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, September 26, 2013

Sharknado (2013)

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When this first aired on SyFy and generated all that buzz on Twitter, you knew it was only a matter of time before I reviewed it, and the wait was really for me to finally get it on DVD.  That's the thing with The Asylum blowing up on SyFy, we at the DTVC have to wait for them to finally make it onto DVD now, whereas before we got first crack at them.  That's okay though, we're notorious for being late to the party anyway, but hopefully when we finally get there we add something to the festivities.  Speaking of friends who have already been here, we have Fred Dixon, the Ex-Ninja, Fred the Wolf at Full Moon Reviews, and Tars Tarkas.NET, so you can go and check out what they thought of this too.

Sharknado has the great Ian Ziering as Fin, a retired famous surfer who runs a beach side bar.  When a massive storm destroys it and threatens the rest of LA, he knows he needs to get to his ex wife and daughter in Beverly Hills to safety.  The ex wife is played by none other than Tara Reid.  In true Asylum style, this ain't no ordinary storm, as tons of sharks are washing up in the flood waters and tearing people apart.  But that's only the beginning, as tornadoes are popping up from the flood waters too, and it looks like they might be picking the sharks up with them.  Will Ziering and crew all make it out alive?

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This movie is a lot of fun.  I should warn you that the actual Sharknado doesn't appear until near the end, so on some levels it's a Sharknado bait-and-switch, but everything else is The Asylum doing what The Asylum does right.  It's a good mix of cheese, send-ups of older films in the genre, homages to other greats, and some pretty sweet satire.  I love the references to Bad Taste and The Shining, which you can find on your own as you watch it.  There are probably some others you've seen too that I missed.  Ziering is great in the lead, and the supporting cast around him is great too.  Reid isn't in it as much, but I enjoyed her role as the mom of two teen kids in Beverly Hills, and she and Ziering were good together.  I also loved how The Asylum has reached a great balance between schlock silliness, and quality work, whether it's the special effects, or the high level of some of the humor.  The Ferris wheel rolling down the boardwalk looked great; and the scene where the waitress at Ziering's bar, played by Cassie Scerbo, relates how she got the shark bite scars on her leg is hilarious.  If you're like me and you've seen a ton of these, you might wonder what the fuss was about, because it's not better than some of The Asylum's best work; but it was a great moment for them to get some shine like that, and the movie is plenty of fun to boot.

It's amazing how far The Asylum has come in the six-plus years we've been doing the DTVC.  This is the 27th film of theirs we've reviewed, and what's happened is that we've gone from most being misses with the occasional hit, to now almost all being hits with very few misses.  We've also seen them score more and better acting talent, plus they have this contract with SyFy so that their DTV movies are often TV movies with a bigger audience.  I can't help but note too though the many times the Sharknado destroyed classic Hollywood landmarks, like the Hollywood sign or the outside of Mann's Chinese where the actor's hand prints are.  Is there a veiled message for us about how they feel about big Hollywood?  Either way, it's been fun to watch The Asylum's transformation, and I can't wait to see what they have for us next.

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My man, Ian Ziering, aka Steve Sanders from 90210.  This is big for him, he's finally cast as Brandon Walsh, and he nails it.  Actually, it's more accurate to say that his character is a mix between Dylan McKay and Brandon Walsh, but either way, Ziering is no longer the supporting character, and it was nice to see him pull it off.  It's possible that because he was Steve Sanders for so long, not the Brandon or Dylan, that he could play this role that The Asylum had for him, which was a combination of the classic hero and a send-up of the classic hero, and play it so seamlessly.  He's both in on the joke and playing it straight at the same time, and without both, I think the film wouldn't have been as enjoyable.  As someone who loved him in 90210, it's great to see him top billed and do well at it.

We've done our share of shark attack films in our time at the DTVC, and I think this one is up there as one of the best.  Maybe not Cruel Jaws or Shark Attack 3, which I hold up as the standard, but I'd slot it in right below that.  One thing about this is that there are tons of sharks here, and they start killing immediately.  It's like a mix between the old insect swarm film of the 50s and the modern shark film, which is a unique take on it, but The Asylum makes it work.  And there all kinds of different ones, so it's like those Shark Attack fruit snacks we used to have in the 80s and 90s that I used to love getting for my lunch, I could be like "oh, there's a hammerhead!"  Man, those were so good, weren't they?

