

The main reason why I even considered this film is Rutger Hauer, and, as you can imagine, it was a good old fashioned Rutger Hauer bait-and-switch. I feel kind of dumb, because this is the newest Rutger Hauer film I have up here, and it came out in 2007 (or 2010). He just turned 66, so one would think he'd have a ways to go before he was done, but it just seems like these small roles are more par for the course with him. I can understand that on some levels, but when he does a movie like Dead Tone, there's almost a Kinski-esque element to it, like he's taking the worst movie with the shortest shooting time for the most money.

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And there was some money involved in this film. In the opening credits, listed as producers, I saw some famous athlete names, a few of which are above. You had former Sacremento Kings Bobby Jackson and Mitch Richmond, former Denver Broncos Ray Crockett and Steve Atwater, and my personal fave, former Pats linebacker Willie McGuinest (I still have his jersey from the 1996 season, my only Pats jersey). I'm sure they could pony up some cash for Mr. Hauer's services. As far as other actors you might recognize, Flavor Flav was some kind of host to open the movie, playing himself. Cherie Johnson, from Punky Brewster was one of the kids. Other kids included the wannabe wrestler from The Gingerdead Man as the rich kid who owned the mansion, Aimee Garcia from George Lopez (never saw the show, so I didn't recognize her), and then this dude Austin Basis, who for some reason I forgot to capture an image of, but it was killing me the whole movie trying to figure out what I knew him from.

This is neither cute low-budget horror film or fun teen slasher film. It could've been both, but the hubris of its director/producer/writer killed it. I'm sure he's telling people he also conquered the "movie game", but he didn't even come close. Anyone can remake Scream with none of the charm, satire, or creativity, and with all of the stupidity-- you don't need a super sized ego for that.

For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0462160/

Friday, February 12, 2010

Catwoman (2004)

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We're kicking off the DTVC's Wild Card post look at comic book movies with Catwoman, the 2004 Halle Berry dud. I had actually never seen this prior to watching it for the review, but from what I'd heard I figured I was in for a bad time. Catwoman is a unique character in the world of comic books, because there really isn't an arch villain as famous that's a woman. It would seem like there's enough material to mine there, so I was curious to see how it went wrong.

Catwoman has Berry not as Selina Kyle, but someone else who works making ads and whatnot for a big cosmetics company run by Sharon Stone's husband, played by the French dude from The Matrix. Anyway, Berry finds out their next big thing, an anti-aging cream, has horrible side effects, starting with headaches and dizziness, to eventually making the user's face disintegrate if she stops using it. They don't like that Berry knows this, so they kill her, but an Egyptian Mau cat that's been following her brings her back to life, with the powers of a cat. Now she has a new lease on life, but first she has a score to settle with her old employers, and has to settle it without her new boyfriend who's also a police detective, played by Benjamin Bratt, catching her.

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It would be too easy to just write this off as a sack of asscrack, because it pretty much was. The thing is, as I was watching it, I saw glimpses of potentially good stuff that was just never fully realized, mostly because it was overshadowed by the bad stuff. I could point to specific scenes that were ridiculous, like Berry with her new powers playing basketball with Bratt, where both looked extremely awkward dribbling and shooting. Then there was Catwoman in her outfit awkwardly cutting a rug in some dance club that's situated on a dock amid a bunch of shipping containers. Just the CG images of Berry in her Catwoman outfit running around like a cat were enough to make me laugh. It was just all bad.

To me it was the initial idea that was sautéed in wrong sauce: her becoming a literal catwoman. House cats by their very nature are hilarious, that's why whenever previous on-screen versions of Catwoman would act like a cat, it was done in a tongue-in-cheek manner. Even Michelle Pfeiffer's, which was the most catlike and supernatural, only acted like a cat as a joke or to demonstrate her insanity. I get that this is supposed to be a unique interpretation of Catwoman, using the power of an Egyptian goddess to make a sort of super woman, but a CGI Berry leaping around like a cat, or hissing at dogs in all seriousness, as opposed to as a joke, was something that I just couldn't take seriously, and undermined the film as a whole.

