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, March 30, 2010

Fast Getaway (1991)

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I first saw this who knows how long ago when I rented it. Corey Haim, why not, right? I didn't like it, but when I started the DTVC three years ago, it was one I really wanted to review. The only problem: it's not available on DVD. I guess I can kind of see why, considering it was rather unremarkable, but it was still quite an impediment. Anyway, just recently, I found it used on VHS at a local record store (along with Lady Dragon), so that wasn't a bad deal.

Fast Getaway is about a father and son bank robbing team (played by Leo Rossi and the late Corey Haim) plying their trade in the pristine mountains of Colorado and Utah. When they have an acrimonious split with their partners Cynthia Rothrock and Ken Lerner, they strike out on their own, only to be set up when Rossi agrees to go along with a heist Haim insists on doing. While in jail and waiting for Haim to break him out, a mysterious woman played by Welcome Back Kotter's Marcia Strassman comes to take Haim in. At the same time, Rothrock and Lerner, with Rossi out of the way, want to get their hands on Haim to force him to help them with their next heist.

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Before I get into whether or not I liked this, let me take a moment to discuss the recently departed Corey Haim. I think I speak for everyone in our generation in saying that Haim and his friend and oft co-star Corey Feldmen were true staples of the 80s. We grew up watching these guys, and at least for me, they played a big part in my eventual love of movies. What's saddest about Haim's passing was that it didn't come when he and Feldmen were has-beens or poster children for Hollywood youth gone wrong; it came when he was making his way back to some form of relevance. I just remember watching License to Drive twenty years ago (it's crazy to say that!) and thinking how cool and amazing LA was, and how we here in Maine, New Hampshire, and Massachusetts had nothing like that-- and I associated that world with Haim, with no clue that that world he inhabited on screen was killing him off-screen.

All right, as far as Fast Getaway goes, I guess I was left with this feeling, both now, and all those years ago when I first watched it, of what was that? First off, was I rooting for Rossi, who kidnapped his son when he's an infant and made his living by sticking a gun in people's faces and scaring and humiliating them? I can see that maybe this was some kind of comedy, but again, it was just too weird and depraved for me to laugh at it too much. A lot of these things could've been mitigated had Haim not been Strassman's son, or had Strassman abandoned her son, instead of Rossi running off with him. And she seemed pretty fine with that after all was said and done, which was even weirder for me.

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Rothrock wasn't bad. She's not in it much, and a lot of her martial arts work is done for show. I got this more for Haim than I did for Rothrock, but as the only DTVC Hall of Famer in the film, she needs a mention. I'm looking to get after it a little more with some of her better work that's only available on VHS, starting with Tiger Claws. One thing I often try to do is strike the balance between new DTV films, and catching up on a lot of the old favorites that got me into this, and I'm sure got a lot of you, the readers, into checking me out. What often happens, though, is those new ones are much more readily available, and as such, the great older classics get lost in the shuffle. It's definitely something I'll be working on in the future.

I've never got the whole concept of Leo Rossi. (I could see him potentially reading this saying "oh my God, I'm a concept now?") I don't know, he's just never worked. It's like he's Robert Z'Dar with a smaller face, which in my mind, defeats the point. It probably also doesn't help that his character in this film was wholly unsympathetic. I know Mr. Kenner at Movies in the Attic has been trying to get after me to review the Relentless series, so maybe I'll grow to understand just what Rossi is all about through those, but I doubt it. (By the way, I did review Relentless 2: Dead On because it has DTVC Hall of Famer Miles O'Keefe.)

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One thing I loved about this was the Colorado landscape in the background. I'm actually going out there in September to hit some mountains with a friend, so this just got me even more pumped. I understand that financially, filming in Sofia or Vancouver is probably a better bet, and don't get me wrong, those places have great natural landmarks as well, but there's just something about a movie taking the best America has to give and really showcasing it. It's not about a rah-rah jingoism or Toby Keith put a boot in your ass kind of thing, it's just about taking advantage of the great backdrop we have right in out enormous backyard, and letting the world in on a US that's more than just New York, LA, Chicago, or Texas.

I have to admit, I can kind of understand why this isn't available on DVD yet. I can see where it wanted to be charming, quirky, and funny, but in the end it gave us a very unsympathetic figure in Leo Rossi's character, did a bad job of making him someone to root for, and from there the rest of the film fell flat.

For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0101857/

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Shark Attack 3: Megalodon (2002)

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When I was visiting my friends in Mass a couple weeks ago, the wife had rented this on Netflix, in part because they were shown the film in Austria by their friend's roommate, and in part because it had a dude from the new Doctor Who (more like Cock-tor Who-- get it?!?!). There was some question as to whether we'd actually get the film in, though, especially when we missed one of our opportunities to watch Bitch Slap instead. Luckily, the last night of my visit, we made it happen, and now I'm reviewing it for you. We'll get to that famous line later, trust me.

Shark Attack 3 has John Barrowman as some boat dude working at a resort in Mexico. His cushy job goes south quick, though, when a big ol' effin' shark makes its way on the scene and starts eating people. A paleontologist is attracted by it's enormous size, but even she is shocked by just how big it is. Unable to convince anyone to close the beaches, Barrowman, the chick, and some older Navy dude, take matters into their own hands. Oh yeah, and Barrowman has one amazing line.

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I mean, I don't know that camp gets any better. Whether it's the 1950s, and sharks are poorly superimposed, or it's 2002, and the sharks are either made of foam or poorly Photoshopped, it all works for me. This was everything Mega Shark vs. Giant Octopus was supposed to be and wasn't. I don't know how much of this was serious, and how much was a joke and on purpose; but I don't care. It was freakin' hilarious. Oh, and then there's that great line.

Yes, the dialogue was horrible, the acting was horrible, the special affects were horrible, but somewhere along the line, all that horrible adds up to a whole lot of fun. Now, if I had watched this on my own, as opposed to with like minded friends that I could mock it with, I might be less forgiving; but a movie like this wasn't meant for single viewing, it's best enjoyed in a group. It's also not meant to be watched passively. Get in there with your A material and let her have it. At the very least, you and your friends can wait for Mr. Barrowman's famous line.

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One thing I dug were the pictures of former Mexican president Vicente Fox at various points of the film. Yes, they also had a couple Bush and Cheney ones, but you can see those anywhere. Vicente Fox is a different story. What's funny is, I'm not sure I could pick out Steven Harper or Paul Martin if I were shown some pictures of them, nor could I pick out pictures of the new Mexican president, whoever that is, but Vicente Fox? Yep, I know him. I guess I've let my knowledge of world leaders slip over the past few years. I am better at picking out That Guy style character actors though-- Bashar Rahal is in this.

One of the best bad effects in this came when Barrowman used his digital camera to take a picture of the shark's tooth he found. As opposed to taking the picture, like most digital cameras do, this thing scanned the image of the tooth and loaded it onto his computer with a white background. I'd say that was ridiculous, except that's the kind of thing CSI does with photos on the computer all the time. Oh, and even more so, that would be ridiculous except for Barrowman's famous line.

