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.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Only the Strong (1993)

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This is an oldie but goodie, though calling it an oldie doesn't sound right. 19 years ago? This thing is older than most kids on Tumblr! How did the 90s become so long ago so quickly? But I think movies like this only get better with age, and with Watch Instantly getting ready to dump it, I figured I'd make a trip down memory lane before I missed my chance.

Only the Strong has Mark Dacascos as a Green Beret working down in Brazil training the locals, where he learns the Brazilian fighting style of Capoeira. After his honorable discharge, he returns to his old haunts in the Miami projects, where he finds his high school in disarray, the teachers disillusioned, and the inmate running the asylum. After he takes down the Rasta guy from Michael Jackson's "Black or White" video though, and the kids are into it, he and his old teacher buddy, Geoffrey Lewis, decide to try this Capoeira thing on the 12 worst kids in the school, to see if they can be rehabilitated. But when one of the kids' drug lord cousin threatens Dacascos and the kids, it's up to him and them to fight back. Will they prevail?

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This one has definitely gotten better with age. All of those nostalgic notes add to the overall vibe, from the clothes, to the hairstyles, to the music. It all takes you back to 1993. Also, the sappier, cheesefestier moments seem much more fun than they would've been to a 14-year-old me watching this when it was new back then. Dacascos turns in a solid performance, and his martial arts are on-point as usual; plus Geoffrey Lewis and Stacey Travis (who plays Dacascos's love interest) were solid in support. Add in the goofy montages, some decent fights, and that classic "Bah-nah-nah-weh" soundtrack, and you've got yourself a good time.

After seeing this now, and knowing that Dacascos didn't become the huge star that we thought he'd be from this breakout role, it's interesting to see why it didn't work out for him. I think to start, this didn't do as well in the theater, though for 1993, $3 million-plus is pretty good; then you throw in the dud that was Double Dragon, which set him back a bit. In 1998, I think we thought he had it again when he starred in the Crow syndicated TV series, but, unfortunately that only lasted two seasons. So for the most part he's ended up here in DTV work, which has been our gain. You can see in Only the Strong how much talent he has, and it would be nice if now, 19 years later, he'd get more starring roles, especially in DTV stuff, what with the DTV market having a little more credibility now.

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Yes, we're spotlighting Geoffrey Lewis, but we're also spotlighting that too sweet vintage Izod/Lacoste polo he's rocking. If you look Lewis up on imdb, he has over 200 acting credits. The guy gets after it, but it seems like it's in Sheldon Lettich's films that he gets the bigger supporting parts, which is good, because it showcases his versatility, like here, where he plays a teacher. Here's to you Geoffrey Lewis, you're one of the good ones; and here's to that vintage polo too. I actually found one of those at a Goodwill in Portland, ME for $3. I think you can get like $50 or $60 for it on eBay.

Speaking of Sheldon Lettich, a couple months ago I posted an interview Marcos Freitas did with him on our DTVC Tumblr page. It's really cool and worth checking out. He doesn't talk about this film much, but does get into more of his collaborations with Jean-Claude Van Damme, plus some backstory tidbits, like his dealings with Frank Dux, who did the fight choreography and had a small cameo in Only the Strong. I had heard some of the stuff before, but it's always cooler to get it from the director's mouth.

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There were a lot of cool vintage moments in this. I mentioned the polo. We also had a sweet Poison logo on one of the kids' shirts. I remember when I was a little younger than I was when this came out, I had a bunch of hair metal T's, including a couple Poisons, and I'd wear them to Sunday school. The kids who had to dress up were jealous of me. We also had this guy in the film, the Rasta from the end of the "Black or White" video. His name is Jeffrey Anderson-Gunter, and it looks like he still works somewhat, having imdb credits up until 2007. It seemed like this guy was everywhere in the early 90s, so it's cool to see he's still doing his thing.

If you haven't seen this in a while, I'd give it a look. I don't know if in 1993 I'd be giving it the solid recommendation I am now, but it's 2012, and 1993 feels a lot more fun twenty years later. Think of it as a form of cinematic comfort food. You can't go wrong with the 90s.

For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0107750/

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Sniper 3 (2004)

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Netflix recently dropped this from Watch Instantly, so I figured I'd give it a look. As of this post, they still have the first one up, while the second is on Hulu, but about to be dumped as well. I don't really like reviewing movies from Hulu, because their interface doesn't work as well for capturing images, that's why we're doing three before two, but I do plan to do two at some point in the future. Also, out buddy Ty at Comeuppance Reviews has done all three of them, including this one we're doing now.

Sniper 3 attempts to go a little deeper into the history of Master Gunnery Sgt. Berenger, looking at his roots as a young soldier in Vietnam. In the present, he discovers from the government that his old pal from the Vietnam War, once thought dead, is actually alive and working as a big time drug kingpin over there. So the government does like any government would do, they send their best aging sniper who was having vision problems in the last installment to take the dude out. But can Master Gunnery Sgt. Berenger take the shot when he gets it?

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I think this one is a bit of a miss for me. It had its moments. Byron Mann plays a local drug cop, and he and Berenger have some solid chemistry; but there isn't a lot of action, and some of the punch of the mysterious, stoic, savant we loved in Berenger's character is taken out by this backstory that the film is based around. Also, there was a bit of a Heart of Darkness bent to this, but it was never fully realized, with Berenger's adversary never quite the Kurtz character I'd want in a Heart of Darkness theme. It's possible that this third installment hit the law of diminishing returns, that it was pulling blood from a stone, or trying to cover territory that wasn't exactly there.

I was trying to think of the last time we saw Mr. Berenger here, and I want to say it was our second post ever, Cutaway. That's almost five years since our last Berenger post. And it's not like there's a dearth of good Berenger DTV work out there. Talk about your lost in the shuffle. He's good here, but it's not that iconic performance we got in the first two, or in his other stuff like Platoon. I almost think he was too comfortable in this role, and maybe lost a bit of what made it stand out so much. I don't know if I put that on him so much as the film itself and the way the character was written this go around, but maybe there is something to an actor playing a role too often.

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Speaking of which, the Sniper sequels are a bit of a departure from the usual DTV sequels of a theatrical film, in that the original actor is reprising his role. It does happen-- I can think of a few examples-- but usually it's someone else taking over. By having Berenger as Master Gunnery Sgt. Berenger in all three of these films, at the very least it makes me more interested to see them. Would I be less likely to see these sequels and review them if Berenger were replaced by Daniel Bernhardt or Sasha Mitchell? Probably not, but it's a nice change of pace to have the actor from the theatrical original in the DTV flicks too.

DTVC favorite Byron Mann plays a Vietnamese cop with NSA ties whose father just so happened to be a US sniper in the Vietnam War, a sniper who only left behind his seed and his sniper rifle. We get one pretty sweet footchase with him at the beginning, then a semi-decent fight scene at the end, but nothing much in between. Like the Heart of Darkness theme that was never fully realized, the same was true with Mann's potential as a Vietnamese cop in this movie. Why not graft in a couple fight scenes for him? Is Master Gunnery Sgt. Berenger's backstory that important that they couldn't throw in a little more action? And anchored by Mann's too sweet fight skills to boot.

