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, June 30, 2011
When I reviewed Hatchet, and was less than impressed, a few people remarked that it was the sequel where it'd make its money back. All the issues I found in the first one were corrected, and it was an all around better film. We'll see what happens.
Hatchet II picks up right where part 1 left off, as our heroine Mary Beth, played now by Danielle Harris, is in the arms of grotesque villain Victor Crowley. She escapes, runs back to Reverend Zombie, played by Tony Todd, and he agrees to round up a posse and take her back into the swamp to kill Crowley and get her father and brother's bodies back. He has ulterior motives though, thinking if he can give Crowley the two surviving grown men who, with Mary Beth's father, killed Crowley decades ago, Crowley can finally rest in peace.
Okay, this was an improvement. The kills were better for the most part, at about the midway point it jumped into a solid forty minute stretch or so, right through to the end, of just great horror action that really worked. What killed me, as it did in the first one-- though not as much-- was a lot of wasted time, a lot of jokes that simply didn't work, and worse, didn't work and didn't know when they weren't working. For example, the first kill is fantastic: guy gets decapitated with his own intestines. Problem is, to get to it, we deal with a tedious conversation filled with a pointless avoidance of plot information just for the sake of saving it for later, which devolves into a guy yelling at Harris to leave, her saying why, and him yelling again, repeated about five times, followed by her leaving and him looking at the Girls Gone Wild guy from the first film's camera, and a joke about the girls he sees on there that also overstays its welcome. If the idea is "horror/comedy", I need enough of both, and the 45 minutes of neither is a waste of my time.
The shot launched back across my bow after this will probably be that I don't get it, which was why I made sure to include that Lloyd Kaufman cameo shot to let people know that, even if I post more action than horror on here by quite a bit, horror is as much a part of my background-- if not more. I know great horror/comedy, and I've reviewed some of them on here. I also know great 80s-style horror, considering a I grew up on it, and while this one did a better job than the first of capturing some of that, it missed enough for me too. It's like for every awesome dude banging his chick from behind after being decapitated scene-- which was awesome-- there were like three or four that were just a pile of unfunny jokes. The cookies thing wasn't funny the first time, but to keep it going? The conversation about the names Cleatus and Chad didn't work either, yet the movie was so sure it did. For the most part, other than the majority of the kills, the only good scenes were the ones with Harris and Todd, which makes sense because they were the only two solid actors, but why then try to inundate us with bad back story and worse conversation with other actors that aren't at that level. Just kill them off and get it over with, we're here for a horror movie for God's Sake!
Danielle Harris was an excellent upgrade in the heroine role. She's hot, a great actress, has a lot of experience-- though isn't that old, not even two years older than me!-- and knows the horror genre well. I don't want to give away the ending, but let's just say she really sells it. It looks like there will be a third Hatchet-- there had to be, right?-- so let's hope she's cast in it. Oh yeah, and she wears a sweet Twisted Sister T in one scene. "What're you gonna do with your liiiiiiiife?"
I did enjoy the Lloyd Kaufman cameo, though I agree with someone who commented on my review of the first film that "horror cameos don't give a film credibility". My buddy and I used to rent up all the Troma flicks we could get at the video store, and another friend of ours, who was married (and still is), hated them, and we always tried to sneak them into his VCR when we had movie nights with him and his wife. I remember one that started with the classic Troma opening, telling us it's a Lloyd Kaufman/Michael Herz production, and the moment it did, that friend freaked out. "Oh, Lloyd Kaufman? It's another one of those stupid Troma films! We're not watching this!" "But dude, it's Sgt. Kabukiman!"
I had to get a pic of the guy rockin' the Newbury Comics lid. Again, record store on Newbury Street in Boston, among other locations around New England, where I spent a lot of money growing up. Knowing that the director, Adam Green, grew up near Boston, closer than I did actually, and he uses local imagery like the Newbury Comics symbol, makes me want to like these Hatchet films that much more, but, I have to call it the way I see it.
And the way I see it is better than the first one, but not quite what I'm supposed be sold here, i.e. a throwback to great 80s horror/comedy/slasherflicks. Maybe for 40 minutes, if that much. Still, if he's getting closer, hopefully a part 3 will get it all the way right, and we'll get something worthy of greats like Bad Taste, Evil Dead, or at the very least Blood Sucking Pharaohs from Pittsburgh.
For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1270835/
Tuesday, June 28, 2011
Based on the Netflix description of this one, I thought I was going to get some sweet Frank Zagarino versus Lorenzo Lamas action. Maybe not that sweet, but sweet enough. Zagarino and Lamas can really mix it up if given a chance, right?
Lethal has Heather Marie Marsden as a mercenary who comes into possession of a weapon or the codes to activate a weapon or some such crap. It wasn't all that important to the people making the film, they were too worried about Marsden's past as an FBI trainee, her dad's untimely death on an FBI mission, and how FBI agent Frank Zagarino liked her dad. Also, there's some tool FBI agent that had a romantic past with Marsden that the film tediously inserts into the plot just to twist the knife even more. Oh yeah, and she has a teen sister she's taking care of, and Russian mob boss Lorenzo Lamas kidnaps her to get Marsden to give him the weapon or whatever.
What do I always say is rule number 1 to a good action movie? Don't let the plot get in the way, and this movie breaks that rule in an excruciating way. Too much backstory, too much crap about Marsden's past, too many characters floating around that we really don't need, and in the end, it was all too heavy and weighed down whatever bonuses the film offered. On top of that, the action was often shot with Matrix-wannabe camera effects that caused vertigo in the best instances, and looked trite and gimmicky in the worst. This should've been streamlined: keep Marsden as the heroine, but make her a lone wolf, maybe Yojimbo-style, pitting Zagarino against Lamas, cut out the sister, the love interest, the backstory about the dad in the FBI, and just give us a taut, stylish action thriller. Is that so hard?
Rule 2 would be to avoid what I call The Destro Effect, essentially don't make the villain cooler than the heroes. Yes, Lamas's Russian accent was atrocious, but his baddie was great. This is the second time, after Blood Angels, that we've seen Lamas do a great turn as the bad guy, though in Blood Angels he was much more sinister, which controlled The Destro Effect. Here, he was just having so much fun with it, and with heroes that were either poorly written, too bogged down with baggage, or removed as heroes through plot twists, that a strong Lamas ended up stealing the show.
