The Direct to Video Connoisseur

I'm a huge fan of action, horror, sci-fi, and comedy, especially of the Direct to Video variety. In this blog I review some of my favorites and not so favorites, and encourage people to comment and add to the discussion. If you click on an image, it will take you to that post's image page, which includes many more pics from the film and other goodies I couldn't fit in the actual review. For announcements and updates, don't forget to Follow us on Twitter and Like our Facebook page. If you're the director, producer, distributor, etc. of a low-budget feature length film and you'd like to send me a copy to review, you can contact me at dtvconnoisseur[at]yahoo.com. I'd love to check out what you got.

Friday, April 30, 2010

Battlefield Earth: A Saga of the Year 3000 (2000)

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It is possible for a movie to be traumatic, even if it's not inherently disturbing like a Captivity or Saw 33 and 1/3. I didn't know this until five minutes ago, when I finished watching Battlefield Earth. Every five minutes the characters say "leverage", and while I was capturing images of the film for the blog I turned on the NBA playoffs on TNT (just saw a nice shot of the Riverwalk in San Antonio), and they were advertising the new season of their show Leverage, and each mention of it made me cringe. It was like having a hangover, and seeing a beer commercial.

Battlefield Earth is based on a novel by L. Ron Hubbard about some aliens called Psyclos, from the planet Psyclo, who conquer Earth and subject its humans to slavery. 1000 years later, the remaining humans live in little tribes, but one, Barry Pepper, is a little smarter than most, and he's captured by the Psyclos at a very opportune moment: Mr. Travolta was just told he'll be stuck on Earth for another 50 whatevers, and he's pissed. He decides he wants to mine some gold Psyclos can't get to, so he teaches Pepper how to use all the mining stuff and sends him and some humans in there. In the process of teaching him how to mine, he also teaches him astrophysics, molecular biology, and whatever else the plot requires he'll need to vanquish the Psyclos and free our planet.

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Every time I start to type, I stop and go "no, not there." This film is like a very messy room, and it's hard to know where to start tackling it. How about the annoying device used to jump to the next scene, where the picture would split down the middle, revealing the next one under it? Yeah, that wasn't stupid enough. Or just the direction as a whole. At times it felt more like a music video with the bad slow motion and over dramatic acting. Then there was the music itself, meant to tell us how amazing certain scenes were, when they were pretty bad and nowhere near amazing. That's just the movie from a technical standpoint. Want me to get into the story?

Well I won't. Making fun of cavemen learning to fly fighter jets in 7 days is just too easy. All I have to say is Man Animal. The film makes fun of itself. What irks me isn't how dumb it was, it's how smart the people who made it thought they were. You could see them patting themselves on the back (or patting L. Ron Hubbard's back posthumously) for the thing about the Psyclos thinking dogs were of a higher status in society than humans. And I loved how the writers didn't have a very extensive vocabulary, so they had to be as wordy as possible to make the characters sound intelligent. Again, it's just too easy.

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John Travolta is the face most associated with this frightening ordeal. When I was looking it up on imdb, it said the film won 10 awards, and I was like "what?", but I saw those were all Razzies and whatnot, and Mr. Travolta got one for it too. Battlefield Earth even got one for worst film of the decade, which is huge, considering everyone else had ten years to catch up. I get that Travolta is a devote Scientologist, and he wanted to make this for his hero, L. Ron Hubbard, but he had to see how much this was sautéed in wrong sauce; and he, more than anyone else involved, had the power to fix it. Instead, I remember him in all the press junkets telling us how amazing it is. Man Animal! Again, it just drives home the point that Tarentino made a great Travolta in Pulp Fiction, and we've been sold him as an A list movie star ever since, when he really has C list talent.

Someone who it turned out had A list talent was Forest Whitaker. Can you believe that six years after this he won an Oscar? I've heard that the US is the land of second chances, but the fact that he and everyone else involved in this pain fest were even allowed to make another film again, let alone be trusted for a role good enough for Whitaker to win an Oscar in, is astounding. Good for you, Mr. Whitaker, you took your second chance and made the most with it. A real American success story.

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A while back I went to Barnes and Noble to buy Anna Karenina, and found their $9 version, and the $15 Oprah Book Club version. I was telling everyone I knew that story, and one friend said "why don't we make our own book club and read silly things, like Tek War and Battlefield Earth?" I loved the idea... until I found out Battlefield Earth is over 1000 pages. What? As you can imagine, that was out. I thought to myself, who would've read that? Then I went to the Modern Library Top 100 Books of the 20th Century site, and saw not only their list, but their reader voted list. Guess what number three on the reader list was? You guessed it. Some things are just better not commented on.

If you haven't seen this, right now it's on Watch Instantly, so maybe you and your buddies should check it out. Don't do it alone like I just did, it's just too depressing. With the kinds of movies I review, we often hear the classification "so bad it's good", as in it's fun time to make fun of, etc. I don't know that that applies here. Sometimes there's "so bad it's ridiculous and not worth my time" or "so bad it hurts my soul" and I think this one might be in those latter two.

For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0185183/

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Back in Action (1993)

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I got this on VHS at the same time I picked up Tough and Deadly. I would've reviewed it sooner, but Mr. Kenner at Movies in the Attic insisted I fit in The King of the Kickboxers instead, so we did. Funny thing happened along the way: I think Back in Action might be the better movie...

Back in Action has DTVC Hall of Famer Rowdy Roddy Piper as a cop organizing a huge drug bust. Problem is, Billy Blanks' sister is dating one of the dealers, the dealer brings her along, and Blanks shows up to get her back. Well, he attacks one of the guards, the guy's gun goes off, and in the ensuing shootout Piper's partner is killed, and the main baddie thinks his dealer's girlfriend tipped off the cops. So the baddies want to kill the sister, Blanks wants to kill the baddies for wanting to kill her, and Piper doesn't know what to do with Blanks while he's trying to get revenge for his fallen partner.

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Now this is what I'm talking about. Pure awesomeness. Constant action, great fights, and two stars who more than live up to their billing. It just doesn't get any better. First off, Piper was good as always, but the material really let him be him, which is all we ever want. Forget the plot, just let him go for it. Then Blanks comes in just to let you know, kicking ass and taking names. He and Piper have a knock down drag 'em out fight that made me think of They Live. I wouldn't say it's that good, but it was close. And finally, there was no lull. At most there was maybe ten minutes of down time between scenes. I'm not sure what is so hard for other movie makers out there to understand about this: just fucking go for it! We don't watch these films for plot, character development, etc., we watch them for the kick ass factor, and Back in Action certainly had it.

This might be Piper's best ever. Okay, second best after Hell Comes to Frog Town, and if you're counting They Live, it falls down to three, but it's a very solid three. I've never had a complaint with Piper's performance in any movie he's done. No one brings it like he does, period. What I usually take issue with is how Piper is used, whether the part isn't big enough, the character isn't cool enough, or the plot hinders us from getting the Piper we all want when we load one of his films into our VCR or DVD player. Back in Action fulfilled the promise the front of the box made when it listed Roddy Piper as one of its stars, and for that alone it was amazing.