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When I watched part 1 again before watching this for the review, I was struck by how firmly 1990s that one felt, and how well that worked for it. Here we're getting into the mid-2000s, and those gimmicky edits and techno scores are apparent throughout. That's a major departure from 1993, where any-- if there are any-- gimmicks feel more natural, or at the very least nostalgic, and the whole vibe just works better. I don't know if we'll ever turn back the clock and get our action movies made more like their 90s counterparts, which is fine-- I can always kill the new ones on here for their gimmicks and enjoy the old ones on DVD or Netflix.

And while this is one of those new ones, it isn't as bad as some. Just the same, compared to the others in the Sniper series, this isn't quite at their level, especially part 1. I'd check that one out while you can on Watch Instantly, and get to this one a little further down the road.

For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0408196/

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

All Souls Day: Dia de los Muertos (2005)

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This is another of the Stars Play 11, so chosen because it listed Jeffrey Combs and Danny Trejo among its stars. Those two make anything worth checking out. Of course, it's not beyond me that they probably weren't in this much either, but I figured I'd give it the benefit of the doubt.

All Souls Day is about a suspicious town in Mexico, where, on the day of the dead, zombies take it over unless a young woman of Mexican descent is sacrificed. A young couple just happen to be strolling through, a gringo and a Latina, on their way so the gringo can meet his girlfriend's parents. They get into an accident as the sacrificial procession moves through the town square, and then they stop the girl from being sacrificed. Bad move, because the zombies are coming, and unless these kids can figure out why they're coming, or sacrifice another Mexican girl-- say our lovely Latina-- everyone will be dead.

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First off, let's get this out of the way: Jeffrey Combs is barely in it at the beginning, as the father of a family from the 50s that tries to stay at the local hotel and is overtaken by the zombies; and Danny Trejo is in it a little more, but is still only ancillary as a kind of de facto baddie. The main characters are Marisa Ramirez and Travis Wester, who play the couple, and Laura Harring as the woman who runs the local hotel. I'm not going to say they're bad, but they aren't Trejo and Combs-- okay, Harring might be, though not in the capacity with which they had her here-- and without Trejo and Combs, we're left with a run of the mill zombie flick with a Latin twist. There were some kills, but not a lot, and some good zombie killing action, but again, not a lot. For me, this is one of those deals where you could do a lot worse at 3AM, but I wouldn't go out of my way to track it down.

Unfortunately the best part is Jeffrey Combs, who, again, has only a very small part in the beginning. He plays this cheapskate father in the 50s who's taking his family (wife, daughter, son) on vacation in Mexico because it's less expensive. They run out of gas because, again, he's trying to save money, and then they end up in the bad town. He was so fantastic as the 50s suburban dad, I could watch a TV show that was just him in that role, say, like a throwback to the golden age of television. With zombies too. Gotta have the zombies.

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Danny Trejo was solid as the baddie. His parts take place much further in the past, in the 19th century, after his gang sacrifices the townsfolk by dynamiting them in the town hall. This movie would've been so much better had it been Trejo's character and Combs's character fighting zombies. Alas, it wasn't it, and it suffered for that. What I think we need is a Combs Trejo cop buddy picture, like maybe some DTV Lethal Weapon sequels. Throw in Gary Busey, and you've got yourself pure cinematic gold.

Some other people that you might be familiar with include David Keith-- not to be confused with Keith David-- who plays Combs's son all grown up in the town, and he's who welcomes our young couple when they get there 50 years later. Even he doesn't last though, which is too bad. You gotta imagine David Keith could sort out some zombies. I already mentioned Laura Harring. For the most part her character is a one-note, until she shows some personality near the end. I think she was supposed to be creepy and mysterious, which is fine, but the film was kind of flat and could've used more from her than her character was allowed. Imagine her, David Keith, Combs, and Trejo all fighting zombies? Now that sounds awesome. The other name was Marisa Ramirez, whom I remember from Jordan Knight's video "Give It to You", but she's also done some TV and soap opera work. She wasn't bad, it's just the film would've been better if she and Wester had been supporting characters as opposed to the leads, especially with the great supporting cast we had.

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Speaking of Travis Wester from Eurotrip. I absolutely love that movie, so seeing him was a bright spot-- though I would've preferred Michelle Trachtenberg if you know what I mean. I remember right before that came out on DVD, I went to my buddy's place and noticed he had a bunch of Matt Damon movies in his collection, so I was giving him a hard time, calling him a Matt Damon completist. A few days later, I got a phone call on my cell while I was at work, and he was like "dude, you have to watch Eurotrip. You'll know what I'm talking about right near the beginning." And there he was, Matt Damon, singing "Scotty Doesn't Know". Matt Damon.

But enough Eurotrip, let's wrap up All Souls Day. Not enough Trejo, not enough Harring, and definitely not enough Combs. This is your classic 3AM paper procrastination if you find it on cable kind of deal, but I wouldn't spend any money or go out of your way. There's not enough to make it worth it.

For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0428212/

Friday, March 23, 2012

The Wrecking Crew (2000)

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Like Corrupt in the post before this, I figured with Albert Pyun's Urban Trilogy getting the axe from Watch Instantly, I might as well review the two I hadn't done yet. I was hesitant though, because, as I mentioned in the Corrupt post, half of each of these films was lost en route from Eastern Europe to LA, meaning what we got was the best Pyun could do to make lemonade out of lemons, and not films that are indicative of what Pyun usually gives us. But I think it's good to get the word out as to why these didn't come out so good, especially with so many people checking them out and vituperating against them on their own sites or imdb message boards, so that's why we're here now looking at these.

The Wrecking Crew is about a street gang led by Ice-T that's been hired by some high-level governmental authority whose job it is to take out other gangs in other cities. In this case they're in Detroit, and, after conning the three major gangs into meeting in a warehouse for a truce, Ice-T and his boys go in there to clean them out. Can the three leaders of the gangs squash their feuds and come together to defeat Ice-T?

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Maybe not as bad as Urban Menace, but definitely was hit pretty hard by that missing footage too. We start with these distorted archive shots of Snoop from when he was Snoop Doggy Dogg. We assume he's some kind of important figure, but that's all we see of him. Then we get Ice-T cleaning up another gang in Chicago, while our Detroit gangs are having big rallies. From there, it devolves into Die Hard with gangs, based around three characters that aren't all that remarkable. I'd really be curious to know what this movie was supposed to be. How did Snoop Dogg figure in? Was there more Ice-T? Was it really only Die Hard with gangs? The thing is, if you see this on the shelf and think "Oh, Snoop and Ice-T, this should be good", and then you watch it and are totally disappointed, just know, what you got wasn't what you were supposed to get.

I know some of my readers are not big Albert Pyun fans-- and many of them don't miss an opportunity in a comment box to tell me so-- so hearing me in these two posts trying to explain away some real duds probably has them thinking "Sure, I bet, and why were all the rest of his films crap?" I guess the first thing I would say is "what are you doing at the Direct to Video Connoisseur if you don't like Albert Pyun?", because Albert Pyun's approach to film making is the kind of thing we celebrate here. But the other thing is, you can't be all like "I can't stand big Hollywood", but then not be cognizant of the difficulties film makers face when they try to work outside of the major studios. For me, I like hearing these stories, and I think it's really cool that Pyun took the time to comment here and tell us what happened with these urban films. Unfortunately, part of that charm that we like in low-budget independent films, that they have to be innovative and make do with less, means that when shit happens and half the film is lost by Air France and they have to try and salvage something, you end up with this.

