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.

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

South Beach (1993)

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This was another I picked up from my local record store, along with Undercurrent, and like Undercurrent, it was only $.49. How do you not love that, especially for a flick with DTVC Hall of Famers Gary Busey and Fred Williamson? It's because it stars the latter that I decided to post on it this week, because this is our Super Bowl XLVI week, and Mr. Williamson was in the very first Super Bowl, where his Chiefs lost to the Packers.

South Beach has Williamson as former NFL great and former cop Mack Derringer. He and his former NFL buddies Gary Busey and Peter Fonda run a private detective agency-- or maybe just Williamson is the PI, and Fonda runs a bar, and Busey does whatever, I'm not sure. Anyway, someone is out to get his ex-wife (Vanity), and someone else has set him up for murder, which gets him in hot water with the law, including old college buddy and Miami police detective Robert Forster, and with mob boss Henry Silva. Will Williamson put the pieces of this deadly puzzle together before his time's up?

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For the most part this is a yawner that's saved by the great cast, which includes all the people I mentioned above, plus Frank Pesce and Isabel Sanford (Louise Jefferson). The end though is a bit much, all over the place and not sure where it wants to wrap up. We're talking about a classic Kafka-esque Noir-ish actioner, where Williamson is getting all kinds of screwed over, and has no idea who is doing it or why. Plus, a lot of it is Williamson loving him some Williamson, which is kind of fun in spots, but also gets a bit much in others. Overall, it's a matter of how much you like these guys and how much you want to see them-- and how cheap you can find this, because fifty cents makes a movie much more palatable.

We might as well start with The Hammer, since this is Super Bowl week, and he did play in the first one. If you don't know the story surrounding that, he bragged about how he'd crush the Packers wide-outs with his patented Hammer, only to be knocked out himself in the fourth quarter of the game by a knee from the Packers running back. In this movie, he makes himself younger, and a better player than he was-- at least that's what it seems like. The one thing we do know is, he's had a much longer and more prolific career as an actor, and for that we're thankful, because he's given us a lot of great performances.

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After I did Peacemaker, I found out just how many readers loved them some Robert Forster, so I figured I'd devote an entire paragraph to him. He unfortunately doesn't have a big role in this, appearing more at the beginning, then a little bit at the end. I think for Forster fans that'll be disappointing, because he's in it enough early to make you think he has a bigger part. Anyway, hopefully this'll just whet your appetite, because I plan to have more Forster up this year. I'm a big fan too.

Busey is pretty solid here, but as you can imagine, with him not mentioned until the sixth paragraph, that this isn't totally Abusive. Though he's on the cover, and this starts off like it's going to be a Williamson/Busey buddy picture, he disappears for a chunk of the middle. In a way, Peter Fonda steps in as Busey's surrogate, because the two seldom appear together on-screen. What I love most about Peter Fonda's part: the mustache and ponytail. Then we have the always hot Vanity as Williamson's ex. She plays a phone sex operator who is harassed by killer. Finally, how do you not love Louis Jefferson? She plays Williamson's mother. What a coup it was for him to pull that off.

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Wanna know the one thing I dislike most about the Super Bowl? The commercials. I dislike commercials in general, but this time of year, when something so uncelebrate-able is celebrated, it makes me nauseous. The worst of the bunch are definitely the beer commercials. Other than a few exceptions-- Dos Equis, Keystone Light, Sam Adams-- most national chains have the most disturbing abominations ever created. That's why I drink PBR. Have you ever seen a PBR ad talking about your "man card"? Ever seen a can of PBR that changes color when it's cold? Ever heard PBR tell you that you aren't a real football fan unless you drink their beer? Not a chance. PBR doesn't have any commercials, and for that reason alone, I'll be drinking them while watching my Pats this Sunday.

All right, done with that rant. At fifty cents, this isn't a bad deal, but even then it's a stretch. Cool cast, which makes this a better time than it otherwise would've been, but not quite good enough in my book. Save this for your thrift store/bargain bin find.

For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0104997/

Monday, January 30, 2012

Meet Monica Velour (2010)

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With the Super Bowl this week, and with my Patriots playing in the big game, I figured I'd do some Super Bowl XLVI themed posts. At the same time, this film, Meet Monica Velour, has been on my radar for some time, it was one I wanted to watch, but I thought it was more indie flick than DTV flick, so I backed off it-- plus, it wasn't until recently that it became available on Watch Instantly. Anyway, the film takes place in Indiana (though shot in Michigan), and the Super Bowl is playing in Indianapolis, so I figured I'd make it happen as part of my Super Bowl theme.

Meet Monica Velour follows a recent high school grad from Washington named Tobe (Dustin Ingram). After his grandfather and guardian, Brian Dennehy, gives him the family hot dog mobile as a graduation present, he decides to put it up for sale, but only gets an offer from a dude out in Indiana (DTVC favorite Keith David). This just happens to coincide with a performance at an Indiana strip club by 70s/80s porn star Monica Velour (Kim Cattrall), whom Tobe has a major obsession with. He decides on a whim to drive the hot dog truck out to Indiana to sell it and meet her. The only problem is, the real her is very different from her on-screen persona.

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This was a really great movie. For me, it's what a Romantic Comedy should be. It also had a very 90s indie feel to it, which was interesting, because there was a lot of vintage memorabilia and nostalgia throughout, so why not have the movie feel like it could've been made in the 90s too. It lost itself a little near the end, but it had built up so much goodwill to that point that it could get away with it. Great cast, and a fun, endearing story-- this is worth checking out.

The Romantic Comedy has been for me a genre that's been drawing dead for sometime, yet despite that fact, still brings in a lot of money at the box office. I think the thing that turns me off is the often fairy tale aspect, that somehow the two lovers that seemed so not meant for each other, or who had been kept apart because one of them was engaged to a heel, somewhere around the last 15 minutes magically see what we've seen all along, and they ride off into the sunset. This movie turns that on its ear somewhat, but finds away to keep that sentimentality in a way that didn't make me run from it. For Tobe, this is his fairy tale-- and would be the same fairy tale for a lot of 17-year-old boys, meeting and interacting with a porn star, with her reciprocating-- and while we root for Tobe, we also realize the ludicrousness of what he wants, and the movie never lets us or Tobe get too caught up in the fairy tale before reality busts in. I think it's that balance that works best here, that it's quirky and fun, and a little outrageous, but also down to Earth when it has to be, and isn't afraid to be down-to-Earth.

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Brian Dennehy was fantastic as the grandfather. One of the scariest movies I've ever seen was To Catch a Killer, where Dennehy plays a chilling John Wayne Gacy. That he can go from that to utterly hilarious in this is a testament to the kind of actor he is. Anyone who's a big Brian Dennehy fan will be happy to see him here (won't give away a scene with him near the end). Same can be said of Kim Cattrall. This was not her Sex and the City character, there was nothing glamorous or cougar-ish in her role here, she was a has-been and a drunk living in a trailer park, needing to make some money to get custody of her daughter from her ex-husband. In her scenes with Tobe, she easily could've fallen into her Sex and the City role, which is probably what most people would be expecting, but she didn't, and the movie was better for that.

