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, October 31, 2010

Bloody Birthday (1981)

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We continue our Halloween 2010 celebration with a camp classic from 1981, Bloody Birthday. By all means, it's okay to sing "birthday, bloody birthday.... birthday, bloody birthday..." When I saw U2 in concert back in I believe it was 2001, in Albany, NY, they performed "Bloody Sunday", and my buddy, a big U2 fan (much bigger than me) said they never play that. No idea why Albany was so lucky, but I'm not complaining.

Bloody Birthday is about three ten-year-old kids who were born on a solar eclipse, and because of that, they have no morals. 10-year-olds with no morals means murderous crime spree, at least as far as I can tell, but because they're 10, no one even considers that they could be the killers-- except for one teen and her ten-year-old brother. Can they stop them before it's too late?

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This is a great time. One thing I really liked (and you may not be able to tell from the pics I snagged) is that a good amount of it either takes place in broad daylight, or in well lit situations. I was thinking, as the teen heroine is being chased through a junk yard by a car driven by a couple of the ten-year-olds (one steering, the other using his hands to press the gas peddle), "wow, this is really well lit. When was the last horror movie made that took place in the day like that?" What was interesting about Bloody Birthday, was how they seemed to know ten-year-olds look silly as murders, but they played it straight, especially the kids, which made it all the more fun. You can still beat a sheriff to death with a baseball bat in the afternoon and have it be disturbing.

The leader of the kids looked like a young Skippy from Family Ties. Turns out he was a young Parker Lewis's best friend on Parker Lewis Can't Lose, that Ferris Bueller rip-off show from the 90s (do you remember the actual Ferris Bueller TV show that lasted like a minute?). Whoever he was, this kid was a psycho Anthony Perkins could appreciate. When I think about it though, young kids seem to play better psychos in movies, don't they? (I said "psychos", not "Psychlos", though they might make good those too.)

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That's right, your eyes aren't deceiving you, it's DTVC Hall of Famer Michael Dudikoff, appearing in three scenes, and making out with Julie Brown (the red head, not the Downtown variety-- more on that later). He doesn't really have a lot of lines in those few scenes either. Too bad, but back then they didn't know what they had in our man Duds. Speaking of which, imdb has two pre-production credits in his bio. Could it be? After a long hiatus? God, we hope so. As far as the rest of his movies go, I'm not sure what we'll do next, just because I'm having trouble getting my hands on the ones I want. Bear with me, though, we won't give up.

Anyone remember Julie Brown and her MTV show from the late 80s early 90s? Well, if you do, you may not recognize her here, in part because she's naked or in her underwear for a good portion of it. And man, does she have a smokin' body. The ten-year-olds watch her from a peephole her sister bore into the closet. And why wouldn't they, huh? For my straight female and gay male readers, there's some dudage, but nowhere near as much as we get hot naked chicks. Sorry. (I should point out, Downtown Julie Brown, the other Julie Brown on MTV at that time, was in the Gary Daniels flick Fist of the Northstar.

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In our seventh paragraph, I wanted to mention the cameo by José Ferrer. He's the father of Miguel, excellent star of one of our favorites, RoboCop. Ferrer the father was a great actor in his own right as well, though-- actually far better, when you consider he won a Best Actor Oscar in 1950. Humphrey Bogart was considered the stand-out in The Caine Mutiny, but if you haven't seen it, Ferrer's rant at the end is spectacular.

I think you'll love this one. A great mix of camp and killing, both silly and sinister. Not only that, but this film is available to rent via Netflix. Wonders never cease, huh?

For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0082084/

Schizoid (1980)

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This is a movie I've been wanting to cover for a long time, but when I finally found it, I decided I'd wait and review it on Halloween. There was something about it when I first saw it on TV, when I was much younger in the mid 80s (we were all much younger in the mid-80s, weren't we?), the whole thing was just creepy, every character, every scene. I wanted to see if it held up to the test of time.

Schizoid is about a woman, Julie, who runs an advice column. After months of group therapy sessions, she's decided to divorce her husband, who also works with her at the paper. A big reason for this is her new love for her therapist, Klaus Kinski. At the same time, Kinski's other clients are turning up dead, stabbed to death with a pair of long, sharp scissors. Could it be Kinski? His daughter (the chick from Angel-- more on that later)? What about the creepy Christopher Lloyd? The only clues are anonymous letters, sent to Julie, describing murderous desires. Luckily Wilhelm from Seinfeld and Frank Fontana from Murphy Brown are on the case.

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All right, so as an adult, this isn't exactly scary, but the creepiness factor still holds up. If you like gore and funny deaths in your horror (like I do), the innocuous stalking and scissor stabbing leaves much to be desired; but from Kinski down, that atmosphere of creepiness is so pervasive it infects every scene, movement, and conversation. I don't know if that does it for you, but if you're a Kinski fan (like I am-- inaugural DTVC Hall of Famer), this is some of his best work. Everything else is kind of dirtier, R rated Lifetime movie of the week, which is kind of cool to me too, but again, might not be enough for you.