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The Ice-T here is more of your run-of-the-mill Ice-T, the vintage mean-mugging over-enunciating Ice-T. Not the chilling baddie we got in Corrupt. I don't know why we get the guy from this more than we get the guy in Corrupt, but we do. Maybe it's him wanting to get out there and try new things. I don't know, he played a kangaroo man in Tank Girl, what more does he want? He also produced this movie, so I imagine he was as disappointed as Pyun was when half the film turned up missing-- I imagine everyone involved with the project was.

It doesn't escape me that, while this was filmed in Eastern Europe, it took place in Detroit, which is probably where this would've been shot had it been made today-- which also would've meant that there would've been no need to ship it with Air France to LA. The majority of the action in this takes place in an abandoned warehouse. Well, they'd have their pick of abandoned warehouses in Detroit.

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I'm skipping the Pyun Mainstay game for this post, because, like Corrupt, all we had outside of Ice-T was Vincent Klyn. Instead, I wanted to bring up something that caught my eye as a former wrestling fan. You can barely see it in that pic there, but that dude is giving the other guy the Camel Clutch. Remember that? When Sgt. Slaughter became an Iraqi in the early 90s? He'd get Hulk Hogan in the Camel Clutch, trying to make him tap out. Man, those were the days.
Other than the Camel Clutch, there isn't much going on here. If you haven't seen this before, and see it on the shelves, just know what you're getting yourself into-- an attempt to make lemonade out of lemons--; and if you have seen it and wanted to know why it was so bad, well, now you know. It's hard to make a movie come out the way you want if you've lost half of your footage.

For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0196219/

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Corrupt (1999)

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A little over two years ago I reviewed a film of Albert Pyun's called Urban Menace, starring a number of Hip Hop luminaries like Big Pun, Fat Joe, Snoop, and Ice-T. It was pretty bad, but not in a way that didn't work; rather, it was amateurishly made, which isn't indicative of Pyun's work. Later, in my Radioactive Dreams post, Pyun commented, telling us the story behind why Urban Menace, and his other two urban films, Corrupt and Wrecking Crew, were of such poor quality. In transport from Eastern Europe to LA, Air France lost a crate containing half of each film, forcing him to scramble to make something resembling three feature films, and the result is what we have. Because of this, I had put off reviewing the other two films, but since Netflix was dumping them from Watch Instantly, I figured I'd give them a look and maybe help get the word out for people who might see them or have seen them, and were ready to rip them on their own sites or on imdb.

Corrupt has Ice-T as the eponymous villain, a local thug making moves to consolidate his power and take a stranglehold on the neighborhood. He has a thing for a Jodi (Karen Dyer), but she's dating Miles (Ernie Hudson Jr.) and wants nothing to do with Ice-T. Things change though when her punk younger brother (Silkk tha' Shocker) re-appropriates some of Ice-T's drugs, and now, if she wants her brother to live, she needs to agree to be Ice-T's lover while Miles is out of town. Problem is, things go nuts when Silkk tha' Shocker's girlfriend tells Miles on her.

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This one was remarkably better than Urban Menace. The big thing is we had a very strong performance by Ice-T, perhaps his best this side of New Jack City. It makes me wonder what this could've been if we'd had the rest of the film. At 66 minutes though, we get a complete-enough story, I think what the added footage would've done was give us a more polished product. I also liked this story better than the one in Urban Menace, this was much more down to Earth, looking at characters struggling to get out of the 'Hood, some going legit, and some going dirty. Hopefully someday the rest of the footage will turn up and we'll get a director's cut showing us what this should've looked like.

I don't blame Pyun if he doesn't like the idea of these films being out there with his name on them after what happened. Especially with the big name rappers associated with them, they tend to be some of his more heavily marketed films, which has gotta be even more frustrating. What this has done for me as a reviewer, though, is it's shown me that there's all kinds of crap that can happen to affect film's outcome, things that have nothing to do with how talented the cast and crew are. And it's usually the kinds of films we review here at the DTVC that are most likely to have suffered some of these calamities. It makes me wonder how many other films I've reviewed that have had half their footage lost by Air France.

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I wasn't kidding about the Ice-T performance, he was great. Extremely menacing, but not in that affected way we often see from him as a baddie. This was a legit, cold-blooded gangster, think like Jim Brown in Crackhouse. Who knows if we lose some of this in the full version that we never got to see, or if he's even better, but what we got here was good. He anchored those 66 minutes, and made this work for me much more than it should have.

We've seen Silkk tha' Shocker before in Hot Boyz, where he was horribly miscast as the film's lead. Here he's a supporting character, a kid trying to make moves that ultimately get him in over his head and forces his sister to make tough decisions to save his life. Hot Boyz tried to have us believe that Snoop would be an underling in Silkk tha' Shocker's gang, while this film knew we'd easily believe that he'd look well above his pay grade trying to rub shoulders with Ice-T, and it worked that much better.

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There isn't much of a Pyun Mainstay Game to play here, the big one other than Ice-T being DTVC favorite Vincent Klyn, who has one scene as a bum hitting on Dyer. Klyn still hasn't made a movie since 2004's Max Havoc: Curse of the Dragon, which is very disappointing. With Pyun getting a lot of the old gang out of retirement, including Sasha Mitchell, maybe we'll see Klyn again in one. Man I hope so. "Back off, Warchild. Seriously."
This is no longer on Watch Instantly. I think if you're a big Ice-T fan, this might be worth checking it out. Otherwise, I'm not so sure. I wanted to do these reviews more to get the word out regarding what happened to them, though maybe after hearing that you might be more intrigued to check them out. You can always page through the Albert Pyun tag to see some films of his that I've reviewed that are of a much higher quality.

For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0194773/

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

The Arriviste (2012)

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I received an e-mail with a press kit recently from director Pascal Santschi regarding his new film The Arriviste, and he wanted to see if I'd take a look at it and write a review. You know me, I always love screeners and the chance to get the word out on some low-budget independent films, so I was ready to do it. Let's see how it went.

The Arriviste follows a guy named Nick who's trying to make ends meet in New York, getting his life back on track while on probation. His brother, a con artist and blackmailer, may have blackmailed the wrong people, and when he turns dead, the people he burned are looking to Nick for the information his brother was using to blackmail them. Nick wants to find his brother too, because he just discovered his brother named him as a beneficiary on a $350,000 life insurance policy-- money he can't collect on unless he can prove his brother is dead, which means finding the body. The problem is, will he find the body before these other unsavory characters get to him first?