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There was also an identity crisis that previous Catwomen didn't have. It was like she was Wonder Woman dressing like Catwoman and acting like a cat. The biggest example of this was the outfit. All the previous Catwomen wore a one-piece suit, as opposed to what's pretty much lingerie with boots and a cape that the usual super heroine wears. What the one-piece skin-tight suit does is create the silhouette of nudity, and nudity is often a sign of submission from a woman to a man, or allowing someone a part of her that she doesn't usually give. At the same time, while she gives this illusion, she also is completely covered, keeping men at arm's length and allowing her to use them for her means. She uses her femininity and perceived weakness against men. On the other hand, Berry's Catwoman is in leather pants and a bra, which is also definitely hot, but doesn't do the same thing that the one-piece suit does. Berry extolled the virtues of this suit on the 30-minute featurette that comes with the DVD, saying how great it was that it showed off her muscles and what not. Yes, if you're Wonder Woman it's great to show off your muscles, but not Catwoman. Catwoman's number one weapon is her faux vulnerability. She doesn't want anyone seeing her muscles at all.

Empire.com had this as number 15 in their top 50 worst films of all time, but one of the reasons they gave for it I thought was actually one of the film's positives. They said the face cream concept was too weird. Really? You don't have a problem with a Joker who gives people Bloody Smiles, but a face cream that never actually does make a woman's face disintegrate because Catwoman stops it from going to market is an issue for you? For me, the Faustian bargain Sharon Stone signs by using the face cream to preserve her looks is just the kind of women's empowerment statement they wanted to make, especially when juxtaposed with her equally aged husband dating a young model. Of course, the statement had two major deficiencies: one, there wasn't an alternative woman to Sharon Stone's villain to hold up as an image of a woman that was still relevant, despite her advanced age; and second, because the writers didn't have a solid idea of what they wanted to do with Catwoman herself, it was hard for any major themes or messages to materialize.

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On a different note, Catwoman had a few great people in it that would be recognizable to readers of the DTVC. I already mentioned the French guy from The Matrix. Then there's Byron Mann, who came up earlier this week in A Dangerous Man. Dolph fans may remember Chris Heyerdahl, who played a noisy neighbor in Catwoman, as the guy Dolph beat and then handcuffed to a dirty toilet in Silent Trigger. No spiders tattooed on his chest here. My personal favorite was Peter Wingfield, Methos from Highlander: The Series. I don't know how that dude doesn't end up in everything, he's just so awesome, and of course he was barely used here. Should we have expected anything more from a film that was so, as I said above, sautéed in wrong sauce?

I guess since we're talking about bad comic book movies, a recommendation probably isn't something anyone is looking for, so I'll skip that and go with some final thoughts. This movie was wrong from its conception, and it was wrong in two major areas. First, making Catwoman a literal catwoman was just too silly, and when you're sillier than the 60s incarnations, you have a big problem; and second, they didn't make Catwoman bad enough. Yes, as a villain, she might at times be an anti-hero, but she's no Wonder Woman or Batgirl, and this film was afraid to make her bad enough. From there it was just a mess of awkward scenes, bad dialog, and potentially poignant messages that were loss in the morass of the rest of the film.

For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0327554/

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Undisputed II: Last Man Standing (2006)

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After how great Blood and Bone was (good enough to make number nine of my Top Ten DTV Films of the 2000s), it was only a matter of time before we got more Michael Jai White up here. I'm not sure what we'll do with Black Dynamite when it's released on DVD Tuesday, because it was given a limited theatrical release, and seems more like an indie flick as opposed a DTV film that tried to make it in the theater. It smells like a wild card post to me, right? But before that happens, White has some DTV films that need reviewing, starting with Undisputed II: Last Man Standing.

Undisputed II has White as Ving Rhames' character in the first one. I didn't see the first one, but from the ads I was under the impression that Rhames was the bad guy. Well he's not here, I mean White isn't, he's the good guy. While in Russia trying to make cash, he's framed for drug possession and sent to a nasty prison, run from the outside by a Russian mobster (wanna guess who framed him?). Anyway, at first he refuses to fight, but then realizes it's the only way he'll get out, so he agrees to fight their champ.

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This was pretty good. There were some weird scenes, like White chained to a metal tower outside, and the other inmates feeding him little peaces of bread. A little too 9 1/2 Weeks for me. The fight scenes were great, though, especially the two bouts between White and the prison champ, Scott Adkins. The prison aspect of it made it less cool than Blood and Bone, because there White could be the man without prison guards beating him down constantly. Overall, though, a good deal.

Michael Jai White is great. It still astounds me that someone like Treach would be crammed into a role like the lead in Art of War III when a solid talent like White would've killed it. Black Dynamite comes out on Tuesday, but I may not get it done then, because of the other films I have to do, especially the comic book ones. Speaking of which, it still annoys me that he was completely wasted in that Dark Knight movie. He'd actually make a great Batman, now that you think of it. As far as Undisputed II goes, again, the prison aspect and his having to succumb to guards and whatnot makes it not as awesome as Blood and Bone, where he just gets to tear it up. Still, his fight scenes are great, and I'm glad they found a way to work his whole skill set into the movie, not just boxing.