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Look at who that is.  It's Cousin Oliver!  I know, can you believe it?  There has to be someone at The Asylum who loves The Brady Bunch, because we also saw Greg Brady, aka Barry Williams, in Bigfoot.  If you don't know his real name, it's Robbie Rist, and he only has a small role as a bus driver with a bus full of kids that Ziering rescues.  Then we had Tara Reid as Ziering's ex-wife.  She wasn't in this quite as much as the buzz made it sound, but I liked the idea of her as the Beverly Hills mom.  I think she'd be great in a role like that in a CW teen drama, like maybe with Ziering as her husband.  What a cool show that would be.  John Heard has a small role as a bar patron at Ziering's establishment, kind of just dirty old man humor, but he's good at it.  Baywatch alum Jaason Simmons plays Ziering's bud.  He'd be great in that capacity if the show I'm proposing with Reid and Ziering were a sitcom instead.  Finally, I mentioned Cassie Scerbo above.  She's like he next Jennifer Esposito, which I think wouldn't be a bad career for her-- in fact considering how young she's starting out, she may ultimately do Esposito better than Esposito.

Okay, let's wrap this up.  I don't know if this still airs on SyFy, but I'm sure it does.  If you don't want to wait, you can rent it on DVD at all the usual suspects.  The buzz is more for people who don't usually watch films like this, but considering you're here, it means this kind of thing is probably old hat for you, and if that's the case, then this is just a fun way to kill 90 minutes, which I think is all you're really asking for from The Asylum anyway.

For more info:

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

The Mark (2012)

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My girlfriend and I were talking about my blog last week, and she asked if I ever did low-budget religious movies.  She's not religious herself, but said she likes to fall asleep to them.  Off the top of my head the only one I could remember doing was the Dolph Lundgren flick Final Inquiry, which was a religious film that I wasn't expecting to be religious.  Beyond that, I had trouble thinking of anyone in our neck of the blogosphere that ever did religious films.  I know The Deadly Dolls House of Horror Nonsense once covered Left Behind, but that was about it.  In fact, many of my fellow low-budget movie bloggers explicitly said they wouldn't do movies like this because they weren't their thing.  That was my stance too, more so because I didn't want the trouble that comes from reviewing a religious movie: people get their dander up and like to pick fights, and that's the last thing I need to deal with.  On the other hand, as I was talking about it with my girlfriend, I was reminded that DTVC Hall of Famer Gary Daniels had three religious films in the can that he shot in Thailand recently, and I was on the fence about looking at them.  Well, now we're going to try this one, and we'll see how it goes.  In this review I'm going to do my best to be respectful to everyone's beliefs, and also look at the film on its merits beyond its religious content, especially Daniels's performance.  Let's see how it went.

The Mark is about mercenary Craig Sheffer, a former army man who fought in Afghanistan, and a nonbeliever.  He's injected with a microchip against his will, and the company he works for sends him and Eric Roberts to Berlin for the G20 summit in order to show the chip off.  There's another guy though who wants that chip, and he hires mercenary Gary Daniels and his team to hijack the plane and get Sheffer.  Next thing you know there's explosions at 30,000 feet and then The Rapture happens and all hell breaks loose-- no pun intended.

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I didn't care for this much.  First off, there was a fair amount of proselytizing.  I'm not complaining about that specifically, because I'm the one who came to this religious movie, it's not like the people who made it knocked on my door; but it did interrupt the flow of the film.  It was often inserted inorganically, which threw off the rhythm, especially in the early going.  Also, from a writing standpoint, we had some plot convenience theater, especially with Daniels's character who is knocked out when The Rapture happens, then is completely ignored until the very end of the movie.  I thought he was one of the chosen ones he was so absent.  Speaking of The Rapture, it was a good ending point for the film, but we still had 36 minutes of the film spinning its wheels before we got to the credits.  It was annoying, especially the whole thing with Sheffer trying to get into the cockpit.  We knew he was going to get in there, they only prolonged it to pad the film.  Finally, the special effects were Asylum bad, but with The Asylum, we know their films are meant to be fun and campy.  This movie was serious, so the bad special effects came off as crass and hokey.  For most of my audience who isn't religious-- and I think even for those who are-- there isn't much here beyond your classic unevenly written plane hijacking yarn; but because it has that massive religious element, I'd say it's a skip for anyone not interested in hearing that.

Gary Daniels though was really good here.  I was looking him up to see if he was born again or something, and the best I could find is that he's making films in Thailand right now, and that's where these were shot, so either the paycheck or the role enticed him.  I can see how the role though would've done it for him, because this isn't a bad baddie, and he makes the most of it.  He said in an interview I read that he's always looking for parts that do something for his career, and if I were a DTV film maker I'd cast him as a baddie in my next actioner, for sure.  Of course, I'd rather have him as the lead, but I think he's proven here more than any of the other baddie roles I've seen him in that he's not just a one-note hero.

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Eric Roberts is in this as well, playing the devious corporate dude.  He chews up all kinds of scenery, and really takes the substandard dialog and makes it into something fun.  I noticed that he has more of these religious films to his credit than Daniels does, but I'm not sure that he's overly religious either.  I mean, it could just be that he's done more movies period.  His character doesn't get as much to do though until near the end, and it devolves into cliched villain stuff that Sheffer counters in cliched hero fashion.  I liked though that Roberts took this one-note and made the most of him.  He just seems to have fun being an actor, and playing villains at that.