Let's look at Kinski, who we haven't had on here in a while. The thing that has always fascinated me about him, was how he would do these films, where the selling point was always as much money as possible for as quick a shoot as possible, and you'd think with that mindset, he'd always mail these performances in, but he never does. It's not hyperbole to call him one of the greatest actors ever. In Schizoid, despite what the name suggests, he's not a raging maniac like we're used to in a lot of his Herzog collaborations. What I loved was seeing the brewing mania within his character as tensions in the story grew-- the way he smoked his cigarette, walked, talked-- it was much more subtle, but no less exceptional. As a DTVC Connoisseur (again, a tongue-and-cheek moniker, for our anonymous Unrivaled commenter), Kinski really is that rare opportunity to see acting greatness, even if the films he's doing it in aren't.

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Equalling Kinski is Christopher Lloyd's role as the disturbingly weird maintenance guy in Julie's therapist group. He does a great job of making the people around him uncomfortable, and making us believe he's really doing that. It would've been easy for him to fall back on his Jim from Taxi routine, or the eccentric Doc he would later be known for in Back to the Future, but he didn't do either. The way he stared a little too long, the way he stood a little too close, the way his sense of humor was a little off, it all worked really well, and again, like with Kinski, it worked well in a way you'd never expect in a 1980 low-budget schlock thriller.

According to Wikipedia, the Golan-Globus takeover of Cannon was in 1979, meaning Schizoid would have been one of the first films they got their hands on. Golan-Globus and Klaus Kinski seems like it would have been a match made in heaven, maybe approaching the Kinski/Herzog collaborations, but I'm pretty sure this is the only film they made together. Perhaps the problem was Golan-Globus tried to get too big, which went against Kinski's career strategy of doing quick and small projects that paid quick. It's interesting to note as well that the fall of Golan-Globus is around the same time Kinski passed away. Two DTV luminaries leaving us for good, and as the 90s became the 2000s, that wave of DTV's Golden Age broke, leaving us with now with crap like Unrivaled...

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As I mentioned above, this had plenty of other guest stars. There was the poor man's Karl Malden, Richard Herd, who played Wilhelm on Seinfeld. Then you had Joe Regalbuto, Frank Fontana of Murphy Brown (also Marvin Baxter in Raw Deal). That pairing might not work today, with the Boston/New York baseball rivalry as heated as it is (Herd from Boston, Regalbuto from Brooklyn). Mr. Kenner at Movies in the Attic will be excited to hear that Donna Wilkes, the star of one of his DTV faves, Angel (link to his review), plays Kinski's daughter. Julie's husband was played by Craig Wassman, who has been in, among other things, the Lorenzo Lamas/Michael Paré stinker The Debt, and an Olivier Gruner film we haven't gotten to yet, Velocity Trap.

I don't know how well I can recommend this to everyone. If you prefer creepiness to savage gore in your horror movie (and let's be straight here, this is more suspense thriller than horror film), you'll probably enjoy it. There are some other aspects as a movie geek that I got down on, especially how in 1980, though this was meant to sell in the burgeoning video market, it was made to be watched in a theater, and there were a lot of devices that would startle someone at a theater that at home, especially with most people watching Mono TVs, don't work. If you're a 70s/80s nostalgia buff, this might work for you.

For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0081459/

Thursday, October 28, 2010

R.O.T.O.R. (1988)

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Mr. Kenner at Movies in the Attic (link is to his review) has wanted me to tackle this bad boy for some time now. It was definitely long overdue. Well, we're getting after it now. And when I say getting after it, I mean getting after it. Also, it's fitting to have this film right now, because the Texas Rangers are playing the San Francisco Giants in the World Series, and R.O.T.O.R. takes place in Dallas.

R.O.T.O.R., besides being one of the most annoying film titles ever to type, is a sci-fi film about a good ol' boy slash expert scientist in the field of robotics named Captain Coldyron. He's cut from the project, though, when politics gets in the way, and a shorter Kurt Rambis and a robot take over, only to bungle it up and let R.O.T.O.R. get out. Now he's on a murderous rampage, and only Coldyron, and Steele, a female bodybuilder slash metal alloy expert who designed his skeleton (the metal can think for itself), can stop it. Dear God, what destructive force hath they unleashed on humanity?... or Dallas specifically?

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What do you think, you got the chops for this one? It's what we in the biz call deceptively easy, almost like Phil Jackson coaching the Bulls back in the 90s. Remember, everyone said all he had to do was roll the balls out, when in reality, it took a special coaching talent to take a team that should win, and make it win. Anyone can make fun of R.O.T.O.R., but can you make fun of it well? Again, it's not as easy as you think.

I don't know where to start. The awesomely bad music, one of the songs performed by "Larry's Dad"-- don't ask me, it's in the credits. Then there's the robot skeleton doing Tai Chi. What about Coldyron. I know what you're thinking, that name alone is hilarious. Well, he more than lives up to that name. The guy almost makes fun of himself he's so hilarious, so in order for you to do better, you really have to be on your game. The dialog is a little hard to deal with. Yes, it's funny, but it's also very tedious, because no one ever gets straight to the point. But just as it's grating on my nerves, I'll get a random "shut up, Coldyron!", or something liek that, and I feel better again. This is a fun time, but in the hands of a real heckling pro, it can be gold.