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This is three Billy Blanks films in row that ruled, and I'd say out of all of them, while this is the best movie, his best performance was in The King of the Kickboxers. That was one of the best baddies of all time. Here he flubbed some lines, sounded over rehearsed at moments, and his character was kind of weird the way he didn't respect his sister early in the film. Still, he kicked major ass, and he and Piper were great together again, even though they were more of a team in Tough and Deadly. We're going to definitely work on getting more of his films up, Talons of the Eagle next on the list.

Another thing that always makes a great film is a great baddie, and this one had it in Nigel Bennett. As far as I know, the only other film of his we've reviewed is Phase IV, which also had Dean Cain and Brian Bosworth. This guy works in the Julian Sands/Bruce Payne mold, which makes sense, because he's from England as well, Wolverhampton to be exact. He must be excited, because his Wolves look like they might stay up in the Premiership this season.

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I do have one complaint, and maybe it's not so much a complaint as much as it's an observation, or an overall issue with action films. The two female leads are kidnapped by the main baddie and used as bait for Piper and Blanks. Classic scenario we're all familiar with. Also classic is when the baddies don't restrain either captives, allowing them to pick up weapons, etc., and kill the baddies holding them hostage. This was even more egregious here, because at one point they caught Piper and taped his wrists to the arm of the chair they had him in. It's ridiculous. Do these bad guys not understand why the police handcuff them when they're arrested? It's not because of tradition, or because it's just something they've always done. They do it so it's harder for the people they're holding captive to attack them and escape. Somehow we're supposed to believe criminal masterminds are completely unfamiliar with this concept?

Anyway, that's just me poking fun at the film, a film that otherwise was simply... awesome. If you haven't seen it, get it anyway you can. As far as I know VHS is the only way to go, which is too bad, because a movie like this belongs on DVD; though I kind of like it on VHS for the nostalgia factor. This is what you want when you go for a Piper film, and Blanks is just as good. An all around great flick.

For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0109195/

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Tiger Claws (1992)

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Tiger Claws is one I've been looking to get after for a while now, it's just been a matter of getting my hands on it, which I finally did, along with the other two in the series. Obviously the number one reason I wanted it was for DTVC Hall of Famer Cynthia Rothrock, as after China O'Brien and Rage and Honor, it's the Tiger Claws movies she's probably best known for (maybe Lady Dragon or Martial Law too). There's also Bolo Yeung, and the need to review more Jalal Merhi films. All reasons why this was a must do.

Tiger Claws has Rothrock as a rookie cop trying to make her way out of the low-level vice circuit and into bigger deals, and she sees her chance when a serial killer in town is targeting martial arts experts. The chief likes her approach, and has her team up with upper level vice cop Jalal Merhi, who was just suspended for a drug bust gone bad. As they dig, they find the killer practices a dangerous form of martial arts called Tiger, which causes the practitioner to straddle that scary line between crazy and controlled. Merhi once studied Tiger, but stopped when it became too much. Now their only choice is for him to study it again. Will he be able to handle it this time, and if so, will it be enough to take out the serial killer?

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This was pretty good. Not the greatest thing ever, but pretty solid. There were moments where the martial arts were great, which is what we want out of the cast involved. Then there were moments where the fighting was lame, and I wondered how that happened with the cast involved. The dialog was atrocious, even for a 90s bad action film. Merhi often stumbled over his lines and ran them all together, making it hard to understand him. Pretty much everyone else that wasn't Bolo Yeung or Cynthia Rothrock sounded like high school kids doing a class project where they made up a mystery movie. It was thick overacting that could be cut with a knife. That kind of thing works if the action's on point, but here it left a little to be desired. Bottom line, a great bad movie for making fun of.

Rothrock wasn't bad, but she wasn't the lead, Merhi was. The problem with that was, Rothrock had all the experience and was better equipped to lead a movie, while Merhi would've been better in the supporting role, a la Richard Norton in China O'Brien. It just didn't work that she was supposed to be some kind of a rookie, especially when Merhi was flubbing his lines. I think the next two films for Ms. Rothrock will be the last two films in this series, considering I have them at my disposal right now. From the start, her catalog has been the hardest to get my hands on, with her films having been purged by Netflix long before a lot of the others. I was hoping with the release of Undefeatable, a lot of those other out of print films would make their way back onto the shelves, but so far not so good.

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I imagine it's time I finally tagged Bolo Yeung. I'm not sure what took me so long, maybe it's because he has so few films up; but still, he's Bolo Yeung. (As of right now, we've reviewed Breathing Fire, where he dresses like a woman, and then his two Van Damme films came up in our Van Damme movie night post.) That might change, because I'm looking to get my hands on the Shootfighter movies, and obviously Tiger Claws II is on the docket. As far as this one goes, he spent a good chunk of the film painting a wall in the abandoned theater his fellow Tiger students were training in. As Merhi would demonstrate his martial arts skills, Yeung would periodically turn around from his work and laugh. I'd like to sample that and splice it into various other movies, just Bolo Yeung turning around and laughing at something.

This will be the fifth Jalal Merhi film we've reviewed at the DTVC, though only the second, after Guaranteed Overnight Delivery, that he's had a major acting part in. He wasn't bad as far as martial arts goes here, but acting wise he was no where near as proficient as he was in that other flick. The other thing was he had a ponytail, which was bad enough, but when he went out on the town with Yeung and a fellow Tiger student and had his hair down, he looked like a horrible hair band reject. Cut your hair damn it.

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If you remember, just last week when reviewing The King of the Kickboxers, I discussed the art of the police chief in the bad action film, and how well it was done there. Here is where it was done as stereotypically badly as humanly possible. This guy overacted everything, yelled when it seemed unnecessary-- pretty much everything you'd expect someone with no acting skills whatsoever to do as that kind of police captain, or everything you'd expect someone who was a decent actor but was overdoing it to do. It was ridiculous, but plenty fun to make fun of.

Based on what one has to go through to get it, it's not exactly worth it. If you can find it used on the cheap, go for it; and if Netflix or something like that ever gets it again, go for it too; and if it's ever on TV, DVR it; but if you have to spend a lot of money, ie more than $5, I'd pass. It seems like it should be a lot better than it is, and it's still okay, but still okay doesn't cut it when it could've been awesome.

For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0105592/

Monday, April 26, 2010

Bloodfist VI: Ground Zero (1995)

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For some reason this film stands alone as the one Bloodfist holdout from Netflix's Bloodfist purging. All the other ones are no longer available. I believe after this one, I'll only have 1, 2, and 7 left to review, and though I've seen all of those, I'm not sure how I'll get my hands on them for the blog. Anyway, Bloodfist VI was the only one out of the 8 that I hadn't seen before, so I finally got that out of the way.

Bloodfist VI: Ground Zero has DTVC Hall of Famer Don "The Dragon" Wilson, this time as a military courier who happens upon a facility holding nuclear missiles that's been taken over by terrorists. He's in a race against time, as he's the only one who can stop the terrorists from launching the missiles, but also because a near-sighted general has sent a squadron of fighter jets over to blow the place up. Can he do it?

