The Direct to Video Connoisseur
I'm a huge fan of action, horror, sci-fi, and comedy, especially of the Direct to Video variety. In this blog I review some of my favorites and not so favorites, and encourage people to comment and add to the discussion. If you click on an image, it will take you to that post's image page, which includes many more pics from the film and other goodies I couldn't fit in the actual review. For announcements and updates, don't forget to Follow us on Twitter and Like our Facebook page. If you're the director, producer, distributor, etc. of a low-budget feature length film and you'd like to send me a copy to review, you can contact me at dtvconnoisseur[at]yahoo.com. I'd love to check out what you got.
Thursday, August 19, 2010
I don't know if anyone's seen the trailer for this, but it looks awesome. Really, does anyone do trailers better than PM Entertainment? Their trailers always make their films look like the most amazing 90 minute action fests the world has ever seen. It's like, we look at one of those, and we think "Lawrence Hilton-Jacobs III is the best action hero since Steve McQueen!", then we watch the movie and we're like "um... all the action was in that one car chase?"
Firepower takes place in the future, three years ago, in a world where the US government is dealing with the consequences of "Free Zones", places where all manner of lawlessness is legal. The problem with that idea no one thought of at the time: society's worst criminals can just pop outside of the zone, create all manner of havoc, then run back to the zone before the cops can catch them. Oops. Now Chad McQueen and his sidekick, Gary Daniels, are two cops who won't stand by and let these baddies get away with their transgressions, so they go pseudo-undercover as fighters in an underground fighting ring in the zone, looking to take down one of LA's worst crimelords.
As the saying goes down South, "this movie is dummern' a sack o' hammers", and for the most part that's a good thing. For instance, a poor move that I would kill most films for: the gratuitous killing of McQueen's wife, is pulled off so clumsily it's more funny than mean spirited. Why then does this movie not work when it should be so bad it's awesome? Gary Daniels is the sidekick to Chad McQueen. Let me just reiterate that. Gary Daniels, Mr. Ten Kinds of Awesome, rocking a too sweet mullet, has to endure a demeaning decapitation at the hands of the Ultimate Warrior, because he's just the sidekick, and it's McQueen who gets to triumph at the end as the hero. That's like casting Dolph Lundgren in a movie, and having him play sidekick to Joe Lara. Other than that, this is a great dummern' a sack of hammers good time, a rip-off of other greats like Escape From New York.
So as far as Daniels goes, then, this isn't a Gary Daniels movie, it's a Chad McQueen movie. That's very hard to type. Was Daniels great in it? Yeah, solid martial arts, too sweet mullet, sounds like a winning combination. Too bad it wasn't his movie-- even if he was on the cover! The Ultimate Warrior had a higher billing than him! I'm not calling this a bait-and-switch, I'm just saying Daniels is not the number one guy, which was a bad move on the part of the film makers. If I need a Gary Daniels fix, I'll go somewhere else, like Rage or Bloodmoon. We'll work on trying to get a more Daniels-centric film here in the future. Cross your fingers for Cold Harvest.
Check it out, it's Art Camacho. One of the biggest names in DTV action, but more often than not for what he's done behind the scenes, from great choreography to some solid directing efforts. Right now, it's only as a director that we have him tagged, but in this post we'll tag him as an actor, and with his induction into the Hall of Fame this fall, I'll go back and tag him for all the other films he's been involved with as well. A true pillar in the DTV community.
Yes, I did say the Ultimate Warrior was in this. I, like many others, believed the urban legend that he killed himself, which never happened. He's actually alive and well, and apparently said some mean things about Heath Ledger's death. In Firepower, he plays a bad guy named Swordsman, but without his trademark warpaint, he looks more like a buff Alice Cooper. Because of the way this film cast McQueen as the lead and not Daniels, we're denied a great end battle between the two, which was a major disappointment. Warrior just kicks his ass and decapitates him.
I'm at a loss again for a seventh paragraph. I could go topical and discuss how in 1993 AIDS was still a very feared and deadly epidemic, when now, three years after "the future", we've reached a point with expensive drugs and a broader education in this country that it isn't the front page headline grabber it was then. That's boring though. The thing is, looking at these dummern' a sack o' hammers visions of the future we see in bad action movies, I wonder if these people lived in the same 1993 I did. 2003 looked bleak, but 1993 looked bright. The Iron Curtain was down, there was peace in the Middle East (we didn't know then it wouldn't last), and Bill "don't stop thinkin' about tomorrow" Clinton was our new President, playing his sax on The Arsenio Hall Show. Is that what the problem was, it looked too bright and rosy? Too Liberal, maybe? Would Liberals create a "Free Zone", a la a US Conservative view of Amsterdam? Maybe that's why Tea Baggers are so scared right now, they looked at 1993, and instead of seeing things going pretty well, they saw Firepower-- dummern' a sack o' hammers.