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Margaret Trigg plays Sonya ("Sony" in the credits). As you can see, she's pretty hot. According to imdb she almost had her big break in 1996 with a Jim Henson Productions show called Aliens in the Family. Unfortunately, it didn't go over well, was relegated to Saturday mornings after one primetime airing, and died a couple weeks after that. Even more unfortunately, Ms. Trigg herself passed away in 2003 at the young age of 39. It's too bad, because she made R.O.T.O.R. much easier to last through, as she was one its few bright spots.

There is one scene in this I think I can describe without giving it away too much. Coldyron is at a gas station ($.69 a gallon, if you're wondering), and he notices there's an armed robbery. He scares off the driver, then confronts a robber who exits the store with a hostage and a gun to her head. Coldyron's gun is hidden under a newspaper he'd just bought for that purpose. Anyway, the criminal doesn't take him seriously, thinking all Coldyron has is a newspaper, and Coldyron lets it fall, shooting the dude in the forehead. Then the woman, apropos of nothing, takes out the second robber with some fancy karate. Maybe the best scene of the movie.

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Finally, in the screen shot above, you'll notice the sign "Big Jack's". A couple of buddies and I do this radio spoof thing called DINK Radio, and one of our recurring jokes is Big Jack's Stolen Car lot, where Big Jack's is a shady car salesman. He also runs a bunch of other businesses, like an insurance firm. It was just kind of funny to see the name pop up here.

All right, Kenner was totally right that this was a must, but be ready if you want to get after it. It will take all of your movie heckling skills. But you've trained hard, you've sat through many bad actioners, sci-fi yarns, and campy horror flicks. It's time to put those skills to good use. Get your beer or soda, tons of junk food, and a bunch of friends, and have at it-- see which one of you is the grandmaster.

For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0098156/

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Ring of Fire (1991)

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We're about 15 films away from getting all of Hall of Famer Don "The Dragon" Wilson's movies up, and I've got a good beat on a lot of them (unlike Michael Dudikoff, Lorenzo Lamas, and Cynthia Rothrock), so I think we're going to try and sew up as many of those as possible by this time next year, if not sooner, and what better time to start than the present. Doesn't hurt that this also has Gary Daniels.

Ring of Fire is a loose Romeo and Juliet adaptation with a gang of Caucasian martial arts toughs pitted against a gang of Asian martial arts toughs, and the love between Don "The Dragon" Wilson and Maria Ford is at odds with this dangerous feud. I'm not kidding, that's the movie. The left turn this takes is that Tybalt kills Benvolio, and because of that, Wilson has to fight him at the end for revenge. Mercutio just gets his ass kicked.

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Where do I begin? Maybe Don "The Dragon" Wilson at the Masquerade ball, dressed as the Phantom of the Opera, and the silly 80s teen dramedy shot of him approaching a lovestruck Maria Ford from across the dance floor. They tried their best by making Donny a 32-year-old just out of med school guy, in an attempt to make him seem more youthful in spirit, but he was in his mid-to-late 30s when this was filmed, and looked ridiculous as a teen romantic lead-- which is basically what he was, only really fighting at the very end. The rest of the film was Karate Kid mixed with West Side Story, which , I don't know, you tell me if that sounds great. Some decent fight scenes, a lot of 80s cheesy goodness, but the rest of it was entirely sauteed in wrong sauce.

Donny was giving it the old college try here-- and when I say old, I'm being literal. It just wasn't his bag until the end when he really got into it and was able to fight. The thing is, he's not Bruce Lee, you can't get away with keeping him from fighting through the whole movie. I'm only watching Don "The Dragon" Wilson to see him fight, just ask any Bloodfist film. The idea was noble: set Romeo and Juliet against the tensions between Asians and Caucasians in LA, but Shakespeare only lays down the foundation, after that you need a solid carpenter, plumber, and electrician to finish it, and none of that was present here, so ultimately Donny was left alone to freeze in a half-built house. I'm not sure where this Dragon Completion Project will take us next, but you can be sure we'll be here again in 8 posts with another one of his movies. I know, you can't wait.

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Someone else worthy of a completion project is Mr. Gary Daniels-- or G. Diddy as the kids call him... um... er... maybe they don't-- but we have much further to go to get there, plus he's still making movies, and then there's some old ones that aren't that easy to find. Ring of Fire was only Gary's fourth ever, and he was treated as such, only having a small role as a heel who gets taken down a peg by Wilson's cousin, aka the Benvolio character. I actually do have a few possibilities in mind for the next Daniels movie, it's just a matter of which one I get my hands on first. Stay tuned after Halloween.

The white V-neck T-shirt is an interesting phenomenon. Women will often jump all over it as a bad thing if a guy they don't like is rocking one, yet love it if a guy they find hot has one on. I used to rock one myself, but I stayed in the medium size range (I'm only 5'7") to keep the V from creeping too far down my chest. It's hard to tell if that's me not being daring enough, or demonstrating a modicum of taste, but Ron Yuan here takes it to a level I've never seen before. That thing almost reaches his naval. On the other hand, there's the crew neck white T that works well too, just ask the oppositely built Marlon Brando in A Streetcar Named Desire and David Bowie in The Man Who Fell to Earth. Ron Yuan, fashion icon, or going too far?