Another big name we had here for only a small part was the great Keith David. He plays something of a junk collector, a man with tons of vintage memorabilia collected from all over the country. It's interesting, because he's the same age as Cattrall, but it felt like his character was supposed to be Tobe's surrogate grandfather while he was away from home, whereas Cattrall was some kind of oedipal mother figure. He's known for his great voice, but when he gets the chance to act on screen, especially in a role like this, he's always equal to the task. Also wanted to mention Dustin Ingram, who played Tobe. He looked like a geeky version of Eric Balfour, which was interesting, because Balfour usually plays the heel in teen flicks, the guy who beats up someone like Tobe. He also looks kind of Napoleon Dynamite-ish. Don't let that fool you, his character is totally unique, and a lot of fun to follow through the film.

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I wanted to finish up with a quick word on Indiana, considering that's why I'm doing this review this week. I've never been there, a friend I graduated from college with went to Indiana University for grad school, and I believe he's still there working, but that's about it for a personal connection to the area. Of course, there are also their sports teams, and my Pats and their Colts have had a big rivalry for years, and it's gotta kinda suck that it's the Pats playing in the Super Bowl there. It's one of those Midwestern states that we on the coasts don't often think about, so it's cool that it's in the spotlight for this week, the biggest in American sports.

This is currently on Watch Instantly, so if you have that it would be worth checking out. Great performances, great story, everything you'd want out of a movie like this. Sometimes these kinds of things work, and sometimes they don't, this time it did.

For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1291549/

Friday, January 27, 2012

Spoiler (1998)

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We're staring to exhaust our supply of Gary Daniels films. There are a few others available, and I plan on hitting them in the near future, but after that, it's either waiting for the pile of flicks he's done after 2009 to be released here in the States, or search around and see if some of the more obscure older ones pop up. But we got this one, so we might as well take advantage of it.

Spoiler takes place in the future, where criminals that try to escape from prison are so named, and when caught again, sent into deep freeze for inordinate amounts of time. Daniels is one of these Spoilers, and after he's caught escaping, he's given 26 years. Then he escapes again, and is given a bunch more. And then he escapes again, and is captured again. When he escapes this time, will he let them take him in alive?

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If this sounds like a Groundhog's Day scenario in a movie, it felt like it too. The first 40 minutes or so is just the film spinning its wheels. Really, none of it gets us anywhere other than back to where we started. I want to say "who thinks that's a good idea?", but I'm not so sure the people who made this movie cared. All they seemed to care about was this idea of Daniels not aging and seeing his daughter when she's old and dying, and basing a sci-fi actioner around it. Not that this has a lot of action. First off, Daniels doesn't sport his sweet martial arts. Total waste. Why again did you cast Daniels then? And they had all this other talent that they used each for either one scene or a small part: Bryan Genesse, Meg Foster, Jeffrey Combs, (I think) Timothy Bottoms, and (I think) James Booth. This should've been The Fugitive set in the future, with Daniels using his wits to stay escaped-- not get captured and escape over and over. An idea and a film sauteed in wrong sauce.

The thing is, we've seen from films like Rage, that Daniels can do The Fugitive paradigm and do it well. And we had some really great supporting characters in this that could have filled that out and made it so much cooler. The film starts with Genesse and Daniels in dust-up, but it's really just them hitting each other and falling over. Hell no! You've got two great martial artists, and you can't have them choreograph something awesome for us? Then keep Genesse and have him appear in future scenes-- or maybe have him team up with Jeffrey Combs, who was himself a great baddie, but unfortunately only comes in at the very end. What? He should've been the Tommy lee Jones to Daniels's Harrison Ford. This was not a vehicle where Daniels was allowed to shine, and it suffered for that.

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Let's get back to the Jeffrey Combs thing, because when he pops in in the last 15 minutes or so, I'm wondering "where have you been all my film?" He was the ultimate baddie, but he had too little time to flex his baddie muscles. The whole Groundhog's Day theme of this film, where Daniels keeps getting frozen and waking up decades later, meant that a guy as great as Combs couldn't appear for more than one small section, otherwise he'd bee too old later. That's why you scrap a silly premise like that. Also, it's probably time I got more Combs on this site, huh?

As I said above, this entire film was based around this idea of a father staying the same age and seeing his daughter when she's really old and on her death bed. Sounds cool in theory, but in practice, it killed everything that could've been good about the movie. I think sometimes these film makers get married to an idea, and can't see that it's sauteed in wrong sauce. When that happens, you get the best from actors like Gary Daniels left on the shelf, and potentially film anchoring performances from great actors like Meg Foster and Jeffrey Combs wasted on tiny parts.

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Finally, I really liked the images of the futuristic cities in this. Again, because much of the film is Daniels getting frozen and trying to escape prison, we don't see those enough either. Ugh, it just makes me see how awesome a sci-fi futuristic Fugitive would have been with what they had to work with, and how much it was all wasted.

I can't do this anymore I need to put this review to bed. You want to watch a movie where Gary Daniels doesn't fight, by all means, but it wasn't for me. You want to watch a movie where the first 40 minutes goes nowhere, by all means, but that wasn't for me either. You want to watch a movie where a great Jeffrey Combs baddie gets barely 15 minutes due to a silly plot premise? By all mean, but it upsets me too much to talk about it. I believe this is out of print, but you can get it new or used on DVD from Amazon, but I wouldn't bother.

For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0120187/

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Undercurrent (1998)

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I found this used on DVD at the bargain bin of our local record store. After my discount for spending my accrued frequent buyer points, the movie came out to: $.49. Even if this thing sucks-- and I have a good feeling it will-- fifty cents for a Lorenzo Lamas flick I haven't seen yet is worth it.

Undercurrent is a pseudo-Neo Noir starring Lamas as some down-on-his-luck former cop going to see his old cop buddy (Frank Vincent) at his old cop buddy's strip club down in Puerto Rico. What happens next? His silent partner, a local mob boss, wants Lamas to sleep with his wife so he can divorce her and keep his cash, and Lamas is stuck because that old cop buddy is into the mob boss for some money. But like in all Noir flicks, things aren't what they seem, and Lamas needs to navigate these shark infested waters before he's bitten.

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This was pretty painful. The first like hour or so is just a slow burn-- like really slow. By the time the hour mark hits and we start getting any semblance of intrigue, it's too late, they've already wasted too much time. A lot of the issues stem from the front loaded plot. Lamas's Noir hero is too altruistic, and as such, it takes us a good twenty minutes before he's even willing to accept the job. Then we get another twenty minutes of him convincing the wife to have an affair with him. This is all crap that easily could've been told in Cliff's Notes form to the police detective. On top of that, the end was pretty drawn out, and with the opening that was already too long, the film couldn't afford that.

