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.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Lik Wong aka Riki-Oh: The Story of Riki (1991)

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I decided to wrap up this look at Hong Kong cinema with a bonus post on one of the most notorious films in bad movie circles, Riki-Oh. I first came across it on the old Daily Show with Craig Kilborn, when he used the shot of the guy's head being exploded for his Five Questions segment. Then a buddy found it on this new thing he subscribed to called Netflix, and he burned us all copies on this new thing he had called a DVD burner.

Riki-Oh is about a dude in a prison who punches holes in people and shoves nails through them and strangles them with their own intestines, and sometimes he takes similar abuse back from his fellow inmates. Can he beat the evil warden and prevail?

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Back when the guy getting his head exploded was shown on The Daily Show, I was like "I need to see the movie that was from", but when my buddy rented it and screened it for us, we were all like "okay, we get it, this is ridiculous and over-the top gory. No no, we get it, seriously. Do something else in the frickin' movie!" It was like a bag of Doritos and Mountain Dew. They taste great, but would I eat them for supper? If each great part of this film was by itself in its own movie, it would've been great, but all together, it's just too much. Too many Doritos and a 2 liter bottle of Mountain Dew.

And that's where I get a lot of heat for my opinion on this, because people rattle off this or that scene and are like "how can you not like that?", and it's like, I do like it, it just got to be entertainment by repetition after a while. Again, just like Doritos. They taste amazing, and I love empty calories as much as the next guy, but sometimes I just gotta mix in a fast food cheeseburger and fries or a hot dog or something too. I guess if Dolph Lundgren DTV actioners are my fast food, Yasujiro Ozu's films are my healthy meals that balance out my system. It's good to have both.

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I don't really know what to write about for the fifth, sixth, and seventh paragraphs. The scene where a dude gets strangled with his own intestines, maybe? By the time that scene happens, I'm already like "dude, I need more to eat than just Doritos, or I'm going to be sick." In theory, that's just such a great idea, though, strangling a guy with his own intestines, but in and amongst everything else in the film, it loses any charm. It's like watching The Family Man and being bombarded with sentimentality for 100 minutes. When the kid says something cute again, I'm totally desensitized.

I guess I should throw out a couple examples that to me do this kind of over-the-top gore comedy thing really well, so people won't get the erroneous impression that I "just don't get it". Bad Taste, Bloodsucking Pharaohs in Pittsburgh, Blood Diner, Street Trash, and Dead Alive. Yes, these all definitely had the Mountain Dew and Doritos for supper aspect, but what they did in addition was pop through the door with a bag of Wendy's Triple Cheeseburgers and say "hey, you can't just have Doritos and Mountain Dew for supper!" Each of those films I listed had so many different characters, so many other jokes, so many more things going on-- it wasn't just Riki punch through bad guy... Riki shove guy's head into nails... Riki-- you get the idea. Hey, I'm up for an over-the-top cheesetastic played-for-laughs gorefest as much as the next guy-- they were my bread and butter in high school-- but Riki-Oh just didn't quite have it for me.

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I'm struggling for a seventh paragraph... hmmm... did anyone catch that Tottenham/San Jose friendly on Saturday afternoon? I'm an Arsenal guy, so I was hoping San Jose might pull the upset. I have to admit that Gareth Bale looks pretty good, though, huh? He seems like he's just going to pick right up where he left off last season. Even though I'm a Gooner, I have to admit it is cool having them as the fourth EPL team in the Champions League-- though I wouldn't be saying that if Arsenal didn't finish ahead of them!

If you want a different take on Riki-Oh, check out Mr. Kenner's review at Movies in the Attic. It's actually as a thank you to him for all the help he gave during the Hong Kong cinema series that I'm reviewing Riki-Oh myself, so thank you again, it was definitely appreciated as always. If you were so inclined to pick it up, it's unfortunately no longer available on Netflix, but I'm sure you can get it on Amazon or something. Even if I didn't dig it, I can't deny it's a cult classic.

For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0102293/

Friday, July 16, 2010

Bangkok Dangerous (1999)

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As we wind down our DTVC Wild Card series on Hong Kong cinema, people probably see Bangkok Dangerous and think "dude, that's a Thai film!" In theory, yes, it takes place in Thailand and is in the Thai language; but directed by the Pang brothers, it has all the feel of a Hong Kong film circa late 80s early 90s John Woo. That makes sense considering they grew up in Hong Kong in the 70s and 80s, and Bangkok Dangerous to me represents that next link in the chain in the evolution of the genre.

Bangkok Dangerous is about Kong, a deaf mute working as a hitman in Bangkok. After doing a job in Hong Kong and eating something bad, he meets a really cute girl at the local pharmacy in his neighborhood, and she takes a shine to him. At the same time, his mentor's girlfriend is raped, and when the mentor kills the guy who did it, he pisses off their boss, because her attacker didn't have a chance to pay the boss for a job Kong did. Now Kong has to choose between redemption with the pharmacist girl or avenging his mentor.

