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.
Thursday, June 27, 2013
Here is another of the films submitted to us by Kevin at MTI Video. This one I was really interested in, because it starred Eric Roberts. He's a favorite here at the DTVC, even though we haven't reviewed nearly as many of his 300+ imdb credits as we should. (Have you looked at his bio recently? He has more post-production credits than most people's full CVs.)
23 Minutes to Sunrise takes place in a small Illinois town outside of St. Louis. It involves two people who work 3rd shift at a diner, Eddie and Sheila (Dingani Beza and Jilanne Klaus respectively), and the odd assortment of patrons they have. Two of them are Eric Roberts and a young lady with him. There's something ominous about Roberts, and Eddie thinks he knows why, and because of that doesn't want anything to do with him; while Sheila wants to protect the girl. At the same time, a young thug and his girlfriend show up, looking to rob the place. They're all on a collision course to wackiness!
There were a lot of aspects of this that I enjoyed. I liked the two main characters, Eddie and Sheila; I liked the sets and cinematography and the way those things set a great atmosphere of mystery and tension; I loved what Eric Roberts brought to the table, and the other supporting cast, including Nia Peeples. What I didn't like was the ending. I felt like it wasn't worthy of who the main characters were, and I felt like they deserved better than the ending they got. I obviously can't discuss the ending without giving it away, but it was a disappointment. Overall, the story had its slow moments, but it also had some great ones that would have made up for that; but for me, it couldn't recover from that ending.
Eric Roberts was definitely Eric Roberts here. He was just smoking cigarettes and chewing up scenery. It's amazing, for someone who does so many films, that he doesn't mail it in when he's in a low-budget film like this, but he doesn't. I think that's what I love about Roberts, that he's a consummate professional. Or maybe that he's always Eric Roberts in every film, whether it's this or The Expendables, it's Eric Roberts. For fans of him, like myself, this definitely delivers, and in that respected I enjoyed it.
The film is carried by the stories of Eddie and Sheila, who create a kind of united front in dealing with the customers, and Beza and Klaus make those characters compelling enough that I wanted to root for them and I stuck with the film because I wanted to see them make out well. Again, the ending doesn't provide that kind of fulfillment, at least for me, which was an extreme disappointment. I think when you put in the work to give us strong, nuanced characters, and give us a reason to invest in them, we need that investment to pay off, otherwise the whole thing is shot.
As I mentioned above, Nia Peeples is in this, playing a wife who is having marital problem with her husband, played by Bob Zany-- he's not all that zany though. She doesn't have that many scenes, but her role is one of the few that infuses some humor into the film, which was a good thing. The young lady with Roberts was played by Haley Busch, heir to a massive beer company fortune that we won't name in order to avoid buzz marketing it. I noticed that the director made sure to get a good shot of a nice microbrew in a convenience store scene, which was a nice counter to that. The couple looking to rob the place were played by Tom Sandoval and Kristen Doute. They were listed as being on a reality show called Vanderpump Rules. I have no idea what that is, but maybe someone reading does. All of these people did their thing as a supporting cast, and they all worked, though I would have liked to have seen more Nia Peeples.
Finally, we have Greg Warren playing a developmentally delayed man who dresses as a super hero and comes into the diner to get what appears to be his usual meal and coffee. Eddie and Sheila know him and like him, and unless you have no heart, it would be hard for anyone else to not like him either. The film maker though pulls a very mean-spirited move and has Sandoval's thug character rob him at gun point. It happens off-screen, but when he comes back we see him with Warren's superhero money belt. The thug character really has no repercussions from this, making it all the more mean-spirited. I don't know about you, but I don't enjoy seeing developmentally delayed characters robbed at gunpoint, especially in the context of the rest of the film with the goodwill it was building through the Eddie and Sheila characters. Maybe some people enjoy more mean-spirited fare in their films, but I don't.
And maybe that's it, this didn't work for me because it wasn't made for me. Except, 90 percent of it, all but the superhero character getting robbed and the end, worked for me; so where does that leave someone who likes the more mean-spirited elements, but not the better-feeling elements that I enjoyed leading up to them? I don't know, it's an interesting call. This is available on DVD from both Netflix and RedBox, so those would be places to check it out if you are interested.
For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2009402/
Wednesday, June 26, 2013
This is another of the films submitted to us by Kevin at MTI Home Video. We've done our share of snake films here at the DTVC, including another one called Venom, a Klaus Kinski thriller from 1981. In fact, our first ever review was a snake film, Boa vs. Python, so the snake film had a special place in my heart. Let's see what this edition brings.
Venom is about a mother and daughter, Jessica Morris and Oliviah Crawford respectively, who go on a trip to the desert after Morris finds out her husband cheated on her. Taking a turn off to an outlook, Morris runs over a snake, and all hell breaks loose. She's bitten, the car's starter is jacked up, and now they're wandering the desert with some angry snakes chasing them. At the same time, there's some bad drug dealer stuff going on, with one guy running off with another guy's cash (the other guy played by Roberto "Sanz" Sanchez). So not only do the ladies have to deal with the snakes, they have drug dealers now too.
I was trying to figure out why this one wasn't working for me, because it didn't seem so horrible for a low-budget snake thriller. It wasn't really one major issue, but a few that came together. First, we never had a consistent threat. The snakes came and went, but there wasn't a sense that they had to run and hide from them, or that they were always going to strike. They could take time to sit on a rock, check the mother's wound, hash out their mother-daughter issues. And the mother's sickness from her wound seemed to come and go as it seemed convenient to the plot. Also, the drug dealers never posed a constant threat either, and when they finally meet up with our heroines, their threat is resolved rather quickly. I think it would've worked better had they met up with them earlier, and then had to elude them. Then there was Jessica Morris as the mother. We had this element of her as a recovering addict, also that perhaps she was more big sister to her daughter than mother. The problems here with that were two-fold: first, she was compelling in that part, and on some levels I wanted more of that, and didn't get it as this devolved into snake movie; and second, it's hard to watch a character that's consistently making bad decisions. We want resourceful heroines overcoming impossible odds, not heroines who throw their cell phones in the middle of the desert, then decide it's faster to walk many more miles into the desert instead of a few miles back to where the phone was after the car breaks down. And when she compounds her bad decisions with more bad decisions, it's even harder to watch. But moreover, because she's compelling as this broken character, any schlock fun horror factor this might have had goes away, because I don't want to laugh at her. All that said, I think for someone who likes the snake sub-genre of thrillers, this might be worth looking at.