This is a fun, stupid, bad actioner from the early 90s. In terms of the PM Entertainment trailer, it lives up to what it sells quite a bit. Just don't go into it expecting a Gary Daniels film-- even if he is all over the cover. This is a Chad McQueen film... which still sounds odd to say. Oh yeah, as an aside, Lawrence Hilton-Jacobs is tagged because his voice is the play-by-play of the fights. He never actually appears beyond that.
For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0106915/
Tuesday, August 17, 2010
I got my hands on a few movies, this being one of them, and I decided to review it first, because I thought I hadn't done any Michael Dudikoff in a while. Then I went back and looked, and saw Counter Measures aka Crash Dive 2 about five posts ago. Oops, my bad. Of course, can you ever really have too much Dudikoff?
The Human Shield is a play on the Saddam Hussein strategy in the first Gulf War, when he took a bunch of Western hostages and used them to keep himself safe from Allied bombing. In the movie, Dudikoff has a bad past with an Iraqi general with a bad Middle Eastern accent. For revenge, the general detains his brother as he tries to board a plane, and holds him as bait to lure Dudikoff into his trap. Dudikoff has to sneak into the country, and rely on help from an old flame-- who married the general while Duds was away-- and an old Iraqi military buddy, as he dodges bullets and Iraqi military dirt bikes. Will he succeed?
Man, I don't know where to go with this one. A good chunk of it played out like a bad Lifetime movie rip-off of Not Without My Daughter. But when it had action, it was equal parts silly and awesome, the best being the final fight with the general, which I included as a video clip at the bottom of the image page for this review. You also had some great shoot-outs, explosions, and the aforementioned Iraqi military assaulting our hero on dirt bikes. The issue is, does it have enough to warrant a recommendation? I think it does, but a cautious one. If you and your buddies love Dudikoff, and you're good enough at mocking your movies that you can make entertaining parts that might otherwise be boring, you'll be rewarded with some solid early 90s action cheese.
I think it's good to get a couple Dudikoff films in quick succession, especially considering we went from March to July without reviewing anything by him. This post will put him into a tie with Steven Seagal for third all time, behind Dolph Lundgren and Lorenzo Lamas-- though that's slightly misleading because we reviewed American Ninja 2 twice. I think that's about right, though, because I think if I were to rank DTV action stars-- just my own personal list-- I'd have Dudikoff number two behind Dolph, even above respected denizens like Seagal and Jean-Claude Van Damme. Other than Dolph, no one does early 90s DTV action like Dudikoff. Though this might not be his best effort, not by a long shot, it still had it moments, and perhaps more importantly, gets us that much closer to having his complete DTV catalog reviewed on here.
The general was played by a dude named Steve Inwood. He's a great baddie, but a God awful Arab. He's the most egregious example of this film's use of any olive-skinned man with a moustache tacked onto his upper lip as an Arab. I can't blame the film makers for that, though, considering it was shot in Israel. I'm sure they'd have a great time convincing Arabs from either Gaza or the West Bank to come to Israel and act in their movie about Iraq.
The Human Shield is a Cannon film, but not a Golan-Globus film. That's because this is in that 1990-1993 span after Golan left to form the 21st Century Film Corporation. I know it might be confusing, and I think I still have American Ninja 4 erroneously tagged as Golan-Globus, when it technically isn't-- something I'll fix after I publish this post. You can read the Wikipedia article on Cannon to find out more, especially what led to their eventual downfall. I think even if Cannon had survived further into the 90s, the hangover that affected the entire genre probably still would've hit them as much as it hit everyone else, but one has to wonder what they could've done with guys like Seagal and Van Damme when they fell down to the DTV ranks.
This set made for a great final act, and it makes me wonder why they didn't just shoot the whole film here. I mean, the plot pretty much devolved into a Die Hard in Baghdad, why not make it a Die Hard in this too sweet building instead? They could've also removed a lot of the Lifetime movie elements, and just made it a straight ahead actioner. Even the dirt bike scene would've worked in those long corridors. The mere thought is too awesome for words.