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This is a great film, and different in many ways from the Nicolas Cage version. First, it's the assassin who's deaf, not the girl at the pharmacy. Second, and perhaps more importantly, there's none of the horrible voice overs the Cage one had. Finally, there was none of that clunky element where Cage had to recruit someone locally to help him do his jobs. Here we just had Kong doing his thing. I do think the Cage one worked, especially because of the performance he turned in, but it was nowhere near as good as this one.

And in terms of Hong Kong cinema, this takes the foundation set down by Woo, and adds more depth to it. It really is The Killer redux, only with the assassin having the disability, but still wanting redemption for the people he's killed through the love of a woman he's just met. What's interesting here is that Kong's brutal occupation doesn't really affect his girl's life until they're attacked by muggers and he takes them out, scaring her off; while Chow Yun-Fat's girl is actually blinded by being in the wrong place at the wrong time during one of his hits. He has to hide the fact that all her pain and suffering is because of him, as opposed to Kong, who has to keep his job a secret because his relationship with the woman he loves would disappear once she found out the truth about what he does.

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And that woman, named Fon, is a total hottie. You can see why Kong would give up his job for her. Her real name is Premsinee Ratanasopha, and she has only one other film to her credit, Zee-Oui. As in all American films, we're left wondering how she was single in the first place. In Hollywood, as in Bangkok, hotties are ripe for the picking at local pharmacies, just waiting for our hero to show up and sweep them off their feet-- or something slightly more awkward, which we got here. Looks wise, and acting wise, I'm surprised she hasn't been in more, or that Hollywood hasn't tracked her down. She didn't even make it into the Hollywood version of this, which was shot in Thailand.

There have been a lot of 90s American action films shot in Thailand, and though Bangkok Dangerous is on a different level from those, it seems like they all used Bangkok in the same way. When you hear the Pang brothers talk about it, they make it sound like Bangkok offers things that other cities don't-- an almost Old West feel-- but really all they use are a bunch of dingy apartments, gambling houses, brothels, and strip clubs. Really this could be Manila or something just as easily, the way Vancouver passes for Seattle, or Toronto and Montreal for New York.

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The subway system in Hong Kong looks pretty sweet, if the scenes in the movie are an accurate depiction. Like many others (Boston's T for instance), there's a system map along the inside top, letting people know how many stops to the next one. What they also have is a series of lights under the names of each stop on the map, that lights up as the train pulls into them. How cool is that? Plus they were so clean on the inside. I love the T, and can't image they could come up with the cash to get all new trains so they'd look like their Hong Kong counterparts, but maybe it's something for them to shoot for.

You can get this one right now on Netflix Watch Instantly, so that's a pretty good bet. The Nicolas Cage version has to be rented on DVD. If you want to compare my reviews, you can click here. I think you'll find the original is much better.

For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0263101/

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Counter Measures aka Crash Dive 2 (1999)

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In our move to get Michael Dudkioff back in the fold, we also go to a throwback, something more indicative of 1990 than 1999. Even the name spells great bad DTV action: Counter Measures. No one thought to pick up a dictionary-- even worse, no one stepped in that just happened to know countermeasures is one word not two? But as much as we knew The Stranger was going to be a sack of asscrack by its opening credit sequence, we know a movie with a misspelled title is going to be pretty sweet.

Counter Measures (sic) has Dudikoff back after the first Crash Dive, now working as a Navy medic because he abhors violence. Problem is, he's in the wrong line of work to abhor violence, and as far as Uncle Sam's concerned, once a Navy SEAL, always a Navy SEAL, and he's sent into action with a cute blond to take a Russian sub back from some dudes hell bent on bringing back the Cold War. How much does this sound like a throwback?

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Maybe it was the strong bitter taste left in my mouth from The Stranger, but I liked this. I mean, it was awful, but a lot of fun awful. The film starts with some pitched battle with Dudikoff as the medic cradling a dying comrade in his arms, imploring the boy to "don't die on me!" If you were going to make a parody of 1990s bad action, you'd probably script that scene. And it just keeps on from there. Unlike its predecessor, we didn't have long, drawn out submarine fights-- in fact, the one we did have ended with a great torpedo strike on the US sub by the baddies after some chick higher-up told the US sub to back off, to which the Navy guy that wanted the sub to engage says "you just killed 125 US sailors" in as grim an I-told-you-so a voice as possible. Dudikoff kicked ass and took names, instead of getting his ass kicked like he did in the first one, which was also refreshing. Having Oleg Taktarov to fight made it more believable when he struggled as well. Just a fun time.