Continuing on Jessica Morris's mother character, because she was an interesting one. There were definite inconsistencies. She's maybe or maybe not a famous singer, and that's only discussed at a very surface level. Morris's imdb lists her as my age, but she looks younger, and I think the character she was playing was younger, and that element isn't really explored either: is her husband older, is he her manager, was the pregnancy planned if she was younger, how much did she do in raising her daughter, or did a nanny do most of it? All of these things are slightly more than hinted at, but not delved into enough leaving me wondering what was going on; yet seemed to impact the way Morris and Crawford are supposed to be interacting. There's also the mother's addiction, which she's either recovering from and relapsed the night before, or she's not really taking recovery seriously. Again, another element that isn't delved into, but brought up enough that it's there. The problem with all of these, is that Morris really sells the mother, especially the fact that she's young and doesn't know what she's doing. We always see these bad horror movies where the girl goes down to the basement to check on some sound, and gets (as my old anth professor used to say) her hair parted in a most unusual fashion, and we laugh. Here, it's hard to laugh at Morris's character because of who she is, even when she's doing silly things, and in a movie like this, that's kind of what we want. While I enjoyed the snake aspect of the film, and the tension of the looming drug dealers, I almost would've rather had a film about the mother and daughter making sense of their relationship, and all the things that were just hinted at in passing could've been explored further.
Last week we reviewed the film Wild Girl Waltz for writer/director Mark Lewis, and in that I discussed how the film met the Bechdel Test, and how we don't get many films like that here. Now two out of our last three meet it. Again, it's: at least two named women, having a conversation together, about something other than a man. Doesn't seem that hard, but it's very rare. I just watched Fast Five a few days ago, and it was listed as a Bechdel film, but it didn't meet it, even by the hairsplitting standard the person used to classify it. This film has long stretches, like Wild Girl Waltz, that met the test, and again, my head didn't explode, I didn't run from my DVD player crying, and if I found any issues with the film, it had nothing to do with the fact that we had so many scenes with two women talking about something other than a man. Hollywood, stop being so afraid of movies that meet the Bechdel Test.
Do we count the evil snake that was chasing them as a man? Even then, there were other scenes where Morris and Crawford talked about other things, but still, it's an interesting construct to have an animal as the main antagonist when discussing Bechdel criteria. The snake as a villain in itself is an interesting one, because a large part of it depends on how much one is afraid of snakes. I'm not, but I grew up with ones in my yard that weren't poisonous, so that's different. Our heroines don't seem to have any specific fear of snakes either though. They fear being bitten, but as the film goes on, they seem okay with the idea of snakes themselves, as long as they're not being bitten. For me, I love the idea of anthropomorphizing the snakes, inserting my own dialog when we see them on-screen. The only thing better than snakes are CGI dinosaurs for that kind of thing. And cows.
I want to go back to the opening credits scenes, where we have Morris's character out partying, drinking, doing coke, and eventually finding herself close to passing out on a curb in Hollywood. This just felt like a different movie. The sets, the cinematography, Morris's acting, this was very 90s indie film about a woman who parties too much or is dealing with addiction. We find out after that this is actually a relapse because she found out about her husband's indiscretions. I guess it was necessary to set the stage for who Morris's character is, but it wasn't a snake movie kind of thing. It was good, I liked it, but it didn't fit, and it had me wondering what I was in for, and later, wondering where this part of the movie was.
I know this review is a little all over the place, so I'll wrap it up here. You can get it at RedBox, so if you're looking for a snake film, maybe give it a try through that. For me, it just had too many disparate elements for me to latch onto anything; and while it had its tense moments, there were also lulls with no sense of impending danger, and often the danger that was there was resolved too quickly to have the impact it wanted. I feel like it would be a better bet on Netflix Instant, but it's not on there, and it's not like RedBox is that expensive either.
For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1931601/
Tuesday, June 25, 2013
I saw this was on Netflix, and I was looking to get more of Christian Slater's DTV flicks up here anyway, so I decided to go with it. I also liked the idea of doing a flick with Donald Sutherland and Timothy Spall in it. Oh yeah, and it's directed by DTV action great Isaac Florentine. How could I not review this?
Assassin's Bullet has Christian Slater as a former FBI agent who is now working in Sofia, Bulgaria for the US government's ESL program there. At the same time, there's a vigilante assassin killing Muslim baddies in the capital city, and after a time US ambassador Donald Sutherland has Slater take the case. As things unfold, he's finding strange connections between the assassin and a belly dancer he met at a local club, and a female patient his psychiatrist friend Timothy Spall has. Will he be able to crack the case?
I don't know what to do with this one. It had some great Florentine-esque action, but this wasn't an action film per se, and a lot of the scenes were action-less; yet, at the same time, Florentine still managed to infuse some levels of action into them. I enjoyed Slater, Sutherland, Spall, and Elika Portnoy, who was the female lead. The ultimate issue that fells many films like this, and which felled this one for me, is that it had too many people were involved in the writing (in this case three), which meant things were all over the place, perhaps worst of all at the end, where we really don't even get any resolution, the classic lazy denouement. I think it had a lot of things it wanted to do, and just didn't know how to do it all in 90 minutes, which unfortunately means the totality of the film suffers.
As I said above, I did enjoy Slater though. His character seemed to be as much all over the place as other aspects of the film, but at its core it made sense as a former FBI agent dealing with the death of his wife four years before. He seemed like a genuinely nice guy, which helped. I remember one scene where he determined where the assassin killed someone from, out on some bank across the river from where they were, and as he was walking past a couple local detectives, he patted one on the arm, out of some sort of camaraderie that I didn't know he had with them; but he's just that kind of a nice guy. It's been 25 years since Heathers came out, and it's cool to see Slater still getting after it that many years later, whether it's DTV or Big Hollywood.
I remember when we reviewed Recoil, writer Johnny Sullivan (Twitter @johnnyblackout) mentioned that it was directed by Terry Miles, who to that point had worked in more dramatic pictures. It worked out really well then, to have a big action writer like Sullivan matched up with a dramatic director like Miles, because the two could add things the other didn't offer, creating a more complete movie. We had a measure of that here, with Isaac Florentine as an action director adding action to scenes that were purely dramatic. One in particular involved the belly dancer seducing Slater. There was a lot of quick edits, loud clapping, even sharp movements in what is an otherwise slow, rhythmic kind of a scene. He also injected his kind of action into the action scenes, one born of great Hong Kong films, which I really liked to see. I'd rather see him do more action oriented films in the future, but it was cool to see him do something like this too.
It was fun to finally get a Donald Sutherland film on here, another actor I grew up watching. He's not in this entirely much, but when he's there, he's Sutherland, and he's great. I was also excited to get a Timothy Spall film up, because, as far as I can tell, I haven't done one of his yet either. I thought I had, but looking at his imdb page, I guess not. He was equally Spall the way Sutherland was Sutherland, which makes both cool to see in this film. Elika Portnoy played the female lead. There is some mystery behind her character, so the best I can give you is "female lead", and tell you she was good too. Also, it's her story that was turned into the screenplay. I wonder how much of her original idea made it into the final project, if all of it.