That's too bad, because I think Lamas would've been great as a grittier Noir hero, maybe something like Fred MacMurray in Double Indemnity, a guy who isn't all nice. The fact that he's doing a guy who doesn't deserve it a solid hurt a lot of what could've made this film fun. Make Lamas a bad guy, an opportunist, who takes the job because he wants the dough. It was like it was afraid to go bad in some parts, but went bad in others, and almost every choice was the wrong one. As far as Lamas goes, this is tag number 29 for him, meaning he's one away from that prestigious 30 mark. Hopefully we'll get him there soon.

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Just a quick question: do you think Embassy Suites likes having their brand associated with cockfighting? Did they sign off on that? Is cockfighting a sponsored event in Puerto Rico, and that's why the Embassy Suites logo is on that mat? The funny thing about the cockfighting is that it's the second Seinfeld connection in this, the other being Brenda Strong as the mobster's wife. She was the woman who never wore a bra, then walked around with it on the outside, causing Kramer's accident and lawsuit.

I'm a huge Frank Vincent fan, and while he was good here, I would've rather seen him as an out and out mob boss himself, especially because the kid that was playing the mob boss couldn't hold a candle to Vincent. He's currently in a vodka commercial with Diddy and (what looks like ) Luke Goss, where he meets Diddy and his entourage at their private jet, and takes them around Vegas VIP style. The commercial should just be Vincent, in a tux, in Vegas, doing whatever. I'd buy that vodka in a heartbeat, and I don't really drink vodka.

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Is that Hunter S. Thompson? I guess not, but it looks like him, right? Funny thing about that, it was in another Lamas flick, Blood Angels, where there was a guy dressed like HST in one scene. I wonder if Lamas is a Hunter S. Thompson guy. Probably not, I think he's more a FOX News guy. I'm guessing about all of this of course, I have no idea who Lamas likes or who Lamas reads or who Lamas votes for.

But I know who I vote for, I ain't votin' for this movie (like how I did that?). Even at fifty cents, it's a tough sell if you don't have a review site and need to fill in posts. It just took too long to get to the important stuff, and by the time we got there, it was too late.

For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0145551/

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Rocky IV (1985)

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This is our 800th post, which isn't the biggest milestone, but it is on an even hundred, and worth celebrating I think. And what better flick to look at than one that, while it wasn't itself a DTV flick, launched the career of the man we've come to know of as the Babe Ruth of DTV, Dolph Lundgren. Even today, when most people think of Dolph, they think Ivan Drago-- though they often get the famous line wrong. For the record, it's "I must break you", which I imagine Stallone wrote in to drive home the point that Drago didn't have any free will under the Soviet Union-- no "will", all "must".

Rocky IV has Sylvester Stallone back as his iconic sports hero, this time taking a break after beating Clubber Lang. A Soviet heavy weight named Ivan Drago has been making news, and Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers) sees this as a last chance at glory. Drago ends up beating him to death in the ring, so Stallone goes on a one-man crusade to take down Drago, and maybe end the Cold War while he's at it.

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While this was the highest grossing of Stallone's Rocky films, there's definitely a feeling of shark jumping, especially considering how over the top (no pun intended) so much of it is. Stallone incorporates a montage of clips from the previous films as Rocky reflects on how far he's come, and I think we can't help doing the same. Everything the first one was-- real, compelling, and not out of proportion with what we associate with the real world, while still being big and theatrical-- this one wasn't-- it was always out of proportion and overly theatrical, so by the time we get to the end and Rocky is essentially ending the Cold War in his post fight interview, we aren't surprised by the ridiculousity. But it did have enough of what made the first Rocky so endearing and so successful, in particular Stallone's down-to-Earth working class hero that we can't help but root for, even if we're surrounded by jingoism and silly larger-than-life dramatizations. In the end, shark jumping or no, this is a fun flick in the Rocky series.

No, he wasn't the star, far from it, and no, this wasn't his first big screen role, he had a small part in A View to a Kill, but this is the one that put Dolph on the map. Unfortunately his next film, Masters of the Universe, was a colossal flop, and the one two after that The Punisher, was stuck in limbo and didn't get a US theatrical release (Red Scorpion was in between those two). So began his journey into DTV-dom, with only a blip coming with Universal Soldier, though that film was more a Van Damme vehicle than it was a Dolph flick. We always talk about movies as gems that fell through the cracks when Hollywood ignored them, and here we have the same thing, only with an actor-- their loss is our gain. Who'd'a thunk that a role in a Stallone flick would lead to the greatest DTV action career in history? Here's to you Dolph Lundgren, you're one of the great ones.

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It's hard for me to go back to when I was six and get a good grasp on what Stallone and Rocky meant at the time in 1985. I remember the Cold War scare. Though it was near the end, it was still very palpable, and I remember fearing that the Soviets would invade and take my neighborhood hostage. But it's also important to remember that the 80s was Stallone's decade. Schwarzenegger had some good ones then too, but he really came on in the 90s and replaced Stallone then. With that in mind, this is a Stallone at the height of his popularity, revisiting the character that made him most famous. I had this sense as I watched the scene where Rocky looked back on where he came from, and thought about how he needed to get back down to Earth, that his character was trying to speak to Stallone, telling him that this ride won't go on forever, but in his hubris he didn't listen, and in just five short years Rocky V came out, and two years after that Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot. I think the difference between Stallone and Rocky, is that Rocky never felt comfortable as a star, while Stallone craved it.

Getting back to Rocky, the first film, I noticed on Tumblr recently that a kid (like 21 or 22) was talking about the travesty that was the 1977 Oscars, because Rocky won for best picture over Taxi Driver. It's interesting how perceptions of both films have changed over time, especially for kids born in the late 80s early 90s. They've essentially only grown up with Rocky as a cliched sports film paradigm, and have had so many "inspired by a true story" sentimentality porn fests shoved down their throats, that they can't conceive of Rocky as an original and endearing concept, let alone comprehend the film's social and artistic significance at the time. It's kind of hard for us Gen X-ers to comprehend it too, because Taxi Driver just seems so much more sui generis, but at least we have some perspective, we remember when both Rocky as a character, and Stallone as a person, were much more relevant in Hollywood, and that's something kids today can't conceive of. Rocky will always be The Blind Side or Seabiscuit to them, while Taxi Driver will always be Travis Bickle kicking ass.

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The soundtrack on this is amazing. First and foremost, you have Survivor's "Burning Heart". I'm not ashamed to admit that that's on my iPod in my exercise mix alongside Loverboy's "Turn Me Loose". Just a fantastic montage song, the kind that makes you wish by the end of it that you'd just done 6 months worth of exercise in 3 minutes. Then John Cafferty has "Hearts On Fire". You can never go wrong with John Cafferty. Also we have some Go West, with "One Way Street", and 80s soundtrack mainstay Kenny Loggins, who teams up with Gladys Knight for "Double or Nothing". One of my personal favorites was "No Easy Way Out", which was performed by Robert Tepper-- There's no easy way out/there's no short cut home! Finally, I can't go over the Rocky IV soundtrack without mentioning James Brown's "Living with a Hernia"-- er, I mean "Living in America"-- which was written by Dan Hartman of "I Can Dream About You" fame.

