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.

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Steel Sharks (1997)

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He we are with the second of the Stars Play 11, and I believe the only one with a DTVC Hall of Famer in it. Good old Gary Busey, and we know we always need to get some Busey up here anyway, so why not put him in now. This one also has Billy Dee Williams and Tim Abell, so it's got a pretty promising start-- on the other hand, it's a movie about subs, which usually doesn't work on the DTV level. Let's see how it went.

Steel Sharks is about a chemical weapons expert who's been kidnapped by the Iranians so they can tap into his know-how and bump up their WMD game. Billy Dee Williams, a high ranking naval officer, sends in his best SEAL team, but they run into problems and are taken captive and held on a submarine in the gulf. Luckily, sub captain Gary Busey is out there too, manning the USS Oakland. Combine that with the SEALs looking to make an escape, and it all spells bad news for the baddies.

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I liked this one on a late 90s DTV bad actioner level. It has enough going on to keep me interested, and, while it's not outstanding, it gets me to to the church on time. It's a weird combination of styles, where we have the over-the-top (Stallone style) PM Entertainment-esque shoot out, with massive amounts of ammunition unloaded and explosions aplenty; then it transitions into Die Hard on a sub, as our SEALs look to make their escape. You'd think all of that would spell a low level of Abusiveness, but that's not the case either. He makes tons of great Busey faces, and has tons of great Busey lines, as he leads his sub through the film's conflicts. Even better is watching him play off of character actor and major That Guy Larry Poindexter. Throw in Billy Dee Williams, who's great in anything; and Tim Abell who's solid as a member of the SEAL team, and you've got a good, late 90s bad actioner.

As I said above, this film is fairly Abusive. I was worried, because he's introduced around the 25-minute mark as the SEAL team embarks on its mission from his sub, and then, I figured he'd be pretty much done once they left and went on their way. Not at all. Once they get into the sticky situation, he's right there, and he has tons of funny anecdotes and goofy faces, everything you'd want from a Busey flick.

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People often ask me, "who's your favorite Star Wars character?" That's right, Lando Calrissian, played by one Mr. William December Williams. He's going to be 75 this year. 75! To put it in perspective, five days before he turns 75, I'll be 33, which was the same age he was when The Empire Strikes Back was released in 1980. Even in this he was closing in of fifty-- and fifty after it was released-- and he was still as cool as the other side of the pillow. As a fellow Aries, I should've been making a better attempt to review more of his stuff, especially since my buddies and I have watched so many of them back when I was in high school.

This movie did a great job mitigating the issues inherent in a submarine flick, especially of the DTV variety. Instead of trying to make stock footage of subs cut with actors yelling out random coordinates, other actors yelling back that they can't do it, shots of blips on radars, ending with an explosion superimposed over the stock footage, then some Star Trek-style bridge shaking; this film only went to that well a little bit, and did it with Busey anchoring the on set scenes. For the most part, instead, it was solid action with guys shooting, fighting, and setting each other on fire, which is what we come to an action film to see, not stock footage of subs.

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I wanted to take this last paragraph to spotlight Larry Poindexter. He's usually a bit player verging on a character actor, who has around 125 imdb credits in his CV. The guy is just solid, whether he's a police detective, some teen's off-beat dad, or a junior officer working under Busey like he is here. In a way, his character attempting to make sense of Busey is like us, the viewer, trying to make sense of Busey too-- he's a metaphor for our viewing experience. Here's to you Larry Poindexter, you're one of the good ones.

You can get this on DVD relatively cheap, so that's what I'd do. Not something you want to go out of your way for, but if you see it in a bargain bin or used for under $5, don't hesitate to pull the trigger. This is the Busey-helmed bad actioner you came for.

For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0117738/

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

The Big Bang (2011)

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If you hadn't already heard, Stars Play chose not to renew their agreement with Netflix to stream their films on Watch Instantly, meaning on February 29, 2012, hundreds of movies got the ax. That left me with a mad scramble to watch and capture images for no less than 11 flicks that I didn't want to miss out on so I could review them here at the DTVC. This is the first of those. I'm going to tag them with "Stars Play 11", to give them a unique distinction in the archives. So without further ado, The Big Bang.

The Big Bang stars Antonio Banderas as a PI in Vegas, called in to find a stripper for a former Russian boxer that just got out of jail. As he peels back the layers, though, things aren't what they seem-- when are they ever?--, and he finds he may have bitten off more than he can chew. But for a real hard boiled private dick, there's no case too tough to crack-- and end up with the dame in the process.

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This was pretty fun. Don't get me wrong, it had a flashback exposition style that was tedious and intrusive at first, but got better as it went; and it suffered from those moments of self-indulgence that seem to plague so many Film Noir efforts made after the mid-90s. Overall though, the pros outweighed the cons. The cast was pretty good; the story, when it was allowed to be told without breaks, worked; Banderas was perfect as the lead; and it had this unique inclusion of physics references mixed in. I also really liked the use of color, some of the shots were really striking. Definitely worth checking out.

Most of my Antonio Banderas experience comes in his Pedro Almodovar flicks, which are all fantastic, and which he's is great in all of. He was much younger in those of course (except the recent The Skin I Live In), and the roles are much more off-beat than what he did here in the States, where he was much more of a traditional leading man. What I liked about his performance in The Big Bang, was that he was able to marry both aspects, the off-beat with the more conventional, to give us a great hard boiled Noir detective in a film like this that's a little out there. Without his performance, I don't think any of this works.

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There are a whole host of other stars in The Big Bang. Snoop Dogg plays a porn director, which, is what it is-- one of those moments of self-indulgence I'd say, I mean, I don't see how him playing a porn director is any different from him performing on a Katy Perry track or appearing in a soft drink commercial. Two of my favorite That Guys, Delroy Lindo and William Fichtner, play police detectives putting the squeeze on Banderas. How do you not love those guys? Our Noir dames are Sienna Guillory and Autumn Reeser, both sufficiently hot and mysterious. Jimmi Simpson plays a young physicist prodigy working for Sam Elliott-- who we'll get into next. Finally, James Van Der Beek plays a crazy actor in a small part at the beginning. Cue the I don't wanna wait...

I don't know about you, but I've had it with this sententious, sanctimonious Sam Elliott voice-over work in bad commercials that we're constantly subjected to. It wasn't so bad with "Beef, it's what's for dinner", but now it's as if the shite he's peddling is somehow superior just because he says it's so; that instead of being a corporate shill, he's waxing poetic about some mythical blue collar way of life that's just dripping hypocrisy considering the big business source. Anyway, it was good that his character in this was totally full of shit. It was as if the character was based on the real him-- here's this pompous ass spouting off this "better than thou" BS, and in the end is revealed for who he is. Whatever happened to the legendary bouncer mentor from Road House? Maybe when "it was tails", it killed more than just his character, it killed his tact too.

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I took physics as an undergrad when I started out as an electrical engineering major. The final didn't have partial credit, and as a freshman, I was living off of partial credit, so that sunk me, and I ended up with a D+, my only grade that poor out of my entire college career. It also meant when I switched majors, I was the only anthropology major with Calc-based physics as his science gen-ed. Anyway, I guess what I'm saying is, physics isn't an entirely foreign subject to me, but not one I'm totally comfortable with. I was able to get a lot of the references though, like "Schrodinger's" painted on the side of the movie studio building, or the cafe named "Planck's Constant". As long as you're not making me write out page-long equations to find one value with no partial credit, I'm good.

I imagine this is pretty readily available on DVD, and I think it's worth checking out. Anchored by a fantastic Antonio Banderas performance, with an off-beat story, a nice supporting cast, and some sharp visuals, this is better than your usual DTV Noir. Plus you get the physics without being graded on it, which ain't bad either.

For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1307873/

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Crossworlds (1996)

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In looking to get more Rutger Hauer on the DTVC, I found this potential gem on Watch Instantly. I also saw the name Jack Black, which made it all the more intriguing. It's just a question of whether or not this is a Hauer bait-and-switch. Let's hope it's not.