Finally, we know I often discuss the attire of the actors in these films, especially when I see an abhorrent fanny pack on the hero. This isn't anything so egregious, but it is noteworthy. Slater's scarf here is very hipster meme-ish, no? Like maybe the "Hipster Barista Meme"? "Why did the Hipster wear the scarf in the summer? He was cold before it was cool." I'm not good enough at the Internet to do these things, but wouldn't it be great to have a Christian Slater Hipster Meme? "Won't talk about Heathers. Too many GIFs of it on Tumblr." "Favorite movie he did: Kuff, because no one else likes it."
And with that let's call this one good. It wasn't totally horrible, but it didn't quite do it enough for me. Some solid Florentine action, but not enough; and while the story wasn't bad, it also wasn't consistent-- something consistent with having multiple writers--, which ultimately felled it. Too bad, because we also had some good performances from Slater et. al. As of this posting, you can still get this on Instant. Might be the best way to check this out.
For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1780983/
Thursday, June 20, 2013
Mark Lewis, writer/director of Wild Girl Waltz, contacted me about reviewing his film. It's the kind of film we often don't get an opportunity to look at here, which intrigued me; plus, it was shot and set in Western Massachusetts, an area that I kind of knew, being that it's about 2 and 1/2 hours from where I grew up. I also liked the trailer, and I always like to look at a submission from a low-budget film maker. Let's see how it went.
Wild Girl Waltz stars Samantha Steinmetz and Christina Shipp play Tara and Angie, friends in a small town in Western Mass who decide on one lazy Saturday to take some goofy pills. Enter Brian, played by Jared Stern, who's Tara's boyfriend and Angie's older brother. He's now in charge of them, in part because he's been press-ganged into babysitting duties, and in part because he has nothing better going on and he enjoys their company.
I liked this. It did, like any drug induced high, come down near the end and lose a lot of its steam, but overall it was funny and worth watching. I especially liked the chemistry between Steinmetz and Shipp, but Stern worked well too with them. It's funny, you wouldn't think a movie at 82 minutes long would need to be shorter, but between the extended opening credits sequence, where we have a country song that plays in its entirety and kills the film's early momentum; and the end where we've lost too much steam and the bad decisions the trio made earlier don't have any repercussions, I think 65-70 minutes would have been better. But that also means that 75 percent of this film is great, and in that sense I think this is worth it.
I'm not sure if you've heard of the Bechdel Test for movies (you can check it out on Wikipedia), but it has three components: first, the film has two named women; second, they talk to each other; and third, about something other than a man. You'd be surprised how few films meet such simple criteria, but I'm not sure if any out of the almost 900 films I've reviewed to this point meet the test until Wild Girl Waltz. And the thing is, there isn't a sense here that Mark Lewis was trying for that specifically, or that he was using it as a gimmick. He made a very funny movie about two female characters that were well-written and played by two great actresses. Due to the bias in Hollywood against films that meet the Bechdel Test, I have a feeling if Lewis brought this script to a big studio, they'd have asked him to change one of the women to a man, and that would've ruined the dynamic that I'm about to get into below. On the other hand, I'm a straight male, and I did not go running from the TV because two women were on-screen carrying on a funny conversation about something other than a guy. Come on Hollywood, put more women in your movies, we can handle it.
One thing I liked about the character breakdown, was that each of the characters could potentially feel left out from the relationships that the other two have. With Brian, he's not the best friends Tara and Angie are, and is the only guy in the group. We find out as the film goes on that he's not exactly an alpha male, and the girls let him be more of who he is than the guys in their small town, yet he's still a guy, and feels outnumbered at times. Angie is single, and looks at the relationship between Brian and Tara as something she's separate from. Then there's Brian and Angie who are siblings, and there's that family bond that Tara isn't a part of when the three of them are together. It's almost something that I would've liked to have seen explored more, but I didn't mind that it was developed more in the background either.
This film is in the tradition of Kevin Smith's Clerks, which I saw in the theater almost 20 years ago, but it was lacking in some ways that that classic wasn't. For instance, in Clerks, even though it had an episodic nature, decisions the characters made had an impact later on. While on some levels that happens here, for the major incidents, it doesn't, which, again, makes the ending feel like it's spinning its wheels. In fact, had those decisions come home to roost, we could've had more exciting humorous scenes, and based on how well the ones we did have worked, it's disappointing that those others were left on the table-- or not even conceived, as it were. Maybe in real life not everything has consequences, but in a movie they should, otherwise we wonder why something's there in the first place.
Despite the fact that the beginning was a little drawn out, it did have some great establishing shots that both put us in Western Mass, but also put us in Any Small Town, USA, which gave the film a universality that I liked-- and one could make the point that the scenes that met the Bechdel Test were also very common everyday America, which made them all the more relatable, and all the crazier that Hollywood finds scenes like that so offensive that they reject them in a script. There were some elements that I, having some understanding of the area, could recognize, like the tension between big city Eastern Mass and the rural West, but these weren't things anyone would need to understand to understand the film. Any inside jokes Lewis might have written in were not there at the expense of the universal elements, and I liked that. Sometimes no-budget indie writer/directors get caught up in these inside jokes, and it was good that Lewis didn't let that happen.
As far as I can tell, to get this you need to contact Mark Lewis, which you can do through the film's website: http://www.wildgirlwaltz.com/. I really enjoyed this. It wasn't perfect, but it had plenty of laugh out loud moments, which is what you want from a comedy. Worth checking out if you get the chance.
For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2375232/
Wednesday, June 19, 2013
This is another of the screeners provided for me by Kevin at MTI Video, Assassins Tale, featuring Anna Silk from Lost Girl. I've never seen Lost Girl before, but I'd heard good things, which made me intrigued to see what this one was all about.
Assassins Tale is about three assassins, Silk, Michael Beach, and Guy Garner (not to be confused with Guy Gardiner, The Green Lantern), who are given a job to take out a dude, a dude that they don't even know what he looks like. When a local thug looking to make a name for himself in the criminal underworld has his pictures of the mark stolen by Garner, he goes to their middle man, a beach bum, and said beach bum gives Garner up. Assassins don't like being betrayed by their booking agent; but will they survive long enough to get their revenge?
I didn't care for this one. Don't get me wrong, it had its moments, especially the opening scene where the person that hired Garner for a hit wants Garner to deliver the hit alive so he can kill the man himself; but too often we were stuck with either derivative ironic black humor talk, that we've all seen so many times since Pulp Fiction; or overly complicated plot elements when a simpler one would do, like the convoluted system detailing how the assassins were paid in poker chips, which did nothing to further the plot; or we had uneven character development-- in a large part due to the previous two issues sapping important character development time from the script-- which undermined a lot of what could've made this movie great. For instance, we had this potentially really great scene between Silk and Garner where Garner is strung out on heroin, and Silk stays with him overnight. It was simple, filled with a lot of raw, sobering emotion, and the actors really pulled it off. The problem is, it comes out of nowhere because Garner and Silk's characters are so poorly developed; nothing about it feels organic, it feels grafted in. As much as I wanted to like this movie, ultimately it felt too tedious for me.