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That's right, if you don't already know, Barrowman says to his leading lady, almost out nowhere "what do you say you let me take you home and eat your pussy", and the love scene ensues. I wanted to embed the video of it at the bottom of the post so you could see it for yourself, but it was disabled, so instead I set up a link to it on YouTube. I guess Barrowman was told by the director to say anything he could think of to get a rise out of his co-star, and that's what we got. As Billy Ocean would say, it's "simply... awesome."

If you and your buddies are planning a bad movie night, you can't go wrong picking Shark Attack 3 for it. It's more than just that great Barrowman line too, but that line doesn't hurt either. Unlike a funny movie like Batman or Black Dynamite, this is the kind of funny that is serious enough that you and your friends can have a truly interactive experience and make fun of it, which is what makes for a perfect bad movie night.

For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0313597/

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Batman (1966)

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People often ask me what my favorite comic book movie of all time is, and when I say it's this film, they think I'm either kidding or being postmodern for the sake of being postmodern. I think a big part of it is that my generation has this idea that the 60s were either Andy Griffith or protests, and so to them a show like the Adam West Batman couldn't have been purposefully silly, but rather just a product of "awe-shucks" wholesome family entertainment. It's like watching The Match Game and focusing on them saying "Whoopee" for "sex", instead of celebrating how funny and sexually charged the show really was. If you think "Bam!" "Pow!" and "Zoink!" were serious, then of course you wouldn't get why I love this so much.

Batman was originally supposed to be a feature film to sell the TV show, but when the TV show aired and was extremely successful, they waited on the movie, then shot it between the first two seasons. The film brings back all of the original cast, except for Julie Newmar, who was replaced by Lee Meriwether for the role of Catwoman. In addition to her, the memorable Adam West, Burt Ward, Cesar Romero, Frank Gorshin, and Burgess Meredith all take on the roles they made famous and iconic.

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I just watched this again last night, and it's still as good today as it was when I first saw it on a Sunday afternoon on WBSK TV 38's Movie Loft with Dana Hersey when I was maybe 7 or 8 years old. Sure, it's not for everyone, and I don't begrudge a person who goes in for the darker interpretations on-screen today, but to write this one off for being satirical and tongue-and-cheek is as bad as me writing off The Dark Knight for having a Saw villain (played amazingly by Heath Ledger, but a Saw villain no less) as its Joker. The 1966 Batman was not cheesy, it was funny, and it was funny on purpose. I'd say it's ahead of its time, but it was hugely popular when it was aired, so maybe, the correct statement is, us Gen Xers and Gen Yers could probably take page out of our Baby Boomer parents' playbook. If anything, Black Dynamite did. (As an aside, I was born in 1979, so I'm on the cusp of the Gen X Gen Y generations, but I think I'm more Gen X.)

One thing I really liked about this was all the colors. No, it was no Ran, but what is? It just seemed like every set, every outfit, every prop just popped off the screen. Again, a stark contrast to not only the new Batman films, but also even the comic and video games we see today. Tim Burton's Batman did so much to change the landscape, and even the new one that made so much money and is trying so hard to be its own thing is housed fully under Burton's shadow. The thing is, as far as I can tell, Batman is stuck between these two worlds. You can only either be the campy, satirical Adam West Batman of the 60s, or you can be the dark Tim Burton Batman of the 90s. Burton's Batman was such a backlash against the 60s version, but it was so good, the fear is any step back into light and color for Batman is a step back to the 60s version, and it's almost impossible to duplicate that and have it work, so people stay in the dark world. I'd like to see someone pull Batman back into the middle, but I don't see it happening.

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I don't know which way the third in this new Batman series will go for a villain, but they have a lot to live up to with the previous versions, and I'm not sure they'll be lucky enough to have another Heath Ledger performance to save them if they do another ill conceived version of another one of our favorites. Let's be real here, all The Dark Knight's Joker did was give people Bloody Smiles. Ledger took that pedestrian material and turned it into an Oscar (though really, the Oscar he should've won was for Brokeback Mountain). Yes, I agree that the last thing The Dark Knight wanted was a Cesar Romero with his moustache still visible under the white paint, but if we're honest, Jack Nicholson's Joker was just as amazing, and was much better written. What made Romero and Nicholson's Jokers better was how they enhanced great material (on extreme opposite ends of the spectrum), while Ledger turned something unremarkable into a reason to go see a pretty blah blockbuster that we've all seen myriad times before. Ledger should get all the credit for that, but the writers of The Dark Knight should not be let off the hook, let alone applauded.

Adam West is the man. The only star I think of who fit his role better was Christopher Reeve as Superman. If you watch this DVD with his and Burt Ward's commentary, you can really see how he not only gets it, but he even adds his own touches to the silliness around him. He's not a Shatner, who probably isn't as in on the joke as he thinks he is; Adam West started the joke-- it's his joke! But at the same time, he, more than any of the people associated with the show and movie, created an icon. While Nicholson, and then Ledger, may have stepped out from under the shadow of Cesar Romero, not one of the four men to play the Caped Crusader since West has been able to fill his shoes-- er boots... and tights.

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Finally, this one scene above has always stuck out for me as quintessential Catwoman. It's very sexy how she's lying with the heel of her boot resting on that post; but it's also very commandeering, especially how she doesn't move at all as the other villains come in and out, sometimes even going under her legs. It's so feminine, yet at the same time, it's not at all submissive: this is her space, she doesn't care if it's taking up your space, and she knows full well that no guy is going to ask her to give that space up. This is what I was talking about when I reviewed Catwoman and I was discussing how wrong that film's approach was. Lee Meriwether perfectly married the seductive and the deadly elements we expect from Catwoman, and no scene in this film encapsulates that better than this one here. She deserved that part on Barnaby Jones she got from doing so well here.

If you haven't seen this, or even worse, wrote off the old TV show, it's worth another look. Allow yourself to laugh with a foam shark attached to Batman as he punches it while waiting with bated breath for Robin to bring him the Bat Shark Repellent. It's not cheesy, it's comedy-- no one was off camera or in the editing room after saying "how exciting will this scene be? I can't wait!" They were laughing their asses off, and so should you.

For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0060153/

Batman and Robin (1997)

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I first saw this in the theater when it came out, and was definitely under-whelmed. I think by then I'd tired of the big budget Bat-sequels with myriad Hollywood actors, product tie-ins, and ubiquitous soundtrack songs. I haven't seen it since then, but was intrigued when it was number on on Empire.com's 50 Worst Films Ever. I mean, I remembered it being bad, but worse than say, Catwoman?

Batman and Robin is the fourth in the Caped Crusader series started by Tim Burton. This time George Clooney takes the helm, with Chris O'Donnell as Robin and Alicia Silverstone as Batgirl there at his side. As far as villains menacing Gotham City, Arnold Schwarzenegger steps up as Mr. Freeze, and Uma Thurman plays the ever sexy Poison Ivy. No one famous played Bane as far as I could tell. Anyway, does the plot matter? I didn't think so.