Crossworlds is about a world in another dimension or something that's been ruled by an evil dictatorship, the only threat to their hegemony a small resistance group. This regime isn't satisfied by ruling this world though, no way, they want other worlds, and other dimensions. To do this, they need a staff and a crystal in order to open inter-dimensional gates-- the staff in a US museum, the crystal being held by an art student, played by Josh Charles. Now the resistance and the tyrant are fighting for Charles and his crystal, with the fate of the universe in his hands. Will he make it happen?

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I'm not sure where to go with this one. It's not bad, but we get a good chunk of set up and plot exposition so they can lay out the intricacies of this sci-fi world they've created. That's never a good thing, and the film suffered for it. When things were moving though, it was pretty enjoyable. Hauer was in it a fair amount, playing a resistance agent called out of retirement, so at least this wasn't a bait-and-switch. Though Charles's character was a little fatuous-- the classic everyday Joe somehow turns into a hero in a few days crap that's always less believable than the idea of staffs and crystals creating inter-dimensional gateways-- he made it work better than most. I also liked Stuart Wilson and Perry Anzilotti as baddies, and Andrea Roth as the resistance agent sent to get Charles and meet up with Hauer. Let's say not the best, but not horrible either.

While Hauer has more of a supporting part, as I said above, it's not an out-and-out bait-and-switch. He plays something of a cantankerous retiree, wise and no nonsense, which he's very good at. I went through the Hauer tag, which is now up to 16 films and one imdb credit where he doesn't appear (Hunt for Eagle One: Crash Point). There's really only about four or five true Hauer bait-and-switches, which is interesting, because the bait-and-switch was named for him. I don't know if I should seek out more bait-and-switches in the future so that term can have more meaning, or if I should avoid them like I usually do so we get more quality Hauer up here.

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Earlier this week I reviewed Do You Wanna Know a Secret? starring Joey "Joseph" Lawrence, and wouldn't you know, the main character in this film is named "Joe" but always has people call him "Joseph". Whoa! I wonder, if Joey "Joseph" Lawrence had seen this movie and seen how the character getting angry when people didn't call him Joseph was played for laughs, would he have still insisted on the name change? One thing people don't realize about the Ricky/Rick Schroeder situation, was that that was an accident. A buddy had radio hosts Mark and Bryan give him a wake up call on his birthday, and when he answered the phone and they asked if he was Ricky Schroeder, he responded "yeah, this is Rick", and they thought he was correcting them and they made the big deal about it. Maybe that's what happened with Joey "Joseph" Lawrence too. Did Joey McIntyre ever convert to "Joe" or "Joseph" too?

I want to go back to the idea of the average guy who's turned into a hero over a few days. It's always been silly to me, and often needlessly so. In this film, for instance, Josh Charles's character was given this crystal as his birthright from his father, and even though his father died when he was young, his mother knew all about it. How hard would it have been to have had his mom send him to the Marines so he could learn how to fight, or at the very least take a few Judo lessons. Then, when all this crap happens, instead of expecting us to believe the guy that five minutes ago was whining and freaked out actually has something legitimate to bring to the table, at least there's something in his background that makes sense. Otherwise, if we're getting an average everyday guy kind of character, keep it consistent, maybe have him whine and freak out less as the film goes on, but have the female lead, who we know can fight, continue to be the hero.

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Jack Black has a small cameo as one of Josh Charles's boozing buddies. Not as cool as his appearance on Yo Gabbah Gabbah!, but still pretty sweet. He crushes a beer can on his forehead, and yells a lot, but in that funny Jack Black sort of way. When he did this one, he was only a few years away from breaking out and becoming the big star he is today. As an aside, this is not the first Jack Black film we've done at the DTVC. He had a small part in Waterworld.

This is on Watch Instantly, so it's not much of an investment here in the States. I think in that capacity, or as a $2 thrift store pick up, this isn't bad. Decent Hauer, not too long of a running time, and some pretty good action. Not the best, but we've seen a lot worst.

For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0115985/

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Parasomnia (2008)

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When I decided to reboot the DTVC Tumblr page over the summer, one of the first things I noticed on this go around was that my Jeffrey Combs pics were getting a lot of attention. A big part of that was the reblogs I was getting from fuckyeahjeffreycombs, which was really cool and turned more people onto the main site. It also made me realize, we don't have a lot of Jeffrey Combs to go to, something we needed to fix, so the first thing I did was fill up my Instant queue with Combs flicks, this being, one and when Netflix let me know they were taking it down last week, I figured I'd make it happen. Because Tumblr wanted it: more Jeffrey Combs.

Parasomnia is about a girl with a problem that makes her sleep a lot-- not like wants to stay in bed all day like clinical depression, but actually sleeping. At the same time, the evil Patrick Kilpatrick is her neighbor at the mental hospital. He's a terror double threat: expert hypnotist and serial killer. He uses his skills to get the parasomniac to kill people, something that's made easier when some weirdo dude who makes silly faces breaks her out of the mental hospital. Now she's killing people, the kid wants to kill Kilpatrick to get her to stop, and police detective Jeffrey Combs wants to bring in the kid, because he thinks he's the killer. We got ourselves a mess here.

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I have a rule about movies: anything over 88 minutes is borrowed time. I have another rule about movies: don't let the plot get in the way of the action, especially if that plot is boring the hell out of me. This one broke the second of those two first, meaning by the time they broke the first, they were already in trouble. Seriously, the movie starts with Sean Young jumping off a building, and then grinds to a halt for the next 45 minutes, sticking us with this kid who constantly makes that face you're looking at in that picture above. What is that? It's like he's a teenager working at a grocery store whose boss just told him someone dropped a jar of mayonnaise in aisle 7, and he needed to clean it up. I want to look at that for 103 minutes? Combs was great, Kilpatrick was chilling, there were some fantastic visuals and nice kills, but overall, this was about 43 minutes of material stretched out to 1 hour 43. The ending was also really weird, way weirder than it needed to be, and way weirder than a movie with this little good will could get away with. Ultimately, this is a no go.

The ultimate flaw, was that it spent way too much time on this I don't know what between the sleeping girl who sometimes woke up and the kid. And, of course, the kid making that face. Again, what is that? The worst part was, when the girl was awake, she was either developmentally delayed, intelligent, completely self-unaware, or extremely innovative, depending on the convenience of the writing. There was no consistency in her character. One moment she's wiping ice cream all over her face, the next she's stealing a cheerleader's outfit out of another apartment. And then, through it all, we have that kid's face, which isn't helping anything. It's just another case of a movie romanticizing a relationship with a woman that isn't a complete person, and it comes off as trite as all the other ones. Why are film makers so afraid of women? And why do they need to spend 45 minutes of our time working out these issues?

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What this needed desperately was a higher Combs quotient. The whole movie should've been him. Get rid of the kid, have Combs have the affair with the sleeping girl. He would've brought more to the table than just that face. He could've made it creepier-- something that works in a horror movie, no?--, yet maybe more endearing too. Instead he was a police detective, and while he was great, he didn't have that many scenes until we hit the last 30 minutes or so. Still, any Combs is better than no Combs, and he helped make this film bearable.

Another person who made this bearable was Patrick Kilpatrick as the baddie. Absolutely frightening presence, exactly what you'd want in a horror flick. Unfortunately, the movie spends too much time setting things up, keeping Kilpatrick's character chained up in a mental ward. That's the problem, more than half the movie is set up. I get the issue that a low budget flick might not have the cash to have Combs and Kilpatrick on set for that many shooting days, so they can't be in the movie that much, but you mitigate that by not making so much movie. There are very few films that can't be told in 88 minutes or less, and even fewer that can get away with nothing happening for good chunks while their talent sits on the bench.