Do I think Heather Marie Marsden can carry a DTV actioner? Absolutely, but not this one. Lethal made plenty of bad mistakes for any lead character in an action flick, but some were exacerbated because she's a woman. First, the baggage between the kid, the dad, and the love interest weighed her down too much. Second, she had only few decent action scenes, one at the beginning and a couple at the end when she and Lamas and Zags mixed it up, and in between all she did was fire guns-- and often the way she held them looked awkward. Third, her very first scene has her in her underwear as she's helping her sister get ready for school. What this did was create a sense of vulnerability that worked against her as a strong lead-- and the bad writing after prevented her from recovering that lost mojo. I get using her looks and sexuality as a way to disarm guys, but there were no bad guys around-- it was like we were voyeurs or peeping toms, and the whole point of the peeping tom is control and violating a woman's sense of herself, which does not a strong hero make. Not only that, but the one time they had her use her looks to seduce a man to get what she wants, it doesn't work, and she gets past the guard using another tactic, meaning that scene was totally useless and moved the plot nowhere. It wasn't Marsden's fault that she didn't work as the heroine, rather it was disappointing that she was given such poor material to work with. Besides, if they were really sold on Marsden as the lead, she wouldn't be taking a backseat to Lamas on the cover.
Zagarino is almost totally wasted. I don't know whose bright idea it was to give him a lesser part, and throw in some superfluous character as Marsden's romantic love interest. Get rid of that guy, and beef up Zag's part, and most importantly, give him a fight scene with Lamas. I'm telling you, the Yojimbo plot would've made this fantastic, could've provided the vehicle to showcase Marsden as the lead, given Zagarino a better part to showcase his martial arts, and kept Lamas as a great baddie without The Destro Effect.
I shouldn't have been surprised that this movie committed another action movie sin, though one that ranks much further down the list than the couple we've discussed above. This one was the classic "baddie doesn't understand the concept of restraints on a prisoner" or in this case, the much worse "baddie forgets the concept of restraints on a prisoner", which then leads to what we in The Biz call Plot Convenience Theater. When Lamas first kidnaps Marsden's sister, she has her hands cuffed behind her back. Then, for some reason, for the final showdown, he brings her out to meet Marsden, completely unrestrained. Guess what happened next? Yep, the sister has the freedom, now that she's inexplicably unrestrained, to help her sister to defeat Lamas. When a movie is this sautéed in wrong sauce from top to bottom, crap like this is just par for the course.
This is available on DVD from either Netflix or Amazon, but I'm telling you to stay away. Marsden is hot, Lamas is excellent, but everything is just ten kinds of bad. Bad idea for a movie, made worse in the execution.
For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0366711/
Monday, June 27, 2011
This movie is almost as far from DTV as we can get: made in 1982, grossed almost $40 million at the box office (only movie it couldn't catch that year was Porky's, which, let's be honest, it's Porky's, nothing could top that). But the distinguishing mark it has is that it was the first film of DTVC Hall of Fame director and friend of the blog Albert Pyun, and this post will make his 30th tag, so I wanted to commemorate it with what is his most successful and one of his best known films. Also, we're closing in on the release of the film's sequel, Tales of an Ancient Empire, and considering I hadn't seen this one in a while, I wanted to get a refresher.
The Sword and the Sorcerer has DTVC favorite Richard Lynch as Cromwell, an evil conqueror who brings back to life the evil sorcerer Xusia, played by Richard Moll, so he can use his power to conquer the richest city in the world. He succeeds, kills Xusia, and then kills the ruling family, with only the king's son Talon (Lee Horsley) escaping. Talon grows up to be something of a heroic rogue, and he returns to the city of his birth to get his revenge, right at the time a young prince and princess are planning a rebellion to overthrow Cromwell. The prince is captured, and the princess hires Talon to save him, for which he'll be paid with a night with her, Skin-a-max style. Can he defeat the evil Cromwell? And what happened to Xusia? Will he come back for his revenge as well?
This movie is excellent. I usually don't go in for the fantasy genre, but Sword throws a lot of its conventions on its ear. First off, it's much more graphic, with some excellent kills, and a lot more bare flesh, including nudity. Second, it's less concerned with inundating us with the minutiae of its plot, and more concerned with the bare bones of the story, told in broad strokes, combined with some great action. Third, as far as that action goes, the sword fights aren't a bunch of dandies clanking around with épées, it's like swing once, then blood, and lots of it. This is an R rated movie, and gets the most out of that R rating. Finally, I like the film's overall message, that there is a real karma out there based on how we treat people. Throughout the film we come into contact with characters who in some fashion owe a debt to Talon, and its Talon's selflessness in helping others that ultimately saves him as many of those people come to his aid; while Cromwell selfishly and brutally seeks out power, doesn't care who he hurts, and in the end, he can't trust anyone.
If we can draw anything from Pyun's first directorial effort, it is his want to mix genres and turn them on their ears. Having been born in 1979, and first coming into contact with this in the late 80s, that is well after Star Wars and Indiana Jones, so for me it's easy to say The Sword and the Sorcerer drew from those; but it's probably more accurate to say that Pyun had the same influences that Lucas and Spielberg did, and that's where the similarities lie. You can see the 50s-60s pulp influence, the Japanese samurai influence, and the swashbuckling Three Musketeers style influence, all things we also see in Star Wars and Indiana Jones. One Japanese movie connection I saw with the overall story was with Sansho the Baliff, though that might be a stretch. What I like about Sword though, is that Pyun really makes it an R rated film, and isn't afraid to get gory, get naked, make sexual jokes-- in short, take the fantasy genre and give it the edge it so rarely has from people who are too hung up on emulating Tolkien.
Loved Richard Lynch as the baddie. While he maintained his great New York accent, he also brought his classical training as an actor to the table, and both were excellent. We have this idea of him here at the DTVC as the baddie in a ton of really bad flicks, like the recently reviewed Werewolf, so it was good to see him get after it with a role that really played to his strengths. He's one of the ultimate baddies, and nowhere is that more evident than in The Sword and the Sorcerer
Lee Horsely played the hero-- yes, that Lee Horsely, aka Matt Houston, the womanizing, Texas oil man who would chopper into LA and solve various crimes. There really is no Texas accent to speak of here-- though that might have been funny-- and I thought he kind of looked like Peter O'Toole. It's like he brought the Matt Houston larger than life persona into the role of Talon, without making him obviously Texas, if that makes sense.