Obviously, this isn't a film worth taking seriously, but that's what makes it so great. I mean, the people making it, Fred Olen Ray in particular, exude no irony whatsoever, which adds to the charm; but this really is a throwback, because as the decade changed, so did the DTV approach to filmmaking. Golan-Globus had been done for a while, and PM was winding down. The Matrix and Crouching Tiger were putting a premium on high flying martial arts and gimmicky special effects, and this trend would only get worse with The Bourne Identity and it's model of quick cuts preventing the audience from focusing on anyone thing, a slight-of-hand trick that allowed DTV filmmakers to much more effectively cover up inadequacies, and also allowed them to cast bigger names and spend less cash on the special effects that the 80s and 90s films were so known for. Here we had a film trying to turn the tide, the farmer outside of Byzantium, holding onto his livelihood as the rest of the Romans had fled behind the city walls as the Huns approached. Watching a slew of extras convulse and spit yellow bile up as a result of the nerve gas the baddies were using to take them out, I lifted my beer to them, and everyone involved with this movie. Good for them.

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And this was vintage Michael Dudikoff. I wouldn't say it was his best, because he has a ton of much better films, but he and Fred Olen Ray collaborated here to create something pretty sweet for us bad action movie honks. All of my complaints with part 1 were addressed in this sequel, which is all we can ask for, right? If you had any questions as far as how awesome Dudikoff would be in this one, once he slits a bad guy's throat with a corkscrew, all doubts perish. And when he uses that same corkscrew to fish a bullet out of his thigh-- well, I'm actually confused when he does that, so let's skip that part. Anyway, this is the kind of film that made Dudikoff an inaugural Hall of Famer as much as the American Ninjas, because this proves just how much we love seeing him in a DTV actioner.

This movie had a really hot femme fatale, whose first scene sees her buck naked. Later she wears one of those business suits with the long coat and short skirt that makes it look like she's not wearing any skirt at all. It's a classic dilemma for us Western guys: we find those Eastern European women to be such hotties, but we know we can't trust 'em. I mean, poor Dave, the overweight, balding, used car salesman plunks down some serious cash to fly over to Moscow and pick out his favorite down-and-out hottie from Minsk or Odessa, only to get her home and find himself two months later emptying out his bank account online at gunpoint by his new bride's visiting "cousins". He tells himself he'll never let that happen again, saves up the cash he earned by unloading another couple hundred lemons on his unsuspecting community, only to find Match.com isn't cutting it for him, and he's back in Moscow. Poor Dave.

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The last time we saw Fred Olen Ray, he was boring us to sleep with Mach 2. He's an interesting case, because he has some 115 directorial credits, but a good chunk of those are bikini films, so I'm never sure how much I should feature him, or even consider him as a candidate for the Hall of Fame. This is his sixth film we've reviewed, the other five being the aforementioned Mach 2, Operation Cobra, The Shooter, Fugitive Mind, and Alienator (a film I just discovered somehow didn't make it into my archives, even though I reviewed it back on July 30, 2007!). Maybe not Hall of Fame yet, but at least a tag, how does that sound?

This is a bit of a tough one to find, as it's on DVD, but not available at Netflix. Who knows why that is. Also, Amazon sells it new for like $25-- way more than you should be spending. I found it on VHS, but it's not mine, I'm borrowing it. That's what you should do, unless you're a Dudikoff completist, which I'm not (it's enough being a Dolph completist!). It is fun, though, so if you can get it cheap, or better yet for free, go for it.

For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0150209/

Monday, July 12, 2010

The Stranger (2010)

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I had this film in my queue, waiting for it to come out, and then completely forgot about it. Luckily our friend from Down Under, Sutekh, reviewed it on his site, Explosive Action, which reminded me that I'd forgotten about it. It was too late by then, though, to save it from relegation to Very Long Wait status, plus I needed to review two other new releases, Undisputed III and Eyeborgs. We made it though, and I'm glad to finally cover it, because Stone Cold Steve Austin in a DTV actioner is a Siren Song I need to either endorse or warn people about as soon as possible.

The Stranger has Austin as an amnesiac who speaks fluent Spanish and Russian and is wanted by the FBI. Slowly he regains his memory as the plot deems it convenient, all the while accompanied by a very hot Poor Man's Emmanuelle Vaugier playing the part of a psychiatrist. Adam Beach co-stars as an FBI agent.

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With most DTV actioners, you know in the first five minutes if it's going to suck or not, and that was the case here. In the opening credits, there's some sort of chase with bad music that's really poorly lit, except when they pause it to show another credit, and then it's really well lit, letting us know they could've made the whole thing well lit, but the scenes were so horribly shot they needed to dim it so we couldn't see that. Sure enough, the film lived up to those dim expectations, serving up one of the worst sacks of asscrack in recent memory. Large pockets of bad plot exposition, a motorcycle chase scene that looked like it was shot on a BestBuy $200 digital camera, and maybe two decent action scenes the whole time. Plus, you have an amazing talent like Stone Cold Steve Austin, and he had one good fight, and spent more time forced into acting scenes that he was uncomfortable doing, and were uncomfortable for me to watch.

