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] I'd love to check out what you got.



Hi everyone, it's been a while since I checked the page, and I wanted to make a few announcements.

First and foremost, it appears a dubious site has claimed the old url, meaning any link in any review that goes to the old mattmovieguy url is corrupt. I'm in the process of trying to remove them all, but it's a lot! It's best not to click on any link without hovering over it first to make sure it doesn't have mattmovieguy in the url.

Second, it appears since my last trip to the blog, Photobucket has decided to charge for third party hosting, meaning none of my images are appearing anymore. That's simply an aesthetic issue, but still annoying.

Thank you all for your patience, and again, hopefully this will all be fixed soon.


Thursday, April 25, 2013

Arena (2011)

 photo arenacov_zpsc1c3f112.jpg

So this movie just popped up on Netflix Instant, and while it's one readers have been wanting me to look at for a long time, I've been avoiding it, because, to be quite honest, I've seen enough of these forced to fight films in the 6 years I've been doing this blog, and with this one having that 2010s punchfighting angle, just didn't look like it was going to be a fun time.  But it does star Samuel L. Jackson, and a DTV film with Jackson in it is something I can't avoid, especially when it's on Instant.  Also, our friend at Explosive Action did this one too.

Arena has Samuel L. Jackson as a guy who kidnaps men, makes them fight in his brutal arena, and broadcasts the fights over the Internet for a lot of money.  He's recently kidnapped the meathead vampire from the Twilight series, and that guy is our hero or something.  Will he be able to escape and get his revenge on Jackson?

 photo arena1a_zps24ef473a.jpg

Where do we start?  Let's go with the well-worn territory of the forced to fight paradigm.  This film adds absolutely nothing to that.  If anything, it diminishes it, because it doesn't have a lot of fighting.  I'm not kidding.  It has a lot of montages of fighting, but only a few actual fights.  Then, after the montages, we're treated to montages of the woman working for Jackson who fell in love with the Twilight meathead stitching up his bloody wounds.  That seems to be what the film makers think they're adding to the paradigm, a macabre element.  What is that though?  Instead of a scene where our hero fights a guy in a makeshift construction site, we see a few seconds of it, then see the woman pulling nails out of our hero's back.  How sauteed in wrong sauce is that?  And let's look at the star, Kellan Lutz (from this point on back to "meathead from Twilight"), and why this casting decision was also sauteed in wrong sauce.  From the hair to the line delivery, this guy oozes horror movie douche or comedy romp heel, and to sell this guy to us as the hero doesn't work.  This is another example of sauteed in wrong sauce from the get-go.  My initial misgivings were entirely founded.

This is our first look at Sammy L. on here.  Can you believe that, we're almost 900 posts in, and this is the first Samuel L. Jackson.  Maybe I should've done the classic Snakes on a Plane-- I did do The Asylum stinkfest Snakes on a Train.  As you can imagine, he's great here, but he doesn't have much to work with.  At one point, he recites what's supposed to be a joke by his character, and while it doesn't work, he laughs at it, almost in a way that signals him laughing at the script.  I wonder what made him do this movie?  Yes, many great actors are going DTV now, but a lot of those movies are better than this.  Did he know going in that it would be a montage fest sauteed in wrong sauce?  I apologize Mr. Jackson, that this is your first film at the DTVC.  I'll work to rectify that soon.

 photo arena7a_zps855f3861.jpg

I listen to the Dan LeBatard radio show podcast, and he has a segment when he's interviewing athletes where asks them about guys who do a series of things, and they have to label them "douche" or "no douche".  For instance, he had former NFL running back Eddie George on, and he asked George "guys who do credited cameos in Steven Seagal direct to video action movies: douche or no douche?", in reference of course to George's appearance in Into the Sun.  Anyway, I wanted to pose that question then to everyone here: fedoras: douche or no douche?  My Tumblr dash is split on this.  I follow a great blog called dispatchesfromnoir, where a guy writes great hard boiled pulp snippets and celebrates great pulp detective novels  He wears a fedora as a part of the whole aesthetic, and I like that.  On the other hand, there's fedorasofokc-- OK Cupid, not Oklahoma City, which was a mistake I made--, which is made up of a lot of douches who wear fedoras.  If we're using Arena as the tie-breaker-- which is probably a flawed strategy-- it looks like they're firmly in the douche camp, because they're using it here to amp up the douche level of this frat guy who watches the fights.  Man, tough call.  (As an aside, George answered "no douche" to his question, though he thought it was funny.)