I don't know why I included a shot of Stallone in that Hugo Boss sweatshirt above, I just thought it was so cool. I wish they made sweatshirts like that today, I'd totally buy them. Anyway, I wanted to talk about the sport of boxing, because Stallone was recently inducted into the boxing hall of fame for his work in making boxing films, in particular the first one. In this one, he bends the rules of what's allowed in boxing, especially in the Creed/Drago fight. He went for the element of Creed wanting to die like a warrior in the fight instead of growing old and deteriorating, but the way the whole thing went down, with no ringside doctors, the press surrounding him after he hit the canvas, the ref not stopping the fight when it was obvious Drago had won. For me as a boxing fan it was a little hard to watch, and I wanted scream at the TV when Rocky yells "Can somebody get a doctor!", because every fight has a doctor at it, and he'd have been in the ring before Rocky was.

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The boxing thing wasn't nearly as bad as this here. The training scenes were shot in Jackson Hole, Wyoming with the Grand Tetons in the background. If you don't know, the Tetons are over 13,000 feet in elevation, and require, at the very least, rock climbing at a 5.4 difficulty. I get that in the film these were supposed to be fake mountains in Siberia, but anyone looking at them can see that they aren't hills, they have some serious altitude and some serious rock climbing associated with them, so to see Rocky on a whim in just some snow boots and a leather jacket run up to the summit of one was ridiculous. It was also very silly, because they obviously just dropped a stuntman off near the top of one of the peaks and had him run around, then cut to Stallone somewhere else. It was that kind of thing that added to the shark jumping effect.

This is available on a really nice DVD from MGM video. Don't let my screenshots fool you, the DVD is two-sided, with one in widescreen and the other full screen, and I only decided to use the full screen side because I think they look better on the blog. It's a beautiful widescreen transfer on the other side, worth watching on a nice TV. If you see it used or on sale at a big chain, I'd scoop it up. This is a fun film and full of nostalgia-- plus it's the movie that introduced us to Dolph, and for that we're forever grateful.

For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0089927/

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Tales of an Ancient Empire aka Abelar: Tales of an Ancient Empire (2009)

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I was trying to think when I first saw this listed on imdb. I want to say, almost as long as the DTVC has existed, this has been listed in various forms of development with rumored cast members added and dropped and whatnot. Then we were lucky enough to have the film's director, DTVC Hall of Famer Albert Pyun, come to us for feedback on things like the introduction, and keeping us up-to-date on its status. Well, now it's finally here, on the shelves, released from Lion's Gate. Let's see how it did.

Tales of an Ancient Empire is the long awaited sequel to The Sword and the Sorcerer. It follows the heroine Princess Tanis as she searches for her half-siblings, including the rogue Kevin Sorbo; and her father, an even bigger rogue and better fighter, Michael Paré. She needs them to defeat the evil vampiress Xia, who has taken over her kingdom, Abelar. Will they prevail?

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This was a very interesting flick that unfortunately had a very unfulfilling ending. It started a tad slow, with the first 40 minutes or so jumping in and out of flashback mode, but I think it overcame that and became something that was a cool take on the modern sword and sorcery flick, using some cool cinematic techniques, genre mixing, and giving it a more macabre edge; but that ending was, I don't know, not there. It was like a Cliff's Notes version of an ending, with a few still shots, some drawings, and a narrator telling us what happened. We watch the sword and sorcery adventure flick for the end battle, to see our hero overcome the villain, and without that it makes everything else lose its meaning. Also, despite what the cover says, this was a tale centered on the princess, played by Melissa Ordway, and to have Sorbo be the one to slay the villain (or rather, to be told it was Sorbo by the narrator) betrayed that. Even if we know roughly what's going to happen, if we'd only had something, just a little battle, I would've felt better about this, because otherwise it was pretty good.

Before I get any further in, I want to discuss the cover, because, if you've been rockin' with the DTVC for some time, you know my feelings on misleading covers, and this is one. What makes this one different, though, is that Pyun himself on his Facebook page came out against the cover because it was misleading and not the way he wanted to sell his film. I'm not saying there's a Sorbo bait and switch, but he's more the supporting character to Melissa Ordway's hero, and the other guy (Matthew Wellig) is barely in the film for two scenes, while the cover makes it look like he and Sorbo are embarking on this film-length quest together. Pyun said Lion's Gate had the say on the cover, but what I don't get is, why wouldn't they want Ordway on it with Sorbo? She's very attractive, and I imagine she'd sell more copies than Wellig, especially in the demographic that sword and sorcery caters to. You already have enough beefcake in Sorbo, why not add some beauty too, and at the same time not be so obviously misleading the consumer.

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Melissa Ordway takes her place in line among the long list of Pyun female protagonists. This is the one thing that I think will frustrate people misled by the cover the most, that I, having seen over thirty of Albert's films, was very comfortable with. I've always liked how he works in very testosterone heavy genres, like action and sci-fi, and instead of sticking with the conventions, he's bucked them by casting women in the lead roles, and not making them women playing men, or women as mere objects for men to ogle, but real women as real heroines. Again, it wouldn't have been too hard to put her on the cover with Sorbo, and by not doing it, it does both Pyun and Ordway a disservice. Also, a previous Pyun protagonist, Victoria Maurette, co-stars. You may remember her from Bulletface and Left for Dead-- the latter I unfortunately haven't seen yet. It was cool to see her working with Pyun on another project, and she was as good here as she was in Bulletface, so hopefully this won't be the last of his films we see her in.

One thing that I thought was really cool about this movie was the pulp comic book feel it had. The imagery, between the actual drawings and the live action scenes, was great. A lot of the shots had the feel of a comic book frame, but in a way that retained their cinematic qualities. There were also some settings that felt like westerns, Japanese samurai films, or Hong Kong cinema. These are the things that I come to an Albert Pyun film for, to see things done that I've never seen, knowing that he's going to take risks and try something new and not play it safe. He could've just made another Hercules episode, and I think a lot of people would've been happy, but he wouldn't have, and I like and respect that. Another thing worth pointing out, the script was written by Cynthia Curnan, and the music done by Tony Riparetti, two people who have worked closely with Pyun on projects in the past. There was a symbiosis between director, music, and story because of that that enhanced the film. This wasn't just a script that was thrust on Pyun to direct, and the music wasn't just laid down as an afterthought. When you have that symbiosis, it makes the movie a little more genuine.

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Okay, I know what you've all been waiting for: "tell me about everyone else in this film!" I've already mentioned Sorbo, who plays the co-hero or slightly supporting hero to Melissa Ordway. He's great in that Lee Horsley role as the brave rogue. Paré plays his father, and he's even more heroic and more of a rogue. He appears at the very beginning and the very end. The other DTVC Hall of Famer in this is Olivier Gruner, and he has a small part alongside Sasha Mitchell. Yes, that's right, I said Sasha Mitchell. When was the last time we saw him, huh? He's buffer than he was, so you may not recognize him. He's not listed on imdb as being in the film, but both he and Gruner are listed in the sequel, Red Moon. Then we have Ralf Moeller with a small part as one of the palace guards, Sarah Ann Shultz as one of Sorbo's sisters, Whitney Able as Xia, and Jennifer Siebel Newsome as the Queen of Abelar. Finally, our Pyun mainstays. Beyond Mitchell and Maurette, we had Norbert Weisser at the beginning as Xusia, Xia's dad, and Scott Paulin in a small role as Tou-Bou Bardo, a play on Pyun's classic character name, Brick Bardo. (Also, we had Morgan Weisser, Norbert's son, meaning we have the children of Pyun mainstays in Pyun films now!) Oh yeah, Lee Horsley has a one scene cameo reprising his role from the first film, which was fun to see.