There were other great performances in the film too, including Kathleen Beller as the princess, Richard Moll as Xusia, Joe Regalbuto as Talon's buddy (you may remember him as Frank Fontana from Murphy Brown, and/or the DTVC reviewed flick Schizoid), Robert Tessier as the prison guard, and Anthony De Longis as a villager/budding warrior, and whose sword fighting prowess ironically wasn't on display. Everyone seemed to get what was tongue-in-cheek, what was R rated, and most importantly, what was an attempt to change our preconceived notions of the fantasy genre.
One actor that wasn't used as well as the DTVC faithful would've liked, was one of our favorites, Reb Brown. He has a couple scenes, then his character is captured along with the rest of the gang, and off screen his tongue is cut out, after which he's paraded in front of the other prisoners as a threat that they should talk, when he tries to take out Tessier the prison guard, and is killed off. I understand that this was a big screen production, and Reb Brown was probably not on the top of the list of actors they wanted to center the film around, but he's Reb Brown, our guy, so I gotta at least throw it out there that more of him is always better.
Anyone who's been rockin' with the DTVC for a while knows that I'm not the biggest fan of computer effects, and a movie like this is a big reason why, because there were a lot of great effects that came off with no CGIs whatsoever. The best was the very end, where Xusia reveals himself as Cromwell's second in command, and breaks out of his skin. Really great stuff that I don't think translates well at all if the thing is done with CGIs. I understand that it's probably cheaper and quicker to go the CGI route, but it doesn't look quite as nice, at least not to me.
This is a definite gem. Unfortunately the Anchor Bay DVD that I borrowed from my friend is no longer in print, and can be fairly costly on Amazon in the secondary market, which I will say here, based on the version I'm looking at, while it's a great transfer, it's not worth paying more than $10-15 new for, considering there aren't any great extras or anything. This is truly a cult classic of the 80s and a great film that deserves a high quality DVD release, which will hopefully come sooner rather than later.
For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0084749/
Friday, June 24, 2011
I didn't do my homework on this one, didn't see that it was a TV movie. In the past I have made exceptions for TV movies, usually only if they have a Hall of Famer or future Hall of Famer, in particular The Asylum flicks that have been popping up on SyFy lately before their actual DVD release. For Ring of Death though, I had no idea until I looked it up on imdb tonight for the review that it was made for SpikeTV, which, in the past has been good about airing great DTV flicks, so maybe I shouldn't be such a stickler. I don't know.
Ring of Death has Johnny Messner as a disgraced cop or something who takes an undercover gig investigating a state prison where the warden, Stacey Keach, is running an underground fight ring. If Messner does this, he not only gets a job with the FBI, but his kid goes to college. Sounds like a good trade off, no?
Even though it was kind of lackluster, I'm not sure I would've been so hard on it if it wasn't so dependent on bad jumpcut editing. One scene in the prison yard was so bad, my eyes hurt. I'm not kidding. It wasn't just jumpcuts, the camera was really shaky too. Seriously dude, just sit still for Christ's sake! It was like sitting next to a dude in college with Shaky Leg Syndrome, only worse, because I was trying to focus on a picture. What the reliance on gimmicky crap like that tells me is: "we don't think our movie is good enough. We think our actors suck, our fight choreography is crap, and our ability to shoot a movie is one step above kids making a short on YouTube." And the reality is, that is a total disrespect to the actors, fight choreographer, and everyone else involved with making the film-- but hey, if that's what you want me to think, who am I to argue?
The biggest thing we as an audience have to buy right away is, can Johnny Messner carry a film like this as the action lead? I don't know. The way it stood, with the way much of his character was written, and the way he looked, it was bad punchfighting movie, and in that sense, the whole thing was a turn off. On the other hand, he wasn't a total miss. I was trying to think where I'd see him fit though. Could he do something along the lines of the Michael Dudikoff role, like say Bounty Hunters? I could see that.
Stacey Keach was fantastic as the baddie. Equal parts evil dude and dandy. The accent was hilarious. His performance was one of the things most wasted by the gimmicky editing, though to be fair, in a good chunk of his scenes, they went with the close-up still shot. Keach was one of the few things that made this movie for me, and almost saved it from itself.
This movie had perhaps the worst chase scene in the history of movies. Our hero, in his plan to get himself incarcerated, strikes a police officer and steals his car, right in front of the police station. Two cars pursue him in what is a definite low-speed chase, but with constant jumpcuts and shaky camera work making us think a high-speed chase is going on in front of us. I've seen more excitement from car commercials. I mean really, do they think we're that stupid that we can't see that? Total lack of respect for the audience there.
Do you recognize this guy? Jonathan Chase, the guy who ate the Gingerbread Man in The Gingerdead Man. Here he played what was a very mean-spirited part, a kid who was caught dealing drugs and is sent to state prison, is way too fragile, and ends up shanked by some baddies that want to send a message to our hero. Too bad, because we know from The Gingerdead Man that he has loads of talent, and could've done more if he had been given more.
This is a pass for me, even though you had a great performance by Stacey Keach as the baddie. Too punchfight-y, and too gimmicky with the bad edits and shaky cam, essentially telling me the movie isn't worth my time anyway. Next time I'll do my homework and stay away when I see the word "TV" next to the release date on imdb.
For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1229764/
Thursday, June 23, 2011
This one took some time to get from Netflix. It was one of those ones they had to send from White River Junction, Vermont. Based on how they can't dump his filmography quick enough-- probably due to them going of print, but still-- I'm surprised I even got this at all. Even if it's not worth the wait, it's another Gary Daniels flick in the bag.
Full Impact has Daniels as a former cop now PI/bodyguard who tries to get back in with the police force so he can investigate the return of a serial killer he lost his job investigating. At the same time, he has a relationship with his estranged wife to patch up. As he delves deeper, signs point to a possible corrupt police involvement, meaning it'll be that much tougher for him to do his job.