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In the first ten minutes, there's a goofy fight between Batman and Robin and Mr. Freeze and all his henchmen. They're ice skating and playing hockey with a large diamond. It was reminiscent of the old TV show, and I thought maybe I just didn't get it when I watched it the first time. But then, back at the Batcave, O'Donnell and Clooney have this stilted, poorly written argument about Clooney holding O'Donnell back, and I understood better why this was panned. It had its positives: Uma Thurman was great as this kind of Bette Midler send-up of Poison Ivy; the sets, when not covered in fluorescent green, were really cool, especially Arkham Asylum and the observatory; and Alicia Silverston was really hot and George Clooney looked great in a tux.

But neither Clooney nor Silverstone worked as superheroes. Clooney is probably one of the coolest men alive, which you think would work in his favor, but it turned out he was too cool to play Batman. I'd even say he's too cool to play James Bond. I say this because he's more sophisticated than that type of material. Watch a film like Leatherheads, and you'll see what I mean. Silverstone was hot as all get out in that Batgirl costume, but she had this air head quality that made her role as a superheroine totally unbelievable. As far as O'Donnell, if I was him I'd have fired my agent after this. They made his Robin like Rob Schneider in Judge Dredd, yet then tried to make it serious, so all we were left with was being annoyed with him. Finally, Arnold was the worst. His accent works great in a one line capacity-- see "Let off some steam, Bennett"-- but in the world of superhero/supervillain banter, he was way off and sounded overly rehearsed. Jim Carey, Danny DeVito, Tommy Lee Jones? Yes. Schwarzenegger? No.

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Let's address Empire.com's claim that this was the worst film ever. Yes, I can't argue with the Bat-nipples, and the script was all over the place, not knowing if it wanted to be tongue-in-cheek or serious; but worse than Catwoman? Worse than Highlander 2: The Quickening? Part of the reason why I think it won was because the list was put to a vote by readers. How many people do you know have seen Catwoman? Now how many do you know have seen Batman and Robin? Exactly. Yes, it wasn't great, but worst ever is a heavy indictment, and this film didn't deserve it.

I loved Uma Thurman's take on Poison Ivy. On Empire.com's blurb about the film, they quoted critic Anthony Lane's comment that all the stars put in "their worst imaginable performances." Again, that's very harsh, but in Thurman's case, incorrect as well. It's a damn comic book movie, and she was having fun with it. Unlike Schwarzenegger who was out of his league, Thurman stole every scene she was in. Yes, it was very 1970s Sonny and Cher guest appearance-y, but it worked for me. Silverstone, though nowhere near as good, was just so hot I'm not sure it mattered. One thing I didn't like, and it wasn't her fault, but the writers', was how instead of being Commissioner Gordon's daughter, she was Alfred's niece. Had they gone with the comic book version of her origin, it would've made for at least a more believable character. Supergirl with Helen Slater suddenly emerging from the water in her Supergirl outfit thinks the way this film turned Silverstone into Batgirl was contrived and nonsensical.

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Films like these are usually chick full of celebrity cameos, and this was no exception. You had Vivica A. Fox in one brief scene as a throwback to the chicks that used to hangout with the villains on the old TV show, for instance. Probably best for me was Jesse "The Body" Ventura and Rolf Moeller as Arkham guards. That means that, in addition to Predator and Running Man, this film has the distinction of producing two US governors. Who's with me on starting the campaign for Moeller as governor of Maine?

Worst movie ever? No, not even close. Great movie? No, not even close. It has it moments, both good and bad, but I think more than anything, it signalled to its audience just how spent we were with the whole Batman franchise started by Tim Burton. It'll be interesting to see what the new series of films does for its third and fourth installments. The third one will sell well no matter what, just based on the first two, but if it sucks, it'll be up to the fourth one to revive it. If they fall into the trap this one did, of just throwing as many Hollywood celebs at it as possible, we could see a similar result.

For more info: http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0000235/

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Ninja (2009)

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This film came out the same day as Bitch Slap, so naturally, it was somewhat lost in the shuffle. Only somewhat, mind you, because I would've hit it sooner had it been available to me, but I didn't get on it quick enough and other people had it out at Netfix. Anyway, the combination of Scott Adkins and director Isaac Florentine, reunited after a great run in Undisputed II, just seemed very promising.

Ninja is about a ninja dojo in Japan that has two outstanding students: Casey (Scott Adkins), an orphan of a dead drunk American serviceman, and Masazuka, a guy who thinks Casey is unworthy of their sensei's praise. Anyway, Masazuka is kicked out of the dojo for attacking Casey, and he wants his revenge in the form of taking back the dojo's prized possession: a big fancy looking trunk filled with ninja weaponry. Casey, the sensei's daughter, and a couple other dudes travel to the States to hide it, and Masazuka follows them, employing a secret organization of angry Slavic white guys that he did a hit for to try and obtain the trunk. I'm sure you don't need me to tell you how this wraps up, with a showdown between Adkins and Masazuka.

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I don't know where to go with this one. I want to be harsh and scold it for not having anywhere near enough action, or for giving us a hero in Adkins who's awesome, and then tarnishing his awesomeness by having him run from the baddies until like the hour mark, when he finally kicks ass. If-- and this could be a big if, because I didn't see any indication of this on imdb-- if they are using Ninja as the first in a series of Scott Adkins ninja movies, and this one was just him coming into his own as a warrior, I'm good with the running away. If not, then that was a waste of Scott Adkins.

Even if his character was just coming into his own, there were still plenty of missteps. In one scene Adkins is handcuffed to a table at a police station. Instead of just picking the lock like all the other ninjas do, he has to break the desk he's chained to. Come on people, no matter how green a ninja he is, he should be able to get out of handcuffs better than that. The bad ninja, Masazuka's, outfit was ridiculous. He looked like the Guyver, which would be great if he was supposed to be the Guyver, but he was supposed to be a ninja! And he was using night vision goggles. Ninja's don't use night vision goggles! From the way they laid out the opening, I was expecting something in the vein of the Golan-Globus style 80s ninja flick, and this wasn't even close.

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Don't take this as an indictment of Scott Adkins as a potential DTV action star, because nothing could be further from the truth. This guy was great, and had the film focused on his great fighting, instead of having him run away so much, it would've made for a much better film. I hope this is only the start for Adkins, and he does do a series of ninja films-- or even just more action films. Even though this is the fourth film of his we've reviewed, Shepherd: Border Patrol, The Tournament, and Undisputed II being the other three, this is the first where he was the lead, and when he was allowed by the film to be the lead, he did great. Not only that, but with a lot of our great action stars in their fifties going on sixties, Adkins isn't even 34 yet, so he's a solid candidate to have the torch handed to.

