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, May 30, 2013

Fire with Fire (2012)

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We conclude Bruce Willis Week with Fire with Fire, something that looked like a bad action film centered on, I think, Josh Duhamel.  Bad action can't go wrong, right?  Okay, yes, it can, and can go very wrong, but a guy can hope, right?  Man, I don't have a good feeling about this...

Fire with Fire has Duhamel as a fire fighter who stops with his buddies at the local convenience store to pick up some things early in the morning after a shift.  Unfortunately, he witnesses Aryan Brotherhood crime boss Vincent D'onofrio kill the store owner and his son.  Now, in order to testify against D'onofrio, Long Beach PD detective Bruce Willis has him in witness protection in New Orleans, where he meets Rosario Dawson, falls in love, and is almost killed by D'Onofrio's hitman.  Though he survives, D'Onofrio lets him know that he'll kill him no matter what, even if he's in jail.  Duhamel decides it's time to wage a one-man war on D'Onofrio instead.

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I was right not to have a good feeling about this, because it wasn't very good.  As is often the case, it was a variety of factors.  First off, the ordinary man doing extraordinary things/Hitchcockian regular guy thrust into a horrible situation by being in the wrong place at the wrong time element was diluted immensely by the bad action element, making that aspect not work, and the bad action element come off silly.  Furthermore, Duhamel sounds sillier when he yells.  There's no getting around that.  That hurts especially bad when you're trying to paint him as this average guy doing really bad things to protect the ones he loves, because we have too much stacked against him to ever take him seriously.  The icing on the cake was Rosario Dawson's character, who seemed like a tough US Marshall to start, and devolved into classic damsel in distress, complete with the bound and gagged scene, followed by our hero carrying her in his arms across a flaming threshold.  It was like just when we thought this couldn't be more sauteed in wrong sauce, it takes it to another level.

Of all the Willis films we've looked at this week (Catch .44 and Lay the Favorite being the other two), I think this is the one where Willis looks the most out of place.  Even in a scene with D'Onofrio, who is someone we all consider to be an accomplished actor, Willis was acting on a totally different level.  Other than Rosario Dawson, everyone else makes sense in a DTV or TV movie, and even Dawson isn't entirely out of place here, but Willis is definitely major Hollywood star Bruce Willis, and his inclusion makes us wonder what's going on.  By the same token, he in no way mails this in, gives us everything, and is as good as you'd want from him.  The question is, why are we going here for all that?

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The Rosario Dawson part might have been the biggest miss.  I wonder if men (and I consider myself among them) don't know how to write a proper female character.  Either she's tough, kickass, and gets things done; or she's the damsel in distress.  You can't have it both ways, because, no matter what, damsel in distress trumps kick ass.  So she's the one teaching Duhamel how to shoot, she's initially the one protecting him, and now she's bound and gagged in D'Onofrio's lair and later getting carried in Duhamel's arms out of a burning building.  And this kind of uneven quality in her character hurts Duhamel's that much more, again, further undermining the film.  There are plenty of Cynthia Rothrock, Michelle Yeoh, and Pam Grier films to go to if these guys need lessons on writing real, strong female characters.

This film tried to cover all kinds of issues regarding our justice system, from the idea of defense attorneys for criminals, to whether we should just kill guys as bad as D'Onofrio's character as opposed to lock them up.  The first problem is that any conversation on these issues is rendered useless by the bad action nature of the film, especially when Duhamel is the one questioning D'Onofrio's defense attorney about the ethics of that job.  Between Duhamel and the script, the scene came off like a 7-year-old talking about Lego Ninjago.  The second, and much bigger problem, though, is that a movie like this could never go deeper to the real issues at play.  For instance, the fact that we incarcerate so many people for nonviolent crimes creates such a massive prison system that allows a character like D'Onofrio's to thrive.  Movies like this that try to cover issues like this are always on a slippery slope, and while I'm not saying they shouldn't tackle these issues, if they are, they need to understand how they come off in a bad action context.

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There were a lot of other people in this, so we'll see how many we can get through.  One of D'Onofrio's goons is played by Vinnie Jones.  50 Cent plays a rival gang leader.  Julian McMahon plays D'Onofrio's hitman.  Richard Schiff plays D'Onofrio's lawyer.  Kevin Dunn plays another US Marshall.  James Lesure and Eric Winter play Duhamel's buds.  Bonnie Somerville plays Willis's partner.  Thom Barry plays the convenience store owner.  And finally Quinton "Rampage" Jackson and Nnamdi Asomugha play 50 Cent's goons.  I gotta say, out of all of those, I loved NFL cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha.  Man, once his career in the NFL is done, I think he's got one here in movies.

And hopefully in better movies.  This is ultimately a wash for me, the bad action element is too clumsy, and kills anything else the film is trying to go for.  Willis was great, but more than any other Willis DTV flick, he really seems out of his element here.  It's not like he's hurting for big picture work either.  As of this posting, you can check this out on Netflix Instant, if you're so inclined.

For more info:

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Lay the Favorite (2012)

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We continue our Bruce Willis Week with Lay the Favorite, a film based on the true story of gambler Beth Raymer, played by Rebecca Hall.  As with many Willis DTV flicks, there are also a bunch of other names here, including Catherine Zeta-Jones, Vince Vaughn, Laura Prepon, and Joshua Jackson.  I was also excited to see a film about sports gambling, because I love sports-- though I have only ever gambled on them in Las Vegas.

Lay the Favorite follows Hall as Beth, a young lady from Tallahassee who moves to Vegas in search of a job as a cocktail waitress.  When those jobs aren't forthcoming, she takes a job with Bruce Willis, who is a famous Vegas bookmaker and gambler.  Turns out she has a thing for numbers, so this should be the perfect gig, except Willis's wife, Catherine Zeta-Jones, is the jealous type, so Willis has to fire Hall.  Hall then meets Joshua Jackson, moves out to NYC, and gets a job making bets for bookie Vince Vaughn.  What happens though when she gets involved with some shady characters in the city that never sleeps?

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This one didn't work.  It's the kind of thing that sounds great on paper, and as a true story would probably be great as a documentary on cable TV, because it is interesting.  The problem is, from a cinematic angle, we have very little-- or very superficial-- conflict until the very end, meaning there's nothing driving the story for us.  We have no sense that winning or losing means anything with the betting, no sense that the choices these characters make will have any real consequences.  For two seconds we have the intrigue of Hall pursuing a relationship with Willis, but once Zeta-Jones steps in, it's over before it really starts.  Despite having some really great characters played by some really great actors, if nothing is ultimately happening until the very end, there's not much we as an audience can do, no matter how much we want to like a movie.

I didn't know what to do with Willis in this either.  I loved the scenes when he was freaking out about losing bets, smashing flat screens and firing everyone.  The awkward poignant moments with Hall and Zeta-Jones, not so much.  I think that's another problem here though, the real life Dink (that was the guy's name) is probably great, and hearing things from him directly probably sounds compelling and entertaining; that doesn't mean he works on-screen.  But I guess again I'm left with the conclusion that he probably sounded like he would translate well in a movie, and it just didn't work.

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When I was out in Vegas in early 2013, I stayed at the Rio.  I gotta say, it doesn't quite look as nice in real life as it does on screen-- though Vegas in general doesn't look that nice.  I have yet to see a movie that takes place in Vegas that shows the click-click guys, who are ubiquitous along The Strip, trying to hand out little flyers for all the local strip clubs.  I wonder if the casino lobby prevents that from happening.  It is a very interesting thing to see movies about Vegas after having visited.  Like a Leaving Las Vegas makes more sense, and I guess something like this feels a little more down-to-earth, because Vegas is less glamour and more, well, Vegas.