Anna Silk's character might be the biggest disappointment, because it was the most compelling, but also the one most ignored and underutilized. We find out about two-thirds in that she's pregnant. What? Where was that at the fifteen minute mark? And that's it, it really never comes up again. Ugh! Pregnant assassin is full of possibilities, where were they? Anna Silk as an actress playing a nuanced assassin was full of possibilities. She has this mix of natural beauty, wisdom, and a sardonic sense of humor, and in the few scenes where she was the focus, we get to really experience that. Unfortunately, it wasn't enough.
The post-Tarentino ironic humorous philosophical conversation has been ubiquitous in this kind of movie since Pulp Fiction came out. The problem is, Tarentino is a two-time Oscar winning screenwriter. He has mastered this kind of discourse in his films in a way very few others have. The other problem is, his movies are usually 2 to 2 and 1/2 hours long, meaning he can mix well between these conversations, and action sequences and his classic tension filled scenes; in a 90-minute DTV film, those conversations are taking up a bigger percentage of the film, meaning if they don't work there isn't much room for error. I'm sure these scenes sounds great on paper, but they don't always translate from script to screen, and often it's the scenes with little or no dialog that really make the film. Case in point, the one between Garner and Silk.
Michael Beach was maybe the next most recognizable name in this. We've seen him on here before in 500 MPH Storm. I think he, more than anyone, could've benefited the most from his character having all the ironic silliness written out of his character's dialog. Let him be a man of few words, yet still suffering from an existential crisis. He has a fantastic scene where he confronts his wife after he catches her cheating on him, and a level of consistency with that kind of character would've played much better for me. It'll be interesting to see if Beach gets more DTV roles, and what those roles end up being, because he can be really good in the right setting.
As I mentioned above, the opening scene involves Garner with the man he's supposed to hit delivered alive to the man who hired him to do the hit. The idea is the guy that hired him is supposed to do the killing himself. Garner has the mark tied up and gagged in an alley, and the man that hired him is supposed to either stab him to death or slit his throat. I really liked this as an idea. It created a lot of immediate tension as a man who's not used to killing is suddenly given the opportunity; and it also laid the foundation for who our killers are and what they do for a living. I wish this kind of thing was explored more in the film as opposed to how the killers were paid in poker chips, or how eating breakfast food in the evening is still eating supper.
While it had those moments like the one in the beginning, overall it was too tedious and convoluted for me. Others of you might not have the same complaint I did, but I just feel like we've seen this movie too may times. The thing with this one that hurt more though, was that it had somethings that were really original, which would've made it a movie we haven't seen so many times. Assassins Tale will not be released on DVD here in the States until July 9, 2013, which is a couple weeks away as of this posting; and you can get it on Amazon, and maybe RedBox and Netflix too.
For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2663744/
Tuesday, June 18, 2013
I was having a conversation with a buddy recently, and he asked me if I'd seen this film. He saw it on YouTube. He had no idea who Reb Brown is, but I could tell he appreciated the movie anyway, which made me all the more excited to check it out.
Mercenary Fighters is a Golan-Globus production of a Cannon film that takes place in a fictitious African country that sounds suspiciously like what was then Zaire (and now the Congo)-- Shinkasa was the capital, as opposed to Kinshasa, though how many action movie fans would know of Kinshasa anyway? Peter Fonda is a mercenary hired by the government to wipe out a local rebel tribe that stands in the way of a huge development project. In recruiting his team, he gets Ron O'Neal, a crack pilot, and his buddy, Reb Brown. Once there though, Brown and O'Neal see that these rebels are more freedom fighters, and that maybe they're on the wrong side. This feeling is only exacerbated by Brown falling for a pretty young nurse who treats the people in the surrounding villages. The problem is: siding with the rebels puts Brown directly in the way of Fonda getting his money, which is not a good idea.
This is pretty fun. There's one scene near the beginning between Brown and O'Neal, where Brown is shirtless and O'Neal is in a button-up shirt with the top five buttons un-buttoned. It might be the best scene in movie history, it's that fantastic. I did realize that Brown and O'Neal carry this film though, especially in one scene where the guys are in a helicopter shooting at a few rebels below that are running away. It's drawn out and not much happens, but the constant cuts to Brown and O'Neal reacting are more than enough to keep me interested. Then you've got the exploding huts, which I'll get to below; the fantastic Reb Brown screaming; and plenty of Cannon/Golan-Globus everything-but-the-kitchen-sink action. It's the movie you want when you see it listed on YouTube.
This might not be the best Reb Brown, but it's still pretty solid. There's one scene near the end where he gets on the back of a jeep and fires off this big gun while giving his trademark scream and trademark Cannon explosions are going off behind him. He also has plenty of other good screams, including this great one near the beginning when he and O'Neal are riding on a bus, and a guy lands a plane on the roof and climbs in through the window. O'Neal is laughing, and Brown screams at him "You knew man!" It's such a great fist pumping moment. I already mentioned that fantastic shirtless scene with O'Neal, and I don't think it's hyperbole at all to call it one of the best in movie history. Maybe best part of all: his character is constantly referred to as "The Kid", even though he was about 40 when this was made.
The late Ron O'Neal is here again, with his great, classically trained acting pedigree used for a Cannon flick doing scenes opposite Brown. This January will mark 10 years since he left us, taken too soon by pancreatic cancer. He was so good in this though, and he and Brown had great chemistry-- or perhaps he was great at carrying Brown, either way it was great to see. This isn't the first time these two worked together either. They did a 70s TV movie adaptation of Aldus Huxley's Brave New World. (I've never seen it though.)
Among the other names, there was Peter Fonda who I already mentioned. He seemed like he was mailing it in, which, in a movie like this, isn't such a bad thing. All we care about is seeing Fonda with long hair looking like Thomas Ian Griffith's older brother, speaking in smooth, aging hippie tones. The country's military leader was played by Robert DoQui, who's been in all kinds of things, most notable RoboCop and the sequels. Finally, another Space Mutiny alum, this guy, who was Santa's Number One. I have no idea what his name is, and I don't think he was credited on imdb with being in the film, and of course he doesn't have an image for his imdb page, and of course I can't remember his character name either.
Okay, so this was not 'Namsploitation, but it had a lot of hut explosions. In fact, on a lot of levels it hit the same beats of the 'Namsploitation, even though it took place in Africa. On the other hand, this wasn't an Italian directed/produced shot in the Philippines deal, this was pure Cannon Golan-Globus, which made for an interesting mix of action subgenres. On that score, this film is very fascinating for the low-budget action fan. On the other score, it's Reb Brown screaming and exploding huts.