We're seeing some more Craig Sheffer here.  Like Daniels and Roberts, I couldn't figure out if Sheffer was religious like this too, but unlike Daniels and Roberts who get to be baddies, Sheffer's character finds religion towards the end of the film, so if he doesn't believe this stuff, it might be a tougher bridge to cross.  I guess that's the challenge of being an actor.  Compared to his hero in Battledogs, the one in The Mark lacks the charisma that carried that other film.  I think The Asylum is better at writing heroes in their films because they write from a tradition of lantern-jawed 50s and 60s mensch-types in their modern send-ups of those films, and they've had time to hone their craft to make those guys more fun; this is definitely a much less polished hero written here, not always likable, walking around with a scowl on his face like he's a dad waiting in a long line at the Home Depot on a Saturday in late July.  The hero is the key in any film to make it work, and he has to be written well for that to happen.

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Finally, I do want to touch on the theme of this movie quickly, and discuss how I think it might have been delivered better to the audience, both religious and non-religious.  It's that whole "the world is ending, and only the believers will be saved" idea, but because it's tied directly to modern events, and is set in modern times, it plays like a man with a placard around his neck bothering people in Times Square.  I think if the film were set like 50 years into the future, where the writers could have the freedom to create a total dystopian world for us to despise, and then introduce this same story with Sheffer and the microchip and The Rapture, it would have played better.  Still, the religious messages in either story, the one I'm proposing or the one we got, would have to be introduced to us organically, because, like we got here, when they don't feel natural, it throws off the pacing.

This is available on Netflix.  I'd like to say watch it for the great Gary Daniels, but the movie had a lot of flaws, and for my readers who aren't religious, those flaws will only be exacerbated by the film's religious bent.  I guess what I'd say is, if a high proselytizing content is problematic for you, I'd stay away.  Otherwise give it a look, you might have fun.

For more info:

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Last Flight to Hell aka L'ultimo volo all'inferno (1990)

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A friend of mine hooked me up with a copy of this from his VHS.  It looked fantastic, especially with Reb Brown and Chuck Connors, plus it's and AIP flick.  Let's see how it turned out.  Also, our friend Ty at Comeuppance Reviews has hit this one.  It definitely looks like a Ty kind of flick.

Last Flight to Hell has Reb Brown as a DEA agent in the Philippines(?) working to take down drug dealer Mike Monty.  His boss, Chuck Connors wants him brought in alive, but when he's close to catching him, some Chinese drug lord scoops him up and holds him for ransom.  So now poor Reb Brown has to go into the jungle after him, where he meets up with Monty's daughter, who has been sent in to pay the ransom.  Will they get Monty and get out alive?

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Maybe my one complaint is that it's light on the Reb Brown screaming, but otherwise this delivers.  Brown is awesome, Chuck Connors is awesome, Mike Monty is awesome-- the whole thing is awesome.  Plenty of action-- they get the chopper explosion out of the way quickly--, plenty of silly low-budget moments, and tons of hallmarks you expect from Italian exploitation flicks shot in the Philippines.  We had exploding huts, we had jungle chases, and myriad local stuntmen shimmying through hails of gunfire.  The best moment comes near the end, when Brown shoots the baddie between the eyes as the guy is driving a truck to him.  The truck veers out of control, into an abandoned shack, causing it to explode, to which Brown says "just like the fourth of July" in the calmest, soberest voice possible.  Not quite as iconic as Strike Commando or Robowar, but still plenty of fun.

This is some great Reb Brown.  I think he's supposed to be more of a maverick type, with his unkempt hair and five o'clock shadow.  It doesn't come off, Brown is too good a guy, but that doesn't make you want to root for him any less.  As I said above, he doesn't really have any great screaming moments, but he has a few near ones that were nice.  The thing is, this script was cobbled together, so just watching his earnest attempt to make the most of it was plenty for me, and I'm sure you'd enjoy it too.  Depending on how big you wanted your Reb Brown film fest to be, this is a potential inclusion.

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The Rifleman Chuck Connors is great in this as well.  Growing up my father used to watch The Rifleman, and I watched it with him, so that made it really cool to see him in this and get a film of his on the DTVC.  Also, I'm not entirely sure, but I think he now joins Rick Fox, who was in Resurrection, as the only two former Boston Celtics to have films on here.  Oh wait, that's right, I did Steel with Shaquille O'Neal, and he finished his career with the Celtics too.  Anyway, Connors brings that imposing screen presence to this film, and it works so well with him opposite Brown.  It must've been an honor for Brown to work with him too, and I think, while we want to mock these movies and act like being in them must be the worst things ever, I imagine for someone like Brown, to have moments like that, he must feel very lucky, and I think that's pretty cool.