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According to imdb, this uses footage that Direct Contact used, which in the beginning also took place in an Eastern European prison. I know these guys are supposed to be tough, but the idea of an Eastern European prison freaks me out, enough to say I'd want nothing to do with going to Eastern Europe just to make sure I'd never end up in one. It's like there's the prison film, the corrupt prison film, and then the corrupt Eastern European prison film, which is just like the hardest of the hardcore. One interesting case is Bloodsport 4: The Dark Kumite, which is filmed in a prison in Eastern Europe, but takes place in a prison in New York. I would say still pretty hardcore, because we all know it ain't New York.

In the first Undisputed, Ving Rhames is playing a Mike Tyson type character, which is interesting, because Michael Jai White played Tyson for a TV movie. Based on the plot of Undisputed II, you could almost see something like this happening to Tyson, I mean think about it: if he was busted abroad for having a bunch of coke, or anything bad, would you be surprised? Would you be surprised if Tyson did or was accused of doing anything? On that note, today is the twentieth anniversary of Tyson losing to Buster Douglas. If you remember that like I do, do you feel old? I remember Mike Tyson's Punch Out became just Punch Out after that, and Buster Douglas had a Sega game for him, which was replaced by an Evander Holyfield one when he beat Douglas.

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I want to make a quick mention of the director, Isaac Florentine. This will be his fifth film reviewed at the DTVC (Savate, Bridge of Dragons, Max Havoc: Curse of the Dragon (co-directed final scenes), and Shepherd: Border Patrol). That's a pretty impressive resume, considering Bridge of Dragons, is in my top ten DTV films of the 90s (which will be released soon!), and Shepherd is in my Top Ten of the 2000s. On March 2nd, he has Ninja set to release, which looks good (see the trailer here), and features Scott Adkins, who played the prison champ in Undisputed II, as the hero. That release date is the same date as the much anticipated Bitch Slap.

If you haven't seen this yet, it's worth a look. I'm sure you've seen better, but I know you've also seen worse, which makes this a pretty good deal. The fight scenes are great, the plot maybe less so, but who cares about that? We don't watch movies like these for compelling storylines.

For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0443676/

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

A Dangerous Man (2009)

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As luck would have it this week, there's a new Steven Seagal film out, which coincides with the New Orleans Saints Super Bowl victory. I really didn't plan this one, and I'm not trying to get redundant here, it just worked out this way. One could make the point that Seagal's really from Detroit, and just adopted Louisiana as his hometown, so it's only a small connection. Still, when the Celtics won in 2008 and the Red Sox won in 2007, I didn't do anywhere near as many mentions of it as I have the Saints these past two days.

A Dangerous Man has Seagal as an ex-special forces dude (he's always ex-special something, right?) that's wrongly accused of brutally murdering a man he caught trying to carjack his wife. Anyway, after 6 years in the can DNA evidence exonerates him, but his wife left him, he's got nothing, and he's ready to drink himself to death. That's when he stumbles upon two Chinese gangsters offing a state trooper, and he steps in to help a kid that just happens to be in the same area. Turns out the Chinese gangsters were transporting a girl they kidnapped and a lot of drug money, and they want it all back. Bad luck on their part for it all to fall into Seagal's hands.

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Netflix often has some interesting synopsises (synopsi?), but this one might take the cake. First, they describe the two Chinese gangsters as "Mexican", which they definitely aren't. I'm not sure if anyone of Mexican decent is in the film. Maybe the guys are Vietnamese, but they aren't Mexican. Second, they referred to it as a "gripping action vehicle" for Seagal. I'd call this movie a lot of things, but "gripping" isn't one of them. This was as paint-by-numbers Seagal as you could get, which wasn't necessarily bad, it was just very predictable and not gripping.

Compared to the last Seagal film we reviewed, The Keeper, it was pretty good. I mean, this is what you want when you rent a Seagal film, I just wouldn't put it at his best. The biggest issue was they fell back into the "Seagal is omnipotent" paradigm, which doesn't do them any favors. He's got to at least take a punch from a bad guy. Especially when you cast Byron Mann as the baddie, a dude who can fight, and who we've seen fight as Seagal's partner in Belly of the Beast. That end fight has to be a showdown, not Seagal beating him down like all the random stunt dudes he deals with for the rest of the movie. I don't know if Seagal's age is becoming a problem, and why most of his fight scenes are herky-jerky deals where he mostly slap chops and occasionally kicks-- and when he does kick someone in this, they fly back like they were hit by a car.