And what more do you really need after that? With it still available on YouTube, that's the best way to go. You can also buy it on DVD from Amazon. Again, not the best Reb Brown, not the best Cannon or Golan-Globus either, but for fans of those things, a fun time and worth checking out.
For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0093525/
Thursday, June 13, 2013
This is another of the films that Kevin at MTI Video gave me, and I was very curious to check it out after I saw the trailer. It looked like a cool, low-budget horror flick, which I love getting the word out about here at the DTVC. Also, it listed John de Lancie in the credits. How do you not love John de Lancie?
Cloned: The Recreator Chronicles follows three teens who go out to a small island in upstate New York to go camping. There's a nice house on the island too, and when a thunderstorm hits, the kids run to it for shelter. When the couple who live there come home, it's trouble; but even more trouble comes when three clones of the three kids appear on the scene. What do they want? How did they get here? Can they trust them?
This wasn't bad. It's a horror film, but not in a true slasher sense, or even in a horror comedy like Evil Dead sense either. It's more like a Stephen King short story turned into a movie kind of horror film, or an extended Tales from the Crypt episode. One thing I liked was that it managed to keep an element of tension and suspense, even when we didn't have any overt action going on. The device of the kids staying in the couple's house when they aren't there worked really well in that endeavor, as did the construct of the kids and their clones interacting in the house together, especially when the two that were a couple switched partners. Speaking of that, the film never overspent that mistaken identity nickel that would've been so easy for the writer to use as a crutch with a plot like this, which I found really refreshing. All in all, not a bad deal.
Now, this movie isn't perfect, but it does do one thing well that so many movies don't do, and that's keep things interesting. Whether it's adding tension in the right places or using cinematographic elements to add suspenseful and foreboding tones, and then hitting us with some action before those things get stale. It seems simple, but so few films pull it off well. And what happens then, when I'm not bored by a long stretch of blah, is that any warts the film might have are less egregious, because the overall film is entertaining. Yes, all movies have a story in it that needs telling, but tell us in a way that keeps us on the edge of our seats because we think anything might happen. We spend all day at work or whatever listening to boring stories, the last thing we need is the same thing from our movies, and I'm glad this movie isn't like that.
I mentioned to my friend that John de Lancie was in this, and he asked if I did a fist pump when I saw his name in the credits. You know it! Frickin' Q man. For my money, one of the best characters in TV history-- at least in syndicated TV history. In that sense, seeing him in anything is fantastic. He doesn't have a big role, playing the husband in the couple that owns the house, but when he's there he's great. His character is also not doing too bad for himself either, both owning a great house on the lake, and married to a beautiful woman 25 years his junior. Maybe he's more omnipotent than we thought.
The three kids all had an interesting task each playing two different characters that were technically the same people, but not. Again, the movie never used that mistaken identity nickel, at least not until the very end, and not in the way you'd expect, so there was no pretending to be the other character for these actors, they had to be distinct, often in the same scene. I think the toughest might have been Stella Maeve's, because her two were the most similar, so the most subtly different. I don't know how old she is-- or Alexander Nifong and J. Mallory McCree, the other two actors, either--, because it's not listed on their imdb bios, but I can't imagine she's that old, meaning she probably didn't have kids in school yelling "Stella! Stella!" to her.
This film was shot in the Adirondacks, an area of the country that isn't too far away from me, but one I haven't had the opportunity to hike in. It looks great though. It's funny, when I'm out hiking, you'd think all these horror movies would come to mind, but I'm usually so tired I only think of getting back to the car. I think if I camped more I'd probably have more opportunity to think about all the horror movies I saw set in the woods-- think about Jason taking me in my sleeping bag and smashing me against a tree. I know with some of our car camping/bivouacking out in Colorado, there were some sketchy situations where I couldn't get to sleep. The question is: are we scared because we've seen so many horror movies set in remote, wooded locations, or are so many horror moves set in remote, wooded locations because they're scary places?
I'll leave you to ponder that while I wrap this up. This is available on Netflix and RedBox for DVD rental. I'd like it better for a recommendation if it were available on Netflix Instant, but still, it's not bad for a RedBox rental or something to dump in your Netflix queue. It's a little different from your usual horror fare, but if you like things like the old Tales from the Crypt episodes, you might like this. Plus, it has John de Lancie.
For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1540005/
Wednesday, June 12, 2013
This is another in the group of films Kevin at MTI Video sent me, and was probably the one I was most excited to look at. It stars DTVC favorite Kevin Sorbo, personal favorite Danielle Harris, and a couple of other familiar faces in main star Jason London and the ubiquitous Lochlyn Munro. Let's see if it lived up to that excitement.
Fatal Call has London as a guy with a past from rural Illinois who moves to St. Louis to start a new life after a buddy gets him a job at a law firm. Things are looking even better when he meets Danielle Harris at a bar, and she gives him her number. Problem is: she has a husband, and he's abusive and controlling. Now she wants London to help her out, but when he goes to her place to pick her up, he finds her husband dead and he looks like the one who did it. Will he make it out of this mess alive?
I liked this. It was a pretty fun Noir-ish suspense flick, with a good cast and a decent story. My one main complaint was that London's character vacillated between aw-shucks-schmuck and quick-thinking-resourceful-you-picked-the-wrong-guy patsy, which made the plot move unevenly. For the most part though it hit the spots you'd want in this kind of film. Harris was great as the Black Widow type; we had fun detectives in Munro and his partner Srikant Chellapa; Sorbo was deviously sinister; and the plot maintained a good balance between tension and action. In fact, I loved the device of jumping us forward and back in the story, because it kept things from getting too gummed up with the plot exposition. All in all, it's not a bad deal.
Danielle Harris was a standout for me, and I was disappointed that she wasn't used more in the film. She seemed to understand what her character was supposed to be about, but unlike some Film Noir greats, like Mary Astor in The Maltese Falcon or Lauren Bacall in The Big Sleep, where we had this Black Widow character that we knew we couldn't trust, but also knew why our hero would take a chance on her and get himself in trouble, Harris's character, who's in their tradition, is woefully underutilized. She shows up, sleeps with London, then he's in trouble and she's out. We needed more intrigue here, with her seducing him and slowly pulling him into her web, and I know from what she did with her limited role, she could've pulled it off. Either way, it was definitely cool to see her get a non-Scream Queen part and hit it out of the park.
We all love Sorbo here at the DTVC, in particular his two films with Saint James St. James, Poolboy and FDR American Badass, so anytime we can get him back here is a good thing. He's the baddie, which is a great change of pace for the usual hero he plays. I've never really thought about it, but he's a pretty big guy, and can be pretty imposing. He's also the kind of actor that can have a lot of fun as the baddie, so it was good to see him get that chance. Like Harris, it's good to see him in anything, but also like Harris, it's good to see him try something beyond the norm and excel at it.