The great Italian/Philippine exploitation mainstay Mike Monty is in this as the drug dealer Brown is sent to bring in.  He's not in it much after he's kidnapped early on, though he makes up for it near the end.  Still, it was disappointing, because he's so great, and I would've loved to have seen him in it more as a menacing, evil kind of figure.  He has a rather prodigious filmography, but we've only done two others of his to this point: Strike Commando, and then the Miles O'Keeffe flick Phantom Raiders.  Here's to you Mike Monty, you were one of the good ones.

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Finally, I wanted to discuss the way this film handled the exploding hut element.  Instead of it being innocent villagers suffering as collateral damage, it's Brown blowing up the huts on the baddie's compound.  I've seen other films go this route before, and I have to say I like it much better.  Why blow up an innocent person's home-- or give the illusion that you are in a film-- when you don't have to?  It's much less problematic this way.

This is a really fun film, but as far as I know used VHS is the only way to go.  Amazon does have it, but it's a little pricey, so maybe for collectors in that case, but if you see it in a bargain bin I wouldn't hesitate to jump on it.

For more info:

Friday, September 13, 2013

Gallowwalkers (2012)

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This is one we've been hearing about for a long time.  It was shot back in 2006, and I think as early as 2008 Netflix was listing it as something you could put in the "Saved" section of you DVD queue.  Finally it made it out a few months ago, but it was stuck on "Long Wait" status, so I couldn't get it.  I got Amour instead, then became busy and didn't get a chance to watch that, having it at home for almost two weeks (a really great movie by the way), and by the time I got it watched and the DVD back to Netflix, this was finally available, and we're finally doing it now.

Gallowwalkers stars DTVC favorite Wesley Snipes as Aman, a man whose lover is raped by five men, and then dies giving birth to the child that was consummated in the assault.  Snipes swears revenge on them, and kills them all.  But what connection do they have to the undead-- known locally as "gallowwalkers"-- who are terrorizing the people living in the small desert communities around which Snipes lives, and if they can't die, how can Snipes defeat them?

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I really enjoyed this movie.  First off, it was really striking visually.  It was a mix of a lot of great Western conventions, from the desolate landscapes to the Sergio Leone-style extreme close-ups.  The colors popped, the sets were all nice, and the actors all seemed to be on board with the director's vision.  This was an out-there concept for a movie, with it having some real macabre elements, but not exactly being a horror movie; yet too many horror conventions to be a straight-ahead Western; and despite being that out-there, the cast bought in, which brought the whole film together.  Snipes especially was into this, and it showed.  He was the lead, and he relished it, and made the film that much more fun.  I didn't know what to expect when I went in, but what I got was a really cool movie that mixed a lot of genres and influences and gave us something truly unique and entertaining.

We haven't seen Snipes on here in over 2 1/2 years, when we did Game of Death, but man, what a way to come back.  This is as good a Snipes as I've seen in a long time.  I watched the behind the scenes interviews featurette, and the fact that he was in that at all was big, because a lot of times the name actor of the film doesn't do the interviews for that; but beyond that, he sounded really excited to be working on this project, and was also excited that the film was shot in Namibia and hoped it could help build the film industry there.  All of that came through in his performance, plus we know from the Blade series that he can lead a film like this, and it all worked.  Definitely nice to have him back.

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One thing I liked about the approach to this Western is that it felt like it was set in a liminal space.  I think even Snipes himself said his character was trapped in a kind of purgatory.  A lot of Westerns end up like that by default, but there's always this idea that these isolated areas are somehow a part of the greater United States or Mexico, depending on where they're set.  Here it was like these people and this place were not exactly in this realm.  Even the ordinary things weren't quite real.  Yet even in all of that, at its core this film is a Western, and the fastest gun still wins.  It was a really great use of a lot of traditional Western devices.

We had some other interesting people in this.  Patrick Bergin has a small role as the hanging marshal in a small town called Enoch's Hammer.  I always like seeing him on here.  Kevin Howarth played the main baddie.  The same way that Snipes seemed to enjoy being the hero, he was great as the villain.  Riley Smith played Fabulos, the young gun who Snipes recruits to help him take out Howarth's gang.  He was a great second to Snipe's character, where he looked young enough to not be at Snipe's level, but old enough to look like he knew what he was doing.  Then there was the great former wrestler Dallas Page, who played one of the baddie's hatchet men.  He wore a big metal helmet most of the time, and when it was off his face was obscured by a lot of make-up.  Finally, the woman who played Snipe's adopted mother was great too, but I don't know who she is because she doesn't have her picture on her imdb.  This is a message to all actors and actresses out there: get your picture on imdb, that's how we find out who you are.

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Finally, we've seen Tanit Phoenix on here a fair amount.  She was in Lost Boys: The Thirst, and the two Death Race prequels, all three filmed in her native South Africa.  This was by far her best performance, but I think that was because she had the material here.  The character was written like and had the aesthetic of Claudia Cardinale's character in Once Upon in the West, and from there I think Phoenix was able to bring her style to the role.  Especially in the Death Race prequels, there's a one dimensionality to her character, even over two films, so it was good to see her get something more rounded and see what she could do with it.