Catherine Zeta-Jones joins the long line of Oscar winners to be featured at the DTVC-- and the second one in Bruce Willis Week, after Forest Whitaker in Catch .44.  She doesn't have a big part, and it appears she's playing a woman older than herself, which is also very interesting.  Like Willis's though, I think it's another one that seemed great in real life, but on-screen doesn't quite wash.  She's not bad enough or crazy enough or even endearing enough to work on any of those levels.  In real life that's probably how she really is, and is probably very nice because of it; but in a movie, she needs to be more of one aspect than any of the others to be entertaining, and because she wasn't, it didn't work.

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Look who's playing basketball on the far right there.  It's Curly from Baller Blockin', Jerry Katz.  Only, he's listed as "Jerome Katz", playing "Some Guy", and he has two separate imdb pages.  Come on Jerry Katz, get your agent in there and clean that up.  We need more of you on-screen.  You should've had a much bigger part in this, like maybe winning a bet and saying "who's the baller now, wardy?"  Here's to you Jerry "Jerome" Katz, you're one of the good ones.

Unfortunately this is not.  What seems like a great idea based on an interesting true story just didn't work in a dramatic movie setting.  As I said above, maybe a cable TV special, with interviews from the actual people involved, combined with some dramatic reenactments would've been better.  Even the great cast couldn't save it.

For more info:

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Catch .44 (2011)

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We kick off our Bruce Willis week with Catch .44, what looks to be a fun, stylish, Noir-ish thriller starring him, Forrest Whitaker, Brad Dourif, and one of the Cullen family vampires from Twilight.  The question is: is it good, or too Tarentino-y and too self-indulgent?  I guess we'll see.  Also, our friends at The Video Vacuum and Saturday Night Screening have looked at this one as well.

Catch .44 follows Malin Ackerman, a beautiful waitress who, with her friends Deborah Ann Woll and Nikki Reed (the vampiress), runs drugs for local crime lord Bruce Willis.  They're given a special assignment to bust up a drug deal at a diner outside of town set up by some dudes trying to move in on Willis's turf.  Things go wrong though, and could go even more wrong when local police sheriff Brad Dourif and Willis's hatchetman Forrest Whitaker get involved.  How will it all play out?

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This one didn't work for me.  I could call it self-indulgent, because that's how a lot of these come off, but seeing that writer/director Aaron Harvey hasn't done much work, it might be more that he's working out the kinks in his game, and unfortunately he's working his kinks out with some big time names attached to his film, thus getting it a bigger audience.  To give you an idea of how much it didn't work for me: fifteen minutes in, without thinking about it, I picked up a magazine next to me and started flipping through it.  As far as I could tell, the only real tension we had, based on the non-linear storytelling, came near the end in the form of a Mexican Standoff, and while that worked really well, it does not a solid movie make.  We also had a really funny scene that I'll discuss in the final paragraph, but that was about it.  There were some lapses in logic that made the film not make any sense, primarily that Ackerman's character was supposed to be so street smart, yet she fell for an obvious set-up, and her friend, Nikki Reed's character, seemed to be onto these things, which lessened the quality of Ackerman's part.  I guess what I'm saying is, if Reed is so smart, why am I rooting for Ackerman?  Again, between the fact that it couldn't hold my interest, and the way the script had holes, it's a pass for me.

What is Bruce Willis doing in this movie?  He's in it at the very beginning.  Then he has an interesting scene with Ackerman where he's wearing a Speedo and a bathrobe, which isn't bad.  Then there's the indulgent one with Forrest Whitaker in the diner that didn't make the money we expected it to make.  But it's still Bruce Willis, and while he couldn't save this movie, he was still fun to watch.  On the other hand, as someone who was coming to it for Willis, the lack of him was a disappointment, so that might be an issue for you too.  I just couldn't figure out who he was supposed to be: flamboyant, uncouth local crime lord; or stone cold no nonsense seasoned crime boss.  The fact the he wasn't enough of either to be one or the other made neither side work ultimately.

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After Willis, Nikki Reed's character was one that worked for me, which made it all the more disappointing that her character was used to poorly.  Right off the bat, we see her in that classic post-Tarentino pseudo-philosophical swill conversation, pretty much calling bullshit on Ackerman's theories on compromise, yet I got the sense that we were supposed to look at that scene as a "wow, isn't Ackerman's character smart?", when it achieved the opposite.  Out of all the characters in the film, it was Reed's that was best written, and had the film either A) based it on her, or B), swapped her and Ackerman's if the idea was to make Ackerman the star, I think I would've come away with a better take.

I wasn't sure what to go with for this paragraph.  First, we had the classic-yet-annoying practice of the still screen with the character's name splashed on the screen, only here it was especially egregious, because it often happened after we already knew who these people were.  Word to the wise: if you think you have a smart movie script, it'll look not-so-smart really quick if you can't organically introduce your characters through the script.  Second, I don't know what Forrest Whitaker was doing here.  He affected a Spanish accent, and we don't know if that was who he was, or his character was affecting it too, but I felt like it wasted what was a great Whitaker.  Once Whitaker signed on, I think that part should've been rewritten, but that's just me.  Finally, Brad Dourif was barely in this at all.  What could he have been had he been in it more?  Who knows, because, like Whitaker and Willis, he's an exceptional acting talent.

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I saved this last paragraph for one great joke that the film had, where the women, while driving to their job, listen to Bruce Willis's album.  Remember that gem?  According to Saturday Night Screening, who listened to the director's commentary, the director wrote this scene in before Willis signed onto the project, so it wasn't intentional, and ended up working even better because of it.  Back in the mid-2000s, my buddy and I met some friends down in Boston at one of their friend's apartment, and my buddy decided to go through her music collection.  He found this gem among her cassettes and CDs, and didn't hesitate to fire it up.  No "look what I just found", no, "hey, why do you have this?", nope, just started playing it.  It was a thing of beauty.

Unfortunately I can't say the same for this film.  It didn't work on multiple levels, and the Willis factor, while he was good in it, was too small with his character's limited screen time.  Too bad, because there were some elements of it that could've worked, had they been the focus more than some of the ones that didn't.

For more info:

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Death Race 3: Inferno aka Death Race: Inferno (2012)

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When last we visited the Death Race series, we were on prequel 1, Death Race 2.  That one I thought would've been good had it not been for the nausea inducing split-second MTV edits that gave me a migraine.  Part of me went into this one, the sequel to the prequel, even more apprehensive.  That 105-minute running time didn't help.  Also, our buddy at Explosive Action did this one too, so you can go there to see what he says about it.

Death Race 3 takes place after part 2.  Luke Goss is back as Frankenstein, and he's one Death Race win away from his freedom.  Problem is, owner Ving Rhames sells the rights to tycoon Dougray Scott, which should be an awesome thing for Rhames because he's cashing in, but I guess he feels like he lost to Scott,or something, which makes no sense to me either.  Anyway, Scott isn't down with this whole let Frankenstein go thing, so he tells him he'll kill him or something if he wins the next Death Race, which is a three-day affair in South Africa, across the desert, even though the racers return back to the prison at the end of each leg, so it's not really across the desert, just three out and backs.  Now Goss needs some help from his friends if he's going to take the evil Dougray Scott down.

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Wow, where do we begin?  The shaky-cam MTV edits thing from the last one is worse in this one.  Man, can I just say, I love watching a movie I can't see.  I love not being able to focus on anything for more than half a second.  From an action standpoint, we had a few good chases with some sweet crashes, and in those moments, I wanted to temper my bad review; but then we had three fight scenes that I couldn't focus on either, which was really frustrating-- again, I love being frustrated by my movies.  Story-wise, I don't what we're doing here.  We had too many racers-- actually, too many for the movie too, because they had this battle royale between the women navigators, where 14 (or 16, I don't remember, and it doesn't matter) fought to the death for 10 spots with ten racers, only to have 11 racers race-- but it was hard to keep track, and with the constant jump cuts, and all the characters and cars being similar and unremarkable, I couldn't make sense of anything.  Then Rhames sells the rights to Death Race to Dougray Scott, makes money on the deal, but now wants revenge on him?  Will the guy who sold Tumblr to Yahoo want revenge on Yahoo now after he personally made $250 million on the deal?  I don't know, this was a hot mess with a few nice crash scenes in it.