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Even the imagery at the end of the film was hurt by the film's propensity to drag things out. I'm seeing shots cut in here and there of some really striking stuff, only to have the kid, with that look on his face, almost getting away, then stupidly looking into Kilpatrick's eyes so he can be hypnotized again, then coming out of it, then repeating the process. It was like the people making the movie were condemned to death going in; that when the movie was done so were they, so they were afraid to finish it. That's the only explanation for why this was dragged out so long. Not to mention that weird weird weird postscript. That was so weird and unnecessary. Just end the misery.

Funny thing is, I saw a review for this on Dread Central, and the guy enjoyed it, so go figure. For me, they spent too much time on a trite relationship with the kid who made that face and the sleeping girl, and by the time they kicked into any kind of horror goodness, it was too late, and even then, they had a tendency to drag out things that could've been done quickly. Overall, it didn't work for me.

For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0922547/

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Trap (2010)

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A little while back director Jason Horton sent me a screener for his new film Monsters in the Woods, and after I reviewed that, he asked me if I'd take a look at the one he did before it called Trap. I had to get it on Amazon VOD, because, as I found out later from his blog My Life as a Low Budget Moviemaker (link is to his posts on Trap), the distributor he thought he had going in backed out. It's a very interesting backstory, and worth checking out if you get a chance.

Trap is about two men, hired by a mysterious employer to keep an eye on a girl that's been kidnapped and held for ransom. It's an already tense situation that's only made more so by the decision of one them to go on a fast, which is making him very crabby. As days go by, and no ransom money is forthcoming, it's looking increasingly like they may have to off the girl, which is an issue for the other guy, because he's falling in love with her. When she devises a plan to get the money from her dad, it's a last desperate attempt to salvage something from what looks like a lost cause. But, can they trust her?

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This one worked better for me than Monsters in the Woods. Though it was running in place for a 20 minute chunk near the middle, an area where things were a little too repetitive, it recovers and hits its stride, finishing really well (I did have a major issue with the end though, and I'll discuss that in the second to last paragraph to avoid spoiling it for anyone). It had a lot of really great elements that you'd want from a suspenseful Noir-ish flick: a great main character, solid and believable plot twists, and a lead female that's equal parts sexy, damsel in distress, and manipulative. This is the kind of film that's easy to overdo, and I've seen enough that make that mistake, so it's refreshing to watch one that doesn't add too much, and still manages to be complicated and nuanced.

I have to thank Jason for having me check this one out, especially since Monsters in the Woods didn't work for me, and he could've easily taken that personally and written me off. Had that happened, I probably wouldn't have seen Trap, which would've been too bad. The one thing I can say about both this and Monsters is that they both feel genuine. These aren't vanity projects, nothing's done haphazardly or seemingly as an afterthought, and that comes through. I've seen so many low budget flicks that are either a film maker just doing it for fun, or a distribution house just pumping out the cheapest, fastest whatever that can turn the biggest profit, and that kind of attitude permeates everything, from the acting to the crew, and effects the overall quality. I like seeing something like this, especially with a small cast and only a few locations, where they may have to make sacrifices due to budgetary constraints, but they make up for them by doing the best job they can, and taking what they do seriously.

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In the Monsters review I mentioned Ashton Blanchard as one of the standouts for me, even though she only a had a small part. She had a much bigger part here, and was even better with it. One could make the argument that she spent most of the film bound and gagged, so it's not like she did a lot of acting in those scenes, but I think that meant she had to make that much more out of the scenes where she wasn't, and she did that. Towards the end when she wasn't tied up, she manages to be coquettish and seductive, despite her hair being a mess, and having red marks on her face from the gag that make her look like she had trouble drinking Kool-Aid. Her performance was the lynch pin on which the film was held, and while it was the direction and cinematography that made that work in the early going when we just had shots of her tied up on the bed, later, when she needed to take over, she did it in a way that picked up perfectly from what had been built earlier.

That's not to take away anything from the other performances in the film, because they were solid too. Alan Perada played what was ultimately the main character. What I didn't like about his character was that early on, the story focused more on his partner, and things would've felt more consistent if they'd focused more on him. Once his character transitions near the 45-minute mark, it worked better for me, though he was able to make both ends of his character come off, the mysterious, perhaps sinister silent type, and then the concerned, love-struck, caring criminal. Alonzo F. Jones plays Perada's partner in crime, and while his character is kind of inconsistent too, it makes more sense with who he's supposed to be. And like Perada, he's good at playing both ends of the spectrum, and the transitions are believable. Finally, in the Monsters review I also praised Annemarie Pazmino for her small part as the make-up artist, and while she only has a small part in this too, it was good again. She just has a real natural quality to her acting, that I even noticed in a joke behind the scenes video of Trap that Jason posted on his blog.

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Bondage and kidnapping fantasies have been in the news recently, with the story of a Portland, OR couple that were arrested and charged with disturbing the peace after their Valentine's Day role playing crossed paths with some concerned citizens that were afraid the girl, whom they saw bound and gagged and naked in the back seat of the couple's car, might be the victim of a potential serial killer or something. It brings up an intriguing duality in this kind of thing that I think Jason plays with really well in Trap. On the one hand, there is a kinky element, a sexiness to bondage that the film isn't afraid to cultivate; but on the other, there's also a disturbing violence against women aspect that's obviously a part of a scenario like the one in Trap, when things aren't consensual, and the movie never let's us forget that either-- not to mention a statutory rape angle to the sexuality that I found jarring. That's something a movie like this should do, muddy the waters, make us go through a range of emotions and not let us get too comfortable.

Before I get into my issue with the ending, I want to bring up an issue I had with the costumes or outfits, at least for this one scene. We have this woman in a short sun dress and flip-flops, running around with a sawed-off shotgun as if she's done this kind of thing before, even though a woman that's done this kind of thing before would've worn something more appropriate. It looked so out of place, it had the feel of a low budget flick that can't afford a costume designer, and just has people show up in whatever and shoots the scene anyway. In the credits I saw that they did have a costume designer though, a woman named Maxi Priest (not the singer), so who knows. It was one of the few areas where the movie betrayed itself though.

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SPOILER ALERT!!! SPOILER ALERT!!!
I wanted to discuss an aspect of the ending, but wanted to make sure that people who wanted to see the film would have sufficient warning to avoid this paragraph so it wouldn't ruin things for them. Consider yourself warned, read on at your own risk. My issue was that Ashton's character is killed by Jones near the end. Part of it felt mean spirited, but mostly it was the fact that we'd spent the whole film watching this girl tied up, gagged, blindfolded, forced to eat bad food, hit by Jones, then finally seducing Perada in an attempt to escape alive. She goes through all of this, and we watch her go through all of this, only to get killed off? It felt like my investment wasn't paid back, if that makes sense. I get the idea of plot twists and trying to surprise the viewer, but like the time the Maine state revenue service sent me an $8000 bill in back taxes for two years I lived in New Hampshire, not all surprises are good ones.
END SPOILER ALERT!!!! END SPOILER ALERT!!!!

This is available on VOD, digital download, and DVD through Amazon. I'm glad I had the chance to watch it, and I think it's worth checking out. If you're into Noir-ish flicks, especially ones made on a smaller scale with fewer characters and fewer sets, driven by the right mix of tension, sexuality, and violence, you'll enjoy it. Thanks again to Jason Horton for sending me the screener to Monsters in the Woods, and having me check this one out too.

For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1494828/

Monday, February 20, 2012

Do You Wanna Know a Secret? (2001)

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You may or may not have known that my Patriots lost in the Super Bowl this year. Yes, it hurt immensely. You also may or may not have known that prior to the game, I made a friendly wager with Fred Young, aka Fred the Wolf, proprietor of the great site Full Moon Reviews, and fan of the New York Football Giants. The bet: the fan of the winning team gets to pick a movie for the loser to review, and Fred gave me this one, a low-budget slasher flick with Teen Star Chad Allen and Joey "Joseph" Lawrence. Let the pain commence.