The ending is what makes this one so hard, because it left me with a "that's it?" feeling that was hard to reconcile with the rest of the film that I enjoyed. One thing that's good about this one as opposed to Pyun's other recent efforts, is that you can get it via Netflix and Red Box, so you can try it out prior to buying it (I did buy it-- no regrets though!) to see if it works for you. As a sequel to Sword and as a sword and sorcery flick that tries new things, it's really good, the ending just didn't work for me.

For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1136688/

Friday, January 20, 2012

Road of No Return (2009)

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I came across this one while doing a search of Michael Madsen on Netflix Watch Instantly. It also had DTVC Hall of Famer David Carradine, which made it even more of a draw. I was a little nervous though, because I've seen these ones with guys like this in them before, and seen them go horribly wrong. Let's hope this one didn't.

Road of No Return is about four hit men that are brought together by Madsen and Carradine as part of a secret extra-judicial mission to assassinate drug kingpins. When one of the four does a little research to find out who the guys are that hired them, Carradine gets scared and calls in the cleaners to deal with the whole thing. As if things couldn't get any more difficult for our quartet, during one of their hits they save two very young girls that were about to be sold into white slavery. Now they have to save themselves and protect the kids.

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Okay, we get it, you're ironic. No no, really, we get it. The hit man's mom coming to clean the hit men's house? Get it, ironic. The Chinese Christian missionaries that interrupt one of the hits. Yep, pretty ironic. There's a point though where so much irony makes it not ironic, it makes it contrived, and that's what this was. Throw in some lame sentimentality, and some really serious elements that didn't blend at all with the quirky ironic ones, and you've got a 90 minute pain fest.

One thing about this one though was that the scenes with Carradine and Madsen were great, and Carradine especially. Usually seeing Carradine on the cover of a flick from 2009 means he's in it for like five minutes, and while he's nowhere near the star that the cover shot and top billing will have you believe, he is something of a main baddie, and as such, had his screen time. He does this kind of movie well. He can handle the scenes that are a little too talky, and make fun material that was increasingly becoming more and more contrived. This film came out the year he passed away, and a quick check of his imdb bio shows that he still has three more posthumous projects on the way, on top of the seven that came out from 2010 on. Just shows you how much he worked, right up to the end-- and why he's a DTVC Hall of Famer.

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Madsen, though still pretty good, wasn't quite what Carradine was. I don't want to say he mailed this one in, but maybe that he was too comfortable. He's probably seen this material so many times, and seen it better so many times, that he played down to what he was given. I still enjoyed seeing Madsen on screen, and he still elevated the material, but this wasn't what he was in something like Final Combination.

I think a big part in pulling off irony is in making it not seem contrived, and we already mentioned that this film killed that possibility by loading up on it so much. This might as well have been a hipster with his beard and scarf waiting in line to get the new iPhone while reblogging memes on Tumblr with his old one, that's how ironic this was. Another big part of it though is the actors have to pull it off, and that didn't really happen either. We had this one dude that was playing like a white supremacist, and it felt like he was so uncomfortable playing that part, that the idea so abhorred him, that he went so over the top, which made it even worse and harder to watch. Then when he finds out (as we expected, it being ironic and all) that his ethnic background isn't entirely white, the reaction is even harder to watch. Why even have crap like this in the movie when it isn't going to work?

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I don't really have a seventh paragraph for this one, so I guess I'll mention the other cliche convention it fell on, the "we'll start with the end first, then go to the beginning" device, which in this case actually gives away some of the movie. When we see only one girl, but later she's introduced with another, we know that other will bite it soon because we have to get back down to just one. And killing off little girls gives the film a mean-spirited feel that, again, betrays the quirky ironic tone the film is leaning so heavily on.

All right, this is enough. You know I didn't like this, and you don't need me to tell you anymore why. Don't let the Madsen and Carradine fool you. Both have tons on Watch Instantly to look at (though for some reason Netflix is only showing me two for Carradine, when I know he has more than that-- they need to get their shit together over there!). This is your run of the mill "hit men in ironic situations" yawnfest.

For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1298716/

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Warriors (1995)

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I don't remember where I first encountered this, how it first appeared on my radar. I think I was looking up something else, and this was suggested in addition, you know, the ol' "people who looked for this, also liked this" kind of thing. Anyway, all I needed to see was Gary Busey and Michael Paré, and I was sold.

Warriors has Busey as a dude in a double-secret black ops group where all the guys are highly skilled and all of them have had their deaths faked by the government so no one can prove they were working for the US. When his father, another high up military officer, sneaks a message to him that he wants to see him, Busey breaks out and goes AWOL, which makes the military less than stoked. They call in his old student and not so secret black ops dude Michael Paré to bring him in-- dead or alive. Now it's a deadly game of cat and mouse played out in the mountains between two highly trained killing machines.

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This one wasn't bad, but the only reason it wasn't was that it had Busey and Paré. There were a lot of dead spots, a lot of points of lame plot exposition, but our two leads carry it so well it's worth watching, especially Busey. I think that's a good thing though. We watch these movies less for how good we expect them to be and more to see these guys work, and this film delivers that. I could watch a movie that was 90 minutes of Busey and Paré running errands, and if it had enough of them in it, I'd enjoy it.

The Busey was stellar. I daresay this is pretty Abusive. The line delivery, the facial expressions, it's all there, everything you want. My favorite was when he went to this hotel room to talk to the hooker that slipped him the message from his dad, and she's being attacked by her pimp (Chris Heyerdahl). He attacks Busey too, and Busey knocks him out. The hooker asks Busey "is he dead?", and Busey says in a soft, measured tone "I wouldn't hang around here if I were you, I'd move fast." Great stuff.

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According to the trailer (which I posted on the Facebook page), I've been mispronouncing Michael Paré's last name. It's not PAH-ray, it's pah-RAY-- or is the trailer wrong? Anyway, pah-Ray or PAH-ray, he's pretty sweet too. The movie's plot is a little fluid, so we're not sure if Busey or Paré is supposed to be carrying the film, but both are so solid it works; and while Busey is just Busey, Paré has this cool ability to carry scenes or take a step back and let Busey have it, which adds to the time they're on screen together. It's January of 2012, and like most Januarys here at the DTVC, our New Year's Resolution is to get more Paré up, but unlike those years in the past, I'm going to try and hold myself to that. Let's see.