I didn't show a picture of the guy who ran the secret organization of Slavs that the evil ninja turned to for help, because this guy was one of the worst Poor Man's Lance Henriksens I've ever seen. I mean, Lance Henriksen's not so great to begin with, but then to try emulate him, that's even worse. Who knows why the people making this couldn't get the real Lance Henriksen-- I mean, it seems like everyone else can-- but once they couldn't get him, the worst possible thing they could do was get someone else to act like him. You either have Henriksen or you don't, and when you don't, move on.

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This film was shot in Bulgaria, but this shot looks like New York City, so I'm assuming they used file footage and mixed it in, which is fine with me. Anyone who's been rocking with me for a little while probably knows that I have a thing for spotting McDonald's in movies. I think this is the fifth one, after Direct Contact, Hardwired, The Keeper, and American Ninja V. I know, I'm a little nutty with that kind of thing, but McDonald's is just a guilty pleasure of mine. I didn't see a McDonald's in the Tokyo file footage they used, but I did see a KFC, so that was kind of cool.

I guess I would give this caveat before I recommend it: for an 88 minute film, there's more downtime than you'd imagine. Towards the end, it really hits its stride, but for me, as a self-professed connoisseur of this kind of thing, it needs to hit its stride at the five minute mark if it wants to be truly great, and this one just didn't do that. Worst of all was the film makers forcing our hero, Scott Adkins, to run away from the baddies for a good portion of the film. Even Franco Nero in Enter the Ninja didn't do that.

For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1182921/

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Lady Dragon (1992)

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This movie was available on DVD, but is now out of print, meaning Netflix no longer offers it to rent. I was very upset about that at the time. This is a Cynthia Rothrock classic, I thought, how could they not have it? Anyway, I found it on VHS for like $2 at a local record store, and was pretty stoked. Then I watched it again for the first time in 15 years, and was much less stoked.

Lady Dragon has Rothrock as a former CIA chick on the trail of the arms dealer (Richard Norton) who killed her husband of two seconds. Her first attempt only makes things worse for herself, ending disastrously with Norton raping and beating her (none of which is shown-- thank you). She's dumped in a nearby village, where a wise old mute and his grandson nurse her to good health. Time for round two, Mr. Norton.

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This could've been good. It had the bad lines, the sick music, the late 80s bad clothes (making them not only bad clothes but so five years ago), and the star power of Norton and Rothrock. What could they have done to ruin such a promising film? You guessed it, broke rule number one to bad action films: they let the plot get in the way. There were long periods of inactivity, plus a lot of the fight scenes were poorly choreographed. Norton himself doesn't fight until the last 30 minutes, and though it was awesome with him rocking the Miami Vice blazer and rolled up sleeves, that's way too late for our first Norton fight. In some of the Rothrock ones, the moves were clunky and over-rehearsed, especially the first one. Add to all of this, the movie went on approximately 20 minutes too long, and the final fight with Norton was ruined with some crap about the baddies having her friends, meaning she took a beating from ol' Norty that should've killed her, only to have her rally and beat him. It just didn't work.

I'm trying to figure out where I got it into my head that this was awesome. Maybe it was part 2 that was good. Maybe I got it mixed up with another Rothrock one that was actually good. Or maybe it was one of those where me and my friends were prank calling people instead of watching it; or the one we watched when the pizza came, so we fought over who got what while it was playing; or perhaps I was just too wasted when I saw it to fully comprehend how bad it was. Yes, there was plenty silliness to make fun of, like Rothrock on a dirt bike giving Norton the finger, but the large pockets of nothing happening killed any fun one might have.

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Though I can maybe see why Lady Dragon isn't on DVD, Rothrock has a pretty extensive collection of movies that were either never released on DVD, or at one time were and then fell out of print. The recent release of Undefeatable on DVD by an independent distributor gives me some hope, but in the meantime, films like China O'Brien are available on eBay and Amazon for exorbitant prices used, which is very disconcerting. This is an alarming trend recently, as we've discussed with Gary Daniels on recent posts. In just the three years that I've been doing this, I've seen myriad titles fall out of print, but it wasn't until I inducted Rothrock into my Hall of Fame in 2008 that I realized just how bad this has gotten. I think the biggest culprit is the large number of bad theatrical films with major movies stars in them that fill up $5 bins and the airwaves of channels like USA, TNT, and Spike. Our biggest problem at the DTVC is Hollywood can't stop making bad movies, and these huge conglomerates that own them own the cable channels that would air them too. Not only that, but the average viewer would rather watch Mel Gibson or Tommy Lee Jones in something bad, than Cynthia Rothrock in something bad. Whatever the reason, it's a sad state of affairs, and it makes my job that much harder.

That was a bit longer than I wanted it to be, so let's talk about something more fun. I'm not sure how many women and gay males read this blog, but even if it's only one or two, this paragraph is for you. Richard Norton shows off his bare buttcheeks. No frontal nudity, but plenty of pecs action too. As far as the straight males and lesbians go, no such luck. There was some mud wrestling and women fighting over a ruby in a pool though. What was best about that scene was how Norton was watching the women, getting really turned on, and Rothrock was looking at him like "what a weirdo!" Anyway, statistically speaking, the kinds of movies I review are much more likely to have naked chicks than naked dudes, so when it happens, I'm willing to let the straight ladies and gay males have their fun.

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Norton has this line he says, not once, but twice, that had to be a joke. "The kind of pain dreams are made of." What the hell does that mean? Now imagine that line with an Australian accent. "The kind of pine dreems a' mide hov." (I can talk in an Australian accent much better than I can write in it. An apology to Sutekh, one of our readers from down under, if I'm coming off as an Australian-ist, or rather, anti-Australite.) I'm just trying to make sense of that, because it sounds like a bad Disney commercial line. "The kind of pain dreams are made of".... Whatever, I'll just go with it.

Unless you're a Rothrock completist, I can't imagine this being much fun for you. The two Rage and Honor films are on DVD, and though China O'Brien is out of print, those are all still better than this one. My next Rothrock film might actually be Tiger Claws. I know, another VHS warrior, but I think I may have found parts 1-3. Cross your fingers-- or don't if you know better than I do and they suck!

For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0104667/

Monday, March 22, 2010

Fugitive Mind (1999)

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This has been on Watch Instantly probably as long as I've had that feature, and I'm not sure why it's taken me this long to review it. It's not like I've been running through a slew of Dudikoff films lately, and here's one that's readily available. I guess I was saving it for an occasion like this when I needed a film in a pinch.

Fugitive Mind has DTVC Hall of Famer Michael Dudikoff as a maintenance guy for a lab corporation who lives a nice life with his nice wife, Michelle Greene; but he's plagued by these horrible dreams. Turns out, things ain't as nice for old Dud-y as he thought, and when he finds out Greene is in on it, he flees. He discovers that his job might be have something to do with it too, and he happens upon Scream Queen Heather Langenkamp, who just happens to be escaping when he's investigating. She lets him know all sorts of things about how they were kidnapped by the corporation and tested on. It's all making sense when he connects his dreams to a senator that's been causing problems to for them: they want to brainwash Dudikoff into offing the senator.