I watched the original Death Race 2000 for comparison to this one.  First off, I love the idea that an improvement on the original was making it so we can't see it.  "You know what I didn't like about that old one that I really want to improve?  The fact that it didn't involve rapid jumpcuts.  Seriously, you're not making a movie unless you're giving your audience a headache."  The original also had compelling characters.  Not only Frankenstein, but Stallone as the main heel was great, as was David Carradine's navigator.  Here, for the heel we had a guy that looked like a cross between Colin Hay and Danny Bonaduce, who had like three lines and did barely anything heelish, unlike Stallone; for the navigator we had Tanit Phoenix who, outside of a brief moment where she wields a flamethrower, does nothing but show off her cleavage and have silly romantic moments with Goss that were grafted in, all of it a total waste of her character.  Also, the original was almost 30 minutes shorter, yet covered much more ground from a story standpoint.  That one had the whole dystopian future, the rebels, and then the mysterious Frankenstein character.  We had none of that here, the best they could do was the Dougray hostile takeover that didn't make any sense.  This is not mere nostalgia factor rearing its head again, the original really did do a better job at making their movie than this one did.

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In the last film Ving Rhames made up for a lot of that film's shortcomings, but unfortunately here he wasn't in it enough to do that.  As always, he's splashed across the cover, making it a sweet Rhames bait-and-switch. I understand maybe you couldn't get Rhames to shoot for the whole thing, and maybe you didn't want to wait for him to be more available, but that's when you show some integrity and put Dougray Scott on the cover instead.  I guess that's too much to ask though from a movie that's apparently so bad the people making it don't want us to actually see it, instead inundating us with rapid jumpcuts.  I wonder if the whole film is just cardboard boxes and tarps and the jumpcuts make it so we couldn't see that.  If so, I hope they recycled all that after.

Danny Trejo had a little more screentime than Rhames, which was good, and I think his character was a little better than the last time, but it wasn't a great Trejo style character anyway.  I've noticed that for Trejo to work, he really needs a bigger part, even as a supporting character, it can't be a few lines here or there.  Like in Recoil he was the main baddie, or in Machete he was the hero, he had a lot of room to work, and we got the full effect of what Trejo can do.  I think that's because he's kind of a reductive actor, he's said himself that he likes to say his lines in as few words as possible.  If he has a lot of screentime, he can make up for that in his presence, but in a few jumpcuts, we lose him and he might as well be anyone else-- though I guess not for him, because he gets a paycheck when he's in the movie.  Anyway, co-star Fred Koehler gets a hug from Trejo at the end of the film, and I was thinking that had to be a career highlight for him.  I would love to get an on-screen hug from Danny Trejo.

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Here we have Tanit Phoenix as a total badass wielding a flamethrower (I noticed Explosive Action liked the same scene and captured the same image).  That's pretty much it for female badassery though, which was a disappointment.  With Phoenix, it's pretty much her cleavage and waiting to see what Goss will do next, not at all like the great navigator Frankenstein gets in Death Race 2000 who is trying to undermine Frankenstein as he drives because she works with the rebels.  Why not have her do something more, especially if you're going to hit us with that flamethrower scene to start.  We also had the producer of the show, who was played by Hlubi Mboya.  She was really good too, but she's really just playing second fiddle to Scott and Rhames; better though than the way the strong woman in the last film was dealt with, with her getting run over and Rhames saying "dumb bitch", which was not a good look.  They tried to include Olga Braun as a tribute to the original, but even that fell flat, with her just making a rookie mistake and getting killed as a result.  It's funny how this has worked out, that the original was made 37 years before this one, yet we've seen the imagery regarding women grow less progressive, not more.  That's not a good sign.  Maybe the next one will make up for all of that and have Michelle Rodriguez as Frankenstein.  How kickass would that be?

So that's it, outside of a few nice car crashes and explosions, this is pretty much a blah fest.  Probably a good 30 minutes too long, and in 105 minutes, the average shot was probably only a half a second long.  What a mess.  Is this what the action movie had become?  I need to sit through 100 minutes of bad jumpcuts and crap to see five minutes of good car chases in a movie about a car race?  

For more info:

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Miracle Beach (1992)

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This is another of the Netflix Dump 8, which I chose because it stars one of my all time favorites, Dean Cameron aka Chainsaw from Summer School, aka Dave Marshak from Ski School and Ski School 2.  I love seeing this guy in anything possible, so this was a must.  It also starred Ami Dolenz, Pat Morita, Martin Mull, and Vincent Schiavelli, making it all the more sweeter.  Let's see how it went.  Also, our friends over at did this one too, so go over there and see what they said.

Miracle Beach stars Cameron as a down and out beach bum who catches his girl in bed with his boss, meaning he's fired, and two seconds later his landlord evicts him.  At the same time, Ami Dolenz lives in a world of genies-- yep, that kind of genies-- and she's sent to Earth to be someone's genie.  She and Cameron seem like a match made in heaven, and Cameron can't wait to use her omnipotence to change his fortunes.  He opens his own beach resort, chases the local hottie, gets said local hottie a gig with major Hollywood producer played by Martin Mull, and sets his two buddies up with a sweet situation at the resort with some bikini models.  But Dolenz is falling in love with Cameron-- can you blame her?-- and she starts to sabotage his dating of the local hottie, causing friction between the two.  Will Cameron discover his love for Dolenz before the genie review board puts her away in her bottle for good for meddling in her master's affairs?

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Unfortunately this one was a disappointment for me.  I felt like Cameron was wasted.  This was not the Dave Marshak we wanted, and the genie aspect removed the best part of Cameron's characters: their resourcefulness.  It's always great watching him plan things, and then watching his elaborate plans come together.  The material also didn't give him many opportunities to be funny, which was too bad too, because we know how funny he is, and that's what we're watching an early 90s beach romp starring him in it for.  Dolenz was fun, and Morita, Mull, and Schiavelli were all great too-- as was Cameron despite how poorly his role used him--, but this suffered from the fact that the genie aspect didn't take off.  It still has some USA Up All Night nostalgia factor, so in that sense, it might work for some, it just didn't work for me.

The good romp involves a few factors.  First, charismatic characters.  We had it in Cameron, Dolenz, and Morita, but it lacked sorely in Cameron's two buddies.  They were just women chasing blah, no real personality, simply afterthoughts.  These guys make the film when they're good, and annoy the viewer when they're bad.  Second, adversity.  There need to be heels that need to be overcome.  Jerk ski instructors, asshole businessmen, etc.  Because we had the omnipotent genie aspect, heels had no pull in this.  Dean Cain has a small role as a potential heel, but he's gone immediately.  Without that tension, the script just plods along.  Finally, the lead needs room to be the lead.  He needs to be out there riffing and doing crazy stuff.  Having his genie give him things to impress a woman isn't enough.  This was a romp that lack in romp-iness.

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A Dean Cameron Ami Dolenz Romantic Comedy is something that could've really worked though in a better scenario.  They had the chemistry, just not the material.  I don't know if the better setting would be Cameron wooing Dolenz, or if she were the other woman trying to make Cameron notice her, but in a classic 80s/90s romp paradigm, it would've been so much fun.  The thing is, why can't we see that now though?  What about a remake of Back to School, with Marshak as the billionaire who buys his way back to school, and Dolenz as the professor who has a thing for him, but doesn't know if she can take him seriously enough.  Bring Dean Cain back in too as the guy she's engaged to.  Seriously, how great would this movie be?