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I liked this. It felt like those 90s indie flicks with tons of intrigue and plot twists, small in scope, but with no shortage of moving parts to keep me interested-- I could almost imagine the main character played by Balthazar Getty if it'd been made by Miramax back then. Of course, this was made on a much smaller budget-- $9,500 according to the press kit--, and had some rougher edges than those 90s indie gems, but I enjoyed the overall feel. There was a lot of really nice black humor, and Santschi took great advantage as cinematographer/director of his 35mm film stock to give us some very inspired shots. My two biggest complaints were one, that a couple scenes with the main character and a nurse didn't come off really well; and this set of scenes near the end involving a bum walking around the main character's apartment that really bogged down an area of the film where we just needed to get to the denouement, and would've been great instead played next to the credits as a sort of epilogue. Still though, for $9500, to only have a couple complaints is pretty good.

In an age where everyone is going to digital, for Santschi to work with 35mm, especially as a no-budget film maker, was a bold choice. Reading the production notes about the shooting process, I think the commentary, if he ever chose to include one, might be more interesting than the film itself. Guerrilla style is one thing, but guerrilla style when loading 35mm film on a sunny street in New York City is another thing; or transporting 35mm reels via subway, which I can't even imagine doing. When I know a film had this much of a person's blood sweat and tears invested in it, it's nice to see an end product that, as I said, was perhaps a little rough around the edges, but still with a high attention to detail and very few shortcuts taken when a more difficult process might yield a better result.

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Because this was made guerrilla style, many of the sets aren't sets so much as people's apartments. It gives the film, especially the way it was shot, a claustrophobic feel, which might be off-putting to some. For me, it's kind of the vibe I get when I think of any urban environment I've been to, especially those in the northeastern United States. Just not a lot of room to move around or do anything. Then you get someone in broad daylight unloading a body from the back of an SUV, or a character waking up on the street after spending the night there, and it adds to that black humor, the idea that all these people are around, but they won't think anything of a dead body in the back of an SUV or a person lying unconscious on the sidewalk.

This was a first here at the DTVC, the screener I was sent had "Direct to Video Connoisseur" pop up from time to time on the screen, I'm assuming to protect against me or someone else with a screener making copies. Of course, here's me, looking at a measure taken by a film maker to protect his project that is very dear to him, and I'm like "sweet! It says 'Direct to Video Connoisseur!" (It was pretty cool though.)

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Eamon Speer played Nick, the main character. He wore a hoodie and baggy jeans, a look I rocked somewhat back in college ten years ago. Though he wasn't very Balthazar Getty, the character definitely was-- though had he been played by Balthazar Getty, I'd see him in bowling shirts instead. With the baggy jeans, hoodie, and facial hair, he looked kind of like the potential baby daddy on a Maury episode in his everyday life-- on the show he'd be wearing an oversized Van Heusen button-up, and dark jeans without the frayed bottoms, all items he picked up a day before at TJ Maxx. It definitely fits with guerrilla film making, trying to make Speer looks as inconspicuous as possible, though if I saw someone following him with a movie camera, based on his clothes, I'd be expecting him to pull out a skateboard and make a viral video, so I'd probably stick around to see what happens.

Look at that screenshot below. That's the cast displayed at the beginning of the movie. Hmm... I don't know, if I'm an actor and I just did this no-budget film for very little money, I get my friends together to watch it with me so I can show them my part, the cast's names start popping up on the screen, and there's mine, upside-down. I think I'd be a little disappointed. Does SAG even allow that? Or does it not matter as long as it's right-side-up in the end credits? Even so, I feel like you gotta give the cast a little more run than their names upside-down or as the two legs of a 45-45-90 triangle.

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Finally, this film has a fair amount of overdubbing, but I couldn't help but notice that the voice of the police detective sounded suspiciously like character actor Jack McGee. I have to imagine McGee would've cost more than this film's budget for a day's worth of readings, but it was still funny how close he sounded. Had this been made by Miramax in the 90s, the detective part probably wouldn't have been played by McGee-- he wasn't very indie, still isn't I guess-- but it would've been sweet if he had if they'd made it. Jack McGee playing in scenes opposite Balthazar Getty? Al Pacino and Robert De Niro eat your heart out.

This will be available for purchase on March 28th, and you can get it from their website (http://www.thearriviste.com/movie/thearriviste.html). Another first at the DTVC: no imdb page, at least not one I could find when I looked it up. Now that's guerrilla for you.

For more info: http://www.thearriviste.com/movie/thearriviste.html

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Demonic Toys (1992)

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This is one I've wanted to get up here for some time, especially after doing the sequel, Dollman vs. Demonic Toys, a few weeks ago. Then Netflix put it on its dump list on Watch Instantly, not as a part of the Stars Play Purge, but the day after as a part of their usual dumping situation, meaning this isn't a Stars Play 11, but it's close, and I still had to get it in if I didn't want to miss out.

Demonic Toys follows vice detective Tracy Scoggins as she and her boyfriend/partner go undercover to buy some illegal firearms. She's just told her dude that she's preggers with his kid, which makes him a little overprotective, and that overprotectiveness makes the bust go south. Now he's dead, and the two dealers are in an old warehouse that stores old toys, which is where Scoggins has them cornered. Problem: there are some demonic toys in there, and they want Scoggins and her baby so their demonic master can be born again. I think she's having a bad day.

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This is a good one. Some really nice gore, some fun villains, and and a great cast. This is the quintessential early 90s video store rental nostalgia piece, and it really brought me back. I know Puppetmaster is more the film that people first think of when they think Full Moon, but it's what we get in Demonic Toys that captures what I think Full Moon is about more. A great mixture of comedy and kills; random stuff like a guy in a Big Foot suit attacking Bentley Mitchum, or Bentley Mitchum driving a chicken mobile; and memorable, iconic characters that we look forward to seeing in the sequels. Load up your junk food and booze, and make this thing happen.

Tracy Scoggins was great here as the heroine. I was wondering why we haven't done more of her stuff, but when I looked at imdb, I noticed she has a lot more TV credits than she does DTV flicks-- in fact, after Dollman vs. Demonic Toys, it's almost exclusively TV. I'll have to go back though and check out some of those late 80s/early 90s flicks they list of her. One I do remember that I saw back in high school was Alien Intruder with Billy Dee Williams. That might be one to put on the radar.

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One difference between the Demonic Toys in this as opposed to Dollman vs. Demonic Toys, is that here they do a lot more killing. And when they kill, it's pretty nasty. Lots of chunks bitten out of people, that kind of thing. Compared to a lot of Full Moon flicks I've seen, that type of gore was a bit of a departure, but I loved it. A big gross jack-in-the-box popping out and biting a dudes neck works every time-- in fact, the more the better.

Bentley Mitchum was something of a revelation. Maybe he'd just been miscast before, but I didn't know he had this much personality or this much craziness. He has some sweet freakouts, plus, he's really awesome early on smoking a cigarette while putting together a batch of fried chicken for delivery. He has to bring it to the security guard at the warehouse, and that's how he ends up fighting the toys. He just made the film that much more entertaining, and it's too bad he's so often cast in these one-note parts that don't allow him to get after it like he did here.

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In some of Scoggins' dream sequences, there was this clock (a pic of which I stuck on the image page) that had a seven with a massive tail on it. It looked like a "Z" for God's sake. There's just a lot of flamboyance in that, a lot of aplomb, almost dandy-ish. It's like the Anthony Newley of sevens. Like, I think that seven drinks a lot of Beaujolais-- or maybe a lot of Claret. Right now, that seven is getting a suit made on Savile Row.