Recognize that young fella below? That's right, Chris Hayerdahl, he who was beaten up next to a nasty toilet by Dolph in Silent Trigger, and he who sported the dildo ponytail in The Peacekeeper. He has a very small part here as the pimp of a girl who has a much bigger part. Here's what happens after he gives Paré a hard time. Not a pretty sight, huh?

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Finally, I wanted to finish with something a friend told me recently about white birch trees. He was playing some online video game, and the people who created it added some white birches to the game environment, and I guess people who hadn't seen them before referred to them as "zebra trees". "Zebra trees"? I want to go into a rant about how people need to get out more or something, but part of me thinks "zebra trees" is pretty awesome.

Okay, VHS is the only way to go here, but you can either get it new or used from Amazon. I wouldn't do that, I'd just keep an eye out for it. It's a good bargain bin find, as opposed to something you need to go out of your way and order special.

For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0111670/

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

The Carpenter (1988)

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I saw the VHS cover shot of this flick on Tumblr a while back, and I knew I had to make it happen. Look at that Wings Hauser right there. How could I resist? Never miss an opportunity to get more Wings up here.

The Carpenter is about a woman from the city who has had a nervous breakdown, so her hubby buys a fixer-upper out in the country for her and him to live in. While the crew working on it during the day are pretty lazy, the older mysterious fella working at night known as Wings Hauser is a whole other story. Long story short, he's the ghost of the dude that built the house, went bankrupt doing so, massacred a bunch of repo men, and got the chair. At first our leading lady is drawn to Wings, but she eventually discovers that he's no Casper.

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This is a slow roller. It has it's moments, both in the serious vein with some really stylistic classic thriller-esque shots; and in the silly vein with Wings. There's one amazing scene that I uploaded to the image page, where he cuts this dude's arms off with a power saw. It's surreal, like something Dali and Bunuel would've done, the way the guy doesn't scream, the way the woman barely reacts, and the matter of fact demeanor with which Wings goes about the killing. It came at the 24-minute mark, and I was excited that the film might pick up from there, but it didn't, still just giving us the occasional great Wings scene without much else to buttress it. Ultimately this is a Lifetime flick with Wings Hauser as a crazy killer popping in here and there.

But man, when Wings shows up, he shows up. His performance is fantastic. Between the dialog and the way he delivers it as the anachronistic carpenter from the past, and the killer streak he manages to mix with that, it's as good a' Wings as you can get. But because he's the villain, and the mysterious ghost villain to boot, we don't see him that much. That's too bad, because he's carrying this film. This is only our 17th Wings flick on here, meaning we still have three more to go to get him above the line of 20 for DTVC Hall of Famers, which is especially where I want to get all inaugural ones at least. With such a vast filmography, we'll go way beyond that, it's just a matter of tracking them down.

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Looking at the cover again, I can see where this movie went wrong. It didn't know whether it wanted to be Hitchcock or Tobe Hooper. The cover looks like Tobe Hooper, right? And it looks like a really fun ride too, like this campy, bloody slasher flick with Wings as a crazy carpenter. Unfortunately, while we get that in spots, it never really happens. It's the classic dilemma we B-movie honks have to contend with: misleading covers.

The couple was played by two veteran character actors that weren't really veterans when they made this: Lynne Adams and Pierre Lenoir. They're the usual "man, they look familiar, what do I know them from?" that leads to a check on imdb that yields "oh yeah, of course, I knew I recognized them from somewhere!" Adams, was in Johnny Mnemonic as "Yakuza with a rocket launcher", and was also in the Miles O'Keeffe/Fred Williamson flick Silent Trigger. Lenoir was in the Gary Daniels flick Hawk's Vengeance. Both have been in myriad TV shows, which is probably where anyone would recognize them from.

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In my Tucker and Dale vs Evil post I mentioned something about being a Bruins fan and how that film being shot in Vancouver brought to mind the Canucks, and how I wouldn't get into a rant about them. I shouldn't do the same here, with this film being shot in Montreal. If you don't know, the Canadians (or "Habs" for short) are the equivalent of the Yankees for Red Sox fans-- maybe even worse, because the Bruins and Habs have played more games and more games that matter against one another. While my B's have had the upper hand recently, overall the Habs, like the Yanks, have the all-time lead; but we'll revel in our current success as long as we can!

Okay, before this turns into an NHL blog, we'll wrap things up. This is actually available now on DVD. Not sure what the transfer is like, or if there's goodies and what not. I went the VHS route, and as you can see, that's not the best quality. I'm not sure why I'm even getting into this though, because this is a bit of a snooze fest outside of a few good scenes. Check out some other Wings flicks first before you try this one.

For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0097017/

Monday, January 16, 2012

Tucker and Dale vs Evil (2010)

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When I saw that this movie was on Watch Instantly, I knew I had to have it. I'd been hearing a lot of great things, plus Magnet Releasing had already scored two winners with me in Rubber and Hobo with a Shotgun. This looked like a surefire hit, so let's see if it lived up to expectations.

Tucker and Dale vs Evil follows two friends from the mountains of West Virginia, Tucker and Dale, who, after years of saving, finally have a fixer-upper vacation house on the lake. On the way up to it, they bump into some college kids, and Dale tries to ask one of them out, failing miserably. The kids, in turn, think Tucker and Dale are some crazy hillbillies out to do them harm, and when the girl Dale asked out hits her head skinny dipping and almost drowns, and Tucker and Dale rescue her from the water, the kids think they've kidnapped her, which sets off a series of misunderstandings of hilarious and deadly proportions.

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I really enjoyed this. The way they flip the horror genre on its ear, but do it so it comes off as funny and interesting, as opposed to trite and full of itself, was fantastic. The thing feels like a Laurel and Hardy flick or Three Stooges episode, the way our heroes are clueless and bad things keep happening to them, yet they're also funny and worth rooting for. My only gripe comes when Tucker is captured by the kids and one of them cuts off two of his fingers. Even though they recover it some with a funny joke about it at the end, it still was a left turn that betrayed a lot of what the film was going for and succeeded at. Overall though, this is well worth the watch.

On top of being a very funny movie, there's a great message here about judging people based on their appearance or background that really works too. I'd never really thought about it before that so many of these "kids in the woods terrorized by some sick locals" horror flicks are ingrained in me, and I take for granted that the locals are threatening. It probably originates from Deliverance, and this movie does play some on that too. It's just a great idea for a movie: what if the locals were nice and the kids misunderstood them?, and I'm just happy they pulled it off so well.

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We've been talking about the horror comedy on here quite a bit recently, and while this is definitely a comedy, and a horror film too, it's not a horror comedy in the true sense. The best description is a macabre Laurel and Hardy flick, or as I said above, a deconstruction of the teen slasher flick. We've seen a lot of attempts at horror comedy go bad on here lately, and I think where this one works and those fail, is that it's actually funny. And not only that, but doesn't dwell on its jokes too long. No routine goes on for more than a few minutes. It has the rhythm of a classic Laurel and Hardy comedy, and a lot of new horror practitioners looking to make a modern horror comedy could do to go back to some great comedy movies of the past and see what works.