Do You Wanna Know a Secret? is about a group of affluent kids who attend a small Connecticut liberal arts college, and go to Florida for Spring Break to party it up. Haunting one of the girls in the group is the grisly murder of her boyfriend however many years before, and when a kid that's giving her a hard time at a rave is murdered, FBI detective Jeff Conaway thinks there's a connection. Then when the rest of her friends are offed, he realized he's probably right, it's just a matter of whether he can put things together in time to save at least a couple of them.

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Whoa! If this didn't have like an hour of dead space to start us off, it could've been a lot of fun; but it did, and it wasted that space in a most annoying way. This group of friends have this thing where they like to sneak up on and startle each other. That's what the bulk of the first hour is, the idea that someone might die, but instead it's not the killer, just another friend trying to freak out the other. Once or twice is cool, but ten times, you've more than spent that nickel. That's kind of too bad, because this could've been a lot of fun, especially with Teen Star Chad Allen, Joey "Joseph" Lawrence, Jeff Conaway, and veteran character actor Jack McGee (trying and failing to affect a Southern accent). The kills, when they were there, were fun too in a bad-teen-slasher kind of way. The problem is, you can't create a pile of one-dimensional bad slasher film stereotypes, then expect us to enjoy watching them startle each other for an hour.

I loved seeing Teen Star Chad Allen here. You might be wondering why I'm adding the "Teen Star" to his name. Long story short, I bumped into a buddy at the mall about 15 years ago, we sat in the food court to catch up, and somehow our conversation devolved into us pointing people out and saying who they looked like, and I saw someone who looked like Chad Allen. For some reason, I needed to call him "Teen Star Chad Allen", and the name has stuck. I get so few opportunities to use it, so I'm going for it here. Also, if you're wondering, my pointing out the Teen Star Chad Allen look-a-like did lead to my buddy and I discussing the TV movie Camp Cucamonga. (Look that movie up and see how many big names are in it. Amazing flick.)

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Whoa! Joey "Joseph" Lawrence is in this as the girlfriend's new boyfriend. I love that he went the Joseph route, a la Rick Schroeder. People that are new to this blog may not realize that when I started the DTVC, back in 2007, I went by the name "Matty", meaning I get what Lawrence is going through here. After a few years, I just felt like I needed to shake that teen blogger image, so I went back and changed everything to "Matthew", just to give things a more mature feel. People don't realize that I also had a pop song out in the mid 90s, and used to appear regularly in Tiger Beat magazine. Alas, I've since realized that I can't escape my boyish good looks, even in my early 30s, so I've decided to go back and embrace my Matty past. Whoa!

The Final Girl was played by someone who was exceedingly Reese Witherspoon-esque. I mean, I don't know if she could've been more Reese Witherspoon-y if she'd been caught in a love triangle between Teen Star Chad Allen and Joey "Joseph" Lawrence, and approached the whole thing with an "awe shucks, I'm just a down-to-Earth down-home girl that just wants to go to the fair and eat some funnel cake, and instead I got these two dreamy hunks fighting over me!" Unfortunately, our Final Girl fell short of the precociousness that made Witherspoon Witherspoon, and thus makes her only Witherspoon-ish. A Romantic Comedy/Teen Slasher flick starring Teen Star Chad Allen, Joey "Joseph" Lawrence, and a Reese Witherspoon-ian lead actress would've been fantastic. Throw in Jaleel White, Ben Savage, and Melissa Joan Hart, and this could be the best thing ever.

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Unfortunately, one actor that wouldn't make it into this remake I'm proposing is the late Jeff Conaway. In '01 he was probably having a tough time, probably fighting his demons and his addictions, which were all well documented. That's probably why he wasn't in the movie more-- and maybe why so much of the first hour was so boring, because Conaway was absent throughout that-- which is too bad, because he was pretty sweet as the hard boiled detective trying to crack this old case that's haunted him for years. I love Conaway, and I love seeing him in anything, so he was a welcomed addition here. Rest in peace Jeff Conaway, you were one of the good ones.

This is currently available on Watch Instantly. I don't know, it depends on how much 90s nostalgia you have a hankering for, because this is a bit of a painfest. I could only amuse myself so much with a Whoa! every time Joey "Joseph" Lawrence spoke, before I was bored to tears in that action-less first hour or so. Could've been fun, seems like it should be fun, but isn't fun. Go dig up Camp Cucamonga if it's nostalgia you're after. As for me and my future betting, well, my Boston teams aren't looking so hot right now, so I may put that on the shelf.

For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0267440/

Friday, February 17, 2012

Bunraku (2010)

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We finish our big screen to DTV week with Bunraku, starring Josh Hartnett, Woody Harrelson, Demi Moore, and Ron Perlman. This is one that popped up on Watch Instantly recently, and I was instantly intrigued (no pun intended). I didn't know much about it, hadn't really seen much on it, but the running time, just over two hours, gave me a little pause. Seldom do the terms "DTV" and "two-hour running time" pair well. Maybe this will be an exception.

Bunraku takes place in the future, after a nuclear war, where the world is trying to rebuild. Guns are outlawed, so the best swordsmen rule the day, the strongest among them is a mysterious woodcutter (Ron Perlman), who has recruited nine other great warriors to cement his power and create a police state, the strongest one east of the Atlantic. Enter two mysterious men: Josh Hartnett, a cowboy in a world without guns; and Yoshi, a samurai without a sword. Joined together by a barman (Woody Harrelson), whose old flame (Demi Moore) is now shacking up with the woodcutter, they now seek to bring down the woodcutter and his reign of tyranny. Can they defy the odds and make it happen?

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This movie was amazing. It had everything, great martial arts, cool visuals, cool characters, and this mix of influences from all over the place: Westerns, Film Noir, Nikkatsu Noir, samurai films, Japanese theater, Weimar Republic Germany, comic books, and video games. So often, I watch movies and say "why can't they be like this?" or "why can't they just do that?", and this finally did it. Josh Hartnett was surprisingly solid as one of the heroic leads, Harrelson and Perlman were as good as you'd expect in their roles, and everyone else seemed to get what this was about too and performed accordingly. Elements like the 1920s musical aesthetic blended in and enhanced the atmosphere, as opposed to standing out and being the kind of thing the movie patted itself on the back for-- which is usually what brings a film like this down, and fortunately didn't here. For me, all of this worked, and I really enjoyed it.

Woody Harrelson has always been an interesting case in Hollywood. Even when he broke out in the early 90s after his run on Cheers, his roles ran the gamut from White Men Can't Jump to Indecent Proposal to Natural Born Killers, and that was something that didn't change like you'd expect after he became one of the bigger leading men in Hollywood, which I've always liked about him. My favorite film of his recently was The Messenger, a part that earned him his second Oscar nomination. Here he plays a wise, off-beat mentor character, and does it as well as he does everything else. If you're a Harrelson fan like I am, you won't be disappointed.

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His Indecent Proposal co-star, Demi Moore, has a much smaller part as Ron Perlman's lover. It's interesting when you think of Indecent Proposal, because that one was about two young Hollywood up-and-comers starring opposite a veteran like Robert Redford; now the two up-and-comers are the veterans, and in some ways, beyond veteran-dom. Neither quite made that Redford level, which is probably more a testament to him than it is a knock on them. Though it looks like her days as the 8-figure leading lady are past her, she isn't totally relegated to DTV-dom either, with the most recent film she was in, the ensemble piece Margin Call, nominated for an Oscar for best original screenplay.