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If we look at his last six films, we have the amazing Pistol Whipped (which made my top ten of the 2000s), the duds Kill Switch and Against the Dark, the really good Driven to Kill, and over the past 6 weeks or so The Keeper and A Dangerous Man. What made the good ones good was they went all out with big shoot outs, Seagal in situations he needed to at least think his way out of, and some great baddies; the bad ones threw that paradigm out the window, with Kill Switch being a bad crime drama and Against the Dark a bad rip-off of The Omega Man with barely any Seagal in them. The Keeper tried to be Pistol Whipped but for some reason was afraid to pull the trigger on great action; and at the very least, we can say with A Dangerous Man, he's trending back in the right direction, and the reality is, if you get one good one out of every six Seagal films you're doing well, so with two good and one pretty good we're still coming out ahead.

Somebody was telling me about a conversation he had with a white woman where she said that they feel inadequate compared to Asian women, like they don't measure up well to them or something. She said this to him in a manner suggesting he should be more sensitive to white women on this issue. I'd never heard this before. I know there's the whole myth that Asian women are somehow more submissive, but anyone who's been out in the world even a little bit knows that's just a myth. The only reason why I thought of it is because this film has a fair amount of hot Asian women in it. I'm not trying to be overly PC, but I think all ethnicities have an equal share of hotties and not-so-hotties. I've heard of African American women complaining that African American men prefer white blond women, but I've never heard that white guys prefer Asians. It's possible too that the girl who brought it up was just insecure in general, and is directing her angst at one group of women in general. I don't know, am I just out of the loop on not being aware of this?

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This movie was so paint-by-numbers and unremarkable, I decided to switch it up for this seventh paragraph, and give everyone a little something special, so enjoy.


This isn't a bad deal for a last minute Red Box or local video store pick, because it's a fun bad Seagal film, but I wouldn't go out of your way for it until you've seen some of his better ones first. I think I hit the nail on the head in the last paragraph when I called it "unremarkable".

For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1360767/

Monday, February 8, 2010

Avenging Force (1986)

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I grabbed this around the same time I got Radioactive Dreams, and only reviewed the latter first because I wanted to make up for the bad post I did for Urban Menace and give Albert Pyun a little redemption. It never crossed my mind that this post would coincide with a potential New Orleans Saints Super Bowl victory, which is important because Avenging Force takes place in The Big Easy. Kind of a cool tribute DTVC style.

Avenging Force has Dudikoff as a former CIA guy whose buddy, the late, great Steve James, is running for office in New Orleans. Some right bigoted wing terrorist group doesn't like this, and they ambush his float for Mardi Gras, killing his son. Dudikoff takes the assailants out, and the CIA wants him to fight these guys, but he refuses. But when they attack James again, then attack and kill James and his family at Dudikoff's ranch, at the same time kidnapping Dudikoff's sister, he realizes he can't stand by any longer. The only way he can take out these baddies though is to be the hunted in their deadly sport in the Louisiana Bayou. It's a case of who's hunting whom, though, when you're hunting the Wild Dudikoff.

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Okay, I know I'm going to upset my buddy at Movies in the Attic here, because he's been wanting me to review this one for a while because it's one of his favorites, but I had one issue with it that prevents me from completely loving it. For the first hour it was one of the best things I've ever seen. Dudikoff and Steve James were amazing, kicking ass, gunning guys down, blowing shit up. Then at the hour mark, they kill off James, leaving Dudikoff to fight it out on his own for the last forty minutes, which was good, but not as good as it could've been. I understand the way they wanted the end to play out, it worked better with just Dudikoff, but I just don't see how anyone during filming looked at the earlier scenes and didn't say "we gotta switch things up and just run with this Steve James and Michael Dudkioff thing. We can't kill him off now." A five-star gem turned three-star in one fell swoop.

Okay, that might be harsh. The last forty minutes were great too. Dudikoff taking out the four baddies hunting him was great, especially when you see what the baddies were wearing. If you took that on it's own, and didn't have the first hour of amazing-ness with James and Dudikoff to compare it to, it would be plenty good enough. I'm not sure I've ever been so torn on a film before, and I'm not even torn on whether it's good or not, because it is. I've just never seen anything before that starts out five-star, and then tacks a four-star film onto the end. It was like the Colts sitting their starters against the Jets instead of going for the perfect season.