Unfortunately, Pat Morita won't be able to star in any remake, as he's no longer with us.  I loved seeing him here though as the beach bum that Cameron befriends and gives a job to at his resort.  Schiavelli played a local mystic, who may be more of a scam artist that has bitten off more than he can chew when Cameron shows up asking him about a magic lamp.  Martin Mull as the sleazy producer/director whom Cameron has the genie make into his old friend so he can introduce the local hottie to him was a lot of fun too-- we'll have him play the dean at the college Cameron attends, the Ned Beatty role.  Dean Cain was like an almost heel that never was, and is credited only as "Volleyball Player #1".  Seriously.  Finally, I totally missed this, but Alexis Arquette played one of Cameron's buddies, only as a dude.  I missed it so much, I didn't even get an image of her in it.  That's the problem with these Netflix dump kind of things, if I miss something, I can't go back and rectify it.

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Finally, Dolenz has a scene where she's watching TV while Cameron is on a date.  Flipping through the channels, she finds a movie with DTVC favorites the Barbarian Brothers, and a basketball game featuring my Celtics and the LA Clippers.  Gary Grant himself appears on-screen, as Dolenz transports him to her living room so she can give him a pep talk, and send him back to the arena to take down my C's.  It was a great blast from the past, especially seeing my C's in better days-- though '91-'92 was when they were hoping McHale and Bird would be healthy enough for one more run, not unlike the current situation with my team.  Unlike my C's, the Clippers are finally a much better team, something that 20 years ago would've seemed impossible.

So this is a pass for me, unfortunately.  I wanted so much to like it, but ultimately the entire thing was sauteed in wrong sauce.  Hopefully that remake of Back to School with Cameron and Dolenz will be made, which will make up for what we didn't get here.  I'm not holding my breath for that though.

For more info:

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

6 Bullets (2012)

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Obviously any Jean-Claude Van Damme DTV flick is something we'll want to get to here, whether it looks good or not, so this one was going to happen one way or another; on the other hand, many of his recent ones have involved him in small roles, leaving us frustrated with the lack of Van Damme, especially when he's been so good since JCVD.  Let's hope this one goes against the current trend.  Also, our friend at The Video Vacuum has reviewed this one too, so you can go there for a second opinion.

6 Bullets has Van Damme as a former mercenary who has etched out a career for himself in Moldova rescuing rich kids kidnapped by white slave traders.  This works out when an aging MMA fighter played by Joe Flanigan comes to Moldova to start a comeback, and his is daughter kidnapped.  But there's more going on here than meets the eye, and Van Damme's going to have to pull out all the stops if he hopes to bring this girl home alive.

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I really liked this.  I had a few complaints, but overall I thought it was really good.  The story was nuanced and compelling, and Van Damme turned in another great performance.  The action was there, and when it isn't, we had Van Damme anchoring some great dramatic sequences, plus there was the tension of finding the girl underpinning the entire thing.  It had its poor moments too though, like how the girl's mother just happens to know how to use a gun, something that would be funny in a Sasquatch movie on SyFy, but here adds a level of fatuity that undermines everything else they were going for.  In fact, in terms of writing, the mother character was much more inconsistent than the father, which made the film uneven in spots.  Those are minor issues in an otherwise solid movie though.

This was some great Van Damme.  He had some great action scenes, especially at the very beginning, but also, as I mentioned above, his dramatic sequences worked well too.  This is the kind of thing that can easily look silly in an action film-- and we've seen it look pretty silly before-- and it's not like from a writing standpoint that this stuff is Oscar nominee caliber stuff, so Van Damme is pulling that kind of quality out of it. I also think there's something to be said for creating a character for Van Damme that allows him speak English as a second language, instead of trying to graft him into the role of a native English speaker.  It makes him sound less silly, and allows us to take him more seriously, which is necessary to make a movie like this work. In that sense, the writing was top notch and aided Van Damme in his performance.

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One thing this movie brought up was the issue that some children are worth more than others, yet all of them are human.  All of this effort is taken to save this one American girl, while throughout, Eastern European girls are captured and forced into sex slavery.  At the end, the issue is even put to us directly, when the leader of the gang that has the daughter, offers an exchange for one of the sex slaves that Van Damme and the parents have saved.  The mom is down with the switch, even knowing it means this girl's death.  Fortunately Van Damme steps in with a solution to their problem, which leads to an end to the movie that worked much better than the classic Van Damme defeating the head baddie with his fists-- perhaps another example of how Van Damme has grown as an actor.

Van Damme's son, Kristopher Van Varenberg, plays his son in the movie, and it worked much better than it sounds like it would.  It sounds like it should've been really indulgent, which would've made it unbearable to watch, and fortunately it wasn't anything like that.  I don't know what their relationship is like in real life, but in the film they made work the fact that a father who's an ex-mercenary and a son who works at the embassy in Moldova would have a complicated relationship.  Actually, they had the best chemistry in the film, and I think their scenes together were the best.

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I did have one major problem with the film, and if our buddy Kenner at Movies in the Attic is still reading this, he'd tell me it's because I'm too squeamish with these films, and it's nothing the film makers did wrong.  Regardless, I'll proceed, and you can be the judge.  At the end of the film, 6 Bullets goes classic faux-dark or faux-grit-and-edge, and cuts the daughter's finger off.  It's not shown on-screen, but it still happened.  I have always had a problem with this, because, especially in an action movie, it's the easiest way to graft a fake sense of darkness into an otherwise schlock DTV actioner.  This movie didn't need to go there, didn't need to spend that nickel, and it did it anyway.  Come on movie, you're better than that.

And I'm not kidding, it is better than that.  I rented this on Netflix on DVD.  I'm sure you can get it at RedBox too.  Wherever you get it, it's worth checking out.  This is some great Van Damme, perhaps his best since JCVD, and while it's a little longer than your average DTV action flick, it's worth it.

For more info:

Thursday, May 16, 2013

500 MPH Storm (2013)

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This one was suggested to me by Netflix Instant, and when I saw it had DTVC favorite Casper Van Dien, I figured I'd give it a go.  Not to mention it's from The Asylum, and their track record has been getting better recently.  Oh yeah, and it's under 90 minutes long, so even if it's not good, it's only 90 minutes, and on Instant.  How bad could it be, right?

500 MPH Storm has Casper Van Dien as a lantern-jawed, gray-stubbled scientist, called into action when the clean energy producing device he helped design is causing a mega storm.  Turns out his buddy, Michael Beach, accelerated the process of creating energy, which wasn't a good idea. The worst part: the storm and the device are feeding each other, and if they're not stopped, the result could be a 500 MPH hypercane!  Will Van Dien-- and his wife and son who are with him-- be able to save us from disaster?

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I liked this.  It was a parody of the disaster film, both the old and the new.  Sometimes it was really obvious, like when Van Dien and his wife and son drove into a cargo container being blown at them by the wind, and they had to drive out of it.  The reactions were so over the top, yet so funny, that it was obvious what they were doing.  Most of the time though, the mockery was more meta, like they were making fun of the genre and its conventions, but were using them at the same time, so it wasn't like a total Spaceballs style spoof.  It wasn't all roses though.  A film like this requires a lot of momentum to keep a story like this going for 90 minutes, and it lost steam around the hour mark.  Even then though it had its moments that made it fun.  It's an interesting bad movie night call, because it is making fun of itself too, making it hard for us to make fun of it, but it provides enough funny moments that it works.  Maybe a drinking game would make it better for bad movie night.

None of this would've worked if Casper Van Dien hadn't played it right though.  He delivered his one-liners mocking the film the right way, hammed it up when the role called for it, and played it straight well too.  In the 90s he did these movies, and they were more serious, so it's great to see him come back now and have some fun with it.  Speaking of the 90s, there's this one scene where a storm survivor steals his truck, and he says "aw, come on!" in a way that was very LA 90s surfer dude, bringing me back to the roles I remember him in at that time.  It was really cool, whether it was intentional or not.