This one seemed to hit all the right spots of great 80s/90s bad action. Great bad hair, fight scenes that were either solid or hilarious in their poorness-- one was so bad a stuntman apologizes for kicking Daniels too hard--, and atrocious dialog and acting that never carried on so long that it detracted from the fun factor. No, it's no Commando, but it works for a late night turn your brain off flick, or if you're looking to do a bad movie night centered around Gary Daniels. If you can't have fun with this one, maybe you need to take yourself less seriously.
This marks 30 tags for Gary Daniels, putting him with Dolph and Dudikoff as the only actors to hold that honor. This is definitely of lower quality than anything those two ever did, but therein lies its charm. Also, he has much longer hair than either of those two ever had. It's like bad hair band roadie length. I have a feeling, with all of the higher quality flicks that Daniels has taken smaller roles in lately, he probably wishes Netflix would get rid of all of these earlier ones. No such luck baby.
This film is indicative of Daniels' Cine Excel period, recycling a lot of the sets, actors, even scenes of films like American Streetfighter and Capital Punishment. I went back to my Capital Punishment post, and I had even more fun with that one, and it was even worse. They have a distinct amateurish quality, and you either dig that or you don't; but I think in terms of what people come to the DTVC for, or what they think of when they see the title Direct to Video Connoisseur, it's stuff like this more than anything that they're thinking of, and I'm good with that. Hey, if you can't find the fun in stuff like this, there's always the "Next Blog" button, because this is what we do here at the DTVC.
Daniels's old buddy is played by this older bald dude with a slow, deep voice. He gets into a fight with Daniels that's not quite as a nice as the one in They Live, but it's not bad either. He has four credits on imdb, and they're all Daniels flicks: this one, Capital Punishment, American Streetfighter, and Pocket Ninjas; but I don't remember him at all.
Speaking of that guy, you may have noticed that there aren't any pics of anybody but Daniels, and that includes the image page. I don't know, I figured what the hell, lets just load up on Daniels. The opening credits has a montage of clips of Daniels training and pointing a gun at imaginary objects, which was pretty sweet. I don't know why more Daniels films don't start like that-- and with footage from this film specifically, of course.
Now I'm rambling, so I should wrap this up. If you like fun, bad action from the late 80s/early 90s, this is for you, and if you can get it on DVD from Netflix, more power to you. I'm sure you can also find it cheap from Amazon or another used movie seller. Sometimes so bad it's good really doesn't work, but it does here.
For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0101928/
Tuesday, June 21, 2011
I've been waiting for this to come out for some time now, since SyFy first aired it, and fortunately Netflix sent it on the day it was released on DVD. Tiffany and Debbie (Deborah) Gibson in an Asylum schlockfest featuring CG pythons and alligators? Do you need to ask?
Mega Python vs. Gatoroid takes place in the Everglades, where Gibson is a scientist/activist who is obsessed with pythons, and releases a bunch into the Everglades, where they wreak havoc on the local ecosystem. Park ranger Tiffany decides the best bet to counter them is to make the local alligators larger, so she pumps them full of steroids. Bad move, and now we have Armageddon in southern Florida.
Though this started out slow, overall it was pretty fun, and in spots was really fantastic. It did a great job with Tiffany and Gibson, really playing up their time as pop icons, and poking fun at the supposed rivalry the two had, going as far as a sweet cat fight. The Asylum amps up the silliness as well, with enormous CG snakes and alligators crashing into buildings and blowing shit up and eating people. You can see above that a snake jumps up and takes a blimp out of the air with "The Asylum" written across it. If you're looking for a good time, this will definitely fill the bill.
Anyone growing up in the 80s knows Tiffany and Debbie (now Deborah) Gibson. Of course, as a boy, I didn't like girl music, but now that I'm older, I enjoy it for the nostalgia factor. The sense I got here was that both women knew that they were best known for work they did when they were teenagers, and while they had accepted that, they had also moved onto other things in their lives and their careers, but the fact that they weren't trying to run from their teen idol success, that they embraced it here, made it all the more fun for us. It helped too that they embraced the bad Asylum movie concept, though we can't be too surprised considering they've each been in an Asylum flick before.
One thing that struck me about Deborah Gibson more here than in Mega Shark vs. Giant Octopus, is that she looked almost like Britney Spears. Her hair, her clothes, her make-up. Don't get me wrong, she's very hot, but it's kind of ironic that she was a teen idol when Spears was in elementary school, and now with the shifting trends in fashion, it's Spears that she now models her style after-- or at least her character here. As far as the acting goes, I think this role suited her better than the previous one too. It allowed her more room to have fun with it, which she definitely did.
I was worried about how they would treat Tiffany's character, after the frumpy soccer mom clothes they dressed her in in Mega Piranha, and though her park ranger outfit was more flattering, that still wasn't saying much. Later, though, at a party scene, she's in a really hot dress, so they made up for it. If you look at the pics of her at the premier on the imdb page, she's really smokin' there, and I wonder if it's just a Hollywood thing, that they have trouble fitting women with curves into flattering outfits, because in real life, it doesn't seem to be as hard. Also, there's a bit of a joke made about her weight towards the end, which you can decide for yourself whether or not it's below the belt (I don't want to say exactly what happens, because it gives away the ending).
And yes, that's Monkee Micky Dolenz next to Tiffany in that picture above. He played himself, and was supposed to perform at Tiffany's fundraiser for the Everglades, until the snakes and alligators come and break up the party. I'm surprised they stopped at Dolenz. Why not see what Leif Garrett is up to, or David Cassidy. They could've made the whole band out of teen idols. Hell, they had Barry Williams in Mega Piranha, why not call him back.
You can get this on DVD from all the usual suspects. As I mentioned above, it has a slow start, but is worth it overall. Everyone involved had a lot of fun, and that fun translates into the movie. This is what you came for when you saw the title, that The Asylum made it, and it starred Tiffany and Deborah Gibson.
For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1680138/
Monday, June 20, 2011
I saw an ad for this on TV about five days before it was released on DVD. According to imdb, it had a very limited theatrical release, grossing a little over $1 million, so it's success was predicated on it's DVD rentals and sales. With the cast involved and the story, I was hoping for the best.