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With or without James, this is one of the better Dudikoff films. If you want to look at one that's definitely above it though, see American Ninja 2, which fully understood what it meant to have Dudikoff and James together, and didn't wreck that chemistry mid-stream. I could spend all day talking about all the awesome things that are in Avenging Force, though, and when I think of some of the stinkers Dudikoff has done, I can't complain too much. Seeing him fight a samurai that looks like a cross between Death in The Seventh Seal and the samurai general in Onibaba was great, as was his final fight with the end baddie. If Dudikoff and Steve James is a great combo, Dudikoff and Golan-Globus is even better.

I got some great responses on the Radioactive Dreams post about Vestron Video and the memories seeing it on screen evoked, and I think seeing the old Cannon Films logo is even bigger for me in that regard. Cannon and Golan-Globus was a symbol for anything goes action films that threw everything including the kitchen sink at us and did it all without a trace of irony. Right off the bat with Avenging Force, we see two guys being chased by that Seventh Seal/Onibaba type dude I mentioned above. When Steve James' Mardi Gras float is ambushed, it's not a sniper shooting one well-aimed bullet at James, it's four guys with moustaches, mullets, sunglasses, and uzis spraying everything in sight. These are the action movies we grew up with. The 2000s saw an unfortunate step taken away from this style of action film, in favor of sleeker, less kitchen sink-like movies. Maybe that older stuff was silly, but it was a hell of a lot of fun, and I can't say that about a lot of today's films that turn their noses up at the 80s and 90s.

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Growing up I was naturally a Patriots fan first, and what people have forgotten is pre-Tom Brady, they weren't a great franchise. Anyway, I always liked the Saints too, because I felt like if the Pats couldn't do it, it would be cool that the Saints, who never get there, could do it instead. Fast forward to now, and the Patriots not only don't suck anymore, but have won three Super Bowls and were the team everyone rooted against two years ago when the Giants beat them to end their perfect season; while New Orleans has gone through hell and their team was finally in the big game, a sentimental underdog. Last night's win won't build new houses or anything like that, but it does say a lot about team loyalty and being rewarded for not rooting for a frontrunner. It was as much a win for that city as it was for all the Clippers season ticket holders that haven't switched over to the Lakers; all the Cubs fans that didn't pull a John Cusack and try to get tickets to the White Sox in the World Series; and it's to all the people I knew who wore Yankess hats in the late 90s and suddenly hate them like the plague because the Red Sox win now. What made that win all the more special was seeing the two-faced owner up there talking out of both sides of his mouth about how great New Orleans is, when we all knew if he'd had his way that would've been the San Antonio Saints or Los Angeles Saints winning last night. Probably what I liked the most about that game, was it reminded me of what it was like when the Patriots won their first one, when losing one game wasn't the end of the world to Pats fans like it is now. It reminded me of what it was like when my team loyalty was finally rewarded.

Okay, huge rant there that had nothing to do with the movie. Anyway, this is a great one, and though it could've been one of the greatest of all time, it was still great, and I don't want to scare you off from watching it if you see it on a shelves somewhere. I put about six images up in addition to the three you see here, and if you click on any images it'll take you to all of them-- some of them a pretty funny. Unfortunately the movie is only available on VHS right now, which is too bad. You never know, though-- if the old Ain'ts can win the Super Bowl, anything can happen, right?

For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0090678/

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Rapid Exchange (2003)

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I DVRed this a long time ago when it aired on EncoreAcrtion. I figured Lorenzo Lamas, Lance Henriksen, how bad can it be, right? I mean, really, how bad...?

Rapid Exchange had Lamas as a thief who does a heist with his buddy for Lance Henriksen, only to have guys dressed like SWAT steal what they were sent in to steal from them. Anyway, to try and get some money, Henriksen gets them in on a big score: to steal a bunch of cash that's been marked to be destroyed because it's too old. It's a crazy plan that sounds like a pretty awesome idea-- if you're braindead! As the cash is on a plane en route to its destination, they shoot a massive harpoon like thing into the plane from another plane while both are in flight, shoot across a rope attached to the harpoon, again while the planes are in flight, land on the money plane, stick the cash in bags, send them back to the first plane, again, while the planes are in flight, and go back over themselves, again, while the planes are in flight. As you can imagine, all of this ridiculousness would've gone perfectly except someone had to pull the ol' double cross.

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Wow, this snoozefest managed to not only be shot and released as a movie, but be one that starred Lance Henriksen and Lorenzo Lamas. The Heist film is always the toughest to pull of well, because unlike the straight up actioner, there's a greater need to lean on the plot. Tension has to be created organically, not with explosions, fights, and car chases. It works well if you're Hitchcock or Kurosawa. When you're making a DTV movie it's a different story. The thing they were probably going for most was the off-beat Tarentino type vibe, and that didn't work either. The very beginning was decent, and it all just went down hill.