Seriously, that's what you give us? You've got fucking Stone Cold Steve Austin, and the best you can do is have him walk around with a puzzled look on his face wondering who he is? Come on guys, go back in there and do this over. I want Stone Cold kicking asses and taking names-- and not doing martial arts or trying to be some kind of special FBI agent. I'm talking Stone Cold Stunners. I'm talking people throwing him beers off screen. Then when you keep in things like him speaking Spanish or Russian fluently, it works perfectly, because everything else is so awesome. Go back and watch Rowdy Roddy Piper's catalog for an idea on how to properly cast a wrestler in a DTV actioner, then do this one over. Let's just forget this one even existed.

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Let's get one thing straight here: I see no reason why Stone Cold Steve Austin can't have a great DTV action career. In one scene at the beginning, he was great taking out a bunch of Federales who were trying to teach him the merits of ancient dentistry, and he smashed a wooden chair over one dude's head. They just had to kill all that with bad quick edits, and a horrible plot that required Austin to act in a way that didn't work and took away from action we desperately needed. Had this film been made in 1995, it would've probably been one of the best films ever, plain and simple. It's getting more and more frustrating as I go to see how modern DTV movie makers are killing the genre. Those older films weren't cheesy, they were awesome, and I'm tired of the current movement from filmmakers to distance themselves away from that time. Their films are even worse because of it.

Erica Cerra plays the psychiatrist. Very hot, but it just feels like she's who you get when Emmanuelle Vaugier isn't available. Interestingly enough, they're both from Vancouver, and they were born three years apart (Vaugier being the older one). Someone should cast them together in something, but I can't off the top of my head think of what that should be.

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Adam Beach, the man who made Windtalkers not as bad as it should've been, and now plying his trade on Law and Order: SVU, finds his way into this, and you can see in his eyes the whole time how much he wants to punch his agent in the face. How do we not have better roles for this guy? At least the one thing we can say about his role in The Stranger was that he wasn't type-cast as a Native American. Still, one good thing doesn't let them off the hook for 90 minutes of pain.

Avoid this like the plague. It's a big ol' pain fest, but what's worse, you're sitting there watching Austin ask Cerra about her dead brother, both feeling like you're listening to nails scratching a blackboard, and also knowing Austin could be in a bar fight Stone Cold Stunning dudes through tables. Why, why do people who make DTV movies have to suck sometimes? If I could answer that, I'd be a rich man.

For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1407078/

Friday, July 9, 2010

Jui kuen aka Drunken Master (1978)

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I picked this film to review on our Hong Kong movie series for two reasons. First, it's a collaboration between director Woo-ping and Jackie Chan; and second, while most Hong Kong cinema has pockets of comedy among serious action, this film has pockets of action among tons of comedy.

Drunken Master has Chan as a petulant youth whose father sends him to his great uncle so he can learn some discipline and Kung Fu. It's a hard road, but his uncle finally shows him his Drunken Style, which he needs to take down Thunderleg, an assassin sent to kill his father.

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This movie could've been a little shorter and some of the comedy routines were a little repetitive, but overall it's a fun time. Woo-ping's choreography combined with Chan's skill and comedic timing are a perfect combination. Even if much of the film is supposed to be funny, everyone takes the fight scenes as seriously as they would in any other action film. I think that's the key. If the fights were lackluster, even if they were funny, this wouldn't have worked. That's the thing with Hong Kong cinema and guys like Woo-ping and Jackie Chan: they don't know how to do things half-assed.

Compared to Police Story, this is a totally different ballgame. Here Chan is doing much more traditional Kung Fu in a period piece, as opposed to a modern action film with fighting that's more street brawling than exquisitely choreographed martial arts. Still, both have a large amount of that comedic element, which I think is great. Bruce Lee might be the greatest Hong Kong star ever, but Jackie Chan was the one who put them back on the map after Lee died.

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The other Woo-ping film we've done during this series is Tai Chi Master, which came about 15 years after Drunken Master, and is a film on a completely different scale. Huge fight scenes with tons of people doing amazing things. The one drawback in that one was the drawn out Jet Li crazy segment that was supposed to be funny, but just didn't work that well. Here, Chan allows Woo-ping to exercise his funny side in a way that works.

Chan's drunken style reminds me of Lei from Tekken, which is who I think he was based on. My buddy used to use him and Xiaoyu to try and combat my King/Armor King combination in Tekken Tag. If you're not aware, the Kings are by far the best characters, which I didn't know when I first started using them when my buddies and I played in college. I just loved their throws, especially the Giant Swing. Anyway, we'd get a bunch of people from our dorm in, and the rule was I'd have to beat someone twice while they only had to beat me once in order to stay on. I had win streaks into the 40s and 50s, and I thought I was the man-- until I found a guidebook on the game and read that the Kings were so good it was unfair. Anyway, seeing Chan look like Lei brought me back to those days of dominance.

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The Netflix Watch Instantly version I watched was dubbed, not subtitled, and Jackie's voice sounded like it had an English accent. It's always an interesting discussion, to subtitle or not to subtitle. Usually I'd say only people who can't read quick enough need subtitles, but with 70s Hong Kong cinema, part of the charm for some is in the dubbing. For me it's not a debate: subtitles no matter what-- you don't want to read movies? Go watch National Treasure. If it's good enough for Godard, it's good enough for Woo-ping or Jimmy Wu Yang.