Kill the Irishman is based on the true story of Danny Greene (Ray Stevenson), a man who grew up in Cleveland and became a major figure in their mob scene, taking on the Italian mafia and their New York Sicilian connections, and creating a major war of car bombs throughout the city in the mid 70s.
This was an excellent film. One of those gems that we look at here as "their loss is our gain", something that slips through the cracks into the land of DTV, but maybe shouldn't have been there. But I'm surprised, because this story is so compelling, and the fact that the most violent aspects of it are true, would make it seem like it's primed for a big time theatrical ensemble piece like The Departed. I guess Cleveland isn't as Hollywood as Boston, I don't know. Beyond the great story, all of the actors turned in solid performances, from Stevenson; to Christopher Walken, Vincent D'onofrio, and Val Kilmer; down to much smaller parts by Paul Sorvino and Vinnie Jones-- we even had DTVC favorite Robert Davi. One of the better films released this year, DTV or otherwise.
How do you not love Christopher Walken? I started with him because he's always been a good crime boss, and in Kill the Irishman, he plays a Jewish racketeer that runs numbers and whatnot. I couldn't believe that this is only his second tag on here, the other being New Rose Motel. Wow, considering two of the three Prophecy films were DTV. He's also another Oscar winner, which is something we don't see on here often either. In Kill the Irishman, there was no irony in his performance-- he wasn't cast to be Christopher Walken, he was cast to play a part, and he did that really well.
When I was thinking about this as a major Hollywood production, I couldn't think of anyone else playing the part of Danny Greene, Ray Stevenson was it. Big, imposing, larger than life, Stevenson brought it all, and I'm not sure we have another Irish actor in Hollywood that fits that bill like he does. The last time we saw him, it was in Punisher: War Zone, which was good, but not nearly as good as this, and I was glad to see him shine in the lead role.
And while we're at it, what about Val Kilmer? He's been in and out of the DTV world recently, though mostly in, and I must confess, we're really far behind on making those happen; but in Kill the Irishman we got a sense of the new, more mature Val Kilmer, who might not be able to carry a film as an action lead like he did in The Saint, but still has that screen presence that goes a long way. He played the local police chief, having both an adversarial relationship and a grudging respect bordering on friendship with Danny Greene. It was a very cool role, and Kilmer filled it perfectly.
Finally, the DVD comes with an hour-long featurette documentary that outlines the real Danny Greene and the real events that surrounded his life in Cleveland in the 60s and 70s. I liked it, because it put a lot of what we saw in context. It also showed the aftermath of some of the bombings, and it isn't pretty. I think what you have to do is know that the movie is only telling one side of things, and is also playing with some events to make them more cinematic, but still take the movie as a movie on its own. It is kind of crazy though to see how much of it, especially the violent aspects, were real.
This is available on DVD from Netflix, Amazon, Red Box, etc, and it's worth you taking a look at. This is one of those rare occasions where something great slips through the cracks and ends up here. Especially if you're into gangster flicks, this is one of the better ones I've seen in some time.
For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1416801/
Friday, June 17, 2011
From time to time Mr. Kenner at Movies in the Attic will send me an e-mail with some clips off of YouTube for movies I need to check out-- and I must say, he has a pretty good track record. One of those clips one time was of this one, but I mistook it for the David Heavener flick of the same name. Luckily, this one is available on Watch Instantly, so crisis averted. Also, our buddy from Down Under Sutekh over at Explosive Action has also covered this.
Lethal Ninja involves some shady corporation in Africa that is polluting the water supply, and when a group of scientists discovers this, the corporation sends a team of ninjas down there to snuff them out. All but one, the one being a totally hot blond-- but that's not why she's being saved, it has something to do with her area of expertise being of use to the corporation or something. So she's kidnapped, and her husband back in the States just happens to be a highly trained former special agent or something, and he and his buddy shoot over there to get her back and save the day.
I don't know what to do with this one. Overall, really funny, and though not all of the film lives up to the opening scene that Kenner sent me the clip of, there's plenty other material to mine. Top of the list, rollerskating ninjas. That's right, I said it, and we'll get into it later. The hero looks like a poor man's Michael Paré, but the interplay between him and his friend is more derivative of Michael Dudikoff and Steve James in American Ninja 2. The thing is, this is a reverse of all other ninja flicks, because in this one they're horrible and easy to take out for two trained fighters. That may be the biggest problem, because they often put up little to no resistance to our heroes, making the fight scenes relatively lack luster.
Who'd'a thunk, a reversal of the ninja paradigm? Usually we watch ninja flicks because one ninja can take out ten men. Now you're telling me ten ninjas can't take out one man? That's hard to swallow. Why even make it a ninja flick in that case, right? I mean what's the point of ninjas-- oh, wait, the fact that they have their faces covered means the film makers can get more bang for their buck with the stuntmen and extras, I see. We never know that the same dude was killed five times, do we?
On the other hand, this film made a major contribution to the ninja genre. Rollerskating ninjas. I wouldn't have believed it if I hadn't seen it myself. It was sassy, brassy, a real humdinger! Unfortunately they didn't take it too far, no Hokey Pokey, no slow song to couples skate to-- in fact, no DJ at all, what kind of rollerskating rink is that? What else can I say about rollerskating ninjas? They did a great job skating in sync, until our hero (disguised himself as a ninja too) started picking them off as they skated by, trying to take him out with the throwing stars that popped out from underneath their skates. Isn't that beautiful.
Quick note on Ross Kettle, the poor man's Michael Paré that played the hero. He was married to Michelle Forbes, who played Ensign Ro on Star Trek: The Next Generation. I'm not sure, but I believe there is an action figure for her character. So that's what we got, the closest thing to a star is the ex-wife of the hero.
Finally, this film for some reason or another made reference to Nostradamus. First they had a block quote by him, then they referred to that quote through the movie. I recently read James Joyce's Finnegan's Wake, which for the most part makes no sense, but here and there I can spot things that coincidentally match up with things we have today that they didn't have when he wrote it. Things like "lol", or even a "Dolph". My hope is that in 200 or 300 years, people will look at Finnegan's Wake as the same kind of soothsaying tome that people today think Nostradamus's writings are. "Aliens from the future gave it to him, and predicted the existence of Dolph Lundgren 20 years before his birth!"