With these two paragraphs focusing on Harris and Sorbo, I don't want to take anything away from London as the star, because as an actor, he was good playing both the schmuck and the quick thinker that his character called for, it just felt off for me to be going from one to the other with no real reason for the transition. To be honest, it felt more fun to see him in the aw shucks role, and I could see myself falling for Harris's character if I were in the same circumstance, what with her batting her eyelashes and quoting Dostoevsky at him. Unlike his character though, I'd call the cops the moment her husband showed up and assaulted me, and would've avoided all the trouble he got into.
Finally, this is London's work buddy, played by Joel Lewis. Is this guy not the next veteran character actor Kevin Dunn? He even plays a part that had Kevin Dunn written all over it. Dunn has roughly 100 more imdb credits than Lewis, so Lewis has a long way to go, but if he can get to that Dunn level, I gotta say he'll have had a pretty successful career, including work with three Oscar winning directors. Here's to you Kevin Dunn, you're one of the great ones, and hopefully you'll get there someday too Joel Lewis.
All right, enough of that. As of this posting, Fatal Call won't be out on DVD in US markets for about a month (July 23rd). If you see it on Netflix or RedBox, I'd give it a look, especially if you're interested in some of the actors. A nice little Noirish suspense flick that doesn't overdo the plot, and keeps a good action and tension quotient.
For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2059193/
Tuesday, June 11, 2013
John Cusack is one of my favorite actors. I mean, he has that iconic scene in Say Anything...; was great in one of my favorite Woody Allen movies, Bullets Over Broadway; and has tons of great roles beyond those, from Con Air to High Fidelity. Now we have an opportunity to get him on the DTVC with this film, one of two DTV flicks he's done in the past year or so. It's strange times in Hollywood.
The Numbers Game has Cusack as a CIA assassin who has a bad moment out in the field when he's forced to kill the young daughter of a mark. The CIA thinks he needs a break, so they have him work at an out-of-the-way station in the UK that transmits code via shortwave radio. His job is to protect Malin Akerman, who is the one charged with transmitting these codes to the operatives in the field. Something goes wrong though, and now Akerman and Cusack are trapped inside while someone else outside is trying to get in and get them.
This was pretty good. A large part of why it was pretty good had to do with Cusack. He sells everything as well as he did almost 30 years ago when he first started out. But it still moved at a decent pace, kept things tense and interesting in the non-action scenes, and was exciting when there was action. It wasn't perfect, but for a DTV suspense-actioner, you can't ask for much more. And, again, we had John Cusack, which made it even better. This is probably pretty nondescript without him, but with him, it's a pretty good time.
As we often do with these big Hollywood stars in DTV flicks, we look to see where the bottom fell out, or try to figure out why he or she is in a DTV flick. With Cusack, we can see that as recently as 2012 he was in the Hollywood flick The Raven, though it didn't make its budget back in US tickets, and Cusack was second choice for the main role after Ewan McGregor (as an aside, Ethan Hawke was originally cast for Cusack's role in this). He was also in The Paperboy, a major indie flick with some other big names in it that same year. I think we're seeing an age now where big names do DTV, indie, and big budget Hollywood work at the same time, that it's no longer just "oh my God, what happened to his career? He's doing DTV stuff now!" We'll see with Cusack which way it goes, but whatever he's in, I'll be curious to check it out.
This is our second Malin Akerman film, the other being Catch .44, which starred Bruce Willis and Forest Whitaker. Unlike Cusack, who was almost as big as it gets in Hollywood-- and still is pretty big--, Akerman has always straddled that line between small parts in big Hollywood flicks and big parts on TV or DTV movies. I don't know where she puts this film with Couples Retreat, where she played Vince Vaughn's wife. Is DTV a step down for her, or is working with John Cusack a step up? This definitely felt like a step up from Catch .44, and I can't imagine a woman her age didn't dream of being carried by a hunk like Cusack in a movie, so that's something.
One trend we've noticed with big Hollywood names in DTV flicks, is that they're often used as a bait and switch. This was definitely not the case here. This movie is all Cusack all the time. In fact, I saw some reviews suggest that it's too Cusack centered, to the detriment of Akerman's character. I don't know, the movie is about Cusack's character. We see inside his head, and almost the entire thing is told from his perspective. Anyway, if I had to choose, I'd rather the film be too heavy on the star, than be a bait and switch.
The other big name in this is Liam Cunningham. He's not in it as much as Cusack or Akerman, but he's there, and worth mentioning, especially for all you Game of Thrones fans out there. I never remember to watch it, so unfortunately I'm not a fan. Cunningham too has a pretty prodigious imdb bio, though his small role in this is more like the big movie star bait-and-switch, and fortunately he's not splashed all over the cover, meaning the people distributing this didn't fall victim to the lure of pandering to Game of Thrones fans. Good for you guys.
And good for you for putting out a decent movie. Cusack carries it, but Akerman is good, and the story and action hold up well too. I think this is what we want out of a DTV flick starring John Cusack, and it's a sad commentary on the current state of this kind of movie that I'm breathing a sigh of relief that it turned out okay, because we've seen so many turn out poorly. Please DTV film makers, make more like The Numbers Station.
For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1659338/
Thursday, June 6, 2013
Our friend director Jason Horton (Twitter @jhorton2003) came to me to review the new film he directed, Deceitful. We've done two of his other films before: Monsters in the Woods, which I was a little hard on, and Trap, which I really enjoyed; but with those films, Horton also wrote them. This will be a little different, because he wasn't one of the four listed writing credits, so we'll see how that goes. I know what you're thinking: "Four people on the writing credits? That's never a good sign." Open mind, open mind, open mind.
Deceitful is about Robert, played by Terry Savage, the co-owner of a lucrative company that programs apps, which are designed by Isaac (played by Fredro Starr). He's also cheating on his wife with his sister-in-law, and is selling the company behind Isaac's back. When a mysterious yet beautiful woman comes to work as his maid, will all his transgressions come to a fatal end?
Unfortunately, this looked like it was written by four people. Things were a little all over the place, characters were unevenly developed, and the action and conflict would disappear in a maze of dialog that often repeated the same information multiple times in the same conversation. Ultimately this had maybe enough material for a Silk Stalkings episode, and I think if some of the characters and moving parts were trimmed from it, it would have been a really good Silk Stalkings episode. For instance, the plot twist at the end is very predictable, which made it not work in this case, but if we're looking at two detectives investigating the aftermath and piecing together the story as we go, it would've been more compelling. A cohesive, consistent story is difficult to achieve though when so many people have their hands in writing it.