I think this is a must see, but it is a different film, so if you're not up for that I'd say wait on it.  I thought it was great, and I was glad to finally make it happen.  As of right now you can get this on the usual DVD suspects, like Netflix and RedBox.

For more info:

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Sniper: Reloaded (2011)

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This is one I've meant to do for a long time now.  I did Sniper 3 about a year ago, and intended to do 2 as well, but it was removed from Hulu before I could capture images for it; and then I saw this was on Instant, put it in my queue, and forgot about it.  Now we're finally making it happen, so let's see how it did.  Also, our friend Simon from Explosive Action hit this one, and you can go there to see what he thinks.

Sniper: Reloaded follows Tom Berenger's character's son as a Marine who is sent to the Congo to train the army there.  He's not a sniper, but he and his men, while on a mission, are attacked by one, and all but he are offed.  Now he wants to know who did this, and is looking for answers and revenge.  That's when Billy Zane comes to town, feeling he owes Berenger, to help the son.  Can the two of them together defeat the sniper?

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This had its moments, but overall it's not very good.  Biggest problem: the action grinds to a halt in the middle, and none of what happened in those moments was very compelling.  There was a love story that felt grafted in, some investigative work that felt like it was going where we knew it would, and by the time we get back to the action, the film doesn't have enough to recover.  The other problem was the lead wasn't a sniper.  What the hell is that?  That would be like calling Commando "Flight Attendant Pilot".  Billy Zane was really good, but probably too good, because he totally overshadowed the lead and had us wanting more of him and less of everyone else.

I loved Billy Zane though, so I decided to dedicate all three images on here to him.  He has this swagger and charisma that makes every scene he's in great, and great because he's in it.  I don't know if maybe the film could only afford him for a shorter role, or maybe he didn't want to shoot down in South Africa for too long, but this should've been his movie.  He would've been great in the action scenes, and carried the dull middle when the film ground to a halt.  If they do another one, I need to see more of him.

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I liked the lead, Chad Michael Collins, but I was trying to figure out why he didn't work.  I think he would've worked if there had been a teacher/pupil dynamic between him and Zane, but that was oddly explored for one scene before it was totally abandoned.  He's my age, which, isn't exactly young, but I think he's too young for a role like this.  It would've been like if Zane had been the lead instead of Berenger in the first film.  We need haggard tough men with weathered features and lantern jaws leading these films, not guys who look like kids (and I look like a kid at 34 too).  Guys like Chad Michael Collins are the ones who get killed off at the beginning of the Expendables sequel, not the guy who plays Stallone's part.

One of the funnier aspects of movies like this is the sophisticated Brit who is written poorly.  We had it here with Annabel Wright's character Lieutenant Ellen Abramowitz (you may remember Wright from Godforsaken, or you may not...).  First off, she doesn't even know how to pronounce her own rank.  She's from the UK, but pronounces "lieutenant" the way we do, as opposed to "left-tenant" the way they do.  Then eating in the officer's tent with Collins, she says "between you and I", as opposed to "between you and me".  Only people who think they're sophisticated say "you and I" when it isn't appropriate.  It's touches like that that I love about DTV flicks.

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Finally, I was pressed for time this week, and watched the last twenty minutes of this film on my phone.  It was my first time watching a movie on my phone, and I gotta say, it's not the best experience.  I have an i4, so the screen was small, though the picture was sharp and the sound decent.  The size was the biggest issue though.  Even on my laptop, I can make up that size difference by sitting close to the screen, and DTV flicks are enjoyed on TVs anyway, but I think the cell phone is a bridge too far.  I went back and redid the last 20 of this on the laptop to give it a fair screening.  I don't think I could ever say I saw a film if I saw it on my phone.

But even on the laptop or a TV, this is a pass for me.  Though Billy Zane delivered a stellar performance, too much of this was sauteed in wrong sauce for it to work.  You can get it on Instant for the time being, so if you'd like to give it a look that's a low risk option for you.

For more info:

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Battledogs (2013)

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I saw this was added recently to Netflix Instant, and I really wanted to give it a look.  It's an Asylum joint with a prodigious cast, and it's about werewolves.  All things I could go for.  The Asylum has had a pretty decent track record lately, and this looked like it had every chance to be another winner.  Let's see what happened.

Battledogs is about a woman who is bitten by a wolf in a forest outside of Yellowknife, Northwest Territories, and it's given her the werewolf virus, which she proceeds to give to a bunch of people in JFK airport after she lands there and turns.  Not cool.  President Bill Duke calls in the big guns: General Dennis Haysbert and contagious disease specialist Major Craig Sheffer.  Now they have all the werewolves from JFK in quarantine under armed guard while Sheffer races for a cure, the only problem is, Haysbert thinks a cure is a bad idea, and he wants werewolves to fight in the US Army.  I can't imagine that wouldn't end well.