Among the other co-stars, there's Ron Perlman, who I mentioned above. He's rocking some gray dreadlocks, as if he's the older guy that works at the local record store (tell me, doesn't every decent sized town in America have that guy working at their local record store?). He's great though as the head baddie, equal parts sinister and tired warrior. His second in command is played by Kevin McKidd, who I remember as Tommy from Trainspotting, but imdb also lists as starring in Grey's Anatomy. I don't know if he's a trained martial artist, or if they made heavy use of stunt doubles, but either way, he was an equally great baddie, a combination of swordsman and Gestapo head. Then we had Gackt, a Japanese pop singer, who played Yoshi. He looked kind of like Michael Jackson in his Dangerous days, only with a bigger nose. Again, like McKidd, I don't know what kind of martial artist he is in real life, but whether it was a stunt double or him, he was very believable as the hero. Finally, his uncle is played by Shun Sugata. He's been in things like Ichi the Killer and Tokyo Gore Police, so I'm sure for some of our readers he'd be more recognizable than he would for others.

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Finally, I can't complete this review without discussing Josh Hartnett. For me he was a revelation. If you'd said ahead of time "dude, Bunraku has Josh Hartnett as a renegade cowboy type that's really good at martial arts and has a mustache", I'd be skeptical, and I would've been wrong. It's like he got everything the people making this film envisioned for his role, and he made it all happen. He's got that Western vibe, but in a very Jo Shishido Nikkatsu Noir-esque kind of way-- which makes sense, because Nikkatsu Noir flicks borrowed a lot from American Westerns, but still, for him to pull it off isn't easy when you're not Jo Shishido. I've liked Josh Hartnett in a lot of other films I've seen him in, like The Virgin Suicides, 40 Days and 40 Nights, and, most recently, the indie flick August, which also starred David Bowie. I guess I shouldn't have been surprised then that he nailed this one out of the park.

This whole film is nailed out of the park actually (for my international readers that aren't familiar with baseball, "nailed out of the park" is a slang term for hitting a home run), everything I could've wanted out of a film that drew from so many places and made it all work so well. And that two hour running time? Forgot all about it. If you haven't seen this yet I suggest you do, especially my Americans readers that can get this on Watch Instantly.

For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1181795/

Thursday, February 16, 2012

The New Daughter (2009)

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We continue our big screen stars to DTV week with Kevin Costner in The New Daughter. You may remember, back when I did box office bomb posts, that we looked at Waterworld, so this isn't Costner's first trip at the DTVC rodeo. When I had in mind to do this week of big screen stars in DTV flicks, I was looking for a fourth film, and saw this one reviewed at Deadly Dolls House of Horror Nonsense. It was obvious that I as the Direct to Video Connoisseur hadn't been doing his due diligence, because this bad boy had totally slipped past my radar. I think I'm losing my edge.

The New Daughter has Costner as a writer/father that moves his daughter and son to a remote South Carolina town. At first he thinks his daughter's (played by Ivana Baquero from Pan's Labyrinth) rebellious behavior is a mix of usual teen angst and the stress of the move-- which was prompted by his wife and the kids' mother running off with some dude-- but when that behavior becomes downright creepy, he starts to think the Native American burial mound on the property might be to blame. Will he figure things out in time to save his daughter?

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As a horror flick, you've seen this numerous times before. From the twenty minute mark, when Costner's at the local grocery store and the people behind the counter do the ol' "oh, you moved there?..." "Yeah, why?" "Oh, no reason... just town gossip... nothing really..." "Uh-huh.", you know this thing is going right down the same secluded country road you've been on before. The thing that was interesting though, was the sense I got that had this been a family drama, maybe a notch above the Lifetime variety, but with all the demon/horror crap taken out of it, you'd have something of a really high quality. Costner and Baquero have a great chemistry, and it would've been nicer to see them work through normal real life conflicts. For instance, there's a scene where Costner is typing terms like "crazy teen daughter" and "horrible parent" into a search engine, desperate for help in dealing with Baquero. It would've been funny and endearing if we didn't already know his daughter is possessed by a demon, if it was just a single dad trying to be the best parent he can yet totally lost at sea. But this was intended to be a horror film, not a family drama, and on that score, it was pretty pedestrian.

All right Mr. Costner, we have your rap sheet in front of us. Won two Oscars, though neither for acting; known for some of the biggest films of the last 25 years or so-- and some of the biggest busts; at one point was pulling in $15 million a picture. As recently as a year before this, he was the lead in Swing Vote, and though that came in $5 million short of making it's budget back, it did pretty good for a movie about one guy deciding the Presidential election, the kind of thing that shouldn't have made it past the screenwriter's computer, let alone have a $20 million-plus film production made from it. Anyway, I guess what I'm saying is, why on Earth would he have chosen this project? Was he so appalled by Swing Vote that he needed something, anything, with some blood in it? I'm telling you, he would've knocked that family drama I described above out of the park. I'm glad after this he went to the ensemble indie flick The Company Men. Great Mass accent. Hopefully he'll do more of those and less of these.

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Here's a message to all horror directors out there: stay away from the Psycho shower scene. I don't care if you're just paying homage to it by showing us a drain like we got here, leave it alone. In hockey there's an unwritten rule: people don't wear the number 99. Gretzky wore 99, he was the greatest of all time, so everyone else leaves it alone out of respect for what he did for the game. The same thing should be done with copping any element of the Psycho shower scene in horror films. Just lay off it, you're not doing yourself any favors.

We had a solid supporting cast in this one, including Ivana Baquero, whom I mentioned above. It was actually too bad she had to go through the whole being possessed thing, because she would've made a great, nuanced teen daughter in the family drama. In the scenes when she wasn't possessed early on, she and Costner played off each other great. We also had Samantha Mathis as a teacher at the local school who befriends Costner. She would've also been great as Costner's new love interest as he finally moves on after his wife dumped him, had they gone with the family drama. Then there was the woefully underused Noah Taylor as the professor that was an expert in burial mounds. Seriously, his character was an after thought, he did nothing to contribute, which is a waste of Taylor. Finally, Erik Palladino has a few scenes as the local sheriff. Gotta love Erik Palladino. I remember in the late 90s when he had long hair and worked as a VJ for MTV, holding it down at the Beach House-- does MTV still do the summer Beach House? Probably not, considering they don't show videos anymore.

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It's strictly by coincidence that I'm doing a Kevin Costner flick in this the week after Whitney Houston passed away, but I figured I'd be remiss if I didn't devote a paragraph to her. Costner and her will always be linked for The Bodyguard, which might have been a cheesefest, but it was a cheesefest that grossed over $400 million worldwide, and her song "I Will Always Love You" went platinum four times and spent over a year at number one on the Hot 100 list. I don't think anyone could've thought in 1992 that just twenty years later it would take Houston's tragic and sudden death to bring back to the forefront how immensely successful and how uniquely talented a singer she was. It's a testament to how the entertainment industry works: when you make them money they love you, but the moment you're not, they cut you adrift with the quickness, and no one has anything nice to say about you until you're dead.

On that happy note, let's wrap this bad boy up. This one did nothing for me except instill in me the belief that this entire cast should be brought back to make a family drama, not quite Ozu level, but a notch above Lifetime quality. As a horror film, I've seen this before, and didn't need to see it again.

For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0951335/

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

The Double (2011)

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In the second film of our big screen stars go DTV week, we look at The Double starring former box office heavy hitter Richard Gere. Two things about this post before we start. First and foremost, this is a suspense/spy yarn filled with plot twists, and while I'll try my best to avoid giving too much away, even by not talking about something I'll kind of be talking about it, if you know what I mean. To be on the safe side, if you're planning on watching this, and want to go in cold, I'd come back to this review after seeing it. The other is more of a personal side note. I have this friend that is a very bad speller. One time, I showed him something I wrote, and he meant to scribble "Double Barrel" on it, which was our-speak for two middle fingers. Problem is, he spelled "double" "dubble", and from that point, I've been saying "dah-bubble" whenever I see the word "double", initially in mocking him, but now as a habit. That means this title has been somewhat troubling for me-- er rather, "trah-bubbling".