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I don't know how I managed to stay awake for this. I'm serious, my friends will tell you, I don't have a great track record as far as those things go. I'll fall asleep during interesting movies, let alone something as blah as this one. The best way to describe it is a Bloodfist plot with less awesome asskicking, and with Dudikoff on the payroll, that's simply unacceptable. Though imdb lists it as a Direct to Video film, it was more like a Lifetime suspense thriller than a DTV actioner. You could also call it a Manchurian Candidate rip-off, but that would still mean it's ahead of the remake. There were some pluses, though. The best was when Dudikoff gives a guy the old Life of the Party maneuver, ie he takes him out by shoving a lampshade over his head. The only thing that would've been better was if he'd then forced to the guy to say into a fan "Luuuuke Iiiii aaaaam yoooooour faaatherrrrr." God, I love those Life of the Party Guys.

Michael Dudikoff was my next candidate to get all of his DTV catalog reviewed on here. It's going to be no simple task, but when I neglect an easy one to review like this one for so long, I'm just making it harder on myself. He also, like Gary Daniels, has an immense DTV oeuvre, which means it may take me all of 2010, and then some, to make that complete. One thing about a film like this one, that ain't so great, is it underscores what a task it is to complete a filmography on a site like this. You really gotta take the good, the bad, and the ugly.

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I've always had a thing for Heather Langenkamp. I don't know what it is, but she's always just worked for me. In Fugitive Mind, she wears this over-sized sweater and baggy pants the whole time, and it's totally hot to me in this lazy Sunday by the beach in the fall kind of way. She hasn't done much beyond Nightmare on Elm Street and Just the Ten of Us. I don't know if that's her choice or if she just doesn't get a lot of work. For an action film like this, her Scream Queen-ness was kind of an issue, because she screamed a little too much in scenes when she was supposed to be afraid. The Scream Queen is a different set of skills from the action leading lady.

Dudikoff's fake wife is played by Michelle Greene, who's probably best known for her stint on LA Law, but who I also remember from an episode of Simon and Simon where she plays an archaeologist who's captured by a colleague over an artifact or something. After the whole Indiana Jones thing, archaeology and anthropology were seen as the most exciting careers ever, and on some levels they are, but not in the make a great plot for an 80s crime action drama series way. As far as the movie goes, towards the end, she wears this outfit that leads me to believe the wardrobe people really dropped the ball on this one. She's in this tight green shirt with no bra, so her boobs are all over the place; and then she's got on these tight white pants, so tight that we can see where her butt's crammed into her underwear. Her agent couldn't have been happy about that look.

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Finally, there was this dude in the film that wanted nothing more than to be Geraint Wyn Davies. You can see the image above and tell me I'm not right. It was like in every scene he was telling us "dude, I so should've gotten that gig on Forever Knight", while we were saying in every scene "dude, you so should've been Geraint Wyn Davies." I'm not sure if I would've liked the film any better if that guy actually had been Geraint Wyn Davies, but I know I wouldn't have liked it any less.

I would say no to this one. I needed a film in a pinch and I also hadn't done a Dudikoff film in a while, so I went with it; plus it's availability on Watch Instantly made it an easier choice. That doesn't make it right, though, and Fugitive Mind was very wrong. I don't really know what my next Dudikoff film will be. Netflix has a few I can get on DVD, so I'll start there. We'll see what happens.

For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0141111/

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Deadly Target (1994)

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I first saw this about five or six years ago when it aired on either EncoreAction or ShowtimeXtreme. I actually wanted to review it when I first started the DTVC back in 2007, but I didn't remember enough about it (in fact, I didn't even remember the name!), so I just forgot about it and it was lost in the shuffle. A few weeks ago, though, when I was looking for some films to review because Netflix didn't have available the ones I wanted, one of our readers, Michael, suggested I give this one a try. Of course, as luck would have it, it too ended up not being available, then the storm hit, and everything just got all backed up. Finally, here it is, Deadly Target, in all its glory.

Deadly Target has DTVC Hall of Famer Gary Daniels as a Hong Kong cop in LA after Byron Mann, who's a big time drug dealer. The problem is, Mann's escaped, and Daniels has pissed of the LAPD to the point they don't want him involved. Lucky for him, a hot Asian chick has taken him in, and one dude on the force has taken a shine to him. Now it's only a matter of time before Daniels gets his man.

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This is bad 90s action at it's pretty-good-est. I mean, it had some great fights, some great car chases, and some great explosions. Daniels did his thing, and believe me, we've seen much worse from him. Overall, I could dig it. One problem I had was with it though is his female friend who takes him in. She handles herself in a fight and with a weapon as if she's had quite a bit of training, when her character is depicted as a glorified Valley Girl grown up. That's kind of that point where silly becomes too silly for me, and not silly in a way that's awesome, like a car exploding from a minor collision as if it were filled with TNT.

I'm fighting an uphill battle to get all of Daniels' films up here at the DTVC. It seems like for every one film I get my hands on, Netflix makes two unavailable. The most recent victim is Fatal Blade. It could be worse. It looks like Netflix is systematically eliminating all of Jeff Speakman's library. I'm wondering if this isn't Netflix's fault, or rather the individual distributors don't want Netflix to have them. For instance, Albert Pyun's new film, Bulletface, is only available through the website, and not on either Amazon or Netflix (you can download a torrent of it, but I would never do that for a Pyun film, based on the support he's shown us here at the DTVC). Anyway, so maybe I shouldn't be giving Netflix all the blame.

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One of my issues with this movie was the lack of a really great fight scene after the initial action. I mean, don't get me wrong, Daniels and his partner, Ken McLeod, were great, but with the studs they had, like Ron Yuan, Byron Mann, and James Lew, we should've been getting some of the best stuff we've ever seen. This shows yet again that you can line up all the talent you want, but if you don't use it, what good is it?

Daniels' love interest is played by Susan Byun, who was in one of my all time faves, Sgt. Kabukiman NYPD. I've never really done any Troma films here because I've always looked at them as a different category to what I'm doing. I know this might sound silly, but I've always seen them as an independent film company. With the DTVC Wild Card look at comic book movies winding down next week, I'm considering options for a new series of films to examine, and Troma seems like a logical next choice (another I was considering was vampire movies). I think we'll take a break for a little while though before I start something new.

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I don't remember which MST3K episode it was, but in one of them, a dude gets punched in the face, and the fake blood that comes out of his mouth causes one of the 'bots to say "Cherry Starburst." Ever since that time, every time I see a similar effect, I'm forced to say the same thing. I remember at one kitchen job I had, we served this Starburst Cake, and I always called it "Cherry Starburst Cake", and my boss would always be like "why do you keep saying that?" I think he felt like there was some inside joke or pop culture reference I wasn't letting him in on. Anyway, James Lew has an amazing Cherry Starburst moment, and I had to capture it for the blog. It was a thing of beauty.