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I didn't care for this.  First off, we get some sweet werewolf action right away, and then it tapers off to a dull howl until we get to the end when it becomes that silly craziness we've come to expect from The Asylum.  In the middle, we're treated to two plot devices that I don't like: first, our hero is looking for case zero, our lady from Yellowknife, and he's talking to her, telling her how he needs to find case zero, and she falls asleep from the drugs before she can tell him, so we're given 15 minutes of our hero trying to figure out what we already know, which was very annoying, especially when it was in lieu of hot werewolf action; and second, Haysbert as our baddie was more like a heel with more power, which is always a bad baddie.  His main evilness was that he was too stupid to figure out what was going on, which isn't fun.  We need a calculating baddie who schemes much more effectively than the average heel.  This isn't the worst we've seen from The Asylum, but I think the bad outweighed the good, so overall it's a pass.

Craig Sheffer as the main hero was pretty great though.  He seemed like such a nice guy, but he had all those lantern-jawed 50s schlock scientist lead type qualities that worked so well.  What might have worked better, is if he and Haysbert had been on a team, as opposed to adversaries.  Like one of Haysbert's soldiers, playing the perfect heel, lets a werewolf out and then they all get out or something.  And then Haybert and Sheffer working together would've made for a fun crew, maybe leading different groups and coming together in the end to finish things off.  Then I think we would've had the movie we wanted.

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As I mentioned above, this movie is full of name actors.  The Yellowknife woman was played by Ariana Richards, who you may remember from Jurassic Park.  She and I are about the same age, so I won't do the "it's crazy how much she's grown up since then", because I have too-- kinda.  The great Ernie Hudson pops in as the TSA head at the airport.  We always love to see him here, and he doesn't disappoint.  Veteran Canadian character actor Kate Vernon plays a doctor working with Sheffer, and like most Canadian character actors, she's solid and helps fill out the movie.  I can't forget Wes Studi, who plays a colonel working under Haysbert.  When you talk about character actors who take care of business, he's another one.

Oh, and I almost forgot, Bill Duke as the President.  I was trying to think if he was the best person cast for the President since we've been doing this at the DTVC.  We have Jerry Springer in the Dolph flick The Defender.  Rutger Hauer, who isn't even American, played him in Scorcher.  I gotta put Bill Duke up there though, if only for his iconic roles in The Predator and Commando.  No, he didn't buy a car and run over the salesman as he drove it through the showroom window, nor did he have his brains splattered on a rock, so that was disappointing, but you can't have everything.  It was an inspired casting decision, and it's too bad the rest of the film didn't live up to that.

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Finally, Buffalo played the part of NYC in this, only with plenty of CGI filling out the rest of the skyline.  I remember one scene when Sheffer drove by the HSBC Center, which is where the Sabres play.  I see they've gone back to their old logo, which I love, it reminds me of their old Adams Division days playing against my Bruins.  I know a lot of the Rust Belt cities have been having a bad time of it since the recession-- or more accurately before the rest of us felt it--, so it's nice to see some movies shot there to help boost the economy.

So this is a pass for me, but it has some elements that I think some people might enjoy, especially those Asylum touches we're used to.  There are also some good inside jokes, like Sheffer finding the remains of a guy's face on the floor, a la Nightbreed, so someone might forgive the bad parts more than I did.  You can check it on Instant, or SyFy might show it from time to time too.

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Sunday, September 8, 2013

From Dusk Till Dawn 3: The Hangman's Daughter (1999)

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Back in 2008 I reviewed From Dusk Till Dawn 2: Texas Blood Money, and I was less than impressed.  I guess because of that, when Netflix Instant became a thing, and this film showed up on it, I stuck it in my queue and forgot all about it.  Now we're finally making it happen.  Let's see if it was worth the wait.

From Dusk Till Dawn 3 has the great Michael Parks as Ambrose Bierce-- that's right, the writer.  He's looking to meet up with Pancho Villa and join the Revolution.  Along the way his carriage is waylaid by the outlaw Johnny Madrid and his gang, who are on the run from Temuera Morrison, the Hangman, whose daughter Esmeralda has run off with Madrid.  Anyway, all of these people find themselves at a mysterious bar run by Danny Trejo, and the rest, as they say, is vampires.

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This was definitely a far superior film to part 2.  It was a great western, then a great horror film, yet retaining some semblance of being a western.  Also, as a western, it played up on a lot of the savage elements of the Old West to give it enough of a horror tinge.  Then we had some really great shots that felt more like a Terry Gilliam flick, which added a surreal effect, and made the film that much better.  And there were great performances from Parks as Bierce, Marco Leonardi as Madrid, Morrison, and Trejo.  I also liked Rebecca Gayheart as a travelling missionary whose new husband is using her for her money; Ara Celi as Esmeralda; and Jordana Spiro as a girl pretending to be a boy.  There were a few scenes that didn't work for me, especially one where Gayheart's husband was fighting one of Madrid's gang.  Gayheart's husband was a heel, I don't want to see him beating someone up, no matter who it is.  Those scenes were fewer than the good ones though, and overall this one really worked.