All right, if I'm talking Joyce and Nostradamus, it's probably time to call it a day. This is funny enough that, with it's Netflix Watch Instantly availability, and if watched in a group during a bad movie night, but not as the main feature, it could be fun. Otherwise, it doesn't quite have enough beyond the opening scene and the rollerskating ninjas-- which is still pretty sweet.
For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0107392/
Thursday, June 16, 2011
I'm trying to figure out when this first came across my radar. I want to say I looked it up erroneously while searching for another Lethal Ninja which Mr. Kenner at Movies in the Attic sent me a YouTube clip for. Also, Karl at Fist of the B-List did a great review of this, in which he, among other things, gives a blow-by-blow of one of its worst moments, the weirdest funeral service you'll ever see.
For Hire has D-movie mainstay David Heavener as a ninja for hire who offers his services at $1 million a pop to the mayor of LA, in order to clean up a crime problem in Chinatown before the next election. One ninja against all of them? Oh yeah, plus he has a vendetta against their leader, a dude named Sonny who studied martial arts with him growing up.
This is pretty hard core. I mean, we're talking boom mikes all over the place, a story where events don't happen in sequence, not Tarentino style, but more like editor dropped the ball style, and acting and dialog that is disturbingly bad. Problem with that: the disturbingly bad acting and dialog makes up much more of the film than the poorly choreographed-- though occasionally pretty sweet-- fight scenes. And then, for the coup de grace, they throw in a meddling kid. Few if any good movies can survive the pain of the annoying meddling kid, but bad movies might as well forget it, and once the annoying kid came into this one, I knew we were done. Game over.
Here we are, roughly 700 posts and five years in, and this is our first David Heavener flick-- and now I remember why! Ouch. This guy is like a Poor Man's Miles O'Keeffe, with some semi-decent fight moves but less acting ability. His role here was kind of creepy too, because he had some kind of thing going on with the Mayor's adopted teenage daughter. Man, talk about your D-grade. Reb Brown he's not.
If I've said it once, I've said it a thousand times, the annoying, meddling kid has no place in an action film. In fact, for the most part kids of any kind have no part in an action movie. It's this whole thing where they never listen, they always get in the way, and they always think they're helping. Ugh! Why would anyone ever think adding an element like that is ever a good idea? Sauteed in wrong sauce is what it is.
The ninja aspect of this was kind of interesting. While on the one hand, we had the classic "one ninja can take out a gang of twenty kids" paradigm; on the other hand, other than a sword, Heavener didn't really have any sweet ninja weapons. No throwing stars, so smoke bombs, no Batman style cables to hang from, just his fists and his feet. He did, at least, have a ninja suit, which we know isn't always a given in a ninja film for whatever reason. It is one of the funny aspects of the ninja though, the idea that he can take out 10 or 20 men, and it's an aspect that we're just supposed to take on face value, that the only person who can take out a ninja is another ninja.
This movie features one of the oddest funeral scenes I've ever seen. First, the sermon is creepy and awkward, with the priest condemning the mourners for having contributed to her death. Then he's all like "do you think you knew her? You don't know anybody. You'll never know anybody as long as you live." So that's weird, and then one of the baddie's hatchetmen shows up dressed in drag, as if he's fooling anyone-- which I guess he is, other than Heavener, because his ninja abilities let him know what's up. That leads to a brief shootout where the annoying kid gets in the way again and tells Heavener how he can't do anything with his (the boy's) help. I wanted Heavener to snap his neck like a twig right there. No such luck.
This is available on DVD from Netflix, and used or new on DVD or used on VHS from Amazon. If you're even considering it, I'd go either Netflix or another low risk method, because it's pretty rough, and I don't want you to spend too much on it. Could've been a good "so bad it's good movie", but it was more interested in boring us than showing us some sweet martial arts.
For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0472461/
Wednesday, June 15, 2011
I don't remember how this one first came across my radar. It's a Godfrey Ho ninja flick, does it matter? A buddy hooked me up with a copy of his VHS, which is what I used for this review.
Ninja: Silent Assassin is the classic Godfrey Ho mash up of a Hong Kong flick with local actors spliced together with a Hong Kong ninja flick with Western actors. This time we have a cop in France-- also a ninja-- whose wife is killed in an attempt on his life-- by other ninjas, led by a drug lord, also a ninja. He follows them to Hong Kong where another crime lord-- and another ninja as well-- joins forces with the drug lord, while our hero joins forces with the local cop-- as luck would have it, also a ninja-- who has been pursuing the local crime lord. The other story line is loosely connected to that one-- or not at all--, where a dude named Tiger, supposedly working for the local crime lord, kills a dude's dad in order to take over a labor union. Now this dude is after Tiger and won't stop until he's done.
This so easily could've been so awesomely bad it's good, but so much of it is taken up with bad, monotonous, poorly dubbed dialog that often explains things five or six times that we only needed to hear once, if at all. That's a shame, because the ninja fights are downright hilarious. I mean, flips, smoke, teleportation, throwing stars, plus hilarious changes into ninja gear from street clothes. Even better, they ganked the Miami Vice theme song-- literally! I don't mean it sounded like it, it was it! And then you had the ninjas in these suits with bandannas that had the word "ninja" written on them in this script that made it look like they were workers at the Ninja Theme Park and Resort. Ugh! Why bore us with bad dialog crap when you have so much fun in in your damn movie!
There weren't any big stars to report, but definitely some major B-movie actors that are known to far braver souls than I who live in the Z-grade Italian and Hong Kong zones. Foremost among them is Richard Harrison-- not to be confused with Richard Harris-- an Italian schlock cinema mainstay who looks like Honeycutt from M*A*S*H* and plays the local Hong Kong cop/ninja. Then there's Cameroon's own Alphonse Beni, who plays the French cop/ninja. Finally, for fans of Ho's Hong Kong ninja flicks, Aussie/Brit mainstay Stuart Smith plays the drug lord/ninja.
Okay, maybe that's not everyone. Do you recognize this guy? That's right, character actor Paulo Tocha. You're probably more used to seeing him bald and with tattoos as opposed to cheap suit and an IROC-Z owner-style mullet. It looks like, according to imdb, he got his start over in Hong Kong doing flicks like this. Good for him, he had to start somewhere, and now he's in bad Van Damme flicks like In Hell.