One element that was pretty sweet, though, was DTVC Hall of Famer Lorenzo Lamas in various costumes. It was hilarious. Fake moustaches and wigs are great on him. They should make movies with him where every scene he has a different funny costume on. One thing I just realized is he'd make a great Batman. I'm serious. Tone down the darkness of the previous ones, go with more a syndicated action show approach as opposed to big budget blockbuster. Think Hercules meets Renegade meets Batman.

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And who would play the Joker? Lance Henriksen of course. Or maybe he'd make a great Louis the Lilac. Or Two-Face. There are so many great Batman villains, and Lance Henriksen is a great DTV villain. Of course, in Rapid Exchange he plays a sorta kinda good guy. Like he's bad because he steals things, but he's good because he wouldn't double cross Lorenzo Lamas, at least we don't think... One of our new followers, Sutekh, made the comment that he couldn't say no to Lance Henriksen flicks, but I think here, even if you get a kick out of Henriksen, you may want to take a flier.

I kind of want to keep talking about this syndicated Batman series I just came up with. So Lamas is Batman. Too much of a stretch? It would just be so hilarious though, in a way completely different from Adam West. In that vein, maybe Kevin Sorbo would make a better Batman. Now we're cooking. If Sorbo's Batman, Michael Hurst as Robin may be a bit iffy, even if he's a great Sorbo sidekick. What about Hurst as The Riddler? I'm still torn about Henriksen as either the Joker or Two-Face. William Shatner would make a great Two-Face, based on his work as an attorney on Boston Legal. Okay, so Henriksen as Joker by default. John Rhys-Davies as the Penguin? Maybe Lucy Lawless as Catwoman? To really solidify the FanBoy aspect, you could have either Painkiller Jane or the new Starbuck as Batgirl.

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This is getting good. Bruce Payne as Mr. Freeze? James Hong as Alfred? Whoa, a big thought just hit me: what about Bruce Campbell as Batman? Would that be too much, or just plain awesome? I'm trying to think of a good Commissioner Gordon... Burt Reynolds... maybe? I know a lot of people liked The Dark Knight, but Gary Oldman is too serious of an actor to play what is usually a silly role in Commissioner Gordon. Burt Reynolds, on the other hand, can do silly perfectly, with zero irony. Ooh, or what about Gary Busey as Commissioner Gordon? That would be hot. I still kind of like Lorenzo Lamas as Batman, even if Kevin Sorbo and Bruce Campbell would be much better. What if all these roles were done on a rotating basis, with no one tied down for more than an episode or two? Then you could have all three as Batman at one time or another.

All right, my daydream time is up. If you hadn't guessed, Rapid Exchange is pretty awful. You may see Lance Henriksen and Lorenzo Lamas and think, "this is promising." Well, it ain't. Stay away. Your brain and your sanity will thank you for it.

For more info:http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0363931/

Friday, February 5, 2010

Showgirls (1995)

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Whenever I used to tell people I had a blog that reviewed Direct to Video movies, they'd always ask if I did something like Showgirls, and I'd have to remind them that that was in the theater, and I only do Direct to Video films. I had a goal in mind when I started this: to spotlight those films that aren't the big budget theatrical release, and even if they were often bad and funny, to at least give them their due. Looking back on it now, saying "I only do Direct to Video movies" sounds like the band in Step Brothers that only does late 80s Joel, but I never really meant to come off like that. Now, with the inclusion of the wild card post, which usually focuses on box office bombs, I can have the best of both worlds, being able to spotlight those DTV films I want, while at the same time telling people, when they ask, "yes, I did review Showgirls."

Showgirls is an NC-17 take on All About Eve with double the raunchiness and none of the charm. Elizabeth Berkley plays Nomi (not named after the great New Wave singer), a girl with a sketchy past who has moved a round a lot and comes to Las Vegas to dance. Turns out she's more of a stripper than a dancer, but she's got an "It" factor that only the people in the film are able to see. Anyway, she gets her big break with Gena Gershon's topless review at the Stardust, and things take off from there.