Michael Parks is a big reason why.  He's fantastic as Ambrose Bierce, total charismatic lead, exactly what you want when you see Michael Parks listed in the cast.  Every scene he's in, he owns, but he owns it so effortlessly, almost in a way that's like he's lending it out to the other actors in the scene with him, but we're just waiting for him to reclaim ownership.  At the same time, he's never trying to upstage anyone or overdo it, it's just a pure professional performance in a fun role and a fun movie.

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As I said this Mexican Wild West was a little more macabre than the usual fare, which gave it more of a horror feel, even when there wasn't any actual horror in the scenes.  Very bloody and deadly, but also nice touches like the hangman's clothing, and the scene around the hanging; or the coach drivers, one of whom has had his tongue cut out, the other who's blind.  Very creepy old scary movie kind of things.  The horror when it does come is as gross and gooey as it gets, it pulls no punches.  It's an all out vampire feeding frenzy.  I think that will appease the horror fans enough who have to wait until the end for that vampire action.

Johnny Madrid was played by Marco Leonardi, who was in one of my favorite films of the '80s, Cinema Paradiso.  To see him as a gunslinging Mexican outlaw in this was quite a trip, but he was so great.  He had every element of the character down, from his savagery and lawlessness, to his sense of honor and right that seem to conflict with the previous two traits.  Then he had the gun wielding charisma you want from that role, which brought it all together.  Leonardi is definitely not an actor I would've expected to see here at the DTVC, but as we've seen in our over 900 posts, you never know who's gonna show up.

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I want to talk quickly about the cinematography, because it did have an almost Terry Gilliam like feel to it.  Those carnivalesque close-ups and pan-outs, moving camera, wide shots of people wandering through a desert that looks more like a Dali painting.  I don't know how many times I've seen people try to pull these things off and ruin the whole film, but here it worked.  I think it helped too to have Parks, whose portrayal of Bierce felt like something out of a Gilliam flick too.  It added a lot of atmosphere, and kept reminding us that things weren't what they seemed.

While this is on Instant, it's worth a look.  For Parks alone it's worth a look, but everything else seemed to click too.  Again, it had a few missteps, but those missteps didn't hurt it enough to prevent me from giving it a positive recommendation.

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Thursday, September 5, 2013

Hooded Angels aka Glory Glory (2002)

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This one has come up a couple times on Instant as a suggestion.  I also come across it on there when I'm looking for more Gary Busey, so I finally decided to give it a chance.  I guess too that there's a chance that there isn't a lot of Busey in it either.  Let's see what happens.

Hooded Angels is about a town in Texas that is the victim of a massacre by Union soldiers during the Civil War.  The women who survive decide to go out on their own as renegades, robbing and killing any men who get in their way.  Paul Johansson is a cowboy whose father was killed by one of the women, and he wants his revenge-- not knowing though that it was a band of women who are responsible.  He and every other lawman in the area-- including sheriff Gary Busey-- think they're after a group of men.  Will they find out before the women get them too?

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So I wasn't sure how this one was going to play out, but for the most part it worked.  It looked like it might be a horrible Men's Right's Activist/Feminists want to kill all men problematic crapfest, but fortunately that didn't happen.  On the other hand, while there was a female empowerment angle, it took on many faces, which I thought made it work better.  It wasn't simply the novelty of women as the renegades that it could've been.  We also had good performances from Johansson, Steven Bauer (who was in Johansson's posse), Amanda Donohoe, and Chantell Stander, the latter two playing the lead women renegades.  All of this played out as a nicely worked Western, complete with some solid shootouts to boot.  While it did have some slow parts, I think overall it was good.

Busey wasn't in this much as the town sheriff, but when he was there he was great.  It was a more subdued Busey, like the old, wise sheriff, but still had it's Abusive moments.  He starts off giving a bounty hunter money for a fugitive, and he's lecturing the guy on how he needs to learn to write.  Then he's talking with Steve Bauer about the goings-on of the town, in pure Busey style.  The outfit is great too.  I think if this movie were bad, the lack of Busey would've upset me, but because it was solid, the Busey we got was a fun addition.

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I must say, if you were to tell me Paul Johansson was going to be a long-haired Western gunslinger, I'd be skeptical.  He's still John Sears from 90210 to me, so the idea of that guy doing this would've been tough to wrap my head around.  In fact, when I first saw him on-screen I didn't recognize him.  The hair is almost more Hair Band-ish than Western, but he has the rest of it down, and was a very good lead.  He and Bauer worked well together too.  I think maybe it was good to bring in someone like him who you wouldn't think would do a Western to a film like this that isn't your run of the mill film from the genre.  It all worked.