I'm not really sure you need to throw this on your Netflix queue over anything else you've been considering watching, but if you have a hankering for some Gary Daniels and you've seen everything else, why not give this a shot. At the very least, if it airs on EncoreAction or ShowtimeXtreme, you could do a lot worse than watch it. It's not horrible, it's just, for a mid-90s DTV actioner, it's nothing special, just a solid bad action film.

For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0109573/

Friday, March 19, 2010

Supergirl (1984)

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As we continue Superman week on our DTVC Wild Card look at comic book movies, our second stop is the 1984 classic Supergirl. I believe the first time I saw this was on TV, but who knows. I just remembered it wasn't very good, but Helen Slater was very hot.

Supergirl I think is about a group of Kryptonians that fled when the planet exploded, led by a be-Cosby Sweatered Peter O'Toole, and now live in some enclosed town where their very existence hinges on a tiny spinning ball. Slater accidentally loses the ball, and now has to go to Earth to get it. Lucky for her, the ball is safe. Unlucky for her, the evil sorceress Selina, played by Faye Dunaway, has it. Now she not only has to get the ball back for her people, but she has to get it away from Dunaway before she subjugates the entire human race.

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I could easily say I felt like I was shoved into a flying parallelogram and banished to the Phantom Zone while watching this film. I mean, the plot was ridiculous, and when it wasn't dragging along and making us suffer through inane scenes of Slater trying to understand our foreign Earth Culture, it would jump from one thing to another without even bothering to try and explain how we got there. I felt like I was reading a book with pages missing. One moment she's in a space ship in a robe, the next she's soaring through the air as Supergirl, with the complete costume. This felt every bit like the rushed cash grab it was.

Still, this had some very redeeming qualities. It wasn't just how hot Helen Slater looked as Supergirl, but it was the kind of female hero she was-- which we never see anymore. She was sweet and feminine, not as a way to trap or manipulate men, but naturally; yet when push came to shove, when she had to kick ass, she got shit done. Today's heroines are all these tough chicks in black leather who have no time for guys because falling in love is a sign of weakness. If anything, this film was able to have its cake and eat it too. Also, they used a pretty guy in the damsel in distress role, flipping the script perfectly, all the way down to the villain trying to coerce the damsel to be her lover instead of the heroine's. The reality is, I'm not sure if a movie like this could be made anymore, which is kind of too bad, because I'm not sure another superheroine movie has done a better job of making it's female lead a complete person.

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There's one scene where the hunky guy is trapped in the bumper cars, while Dunaway has them racing around him. The bumper cars are designed like football players charging someone, and they all had NFL helmets, which was great for the nostalgia factor. It just so happened that the one Slater used to fly her boy-toy to safety was the one that had the old logo to my Patriots on it, along with the LA Rams. It's one of those things that doesn't make the film great at the time, but really adds to it's charm 25+ years later. Even better was the "What is Love" by Howard Jones that Dunaway played at a party she threw. I wonder if in 2030 I'll think it's as cool to hear the bad rock in films like Daredevil and Punisher. I doubt it: Seether and Evanescence are no Howard Jones.

Matt Frewer of Max Headroom fame has a cameo, dressed in a too sweet A&W root beer T-shirt. There's actually some other A&W product placement, along with a great Schlitz Malt Liquor and Popeye's chicken, but I only grabbed an image of Frewer in the shirt. Also, as I was capturing the image, I was listening to the commentary, and they pronounced his name FROY-er, as opposed to FROO-er, which is the way I've always said it. Have I always been wrong? I can't even remember when I first heard it as FROO-er, because it may have just been a friend who didn't know any better.

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We've had some great actors featured here at the DTVC, but Peter O'Toole might take the cake. In Supergirl he plays a kind of misunderstood genius in a Bill Cosby Sweater. I'm thinking, though, 1984 might have pre-dated the concept, because the show didn't debut until that same year, and the film had to have been made before that. Does that mean, even if it is essentially a Bill Cosby Sweater, I can't refer to it as one because he wore it before the show?

Okay, maybe the story left a lot to be desired, but there's something to be said for a female heroine in something other than black leather who likes people, wants to co-exist peacefully with men, and can still kick ass. Don't get me wrong, I love the black leather, but a Supergirl or Wonder Woman outfit is just as hot, and really, isn't much sillier than something like Halle Berry's Catwoman outfit. I think whoever tries to make the next superheroine movie would be foolish to write this film off completely.

For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0088206/

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Steel (1997)

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This is a film that my box office bomb wild card review was made for. The only problem was, it wasn't out on DVD, so I put off getting it. When I decided to do this series of comic book movies, I had actually forgotten this was based on one, and didn't consider it, until a few readers suggested it. That's when I realized it was time to stop procrastinating and make this sack-of-asscrack happen.

Steel has Shaq as a dude who makes weapons for the Army, along with Judd Nelson and Annabeth Gish. While trying to impress a visiting senator, Nelson gets overzealous with one of the weapons, things go bad, and in the process Gish ends up paralyzed, Nelson is dishonorably discharged, and O'Neal quits the service. When he gets home, though, he starts seeing his weapons pop up in the hands of the local street gangs. He calls in Gish and an old buddy in Richard Roundtree, and together they take down Nelson before he can sell his guns to anyone bad.

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There are days when I absolutely love what I do here, when I find some great gems, or someone sends me the funniest bad movie ever. Then there are times when I wonder if it's worth it to put myself through the ringer-- and this was one of those times. I knew I was in for it it when I hit the display button to see how far in I was, thinking it must've been like 45 minutes, only to discover to my horror that that 45 minutes was merely 18 minutes of real movie time. They should've had Mr. T in the very beginning, warning us "My prediction for this movie: Pain!" It's almost traumatizing to relive it again so soon, considering I only saw it a few hours ago.

I don't know what was worse, the script or Shaq's acting. It's amazing that a guy that's so naturally charismatic could be so bad at reciting lines in a manner that sounds like something more than just a guy reciting lines. At times I wondered if he was on SNL reading from cue cards off set because the writers just got done with it with no time to rehearse. And maybe that's how this whole thing was done, because the script at times sounded like something Ed Wood would've thrown together, especially at the end. It seemed like it wasn't even proofread. It was hard for me to reconcile that this was a feature film that played at my local movie theater, as opposed to one long sketch on Mad TV.

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There was one very bright spot, though, and that was Judd Nelson as the head baddie. If he didn't make such a great villain, I would've been rooting for him over Steel, but because he did such a great job being evil I wanted Steel, no matter how ridiculous he looked, to win. My friend at Movies in the Attic has been on me to get more Judd Nelson on my site, especially since this is the first film of his I've reviewed (I think). I couldn't agree with him more. Not only that, but Nelson is from Portland, ME. Who knew?

I have very little exposure to the comics that this character is based on, so I went on Wikipedia and gave myself a crash course. One striking thing about him is he's the exact opposite of Superman. Superman's has so many superpowers, the writers had to invent Kryptonite to make him vulnerable to something; while Steel has no superpowers whatsoever, he's just a human who's very smart. Also, Steel fits your classic hero paradigm-- he's John Henry Irons naturally, and dons his costume to become Steel. Superman is the opposite-- he's Superman naturally, and he dresses up to be Clark Kent. It's almost like Steel is Batman more than he's Superman.