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This is by far the worst of the Bloodfist series. It was like a bad, boring Die Hard rip-off. Wilson did the least amount of kicking ass of any of the other films; and the plot was the most self-contained and most thrown together too. It was like an Airwolf episode without the cool helicopter. I mean, that's the extent of the storyline here, enough material to make a 1980s action TV series plot for one episode, stretched out over 90 minutes, and with much less action.

It's been a little while since we've seen Mr. "The Dragon" Wilson-- almost a year to be exact. A big part of that is his DTV catalog has been systematically removed by Netflix. I had enough trouble just getting this film, as it had to be sent from another shipping center. Still, he has a few other films on there, so it shouldn't have taken me almost a year between posts. He just kind of got lost in the shuffle, and now his first film back after a long hiatus is a stinker like this. Next on the list is Moving Target.

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On April 5th, another DTVC Hall of Famer, Roger Corman, celebrated his 84th birthday. I kind of lost track of tagging Mr. Corman, but I think I'm caught up and it would seem this will be his 13th film, which isn't many. Don "The Dragon" Wilson was one of his mainstays, though, as Corman produced all of the Bloodfist films. One of the more fascinating places I saw him recently was attached to the Kurosawa film Dersu Uzala. His distribution company, New World Pictures (which he sold in 1983), released the film here in the States. Mr. Corman is the man.

Of the 8 Bloodfist films, 4, 5, 7, and 8 all have pretty much the same plot: guy is framed, and is alone fighting the good guys and the bad guys with no one he can trust. I'm not sure what made them switch it up for this film, but I think it might have been for budget reasons. It's a lot cheaper to just go out to the desert and use one or two sets, than it is to film at various locations. Also, I imagine this one was relatively shorter to make too. With the DTV film, it's always necessary to examine more than just the art of movie making to figure out why something turned out as bad as it did. We're so used to Jersey Girl-type bombs that were sautéed in wrong sauce from the get-go, but were entirely a case of the actual art being wrong, as opposed to someone saying "Let's squeeze out a Bloodfist movie on the cheap. How can we do that?"

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This is our second film to feature former Dodgers stand-out Steve Garvey, the first being Ice Cream Man. If you haven't seen the Cheap Seats episode where the Sklar Brothers make fun of a Steve Garvey celebrity fishing event, check it out here. Absolutely amazing. Garvey's only in this for a few minutes, which is kind of too bad. If you're not familiar with him, he played for the Dodgers in the 70s to early 80s, amassing great numbers and winning the NL MVP in 1974. He also was a standout in big games, winning MVPs for All-Star games and League Championship Series. He was a little before my time, so I vaguely remember him.

Unless you want to see all 8 Bloodfist movies, you should skip this one. Even for a Bloodfist, it's extremely boring and a whole lot of blah. Wilson has done much better as well, and there are plenty of other Corman produced films that are much more fun.

For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0109301/

Friday, April 23, 2010

Ninja Assassin (2009)

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Much of what this blog is based on comes from the great Golan-Globus ninja films of the 1980s and early 90s. Shô Kosugi and Michael Dudkioff kicking ass in everything-but-the-kitchen-sink style action films really got me into the kinds of movies I write about here four times a week. As we all know, over time, the ninja fell off in popular culture, and in DTV films as well; but recently it has seen a resurgence. Now Ninja Assassin was not a DTV film, and it wasn't a bomb at the box office either. It makes our Wild Card post this week because a lot of readers dig the 1980s-90s ninja flick as much as I do, and we all want to know how this stood up.

Ninja Assassin is about ninjas who have trained and worked as secret assassins throughout the world for centuries. A woman working for Europol thinks she can link ninjas to a bunch of political assassinations, and when she does, she brings a lot of heat on herself. Luckily for her a ninja has turned his back on his clan after a falling out with his sensei, and he's come to her to protect her and use her help to get back at him. Now they've got to battle the world's major governments, and an army of angry ninjas. The odds don't look good.

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This is as much a ninja film for action fans as it is a ninja film for horror fans. Right away, we're treated to a slaughter fest of blood and dismemberment. The thing is, the film really can't maintain that level of intensity for 90 minutes, so it backs off for a while, inundating us with flashbacks and training sequences. When it jumps back in, it's pretty sweet, especially the end battle, which is a war zone of elite international law enforcement versus highly trained ninjas. That was amazing. Plus, our hero's fight with Kosugi made up for the lack of Kosugi fighting we had throughout the film, which I liked.

The thing is, for the people who think the Golan-Globus films are "cheesy", this wasn't any less cheesy-- I mean, ninjas were still omnipotent like they were back then-- and for the people like me who loved those flicks, this took a lot of the fun of those films out and replaced it with a slasher flick. Don't get me wrong, I dug that. I love half a head flying through the air as much as the next guy. It's just, if I have a choice between Michael Dudikoff catching an arrow in his teeth and a dude's hands chopped off with a throwing star, I'll take the former any day of the week.

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The female lead was played by the very attractive Naomie Harris. You probably don't recognize her from the Pirates of the Caribbean movies, because she's so much hotter here. One thing that was interesting about her part was that, though she needed to be saved in a few situations from the hero, she spent more time rescuing him than he rescuing her. She also understood when she was over her head when the ninjas showed up. This is a much more organic strong women compared to the one we had in 12 Rounds, where pretty much a woman who spent the majority of the film as a helpless prisoner was sold to us as a strong woman through one scene of her working under a busted sink. Harris' character really was strong, and it really added to the film.

That's Shô Kosugi if you need him. There'd be no 80s ninja craze without him, and he let us know every moment he was on screen, even when he was losing to the hero (because he was the bad guy after all), that he was the man. I'd rather he be a good guy, but one can't have everything. He actually has a film called Pray for Death available on Hulu, which might be worth checking out. I think he's one of those guys, like Klaus Kinski, who doesn't have a large DTV oeuvre, but his influence on the DTV world is so strong he deserves a place in the Hall of Fame.

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This movie took place in Berlin. That's a very interesting place to set a ninja movie. Other interesting places to consider: Milan, Cairo, Lima, and Cincinnati. Ninjas seem like they can go anywhere, so I guess it doesn't matter where the movie's set, but Berlin just seems interesting. It added a cosmopolitan element to see a Japanese guy walking around a German city, knowing deep down he's a ninja and could kill all of them with his bare hands. I don't know why having him walk in New York or LA would be any less interesting, but as far as I know, those cities have higher Japanese populations, so maybe that's why.

This is worth checking out, but not for the faint of heart, and not for the easily bored either, because you have a big middle section to endure. Kosugi was awesome, though, and so was the action when it existed, especially the very end. Overall, if I have my druthers, I'll stick to the old classics, but this is an interesting addition, and hopefully a sign of things to come in the world of ninja movies. And for my horror readers, this action film was made for you.