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I did some homework, as any good blogger would, and found out on Wikipedia that a hypercane is an actual scientific concept.  It's hypothetical, the idea being that if a comet or asteroid hit the earth, and the ocean temperature reached over 120 degrees Fahrenheit, then a hypercane would result.  It's one explanation for the dinosaur extinction.  In the film, the water reaches that temperature when their energy generating device is activated.  I wonder how much they came to the Wikipedia page like I did when they wrote the film.  Not a bad deal if they did.

The Asylum seems to be getting better at this thing over time.  I can see how making movies like this can be hit or miss, but with each hit, I'm more willing to forgive the misses.  When I started this blog, it was the kind of thing they did, especially with the mockbuster names they had, that people would look at and say "Matt, you should do that one!"  500 MPH Storm is right there with 2-Headed Shark Attack and Titanic II as the kind of thing people think of when I tell them about my blog. What's great now is I'm getting more fun out of The Asylum's library when I have to watch them.

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Finally, Sarah Lieving plays Van Dien's wife in the film (though she's listed way down at the bottom, below all the "balloon fiesta patrons" even).  I thought she was a little young to have a son as old as their son was-- even though he was much older than whatever age he was supposed to be playing anyway--, but when I went to check, I saw that she didn't list her age.  I've heard this is an issue for women working in the film industry, that they have their ages posted, and they lose potential work.  I was thinking here that that might be a bad thing though, because people will say "She's not old enough to be that kid's mom.  How old is she?", then see and go "yeah, see, I told you so", but this is only one role, and she has others I'm sure where not listing her age will be an asset.  It's too bad though.  Hopefully with more women in the industry, this kind of thing will be less of an issue over time.

Okay, let's wrap this up.  I found it to be pretty fun.  It does a great job mocking this kind of film, but not in a way that's too heavy handed.  Also Casper Van Dien did a great job leading the film, which was great to see.  As of this posting, it's available on Netflix Instant.  I'd give it a look.

For more info:

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Maximum Force (1992)

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Our friend Johnny Sullivan, screenwriter of the great Recoil (Twitter @johnnyblackout), left a comment on my Facebook asking if I'd seen/reviewed Maximum Force, starring Sam Jones.  It had been on my radar, but his mention, combined with a few other people suggesting it-- and the fact that I wanted to get more Sam Jones on the DTVC anyway-- jumped this near the top of my list.  Luckily I knew someone who had it, and was able to check it out.  Also, our friends Ty at Comeuppance Reviews and Explosive Action looked at this one as well (can you imagine either of them missing something like this?), so you can check that out to see their takes.

Maximum Force is a PM Entertainment actioner about a crime boss named Tanabe, played, of course, by the late Richard Lynch.  He's rich, and owns a lot of LA's police force.  Enter Sam Jones, Sherrie Rose, and a young electronics and gun expert played by Jason Lively.  Each has his or her own reasons for taking down Lynch, but it's police captain John Saxon who has the biggest reason, and he decides he can bring these folks together to join forces and get the job done.  Problem is: Lynch won't go down that easily, and hopefully for him police chief Mickey Rooney will help him remain in power.

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This is pretty sweet.  It has that PM Entertainment everything but the kitchen sink approach to action, starting in the first five minutes with a chopper explosion.  That's right, they knew they needed to have a helicopter explosion in there somewhere, so they figured they'd just get it out of the way at the beginning.  Also, they expertly navigate Lynch's opening background speech to his underlings, by mixing in action scenes with Sam Jones and Sherrie Rose, then punctuating Lynch's speech with a death by Saran Wrap of one of his goons.  For people out there making action movies, this is how you do it.  PM Entertainment had this right more often than not, and as far as I can tell, you guys are getting it wrong more often than not 20 years later.  Stop getting it wrong, or we'll turn our backs on you and go exclusively back to when these movies were good.

One of the problems Johnny and others have had in looking for Sam Jones films on the DTVC is the lack of a tag.  That was a mistake on my part, and it's now been rectified, and right out of the gate this is his eleventh on here.  The key with Sam Jones as a hero is to cultivate that Tank Concrete/Lump Beefbroth aesthetic, without falling into 300-pound Pork Roast territory.  It's a bit of a tough line to straddle, but this film does it well.  When I think of the perfect Sam Jones role, the one we'd all like, it'd be something like a reality show where he confronts RATers or guys who proposition 12-year-old girls on the Internet, kind of in a Chris Hanson Dateline kind of way, only with a real strongman aspect.  Like he gets them in a headlock, and he's like "Oh, you think it's okay to spy on women through their webcams and mess with people's computers?" or "Oh, you think it's okay to talk to 12-year-old girls about sex in chat rooms?", and they're like whimpering and breathing hard and their faces are turning purple, and we're loving to see these shitheads get their comeuppance, before they're shipped off to jail.  That's the kind of Sam Jones we want, and any movie that casts him in the lead, needs to cultivate that, otherwise he's just a beefy guy in a flat top.

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How often do we ever get to see John Saxon as a good guy?  It's few and far between.  I've realized that he's one that, while he seems like he should be on here a bunch, isn't really.  The only other two to this point are Enter the Dragon, which we did for our 300th post, and Final Payback, a Richard Greico flick.  He's so much fun to see though, so I need to look out for more of his stuff.  In this one, I couldn't help seeing him in Mitchell, and listening to his lines riffed by Joel and the 'Bots on MST3K.  There was one scene where he was telling us the background of Jones, Rose, and Lively, and he sounded like his character in Mitchell, talking to Joe Don Baker about some payoff while his Christmas presents are in the background and he's holding a Slim Jim in his hand.  I just wanted to bark out Mitchell lines.

Above we mentioned Sherrie Rose teamed up with Jones to take Lynch down.  We see her a lot on here, but not always in big roles, but this was a big one.  She had some fight scenes, and she shot Sonny Landham, who had a very small scene as a pimp, while Rose was acting as a prostitute undercover.  Michael Delano played a snitch that Sam Jones pushed around for info-- though in true PM style, that involved Jones handcuffing him to a side-view mirror, then Jones driving around as a stuntman hung to it.  Delano was yelling "This isn't right!", then he said "I want a phone call!", so Jones drove his van through a phone booth.  So great.  There were also a few quickies: Ken McLeod was a bouncer in two scenes and got punched in the face by Jones; Ron Yuan had one scene where he fought in Lynch's underground fight club; then we had Asbjørn "Bear" Riiis as Jones's friend "Bear", who shows up at the end, takes a bunch of guys out, then is shot; and then we had Jeffrey Anderson-Gunter listed as Rastaman, as one of Lynch's underlings.  Finally, we had Mickey Rooney as the police chief.  How do you not love him?  He has one scene with Saxon where he tries to buy him off, then another where he gives a monologue about corruption and how money rules everything.  It's the kind of thing we love at the DTVC, small parts by guys like this who have four Oscar nominations and are known for much better stuff.

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Finally, last June Richard Lynch passed away, leaving behind a prodigious filmography of 160 credits, of which we've barely cracked the surface of the films he did that belong on here.  My personal favorite role of his was as the baddie in Invasion USA.  The travesty is that we've been planning to put him into the DTVC Hall of Fame for a few years, and just haven't made it happen.  Right now he's in the "In Memoriam" section, but we'll move him to the Hall of Fame soon.  I can't think of anyone who embodies that title more.  Here's to you Richard Lynch, you were one of the greatest.

As far as I can tell, this is out of print, but available used on Amazon both as DVD and VHS.  For PM Entertainment, it's not the best, but it's still really good.  If you're a collector, the Amazon prices aren't bad; if not, I'd keep an eye out for it in a bargain or used bin.  Also, you can stream it on Amazon too.

For more info:

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Interzone (1987)

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This is another of the Netflix Dump 8.  I liked it for inclusion because it was an 80s Italian low-budget exploitation, and looked like a lot of fun.  You never know with these ones, but usually, even if it's bad, it's so bad it's good.  Let's see if it held up.