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According to imdb, Michael Jai White is in this movie. I didn't see him, nor did I find his name in the credits. This is a huge mystery to me. I'm not tagging him just in case, but I wonder... This wouldn't have been his first film, appearing in the second two Toxic Avengers, and in 1991 was only a year removed from Universal Soldier. Too bad, because this movie could've really used him. As far as his recent work goes, he hasn't done anything that could be included here since 2009's Blood and Bone, though he was in a Mortal Kombat short as Jax. In the Damage post I was talking about Stone Cold Steve Austin as someone who could step in and be that next generation of DTV action stars after the current ones retire, but no one has more potential to do that than Michael Jai White, so let's hope he gets after it some more.

There were some other points. Maria Ford was hot and rocking some hot 80s gear, Vince Murdocco and Dale Jacoby were great meatheads; but overall, this was too much teen romance about two non-teens, and too little the great fights that talent like this should've delivered. We'll see what happens in Ring of Fire 2, which if I remember correctly is based on The Tempest-- but don't quote me on that.

For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0102793/

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Damage (2009)

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This one kind of snuck by my radar, but our friend Sutekh over at Explosive Action brought it to my attention. We know I was less than stoked with The Stranger, seeing it as a lazy waste of an awesome Stone Cold Steve Austin, and was hoping for better things here. Let's see what happens.

Damage is part Hard Times (the Coburn/Bronson film, not the Dickens novel) part Lionheart, with Stone Cold Steve Austin as a parolee needing money to pay off the man he killed's daughter's heart transplant (in as contrived a situation possible, the wife gets him parolled and then implores him to get the money). He enters the underground fight game, but the weaselly dude who gets him in has all kinds of debts, so every time he thinks he has the cash, the weasel needs to pay off another crime boss. Anyway, that's pretty much it.

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Wow, this hurt-- bad. To give you an idea how bad, instead of doing a montage of them going around to get backers for Austin's fights, they made us sit through every agonizingly poorly written scene of that, and then montaged some of the fights. Really? That's what I want to see, Stone Cold Steve Austin in a flannel coat and black knit cap, trying to be all stoic and deep and down-to-Earth, talking to crime bosses. And the fight scenes weren't great either. Trading overly bloody punches is cool here and there, but I need something different, especially when I remember how well Stone Cold could fight in the WWE. Where are his wrestling moves? Punching a guy in the chest is a finishing blow? Are you serious? Three words: Stone Cold Stunner. There were a few good fights, a few good lines, and it looked like it had some promise in the beginning, but the people making it thought they could write stimulating dialog and could get away with boring us to death with minimal action, and that if they made it gratuitously bloody, we'd forget all of that. No dice. They needed to simplify this plot, cut out a lot of the crap, and ramp up the action.

This should in no way be an indictment on Stone Cold Steve Austin. I loved him in the WWE, and if anyone has the charisma, size, screen presence, and fighting ability to follow in the footsteps of DTV greats like Dolph and Seagal, it's definitely him. The Stranger was a little bit closer, in that at least they had some tongue-in-cheek moments like Austin speaking Spanish and destroying some Federales with a wooden chair so they couldn't torture him with the tools of ancient dentistry. This film, Damage, could have really worked. It worked with Hard Times, it worked with Lionheart, and it worked with Blood and Bone. But all of those films didn't forget who they were, or what kind of film they were making. You're not Jim Jarmusch, and Stone Cold Steve Austin isn't John Lurie or Tom Waits, and we're good with that. Minimize the backstory, make it less convoluted, and get after it in the fight scenes. And I'm not talking UFC-esque brawls. The UFC works in real life because it's real, but in a movie, the fighting has to be more theatrical. We need more Stone Cold and less Steve Austin. The guy can carry an action film, he just needs to be allowed to do it, and he wasn't here.

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This movie had two interesting, yet conflicting messages. There was one that was an indictment of the health insurance industry, because the girl needs $250,000 for a heart transplant-- though part of me wonders if that was an indictment, or rather something celebrated, that we don't just hand out heart transplants, you gotta earn that shit, not like in those pansy socialist European countries with their socialized medicine. Anyway, the second message, was much more irresponsible. They give a horribly inaccurate depiction of the parole system, painting it as derelict and unconcerned with what parolees were doing, meaning they could be out committing more crimes. This myth that parole is bad for society, and that it needs to be abolished, is a very dangerous one. Parole, when done as it's intended, is a much preferable way to releasing criminals back into society and keeping tabs on them, than just letting them free when their sentence is done. People misunderstand when a judge sentences someone with parole as an option, erroneously thinking they're being let out early, as opposed to using parole as an incentive to behave in prison; and by painting the parole system as one that couldn't care less what parolees are doing, when that's not always the case, it makes people more likely to support politicians who run on a "tough on crime" platform, when the truth is, they're voting for the opposite, because judges lose the tool of parole as an incentive for prisoners to reform in prison.