For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1186367/

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Snake Eater II: The Drug Buster (1989)

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I've been meaning to get after this one for a while. In part it's the Lorenzo Lamas factor, but more than that, this has been said by many to be Lamas' best film, including Mr. Kenner at Movies in the Attic (that link is to his review of this film). As a huge Lamas guy, I needed to know how true this is, but the fact it wasn't available on DVD, and hard to find on VHS, meant it was put on hold. But I kept my ear to the ground, and managed to get all three Lamas Snake Eater films in one fell swoop.

Snake Eater II has Lamas as Soldier, a crazy cop who comes up with all manner of violent contraptions to trap and kill bad guys. After a bloody rampage in a drug house that sold coke laced with rat poison, Lamas is sent to a mental hospital. While there, his friend Speed Boat on the outside keeps him in the loop about who's next on the drug dealer food chain, so Lamas can eventually get to the top and exact his revenge.

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Before we discuss whether or not this is Lamas' best ever, let's look at it on its own merits. Solid action: check. Does the plot adversely affect the action? Not at all. Does the hero kick ass? That could've been better. Snake Eater II took the idea of The Punisher, then made the main character more of a twisted MacGyver. The problem was, there were too many silly digressions in the mental asylum. I don't even know why he was put in there, considering he could break out whenever he wanted. Why not just put him on suspension, make him go to the hot psychiatrist in order to be reinstated, and continue having him do the killings of bad guys he did on the sly. It just would've worked better. Overall though, not a bad deal.

I went through the archives, and based on my overall recommendations, this might be Lamas' best in my opinion as well. That might not necessarily be a good thing, because this is his 21st film we've reviewed, and I haven't given that many thumbs up. In fact, he might have the lowest total average of any Hall of Famer. In the end, I got The Rage and Bounty Tracker slightly ahead of this, and Bad Blood aka Viper slightly behind it, but I'm not married to any of those rankings. The truth is, unlike Dolph, Seagal, or even Daniels, I look for Lamas films to be silly. I mean, I look for the films of those actors to be silly too, but I also want them to be awesome. If I see Lamas disguised like Jeff Foxworthy, like he was in Mask of Death, I feel like it was a good film. So this may be Lamas' best film ever, and though that's not really saying much, that's okay too. He's not a Hall of Famer because he's awesome, he's a Hall of Famer because he's silly, and I'm fine with that.

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I always love the hot psychiatrist in the bad action film. The hair up and glasses, the white lab coat open, revealing a tight sweater and short skirt. As the film goes on, her clothing and demeanor become sexier and sexier. For Snake Eater II, we had the lovely Michele Scarabelli, who just celebrated her 55th birthday on April 11th. You may remember her from Air Wolf. She never actually has any love scenes with Lamas on screen, and I wonder if that had to do with Kathleen Kinmont, who was also in the film in a very small part. Their relationship was pretty new when this film was made.

Speaking of Kinmont, this is her fifth film reviewed, tying her with Jillian McWhirter for the most by a non-Hall of Fame actress (Cynthia Rothrock's 10 is the most overall). It seems like this should be surprising, or demonstrate that I need to work to get more women tagged on here, but that isn't really the case. The 1980s and 90s bad action industry often employed unknowns to play the hottie opposite the star. Either that, or they'd take a woman from another medium, like Soap Operas, and that would be her only DTV action role ever. The Kinmonts and McWhirters are the exceptions, not the rules. Shannon Tweed and Angie Everhart are two examples of women who do a lot of DTV sexy thrillers, but not so many action, sci-fi, or horror films, and readers just don't come here for sexy thrillers (at least as far as I know they don't), so they may have a large DTV oeuvre, but their films don't make it up here that much. (If anyone's wondering, I do have a few from each in my Netflix queue, top of the list Executive Target with Everhart.)

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Finally, a quick shout out to Ron Pallilo, who reprised his role from the first film as Torchy. He just turned 61 on April 2, one day after I turned 31. He's only had 10 credits since Snake Eater II, but it's one he had before that that caught my eye. In 1983 he did a DTV version of The Tempest-- yes, that The Tempest, the one written by Shakespeare. He played Trinculo, the Jester. Efrem Zimbalist Jr. was the only other name I recognized, and he played Prospero. I haven't read The Tempest in years, and when I picked up my big collected works of Shakespeare book, the thing was all dusty and falling apart. I bought it for $5 on sale at Barnes and Noble, so I guess I can't complain too much. If you're wondering, best Shakespeare quote ever: "What, is my beaver easier than it was?", from King Richard III.

It may sound like through my review that I'm disagreeing with Kenner, but he only gave it three stars, and I'd say my review is right in line with that. Maybe it's a commentary on Lorenzo Lamas that his best film is only a three-star rating, I don't know. I definitely recommend this, though. It's hard to find, but if you see it for a couple bucks on VHS, go for it. What would be nicer is if all three were to be released on DVD in one package for $10-$15, but I don't ever see that happening. Anyway, better than part one, and we'll see in a couple weeks if it's better than part three as well.

For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0102950/

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Mach 2 (2001)

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It's been a while since I've reviewed a Brian Bosworth film up here. It's not like he's done all that much either, and after Stone Cold, there hasn't been much to write home about. But Stone Cold was so awesome, I always hold out hope that maybe something will approach that, so I keep going back to his films. Then I get twenty minutes in and wonder "what the hell have I gotten myself into?"

Mach 2 has The Boz as an Air Force special forces dude sent on a plane with a Presidential candidate to the Balkans to negotiate the peaceful return of some captured US servicemen there. Anyway, Michael Dorn and some other CIA men are on board, and they hijack the plane, grab some evidence of a conspiracy the Presidential candidate has on the sitting President, and parachute off, leaving the plane on a collision course to Paris. Can The Boz land this plane safely?

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Who cares. I certainly didn't. The first fifteen minutes were some of the best shit I've seen Bosworth do. He jumped on the back of a train and took it over from some hijackers, kicking ass and delivering great witty lines as he did it. For some reason then, the people making the film decided "that was great, now let's forget every cool thing we did in the first fifteen, and make the most boring pile of suck we can imagine." I mean, it takes real talent to bore people this much. It hit all the classic plane hijacking spots: opened hatch and people almost sucked out; people struggling over firearms; injured parties needing makeshift medical assistance by people with no formal training; and of course, the classic "I'm going to need you to tell me how to fly this thing!"

I don't really know why I didn't snuff this one out earlier. Brian Bosworth on a plane should've sent off warning signs. But I've seen plenty of titles before that had nothing to do with the film, and I just figured this was the same deal. I mean, how awesome would it have been if this was called Mach 2, but never once had a scene in a plane? That train stuff with Bosworth was amazing, they had to know on a plane they couldn't keep that up. What they should've done was only had the plane crap in it for a short period of time, then have a bunch of it with Bosworth fighting armed thugs in Yugoslavia or something. It would've been a lot cooler.