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This is often referred to as one of the most fun bad movies ever. I've always agreed except for one major issue: the gang rape scene at the end. Rapes are not fun, and they only work in movies like Irreversible that aren't fun. Now, we could make the point that Showgirls wasn't intended to be fun. Fair enough, but the gang rape still seemed to come out of nowhere and threw off the film's equilibrium-- if it had any anyway. It felt to me like the person at the party who tells the odd or traumatic personal story while everyone is having a good time. There's that awkward "...Oh-kay...", then people start drinking out of their empty beer bottles just to be doing something, then realize that their empty beer bottles gives them a fortuitous reason for immediate escape, and the group scatters. Rape is a very serious thing, perhaps more serious than murder when done in a movie, and as such, film makers should think long and hard about including it in their films.

Back in 2001, when I was out in San Diego, my buddy and I spent the day in LA, during which we got free tickets at Mann's to be in the audience for The Craig Kilborn Show. Among the guests was Elizabeth Berkley, promoting her role in the Woody Allen film The Curse of the Jade Scorpion. Not exactly star struck, right? Anyway, in Showgirls, probably what she's best known for other than Saved by the Bell, she was out of her league in the lead role. Robert Davi, Kyle McLachlan, and Gena Gershon were all great in supporting roles, but it was like an NBA team without a superstar-- you can't win a championship with only role players. The problem was, I got the sense that Berkley felt like her being cast as the lead was an affirmation of her talents, so in every scene when she over acted or came off unnatural, she felt like she was playing it right, which just added to the silliness.

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This was no more evident than when she acted opposite Gena Gershon. It was like watching a rookie getting taken to school in a bad sports movie, the old "welcome to the big leagues kid", only in Showgirls as we were watching the veteran beat the rookie, the film was trying to convince us that the rookie more than held her own. What made this so much fun was the performances by people like Gershon, Davi, and McLachlan; had we just had a more fun actress playing the lead it would've been great. That and of course, cut out the gang rape.

It's hard to tell if this should be NC-17 more for the nudity or the language. I found myself laughing out loud numerous times during my recent rewatch for the review at things like Robert Davi, with zero irony, telling Berkley "How's it feel to not have them cum on your face?" Wow. How does it feel, by the way? That's pretty much the level of discourse for this winner, which for me, was actually what made it fun. I have a friend who's just south of 23, and she had never heard of this movie, which is crazy to me. Part of it probably comes from her growing up in rural Maine, but it felt like to me this movie was a big deal and then a bigger bust when it came out in 1995. I think a similar case for me (with much less controversy even) when I was her age in 1995 would've been The Last Temptation of Christ in 1988, and I remembered that years later. I don't know, does it make sense that a 22/23-year-old wouldn't have heard of this? It just seems like something generating that much heat would make it's way to 8-year-old ears, or that it's such an icon that would be understood by people who were too young to remember the events as they unfolded.

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Is it wrong that the scene where Berkley and McLachlan have sex in the pool brought to mind Jacques Tati's Oscar winning Mon Oncle? It was that dolphin fountain, it reminded me of the gaudy fish fountain the Arpels had on their front lawn. I mean, if it's on purpose, it would've been a stroke of brilliance on director Paul Verhoeven's part as a way to metaphorically explain the Las Vegas world he was depicting. At this moment I just realized that we're at the seventh paragraph and I've only just gotten around to mentioning the genius behind RoboCop, Starship Troopers, and Total Recall. In that context, the Mon Oncle reference makes perfect sense, because each of those other three, especially the first one I mentioned, really took Tati's concept with Mon Oncle and applied to modern Americana. You could almost say that RoboCop and Showgirls are two sides of the same coin, one dealing with violence in pop culture, the other sex. The biggest difference, of course, is Weller is a better actor than Berkley, and that's why one worked so well and the other didn't.

I do like that this new wild card/box office bust format allows me to tackle gems like this one. Empire.com listed this as 49 in their top 50 worst films of all time, which I think is a little lenient. I'd put it closer to number 1 (that is, of course, if you discount all the Saws, Hostels, and Turistas). I definitely think it was worse than Blade: Trinity, for instance. Regardless, for anyone older than 25, this is what we think of when someone says bad movie, and it belongs here at the DTVC. Without the gang rape, it might be one of the best bad movies of all time, but with it, it's just not right, and as such, maybe not the best film for a fun bad movie night-- though you could always skip that part.

For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0114436/

Thursday, February 4, 2010

The Marine 2 (2009)

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I have been trying to get my hands on this since it was released back in December. All that time it's been relegated in my Netflix queue to the dreaded Long Wait. I'm not sure what the difference is between Long Wait and Very Long Wait, but based on what Long Wait is, I'm afraid to see it. Also, after finally seeing this, I can't imagine who would keep it for so long. I made sure it went out in mail as soon as it could.