This is only available on VHS, so with that in mind and what you might have to go through to see it, I'd leave it for the Dudikoff completist, which is probably the main reason why we're reviewing it here. A great bad movie night pick if you and your buddies are big Dudikoff fans, otherwise, I'd lay off it.
For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0102072/
Monday, August 9, 2010
Mr. Kenner over at Movies in the Attic brought it to my attention that Bloodmatch was available on Hulu. Sounded like a good idea to me, until I fire it up, and it was all choppy and jumpy. I know it's an issue with my computer, but I can't figure out why Hulu eats up so much RAM or whatever that I can't watch a film, but Netflix Watch Instantly runs fine. I will say that ESPN3.com also has the same issues on my computer that Hulu does, so I know it's not Hulu; but regardless, it was just unwatchable. Anyway, I tracked down my own copy of it, and here it is for you.
Bloodmatch has Albert Pyun mainstay Thom Mathews as a dude whose brother was beaten to death by some kickboxers for not throwing a fight. After torturing Michel Qissi into giving some names of those responsible, he has a nurse he knows help gather the four offending parties, through a combination of guns and chloroform, and tape them to seats in a Las Vegas arena. Matthews' plan is to fight each one to the death, until one gives up exactly who is responsible.
Let's start with the good. Solid fight scenes, an 81-minute runtime, and a boatload of genuinely great cheese. Perhaps best of all was the music, which seemed totally out of place in most places. It was like the sombre music you might find to the intro of a bad 1980s DTV sci-fi movie. Yet this music played over most of the film's best action. Your guess is as good as mine, but I'll take it over the bad Disturbed retreads we forced to listen to in a lot of today's bad actioners. Then there were the one-liners. "I'd love to kick the shit out of your head." Sure, why not, or rather, how awesome is that?
Now for the bad. Even at 81 minutes, there were some scenes of protracted dialog that were excruciating to deal with. If you're asking whether or not I think an 81-minute movie could be shorter, I guess I'd say, try replacing that patch of bad dialog/acting either with some more unintentionally funny stuff-- like people threatening to kick the shit out of people's heads-- or give us more or longer fights. The scene I'm specifically talking about was when the four suspects wake up from their chloroforming to find themselves taped to arena chairs. They just go back and forth with each other, and between the writing and the acting, it feels like it goes on forever. The other complaint I had was a lack of Vincent Klyn and Michel Qissi. First, in Qissi's case, you have the best fighter, and you use him for one scene at the beginning. Second, in Klyn, you have the coolest guy in the movie, and he's barely in his one scene slightly toward the middle. I know it's been almost 20 years since this came out, but maybe Pyun could go back and turn Bloodmatch into a buddy picture featuring Qissi and Klyn.
Speaking of Pyun, you can tell he was doing his best to put lipstick on a pig here, and I think he did a great job. Considering he didn't write the script, he couldn't help the awful scene in the arena I described above, and I imagine Klyn was only in the scene he was in as a favor to Pyun, essentially adding awesomeness that wasn't originally supposed to be there. Word on the street is that things are going well with the Tales of an Ancient Empire release, so we at the DTVC wish him continued success with that. I think the next film of his we'll review will be Nemesis 2.
Back of Warchild. Seriously. That's right, DTVC favorite Vincent Klyn is back. He's barely in the film, which often seems to be the case, where he's just lending his talents for a bit to help out Albert Pyun. I wonder if Kathryn Bigelow invited him to her Oscar winning party. Can you see Klyn bellying up to the caviar, loading up a cracker, and then someone puts a hand on his shoulder and says "Back off Warchild. Seriously."
Maybe I'm going way out on a limb here, but it seemed like Pyun was going for some real Film Noir tones, between the music, the way he had the actors recite the dialog, and some of the colors and shots. We know from films like Radioactive Dreams, and the newer Bulletface, that Pyun is a fan of Noir. Whether he did it on purpose or I'm imagining things (or being a Pyun apologist if you're so inclined), it just feels like he tries to make lemonade out of the lemon projects he's sent, and maybe in these earlier films that he did that it isn't so evident. It's one thing I think that's great about his current situation, where he seems to have more creative freedom and can make more of the pictures he wants. What's too bad, though, is that these new films aren't available on Netflix, where a wider audience would have access to them.