All right, enough of that, let's wrap this up. However you can get this, I say go for it, it's worth it. A solid Full Moon effort, and one that really brings you back to those video store days. I don't want to say they don't make 'em like this anymore, it's more like even when they do, they're still of the 2000s or the 2010s, which tempers some of that nostalgia for me. Sometimes I just feel like watching a good 90s flick, and this is it.

For more info:http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0104083/

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Dracula II: Ascension (2003)

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A long time ago I reviewed Dracula III: Legacy, and figured at some point I'd get around to doing this one too, and when it came up as a part of the Stars Play 11, I knew if I was ever going to do it, I needed to get it in now while it was on Watch Instantly. As an aside, Netflix lists this as starring Rutger Hauer, but it doesn't, he's only Dracula in part 3. Too bad, they could've used him.

Dracula II: Ascension takes place right after Dracula 2000. The charred remains of Dracula find their way to a morgue where workers Jason London and Diane Neal of Law and Order: SVU fame think they may have a score on their hands. A rich man says he'll pay top dollar for the body, plus, Neal's boyfriend is suffering from MS, and she thinks some Drac DNA might be what the doctor ordered. At the same time, Jason Scott Lee is a priestly vampire hunter called to duty by Roy Scheider, and he's hot on their trail. Can he stop the big fella before these kids unleash an unfathomable evil upon the world?

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I don't know what you do with this one. It has its moments, Jason Scott Lee is good, as is Jason London; on the other hand, we get big spells of nothing happening. "I was riveted to the edge of my seat by the scene where Diane Neal draws Dracula's blood, and Drac makes Wings Hauser faces." "My heart was in my throat as they examined Drac's DNA." We had a few nice Jason Scott Lee vampire killings that broke up the monotony, but otherwise, we were subjected to the intrigues of a bunch of not-so-compelling characters. Definitely no Blade 2, I'll tell you that.

Going back to my review of part 3 back in 2008, one thing that helped that one was the higher Jason Scott Lee quotient. Him kicking ass always works, and when compared to smug hipster med students intriguing against one another for Drac's blood, it's no contest. I noticed too in the part 3 review that I misunderstood the Cliff's Notes version of part 2 that part 3 gave us. Jason London was not Jason Scott Lee's sidekick here, which was another thing about that one that made it better than this one. London and Lee have better chemistry than anyone in this had with anyone else-- plus, they were more fun to watch separately, and it was disappointing that they weren't in the film more. One of those rare situations where mistakes made in one film are rectified in the sequel.

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Here's Brande Roderick. We get her in this scene, we get her a little later in black leather pants, then Drac gets her, and she comes back one more time in her underwear as a vampire and Jason Scott Lee finishes her off. Come on movie, help me out a little here. Out of all the people you want to limit the screen time of, Roderick has to be at the bottom of the list. All those scenes of these not-so-compelling med students doing whatever they're doing become so much more compelling and intriguing when they have a Brande Roderick wearing black leather pants in them. It was a bold move on the part of the film makers to think they could forsake Brande Roderick in leather pants and keep us interested on the strength of the film's plot, a bold move that failed.

There was something very Wings Hauser-ish about this Dracula. He had this penchant for staring at people with his mouth open in a way that reminded me of Wings. You know how Wings does that? That quintessentially Wings face with his mouth slightly agape. It kinda makes me wonder, why didn't they just cast Wings? Has Wings ever played a vampire before? Wings as Dracula is the one scenario I see where we could potentially have a vampire movie that tops Blade 2 for my best of all time. I don't know if it's too late, if Wings is too old for it to work, but I'd like to see it attempted.

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You probably don't recognize this guy, or, if you do, you have no idea why I'm posting his pic here. If you go way back into the archives, you'll find a movie I did called Werewolf Hunter: The Legend of Romasanta, a Julian Sands werewolf flick about nothing in particular. This guy was in it, totally naked, running next to a Sands in werewolf form, his twig and berries flapping as he went. Now, whenever I see him in something else, he's the Naked Guy from Romasanta. It's a great name to have.

Out of the three films, part 3 is the best, but you may want to watch part 2 to understand part 3 better. I don't know though, I could've lived my life without seeing this one, and I would've been fine. Maybe if you see it on cable or something, you might enjoy it-- or you might just be better skipping it and watching something else.

For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0336325/

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Shark Attack (1999)

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This is yet another of the Stars Play 11. As you may or may not know, we did the third film in this series, Shark Attack 3: Megalodon, complete with its famous line, and I've always wanted to go back and see where this saga begins. When I was notified that Netflix was dumping it from Watch Instantly in the Stars Play purge, I knew I needed to make it happen, especially for the Casper Van Dien factor.

Shark Attack takes place in South Africa, where a shark scientist colleague of Van Dien's is killed in a freak shark attack, prompting him to rush to the scene and see what he can do. Things go a little deeper than he expects though. The sharks are crazy, they're killing the local fishing trade-- which helps local entrepreneur Ernie Hudson, who is buying up all the local businesses--, but the shark's behavior is very un-shark-like. Van Dien's old shark studying buddy Bentley Mitchum, who has his own lab in the town, is suspiciously coy about all this, while Van Dien's dead buddy's sister looks like she'll make for a good love interest. Will CVD manage to solve this shark mystery and get the girl before the credits role at the 88 minute mark?

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You know it. I liked this movie. I don't know how to describe it, because it isn't exactly a shark attack movie, despite its name. It has sharks, and sometimes they attack, but there's more Scooby Doo style mystery going on, with some B-movie action elements thrown in, and then the occasional foot dangling in the water what's gonna happen to it that we want from a shark flick. I don't know what you make of that, but in a weird way, it worked for me. Also liked Van Dien, Hudson, and Mitchum; plus Jennifer McShane, she who the great line in part 3 is directed at, plays Van Dien's love interest, so that made things even more fun. I guess that's how best to describe this, just a fun flick.

If I were the Made for TV Connoisseur, Casper Van Dien would be an inaugural member of our Hall of Fame. Looking at his imdb bio, he has tons of TV movie credits-- even this one is listed as a TV movie, but I made an exception because I can do that. You gotta like Van Dien in a role like this. He's like a combination of Fred from Scooby Doo, the hunky scientist type from the 50s monster movies, and your more common 90s action star, the third one being what you probably most expect from him after Starship Troopers, but the others working well too. Van Dien's usually pretty solid in whatever he's in, it's more a matter of how good he material is he has to work with, and I think here it was a lot of fun, and he was able to make it more fun.

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Ernie Hudson, something of a villain in this. I know, you'd think in a movie called Shark Attack, it'd be the sharks, but no, it's him. He has this South African accent that he affects here and there rather inconsistently, which is good. If you're going to affect an accent, I always say do it halfway. I believe this is the first time we've seen Hudson as a villain here at the DTVC, which was a good change of pace from the supporting role as the hero's buddy that's more common. Also, I didn't know this, but he was born in Benton Harbor, Michigan. All Mitchell MST3K fans will get that reference.