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God I love Michael Dorn. It sucks that he does so few decent films, because he's the man. This is the third film of his we've covered, the other two being Amanda and the Alien and Shadow Hours, and both films were much better for having Mr. Dorn in them. I went through his bio on imdb, and there's just not a lot that looks good, which is really too bad. I saw he played the President on Heroes, which if that's the case, it might be the coolest President ever, even better than Jerry Springer in The Defender. Also of note, Robert Pine is in this as the airline pilot, meaning he and Dorn are reunited from their old ChiPs days.

I had forgotten there was such a thing as the Concorde. I looked it up on Wikipedia, and found that its last flight was in 2003, and its one fatal accident happened in 2000. At first I want to say "man, it seemed like that happened a lot longer ago", but then I realized it was seven years and ten years respectively. Time flies, huh?... ha ha ha, get it? Sorry, Mach 2 is ruining me...

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I should probably find something to do with this seventh paragraph. I mean, it would be a shame to waste it. In Maine we have a popular soft drink called Moxie. I'm pretty sure it's sold all over the place, but it's inventor is from Maine, and Maine has adopted it as their official soft drink. It's an acquired taste, and I've only recently grown to appreciate it, which is kind of surprising considering how I don't often go in for sweets. I drink my coffee black and bitter, for instance, which causes a lot of my friends to cringe. Moxie, which is bitter where other soft drinks are sweet, should've been right up my alley, but for some reason I've always resisted it. Anyway, if you haven't tried it before, keep an eye out for it, it's quite an experience.

Don't let the name, The Boz, or the Dorn fool you, this movie sucks a fat one. I can't believe I wasted my time with it, so don't you go and waste yours. Try some Moxie instead-- it's less of a time commitment, and if it's gross, you can just tell yourself you partook in an exotic New England beverage, making you more cosmopolitan.

For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0222020/

Monday, April 19, 2010

The King of the Kickboxers (1990)

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My friend Kenner at Movies in the Attic has been on me about this one for a while, and when I did Tough and Deadly starring Billy Blanks a couple weeks ago, he put on a full-court press, hitting me with e-mails containing YouTube and Amazon links letting me know all the myriad ways I could experience this gem. I finally got a hold of it and made it happen on my own.

The King of the Kickboxers is about this undercover cop in New York who's always getting into trouble and living life by the seat of his tight acid wash jeans. Anyway, the chief wants to get rid of him for a little while, and sends him to Thailand to work on a snuff film case. It's not what you think: American fighters are being duped into acting in action films where they're really killed, and the killer is Billy Blanks. Our hero remembers Blanks, because Blanks killed his brother ten years before when they were in Thailand and the brother won a kickboxing tournament. Anyway, when our hero gets there, he finds out he's not ready yet, and luckily the Native American from China O'Brien is willing to give him a hand. Can our hero defy the odds and take down Blanks?

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I don't know where to begin. First off, it's awesome. It starts with this title graphic that looks like an SNK Neo-Geo video game, then moves into some of the most poorly choreographed kickboxing in a ring you'll ever see. Just when you think this is a sack of asscrack, the kickboxer and his little brother (who grows up to be our hero) are attacked by Billy Blanks and his boys. Blanks then proceeds to blow up a golf cart with machine gun fire, letting us know that this is the official start of the film. It only gets more amazing from there. Jerry Trimble has (unfortunately) a small part as a two-sweet mulleted drug dealer, and our hero takes him and his goons down, just carrying over the energy from the Blanks scene before it. The action is stellar, the martial arts some of the best you'll see, and the acting and plot, though woeful, only enhance the experience, as opposed to detracting from it.

Billy Blanks as a baddie martial artist is great. I'm not exaggerating when I say he's up there with Michel Qissi as Tong Po or Bolo Yeung as anything. This is key to any great bad action film, as the baddie must make us detest him enough, yet at the same time respect his fighting skills and fear him. If our hero isn't facing an enormous challenge, or we aren't rooting for him either, the film isn't fun, and that's what we're in this for, to have fun. On top of all this, the end fight between he and our hero did a great job of paying us back for our investment, as it was worthy of Blanks's baddie and the work our hero put in in montage time to defeat him.

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If I have one complaint though, it was how little Jerry Trimble there was. I know he was just getting started in the film industry, but still. The mullet was amazing, and the martial arts were tight. You know a movie is good when they can have a talent like Trimble in it for only one scene, and still be as awesome as The King of the Kickboxers was. Other people you may recognize were Ong Soo Han, who, like Billy Blanks, has starred in an action film with Rowdy Roddy Piper; Sherrie Rose as the love interest; and Don Stroud as our hero's contact in Thailand. Again, a great cast that just enhanced a great film.

Mr. Kenner remarked, and I agreed with him, that the late Richard Jaekel as the police captain was one of the best we've seen in a role like that. Whether you agree with us or not, what's interesting to note here is that we're remarking on an actor's job playing the police captain in a bad action movie versus other actors we've seen do the same part. We've seen that many bad action films that we're examining the art of the police chief. I'll have you know, though, that I passed up a used DVD copy of Guns and Lipstick at my local record store last night because they wanted $8 for it. I might be a self-professed connoisseur, but I'm not crazy.

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I imagine the picture above has already told you where I'm going with this last paragraph. Loren Avedon, our hero, is shown here sporting... a Fanny Pack! Unlike David Bradley's similar fashion disaster in Cyborg Cop, though, King of the Kickboxers was a solid enough movie to transcend something so atrocious. Still, even if the point of the fanny pack was to have Avedon's undercover character come off as a naive dork looking for a fight, the tacky shirt and white pants were sufficient. The Fanny Pack is an abomination, and I can't let even a film as great as this one off the hook for such a felonious transgression.

To give you an idea of how awesome this movie is, I captured 12 images of it (which you can find on the image page), and that was me showing restraint. There might be another 20 to 30 other scenes that'll make you laugh, make you pump your fist, or just make you nod your head in understanding that what you got here is good. Find it on YouTube, buy it on Amazon, or scoop it a local used retailer. Whatever you gotta do, make it happen. You won't be disappointed.

For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0102217/

Friday, April 16, 2010

Max Payne (2008)

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This was another film that seemed to be in and out of the theater so quickly that I barely remember it. What I do remember is a lot of my friends making fun of it and thinking the mere concept looked hilarious. The ads definitely looked silly enough, so I stayed away. Besides, I'd never played the Max Payne video games, so I had no idea what to expect.

Max Payne has Mark Wahlberg as the eponymous detective trying to solve the murders of his wife and infant child. He stumbles upon a woman at a party who's very hot, and after leaving his place is brutally murdered. His old friend finds a connection with this new murder and his family's, but is killed before he can tell Wahlberg what he discovered. At the same time, Mila Kunis comes into the picture as the sister of the murdered woman, seeking answers herself. What Wahlberg ends up finding has to do with the pharmaceutical firm his wife worked at, making him realize there's more here than a random act of violence or a robbery gone bad.

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I really liked the first hour or so of this movie. It had some bad parts in that period, like Wahlberg disarming a guy with ease who has a gun at his back, but for some reason not performing the same trick when Kunis does it to him; or Ludacris as an Internal Affairs cop. Overall, though, it's a great Film Noir detective drama, and Wahlberg plays his part really well. When the action comes in, it works really well too, and the visuals were really good. Also, gotta love Beau Bridges.