The Marine 2 stars WWE wrestler Ted DiBiase (son of the Million Dollar Man) as a Marine on leave joining his wife as she hosts a party at a hotel in some Third World South Pacific Island nation. They're celebrating how good it is to be rich and white and stuff, when a group of armed natives that want their beaches back take over the party. After a mercenary team is unsuccessful in rescuing them, it's up to our doughy hero to save the day.

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If Rule #1 to action films is don't let the plot get in the way, and Rule #2 is don't get political with it, Rule #3 is definitely make your hero likable. The whole point of the action film is to root for the hero, and if we don't like him, all bets are off. Mr. DiBiase may be a big time wrestling star, but here it just looks like they took a frat guy five years after he graduated, pulled him from his cubicle as he was adjusting his fantasy football team, and stuck him in an action movie. I'm not saying in real life he's a doughy toolbag, I'm saying his character came off as a doughy toolbag here. If the WWE wants to set him up to be the next John Cena, they have a long ways to go, which is pretty bad if you ask me.

Part and parcel with Rule #3 is Rule #4: make your bad guys bad enough that we don't root for them instead. Evil corporations that want to steal land from poor, native, south of the Equator nations are always great baddies. We want our hero to side with the native population and throw these evil old white men out. Unfortunately, it doesn't work the other way around. Rooting for our hero to make the world safe for White Corporate Imperialism probably only works at Blackwater-- I'm sorry, Xe-- corporate functions. Throw in a really cool baddie, and you have a full fledged Destro Effect (which refers to the phenomenon associated with me growing up, watching GI Joe, and thinking COBRA was way cooler). By casting Temuera Morrison, the dude who played one of the two coolest characters in the new Star Wars, Jango Fett (the other was Mace Windu), it just made the whole thing complete. Okay, let me get this straight, I'm pulling for a doughy toolbag to protect White Corporate Imperialist interests against Jango Fett and his native guerrilla force fighting for the right of their own children to fish on their own beaches in peace? Are you kidding me?

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There was much more of this film that was sauteéd in wrong sauce. In a couple of the shoot outs, instead of going with some nice upbeat music, they went the chant route. Ooh, really, you want to do that? Rule #5, don't take yourself too seriously, and you just did right there. The first half hour had almost no action after the opening scene. Rule #1 right there, you let the plot get in the way. About an hour into the movie they had one hand-to-hand fight scene, and it wasn't even that great, but you could tell from the change in music that they were totally patting themselves on the back for it. Same with the awkward long one-take scene where our doughy hero fights the freedom fighters invading his wife's party. It looked great in JCVD because there it was spoofing action films. Here it was clunky-- certainly not a time to pat oneself on the back. Last but certainly not least, there's a foot chase where the director tries the Kathryn Bigelow method of following behind with the camera, and all we got was blurry footage. Just because Point Break was goofy, doesn't mean Kathryn Bigelow isn't a great director, as her nomination for best director this year demonstrates, and you gotta have big chops if you want to imitate her, which this director didn't have. The Marine 2 was just an all around mess.

You can tell a lot about a movie based on how well or not well they use their character actors, and I've always distrusted a film that tries to use Michael Rooker as a good guy. It can be done-- he wasn't bad in Back to Back, where he was actually the lead hero there-- I'm just saying I don't trust it, and I was right not to in this one. He wasn't given anything to make his character, the quirky aging American ex-pat who helps our hero out, affable. What would've been better would have been for him play the bad guy, and Jango Fett be the local with the know-how. At least would've made the film less White Corporate Imperialist.

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All right, I've killed this one enough (maybe not, but I'm running out of room!), and the last thing I want to be labeled as is a Negative Norman, because in reality I'm a solutions oriented kind of cat. Here's how I would've fixed this film. To start with, the wife is not a rich person's party planner, she works for an NGO trying to make the native population's lives better. Our doughy hero visits her there on his leave, and we're introduced to Jango Fett as a local with a military past. The problem is the native's beach, where they live and all make their livelihoods, is under attack by the corporate big wig and his mercenaries, led by the always bad Michael Rooker. At first, our hero doesn't want any part of this dispute, but his wife implores him to help,and he does, along with Jango Fett. Maybe it's a little Seven Samurai, but it's better to be good and derivative, than bad and unwatchable.

Anyway, you know what I'm about to say, but I'll make it official anyway: don't waste your time. I noticed in my Behind Enemy Lines: Columbia review I said that wrestlers and action films were a perfect marriage, and the first thing the WWE did was make me eat my words, which is too bad. A lot of what worked in that movie was discarded in this one, and I have no idea why. Hopefully their next action film will discard everything about The Marine 2.

For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1266027/