The cityfolk v countryfolk divide is something that is leaned on heavily in a lot of films and books. Stephen King was exceptional in harnessing the isolation a creepiness of being in the middle of nowhere in Maine on a dark night, with locals that keep to themselves and detest outsiders; while so many Romantic Comedies feature men or women from the city that are tamed and made better people by some good ol' country living. What I like here is that this movie doesn't pick a side. Yes, it works on switching up the Stephen King paradigm, but it doesn't let the "all those cityfolk need is some good ol' country livin'" side off the hook either. Nobody's perfect, and nobody's got it all figured out, but it's the unwillingness to see things from someone else's side that can lead to a misunderstanding involving multiple accidental deaths-- it's a lesson we all could learn.

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This is the first film we've done that takes place in West Virginia (though not the first by a long shot that was shot in Vancouver-- I could go on a rant about the Canucks right now, being a Bruins fan, but I won't). Though I've never been, I've always wanted to go through that Appalachia region and hit some of the peaks. Now I know, after seeing this, not to judge the locals, and if it looks like the locals are judging me, I'll do my best to kill them with kindness. It's all just sunshine and rainbows here.

And why not with a movie this good. Right now it's on Watch Instantly, and there's no reason why, if you have Watch Instantly, that you don't see it. It's available on DVD and Blu-Ray too. Made in 2010, but released in 2011, it was one of the best to come out in the States last year.

For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1465522/

Friday, January 13, 2012

The King of Fighters (2010)

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This one has been on my radar for some time now. I must confess, I didn't play the games much in high school, mostly because the Neo-Geo machine at our arcade was near the back, and Mortal Kombat 2 was much more popular; and then Street Fighter II was much more popular among my friends as far as a home fighting game went. Keep that in mind as I go into this that it's one I didn't play much. Also, our buddy Mitch at The Video Vacuum did this one last week (and warned me to stay away!)

The King of Fighters has Maggie Q as a woman involved in an inter-dimensional fighting tournament that takes a deadly turn when Ray Park steals some powerful ancient artifacts and commandeers the tournament for his own evil ends. She now has to contend with the CIA, who is investigating the proceedings, and bridge the gap between two rival Japanese families in order to get them to work together so they can go into the other dimension and take Park out.

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I didn't hate this. The beginning had a sweet fight between Maggie Q and some dude, that was a great combination of cinematic martial arts and video game fantasy, and I was hoping the whole movie would be that. I would get my wish near the end, with a last 30 minutes that were really great, but getting there was a bit of a slog. More plot exposition than fun adventure or sweet martial arts weighed things down; and when we had fights, they were either very small, or disappointments. One in particular that frustrated me had Ray Park in street hockey gear taking on two hot chicks in extremely hot outfits. It ended up being a bunch of jumpcuts and vertigo inducing camera shots, with a fight that didn't live up to the awesomeness we thought we were about to get. The movie redeems itself with a solid ending, but I'm not sure what you do with that chunk in the middle that could've been better-- I guess I'll stick with my initial take: I didn't hate this.

Maggie Q was excellent. She brings that perfect balance of sexiness and kickass-ness that we haven't seen much of since Cynthia Rothrock. In reading about the series on Wikipedia, her character doesn't even come up, and it looks like the two fighters from rival families, played by Sean Faris and Will Yun Lee, were the key players. I think that left the film makers with a dilemma, because the movie really should've been centered around Q, and I think that's what they wanted to do, but they needed to give the other two equally pivotal roles to even out the video game story line. I'm looking forward to checking out more stuff from Q-- especially hoping The Warrior and the Wolf, which is directed by one of my favorites, Tian Zhuangzhuang, will finally be released on DVD here in the States.

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This brings up the issue we often see with video game movies: how to make something as dynamic as a video game translate into a much more static-- at least as far as storytelling goes-- medium like film? The biggest problem I see, is that they go too far to the other end of the spectrum, and make a dramatic picture instead of an action picture, meaning, they focus too much on plot exposition and too little on the action. This was something my buddy and I kept saying about The Super Mario Bros. Movie, if the game was like this, we'd have never played, and by that we meant, almost no action with heroes like Mario and Luigi that spend more time getting pushed around and running away. When I think of the best video game movie in my mind, I think of Mortal Kombat, and what was that really other than a remake of Enter the Dragon.

I did like Ray Park as the bad guy. He's a great martial artist, and while I can safely say his skills were better used here than in Star Wars: The Phantom Menace, he really doesn't get a scene worthy of his skills until the very end, where he kills it. As I said above, the most obvious missed opportunity was the one where he was in the street hockey gear. Overall though, it was a good casting decision, and it was good to see him again. By the way, since we're talking about The Phantom Menace, I thought I'd mention that for me, that movie should've just been the very beginning, then the fight at the end, and then the other hour-plus that would've been left should've been about Christopher Lee as Count Dooku.

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I wanted to finish with a bit on Francoise Yip, who played one of the higher ups in the tournament hierarchy. You may remember her from Rumble in the Bronx, or the Gary Daniels flick I did a while back, Diamond Cuts Diamond, aka Witness to a Kill. She's overshadowed some by Maggie Q, which is to be expected, but she's still really good. I spent the whole film trying to figure out where I remembered her from, and finally had to give up and see on imdb.

This is currently on Watch Instantly. "I didn't hate it" isn't the best recommendation, so what I'll say is that, for a 90 minute movie, it's about 50/50 great and dull. You could do a lot worse than that, but you could also do a lot better. If you like Maggie Q and you're looking for a fun time, this is worth a look, especially on Watch Instantly.

PS: I added a little something on the image page in honor of Friday the 13th!

For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1038685/

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Warhead (1996)

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I came across this one on Watch Instantly, and have kept it on my radar until this week, when I finally decided to make it happen. The combination of Frank Zagarino and Joe Lara could be, if anything, at least a fun time-- though they could also be a boring slog too, you never know. Let's see what this spin of the roulette wheel yields. Also, our buddy Kenner at Movies in the Attic hit this one too.

Warhead has Lara as the head of a white supremacist separatist paramilitary organization, and Zagarino as the special forces soldier that leads a unit of elite troops to stop him. He has his work cut out for him though when Lara gets his hands on the codes to launch some nuclear missiles, and it looks like he has intel on the inside that warns him when Zagarino tries to take him down. Now it's do or die, as the fate of the free world hangs in the balance and only Zags can save the day.

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This one is a definite 3AM gem. It's too D-grade and too obscure as far as the lead actors go to make for a good bad movie night flick, and the plot and action, though plenty mindless, aren't solid enough to make this one good. But at 3AM, whether you're procrastinating on a paper, trying to get the room to stop spinning after a heavy duty bender, or battling insomnia, this is the kind of thing that will get you to the church on time. It's something you'd've been lucky to find on EncoreAction, or TNT or USA back in the late 90s, but with it's availability on Watch Instantly, it's at your disposal whenever you need it.