This is early-90s action cheese as only Pyun can do it. Bloody, great fights, funny dialog, and out of place music. Maybe I'm softer on these films than I am their modern counterparts, and I'm good with that accusation. If this film were made today, with someone other than Pyun at the helm (Isaac Florentine would be one exception, though), it would be ten kinds of nasty wrong, from the music, to the fights, to just the whole approach to the material. That's why you should skip those films, get someone with a nice computer that you can hook up to a nice TV, and stream Bloodmatch on Hulu for your bad movie night. I think you'll have a fun time.
For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0101482/
Sunday, August 1, 2010
I've been warned to avoid this one for some time, and I totally understand why, because it's a pretty bad deal. The thing is, though, it just doesn't feel right not having the third of the three Ninja movies up here, even if the first two had nothing to do with this one, or each other. The other thing is, we at the DTVC feel it's as important to warn people off about the bad ones as much as celebrate the great ones. So with that being said, here's Ninja III: Domination.
Ninja III is about a bad ninja almost killed by the cops after he assassinates a scientist enjoying 18 holes at his local muni. Before he goes, though, a Solid Gold dancer making extra cash as a technician for the electric company happens to see him struggle and tries to help, only to find herself bewitched by his evil spirit. We don't know which is worse, that or the stalker cop who she suddenly falls for and has lick V-8 Juice off her neck, but regardless, she's now blacking out and committing murders dressed as a ninja, and only Shô Kosugi knows what the deal is, and only he can stop her. Throw in James Hong again acting as an ethnicity not his own, and you've got Ninja III.
This starts off amazing, with the bad ninja kicking ass and taking names. Helicopters are exploding, golf balls are being crushed, and stuntmen are dying all over the local muni. I was even cool with the girl being possessed, because it was so funny. But the hairy stalker cop turned hero was just too much, and just too creepy. I also get that they were trying a Kwaidan Japanese ghost story type deal, but the execution was just ten kinds of wrong, with a lot of bad Poltergeist rip-offs and so forth, and the movie ended up being all over the place.
The stalker cop was probably the most irresponsible thing in the film, even more than James Hong as a Japanese man. To me it was actually kind of scary, our heroine meets this cop while she's telling the police about the dead ninja, and the cop hits on her, even after she tells him no multiple times. Then he calls her (how did he get her number? illegal police procedure probably), and after being rebuffed again, follows her to the aerobics class she teaches. As if that's not enough, when she's accosted by some bodybuilders in an alley outside the gym, he doesn't help, makes her fend for herself, then takes her away under the pretense that she's been arrested for assaulting them. What is that? And what recourse does she have if she doesn't fall in love with him and invite him back to her place to lick V-8 Juice off her neck? What, she reports him to the same police department he works for? Yeah, I bet that'd go over great, considering you're giving the report to the guy's friends. Now her report gets "lost", and he's suddenly "patrolling" in her neighbor hood 24-7. Police officers are entrusted with a very great responsibility, and to have a cop hero condoned and even vindicated in his stalking practices is simply appalling.
Shô Kosugi isn't in this anywhere near as much as he should be. When he's there, he's great, but what the hell does that even mean, right? He's always great when he's there, it's always just a matter of how much there there is, right? Go to Revenge of the Ninja or Pray for Death for the good Kosugi.
Is there anything hotter than a chick in a leotard playing a classic arcade game? In this case, unfortunately, the game is Bouncer, one that was still in development and didn't make it big, instead of something truly awesome, like Galaga. Women, if you've got a guy in mind you want to impress, this is the way to his heart. You don't exactly have to go the leotard route, especially since classic arcade games can be pricey, and you may have to play outside of your home, but you take a guy to the arcade and you start killing it on Pac-Man or something, he'll be yours forever.
Did I mention the cop guy was hairy? Like gross hairy, all over the back and shoulders, and in one scene he's rocking a tank top. Part of me wants to say "hey, more power to you", but no, that's just disgusting. You need to have more consideration for the people around you, and as a director, Sam Firstenbirg needed to step in and put some sleeves on him.
This isn't out on DVD, and perhaps that's a good thing. Sautéed in wrong sauce doesn't begin to describe what's going here. It's like they took all the awesomeness from Revenge of the Ninja, and decided give us ten minutes at the beginning to remind us of what they were capable of, knowing full well they were going to hit us with a hairy stalker cop and bad Poltergeist rip-off graphics.
For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0087805/