Interzone has nothing to do with the William S. Burroughs short story collection (which was published after this movie was made anyway), nor does it have anything to do with The Naked Lunch.  It's about some post-apocalyptic future where these monks control an area called the Interzone-- or maybe they control an area in the Interzone, I don't remember-- and anyway, they have a treasure too, and a gang lead by Teagan Clive and another dude want it.  The monks have a force field protecting them, but it can't hold forever, so they send Thong from Cave Dwellers (playing someone named "Panasonic") to get someone to rescue them, and he finds Swan, a merry rogue of sorts who can fight and scam people with the best of them.  He tries the ol' Yojimbo maneuver to start with, starting strife between Teagan Clive and her gang partner.  Will his plan work?  Will the monks save the Interzone?

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This one holds up as the so-bad-it's-good.  I was worried at the beginning, because there was this scene where our hero was playing some betting Russian Roulette style game where he and his competitors drank from one of four glasses to see which one doesn't have poison in it.  It went on forever, and I thought "dear lord, what's happening here?"  But then it recovers, and from there it's a great time.  Fun action, weird things happening that make no sense but you love them from an Italian exploitation flick, and classic things like cars with armor that you know to expect.  It hits all the right spots, and is that fun movie you want from something like this.

The hero was played by Bruce Abbott, whom you may remember as Dan Cain from The Re-Animator and The Bride of the Re-Animator.  He was great in that old fashioned swashbuckling rogue of a hero set in a post-apocalyptic future kind of way.  He could be heroic when necessary, funny, cunning; it was all there, and he made the movie fun for it.  I have no idea why he wasn't cast in more things, because I would've loved to see him.  You'll notice on the cover they make him look more like DTVC Hall of Famer Richard Norton.  It isn't him, and don't make that mistake if you see the cover-- though Abbott is fun enough to make up for it.

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Thong!  Kiro Wehara (though he's Chen Wong in Cave Dwellers), and now we've done two of the three films he's ever been in.  He's great here as Panasonic the monk, and he takes the whole "you're taking your sweet time here Thong" aspect to the next level, because he's always taking his time before helping, in some cases waiting until after major tragic events occur.  But hey, who could ever hate you Thong, you're the best!  Here's to you Kiro Wehara, you're one of the good ones.

This movie was directed by Deran Sarafian, who has directed two films we've done on here, Gunmen and The Road Killers, both starring DTVC Hall of Famer Christopher Lambert.  I think this one was better, even though the others were done on a better budget and had better actors.  He's made most of his money since the late 90s directing TV shows, and according to imdb has been quite successful.  I guess that means an Interzone 2 isn't in the works any time soon.  That's okay, he did the first one, and that was enough.

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Teagan Clive is back, after a long hiatus of almost 6 years at the DTVC.  We last saw her in Alienator, co-starring DTVC favorite Ross Hagen.  Here she played a character with much more personality.  She was a sadistic gang leader who loved torturing her men.  Our hero has a crazy love scene with her, where they make a mockery of Nine and 1/2 Weeks-- though based on the timeline that would've only come out 1 year before this, so maybe it wasn't a direct parody.  Anyway, love Teagan Clive, but looking at her imdb bio, she did like 8 movies from '86 to '90, then called it a day.  Too bad, I feel like PM Entertainment would've loved to cast her in their movies, and they would've been great to see.

Let's wrap this up.  Now that Netflix has dumped it off Instant, it looks like used VHS is the only way to go, and Amazon does have them somewhat cheap.  If you're a collector I'd pay that price, otherwise I'd wait to find it used in a bargain bin somewhere.  It's a lot of fun, and worth checking out if you ever get the chance.

For more info:

Thursday, May 9, 2013

The Package (2013)

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You don't need me to tell you that this one looks like a big deal.  Dolph Lundgren and Stone Cold Steve Austin as the leads?  Sounds great.  Darren Shahlavi and Jerry Trimble in supporting roles?  Definitely.  Would I be more excited about this if it were made ten years ago?  Of course, but let's see how it went anyway.

The Package has Austin as a loan shark enforcer who's sent by his loan shark boss to deliver a package to fellow crime boss Dolph Lundgren.  The problem is, other people want the package, and they'll kill Austin for it.  Austin wants out, but the problem is his brother, Lochlyn Munro (of Mother, May I Sleep with Danger? fame), owes the loan shark a lot of money, so if Austin cuts and runs, it'll spell trouble for Munro.  What a dilemma, huh?

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This one started off as a good one with some bad parts, but devolved into a bad one with some good parts, which makes it ultimately a bust for me.  The crux of the problem was in the degree to which Austin's character was written as unlikable, and Dolph's was so awesome.  When they have their inevitable clash at the end, this creates a major Destro Effect, and no amount of canned, stock triumphant music playing as Austin bests Dolph can overcome the previous 90 minutes of Dolph being so fantastic.  Austin's character had his moments, but was pretty much this boring one-note, awe shucks, down-to-earth, blue collar guy, whose bad ass moments weren't always that bad ass.  What a waste, because we know from years of WWE work that he's plenty capable of plenty of bad assery and natural charisma, both of which were stymied.  The plot twist at the end was a waste as well, not to mention we find out that the guys that want the package from Dolph only want it so they can leverage money from him for it, meaning it's not a big deal if they win-- another bad plot device.  We had some great action moments, but we also had some boring non-action ones of Austin talking with his wife that went nowhere, or talking with his boss that also went nowhere.  Just give me a good action movie and cut out the rest of the bullshit, that's all I ask for, but it seems too hard to deliver.

Let's start with Dolph, because he's the man in this.  Another major flaw in the writing was how much fun Dolph's scenes were, even the ones where he wasn't fighting, which, when juxtaposed with the lifeless ones Austin was stuck with, again made Dolph look that much better.  The fight between he and Austin at the end had its moments, but at the same time, was filled with plot convenience theater, because throughout the film we're given Dolph as this superior, well-trained, experienced fighter, yet on two occasions he commits real boneheaded mistakes that allows Austin to get the upper hand.  It's almost like the Superman problem, where they made him so powerful, they had to invent kryptonite to make him vulnerable.  I guess here they made Dolph so awesome they had to resort to plot convenience theater.

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As much as we love Dolph, Austin's character was the key, and I think if we go back to what made him so successful in wrestling, we can see why his character was doomed to fail before Austin even saw the script.  Austin revolutionized the WWE by being the first real heel that fans really rooted for.  It's one thing to go from heel to hero and back, but with Austin, he was the bad guy, but people were rooting for him anyway.  Vince McMahon saw what this meant and went with it, to large success, because Austin became one of the biggest stars ever.  What this movie did though, was go in the reverse of what McMahon and Austin did, and decided to keep the hero vanilla and one-note, and ignore everything great that Austin brings to the table, ultimately to the film's detriment.  We had one scene in the beginning where he seems great, and that devolves into a scene with his boss that's just bad dialog.  Then there was the one with Austin and Trimble, which was one of my favorite scenes in the movie.  First we have some great banter between the two-- one of the few moments we see that great side of Austin--, followed by a great fight.  We needed more of this.  Instead we had a lot of that blah dialog that wasn't Austin, and didn't feel right-- which then made the moments when he had great lines seem out of place with his character.  Even the bad assness had its flaws, like when Austin, tied to a chair, headbutts a guy in the nose and kills him.  What?  You stole that from The Last Boy scout, are you kidding me?  Austin is plenty bad ass himself, he doesn't need second-hand bad assery.  And don't get me started on the silly scene of Austin running away that was sauteed in wrong sauce.