Things changed when Wahlberg enters some building looking for the potential murderer, and he pulls this move where he shoots a guys on the balcony behind him by jumping backwards and shooting over his head. It's done in extreme Matrix rip-off mode, which betrayed the film's great Noir-ish theme. From there, we get the weirdness when he takes the super soldier drug, and the film just devolves into blah. I understand that this had a video game to follow, and all of this stuff was a part of the video game, but the whole thing ceased to work, which was too bad for me.

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One of the things that wasn't supposed to work was Mark Wahlberg, and for the end of the film when he was doing too much of that Matrix crap or the stuff when he was on the drug, it didn't work; but the rest of it worked really well. In my 12 Rounds review, I mentioned this vibe Cena gave off as this meathead type, which came through the most when he was supposed to look angry, and just looked like "dude, you wanna go?" Wahlberg is from Dorchester, a rough part if Boston, the place those meatheads I talked about romanticize, but probably wouldn't last a day in. When Wahlberg is supposed to look mean here, he doesn't look like "dude, you wanna go?", he looks blank, like he's looking for the person across from him to make one twitch, and he'll strike. It's perfect for a Phillip Marlowe style detective, which was perfect for the first hour of this film. I don't know that I buy Wahlberg as a big budget action star, but that doesn't mean he can't act. If anything Cena, whose wrestling persona mock's Wahlberg's previous career as Marky Mark, has a long ways to go to become the actor Wahlberg is.

Mila Kunis was really hot as Mona, the woman trying to solve her sister's murder. On the other hand, as hot as she was, she looked silly toting a machine gun and firing at bad guys. I don't know, that kind of thing works with some people, and not with others. I think they were torn, because she was born in the Ukraine, and speaks well with that accent, plus she looks really good in black and the outfits they had for her, but walking around firing a machine gun detracted from the movie. Still, she did well as the Film Noir black widow, so I hope the other aspects of this film don't keep future film makers from using her in a similar role.

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If you hadn't guessed already, I'm a huge Film Noir guy, and I really dig scenes like the one above. It's a certain aesthetic in the cinematography, set design, and dialog that, when it works, can be really amazing. The thing about it is, a film maker can't just do half Film Noir or sprinkle in Noir-ish elements, and expect it to work. Once this movie ditched the Noir for The Matrix and big budget silliness, the whole thing was sautéed in wrong sauce. One could make the point that, "Matt, this probably wasn't made for a Film Noir buff like you, it was made for the video game fans"; but you'd be wrong, because the first hour completely forgot about those kids and made a movie for people with my tastes. Again, the film maker has to do one or the other.

Even though the first hour of this worked for me, the last 35 minutes or so didn't, and I have a feeling for anyone that the latter worked for wouldn't enjoy the hour I liked. What I can say, though, is this wasn't Mark Wahlberg's fault. The commercials may have made him look kind of silly, but in the film, until he took the drug, he was great. Yes, he did look silly on the super soldier drug, but I can't blame him for that, because he did the best he could with silly material.

For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0467197/

12 Rounds (2009)

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I remember seeing ads for this when it was in the theater, but those ads didn't last long. Maybe that's because this didn't last long-- at least not in my neighborhood. According to imdb, it had an estimated budget of $22 million, and made about $12 million at the gate here in the States. I imagine, after foreign sales, DVD money, and then charging FX or whatever to air it, they probably just broke even.

12 Rounds stars West Newbury's John Cena as a New Orleans rookie police officer who happens upon an evil criminal mastermind escaping from a crime he just committed with his girlfriend. The girlfriend dies in ensuing the pursuit, and the criminal mastermind vows revenge. Fast forward, and now detective John Cena gets a phone call from the criminal mastermind, letting him know he kidnapped Cena's woman and if he wants her back, he's gotta jump through some criminal mastermind hoops. As the name implies, it's twelve rounds of fun, and if he makes it, his woman lives.

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Ever seen Die Hard 3? Imagine that without Jeremy Irons, Samuel L. Jackson, Bruce Willis, or any awesomeness. Okay, maybe I'm being a little hard on it. For a bad action movie it was pretty good, I just liked it better when it was called Die Hard 3. What's so wrong with that?

John Cena grew up in West Newbury, Massachusetts, which is only 30 miles away from where I grew up, in Kittery, Maine. People often find it hard to believe that growing up in Maine would mean I grew up so close to Mass too, and for most Mainers that's true, but Kittery is on the southern tip, just on the other side of the New Hampshire border. There's about 16 miles between Kittery and the Mass border, and West Newbury isn't far on the other side of that. The neighboring Newburyport is actually considered part of the same geographic area as Kittery, known as the Seacoast, and it has the closest Boston commuter rail stop to us. Anyway, enough of the geography lesson, but it was necessary to set up the next paragraph...

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...Because John Cena in this film represents a certain type of dude I grew up with, and I couldn't get past that. The thick Mass accent, the demeanor-- the only thing he was missing was the Red Sox cap-- it all just felt like this guy who beats his chest about how great "tha Sawwx" are, then gets drunk and starts a fight. Even the look on his face when he was angry was like "yo dude, you wanna go?" For everyone that lives outside of New England, this is the kind of meathead who will try to fight you because you're wearing the hat of the other team that's playing that day; and believe me, he will try to fight you. I've seen this plenty of times at either the Garden or Fenway Park, and people are like "you're not serious, are you? I'm just wearing a Cleveland Indians hat or Ottawa Senators jersey." It's not an intimidation factor either, I'm sure people from everywhere else are just as tough as Bostonians, they just don't fight over something as silly as what team gear someone is wearing. I'm not sure why, but Boston fans have been let off the hook for this behavior, while Philadelphia fans get branded as being horrible.

Now I'm not saying Cena is that guy. I know a lot of his act in the WWE is making fun of that guy (and making fun of "Marky" Mark Walhberg), and people from around here get a kick out of it that much more because we know first hand who he's making fun of; but in a film like this, when he's not doing the over the top thing like he does in the WWE, it just hits too close to home, and my feeling is if I want to see a guy like that, I'll go into any bar on a Saturday and rock a Yankees lid. "Dude, you wanna go?" Hopefully, if he does more films, he'll develop skills that transcend the "dude you wanna go?" element.

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When I reviewed April Fools Day I mentioned the very hot Taylor Cole. She was in this as well, as the criminal mastermind's girlfriend, but I didn't find her as hot as I did in that other film. Cena's woman was played by Ashley Scott, who was on a show based on Batman called Birds of Prey that I didn't even know existed. Anyway, as I was watching 12 Rounds, I wondered: what makes someone take a role like Scott's, where all she is is a damsel in distress? I don't think you could pay me enough to play a part where I spend most of the movie bound and gagged, dragged around at gun point, and helplessly waiting for the hero to save me. As I watched further though, I saw how they sold it to her: by telling her she's a strong woman. Early on in the film she's seen under the sink trying to fix a leak. Later, she's kicking the baddie while Cena fights him. We're supposed to forget the damsel in distress part and focus on the tough chick. I can even see her in the press junkets telling everyone how "strong" her character is. I know this might sound cynical, but it actually has a practical implication as well. Scott now has more to give to future casting directors other than just "wow, I really believed it Ashley when you told that bad guy how he wasn't going to get away with it..."