The brightest spot in Damage was the always hot Laura Vandervoort. I liked her better in Into the Blue 2: The Reef, where she had blond hair, but beggars can't be choosers. The thing with her is, she always has a look on her face that's very intelligent and understanding of what's happening around her, which worked out well in Into the Blue 2, because it fit her character, but in Damage, she had a few moments when her character wasn't supposed to be so smart or with it, but that look betrayed that element, and made it unnatural. That's one aspect of Into the Blue I liked better than Damage, the people who made that one weren't afraid to cast someone as hot as Vendervoort as the intelligent lead who figures things out and is a step ahead of everyone. Damage easily could've dumped the weasel guy, and had her play Austin's handler and get rid of the cheap rocker girl outfits-- hell they could've even made her a bad guy like Eamonn Walker in Blood and Bone. It just showed again how pedestrian this film was, and I love pedestrian when amps up the action, but I can't forgive it when it bores us to tears.

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I want to use this seventh paragraph to discuss a trend in recent DTV actioners that's slightly disconcerting: the move to more realistic UFC style fights instead of the theatrical martial arts filled ones we're used to seeing. I get that Austin probably doesn't know a lot of martial arts beyond wrestling, but what he does know is how to fight in a way that's entertaining. There's a reason why Hong Kong cinema works, it's pleasing on the eye. Sure, it might be ludicrous that one dude could kick the crap out of twenty baddies, but it's just a ludicrous that anyone could take the kinds of punishment demonstrated in these UFC style fighting movies and stay standing. The difference is, one looks awesome, and one looks clunky and hard to watch. Stone Cold Steve Austin trading punches and getting stitches sewn into his face by Laura Vandervoort is not as cool as Stone Cold Steve Austin riding in on his Harley, throwing a bunch of stuntmen around like Armor King in Tekken, and then having beers tossed to him from off camera.

All right, for a movie that hurt, I wrote plenty on it, so I better wrap it up here. I have faith that someone sometime will finally get it right with Mr. Austin. He's just too good to be wallowing in these lackluster films that don't properly utilize his talent, and Damage was certainly one of those.

For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1314177/

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Kill Zone (1993)

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We're reviewing Kill Zone because I wanted a film that featured both of the 2010 DTVC Hall of Fame inductees, David Carradine and Cirio H. Santiago. I usually don't go in for the low-budget, Philippines or Thailand filmed, Vietnam war movie, but I made the exception for this occasion.

Kill Zone takes place during the Vietnam War, and has David Carradine as a colonel who does things on his own terms. That includes sending a special forces team into Cambodia without authorization. That team is led by a low-rent version of the dude from Burn Notice, and Dallas Cowboys great Tony Dorsett. Once there, they find a local tribe isn't stoked that the Viet Cong is running operations in their country, nor that their own government isn't too concerned, so they take matters into their own hands, which is great for the US troops there, because they have an ally. Now the question is, will they succeed before the bureaucratic net closes in on Carradine?

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This was a very interesting movie. Yes, it had all the hallmarks: Filipinos passed off as Vietnamese or Cambodian, plenty of explosions and gunfire, and valiant soldiers overly dramatically making the ultimate sacrifice for their guys. What surprised me was how most of the film, cheesy and poorly acted as it was, was totally black and white, only to have buckets of gray splashed on it at the end. I wonder if it was Cirio H. Santiago making his own statement about the toll American military intervention has had in that part of the world, both in Vietnam and Cambodia, but also well before that in the Philippines. It was a sudden level of exploration I wasn't expecting, and I don't want to give it away, but there was a sense of "who should I be rooting for?" or "was that an applause scene?", and eventually it sorts itself out, but not before some serious damage is done.

Does that make it good? Man, I don't know. Not enough David Carradine for my tastes, because when he's on screen, he kills it. There's a lot of "excitement by repetition", meaning, we just go from one scene of pitched battles, explosions, shooting, and yelling to the next one; and the only reprieves we get are in the form of David Carridine interludes. After Tony Dorsett, there really isn't anyone else worth tuning in for. This film was a Reb Brown in the lead role away from being a really fun time. Yes, the message at the end was great and important, but even the 81 minutes it takes to get there feels like a lot longer.

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It goes without saying that we've seen better from both Carradine and Santiago, but to blame either of them is a little harsh. Again, a Reb Brown instead of the low-rent version of the guy from Burn Notice would've made the film entertaining. It just goes to show that at this level, when the resources aren't great, and the subject matter is rather worn, who you get is a much bigger factor than who is directing it. In the art house world, it's a more even balance between director, script, and acting, but a great director can make up for lackluster acting or story; here, in the low-budget DTV world, when directors like Santiago and Albert Pyun are expected to pump films out at a porn industry pace, it's all about who we're seeing on screen, and how often we're seeing him or her. I think that's why Santiago is only the second director to make the Hall of Fame, compared to all the actors.