You can get this both on Netflix Watch Instantly or on Crackle.com, making it one of the easier films in the Hong Kong series to get a hold of. Definitely worth checking out if you haven't already. Woo-ping and Jackie Chan? What more do you need?

For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0080179/

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Ging chat goo si aka Police Story (1985)

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Many people think I'm doing this series on Hong Kong films due to overwhelming support brought on by Mr. Kenner's (Movies in the Attic) impassioned pleas for it over the other potential genres. Though that's partially true, another big reason for it is to review this film-- which I guess I could've done on its own anyway, but whatever, and he should probably get some credit for that too, because he mentioned it among all the others he suggested I do. Quickest way to my heart? Mention one of the best fucking action films of all time.

Police Story has Chan as a cop who arrests a drug lord only to see the guy almost walk. He has to protect the guy's secretary so she can testify against him, but things go wrong when she's uncooperative. Does any of this really matter?

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Nope. In the interview with Chan that comes with the Dragon Dynasty version, we find out that he made this film after the debacle that was The Protector. He felt like it was Hollywood's fault that turned it out like such a sack-of-asscrack, so he said "here's what happens when you let me write my script, direct my movie, do my stunts, and choreograph my fights." Yeah, here's what happens: you get one of the best fucking action movies of all time. Jackie brings it on all levels, from the slapstick comedy, to the balls to the wall stunts, to the non-wire routine fights. His being pissed about the way he was treated by Hollywood was our gain. Boy was it our gain.

He said this film was made on a budget of only $2 million. What that means is that too sweet shantytown chase that transitions into the hanging off the bus scene-- yeah, that is done in one take, and everyone involved is literally risking their lives. Like, one of the dudes in the shantytown chase was critically inured. Like, when the bus stops and the guys fall out onto the street, they really do that, and it really hurts, and it happened because they couldn't rehearse it, and no one considered the air brakes in the bus would pull everyone back, so the guys jumping through the windows couldn't propel themselves onto the car they which was the original landing point. If you want to know why Chan does his The Tuxedo or the new Karate Kid, it's because his salary for that almost pays for something as awesome as this.

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Like the Tai Chi Master Dragon Dynasty DVD, this one comes with an interview by Bret Ratner (it also has commentary by him, but I may not have the time to watch it before I send this back to Netflix), and the number one thing he mentioned was how all of Police Story is so believable. If we look at all the other films we've reviewed, only the Bruce Lee ones have the level of realism this one has, and even they have Lee beating up tons of guys without getting a scratch on him. In Chan's fights, he takes hits, and uses everything around him to even the odds. Also, he seldom takes on more than a couple guys at once. I'm not saying something like Fist of Legend or Tai Chi Master or even Master of the Flying Guillotine aren't awesome, even if people are flying and standing on ceilings and taking out ten guys at once. There all awesome, I'm just pointing out that Chan's approach here is different.

Here we are, six paragraphs in, I haven't even mentioned the best part of the movie. That's right, the mall fight. We've seen great mall action sequences before: Invasion USA, Rage, and Commando. Police Story, though, has the best of the bunch, culminating in the crazy 70 foot slide down the pole into electrically charged wires and light bulbs. He burned his hands so much the skin was coming off them after. There's a reason why guys like Schwarzenegger and Stallone think Jackie Chan is the bee knees: because he has the fucking balls to get after it.

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After the mall scene, when you're thinking this can't get any better, Jackie Chan sings the song that plays during the closing credits. I thought about uploading it here, but then I was like, fuck that, if you want to listen to it, watch the whole fucking movie first.

Does it sounds like I'm swearing more than usual? I just don't know how to make the motherfucking kick ass energy Police Story has translate onto this page. This movie is beyond awesome, and if you haven't seen it, get that Dragon Dynasty version into your Netflix queue with the quickness.

For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0089374/

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Eyeborgs (2009)

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I caught wind of this after doing a search of Adrian Paul on Netflix. I'm not sure why I did that, but I gotta cover all my bases, right? Eyeborgs looked hilarious enough, so I figured why not give it a look see, and as luck would have it, I got it from Netflix the day after it came out.

Eyeborgs is part comedy, part sci-fi, part political thriller. It takes place in the near future, after another terrorist attack. The Patriot Act has been expanded to allow for these little robots with cameras for heads to film our every move. What no one planned on was the bots having a life of their own, or there being big ones that can kick some ass. Now Adrian Paul, a member of the Department of Homeland Security, has to blow the lid off all this before they blow the lid off of everyone else.