The Double has Richard Gere as a retired CIA company man that did a lot of espionage stuff during the Cold War. There was this one Russian spy Cassius that he could never catch though. Well, it looks like ol' Cassius is back after a fifteen-year hiatus, so the CIA calls Gere out of retirement and has him work with rookie FBI agent Topher Grace, who just happened to write his MA thesis on Cassius. Will they be able to bring down this greatest of all spies? And more importantly, is everyone who they seem to be?-- because they almost never are in spy movies.

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Part of me feels like this one went one plot twist too many, and that made it a little too silly; but another part of me feels like that last plot twist was kind of necessary. It was the one you most expected, and the laziest one they could've gone for, so in that sense, it does undermine whatever this had going on for it. And that's the other question, exactly what does this have going on for it? After Gere and a few other solid supporting performances, like Martin Sheen's and Tamer Hassan's, this is really just your run-of-the-mill spy yarn, the kind of thing that thinks it's more sophisticated than it is. For me, it was okay, but not great.

Let's take a look at Mr. Gere's rap sheet. Starred in some of the most iconic films of the last 30-35 years, including American Gigolo, An Officer and a Gentleman, Pretty Woman, and 2002's best picture winning Chicago; in the 90s, had the hottest woman in the game wearing his chain in supermodel Cindy Crawford; and for Unfaithful and The Mothman Prophecies, made $15 million each. One thing I noticed right away here, is that he's still got it. First scene, he's at a little league game talking to one of the mothers, and all the game is still there, he's still very much leading man he was back then. I don't know that this movie is more a blip than a trend for him though, because he is over 60, and leading roles with decent pay might be more readily available in Abu Dhabi funded DTV flicks shot in Michigan, especially ones with more action like this one. He's also probably reached a point where his market is mostly people who don't make it out to the movies anymore, but that means his stuff from the 90s and 2000s still burns up TNT's New Classics and whatnot, so it's not like there isn't money to be made by starring him in something like this that's DTV or made for TV.

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Gere's co-star was Topher Grace, whom we know better from That 70s Show. For a while it seemed like Ashton Kutcher was the most successful from that cast, but it looks now as if Mila Kunis is surging past him. Grace has always been third behind those two, I think not quite leading man material, but solid enough an actor that he should still be getting work. I need to see Take Me Home Tonight, but I thought he was pretty decent in Predators. Here he was leaning on his youthful appearance to play the rookie to Gere's seasoned veteran, which, again, makes the final plot twist either too much to swallow, or make a lot of sense. I have a feeling Grace is going to be one of those boomerang guys that fluctuates between the big screen and DTV, but we'll see, he may just go back to TV like Kutcher did if the roles aren't there.

Other co-stars include Sheen and Hassan-- who I already mentioned above. Neither are in it much, Sheen playing the head of the CIA, and Hassan playing the baddie. They both give this more of a DTV feel though, because we've seen the two of them here at the DTVC before. We also had Castle's Stana Katic as a Russian prostitute interrogated by Gere somewhat violently (I wonder, though, if that was a career highlight for her, having Richard Gere pinning her to the ground with a gun to her head and yelling at her-- it would be for me) and Christopher Marquette as Grace's partner at the FBI offices. Finally, I had to mention Odette Yustman (now Annable), who plays Grace's wife. You might remember her from The Unborn-- or rather, her butt from The Unborn. The movie was sold primarily on a shot of her from behind looking at herself in the mirror in her underwear. Here you are fellas, taking your lady to the movies, what are you going to see? There's a poster for The Unborn, you point to it. "Oh honey, I heard this one was really good!" "Which one? Oh, that... no, we're not seeing that." "What, because... oh, I didn't even notice that until you pointed it out... no, no, it's got Gary Oldman in it, that's why I want to see it... come on, you think I want to see a flick just because it's got a hot babe in her underwear in the poster?" "Uh-huh."

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This movie was shot in Michigan, but takes place in Washington, D.C. Just in case we don't believe them, they pad the film out with shots of DC landmarks. Though I've never been to Michigan, I have had two occasions to visit the nation's capital. Few cool things I remembered: great Ethiopian food, a great Chinatown, and a great city to do the tourist thing in. Also, they have a nice subway system. Another thing I remembered though: some of the worst traffic ever. We were coming back from Tyson's Corner, and being Mainers, we didn't think about the time-- actually, being from near Boston, we still didn't think of the time, because Boston never gets as bad for rush hour as what we saw there-- and found ourselves smack in the evening commute.

All right, I've padded this review out enough, time to wrap it up. While there's the Richard Gere novelty to this, it's still pretty run-of-the-mill. You've seen this before, you've seen all the plot twists and double-crosses before, the question is, do you like this kind of thing? If so, check The Double out on Watch Instantly while you can, or rent it on DVD.

For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1646980/

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Trespass (2011)

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We start this week of big screen stars in DTV flicks with Trespass, a Joel Schumacher directed suspense thriller starring Nicolas Cage and Nicole Kidman. I first got wind of this one when our buddy Simon at Explosive Action sent me an e-mail with a link to an article about it being Direct to Video-- which isn't entirely true, it had a very, very short theatrical run followed by a quick turn around onto video, but close enough. The article also discussed if this meant the beginning of the end for Cage and Kidman as far as carrying a film in the modern movie market. I think this is more of a blip, at least for Cage, but we'll see.

Trespass has Cage as a very wealthy diamond dealer who lives in a very nice house with his wife, Nicole Kidman, and teenage daughter. Their world is turned upside-down when a group of thugs break in and hold the family hostage, looking for millions of dollars in diamonds they think he has. Cage is a little wilier than they expect though, and things begin to unravel as loyalties are tested and nerves are wracked. Who will get the upper hand in this deadly game of cat and mouse?

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Though this isn't a great movie, the quality isn't why this wasn't given more theatrical support. Maybe it had more to do with Schumacher as director than anything, and I'll get to that in a bit, but this doesn't look much worse than a lot of the mediocre paint-by-numbers thrillers we see populating big screens in this country. Yes, there are too many double crosses and twists, but isn't that what happens in every suspense yarn? My biggest issue with it was that they had great talents in Cage, Kidman, and one of my new favorites, Ben Mendelsohn, but they leaned too heavily on Cam Gigandet, who, for my money, is just the heel in a teen movie. You want to put him in Twilight, fine; but you put him in with these actors, and give him a character with too much nuance, it's a little beyond his pay grade, and as a result, the end product suffers. Do I want a teen movie heel mean mugging it and acting tough with Ben Mendelsohn? Not after I've seen Mendelsohn in Animal Kingdom I don't. Still, with that aside, this was good enough to get a big theatrical release, it was just one those ones that slipped through the cracks and ended up DTV.

This isn't the first time we've seen Mr. Cage here at the DTVC. Back when I did box office bomb posts, we looked at Bangkok Dangerous. Then, when we did our series of bad comic book movies, I reviewed Ghost Rider. Finally, when I did Friday wild card posts, I looked at Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call-- New Orleans. (Man, I used to run a lot of gimmicks here, huh?) I'm sure in those other posts I've mentioned this, but it bears repeating, Cage's movie rap sheet is pretty prodigious. Oscar for Leaving Las Vegas-- one of my top 10 of the 90s--, multiple nine-figure grossing flicks, and at one time the distinction of being one of the highest paid actors in Hollywood. If you look at his recent flicks, while there's definitely a drop at the gate, I don't know that he's slipping into any kind of DTV-dom anytime soon. Another thing you can look at is his propensity to mix in projects like this that won't make a lot of money. It's as if he does his Family Man and Knowing so he can afford to make his Bad Lieutenant and Trespass.

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Nicole Kidman has a similar rap sheet. Also an Oscar winner, and up until about 2008's Australia she commanded about $15 million per picture, making her one of Hollywood's most expensive leading ladies. That year's important, because in 2007 she turned 40, and we all know Hollywood doesn't like its leading ladies north of 40. It seems then, based on her imdb bio, that she's playing the lead in films like this and Rabbit Hole-- for which she was nominated again for an Oscar, and one of my favorites of 2010--, then taking supporting parts in bigger grossing pics like the Billy Madison-style Adam Sandler romp Just Go with It. Hollywood's loss is our gain though, because she was great here, looking as stunning as ever, and showing that she hasn't lost her ability to carry a film as one of its leads.