I'm not sure I understand why Darren Shahlavi doesn't have more parts, and more big parts.  Maybe because he's not a big name, but I'd like to see him as the lead in some DTV flicks, or maybe a buddy picture with him and Scott Adkins, just tearing it up.  He gets in these things, and gets maybe one good fight scene, and that's it.  We haven't seen anything to rival his part in Bloodmoon, but hopefully that will change.  Jerry Trimble was a pleasant surprise, because often when we see him in new stuff, he's barely got a cameo, so to see him have a legitimate part with a great fight against Austin was pretty sweet.  No amazingness along the lines of Live by the Fist, but very little is.

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Finally, in another case of missed opportunities, Monique Ganderton played a member of Shahlavi's gang, and she has this one sweet scene where she throws this guy in a triangle choke, and kills him.  Where was that the whole movie?  And then she devolves into just "I'm an expert at torture, and I'm going to get close to torturing you Steve Austin without doing it for ten minutes, before you take me out." How could you have had this woman in the movie so long without using her skills, then waste them so casually?

Ugh, I need to stop, or I'll turn this into the worst movie ever.  It's not the worst ever, but it's not exactly good either, and not anywhere near as good as it could've been considering the talent we had.  I know action movies aren't as easy to write as they seem, and I know things happen throughout the production process that can derail even the best-intentioned movie, but that doesn't change the fact that this was a major disappointment.

For more info:

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Forced to Fight (2011)

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We're looking here at a film with two DTVC Hall of Famers, Gary Daniels and Peter Weller.  Who wouldn't want to see that?  I was waiting for it to be released on DVD here in the States, and seemingly out of nowhere, it became available on Netflix Instant-- though still not on DVD.  Hey, however we can get it right?  And Netflix Instant is a lot easier than hoping someone will send me a VHS rip off an obscure Region 2 European tape with hard subs-- that's what I always say anyway.

Forced to Fight has Daniels as a former fighter whose brother, also a fighter, gets in deep with underground fight organizer Peter Weller.  After Weller's goons beat up the brother, Daniels finds out the brother is into him for 60K, and it's now up to Daniels to make that money back by fighting.  The problem is, the more he fights, the more of a jerk he becomes, and in the process he alienates his wife and son; not to mention, Weller is not one to be trusted, so it's only a matter of time before he doesn't keep his word to Daniels.  Will he make it out alive?

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Before I get into why this didn't work for me, and there are many reasons why, I want to first applaud this film for trying to do something new with the forced to fight paradigm.  First, these aren't fights to the death, they're more like realistic-- but still illegal-- underground fights.  Second, I like the idea that Daniels is only kind of forced to fight, i.e. that he's not kidnapped and held in a cell, just forced to fight in the sense that he's paying off his brother's debt.  Further on that point, I liked that we had a hero that was fighting for more than just his life.  I liked that he was fighting to see if he still had it, and that his hyper-competitive side was consuming him.  All of this added some nuance that we don't usually see in movies like this.

The problem is, the execution was off.  First and foremost, the whole construct of making Daniels a jerk was sauteed in wrong sauce.  The idea is that we want to root for this guy, and when he calls his sensitive, young son "cry baby", that can't be unsaid with a simple apology.  The Lionheart construct would've worked better here I think, by having it be his brother's wife and kid, by killing the brother off, and still having Daniels pay off the brother's debt.  I'm going to get into the brother in the final paragraph because it has spoilers, but I think his character was totally off and caused a lot of confusion in how we were supposed to take the plot.  The way the fights went too were off.  He fights in a bunch, wins, then has to take dives for a while.  Just have him train for a Weller hosted Battle Royale, with a few bar fights and whatnot thrown in to keep the action quotient up.  Keep the nuance of him wanting to see if he's still got it, and of his competitive drive, but let everything play out a little more organically.  Finally, the interactions between Daniels's character and his wife demonstrated the limitations of a plot like this when shown in the classic Alpha Male themed action movie.  The wife is only there to provide a sense of his humanity, so when he turns on her in his jerk phase, it's him losing his humanity, and he only gets it back when he reunites with her-- as opposed to finding his humanity on his own, without the need of a female proxy.  There's still that overarching sense that full humanity is a weakness, and real men only experience it through their relationships with women, thus allowing the women to be weak so they don't have to.  One can only get so nuanced while still in the classic One Dimensional Alpha Male construct.

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I don't want any of this to be an indictment on Daniels's performance, because it's not his fault the movie had inconsistencies, nor that it thought making him into a jerk that called his young son a "cry baby" would somehow work in an action movie.  What I saw as a complete missed opportunity here was the thing they tried to tap into, but never quite got there on, and that was his sense of competitiveness combined with age.  A lot of these action stars, Daniels included, had a life before movies as a professional sport fighter, and all of them have that competitiveness in them; but because most of them play former special forces agents, we never see that aspect explored, even though I'm sure they feel it as actors as much as they would if they were still competing.  That was the part of Daniels's performance here that felt authentic, and unfortunately that was ruined by the jerk aspect.  That's too bad, because I think if we had had more Lionheart, Daniels would've nailed it out of the park, and it would've been nice to see.  Oh, and as an aside, he channels his inner Jean-Claude Van Damme in one scene with his training montage split.  No bare buttcheeks though.

There was no doubt in Weller as a baddie, though his baddie character had it's moments of inconsistency as well.  He kind of just rolled off the rails near the end, but Weller's so entertaining that it's still fun.  His yelling is the best.  No one yells like Weller does.  He's also great at being disillusioned, which is an underrated baddie trait.  I wonder how much of what he says in this is ad libbed, and how much was written.  Some of the lines made no sense, and some of them, while still making no sense, sounded great because he was saying them.  You can never have enough Peter Weller, that's a great rule to live by.

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Back to the brother.  After healing at Daniels's place while Daniels is out there fighting for him and turning into a jerk, the brother is kicked out by Daniels in a fit of jerkiness, and then goes to Peter Weller to see if he can settle things with him and let Daniels off the hook.  Weller shoots and kills him.  What?  What was the point of having the brother throughout this whole thing if you're just going to kill him off anyway?  Just kill him off to start with then.  I don't understand what you're trying to do with him.  Again, Lionheart was the way to go with this: kill brother off, have Daniels fight for brother's wife and kid, make Daniels a loner, add in aging athlete aspect.  I don't see how hard any of this is.

This one is a disappointment, because it could've been so much, but ends up missing and missing in ways that ultimately doom it.  That's too bad, because we had a great Weller, and a potential for the best acting Daniels we've ever seen.  A message to all of you potential action film writers out there: don't make your lead hero a jerk who's verbally abusive to his young son.

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Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Mutant Hunt (1987)

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This is another of the Netflix Dump 8, chosen because it has Sgt. Kabukiman, NYPD star Rick Gianasi.  I had never seen anything else with him in it, and considering Netflix only had this on Instant, when it was gone I'd lose my chance, so I had to make it happen.  It looked like a lot of fun, so we'll see if it was.

Mutant Hunt takes place in a future that looks suspiciously like a run down late-80s New York City.  A company is making cyborgs better than the cyborgs before them, but the alien DNA they've tried to fuse them with has turned them into sex-crazed maniacs with melting faces and superhuman strength.  This causes one of the scientists working for the company to escape and run to Rick Gianasi, who is a mercenary that the scientist's brother used to know.  She tells him the score, and he and his other mercenary friends are on the case.  The question is, will they be able to stop them?

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This movie is a lot of fun, but it's so low-budget that it's not for everyone.  In one scene, a cyborg's arm stretched like Mr. Fantastic to reach for a weapon.  There are two ways to go with that: either you think it's "cheesy", or you think it's amazing; and if you're in the former, avoid this movie like the plague; but if you're in the latter, buckle up, because this is a great bad movie night good time.  Gianasi is awesome, the cyber-punk outfits were awesome, the not-so-well choreographed fight scenes were awesome, the backing music was awesome-- this thing is pretty much what you're looking for when you see it on the shelves.