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I didn't plan on this, but it's interesting that I'm reviewing Eyeborgs on the same week as Hostage, because this film exists on the other end of the political spectrum. As Hostage says "leave everything to us rich white guys, and we'll protect you", Eyeborgs says "the more power we give them, the more they'll piss on the American flag" (I took that line from Hostage when the UHF guy was commenting on the hijackers). The problem is, they created a metaphorical future America to comment on the current one, but they couldn't trust us to figure out this mock society's rules on our own, so they had to give them to us in some shoddy dialog and plot exposition. That same issue of politics getting in the way of the action-- though as an answer to the political agenda of Hostage, it does definitely does a good job. Wings, would you like a rebuttal?

Where this movie shined was in the silly looking, yet sometimes scary, eyeborgs. Some of their kills were downright laughable, but some were chilling, and it's there that the politics got in the way. Had they kept it all in the background and allowed us to pick up on it for ourselves, we could have had a much more complete horror film, and maybe even something special, even in the DTV world. Then the end of the film devolved into some great bad action as well, making me wonder where that was earlier in the movie-- I mean we had it in fits and starts, but nothing like this. Delivering a political message in a movie is harder than it seems at first blush-- not everyone can make Dr. Strangelove.

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Adrian Paul. Like Kevin Sorbo, he'd make a syndicated TV hall of fame, but also like Sorbo, that great syndicated TV work hasn't translated to the DTV world the way it has for someone like Lorenzo Lamas. If Eyeborgs turns into a franchise, though, and they improve upon this one, he could make a move past Sorbo, whose Walking Tall 3 killed what was looking like a good thing. Highlander: The Series might be the all time best syndicated series ever (some will argue Star Trek: The Next Generation), and a big reason why it was so good was Paul. Hopefully he'll finally make that into DTV gold.

DTVC favorite Danny Trejo makes his way onto this, playing guitar mechanic G-Man. It would've been awesome if he was a real G-Man instead. Like a fed trying to cover up the conspiracy as Paul investigated it. Can you imagine Trejo in a black suit and Ray Bans? Movies like this can't get over the hump because they don't think outside the box like that. They're too stuck recycling Battlestar Galactica commentary on the Bush Administration to see some real inspired thinking like Trejo as a no-nonsense FBI agent.

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The biggest surprise in the film came not in the plot or any acting performance, but in the soundtrack. Bad Religion's "21st Century Digital Boy" was playing in the background as one of the characters was walking down the street. I hadn't heard that in years. See, more stuff like that, and movies like Eyeborgs get 8 paragraphs of stellar review, instead of this one paragraph, and seven others of "what if".

Eyeborgs has some fun moments. I think I'd be able to forgive a lot of its cheesiness as endearing if they weren't so big on hitting me over the head with the political aspect. Bad horror, bad sci-fi, and bad action all get solid marks, just wish there were some more of them. If they make another one, hopefully with the background out of the way here, they can jump right in and give us more meat.

For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1043844/

Monday, July 5, 2010

Hostage aka Colt: Flight 802 (1987)

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It's been a while since we'd had any Wings Hauser here at the DTVC, the last being January's Cold Fire, so when Ty at Comeuppancereviews.com stopped by and mentioned this gem, I knew I needed to make it happen.

Hostage has Wings as a former special forces guy living in Africa, I guess dating the chick who's the daughter of a rich businessman, played by the guy that ran the bad TV station on UHF. When her son gets sick and needs to fly to the States for an emergency kidney transplant (I know, what?), she and the boy have the misfortune of taking a plane hijacked by Arab terrorists. Because these black people don't know what they're doing, and these Arabs are a bunch of savages that have no regard for human life, it's up to Wings to rescue them-- which he does by hosing the cabin down with machine gun fire, killing half of the hostages at the same time.

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This movie has two ways to go. First, it takes that ridiculous Tea Bagger political stance that the world would be a much better place if everyone just listened to rich white men, and all the world's problems come from liberals and women and "colored" people trying to go it alone. The reality is, much of the world's problems come from the time when people only listened to rich white men, because no one else had the power to contradict them, and right now we're trying our best to repair all the damage they've done. That's not how this movie sees it. Arabs shouldn't be allowed to fly planes, and it's only because those liberals and their equal rights for all that let Arabs on planes so they can go on and hijacked them. And don't get them started on those Africans and their military. They couldn't fight their way out of a wet paper bag. Just get out of the way and let Wings and the Americans step in and show you how the real men do it.

We never like it when our movies get political here at the DTVC, but if this film had more moments like the last seven minutes, we'd accept the politicization of the film for it's sheer stupidity, and love it in spite of that for its silliness. That's the second way to go. The problem is, though it has its moments-- tons of great Adult Contempo for the soundtrack, and Wings is as ridiculous as ever-- overall it's a bunch of blah. Wings is hanging out with the UHF guy one minute, and the next he's scaling a skyscraper and attacking these guys with the top ten buttons of their shirts undone. Then he's bringing grapefruits packed with C-4 into the plane. And who knows what Karen Black was doing having sex with the mid-70s pornostash terrorist. This movie had an awesome last seven minutes, though, which made all the crap before it all the more frustrating. Had all of this weirdness been replaced with Wings throwing guys out of windows and setting them on fire, it could've been all time great. What I did do was make a clip of the last seven minutes which you can check out on the image page.