Zagarino is a D-grade mainstay. I don't necessarily think that's a bad thing though. We need that level of action flick, and it's good to have someone to helm it. The acting is a little more wooden, the bad script isn't papered over as well, and watching him, there's almost a sense that we are seeing the scenes as they're shot, as if we can hear the director yell "cut!" after. There's a place in the market for this kind of movie, and Zagarino is the quintessential actor to cast as its hero.

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The best way to describe Joe Lara's performance is to imagine a Lifetime movie where a guy plays a sleazy pimp that seduces a young girl from a small town into running off with him, not knowing he's planning to sell her on the street. A big part of it is his voice. It's this creepy monotone, and it sounded like that predatory Lifetime villain much more than the action hero main baddie. Then you factor in the ponytail too. All he needed were the double-breasted blazers and the fancy cherry apple red sports car, and we could see him pulling up to the girl's cheer-leading practice, telling her how beautiful she is and how he'll give her all the finer things in life that she deserves, and next thing you know they're holed up in a cheap motel and Joanna Kearns is teaming up with disgraced alcoholic former cop Treat Williams to track them down.

Even though this movie was shot in South Africa, an early scene took place in Idaho, making it the first time Idaho popped up on the DTVC. I imagine Idaho and New England-- especially Maine-- are as far as you can get from one another, though Maine has potato farming in common with Idaho. Like every state in the US that I haven't been to, I'd like to get out there and see it some day, if only to hike Borah Peak, maybe see what Boise's got going on too. If anyone reading this is from Idaho and can suggest some other places to check out, that would be cool.

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I recently watched The Super Mario Bros. Movie, and was struck most of all by how little the film captured the essence of what made the Super Mario Bros. games such a great series. Somehow though, Warhead has done that. It just seemed like a fun ride with stuff blowing up around Zagarino, and him swinging on things and sliding down pipes and riding jet skies with bombs into militia men. The best one came when Zags was fighting some guys on an ice skating rink while some kids played a hockey game. He'd grab onto to one of the kids' backs, and instead of stopping and turning around and asking why he did that, they'd just skate away and take him for a ride. Even crazier was how they kept playing while this shootout and brawl was happening around them. It felt like one of those levels in a Super Mario Bros. game where you'd have to ride a bird or something.

This is not so bad it's good or a great bad movie night flick, it's mid-90s South African D-grade action that is a great 3AM time killer. With the advent of Netflix, Hulu, etc. and the ability to stream movies, these 3AM gems are now at your fingertips as opposed to something you stumble upon as you flip through the channels. Not a bad deal.

For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0118119

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

976-EVIL (1988)

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Though this movie had a theatrical run, and did pretty well for itself in 1988, grossing just shy of $3 million at the box office, it's always felt like it belonged on this site. It's a video store flick if I've ever seen one. On the other hand, while it's a video store mainstay, I don't remember either me or my friends really liking it, which is why I kept off it for a bit, and why it wasn't reserved for a milestone post. Regardless, we're here now, giving it the DTVC treatment. Also, our buddy The Film Connoisseur has looked at this one too.

976-EVIL takes place in the small town of Garden City, where a guy named Spike is living in an apartment next door to his crazy bible thumping aunt and his messed up cousin Hoax. Hoax idolizes Spike and wants to get away from his crazy mother, not to mention his school where he's brutally picked on by a gang of guys that just happen to hang out with Spike. Anyway, after Spike brings a girl home, Hoax sneaks into his room and takes the girl's underwear and the number to a 976 line that gives people their "horrorscope". From there things go crazy-- and Evil! What could this mysterious force coming through the phone be, and what will happen when it imbues Hoax with the power to stand up for himself?

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Watching this now, I see why I wasn't a big fan of it growing up. It's not only slow moving, but it spirals out of control as it moves to the end. We go from some creepy phone calls to demons and flaming bottomless pits. It felt like a Tales from the Crypt episode that was an hour too long. We have characters like the principal, who's supposed to be a major part of Hoax's life, but she's barely in the film, then shows up at the end and we're supposed to take for granted that she'd have some kind of connection with him. It's something that wouldn't be a big deal if it were only a 23-minute TV episode. Also, the 976-EVIL line isn't really explained. It kills people through phone lines early on, but at the end it turns Hoax into a demon and he turns his house into a freezer. Again, these things on their own work in a short TV show, but in a 90-minute movie, they should all fit, and they don't.

I will say though, a few of the scenes built up some nice tension, and if it had ironed out some of the inconsistencies in the plot and tone, it could've been something really good. Take for instance the scene where Hoax kills Spike's girl by casting a spell that causes tarantulas to spawn out of her TV dinner. The actual execution was fantastic, with the tension slowly ratcheting up, until we hit the boiling point; but the motives for Hoax to do it were so flawed. If you don't know, what happens is Hoax goes out for pizza with Spike's girl while Spike plays poker, but before this, Hoax has already snooped in Spike's room and stolen her underwear that she left behind. Long story short, they hit it off, looks like things are happening, only to have the bullies show up, push him around, and find her panties in his pocket, which causes her to leave disgusted at him. Why then would he be upset with her, especially to the point that he'd cast a spell through the phone with 976-EVIL? It was this kind of unevenness that ultimately killed this one for me.

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Stephen Geoffreys plays Hoax, and the word on the street is he turned down the chance to reprise his Evil Ed role in Fright Night 2 to do it. Maybe it was a chance to work with Robert Englund (did I forget to mention he directed this? He did a pretty good job too). Perhaps even more puzzling, was the fact that about five or six years after this, Geoffreys decided to forgo his film acting career to pursue a career in gay porn. Hey, you only live once, gotta do what you love I guess.

I read a blog post a few years back-- I can't remember where-- that had this movie on a list of films that the blogger felt are best experienced on VHS. I can kind of see that in the case of something like 976-EVIL. I mean, I always prefer a movie in widescreen, and older VHS seldom has that, but beyond that, how much better quality is a $5 DVD with no extras going to be over the VHS? On the other hand, DVD availability gives people greater access, especially through something like Netflix, so there are pluses on both sides. The VHS definitely adds a nostalgia element that DVD can't compete with though.

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I had to finish with Spike's girl, who was in the hottest outfit. Another aspect of the movie that made no sense, how Spike could ditch her when she looked that hot in order to play poker, especially after he'd just had sex with her and gave no indication that that sex was anything but great. We find out later that she was expelled from a Catholic school, and her outfit is derived from her Catholic school girl uniform. She tells this to Hoax, again, making it absurd that he'd hit it off with her like this, almost get in the sack with her, then blame her when the bullies come in and expose his underwear stealing. Hell no, he'd be thinking of ways to make it right, and channel all of his anger at the bullies. Perhaps the film's most egregious offense, eliminating her and her hot outfit so early on.

As far as I know, this is out of print on DVD, but you can get it on either that or VHS used. You can also see it on Crackle if you use them, though you have to pay for their premium service to get it. I wouldn't do that. If you're a VHS nostalgist, I'd just keep my eye out for a used VHS in a bargain bin somewhere and leave it at that. This one isn't really worth it otherwise.

For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0094597/