Talk about your awkward situations-- or maybe not-- Casper Van Dien's ex wife's brother is Bentley Mitchum. According to imdb, Van Dien and Mitchum's sister filed for divorce in 1997, and this was released in 1999, so you do the math. Were they shooting during the break-up? Was the on-screen tension between their characters the result of some real life tension? It's interesting, because I see these facts in the imdb listings, and they're so antiseptic and matter-of-fact, that it takes a second to go "hey, in Bentley Mitchum's bio, it said he's the ex-brother in-law of Casper Van Dien. That's kind of pertinent to this review." Or as I said above, maybe it isn't.

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Is that CVD hitting the climbing wall? Even though the scene is barely a second long, any climbing I see I have to get on here. I have to confess, I'm still very much a novice, and I don't have very much experience. But the way they were climbing, just going for any foot and hand-holds as opposed to hitting a fixed route and difficulty, that's something I could definitely do. It's always good to see some climbing in a movie, even it's only a small cameo.

If you can get this used on DVD or VHS, or if it airs on TV, I say go for it. It will satisfy your B-movie cravings, definitely a fun watch. Sometimes you see a movie like Shark Attack on the shelves or on your TV guide, and it looks like a good time, but then you watch it and it doesn't deliver. Well, this one delivers.

For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0161970/

Friday, March 9, 2012

And Soon the Darkness (2010)

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This is yet another of the Stars Play 11. There were a few reasons why I wanted to catch this one before it got the dump: I liked Amber Heard in both The Ward and The Informers, and wanted to see her here; I love Karl Urban, and couldn't let an opportunity to get him on the DTVC go by the boards; and finally, as I'm sure you know, I'm a sucker for mountain scenery, and where better to get it than Argentina? (Also, this will be another one where I discuss the ending, so heavy spoiler alert when I get there in the seventh paragraph.)

And Soon the Darkness is a remake of a film from 1970 of the same name. Here we have two girls, Amber Heard and Odette Yustman, finishing their bicycling trip in a small town in Argentina, and ready to catch a flight home, which they plan on doing the next morning, as long as they can catch the bus out of town. But Yustman's partying the night before causes the girls to oversleep and miss their bus, meaning they're forced to spend one more night. This is too much, and the girls are getting in each other's nerves, so they split up, only to have Heard come back to the rendezvous point and find Odette gone. Now it's a frantic struggle to find out what happened to her, before the darkness sets in and she's gone forever.

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For the most part I enjoyed this. It was kind of silly and paint-by-numbers in some of the elements-- like how the girls have complete make-up kits in their tiny traveling backpacks--, but for the most part it did it's job and kept me sufficiently tense and interested. I liked Heard and Urban, Yustman wasn't in it as much, but she worked too. There was also that excellent mountain scenery, plus some excellent scenery in the form of Heard and Yustman-- unfortunately Urban remains well clothed throughout the film, so this isn't an equal opportunity ogler--, and some really nice sets, especially near the end when they were in an abandoned village. What turned me off is what often turns me off in these types of pictures: the ending ends up all over the place. I don't want to give it away too much before I get to the second to last paragraph, but we were kind of reaching a sufficient climax, and I noticed we still had a fair amount of film left, and sure enough, it went off the rails. I don't know if the original did the same thing, and they wanted to be faithful to that, but either way, it was a little much. All in all, not bad, but nothing special.

The eye candy in this was pretty hardcore. That scene where Heard and Yustman are sunning themselves in their bikinis almost hurt they looked so good. (They also made sure there was a close-up from behind of Yustman taking off her shorts over her bikini bottom, just to get in that gratuitous butt shot.) I don't know which I would've preferred, to have them be realistic looking and haggard after a long bike tour, with very little make-up, or to go the traditional Hollywood route like they did, where the girls stuffed professional make-up artists into their small backpacks. I imagine I know which one the girls' agents preferred, and that's why we got the ones we got; but I also think the film makers wanted the image of the girls as these American princesses that are brought into sudden contact with the harsh realities of the developing world, especially because, as they go through their ordeal, they end up looking much more haggard. I think that adds to our fear too as Westerners seeing them in a foreign place.

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Love Karl Urban. Excited to finally get a chance to see him on here too. He plays a mysterious Westerner in the same town as the girls. Is he their ally or a co-conspirator? Whatever he is, he's awesome, I just wish there was more of him. You can never have enough Karl Urban. I can't wait until the new Chronicles of Riddick and Star Trek movies come out so we can see him in those again. I was so stoked to see him as Bones, playing one of my favorite Star Trek characters. He would've made DeForest Kelley proud.

One thing they touch on slightly is the brazenness of baddies here to kidnap an American girl. I don't say that to be jingoistic or Toby Keith "we'll put a boot in your ass" patriotic, I say it because the last thing I'd want to do is kidnap an American pretty white girl and deal with that eventual publicity. I don't assume that all Argentinians would be familiar with the American penchant to be captivated by the trials and tribulations of pretty white girls, but any that engage in a kidnapping ring must have some clue who Natalee Holloway is. I can't think of anything that would've bumped Casey Anthony off the frontlines like a story about two girls gone missing in Argentina. Next thing you know, your town is crawling with American press, then American PIs and investigative journalists trying to make a name for themselves-- come to think of it, this might have made a better ending to the movie.

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SPOILER ALERT!!!! SPOILER ALERT!!!! SPOILER ALERT!!!! SPOILER ALERT!!!!
Like the film Trap I reviewed a couple weeks ago, this film killed off the kidnapped girl, in this case right after she was rescued. And they did it classic cop out style too: by her falling on the ground and hitting her head. We go through 45 minutes of tension and wondering if Heard will save her friend, and when she actually does, we're rewarded with that? It just makes me wonder what I'm investing my energy in. It only gets worse from there, as the film proceeds to fall off the rails. The local sheriff is in on it, Karl Urban is killed off, and Heard is captured. We then get a final fifteen minutes of escapes and recaptures and cat and mouse games in multiple settings, none as good as the abandoned village I thought the movie was going to end in. If you want my take, I think the whole having the cop be a baddie was too much. We had enough by getting the girls out of the abandoned broken down hotel and to Urban and the cop, why tack on 15 minutes just to tack it on? If it's a length issue, just add an epilogue and slow down the credits. Sometimes simple is better.
END SPOILER END SPOILED END SPOILER END SPOILER


You could either rent this one on DVD, or keep an eye for it on cable. I'd do the latter if I were you, just because this is good, but not spectacular. I watched it late at night when it was still on Watch Instantly, so a late night cable cure for insomnia might be the way to go. (Also, you noticed I had to include those mountains. I couldn't help myself.)

For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1391034/

Thursday, March 8, 2012

American Bandits: Frank and Jesse James (2010)

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Here we have another member of the Stars Play 11. What made this one a must-see before it was dumped? Fred Olen Ray directed, starring Peter Fonda and Jeffrey Combs. Is that not a must-see for you too? (A little warning: I'm about to kill this movie. My review is in no way intended to be an indictment of the entire Southern United States, merely the misguided notion that the South was wronged in the Civil War and post-War reconstruction, while not once mentioning the evil practice of slavery.)