I think Jason did a great job mitigating these issues through his directing and Steve Snyder's cinematography (Mr. Snyder was also one of the four writers). Yes, there were moments where we had a series of single-face shots that might have been better with a wide shot and both parties speaking-- I don't know if he was going for an Ozu effect, or maybe the actors' agents wanted more shots of their faces on-screen, or maybe they were just added in after--, but much more often we had really great frames that upped the tension or made the scenes more stylized and sexy. There were also a lot of great establishing shots-- or to go back to Ozu again, "pillow shots"-- that added more of that Noirish atmosphere I think the writers of the film were ultimately going for. I feel like Trap was more consistent because it was both Horton's vision in the writing and the directing, but I thought he acquitted himself really well here.
This scene right here was absolutely electric. The acting, writing, and cinematography all came together in a way that created a fantastic scene. We had Nancy Gomez, who played the new maid, turning on Kalilah Harris, who played Savage's wife, after Harris slapped her. This is everything I want in a movie like this, but unfortunately the script didn't offer too many opportunities for scenes like this to happen. Tension, intrigue, just enough violence, these are the kinds of things that underpin a great suspense thriller. Whoever wrote this scene should've been the one to write the whole script. And again, cinematography, great job cutting to a close-up, cutting to a wider shot, then finishing overhead, all made it look great; and Horton as a director leaned on both actresses and allowed them to carry the scene, which they did well.
One of the problems I had with the unevenness was that we never had the right character development. Right away, we have a great sex scene between Jenn Pinto's Gabrielle and Terry Savage's Robert, which really pulls us into the film. Right after, we're focusing on Jenn Pinto in the bath tub, looking at a pregnancy test. The feeling then is that the film will be centered on her. This is only reinforced with her conversation with Savage, which hints at some intrigue between the two, and maybe a devious plan. This disappears though, and we only see Pinto once more before she comes in at the very end. Why is she so central to the beginning then? And then we're sure Savage's Robert will be the main character, only to see him disappear too as we focus on the tension between Gomez and Harris. By the time we get to the end, it's just a swingers party with the couples switching partners. Fine, whatever, but what is that doing for us? And what do we care about these characters?
We have two rappers in this, the already mentioned Fredro Starr from Onyx, and Layzie Bone from Bone Thuggs N' Harmony. Fredro had a much bigger part, and I think he was trying to go outside what's expected of him with this role, playing a software developer and not a thug. I think it would've worked, except his first scene is dialog with Savage about Savage selling the company that was mostly "But dude, you can't do this!" "But I am doing it." "But dude, we grew up together!" "I don't care, I'm selling the company." "But dude, you can't! We came up together!" "So, I'm selling the company." I was like "Oh my God, we get it! End scene!" So that's Fredro Starr as a software developer. Layzie Bone was a detective, and if you look at the cover, you get the sense that he's a detective trying to crack a case. There is no case to crack though, he just shows up at the end, and doesn't really sell the whole "I'm a detective" thing at all. Let's just say he's not Ice-T in SVU. On the other hand, I'm cool with that. If he's going to have a one-scene cameo, let it just be Layzie Bone being Layzie Bone.
Below is the pool boy. This scene he had with Savage was very Skin-a-max non-sex scene, and there was something about it that had me hoping these two would be having an affair. Instead, of course, they went paint-by-numbers pool boy hooking up with Savage's disillusioned wife. I would've loved that relationship between Savage and the pool boy though. They both have these imdb bios about how "He's always been a self-starter" or "He was this and that when the acting bug hit him", like they're these real practitioners of the craft of acting. Good, try some method acting and make out with each other. What, you don't want to do that? Why, I thought you were a professional. Seriously though, the issues this movie had with the writing wouldn't have been so bad had this been a Skin-a-max flick. Maybe if they had something like the need for a love scene every twenty minutes, it would've given the writers more focus and kept the script from the meandering dialog and back-to-back scenes where relatively nothing happens.
Finally, Dorian Gregory has a one-scene cameo at the very end, where he plays the head of the company trying to buy out Savage's. I would have thought that he'd have more imdb credits than all of the rest of the cast combined, and I'd be wrong about that, because Fredro Starr actually has 13 more than him by himself. Fredro Starr is also only 3 months younger than Gregory. Wow, who'd'a thunk it. I'm assuming Gregory was paid for one day of shooting, and they probably got him in and out as quickly as possible. Most of the shots are just of his face delivering his lines, so I wonder if they just shot him, had him read, then shipped him off. Either way, it was great seeing him, if only for a second.
Okay, so while I think Jason Horton did a solid job directing this, it couldn't overcome the fact that it was written by four people. I know with these low-budget films things happen, but that doesn't make it any easier to follow when characters that seem like they're going to be the focus of the film disappear, or when the plot becomes uneven. These are issues that can be mitigated if there's any amount of tension and intrigue, which some scenes had, but ultimately not enough to make this work. I couldn't find this on Netflix or RedBox, but it is available to buy on Amazon.
For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2706120/
Wednesday, June 5, 2013
Kevin at MTI Video approached me about screening and reviewing some of their movies, many of which are Direct to Video. I was definitely up for it, and he wanted me to start with this film. It looked like a great horror comedy, and some of my all time favorite movies, like Bad Taste and The Evil Dead, are horror comedies, so I was excited to check this one out. Let's see how it did.
Attack of the Herbals is about a Nazi experiment to make super soldiers by putting a special serum in an herbal tea. They abandoned the project when they couldn't control their subjects, and dumped a crate full of the stuff into the sea, where 70 years later it landed on the coast of Scotland. Enter Jackson MacGregor, who's kind of a stuck-up jerk, and who's forced to return to the small Scottish lobstering town of his grandparents after his wife leaves him for another woman. Things aren't well in the town, and he's not helping, which is bad, because his grandparents own the local post office, and a money-hungry land developer is trying to make them sell it because they're losing money. That's when his buddy Russell comes to him with some herbal tea he found washed up on the coast. This can't be a good idea.
Man, I wanted so bad to like this movie. It felt like a very earnest low-budget film, and it also felt like it was influenced by a lot of the older horror-comedy film makers I love. The first five minutes in the old Nazi compound were fantastic, and I had great expectations. Then the movie proceeds to grind to a halt for the next hour or so. Ugh, it was such a disappointment! I kept thinking something was going to happen, and all we got was Jackson MacGregor's pretentious scowl. Here and there there was a moment of humor, but no horror. By the time we get to the horror, on some levels it's too late, and on others, it was needed to prop up so much that wasn't happening for the hour before it, that without it being the greatest horror comedy of all time, it was doomed to fall short. I looked at director David Ryan Keith's imdb bio, and this is his first feature length film, so I think that's where the problem lies here, going from a short to 90 minutes, and trying to fill that added time. Unfortunately it didn't work for me here.
One thing I did enjoy was the great cinematography, which was also Keith, and on that score this didn't feel like a no-budget film. The problem was, with that long stretch of nothing really happening, that cinematography was wasted on things like Russell and MacGregor carrying on a banal conversation. We needed that cinematography making its money on some sweet kills, some rising tension, and some comedic horror punchlines. That's the thing, from a technical standpoint a movie can be great, but the story is everything, and in either a comedy or a horror film, the story needs to play out like a musical, with a kill or comedic bit happening every fifteen minutes or so.