I think most people outside of the Greater Metro Boston area will find this to be a fun bad action film, no matter how much it rips off Die Hard 3. Also, I imagine a lot of people within the Greater Metro Boston area who are the type of person above will see this and love Cena's character-- or they'll see it and want to fight him. Either way, for me it just brought up a lot of personal memories of local meatheads, so it was more of my issue than any real problem with the film, and for that I can't tell someone else to avoid it.

For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1160368/

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Blood: The Last Vampire (2009)

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I had first gotten wind of this film as a trailer on a DVD to I don't know what movie last fall. It kept popping up on later DVDs, and I kept putting it aside, until now. According to imdb, it was released in the theaters, but only made about $200,000, well below the $10 million threshold I set for a non-Wild Card post. (the other threshold I set is if I could see the film at a local chain theater, and it definitely met that one as well.) I waited just a little longer to see if vampire films would win out for the next series of movies we look at here, but it didn't, so I'm writing the post for you now.

Blood: The Last Vampire is about some demons that have been battling humans all over the world, but specifically Japan, for a long period of time. I'm not sure if the demons are technically vampires, but because they drink human blood, I guess they qualify. Anyway, Saya, a girl from feudal Japan who's half human half demon, is humanity's only hope against Onigen, the top demon baddie. As their impending battle looms in Tokyo in 1970, Saya loses the support of a secret organization that had been aiding her against the demons, after a girl witnesses her killings, and the organization tries to kill the girl. Saya intervenes, and the girl joins her as she readies herself for her final showdown.

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This had some good and some bad, so let's focus on the good first. The samurai fight scenes with the girl Saya slicing up demons was great. It had great elements of samurai films mixed with Hong Kong cinema, and it really worked. Throw in the La Femme Nikita aspect, very Neo Noir, with Saya's main contact in the secret organization based directly on Jean Reno-- Harvey Keitel's character in the American version of the film. The story was a little iffy to me, but it was based on an Anime, and since I'm not really into Anime, I didn't know to what extent this movie was faithful to the original, or even if it was trying to be faithful and wrote itself into a corner. Still, the plot didn't matter so much with the great action and martial arts.

What did matter was the poor CGIs. Like, we're talking Beastmaster or Hercules syndicated TV series low budget style CGIs-- it looked that ridiculous. The demons looked like silly gargoyles in a bad Sci-Fi Pictures Original. Worst of all was this truck falling off the edge of a cliff that looked like one of my nephew's Nick jr. cartoons. It's great for a four-year-old learning the alphabet, but in a movie like this, it removes any trace of excitement and awesomeness, which I'm assuming is the whole reason they had the scene in the film at all: for excitement and awesomeness; and to keep it when it looked so bad did nothing but hurt the overall quality of the film.

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One element we often see in vampire flicks is this sense of eroticism. Maybe there's a rave or two, some hot chicks and dudes all over each other, and then a bite of the neck and a lot of violence. This film had almost none of that sexuality. The closest things to it came when Saya (Gianna Jun) and the American girl (Allison Miller) held hands briefly when they were back-to-back facing a bunch of demons; and then later when Jun was almost dead, Miller cut her hand and dripped the blood into her mouth in a very tender way. I've never understood the whole vampire eroticism thing, especially because there's so much blood involved. Equating blood (especially that much blood) to sex is gross, not a turn on.

That brings up another point. This is much more of an action film than a horror film, and I know had the protagonist been a male, he would've either had sex with Miller, or they would've cast a different female for him to do. The other track these films like to take is have the female protagonist hook up with another chick, which this one could've done and refrained from. The truth is, there actually isn't a double standard at play here, it's more that both types of films-- the male-lead action film and the female-lead action film-- are targeted toward the same demographic: boys aged 14-34. The whole point of having Saya be a hot Japanese girl (though I personally found Allison Miller to be hotter), is so the guys watching it can fantasize about being her significant other, and if you pair her with some hot male lead that she falls in love with, that fantasy is shattered. The reverse doesn't work with the male lead, because the 14-34 demographic is supposed to want to be that guy, so seeing him do hot chicks just makes us want to be him more. I could sit here and say how much I'd like to see a real female heroine that flips the paradigm and saves the damsel in distress guy, but that would be me being postmodern, not pragmatic.

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When I was searching for the cover image on Google, I came across a blog on WordPress that had this as its number 2 worst film of 2009. Whether I agree or not isn't the point, the thing was so full of typos and sentences that didn't make sense, that whatever point the writer was trying to make was moot. Now I know I'm not perfect, and with the number of posts I make per week, I'm not always at my best as a writer, but at the very least, I try my best to put out work that's readable, entertaining, and at the very least, proof-read. This isn't about being a Grammar Hammer and pointing out mistakes in someone else's work, this is about owing it to myself and my readers to, at the very least, read through it and remove, say, the five times I wrote "in this film" in one paragraph.

Okay, with that said, let's wrap it up. Great samurai sword fights and martial arts versus horrible CGIs. For me, it wasn't a wash, the latter trumped the former and made it less of a great experience. I noticed this is out on Blu-Ray as well, which I have to assume would make all those flaws that much more conspicuous. My recommendation is rent it before you commit to buy it.

For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0806027/

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Quiet Fire (1991)

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I found this movie on Netflix when I was looking up more Robert Z'Dar films to review. I'd been meaning to get some Lawrence Hilton-Jacobs up for some time, so I was able to kill two birds with one stone. Even better, it's a PM Entertainment picture.

Quiet Fire is about some dude running for senator on a great war record who's trying to bump off a fellow soldier who knows he's lying. He succeeds in bumping the guy off, but not before he tells what he knows to another of their fellow soldiers, Lawrence Hilton-Jacobs. Now Jacobs is on the run from the senator's hired thugs, and he can't turn to the cops (one of whom is played by Mr. Z'Dar), because they're in on it too. When a couple drag queens/female body builders/hired assassins kill his girlfriend in an attempt to get to him, he gets fed up and returns to his old special forces in the Army ways.

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For a PM Entertainment actioner, this was a little light on the actual action. Yes, it was ten kinds of ridiculous, and plenty good to make fun of, you just have to decide if that's enough for you. One thing I can say is, just when you think the movie's as silly as it's going to get, it gets sillier. I personally gave up when the two female body builders showed up as professional killers. I mean, this was done with a straight face, and we were supposed to take it seriously, which made it all the more amazing to me. One of them looked like Pee Wee Herman on steroids in drag, and the other one looked like the American Gladiator Malibu going to a Halloween party as Taylor Dayne. There was a scene where they were reporting to the senator to let him know they failed in killing LHJ, and Robert Z'Dar and his partner are there, openly laughing. I know they were technically laughing at their failures, but I think it helped that they were so ridiculous.