American Bandits: Frank and Jesse James takes place in the South after the Civil War. Upset that the North told them they couldn't own other human beings, and bitter about the fact that all their "honor and glory" in defending such an abhorrent practice couldn't save them when the North came down on their asses with a vengeance (including Mainer Joshua Chamberlain), a few have decided that guerrilla attacks on American governmental convoys is the honorable way to accept the war's outcome. Foremost among them: two real American heroes in Frank and Jesse James (Frank played by Tim Abell and Jesse played by a mix of a Poor Man's Brad Pitt, a Poor Man's Karl Urban, and the mysterious guest star on a CW teen drama-type). The dishonorable Northerner marshal (Peter Fonda) wants these two honorable bandits brought in at any cost, but the man chasing them is a Southerner too, and kind of likes the James brothers. Will they escape alive?

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Wow, I didn't know people still made movies like this. It's one thing to get something like Gone With the Wind in the 1930s, when people still wore black face-- not that that was okay then, but we like to think we've come a long way since then, that that kind of thing is no longer acceptable; and at least in Gone With the Wind, one could make the argument that it was their inability to cut loose the more abhorrent aspects of their way of life, like slavery, that overshadowed their more admirable traits. We don't get any of that here though, all we get is "the South is great, and they were so wronged in the Civil War". On top of that, we're now rooting for two villains that want to preserve the Southern way of life, including slavery. Why not just go full DW Griffith and have the Klan race in on horseback and save Frank and Jesse as Jeffrey Combs has them at gunpoint. This movie is a disgrace. Oh yeah, and it's also a Peter Fonda bait-and-switch. Don't wanna forget that.

Jeffrey Combs is only in this at the beginning and the end, and is something of a baddie because he tries to double cross Frank and Jesse-- though they tried to double cross him first by walking off with his portion of the money and making him meet them later on at a ghost town. Did Combs not read the script in advance? Did his agent suggest this one without letting him know what he was in for? Maybe he thought by being a bad guy, the racially insensitive element staining the film wouldn't rub off on him. Well, he's right, because I'm giving him the benefit of the doubt here.

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According to his imdb bio, Fred Olen Ray was born in Wellston, Ohio, which is in the southern part of the state, east of Cincinnati. With that knowledge, it's not inconceivable that he'd have grown up with a "South will rise again" mentality, and people like Frank and Jesse James depicted as heroes. Is this his true belief, that the US would be a much better place if the South had won? Man, I hope not. Besides, if you know anything about American history, you'd know that a depression hit not long after the Civil War, forcing the North to abandon its reconstruction efforts, which allowed the South to go about their business, only replacing slavery with de facto slavery in the form of an apartheid that lasted unchallenged until the 50s and 60s.

As a straight male, when I see a beautiful woman, there's very little that she can do that will make her unattractive. Defending a way of life that included the dehumanizing practice of owning other human beings though is a major turn off. In this case, Lauren Eckstrom plays Jesse James's love interest, and she's a very stunning woman; but the moment she starts talking about how much better the South was before the North came down and sorted them out, she might as well be Cpl. Klinger in drag. Racism is never a good look.

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The imdb page said this movie was filmed in Canyon Country, CA, but that picture looks like the Grand Canyon in Arizona. Either way, that's not the point, the point is, if the South had had their way, the only African Americans visiting the Grand Canyon would be slaves carrying their master's bags in lieu of donkeys. There's your "honor and glory", defended by a horde in white sheets, burning crosses and stringing up human beings off of trees. Every time this movie sanctimoniously brought up the South's "honor and glory" it made me sick to my stomach. It's actually ironic that this film would choose an image of the US National Parks system though, because one of the best representatives of freedom and equality in this country are our parks and monuments, whether it's the Buffalo Soldiers administering Yosemite, or Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. That's true honor and glory, something worth defending.

I'm still stunned that this movie exists, and that Fred Olen Ray of all people would make something like this. Maybe he just didn't know what he was doing, or what his film was saying. I don't know, I heard a lot of mentions of the South's "honor and glory", and no mention of the dehumanizing practice of slavery that they were so honorable in defending. It's bad enough in 1939, but in 2010, it's unacceptable. I understand that there was a bunker mentality after the war that made the North villains to Southerners, whether they agreed with slavery or not, but none of that nuance was on display here; I also know the North was far from perfect, but this movie isn't about the North, it's about the South and some myth of "honor and glory" that's total BS in this context. Oh yeah, and did I mention it's a Peter Fonda bait-and-switch to boot?

For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1446675/

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Poolboy: Drowning Out the Fury (2011)

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I first caught wind of this one over at our buddy Mr. Gable's site, Mr. Gable's Reality. As far as he was concerned this was 90 minutes of pure awesome, and after I saw the trailer, which he had embedded in the post, I figured there was a good chance he was right. Kevin Sorbo and Danny Trejo in a massive grindhouse/exploitation spoof? Sign me up.

Poolboy: Drowning Out the Fury, is about a long lost film of the same name, shot by the infamous Saint James St. James (Ross Patterson) when he was ten years old. Unfortunately, the MPAA kept it from being released for 21 years, and he's finally getting a chance to air it for us, with his own commentary and production notes sprinkled in. The movie itself follows Bando (Sorbo), a Vietnam Vet who returns home to find his wife and son murdered by a Mexican pool boy. He swears revenge and vows to remove all Mexican pool boys from Van Nuys. In his way is Danny Trejo, the violent leader of the area's Mexican pool boys, and he's not ready to give up their racket. Can Bando defeat these murderous Latinos?

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Mr. Gable is spot on, this is amazing. On one score, it's a fantastic send-up of 70s explotation and late 80s/early 90s bad action and Namsploitation. The dubbed voices, the music, the dialog, the attempts to cover up production mishaps, all things we've seen before and all hilarious. On the other, this is like a reverse Machete, where, instead of having Mexican-Americans fighting bigotry, we have the bigotry coming from the mouths of the heroes in the white people like Sorbo, which I think exposes it for its hate and hypocrisy all the more. Then you have excellent comedic performances, anchored by Sorbo, Trejo, and Patterson, but also other fantastic names like Bryan Callen, Mark Curry, Jennifer Elise Cox, Jason Mewes, Matt Winston, and Gary Valentine, among many others. Stick this in there with Black Dynamite as a genre spoof done right.

When I started the DTVC in 2007, Kevin Sorbo was pegged to be a potential Hall of Famer. After Walking Tall 2, which wasn't bad, we had Walking Tall 3, which, the less said of the better; then Bitch Slap, which should've been what this was but wasn't even close. I think here we finally have the realization of the potential we saw during Sorbo's great Hercules run. This is the movie I've wanted for almost five years of writing the DTVC, and now that it's here, I'm loving it. Also, if you look at his imdb bio, he's not stopping anytime soon. He's playing Abe Lincoln in FDR: American Badass! (from the same production company that gave us this), plus is listed in Albert Pyun's Cyborg: Rise of the Slingers and Sorority Party Massacre. The thing with Sorbo is, he's one of the few actors that can do comedy and action-- Michael Jai White is another that comes to mind-- and we need to exploit that as much as possible. This one does that.