We love Rick Gianasi here at the DTVC, to this point only for his work in Sgt. Kabukiman, NYPD.  This movie doesn't give him as many intentionally funny moments, but there is a sense that he's having fun with this.  I can't imagine what he was thinking as this was shot-- I mean, his first scene involves him fighting off a cyborg in only his tighty-whities.  But he has everything you'd want in the cool action lead, from the slick lines, to the well-feathered hair.  This character is definitely more together than the one he played in Kabukiman, but you can see here where he might have that comedic talent in him that was so prevalent there.

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This kind of movie looks like a lot of fun to make.  I'd love to get some people together and find some abandoned buildings and make some costumes out of everyday ordinary stuff, and just throw caution to the wind.  The funny thing of course now is that with YouTube every kid with a phone can try their hand at this-- and probably fail miserably.  There's something about these more professionally made ones that, no matter how poorly they turn out, have an authenticity to them that transcends the high school kids fooling around for a school project.  Silliness be damned, the people involved had a certain amount of professionalism that kids don't have-- and shouldn't have, because they're kids.  So, as much fun as a Mutant Hunt might look to make, I know it wouldn't be that much fun if I actually tried to make it.  Maybe writing the screenplay is enough...

What do we think of the jumpsuit?  Just let me unzip my shirt to take a leak.  Sounds great.  Her we have our hero wearing one, and, as luck would have it, he has a love scene.  Yes, and she unzips his shirt... to get into his pants.  Is that not the sexiest thing ever?  Of all the great wardrobe moments, and there were many, the jumpsuit love scene had to be my favorite.  You've also gotta love the padded car seats used as vests(?) by the corporation leader and his sister.  Is this futuristic fashion?  Hey, go to Napa and get more costumes.

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The director of this film is Tim Kincaid, and Mutant Hunt came in a period in the mid-80s when he tried his hands at real theatrical/direct-to-video movies.  What was he doing before and after?  I'm glad you asked.  In looking him up on imdb to see what else he'd done, I see a bunch of films directed by him under a fake name, with titles like "Men's Room III".  Men's Room III?  What kind of silly horror movie is that, I wonder. I'm sure you're already ahead of me, but I click on it, and discover, it's gay porn.  I'm not saying there's anything wrong with gay porn, I'm saying it's funny that I couldn't have figured that out without clicking on the movie title.

And with that, let's wrap this review up.  Mutant Hunt is a really fun time for those who enjoy schlock, low-budget flicks.  It has everything you'd want in a so-bad-it's-good gem.  You can get this both as a used VHS or as a part of Full Moon's Grindhouse Collection on DVD.  It's your call, but I think you'll have fun either way.

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Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Freelancers (2012)

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This has been on Netflix Instant for a while now, and with names like 50 Cent, Robert De Niro, Forest Whitaker, and Dane Delany, I needed to check it out.  I didn't know what to expect.  We'd seen 50 Cent before and liked him, so hopefully that will continue.  On the other hand, we've had high hopes for movies before, and been sorely disappointed.

Freelancers stars 50 Cent as a guy fresh out of the police academy who, with his two buddies, is ready to start on the beat.  Unlike his two buddies though, he's off uniformed patrols and put straight into plain-clothes duty by Robert De Niro and Forest Whitaker.  Why?  Because 50's father used to work with De Niro and Whitaker before his untimely death, and De Niro wants to do him a solid.  Also, De Niro is a big time corrupt cop, which has its benefits to 50 too.  As we know though, if a thing sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

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This didn't work for me, and I was trying to figure out why.  I went back through the other reviews I've done of 50 Cent's movies, and in every case I liked his performances, so was it his fault he wasn't fitting here?  Not really, but acting opposite De Niro, Whitaker, or even Delany, it was obvious that he was punching above his weight class.  Is that a knock on him?  Not at all, in De Niro we're talking about one of the greatest actors of the past 50 years, and in Whitaker we're talking about another Oscar winner, and Delany has two Golden Globe nominations for her work in China Beach.  What happens though, is 50's character, who looks like he's walking in water compared to the sprinting we're seeing with De Niro and Whitaker, is sold to us as the guy that outsmarts those two, and that really has no veracity.  A big part of that is the writing though.  We're supposed to believe that a rookie with no police experience can take down two heavy hitters like this, and it doesn't work.  The writing in general had too many weak spots, I think because it tried to cover too much, and ended up not being focused enough.  At the beginning, we had the classic "backstory conversation device", where plot exposition comes through in an unnatural conversation between characters-- the kind of thing that might as well have just been scrolling text before the credits.  From that point on we have moments where the story works, where the social message makes sense, and then it loses itself, and we wonder where those messages went.  It's not a horrible movie by any stretch, but overall it's a no for me.

That's not to say that De Niro and Whitaker don't bring it, and that we don't see how good they are.  They absolutely kill it every time they're on screen.  De Niro reminds us of his great roles in Goodfellas and The Godfather II with his street wise corrupt cop character.  In fact, had he mailed it in a little we might have believed that 50's character could get the better of him.  Same with Forest Whitaker, and I think we see what the difference is between him and 50 in how they look next to De Niro, because Whitaker fits, and both his and De Niro's characters build off one-another.  Whitaker was downright scary, and his ending as a character was really fatuous compared to the performance he put in.  For people that are fans of them, you'll love seeing what they do in this film, but might be disappointed like I was in how their characters devolved into I don't know what so quickly.

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We live in this zero-sum binary society where everything is couched in terms of winning and losing, black and white.  In that sense, it probably sounds like I'm saying 50 Cent didn't do a good job in this, or that he turned in a bad performance that killed the film.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  To say that 50 Cent, who has only been acting seriously for a few years now, isn't at the level of De Niro, Whitaker, or even Dana Delany, isn't a knock on him.  I think if the character had been more like his one in Streets of Blood, where he's playing more of a veteran cop with some experience-- and a character that was closer in age to his actual age of 37-- when we get to the end and he needs to bring De Niro down, we can believe it more.  I think too, it would've given him more to work with opposite De Niro and Whitaker, if maybe he's a veteran cop just promoted to De Niro's unit, and he has misgivings about what they're doing.  I don't know though, no matter what, if you give 50 the lead in a film that co-stars De Niro and Whitaker in main roles, he'll look out of his league, no matter how well the character is written.  Again, not a knock on him, more a compliment to how good those two are.

Rounding out the cast, we had the already mentioned Dana Delany, who has a small role as the wife of a deceased district attorney that had a hand in raising 50 Cent's character.  I think she's in two scenes, but I thought she was great in both of them.  DTVC favorite Vinnie Jones is back in a one scene cameo as a drug dealer or something.  Always great to see him.  Finally, we had the late great Pedro Armedariz Jr. as the main crime boss.  According to imdb, this was one of his last roles, released after he passed away in 2011.  Like the people I mentioned above, he doesn't have many scenes, but like them, he makes the most of them.

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Finally, this character was credited simply as "White Girl", and her short time on screen doesn't end well, but she made quite an impression me.  You have the neck tattoo, the baseball cap, and what you can't hear, is the Ebonics she speaks.  Be still my heart.  What a pair we would make, huh?  Me reading Turgenev's Fathers and Sons, she calling me the N word in public, and me telling her in an angry whisper that she's going to get us hurt talking like that.  Maybe at 1AM I get a phone call with her on the other end telling me she got "caught up in some shit", and she needs me to bail her out of jail.  I tell her I have no money, and she tells me to just call a bail bondsman.  I tell her I have no idea how that works, and things become tense.  On the one hand, the jail visits are great because I get to read more Turgenev in the waiting room; on the other, it's jail.

It's time I wrapped this up.  While we had great performances, especially from De Niro and Whitaker, this movie has too many short comings for me to give it an out-and-out recommendation.  Ultimately this was felled by a script that tried to do too much, to tell too much, and over reached.  Not the worst thing ever, but not the best either.

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