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Wings' character's name in Hostage was Striker. It's okay if you don't remember, the movie will let you know-- over and over. Because of the hostage situation, we get less Wings than we'd like. A good chunk of the film was spent on the plane, dealing with the plight of the passengers. There also wasn't enough of Wings as that off-beat hero, like we saw in No Safe Haven. That's what I mean about politics getting in the way. Here it prevented Wings from being Wings. Not just No Safe Haven, but also Art of Dying and The Killer's Edge showcase Wings as a former hippie or cop who plays by his own rules and sleeps with a lot of chicks and blows a lot of shit up, but in the end is doing it for the right reasons. The politics taints it here. I'm not sure when Wings will be back, but at the very least, Hostage reminded me of why he's in the DTVC Hall of Fame, and more importantly, reminded me why I did this blog in the first place, so we'll have more Wings sooner rather than later.

I'm gonna freak you out here a bit, but Karen Black, who was 48 when this film was made, was totally hot to me in a Sunset Boulevard kind of way. Don't do the math and consider that she just turned 71, or that I would've been 8 when Hostage was made, look at it strictly as me as a 31-year-old finding her as a 48-year-old in this film hot, and hot in a Sunset Boulevard kind of way. I know, you still think I'm nuts, or maybe even gross, but I'm sticking to my guns.

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I hadn't seen old school quicksand used in a movie in a while. Okay, that recent Indiana Jones movie, Indiana Jones and the Major Cash Grab, had quicksand, but that film was a joke. This one was using classic quicksand in its truest sense-- mud that people drown in. And it seems to come out of nowhere too. Like here's Hauser blowing up the bad chick, and the baddie's throwing the sick kid to the ground, and splash, the ground turns into quicksand. It's part of what made the last seven minutes good, and it also made me nostalgic for the old days when a simple walk in the woods could mean death at any moment.

If I were you, I'd just go to the image page and watch the 7 minutes I uploaded if you really have a hunkering to see this bad boy. Otherwise, it's not worth it. Also, it's only available on VHS, so you won't be renting it at Netflix or something either.

For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0093213/

Friday, July 2, 2010

Jing wu ying xiong aka Fist of Legend (1994)

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This is our second and final Jet Li film of our DTVC Wild Card look at Hong Kong cinema, which I know sounds like not enough, but considering all the great films out there in the genre that we won't make it to in our 12 film series, two movies is fairly substantial. At the very least, I'm sure this won't be the last time we hear from Jet Li.

Fist of Legend is a broader and fully fleshed out remake of the Bruce Lee classic Chinese Connection (Fist of Fury), with Jet Li as a student in Japan called home to Shanghai after his master dies in battle. As tensions mount from the increased Japanese presence in the city prior to World War II, the Japanese Karate school that killed his master starts a conflict with Li's school, which in turn turns on him after he tries to bring his Japanese girlfriend into their fold. He leaves on his own after beating his master's son, the school's new master, in battle. The problem is, with Li out of the picture, who will be able to take the Japanese school's best warrior?

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With the Bruce Lee original a classic simply because he starred in it, this remake had to be better all around, because Jet Li, no matter how awesome, is still no Lee. And that's what happened. The story went from the early 70s completely anti-Japanese resent-fest (and considering how close it still was to WWII, an understandable resent-fest), to a more modern approach with both the Japanese and Chinese guilty of racism and jingoism. Not only that, but this film had more players and more quality talent to support Li, and that in turn made his performance that much more special. Often remakes of classics suck a fat dick-- sorry if I sound bitter, but I've been sickened too many times by what people have done to some real cinematic gems-- so it's refreshing here to see an example where the original is both improved upon, and paid its proper respect.

The difference for me between Bruce Lee's screen presence and Jet Li's, is that Bruce Lee seems to affect the scenes he's not in. This movie was a perfect example. Right away, we get that iconic Jet Li stare after some toolbags at his Japanese school give him a hard time. That stare that tells us, it's time. And boy was it time. When he's not on the screen, though, that's where his influence ends, while with Bruce Lee, in a similar role, we never forget about him. He's always on our minds. I don't want it to sound like Jet Li wasn't amazing in Fist of Legend, because he definitely was; it was more that through how great Li was, I saw even more just how irreplaceable Bruce Lee was.

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This film brings up the differences between Karate and Kung Fu, and how each practitioner of each style thinks the one is better than the other. I had heard this before from another source, but in the commentary to Master of the Flying Guillotine, one of the commentators brought it up again, that all Asian martial arts styles that involve striking come from Kung Fu. That includes Karate, Tae Kwon Do, Muay Thai, you name it. The grappling styles, like jujitsu, developed on their own, but everything else was from Kung Fu. As an American, it's very interesting, because everything we have has been borrowed for the most part and adapted for our own use, so we don't get too uppity when someone comes in and says a tradition or trait originated somewhere else first. We actually embrace that idea-- people who wear hoods or attend Tea Bagger rallies excluded, of course. For either the Chinese or Japanese to be told that a tradition one has associated with a part of their culture for so long actually came from the other would be complete anathema.