As I mentioned above, this film features NFL all-time great Tony Dorsett. Quick facts on him: only player ever to win the Super Bowl, a college national championship, enshrined in the college football hall of fame, and the pro football hall of fame. He also won the Heisman Trophy, and had the record for most NCAA Div I-A rushing yards until Ricky Williams broke it in 1998. A true hall of famer, apt for this hall of fame DTVC post. I don't have the numbers in front of me, but this isn't the first NFL player to have his film reviewed here. We had Eddie George in the Seagal flick Into the Sun. Kyle Turley was in the Rutger Hauer stinkfest Dead Tone. Of course, there's DTVC Hall of Famer Fred Williamson, who played in Super Bowl I, and Jim Brown, who was in On the Edge with Williamson. I'm sure there are a few more I'm not thinking of at the moment, so if there's any I missed, feel free to mention it in a comment. By the way, Dorsett, aries, born on April 7, 1954.

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Understandably, low-budget actioners try to employ the most perfect tens for their female leads, the idea being that, unless it's someone like Cynthia Rothrock-- and probably in her case too-- guys who watch these films aren't interested in women except to look at them. And to say that Vivian Velez here isn't wearing this outfit for the same desired affect, nor that she isn't succeeding, would be a misnomer; but what was refreshing was that she had a bit of a belly, which I found more attractive than if she had washboard abs. I won't go as far as to say that men and their fixation on looks hasn't contributed to the current environment where so many women suffer from body dysmorphic disorders (this paragraph could even be an example), but what I will say is, too often, men are blamed, when really it's the media, and straight women and gay men in the fashion industry, who value stick figures that look like PEZ dispensers, when us guys actually find a whole host of women attractive, not just the kind that are so thin their elbows can cut us open.

No recommendation here, unless you're into these kinds of films. If that's the case, this is one you should put on your radar, because it offers something a little different, especially at the end. Otherwise, it's a pretty boring 81 minutes with some great interludes featuring new DTVC Hall of Famer, David Carradine.

For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0107316/

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Martial Law (1991)

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This is not a film based on the hit Samo Hung/Arsenio Hall crime dramedy from the late 90s (which also starred the always hot Kelly Hu), in fact, none of those three are in this film. What it does have is DTVC Hall of Famer Cynthia Rothrock, 2010 class inductee David Carradine, and the ever charming Philip Tan, for once sporting his natural British accent. Oh yeah, and Chad McQueen, listed on the cover as Richard Brandes. Okay, that makes-- huh?

Martial Law stars McQueen as a cop, known as Martial Law, because he kicks mad ass. He has a younger brother, a total delinquent, who falls in in a bad way with Carradine's gang. Rothrock is McQueen's girlfriend/vice cop, and when she finds a couple bodies killed through an ancient Chinese martial arts strike to the chest, McQueen, upon being assigned the case, insists on Rothrock being assigned as his partner. Partners in kicking ass is more like it.

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This is very solid late 80s/early 90s DTV action cheese. First you have the amazing music. In one scene, after Rothrock chases after a baddie, the cop with her exclaims "is she crazy?" With that blazing electric guitar screaming in the background, how can she not be? Then there was the upbeat smooth jazz throughout the film that sounded like something you'd hear in one of those baseball highlight videos, you know the kind, with the distorted colors, multiple replays, and then the image turning into a flying square, a la the Superman II parallelogram imprisoning Terrance Stamp, with the next highlight flying in to take its place. It was simply fantastic. Second, there were great fight scenes with McQueen, Rothrock, Carradine, and even Tan. Maybe there could've been more or more explosions and car chases, but considering how silly the overall product was, this fighting was plenty good enough. Finally, you have that silliness factor. McQueen's outfits alone were worth the price of admission. Sweet mullets and porno 'stashes on the stunt men, dialog that makes your average Lifetime Movie of the Week sound like a Pinter play, and last but not least, at the very end of the credits, the film's date is given as "MXCXXXX" (you can check that out at the image page). Exhibit A as to why you should always watch the credits.

Rothrock isn't the lead in this, but unlike Firepower, which billed Gary Daniels as the lead there, only to have it be Chad McQueen, because this one didn't sell that, I was okay with McQueen getting more of the action. Obviously though, if I had a choice, I'd take Rothrock over McQueen any day. While she's on-screen, though, she's excellent, which is all you can ask for. One great scene had her and McQueen fighting baddies in a night club, and this big dude comes at McQueen and he's like "uh oh...", then we see Rothrock and it's like "dude, everyone she fights is bigger than her!" While I was on hiatus, Salt came out in the theaters, and ESPN's First Take, during their roundtable debate segment, "1st and Ten", discussed who the best action movie chick of all time was, and Skip Bayless, who is a self-styled action movie fan, didn't once mention Rothrock. Sorry, but no one can call him or herself an action movie fan, and not mention Cynthia Rothrock, not only as the number one female action star ever, but one of the best action stars ever period. Sorry Angelina Jolie and Mila Jovovich, you have a ways to go.

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In 2010 we are adding two new members to the DTVC Hall of Fame, late director Cirio H. Santiago, and late actor David Carradine. Both guys should've been in a long time ago. Let's focus on Carradine here for right now though. Considering he was a hero in his TV life, he was always a great baddie, and this film is no exception. With over 200 acting credits to his name, and the variety of roles he took, he embodies that DTV spirit of just doing any role as long as the money was right that we love here at the DTVC, especially since he always took every role seriously, even if it was a comedic one, like in Crank 2: High Voltage.