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I had always considered that Shaq, between his charisma and athleticism, would make a good action hero. One could teach him martial arts pretty easily, and he'd be a natural on screen. Obviously, after watching this, I can see that the natural on screen part is out, but I also saw why he wouldn't really make it as an action star: he's too tall. In one scene with A-List That Guy Charles Napier, it was just really awkward as the two walked down the road together. I still think he'd make a great baddie or baddie's hatchet man if he learned to fight, but leading man would be too much. Dolph or Dennis Rodman is probably the ceiling on height.

I used to complain that this wasn't out on DVD yet, but some movies just don't need to be transferred. You could even say some movies don't need to be made when you're talking about something like this, let alone released on DVD. If you're a sadist, or maybe you did something bad and want to repent in a way that won't leave any visible marks, by all means, check out Steel. Just remember, though there may be no visible scars, the ones on the inside might be even worse.

For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0120207/

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Bitch Slap (2009)

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This was a very eagerly anticipated film, and then that anticipation waned quite a bit as the film took longer and longer to be released. While I was visiting my buddy in Mass last week, he insisted on buying it, us both being huge Michael Hurst guys from his time on Hercules. We figured there was no way this could fail.

Bitch Slap is a big ol' mess of a collection of scenes acted out in front of a green screen that some how lead back to these three women out in the desert digging for something buried out there. Oh, and a bunch of Hercules and Xena alums have cameos.

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It's interesting that things worked out in such a way that I was able to watch Black Dynamite and Bitch Slap within days of each other, because both films were trying to pay homage to/poke fun at older exploitation genres, and one worked better than I could've imagined, and another fell flat. Anyone who's been rockin' with us for a little while knows which one worked, and it wasn't Bitch Slap. In every case where Black Dynamite knew when to pull back, or not go too far, Bitch Slap overdid it; and in converse, every time Black Dynamite went for it and got as ridiculous as possible and it worked, Bitch Slap just came off as trying too hard to overdo it, or even worse, settling for overdoing it when trying for a modicum of quality was too hard. It was just a mess.

And that was too bad, because like Black Dynamite, they had the talent in the form of Hurst, Sorbo, Lawless, and Renee O'Connor to make this work-- and we'd seen this form of humor done so well in Hercules on numerous occasions. One major difference between Black Dynamite and Bitch Slap though, was the lead stars in the former, like Michael Jai White and Salli Richardson-Whitfield, were great actors/actresses; while the three women in the leads in the latter left a lot to be desired. Now I get that in the 50s and 60s women in the films they were paying homage too weren't great actresses either, but to make the movie in 2009 that pays homage to the 50s and 60s, you need talent to pull it off, otherwise you get another bad movie with none of the charm of those older ones. Believe me, I've seen my share of both 70s blaxpolitation and 50s and 60s exploitation films, and I get what both groups were going for in making their respective films, and one worked and the other didn't.

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One of the biggest issues was the technique they used in telling the story, where the film starts near the end, then whenever there's a plot point, we're taken to however long in the past to explain it, then jumped back into the present. Ever since Pulp Fiction came out, we've been inundated with people trying to find new ways to arrange the way the story is told to us, and very few of them do more than become increasingly tedious and annoying as the film goes on. The thing with Pulp Fiction was, Tarentino didn't rearrange the whole story, he took one part from near the beginning, and moved it to the end; and he didn't do it to be clever or just for the sake of doing it, he did it because it worked, because it enhanced what was an already great story.

That was one of the biggest problems this film had: it couldn't get out from under Tarentino's shadow-- and I'm not necessarily sure it wanted to. Again, going back to Black Dynamite, they created something that was sui generis, as opposed to something that came off as derivative. Maybe Bitch Slap wasn't supposed to be a Kill Bill or Pulp Fiction rehash, but it sure seemed like that. And as far as hot chicks making out or whatever, this is 2010, I can see that kind of action on an episode of Real World/Road Rules Challenge. I'm not saying don't include it in the film, I'm just saying don't hang your hat on it, give us some quality in and around it too.

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Before I wrap it up, I must mention the whole reason my buddy and I got this: Michael Hurst. What a crock: he's in maybe just shy of half of it; and what he's in is good, but the material is nowhere near as great as what he had on Hercules, and try as much as he could, he couldn't save it. The thing that sucks is, as much as I didn't like this film, and as much as my buddy who bought it didn't either, we both felt impelled to support it because we want more film makers to cast Hurst. It's not his fault this is bad-- in fact, it would've been better with more Hurst in it-- so don't blame him all you film makers out there.

This was a total disappointment to me, especially after waiting so long for it. At the very least, rent it before you buy it. It might be a personal issue I had (and my buddy and his wife too) with it, but even so, rent it anyway before you commit the $15 to $20, that way if I am right and you agree with me, it didn't cost you much.

For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1212974/

Monday, March 15, 2010

Wrong Side of Town (2010)

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There was one reason, and one reason only why I eagerly anticipated the release of this movie: Curly from Baller Blockin' (number 3 on my Top Ten DTV films of the Oughts). If you haven't seen Baller Blockin', Curly (or rather, the guy who played him, Jerry Katz), has some of the best one-liners of all time, from "Who's the baller now, wardy?" to "I want all your bling-bling". The guy's just amazing, and that he's in a new movie was enough to make me very excited.

Wrong Side of Town has Curly as a crime boss in Baton Rouge who leaves his prestigious night club in the hands of his inept brother, only to have the brother try to sexually assault the wife of a former Navy SEAL (played buy WWE wrestler Rob Van Dam-- the Navy SEAL, not the wife). As he tries to protect his wife, the brother charges him with a knife, and in the struggle the brother is accidentally killed. Now Curly wants revenge, and Van Dam has to make it out of the city alive when all of the most ruthless criminals want to cash in on the bounty Curly put on his head.

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I didn't really get this. I'm rooting for a guy in an Affliction T-shirt who's rocking the ponytail shaved sides of the head combo. I'm rooting for a guy who snaps at his wife: "I'm not asking you, I'm telling you!"? Apparently the people who packaged the film didn't think anyone would buy a film like that either, so they put fellow WWE wrestler Batista front and center on the cover, with Van Dam and rapper Ja Rule (who has one scene in the film) lingering in the background. I'm not sure if I'd buy Batista anymore than I'd buy Van Dam, but from the cover you'd think he's the star, when he's barely in the film. I've never heard of the Batista bait-and-switch, but the fact that this film resorted to those means must give you an idea of how desperate they were to salvage this stinker. No dice.