One of the weird things about that hour where nothing much was happening, was that we had a lot of plot exposition that didn't really add anything to the plot. For instance, MacGregor and Jenny's relationship was never explored, just hinted at, then suddenly they're thrown together at the end. We also don't know exactly why MacGregor is such a douche. I'm not sure these things would've been so bad though if we'd had some kills sprinkled throughout, but because we didn't, this dialog needed carry the film. You'd have to be an Oscar winning script writer like Woody Allen if you hoped to pull that off. Why put that on yourself, when you can just kill some people.
I should point out as an American, that there is a rule regarding various native speaking English language accents that allows more leeway for this kind of talking over action approach to movie making. Scottish ranks high on that list, probably after English/Welsh and Australian/New Zealand, meaning a five-minute stretch in American or Canadian English that has nothing going on in it, can be a ten or fifteen minute stretch in Scottish English. And I definitely started to feel it at the 20 to 25-minute mark that the film was losing me, as the novelty wore off. That's the thing, with us Americans, you can get away with so much more with your Scottish accents and we'll still love it, and you still lost me.
I want to finish with how this movie is being marketed. I keep hearing "zombie" film, and while these people go insane, they aren't exactly zombies. I feel like people are trying to cash in on the zombie craze, and they're sucking in everything that could possibly fit, so something like this is mislabeled. Hey, if this gets a no-budget movie like this into more hands, especially hands like mine from across the pond, more power to you. You gotta do everything you can.
And that makes it all the harder that I can't recommend this. It's not available at RedBox or Netflix, but you can buy it from Amazon. There's potential here, and it had its moments, but overall I'm staring at an hour with no horror and only a few comedic bits, which just isn't enough to carry a film like this for me.
For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1948521/
Tuesday, June 4, 2013
This is one I've been looking to do for a long time, and now that it's on Netflix Instant, it was a no-brainer. It's always good to make our way through more of Cuba Gooding Jr.'s DTV oeuvre, and he seems to be getting better with his stay at the DTV Hotel, even rubbing shoulders with long time residents like Dolph Lundgren. Let's see how this one turned out. Also, our friends at The Video Vacuum and Explosive Action have looked at this one too, so you can go there to check those out.
The Hit List has Gooding as a government hit man suffering from a terminal illness he got from his contact with depleted uranium. He decides to go out with a bang, starting with the murder of a popular right wing TV pundit. He then bumps into Cole Hauser at a bar, right after Hauser gets passed over for a promotion at his job because a rival stole his idea, and he catches his wife in bed with his best friend. After a few pops, Gooding suggests he make a list of five people he wants dead, and Hauser, thinking this a joke, obliges. Problem is, Gooding wasn't kidding, and now Hauser has to stop him before he kills all the people on the list.
This is a tough one. On the one hand, you had this great Hitchcockian Strangers on a Train dynamic, which was made all the better with Gooding's amazing, chilling performance. On the other, we had this bad action element that, at best came off silly, and at worst-- especially at the end-- completely derailed the film. This needed to be reeled in, stripped down, and instead of silly bad action, focused on the performances of Gooding, Hauser, and Jonathan LaPaglia, who played the police detective. Now I realize in saying that that I usually applaud bad action, and this is exactly the kind of thing PM Entertainment would've done with a movie like this, probably with Wings Hauser in Gooding's role, and probably with tons of bad, unabashed action goodness. I think what would've made the PM Entertainment one better though, is it would've hinted at the Hitchcockian thriller aspect, but gone right for the everything-but-the-kitchen-sink action aspect. This movie went more for the Hitchcockian aspect, and devolved into the bad action, which for me is why it ultimately doesn't work. But it's a close call.
And it's a close call primarily on the strength of Cuba Gooding Jr. This is your Oscar winner right here. I think too that, because of how he was typecast in Hollywood, this is the kind of role he wouldn't have gotten in a big budget picture, but that he's allowed to do here in the world of DTV-- which is probably why he does DTV flicks. The other thing is that this is one of the few DTV flicks that had enough meat on it that he could really take this role and flex his acting muscle-- though even then the bad action devolution hurt him too. The key is, he knows how to make crazy scary, not silly, and the result is something downright chilling. This is easily his best DTV performance.
I couldn't help thinking that Cole Hauser's father would've been great in Gooding's role. How many psychos has Wings played? And he's always great as one too, isn't he? I had no idea that Cole is as young as he is. He's only like four years older than me. I think his part was hurt even more by the bad action than Gooding's. I would've preferred a real suspense thriller ratcheting up of the tension in his life due to Gooding killing everyone, as opposed to this silly bad action construct where everything devolves out of control. It essentially lets Hauser's character off the hook, which I think was an easy way out.
Let's look at the devolution, because I'm not sure the film makers knew what they were doing here. First off, 18-20 police officers are killed off. How are Hauser and his wife's characters' lives more important than theirs? Just because they're the stars? It got a little ridiculous. Second, the news report after the denouement calls the massacre a "hostage situation", again acting like the only bad thing that happened was the trouble Hauser and his wife went through. 20 innocent police officers were massacred, that's the story. 24 hours of death and destruction carried out by Gooding's character, not Hauser and his hit list. And when we think about the way mass shootings are covered, it would be called the Tragedy in Spokane, and sporting events would commemorate it and honor the victims with patches on their shirts, along with concerts held to raise money for the victim's families and rebuilding the police station. I'm not poking fun at how we deal with tragedy, I'm making the point that this film devolved to such a degree, that what happened to our main characters became secondary by a wide margin.
There are two other actors I want to mention in this before I wrap this up. First, Jonathan LaPaglia, brother Anthony, played the detective investigating the case. In a Hitchcockian thriller, he would've been a great character, piecing together the evidence, a real Film Noirish type hero. Here, because things moved so fast, he's really solving everything right away, and never gets to be what he should've been, despite the fact that before the bad action aspect takes over, he really was that detective we wanted. The second is Ginny Weirick, who played Hauser's wife. I thought she looked familiar, and found out she was in the George Takei flick Ninja Cheerleaders, as one of the cheerleaders. Even her character starts out great, and then as the film goes on the writing lets her down, especially through a plot twist that I felt removed a lot of the nuance from her character.
All right, enough of this, let's wrap things up. Cuba Gooding Jr. is great here, and the film starts out in a really solid way. For me, the bad action element was enough to derail it, but might not be for some. I think the availability on Netflix Instant, combined with a nice 90-minute running time, make it worth a look just to see how good Gooding can be, and what a true bonus it is for us that Hollywood can't give him the roles he wants, so he's forced to do DTV movies.
For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1575694/