One thing I didn't exactly get was the splicing of the two films. In no way did they feel at all like they were connected. Would it really have been so hard to just do more scenes of ninjas flipping? I guess not monetarily. I have to imagine this technique is revered by a lot of DTV film makers, considering how many we've seen that have taken entire sequences out of previous films: I'm looking at you Agent Red and that sequence you ripped from Storm Catcher. Godfrey Ho eat your heart out.
You might not exactly be able to see the poster on the wall behind the police chief, but it is of a woman goofily tied up with the message "This can happen to you", I guess telling women they need to be careful about who they let in their house. Isn't the police station the last place you'd want a poster like that? I mean, if the woman is at the police station, isn't it too late to take that advice? She's already found out the hard way that she needs to be more careful about who she lets into her place, all that poster is is an ill-placed I told you so.
This is available for an inflated price used on VHS from Amazon. It's not one of those that's so awesomely bad that you need to fork over that kind of dough. I'd just take a mental image of that cover shot above, and see if you spot it in a VHS bargain bin.
For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0199865/
Tuesday, June 14, 2011
I could've sworn I'd done this before, but when I saw our buddy Ty at Comeuppance Reviews had covered it recently, and I went into my archives to see what I wrote, the realization hit me: I hadn't done it yet. Fortunately Netflix Watch Instantly had my back, and I was able to rectify this mistake. So without further ado, it's Shô time. (That was bad, wasn't it?)
Rage of Honor has Mr. Kosugi as a detective at the Drug Investigative Bureau who also happens to have major ninja skills. His buddy is captured and worked over pretty bad by a drug lord, and Kosugi swears revenge. Problem is, his boss doesn't want him to get involved, so he has to quit, and fly down to Buenos Aires with his girlfriend and pretend to be on vacation. Now she's in danger, and he has to save her and take down all these baddies. No problem for a too sweet ninja like Shô Kosugi.
This was a fun time. Was it good? I don't know, but it had some great fight scenes, Kosugi was solid as usual, and the rest of the action was on point. It was a little all over the place though, especially with Kosugi fighting tribesmen in the Patagonian jungle and later ninjas in camouflage. Also, Kosugi himself never dons a full ninja suit, which is an extreme disappointment. On the other hand, if watched in a group, this is an excellent bad movie night option. Sweet Kosugi ninja action-- even if he's never in a ninja suit.
This film seemed to get the Shô Kosugi paradigm right, though not completely right. His English, especially in 1987, was very poor, which is fine, but why make the man do scenes with heavy dialog? Fortunately there weren't many of them, and many more great fights. He totally gets after it, fighting in Miami Vice-style Member's Only Jackets or tuxedos, doing huge flips, tossing throwing stars and shooting crossbows. In one scene near the end, he's in an abandoned factory using everything he can find off the ground, like old saw blades and other hardware. If you came for Shô Kosugi, then Rage of Honor is the right place.
I mentioned above that Kosugi gets into it with some tribesmen. That's not entirely accurate. Genocide in self-defense is more like it. He wipes out two-thirds of them as they attack him for whatever reason. This is one of the great things about a film like this, its kind of everything-but-the-kitchen-sink approach, where they just toss in a bunch of dudes with painted faces throwing spears and arrows at our hero, and he takes them out with his sword. It makes absolutely no sense, yet is given to us with exactly no irony whatsoever-- just the way I like it.
Was this a ninja bait-and-switch based on the cover? Perhaps. Yes, Kosugi's character is technically a ninja, but are throwing stars enough? I don't know, I need the whole ninja attire, the mask and the feety pajamas. It's weird how some movies do this, the ninja bait-and-switch, as if ninjas are something that will sell us on renting it. I mean, is it that hard to just put the damn ninjas in the movie? Was this made by some guy that wanted to go out on a limb and keep Kosugi out of the ninja outfit, and then after the fact the film company was like "whoa, we can't sell a Shô Kosugi where he doesn't dress like a ninja! We need to rectify this!" Come on, just call the damn costume designer and get Kosgui a damn ninja suit.
Speaking of wardrobe, check out that too sweet Munsingwear Penguin polo this dude is rocking. Vintage 1980s right there. I remember in the mid 2000s the Munsingwear Penguin was rereleased as Original Penguin, and the polos were like $60 a pop. I never bought one, but if you watch Cheap Seats, you'll see the Sklar brothers in them quite a bit. Seeing one here makes me want to go out and get one and pair it with a blazer like this.
I don't know if I'd go solo on this one, but the Netflix Watch Instantly availability makes it a great and easy choice for a bad movie night feature. Get together with some friends, and just laugh at the silly parts and love the great Kosugi fight scenes.
For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0093820/
Friday, June 10, 2011
After the role that should've been his was taken by a 300-pound pork roast in the last film of his we reviewed, I was looking to get Olivier Gruner back in the saddle ASAP, but unfortunately Netflix didn't cooperate right away, because this wasn't readily available. I have it now though, so let's see how it went.
Velocity Trap takes place out in space in the 22nd century, where Olivier Gruner works security for a mining company on some far-off colony. There's a whole bunch of crap surrounding him and his whistle-blowing on some company exec's shady business practices and something to do with Gruner's wife being owned by his boss or something. Anyway, he ends up pulling duty doing security for a 6 month trip back to Earth to deposit $40 billion in cash. While the crew sleeps, he does ballet and whatnot, until another ship comes out of nowhere and docks onto them and boards and tries to steal the cash. Uh oh, whatever will M. Gruner do?
Was that synopsis convoluted enough? Consider that I cut some other aspects of it out. That should give you an idea of what I was up against, because this was something of a tough sit, which is too bad, because I wanted to like it. It ran into the classic sci-fi dilemma: too much back story crammed into the plot to set the scene for us, and in this case it was so much we didn't have any real action till sometime around the hour mark. That's right, almost an hour of blah before the shooting started. It had it's moments, like Gruner goofing around while everyone was asleep-- including some great ballet-- but having its moments doesn't make up for an overall 90 minutes of "what's the point?"