I believe this will be Phillip Tan's seventh film here, and we will finally be tagging him. Often, he plays a henchman or sleazy con man type, and just as often, he speaks with an Asian accent. Though he was Carradine's right hand man here as well, he spoke in his natural British accent, and he also showed off his martial arts skills. Both great, and both things we'll hopefully see when we do more movies that have him in them in the future-- though I doubt it. His smaller size seems to play better for the sleazy con man than the Brit who can fight, and I imagine the main reason they used his skills here was so he could fight Rothrock at the end. As an aside, Tan starred in both this, and the TV show Martial Law.

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You may have noticed if you've been checking the image pages for some of my posts recently, that I've been capturing production and distribution company logos as well (you can get to any film's image page* by clicking on any of the pics in that post. There's usually four or five more pics that don't make the actual review). These old (are they that old, 20 years?) screens just add to that old (is it that old either, ten years ago?) video store ambiance. Even as recently as 2001-2002, one of our local video stores had tons of VHS greats we could choose from, not just these DTV cheesefests, but also classics, and not-old-enough to be classics from the 80s. We just took for granted that that world would always exist, that there'd always be a place to get Dolph Lundgren's Pentathlon, or Mr. T's Be Someone of Be Somebody's Fool, and though I love Netflix, the fact that they and DVDs and iTunes and ONDemand have obliterated that world, and did it in a relatively short period of time, is disheartening. Part of what we like to do here is spotlight new DTV releases, because the rise of quality (and not-s0-quality) new movies going direct to video in recent years has been great; but also, we like to look back and remember what got a lot of us into this kind of thing, those trips to the video store combined with loads of pizza, junk food, and Mountain Dew (or later on, beer), a night where we could all yell at the screen and not take ourselves as seriously. When I pop a tape into my VCR, and that logo draws itself, and that cute little music or sound effect accompanies it, I'm back in that time, and have that feeling I used to get when I was home from college and wasn't eating dining commons food for a night.

Word on the street is, Martial Law 2 is even better, but I'll wait until I do that review to let you know what I think. As far as Martial Law, it's a great time, and I'm sure you'll have fun with it. If you need a late 80s/early 90s DTV action cheesefest, this will fill your craving more than adequately.

For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0104822/

*Some of the older posts haven't been given image pages yet. I'll hopefully change that, but in the cases of posts made before I captured images on my own, and was beholden to what I found on the Internet, I've decided to not go back and Lucas them and add images that weren't originally there.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Spitfire (1995)

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As we're trying to make our way through Albert Pyun's vast DTV catalog, today we make a stop at the Lance Henriksen spy romp, Spitfire-- or, if you're Irish, Spetfoyer. Seriously, say it like that, it's addicting. I was stoked to not only see a Henriksen/Pyun collaboration, but this one also features Pyun mainstay Tim Thomerson, and DTVC favorite Brion Jones. I was excited to sink my teeth into this bad boy.

Spitfire is less a spy thriller and more a teen spy romp, featuring Henriksen as an aging agent who finds out he has a daughter, and as any great dad does, he dumps the keys to a locker holding the launch codes to some Ukrainian nukes on her. The baddies want it, they capture Henriksen, and find out the daughter has it, so they're after her. Only thing, she's a spunky little gymnast/martial arts expert with a mean streak-- ask Tim Thomerson, who as a husky Andy Warhol-looking sportswriter, he's gets plenty of concussions from the heavy right hand of this capricious little Spitfire. Oh, concussion humor, how we miss ye...

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Let's start with what's good. Though this kind of misses the mark, it's not an action film so much as it's, as I mentioned above, a teen romp. You could actually combine this with Arcade and Alien from LA to make a kind of Pyun teen trilogy. Spitfire plays out as an Inspector Wears Skirts combined with Spy Kids. I know Spy Kids came after, which is why I brought it up, because Pyun is known for being ahead of the curve on things, and though he didn't have the resources to make Spy Kids, we saw with the Spy Kids movies that were made with better resources and were pretty successful, that this formula is profitable. It's like with him using rappers in films before anyone else.

Herein lies the rub though. Would our readers get down on something like this? Probably not. Do we sign on for Lance Henriksen as the cool spy in the opening scene, fighting off Brion James and some other thugs while in a tuxedo and with the woman he's about to lay lying next to him with her boobs literally exposed? Yes! Do we sign on for the Lance Henriksen we get for the rest of the film, handcuffed and kicked around, totally helpless? Absolutely not. Do we sign on for a teen romp that, minus a few cold blooded killings, would be perfect for ABC Family. Definitely not. This is not what you signed on for, and you won't be impressed.

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Albert Pyun is close to launching Tales of an Ancient Empire. His previous release, Bulletface, is slowly making its way into the secondary market, so maybe I'll be able to cop it used. I really want to check them out, and with the support he's given us here in the past, I'd like to return that favor. It just would be a lot easier if his movies were available on Netflix. Anyway, here's the link to his website if you want to check it out: http://www.albertpyunmovies.com/. I'm not sure where the Pyun train will take us next. I'm thinking Nemesis 2, but we'll see.