To carry that issue further, most Americans, and citizens of the world outside of Asia in general, would have trouble figuring out the differences between the Japanese and Chinese, and that's the central theme upon which this film is based. It's almost a real world version of that Star Trek episode with Frank Gorshin about the people with the black and white faces, but to characterize it like that would be to diminish what are two very distinct and rich cultures. I remember taking some friends to a Tibetan restaurant in Boston, and some of them expecting things like tea served to them in the same way they would at your average American style Chinese restaurant. I'm surprised they didn't ask where the buffet was. I think that's what makes this film so great, is that dual layer: at the same time it's teaching the rest of the world that there are real differences between the Chinese and Japanese, it's then teaching those two people that in the end they're still humans, and should respect each other as equals.

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Finally, do you not love this guy's hair? One of the best non-mullet hairdos we've ever seen here at the DTVC. It's like buzzed and puffy at the same time. Considering this movie had it all to begin with, it didn't need to give us this awesome hair, and it did it anyway. Fist of Legend, going the extra mile for you.

We're talking about another solid Dragon Dynasty edition, though this one doesn't have the featurettes the Tai Chi Master DVD had. Still, well worth your time, so go check it out if you haven't.

For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0110200/

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Tai ji: Zhang San Feng aka Twin Warriors aka Tai Chi Master (1993)

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We continue our DTVC Wild Card look at Hong Kong cinema with Tai Chi Master, a film featuring Jet Li and Michelle Yeoh, and directed by the legendary fight choreographer Woo-ping Yuen. You may see it listed with the title Twin Warriors, but the Dragon Dynasty version, which is probably on most shelves and the version Netflix offers, has the title we're using here.

Tai Chi Master is about two Shaolin monks in training, Jet Li and Siu-hou Chin, who leave their school to strike out on their own. They wander into a nearby town, run by a tyrant of a governor. Jet Li decides his lot is with the rebels looking to oust the tyrant, while Siu-hou Chin leaves his friend and joins up with the army, using his Shaolin training to take what he can and gain as much wealth and power as possible. Eventually this brings them at odds, and Jet Li must figure out how he can defeat his childhood friend, a foe he knows is more powerful than him.

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Woo-ping and Jet Li. I really don't have to say anything else, do I? The only thing I didn't like was a part in the middle where Jet Li had gone crazy, which went on much longer than it should've. It just kept us from getting to the end that we knew was coming, and the slapstick that came from him losing his mind got old quick. But you're talking like fifteen minutes of an otherwise stellar film. Woo-ping's directing and fight choreography is amazing, Jet Li, Michelle Yeoh, and Siu-hou Chin are all excellent; just a killer film.

Jet Li's kind of that third in line as far as Hong Kong action stars goes, after Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan. You could make a case for Chow Yun Fat, but I think he's a different ball game. What I love about Jet Li is how he seems rather diminutive, until he gets his stare on. That one stare, and you know, you're in trouble. I'm curious to see what he's like in The Expendables, or rather, how well he's used. What we know for sure is, if anyone knows how to use Jet Li, it's Woo-ping.

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Along with the DVD came two featurettes where Bret Ratner and film critic Elvis Mitchell discuss Woo-ping Yuen and the pairing of Jet Li and Michelle Yeoh. Mitchell summed up the latter by referring to Yeoh as the "Ginger Rogers to [Li's] Fred Astaire." I don't know that there's a better way to put it. As I've always said, for action fans, our Steel Magnolias is Commando; and you could go one step further and say Hong Kong action is our musical. Kicking ass and taking names. Also, this is the second Yeoh film we've done here, the first being Silver Hawk, which was one of our first reviews ever, and also starred Michael Jai White.

Another thing Ratner and Mitchell got into was why Woo-ping hasn't made a film over here, and they brought up the same issues we did about John Woo not having made the masterpieces here that he did there. Producers, insurance, agents, SAG-- all issues Hong Kong directors don't have to worry about. These actors in Woo-ping's films really get put through the wringer, but they know going in what's expected of them, and they want to do it to make the kind of magic on screen that we've become accustomed to. There are some benefits to making movies in Hollywood, just like there are benefits to making films in Hong Kong or elsewhere. What we need to understand is that just because Hollywood is the biggest and brightest, doesn't mean it's the best.

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Finally, something about this image struck me. It looks like 1988-92 more than from a period piece. The background isn't automatically a tent from this close in, and her make-up and hair are much more After School Special than historical Chinese shopkeeper. Of course, what happens next in the film is not After School Special at all. Scott Baio wouldn't approve.

The Dragon Dynasty version of this is great, so it's worth checking out. I didn't get too into specific scenes and images, because if you haven't seen it, it's worth going in cold. The one thing you should do, though, as you watch it, is ask yourself "how did he shoot that without big budget special effects?"

For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0108281/