At the very least, we can say that Gruner was the star here, and his role wasn't given to a 300-pound pork roast, so in that sense, Velocity Trap is already ahead of the game. On the other hand, Gruner spent very little time being the kickass action star we know and love. It looked good to start, with him taking out a gang of thugs on the street as he bought an apple from a vendor, and went into another pretty sweet scene right after; but that was it for a long time, and even when the action did start, it wasn't always that great-- lots of bad shootouts and poorly choreographed fight scenes. The way to do this movie would've been to cut out a chunk of the crap in the middle, add a bunch of baddies, and make this into a solid Die Hard on a ship, really playing to Gruner's strengths as a martial artist.
This movie used a lot of computer special effects, especially outside the ship. I'm not saying they didn't look nice, but were they what you'd want to hang your hat on? I don't know. We could ask George Lucas, who also made a movie in 1999 where he hung his hat on CGI, and that didn't go over so well either. Style over substance, yes, but make sure it's the right style. Gruner flexing his martial arts muscles: the right style; a space ship dog fight rendered in CG: cool but not that cool.
Two very hot women in this: Alicia Coppola (no relation to Francis Ford and Sofia) and Jorja Fox. The thing about Jorja Fox that is so hot is how attractive she looks when she's scowling. As a rule, people don't look good with a bad look on their face. Take me for instance, I look like I'm smelling something funny. 50% of looking good is smiling as far as I can tell, and it makes sense from an evolutionary standpoint; but Jorja Fox completely flies in the face of that rule. She also has a really cool voice. In Velocity Trap she didn't have a huge role, but one thing she did have was a large breast plate with nipples, a la Batgirl in Batman and Robin-- or was that Batman who had the bat-nipples?
Finally, Bruce Weitz of Hill Street Blues fame had a small part in this as the ship's captain. I'll always remember him from his guest spot on Highlander, where he played an old Irish fight promoter immortal with a weird obsessive murderous streak. Very good Irish accent too, considering he's from Connecticut. Best part about that episode: Duncan in a 19th century bare knuckles boxing match using the old school underhanded punch style. Great stuff.
But you know if I'm discussing old Highlander episodes that the movie itself is lacking, and that's the case with Velocity Trap. It was too caught up in its own story and its CG effects, and didn't provide enough substance behind it. Too bad, because it wasted the performances of a great cast and didn't utilize Gruner's martial arts skills enough as a result.
For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0120435/
Thursday, June 9, 2011
This one has been on my radar for sometime now, as I've been meaning to get more of Christian Slater's DTV work in, and this was on Netflix Watch Instantly. A win-win, right? But platitudes aside, I wasn't really sure what to expect from it, which always makes me a little apprehensive-- I've seen more of these go bad than good.
The Confessor has Slater as a priest who is living the good life. His public relations savvy and uncanny ability to raise money from wealthy donors has made him an invaluable asset to the Catholic Church, and he's been reaping the benefits. All of that changes when a fellow priest is accused of murder, and he asks specifically to talk to Slater. Slater sees quick that not all is as it appears, and through this priest's case, his faith is renewed-- even if the Church brass would rather sweep this situation under the rug and get Slater back out there banging the donations drum.
I actually liked this. It's not the usual fare we have here at the DTVC, and we've seen more of these attempts at plot driven DTV go bad than we've seen them work, but this one did. It brought up a lot of complicated issues regarding the Catholic Church's place in modern society-- issues I don't want to convert this blog into a forum on, but still very intriguing nonetheless-- and layered them throughout a pretty solid murder mystery. There were also some great performances from Slater, Oscar nominee Stephen Rea, and Molly Parker, among others. It had a bit of a TV movie feel to it-- think more Hallmark Channel than Lifetime-- but with the layers and nuance and performances, it had a little more to get it over the hump.
Slater was excellent here. This is actually the second time we've seen him on here as a priest, the other being Sacrifice co-starring Cuba Gooding Jr. Part of me says "Why is this guy condemned to a life of DTV?", but when I think about it, whose starring roles would he be taking in Hollywood? He'd probably end up doing supporting roles and smaller parts, so I guess DTV is the best bet for him to do something like this where he gets to be the lead. Hey, we're glad to have him, and looking at his imdb bio, he's got some pretty sweet stuff coming down the pike.
This is our second Stephen Rea film we've done, the first being the Van Damme flick Until Death. In that one, I joked about how Rea must've been imagining what he'd put on his vanity plate for the new sports car he'd buy with the money he made from that horrible film, as a way to get through pain of shooting it (GDHLPME). This was a different story, but still, it's no Crying Game. I think in his case, he's been unjustly pigeonholed into the title of "Poor Man's Geoffrey Rush", which has cost him a lot of the bigger parts he had in the past. Again, his loss is our gain, because he's great in films like this.
There are two different covers for this. The one I hotlinked is the one you see at imdb. Netflix Watch Instantly has a very different one, making it look more like a supernatural thriller or something. I guess you have to do things like that with DVD covers in the world of DTV-- I mean, I'm not telling any of you anything, because I'm sure if you're like me you've seen some pretty ridiculous cases at the video store-- but it just feels out of place for a movie like this that doesn't need it. On the Netflix cover, there's a shadowy figure in a hood, and at no point in the film is there a shadowy figure in a hood. On the other hand, the Netflix categorization of it as a "Religious and Spiritual Drama" also does it a disservice, because, while the Catholic religion plays a major part, it's more there to add layers to what is essentially a murder mystery. Seeing "Religious and Spiritual Drama" makes me think it's going to be some kind of Kirk Cameron deal.
I could not for the life of me think of a seventh paragraph here, so I settled on this: did you know two of Slater's bigger films, Kuffs and Hard Rain, are no longer available on Netflix? I saw Kuffs in the theater, and now it's not readily available on DVD? That was a pretty big deal when it came out. And Hard Rain co-stars Morgan Freeman-- he's still a big deal! I also can't believe Hard Rain came out in 1998. Doesn't that sound late for that one? That means it came out in when I was in college. It definitely feels like a high school one.
All right, before this devolves into too much of a trip down memory lane, let's wrap things up. Though I enjoyed this, I must stress that it is just a murder mystery. No action, no sex, no nudity, no on-screen murder scenes, just a straight up who-dun-it with the added layers provided with some very intriguing interplay involving the religious aspects. If that sounds like your bag, I'd go check it out on Netflix Watch Instantly.
For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0372303/