Joel Schumacher has been much vituperated against for a lot of his big budget films, especially Batman and Robin (another that we did during our comic book series) and everything after it. It's after the Jim Carey silly-fest 23 though that he appears to split from Hollywood and start out on his own, working with more indie outfits with smaller budgets. If you look at his imdb bio, he actually discusses the problems with working in the current big Hollywood climate where all the major studios are owned by massive corporate conglomerates-- a problem that we movie bloggers know all too well with the power those massive conglomerates wielded in trying to get SOPA passed. I think that's what we're looking at here then, Schumacher making a film that he expects will make its money in DVD sales and video rentals, because he doesn't want to go through the traditional channels and deal with his work being controlled by those big conglomerates. That's a very important distinction from the usual mindset that DTV means someone's career is on the decline, and something that might be a benefit to us in the DTV world in the future, as more film makers and actors look to work outside the massive corporatization of Hollywood.

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I can't wrap this post without mentioning Ben Mendelsohn. He was absolutely chilling in Animal Kingdom, every scene he was in was just dripping with menace. I was a little disappointed here, not with him, but with the way his character was written, because it's kind of all over the place, and betrays a lot of what he builds up early on. I'm sure my Aussie readers are much more familiar with him than I am, but based on what I've seen, I'm a big fan. There's a couple other people I want to mention too. Dash Mihok play a member of the gang, and he's great. Just a one-note tough with a sadistic streak, but he plays it well. The other is Jordana Spiro, who plays Mendelsohn's drugged out girlfriend. You probably remember her from the TBS sitcom My Boys, but I'll always remember her from the MTV late night soap Undressed. Remember that show? Why don't they make TV like that anymore?

Anyway, I better wrap it up, because this post has been long enough. If you're looking for the demise of Cage and Kidman into the depths of DVD-dom, you won't find it here. On the other hand, you won't find anything all that remarkable beyond some solid performances from Cage, Kidman, and Mendelsohn. This is pretty paint-by-numbers, and while it's not worse than a lot of the stuff that in theaters now, it's also not much better either. If you're curious though, in the States it's currently available on Watch Instantly.

For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1674784/

Friday, February 10, 2012

Double Target (1987)

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When I said we were going to get more Miles O'Keeffe on this blog, I wasn't kidding (I also knew because I got this one at the same time I got Phantom Raiders, so that helped). The Miles O'Keeffe Philippine 'Namploitation flick isn't something we've hit that much to this point, so it's been good to check a couple out. We're working toward finally being able to say our blog has Miles O'Keeffe, but at this point, I'd say we're still at Feet O'Keeffe, maybe Yards O'Keeffe.

Double Target has Miles as Robert Ross (no, not Bob Ross the TV painter), a Vietnam vet who goes back to the country to get the son he sired with a woman there. He's met by Bo Svenson and his Soviet terrorist cell working out of Vietnam, and they try to kill him. That's when old war buddy Mike Monty calls him in to help out in weasel senator Donald Pleasence's mission to attack the terrorist cell. If Miles succeeds, he gets his son. If he doesn't, Pleasence leaves him to rot in Vietnam. Miles can't let that happen, he needs to get his son, and return to base to make Donald eat his inhaler and shove his briefcase up his ass.

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This is pretty fantastic. Take everything you think of with a Bruno Mattei directed 'Namploitation flick starring Reb Brown, only replace Reb Brown with Miles O'Keeffe, and that's how awesome this is. Huts exploding everywhere. Plot devices that make no sense but we love them anyway. Great one-liners from Miles, and great lines that aren't one-liners but sound great with his Tennessee accent. This is a little long at 102 minutes, but I think the fun factor allows it to transcend that. Easily one of my favorite Miles flicks.

Oh Miles, let me count the ways. To quote Ben Stiller impersonating Bruce Springsteen while interviewing Diddy (then Puff Daddy) for MTV, "why are you so awesome?" He has this one scene early on where one of Svenson's cronies punches him in the face, and he's like "you son of a bitch" and starts doing all kinds of karate on the guy. We cut to some other people talking, then back to him running the halls of this building, taking out dudes coming out of every doorway. And it just gets better, with him then running through an open air market in a foot chase. With each film we review on here, I feel like a bigger heel for not having Miles O'Keeffe on here more earlier. It'll be fun to make up for lost time though.

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Do you like you some exploding huts? Well this one has them. In one scene, Miles and his buddy notice that the local village has been taken hostage by Svenson and his men. So what is Miles's brilliant plan to save them? Blow up every hut, that's what. In the interests of verisimilitude, aren't people technically supposed to be living in those huts, i.e. the villagers? I mean, is it really a rescue if Miles levels their village with a bazooka? I guess it doesn't really matter, does it? Good guys, bad guys, if they're blowing up huts, we're good with it. The extras are just Filipinos that'll collect their fee and go back to their shantytown outside of Manilla, they don't really live in the huts.

Vincent Dawn directs this. I was thinking maybe I should go with an Italian name for the times I review Mattei flicks where he uses an alias. My name in Italian would be Matteo Pero. Maybe I should just go Mattei Pero. I love that he calls himself Vincent Dawn though. If I didn't think my comment box would be filled with "you know Vincent Dawn is really Bruno Mattei, right?", I'd refer to him exclusively as Vincent Dawn in all the films he goes by that alias. I think if I ever have a son, I'll name him Vincent Dawn, or maybe a daughter named Dawn Vincent.

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I know in the Phantom Raiders post we gave some shine to Italian B movie mainstay Mike Monty, but I thought we might as well do it again here. Maybe I'm romanticizing what it must've been like to have a career in Italian B movies, travelling to exotic locations (the Philippines is exotic, right? Italy's nice at least), donning a beret and mean-mugging it for the camera, only to have to go in after to redub your scenes in English. Maybe it really sucked. Maybe their accommodations in the Philippines sucked, no A/C, gross spiders, cheap hookers, warm beer, constant attacks of Montezuma's Revenge. Well, if it did suck, all I can say is, thank you for your sacrifices, everyone involved in making Philippine exploitation flicks, because they've given me tons of enjoyment.

And on that great note, let's wrap this up. Japanese VHS might be the best way to go. That's what I was watching, a rip off a Japanese VHS, complete with hard subs. This would definitely be a collector's piece, and a worthy addition on your shelf. This is what you came for, a Vincent Dawn directed Miles O'Keeffe hut explosionfest with some great co-stars too.

For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0092921/

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Dollman vs. Demonic Toys (1993)

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This is another one that I'd been planning to do for some time, and when Emily of Deadly Doll's House of Horror Nonsense came to me for posts featuring miniature baddies for her Vertically Challenged Villains Month, I figured I'd bump this one up and do it now too, like I did with Puppet Master II. I should point out, it's been a long, long time since I've seen Demonic Toys and Bad Channels, two of the three films that this is a sequel of, the third being Dollman, which we did sometime ago. It might mean I missed some things I'd have picked up on if those other two were fresher in my mind.

Dollman vs. Demonic Toys is like a comic book crossover of Full Moon projects, featuring Dollman Brick Bardo (played again by Tim Thomerson), who, after beings stranded on Earth, goes out to California to find Nurse Ginger (Melissa Behr), who herself was shrunk and left shrunk at the end of Bad Channels (actually, in Bad Channels it was Bunny, not Nurse Ginger who was left shrunk, but does it matter?). He makes it to her house and they form a romance, hoping to live happily ever after. Not so fast cowboy. Enter Tracy Scoggins, who has been hunting the Demonic Toys. She hears about Ginger and Brick, and thinks Brick would be perfect to take down the Demonic Toys due to his size. His big gun doesn't hurt either. The Demonic Toys won't know what hit them.