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Ross Patterson plays Saint James St. James, the man who directed Poolboy, and he's absolutely hilarious. The eye patch, the smoking jacket, the voice, it all works. When I went back to capture images for the blog, I was laughing out loud as I'd catch various lines, lines that if I tried to describe you'd probably think weren't that funny, but in context work. I can't wait to check out some of the other films he's done. If he's half as funny they'll be great. Another thing I wanted to point out is that image of Saint James St. James, sitting Masterpiece Theater style in a study discussing his movie with us. That's what I was going for when I named this site The Direct to Video Connoisseur, me as Alistair Cooke watching Dolph Lundgren flicks. A few things I didn't anticipate happened as a result though. First, people had trouble spelling "connoisseur", which made it difficult to tell people about it, plus "dtvconnoisseur.blogspot.com" doesn't roll off the tongue, so I had to get the current domain name that I have now. The other thing I think is even funnier: people don't always realize that the title is meant to be tongue-in-cheek, they think I really liken myself as a connoisseur of Direct to Video movies, like I'm some kind of snob. I never know what to do with those people.

This movie, in dealing with issues of race, treads on sensitive territory, but I think does so well. In part it's exposing and mocking racism in American society, but it's also making fun of the more embedded racism that's prevalent in many action and exploitation films. We get African Americans whose dialog is often dubbed over by someone else to make them sound more like a caricature, or Latinos that are only depicted as violent thugs or servants. It's different from Machete, where Danny Trejo was fighting against racist forces. Here he's now playing the stereotype, getting the same message across, but doing it in a different way.

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There is a lot of stock footage in this, and I guess included in public use are PSAs, of which they used this classic drunk driving one from the late 80s/early 90s. I always loved this, watching how the "U" on one of the mugs would almost break off on its own. Had this sweet piece of nostalgia not dropped into my lap, I would've instead devoted this paragraph to the film's mention of Del Taco, which I haven't had since I was out in San Diego in 2001. My buddy and I gorged ourselves on burritos and fries one morning, just because we could-- out here in New England, Taco Bell doesn't open until 11, so burritos at 8AM is a novelty. Del Taco and anti-drunk driving PSAs, it doesn't get much better than that.

And it doesn't get much better than Poolboy either. This is the action/exploitation spoof you came for, the Kevin Sorbo flick you came for-- really just the 90-minute awesomefest you came for. Right now it's on Watch Instantly. I suggest you instantly watch it, you won't be disappointed.

For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1693843/

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Zydeco (2012)

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I recently received a press kit from Stormfront Entertainment regarding their new film, Zydeco, directed by David Noble. There was also an e-mail address I could contact if I wanted a screener, which you know I did-- can never get enough screeners. My usual rule for screeners is that the review is ten paragraphs long, but I'm doing the regular 8 here because this movie is only 50 minutes, something I'll get into later on. Anyway, without further ado...

Zydeco takes place in Louisiana, where two college girls venture out from Shreveport and find themselves lost in a small town. Bad news for them, because that town doesn't care much for city folk invading their locality, and they show how much they don't care for them by dispatching Zydeco to be their welcoming committee, a big guy in a skull mask who's a little crazy and a little too willing to kill. Now that our girls are in Zydeco's murderous clutches, will they make it out alive?

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This was a fun little flick. Low-budget, trying to make do with what they had, and turning out an earnest film that I enjoyed. As with any low-budget indie flick, there are things to pick at, like how the girls walk into a music store and seem to act like it's a convenience store, or how the scary hick town looked pretty nice and quaint and well-developed; but I think when you do that you miss the point. There are many well done tongue-in-cheek moments that dare you to not take yourself too seriously and dare you to have fun with the material. They poke fun at a lot of horror conventions, but do it in a way that isn't crammed down your throat; they also had a lot of self-awareness and weren't afraid to poke fun at themselves too, and that was refreshing. Overall, this was a solid effort.

I don't think I've ever done this before at the DTVC, but I'm actually complaining that a movie should've been longer. I know, me who says the shorter the better, and anything past 88 minutes is borrowed time. While that's usually the case, 50 minutes is a little too short. I read in the production notes that came on the DVD, that they had planned to do a 90-minute film, but ended up with only 40 minutes of footage when they wrapped shooting, and actually had to shoot additional footage to get to the 50 that we ended up with. I don't know how you mitigate that with a small budget. I mean, I think you could've added ten minutes to the beginning by having another victim, maybe another five if you have our two leads at home discussing their trip. Now we're up to 65 minutes. After that, you add to each of the secondary victims we get near the end, when the killer goes on a rampage through the woods. Maybe a few minutes to each one before the girl and the killer cross their paths. Now we're up around 75 minutes, which is right in Charles Band territory. 75 sounds much better than 50. I don't know though if there's the money to make that kind of thing happen though, or if you've already wrapped and it's too late to fix it.

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Our lead actress was played by Courtney Shay Young, and you could tell that she probably had the most pedigree in the cast. According to imdb, this is her first lead part, and I think she acquitted herself well and I really liked her-- not that the rest of the cast was bad, I just thought she stood out. Obviously, in watching a low-budget flick, you're going to get a cast and crew that are feeling things out, and, in a lot of ways, still learning on the job. I have no problem with that, as long as the movie's fun, and this was. I'm not expecting Michael Fassbender, just people that are trying.

I really liked these opening establishing shots. It's kind of too bad that we end up on a pretty nice highway strip with a Papa John's and a KFC, or a really nice downtown area that's been well-developed, because these shots give us more of that Hixploitation I thought I was in for. It's rare to see a horror film with establishing shots like this, they usually pull out the dolly, move us through a dark swamp, and kill someone off, so it was cool to see this for a change of pace. I think though when you have an eye for framing shots like this, why not go back to them at other points in the film? Like when our heroine is first captured, throw in some of these establishing shots, extend the tension a little more, then get us to the room where she's chained up-- and maybe draw that out a little more, build even more tension, plus add onto that 50-minute running time. I think they did it some, but not enough.

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Finally, this was another film that we've seen that was shot in Louisiana. Louisiana and Michigan are fast becoming the vanguards of a new US based low-budget indie/DTV market that I'm hoping will eventually get us a new, modern exploitation. Zydeco might be the first out of all the ones I've seen made recently from both states that has really given me the belief that this could actually happen. Like I said above, this isn't really a Hixploitation flick, but it is a low-budget slasher flick-- that maybe could've used more slasher to pad it out, but theme and entertainment-wise, it worked--, so hopefully this'll be the start of good things to come, and good things from Stormfront Pictures.

You can order this from the official website (http://www.stormfrontentertainment.com/Zydeco.html). My only misgiving is the length, because they're offering it for $15, and I'm not sure that's worth it for only 50 minutes of movie. I understand that it wasn't their intention for the film to be only 50 minutes, and, as I said above, it was very entertaining, but I have to think about what your value for the money is, and for $15 you're looking for something closer feature length. I know with the Buster Keaton films I've seen that are that short, they usually add a few of his shorts onto the DVD, so maybe if they did that, added some of their short films, and they were as good as this was, I'd give it the full recommendation.

For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2023835/