The thing is, this could've been cool, maybe even with Rob Van Dam in the lead. Where it really goes off the rails is when they cram down our throat that his character is a Navy SEAL. No amount of inundating us with it will make us believe it if it doesn't work. Still, another wrestler, Rowdy Roddy Piper, starred in a similar film called Jungleground, and that one worked much better, because Piper worked as the hero. Also, Piper never said to his girlfriend "I'm not asking you I'm telling you!" The point I'm trying to make is, cut Van Dam's hair, replace the Affliction T for a Canadian tuxedo, and maybe you have something. Maybe I'd even buy him as a former Navy SEAL. Probably get rid of him pulling out his old Navy SEAL stuff for a stealth mission on Curly's lair, too-- that was just plain silly.

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Curly was pretty good, despite his material not being anywhere near as great as it was in Baller Blockin'. At the end, when Van Dam was all dressed in black and picking off Curly's minions with a sniper rifle, I was rooting in vain for the old Curl Meister to turn the tables. I'm not sure how to explain what makes Curly so awesome. You really just have to see Baller Blockin' in order to truly understand. It looks like post-Katrina, Louisiana has been working hard to bring more film projects to their state, and with Jerry Katz (Curly) seemingly only doing films there, it could spell good things for any future roles he might get.

David DeFalco is back after a brief hiatus at the DTVC, this time as director instead of producer. You may notice in the picture we have of him on here, he's wearing oddly colored contacts. According to imdb, he wears those, in addition to white spandex and spikes, at all times when he's in public. I don't think there's much to add to that, other than it's good to have you back Mr. DeFalco.

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Finally, Ja Rule and Omarion (of You Got Served fame) have cameos in this. Ja Rule's was better than Omarion's, only because Omarion didn't Serve anyone. I'm not sure why either of them were in this at all. Maybe they were doing David DeFalco a solid, though I'd think just returning his calls or acknowledging his existence would be doing him a solid enough, right? Gentlemen's Cinema starlet and Baton Rouge native Stormy Daniels also has quick cameo in this. That one made more sense.

I only know of a few people that would want to watch this for Curly, and that's purely for the Baller Blockin' factor. If you're a Rob Van Dam fan you may want to check this out too. If I can say one thing about this movie and his performance: though it was bad, it wasn't nearly as bad as Ted DiBiase and The Marine 2. Also, catching it on Netflix Watch Instantly is a plus.

For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1431191/

Friday, March 12, 2010

Punisher: War Zone (2008)

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I first saw this when it came out on video. I might have seen it in the theater had it been there long enough, but that wasn't to be. It looked cool in the commercials, sorta kinda-- at the very least cooler than the Thomas Jane/John Travolta Punisher.

Punisher: War Zone takes place in New York, however many years after Frank Castle's wife and kids were killed, and he's been delivering his own brand of justice on killers. In the process of taking out a group of mafioso, he one, accidentally kills an undercover cop, and two, runs this dude through the bottle crusher at a recycling plants so his face is all messed up, and a plastic surgeon can only piece it back together so he looks like a jigsaw puzzle, hence his name, Jigsaw. Anyway, this cop may have set aside a good amount of mafia money, Jigsaw and his boys want it, and Castle feels like he should protect the family after he killed their dad, putting he and Jigsaw on a collision course to wackiness.

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I definitely liked this one better than the 2004 Punisher. One major plus was it felt like it could be a sequel to the Dolph Lundgren version, with how faithful it was to the comic book Punisher's origins. It's much more violent than either the 1989 or 2004 versions, with some very vicious kills, including one (which I included on the image page) where Castle almost punches right through a dude's face. (Though it's important to not the 1989 version had a much higher body count.) I mean, it wasn't all perfect, but there have been many worse comic book movies, and this was good for me.

For some reason I thought this film made more money than it did, which is why I didn't review it sooner. According to imdb, it only made $7.9 mill at the box office. I have to believe the only reason why it made so little was because it wasn't marketed well. With a budget of only $22 million, this was no Iron Man or Spiderman, this was a small scale, extremely violent, action film. I think that's what made it good for me, though. Ghost Rider, Catwoman, and Elektra all could've benefited from a smaller scale approach to the material-- I'm not saying they needed to be as violent, just not as big budgety. But the thing is, Hollywood has no idea how to sell us on a $22 million dollar too violent for kids comic book movie. Taco Bell and McDonald's don't want to do tie-ins with stuff like that, and shows like Today and Live! with Regis and Kelly don't want to interview actors showing clips from a project like that. The thing is, it was released near Christmas, which seems like a bad move, because it had a lot of nicer, more family oriented stuff to contend with, but I think had they marketed it as a way to let off steam without hurting anyone at a very stressful time of year, they might have made more money. Who wouldn't want to see something like that after spending hours with holiday shoppers?

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Also on imdb, I read that Thomas Jane and the 2004 film's original director were on board to do a sequel, and then one thing led to another and that fell though. Jane said the direction they were going in was too comic book-y, and he wanted a gritty, more realistic approach. What, like the guy who lived in an abandoned high school shop class for an apartment? What, like the guy who fought some ridiculous looking Johnny Cash wannabe of an assassin and killed the guy by shooting the blade of his knife out of it's handle, into the guy's throat? That's a serious, gritty movie, huh? A superfluous scene where a guy's piercings are ripped out does not a gritty film make, Mr. Jane.

With one of my all-time favorite directors, Kathryn Bigelow, winning the Oscar for best director last Sunday, I thought it would be good to point out that Punisher: War Zone is the only comic book movie directed by a woman, as far as I can tell. Lexi Alexander, who also directed Green Street Hooligans, took over when the director of the 2004 film split with Jane. I looked at her bio, and apparently she funded her movie making education by working as a stunt woman. I'm not saying she did a better job because she's a woman, I'm just saying it's important to point out the job she did, and that there aren't many women (really any) hired by the big studios to direct comic book movies; and also that throughout this look at comic book movies at the DTVC, I've had a running examination of which woman is the hottest lead, when perhaps it's a woman behind the camera, calling all the shots, that might be the hottest of all.

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Finally, already this week, with Black Dynamite, we've had one Seinfeld alum in Phil Morris, and now we have another with the great Wayne Knight, who plays Micro (I guess not quite Microchip, but almost?). He and Dash Mihok were the only two people I recognized in this, though Julie Benz is in Dexter, which I don't watch, but I'm sure a lot of other people do. I had no idea, and still have no idea, who Ray Stevenson is, but he worked much better than Thomas Jane as the Punisher, so I'm glad Jane felt things weren't "Gritty" enough for him. Oh yeah, and I also recognized Dominic West, who played Jigsaw-- though only barely. This was a long way off from A Midsummer Night's Dream or Chicago, and no, he didn't have an English accent.

So if you dig a lot of violence, this is the movie for you. I'm not sure it's a definitive or the best possible Punisher movie, but it works decently well, at least as far as I'm concerned. I'm not sure if I buy the Jane criticism that it's too comic book-y, but what it isn't is too blockbuster-y, which is a great breath of fresh air. Had this done better in the theater we may have seen a sea change in the way these things are made, but unfortunately that didn't happen, so expect to see the next attempt to make another Spiderman 2 or The Dark Knight in a theater near you this summer.

For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0450314/