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This is exactly as I described it, a comic book crossover in movie form. That's what it felt like, a cool one-off. Even the length, just over an hour, fits that vibe. As someone that grew up with comics and loved it when one-off issues were released with characters from different books put together, to see something like this that captures that vibe is really cool. Tim Thomerson is his usual awesome self reprising his role as Brick Bardo, and the showdown between him and the Demonic Toys is everything I could've asked for. Scoggins and Behr were also great, as was Phil Fondacaro, who had a small part as a security guard (no pun in tended). Add to that Quiet Riot in the film's soundtrack, and you can't lose. Even though a chunk of the film gives you enough backstory that you can watch this without seeing the previous films first, you should at least take advantage of Dollman and Demonic Toys on Watch Instantly beforehand, because it'll make this one a little more fun.

I guess we start with Tim Thomerson, right? He's so deep into his Brick Bardo character that there's no question about anything being silly with him fighting an over-sized baby doll or duking it out with a Conan O'Brien action figure. He plays it so straight, yet so cool, that it all works and makes it that much better for all of us. In fact, the entire cast plays it pretty straight, which makes all the difference in films like this. Thomerson also has an interesting distinction here at the DTVC: he's one of the few non-Hall of Famers to have more tags than some of the inductees. The question is how to rectify that: get more films for those Hall of Famers, induct Thomerson this fall, or both?

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I want to stay with this shot of Thomerson here, because it's archive footage from Dollman, which was directed by Albert Pyun. I wasn't sure if I should the tag Pyun, because it is his footage that's being used. I mean, I've tagged actors for smaller appearances than the amount of footage from Dollman that we had in this. I wonder how that works as far as Pyun goes for money, or if Band owns the rights. Same with the actors, like Michael Halsey, Vincent Klyn, and Jackie Earle Haley. I don't believe they're credited either. Should I tag them or not too? There's also the character name "Brick Bardo", which Pyun has used a lot. Was there any dispute about who owned the rights to it after the fact? Another interesting Pyun connection here was Anthony Riparetti, who worked on the music. He's worked on a lot of Pyun's films, usually credited as "Tony" Riparetti.

I loved the Conan O'Brien action figure. How is that not awesome? He of course predates Conan's run on Late Night by about a year, but still. It's too bad Conan doesn't have the rights to all his characters, because you could have a great crossover with them and the Demonic Toys. Imagine Triumph the Insult Comic Dog, the Reverend Otis K. Dribbles, the Masturbating Bear, Pimp Bot, maybe even the Ear of Corn, all fighting the Demonic Toys, or maybe the Puppets from the Puppet Master series. A guy can dream, right?

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As I mentioned above, this film clocks in at a cool 64 minutes, which isn't much. I always hear the term "feature length" tossed around, and wanted to find out exactly what it was, so I did what anyone would do, I went to Wikipedia (link is to the article). According to them, there are multiple definitions for feature length, some as short as 40 minutes, but the rough standard for an adult feature is 80 to 210 minutes. Do I think this one at 64 minutes should've been longer? No, 64 worked, and I imagine, if Band were forced to make it 80, he'd just add five more minutes of archive footage from each of the three original films, and one more minute of credits, and he'd have his 80. Give me shorter with less padding every time. I always say, anything after 88 minutes is borrowed time and better be damn good.

We are two-for-two this week on Full Moon flicks, the other being Puppet Master II. I daresay I like this one even more. If you like Full Moon, you like Thomerson, and you like the old comic one-off with tons of different characters, this is your flick. Right now it's on Watch Instantly. I can't think of a 64 minutes better spent. (Okay, maybe I can think of a few ways, but not many.)

For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0106743/

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Puppet Master II (1991)

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I had been planning to do this one for some time. I mean, I'm planning to do them all at some point, but I'd already done the first Puppet Master, so the next logical step would be part 2, plus it's on Watch Instantly, so that's another bonus. But then Emily at Deadly Doll's House of Horror Nonsense shot me an e-mail asking if I had any movies to review about short baddies for her Vertically Challenged Villains Month, and I thought it would be a great opportunity to make this one happen.

Puppet Master II I think picks up where part 1 left off. We're at the famous hotel, now abandoned, and some twenty-something kids sent by the government bureau of paranormal activity are there investigating its goings-ons. At the same time, our stringless animated puppets are hard at work getting their old master, Toulon, risen from the dead, which they do, but he dresses like the Invisible Man, which is kinda creepy. Anyway, Toulon thinks one of the girls on the crew looks like his long lost love, and he wants her and him to be reincarnated into the bodies of large, human-sized dolls. She's not so amenable to the idea, and hopefully, for her sake, her beau will rescue her in time.

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I enjoyed this one more than the first. It had a better puppet quotient, their time was spread out throughout the film, and we had fewer gaps between puppet kills. I liked that they added tangential characters that could be killed earlier on, so we didn't have that huge chunk of nothing we had in the first one. The addition of Toulon wrapped in bandages created an extra layer of tension and suspense without breaking the special effects budget, which worked really well too. This is the fun horror movie that I wanted from the first one, but didn't get until the last twenty minutes or so. Here we have 88 minutes with very little padding and a lot of action.

The Puppet Master series is to Full Moon what The Toxic Avengers are to Troma. While there are plenty of other films we associate with both companies, and while both companies put out completely different styles of horror flicks, both the Puppet Masters and The Toxic Avengers have that iconic quality that transcends their niche markets. It's weird then that I've seen the Toxic Avenger flicks much more than I've seen the Puppet Masters. I think a big part of that comes from the fact that I've never introduced people to the Puppet Master flicks the way I have the Toxic Avengers, and whenever we introduce a film to someone, it's usually a rewatch for us, right? It's one of the great things about having this blog though, I have a reason to go back and revisit films like this that I otherwise wouldn't.

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Recognize her? It's Charlie Spradling. She played Paulette in Ski School, one of my all time favorite films. She was hot there, and she was hot here. In one scene, she goes from topless in only her panties to putting on the guy she's with's dress shirt. What is it about that that's so hot to us straight guys? It would make sense for gay guys, because they're both men, so one has a dress shirt, the other puts it on, he looks nice in it, I get that; but why do women look so hot to us straight guys when they wear our shirts? The shirt isn't made for them with their bodies in mind. I guess it's the fact that it's the shirt and nothing else that's hot, I mean, I don't know how hot I'd find a girl I was dating if she wore my jeans too. And it doesn't work around the way either, does it? Would a woman find us hot in her blouse?

The killing of kids is a tricky thing in any movie, and though I'm not sure it was pulled off well here, I give them points for trying. What they do is make the kid a total brat, and he picks up the new flamethrower puppet (Torch?) and starts abusing him. So the puppet sets him on fire-- though it's never shown. Technically, we don't know for sure if the kid is killed, because there's the cut away, but I'm pretty sure it happened. If it hadn't been being burned alive, I think it would've worked better-- I mean, violence towards kids in real life is abhorrent, but in a movie, with the kind of brat this was, it was a borderline applause scene.

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Does that stuff not look like mint chocolate chip ice cream to you? It does to me. I don't remember the last time I've had some, I'm kind of getting a craving for it. Fun fact: I remember hearing that Timothy McVeigh's last meal was two pints of mint chocolate chip (just confirmed this on his Wikipedia page). I like me some mint chocolate chip, but I'm not sure I like it last meal good. Anthony Bourdain said all chefs have a last meal dish. It's like their standard for best food ever. Can you do that though? Can you have a gourmet chef whip up a rare and expensive meal? I'd say us tax payers made out all right with the two pints of mint chocolate chip-- damn, I might have to get me a pint tomorrow.

All right, enough of that, let's wrap this up. I want to thank Emily again for including my posts in her Vertically Challenged Villains month. Though you should watch Puppet Master before you watch this one, I enjoyed this one much more than it's predecessor. When you think Puppet Master, this is the movie you think of. Full Moon at its best, just a fun horror flick.

For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0100438/