What do we make of Lance Henriksen? I don't mean here, but in general. I don't know, sometimes he's good, but a lot of times I feel like he's cast when the first choice isn't available, yet has a way of acting like the movie is centered around him. I just realized too that I've kind of accepted that Henriksen is worth the price of admission, but I can't point to a single instance where I could prove that axiom to be true. I don't begrudge anyone the prerogative to dig Henriksen, the question is, do you like him, or the idea of him?

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Spitfire does not feature a Brion James bait-and-switch, rather, he just has a small cameo. In a sense, you could still call it a bait-and-switch, because he shows up at the beginning, so you think he'll be rockin' with us for the duration, only for him to die off in that opening scene. It's like the whole film is a bait-and-switch, that great opening scene with Henriksen in a tux, his lady lying there with her breasts out, the bad spy woman delivering one of the best movie lines ever: "I hate getting blood on Hermès sheets", all heralding a film that never was, was never going to be, replaced with a teen romp.

That's it in a nutshell, a teen romp. If you're down with a teen romp, go for it, but I know most of our readers aren't so much. What I want to do instead, is write this post as a warning to anyone who sees "wow, Pyun spy film starring lance Henriksen, sweet!" No, not so sweet.

For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0111264/

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Titanic II (2010)

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When I first heard about this one, I had to check it out. It was from The Asylum, so I knew it could be a real stinker, and they were more likely than not going to disappoint me, but the idea of Titanic II was just too irresistible to pass up.

Titanic II takes place 100 years after the ill-fated part I set sail. Shane Van Dyke plays a rich boy, filled to the gills with enough hubris to sink a tanker. The senator from X-Men, Bruce Davison, is some kind of scientist who, with a hot female scientist, realize that a huge tidal wave set off from a huge iceberg falling into the arctic due to Global Warming is aiming straight for the ship, and his daughter is a hopelessly inappropriately dressed medic working on the maiden voyage. Well, hubris, big ships, and tidal waves are a recipe for disaster-- plus, we wouldn't have a movie without it-- and it's up to Davison to mitigate the damage.

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This one worked. I know, it's crazy, but The Asylum finally got it right, I mean really got it right. This was a perfect send-up of low-budget disaster and sci-fi movies of the 50s. Just replace nuclear disaster with Global Warming, and it fits. While everything was tongue-in-cheek, it was done without the obvious wink-wink nudge-nudge that ruins it for us. They weren't afraid of us not getting the joke, weren't afraid of us thinking they were serious about this, and because of that, it was perfect. The Asylum, making it work.

Bruce Davison really holds up his end of the bargain here. Just like Bruce Boxleitner in Transmorphers: Fall of Man, he played it straight, and he played it well. If you watch the gag reel that comes with it, you see how difficult that was for him. A lot of greenscreens, a lot of silly dialog, and if he overdoes it, acts like he's in on the joke, as opposed to acting like he wasn't, which was his job, again, he ruins the whole thing. Here's to you Bruce Davison, for what's it's worth, I think your character got a bum deal in X-Men.

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This is directed by Transmorphers: Fall of Man star Shane Van Dyke. I didn't know this, but his dad, Barry Van Dyke, Dick Van Dyke's son, was the dude who played his son on Diagnosis Murder. Not only that, but Shane Van Dyke appeared on a bunch of episodes too. My mom loves that show. I looked on imdb, and it turns out he actually directed his dad and Greg Evigan in another Asylum flick, 6 Guns. We'll have to see what that's about. I should point out too that Van Dyke wrote Titanic II as well. A great job all around here. Maybe he was all The Asylum needed to make them work. Sorry C. Thomas Howell...

I brought up in the synopsis the inappropriately dressed medics on the ship. Both women, in tight, half-unbuttoned shirts, short skirts, and heels. Perfect for responding to any medical emergency. And all of this was carried off without a hint of irony, which made it fit with everything else that was going on. Not to mention they were both very hot, and there's no way we would've known that had they been dressed in more practical pants and shirts with safety shoes on. Exactly, if we want realism, we'll watch TLC. When we watch The Asylum, we want our medics looking sexy.

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The ship was almost entirely done in CGIs. The ocean was almost entirely done in CGIs. The arctic was almost completely done in CGIs. Did it look like crap? Absolutely. Was it awesome? Absolutely. It just worked in that 1950s Attack of the Giant Gila Monster kind of way, and I think that, though that's often the approach when The Asylum goes the CGI route in a movie like this, it usually comes off as a bad send-up that's lazily paying homage, as opposed to apart of a whole concept in the spirit of the 1950s low-budget cheesefest. Shane Van Dyke found a way to make it work, so kudos to him.

If you're into the whole bad Sci-Fi (SyFy?) Pictures Original thing, this is as good as it gets. Strangely enough, it's the only one out of Shane Van Dyke's three films he's directed that's not available on Watch Instantly. It is on DVD though, so I'd check it out. It's a fun time, especially in a group.

For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1640571/