I've mentioned before that there are subtle differences between PM Entertainment and the more successful Golan-Globus, but I think after seeing this, the differences are probably more stark. Golan-Globus almost has this everything-but-the-kitchen-sink mentality, while PM Entertainment's is "who cares?" Illegal chop shop or garage at some dude's suburban LA home? Who cares? Robert Z'Dar's partner looks like he has old lady's hair with his long gray ponytail, maybe we should fix that. Who cares? Lawrence Hilton-Jacobs' martial arts look beyond unconvincing. Who cares? The truth is, they're right. This is an early 90s Direct to Video action film directed by Lawrence Hilton-Jacobs and starring Robert Z'Dar. The only people who care love this crap, so why worry about it.

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One thing I love about Robert Z'Dar is his voice when he's trying to hide his Chicago accent. I don't even know how to explain it to someone who doesn't know what I'm talking about. It's like John Tesh radio hour wannabe, or smooth jazz DJ. I can just see him saying "all right, that was Wham!'s 'Careless Whisper', followed by Taylor Dayne's 'Love Will Lead You Back', and finally, Carole King with 'It's Too Late'. Let's take a little break and pay some bills. This is Robert Z'dar, and you're listening to Soft favorites, 92.9FM." Wow, that was two Taylor Dayne references in one post, I bet that's a record (if it isn't I'm sure someone will comment and correct me-- "You're wrong about that being a record for Taylor Dayne references in one post. Back on August of 2009 you mentioned her five times..."). Anyway, I was just doing my best to write a paragraph about Robert Z'dar without referencing his enormous face... oops... God damn it!

On May 7th of this year, we'll mark our third anniversary, and it's surprising to me that it's taken this long to get a Lawrence Hilton-Jacobs film reviewed. I would say even more amazing is no one's mentioned it either. His PM Entertainment films are as quintessential bad 90s action as anything. I don't know about anyone else, but I think one out of every five movies I rented had a trailer for one of his films on it. He's still making stuff, including one on Netflix's Watch Instantly called Killer Drag Queens on Dope. I saw the trailer, and it looks pretty horrible film quality-wise, but who knows...

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Finally, there's a scene where LHJ's woman goes to an electronics store. Check out the 1991 prices on VCRs. $279.95? You know why it costs that much, don't you? That's right, it's got four heads. We're talking top of the line shit right there. I've noticed a trend towards nostalgia lately in some of the blogs I read, for the good ol' days of VHS. I've been guilty of it myself. This isn't like records versus CDs, where the records actually sound better than the CDs; in the case of DVDs versus VHS, DVD is better hands down. What I like though is the feeling I get when see an old VHS, especially one sold from an old video store, of the late 80s and early 90s, watching bad movies on a Friday or Saturday night sleepover with friends. The junk food, the soda, rewinding our favorite scenes and watching them over and over-- all of it. The only reason why I need VHS to feel this nostalgia, is DVDs weren't invented then. Believe me, in no way is VHS superior to DVD, just like tape Walkmans aren't superior to iPods, but sometimes it's just fun to look back to an earlier time.

How bad do you like your action, that is the question. This is closing in on the Penhall/Strain level, which is sometimes too much for a lot of people to take. In addition, it's a little light on action, and though it makes up for that with ridiculousness, there are more fun movies to make fun of out there. Considering we needed to get more Robert Z'Dar up and finally review something with Lawrence Hilton-Jacobs, we could've done a lot worse, so I'd put this in a special category as great for the site, but maybe not something you want to go out of your way for.

For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0102743/

Monday, April 12, 2010

The Debt aka Back to Even (1998)

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I first got wind of this when I saw an ad for it on the back of the sleeve of Prayer of the Rollerboys. It looked like it had to be the most amazing thing ever-- I mean, Michael Paré and Lorenzo Lamas, how much more awesome can you get, right? The only way you could screw up a pairing as awesome as that would be to turn it into a suspense/thriller yarn, but why would anyone do that?

The Debt is a suspense/thriller yarn about an expert copy printer, Lorenzo Lamas, who gets into his bookie friend/not friend Michael Paré for a lot of money, and in order to get back to good, he has to find these counterfeiting plates the mob stole from him.

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"Okay, here's the deal, I have Michael Paré and Lorenzo Lamas, and I want to make a movie with them. Oh, God no, I wouldn't dream of making an action film, why would I do that? No, I got this rejected Lifetime movie script. Yeah, I figured Lamas and Paré would be perfect. If this works out, I'll hire Steven Seagal and Dolph Lundgren to star opposite Meredith Baxter-Birney in a film about one woman's struggle to find justice when the system's against her. Oh yeah, it should be great."

Seriously, what were these people thinking? And based on Lamas' then woman Shauna Sand getting a high billing, I have to assume he had something to do with the making of this bad boy. But who looks at Lamas and says "I see a nerdy printer." Even if he does all right pulling it off-- even if he hits it out of the park, which he didn't do-- it's still Lorenzo Lamas. He needs to be kicking ass all over the place. And Paré was definitely better, but again, would I rather see him as a bookie thug, or toting enough weapons to supply a small rebel movement in a Third World country into an abandoned warehouse to blow up some baddies? We know what the answer to that is, and for some reason, the only assholes who couldn't see this were the ones that made the damn movie.

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Do I sound angry? Well, I feel I have every right. Great low-budget action stars like this aren't paired together often, and it just seems like over and over when they are, the result is crummy and they're poorly used. Look at Retrograde, where Dolph and Gary Daniels were wasted together; or even worse, Daniels and Seagal in Submerged. Is it too much to ask for that when I see Lorenzo Lamas and Michael Paré listed, I get a kick ass action film? Apparently the answer is yes.

This is Lamas' twentieth film here at the DTVC, putting him in a tie with Seagal for second all time, and I imagine he'll be passing that soon, since I have other films of his coming down the pike, while all of Seagal's are up, and we're just waiting for the next new one to come out. I also made a bold prediction in the Hawk's Vengeance post that Gary Daniels might end up being the most tagged DTVC Hall of Fame actor ever, and he definitely has a shot, but Lamas could give him a run for his money. I have a few places I might go next with Lamas. There's Blood Angels on Watch Instantly, Lethal with Frank Zagarino in my queue, and the rest of the Snake Eater series I just found on VHS. So many Lamas choices, so little time.

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2010 is supposed to be the year of the Paré, and we're still working in that direction, ending in October with an induction for him into the Hall of Fame. The problem is, even though he's been awesome in all the movies of his we've reviewed, the movies themselves have sucked. We need to get that signature film up there to cement his induction. I'll keep working at it, and we'll get it done.

In one scene in The Debt, Lorenzo Lamas gets kicked in the nuts. I know how he felt, because finding out a movie starring he and Michael Paré is a crummy suspense/thriller yarn was a total kick in the nuts to me. For all you guys out there, I want to save you from that pain, and for all the ladies, if you've ever wondered what all the fuss is about with the whole getting hit in the balls thing, here you go, have at it.

For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0165098/