So let's look at everyone else who's in the film.  We already addressed the meathead from Twilight.  Can I just say, I saw all the Twilight films with Riff Trax accompaniment, and in that capacity they were fantastic.  As the meathead character in Twilight, he worked; but as I said above, the film built him up-- and even dyed his hair-- to make him into the horror film heel, then tried to sell him to us as the hero.  That strategy makes no sense, and makes even less sense when we see Johnny Messner as Jackson's second in command.  What?  You had Johnny Messner and didn't make him the hero?  Katia Winter played the woman who got the meathead from Twilight captured by Jackson, and worked for Jackson to keep the meathead in line, until she fell in love with him.  The writing on that character, as you can imagine, was all over the place, in varying attempts to add nuance here, or make her one-dimensional there.  It was all one-dimensionality for the two Asian women that worked for and I guess were the love toys of Jackson's character-- I don't even think they had any lines.  We also had Daniel Dae Kim from the new Hawaii 5-0 as a fellow forced to fighter.  Finally, James Remar had a small bookending cameo at the beginning and end.  Love Remar, and seeing him in this made more sense than Jackson.  He must be racking up tons of frequent flier miles and hotel points going back and forth between Michigan and Louisiana for all these Stage 6 DTV flicks he's been in.

 photo arena15a_zps1d75aae6.jpg

See what you're looking at there?  Yep, "Interupted".  And that wasn't the icing on the cake either, that happened right at the beginning.  That was the "I'm going to let you folks know what you're in for" moment, and it was as painful as "interupted" implied.  Mr. Jackson, I have to ask again, why did you agree to be in this movie?  Sigh, interupted.

This is a no for me.  Luckily, Samuel L. Jackson has an immense filmography for the rest of us to go to for a better movie of his, and everyone else in this movie gets to say they were in a movie with Samuel L. Jackson.    And I'm stuck watching a movie as bad as this because I decided to created a movie that specializes in DTV movie reviews.  Ugh.

For more info:


  1. Once again we are at polar opposites, Matt! I remember liking this one quite a bit. Jackson was hilariously over-acting throughout. And cheers for the link!

  2. Nice review. Will be watching this soon for the punchfighting\Jackson factor, but will keep expectations low.

    Ouch on that misspelling.

  3. I keep seeing this one in Blockbuster and while I have been tempted previously, no doubt to a lack of forced to fight movies in my watch pile, hearing that it is montages only makes me all the more glad I havn't seen it yet.

  4. Surprised Samuel L Jackson's dipped his toe into the DTV world. I was under the impression he was getting paid a ton of money for all his Avengers/Iron Man/Captain America appearances.

    I love the idea that James Remar is just doing all these DTV flicks to build up frequent flier miles. What's he saving up for? Maybe one of those Virgin space flights?

  5. I thought Jackson was great here too, but everything else was too sauteed in wrong sauce for me to enjoy it. First off, the hero was the horror movie heel. He should've been giving someone a wedgie and saying ignorant things in the early-going, only to have his head split in half in an applause scene at the end; instead of the hero of an action movie, which he was. Speaking of which, the use of montages in place of actual action was my other major problem with this. Forced to fight can be great, if there's actual fighting! What would you rather see, a great one-on-one battle in an improvised construction site, or one shot of said fight, followed by scenes of a woman pulling nails out of his back? Again, sauteed in wrong sauce.

    Ty and Elwood, as guys with review sites, I'd be careful with this one, because it's excitement-- and I use the term excitement loosely, rather montages alluding to excitement-- by repetition. I was scraping the bottom of the barrel to get that fedora paragraph. On the other hand, Explosive Action enjoyed this, so maybe you're more in his camp and this one won't be a problem.

    Yeah, it's one thing to be doing DTV flicks that a big studio doesn't want to take a chance on, but a schlocky bad actioner like this makes no sense. And I see Remar as more pragmatic. Free trips to the Caribbean with his wife when Dexter isn't shooting seems more like his bag. "Yeah honey, with the miles I rack up from doing that 50 Cent movie in Detroit, we shouldn't have any trouble going to Turks and Caicos in July."