This film was shot in South Africa, but it had all the feel you'd want in a Western.  The landscapes were perfect and shot really well.  That's big, a Western needs that to create the atmosphere as much as anything.  Think of John Ford's for instance.  I didn't once think we weren't in the US in Reconstructionist Texas.  One thing it did though was give us a bunch of women with different accents, very few of which were Southern.  I don't know if that's an issue for you, but I was fine with it.

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Then there's this guy.  Graham Clarke, aka Capt. Scott Devers in Space Mutiny.  I love seeing this guy in anything.  He doesn't last long though, which is too bad.  I think any Space Mutiny alums are cool to see in anything.  If you're wondering, yes, this movie could've used a little Reb Brown.  And maybe John Phillip Law.  And Cameron Mitchell.  And his grandma-daughter.

All right, so this is pretty good, and worth checking out.  An interesting take on the Western, with some good performances, plus the great Gary Busey.  While it's on Instant, it's a good bet.

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Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Pressure Point (2001)

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I had been looking to get some more Jeff Wincott up here, and when I saw this on Instant I knew it was a good bet.  Then I saw it had Michael Madsen, which made it even better.  Even if it's a dud, it's got those two right?

Pressure Point has Madsen as a father taking his wife and kids through Vermont on vacation.  They're in a big broken-down old camper, and no one is stoked about it.  At the same time, Wincott and a buddy try to pull off a bank heist in a sleepy little Vermont town, only to have things go wrong, people die, and Wincott on the run.  When he comes across Madsen and crew working on the camper by the side of the road, they seem like a match made in heaven.  Only one problem: you don't mess with Madsen.

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This one is a little rough.  In general this type of movie is rough.  From Dusk Till Dawn pulled it off by inserting vampires in in the middle.  Beyond that, how do you keep us interested from the 20 or 30 minute mark when Wincott takes the family hostage, to the finale?  This had other issues though too.  For instance, it was very keen on the verisimilitude of rough video, like from a bank camera or a police officer's dash.  In one scene, they did this whole thing with the police piecing together a tape that Wincott destroyed, and all it did was show us a garbled, tough to watch thing that went over material we'd already seen.  On the other hand, we had good performances from Madsen and Wincott, along with Victoria Snow, who played Madsen's wife, and Michelle Scarabelli, who played the local deputy.  There were some tense moments, and some solid cat and mouse, but, again, it felt like all it was doing was keeping us from getting to the end at the 90 minute mark, as opposed to feeling like organic plot points.

One thing I really liked was that there was no explanation for why Michael Madsen's character being the bad ass that he was.  No "former cop" or "ex-special forces".  It was simply "because he's Michael Madsen", which should be enough for any movie.  The one issue for me was that there was a lot going on between the family and the police cracking the case, that we lose him for portions of the film, which doesn't work.  I think this could've done for a more slimmed down approach, with fewer bells and whistles, and someone like Madsen could've carried it.

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And Wincott was great too as the main baddie.  One thing I liked too about him being the baddie, was that it was okay that he wasn't using his martial arts-- in fact, we wouldn't want someone as bad as him to know martial arts.  I think if the roles had been reversed, it would've been hard to see someone like Wincott not use his martial arts on someone like Madsen, even if his character didn't know how.  Even though I'd much rather see him as the lead in a martial arts-heavy action flick-- and it's for movies like that that we love him-- this was a cool role for him too, and he did well.

I always have trouble when movies like this have kids involved.  Like Wincott putting a gun to Madsen's son's head, or pointing it at his young daughter.  It all makes me uneasy.  Maybe it's supposed to, but while it makes me uneasy, it's then trying to have it both ways and make me unring the bell and think, once the movie's over, that everyone lives happily ever after.  No kid lives happily ever after after a traumatic experience like that.  The movie can't have it both ways: realistic police work and cracking the case, yet unrealistic no long-term effects on the kids.  As is often the case, it's better to just leave the kids out.

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As I said above, Michelle Scarabelli was really good as the deputy sheriff, and Victoria Snow too as Madsen's wife.  Both women have had solid careers in movies and TV shows.  That's one thing I like about Canadian movies-- beyond little touches like a speed limit listed in kilometers per hour even though it's supposed to be Vermont-- they have this cadre of great professional actors that really fill out the cast and give these movies a little more than you'd expect.  Maybe the best of the lot is Kim Coates, but I've seen Scarabelli and Snow in plenty of stuff, and I think they always give a solid performance.  One could say Wincott is in that category now too, though I still like to think of him as an action lead.

So this is a pass for me.  You've seen this before, and while it has some good performances, it doesn't bring much new to the table and has dead moments that hurt things.  If you're interested though, it's available on Instant.  Sometimes Wincott and Madsen are enough, sometimes they aren't.

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