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, March 28, 2013

Porto dos Mortos aka Beyond the Grave (2010)

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I got an e-mail recently from producer Isidoro B. Guggiana regarding his film Porto dos Mortos, or Beyond the Grave for English audiences.  Unlike the usual submission though, Beyond the Grave is available on Netflix Instant, which obviated the need for him to send me a copy of the film.  Very convenient, right?  Also, our friends at Ninja Dixon and Dementia 13 have reviewed this one as well, so you should check them out; and for anyone reading this who speaks Portuguese as his or her native language, Ronald at Dementia writes in Portuguese-- though people who don't speak Portuguese should check him out too, because he covers a lot of stuff that overlaps with our stuff.

Beyond the Grave takes place in Brazil after a zombie apocalypse.  We follow a lone police officer, still trying to maintain the law and keep evil from running rampant.  He thinks he has a line on a serial killer, but when she and her gang get the drop on him, it's not a good scene.  Now his need to stop her is personal as well as professional, and he won't stop until she's dead.  But is there something supernatural behind her motives?

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I really enjoyed this movie.  It wasn't so much a horror film, as it was a mix of horror, western, samurai, French New Wave, Mondo, you name it.  It was all thrown in together to make something so complete, yet so completely hard to categorize.  I loved the atmosphere, the sets, the performances.  The horror elements were interesting too, in that they weren't really there to shock or scare, but more like added to an overall macabre vibe.  I don't know if this movie is for everyone, but if you're looking for something outside the norm, this is for you.

Where this might be an issue though, is that it isn't a straight-ahead horror, but in a lot of ways that's how it's being marketed, and that's what the trailer looks like.  People looking for a traditional zombie flick won't get that here.  Zombies are part of it, but they aren't all of it.  In fact, there isn't a lot of traditional horror in this film at all.  I don't know if samurai or western fans will like it any more though.  I think you just have to take it as it is and see if it works for you.

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The Netflix Instant version is in Portuguese with English subtitles.  That's something that's great for me, because that's how I prefer to watch foreign films, but I know some of my readers prefer the dubbed version.  Again, if you go into this expecting English dialog, you might be disappointed.  I think this is a bad thing though, because we're seeing a lot of great horror made in a lot of places-- especially in Latin America-- where English isn't the first language, and if you're turned off by subtitles, you'll be missing some great stuff.  Believe me when I tell you, after a few minutes you'll forget you're even reading them.

This film was shot in Porto Alegre, Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil, and the set locations were fantastic.  Abandoned buildings, but ones that looked beautiful.  The key is, they were used well too.  You can have all the great locations you want, but if they aren't there to provide atmosphere, add to the tension, and make the film look great, they're a complete waste.  I had the feeling that they got the most out of every place they shot at.  I'd love to see people in the US go into places like Detroit or New Orleans and shoot in some of those abandoned locations the way these were shot here.  If you're just going to use quick-split second takes, you might as well be shooting in front of a greenscreen; but Beyond the Grave uses longer, steadier takes that allow us to absorb the locations and appreciate them.

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The cinematography overall in this film was great.  Whether we had still shots or a moving camera, everything looked really nice.  It really plays up to that western and samurai element, because those films lean heavily on cinematography.  I think too though that the cinematography gives the horror a different element, because, as I said above, the horror isn't there to shock and scare us, but more add a macabre vibe to what was already a tense and desolate feeling.  I don't know if we'll ever see American movies, especially in the horror or action genres, get back to this style of cinematography as opposed to the split-second cuts, but I did like how another Western influenced film, Recoil, had similar longer takes and atmosphere.

The French New Wave stuff is probably the element that would be toughest for people looking for a straight-ahead horror flick to take.  In a film like Nipples & Palm Trees, it makes more sense, but when you see it in your zombie film, it's like "whoa, what's this?  Why is this kid talking so much?  What's the deal with the radio guy?"  It disrupts the pacing too, though, again, if you're into that kind of thing like me, it's entertaining and not disruptive.  I'm a huge Godard fan, so I enjoyed it.

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I know I spent the entire review and didn't mention any of the actors, so I'll do that now.  Our hero, Officer, was played by Rafael Tombini, and he had that lone gunman swagger, yet also had a lot of Antonio Banderas in Desperado vibe.  There weren't many moments where we saw things happen that he didn't see too, so the film was almost entirely told through him.  There aren't a lot of pictures to go with the actors on imdb, so I'm not sure who to hand out the other accolades to.  There was a brother and sister couple, with the brother being very Jean-Pierre LĂ©aud, while the sister had no lines yet spoke just as much with her gestures.  Then we had a man holed up in an abandoned school with two young people, one of whom is pregnant.  All of them were great, but the main man was almost like the local sheriff type, who helps our hero, and he was cool in that role.  Then we had our band of villains, who were scary-- though one could make the point that they were playing Native American villains we're used to seeing in old American Westerns.  I don't know enough about Brazil to know if they're turning that notion on its ear, or if they're furthering the stereotype.

Because this is available on Netflix Instant, and it's only 88 minutes long-- almost ten minutes of which is credits-- you're not expending a big investment to give it a shot.  I really enjoyed it, but I want people to know what they're getting into.  If reading my review makes it sound like it's not for you, I'd say get outside your comfort zone and try it; and if you're reading it and it sounds great, go for it.

For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1075642/

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

The Expendables 2 (2012)

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When I saw The Expendables over two years ago, I loved it.  I don't know exactly what I was expecting with this second installment, but considering how much I liked the first, and looking at the names they had for part 2, I knew I had to give it a look, so let's see how it went.  Also, some of our friends have already hit this one: Ty at Comeuppance Reviews, Explosive Action, The Video Vacuum, and Freddie at Full Moon Reviews.  (And a special thanks to Ty for having them already linked on his blog, so I could just copy the links from there.)

The Expendables 2 has Sly Stallone and his band of merry mercenary men, on a mission in Eastern Europe to get something out of a safe in a plane that went down over Albania.  They have a woman with them working as their safe cracker, and while Stallone doesn't like this idea, it's really more baddie Jean-Claude Van Damme he should be worried about, because it's Van Damme who has stolen this merchandise from them after they got it out of the safe.  The merchandise: the a location of some weapons grade Soviet plutonium, which Van Damme hopes to sell on the black market.  Can Stallone and his crew stop him?

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In the initial scene, as the marauding Expendables were blasting their way to the base of some Nepalese separatists who had some Chinese businessman hostage, I thought to myself "What am I doing here?  Didn't I already do this two years ago?"  The film does get better though; it has tons of inside jokes for us action fans, it has some nice big action scenes and solid pitched battles, and Van Damme was excellent as the head baddie.  I also loved Nan Yu's Maggie character, and Chuck Norris, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and Bruce Willis all have fun small supporting roles.  While not the novelty that the first one was, it was still a fun time, and I'm not sure you can ask for anything more than that from your action movie.

For me, Jean-Claude Van Damme won this movie.  It probably hurt his soul to have to lose that last fight to Stallone, but let me tell you JCVD, you had me when you roundhouse kicked that knife into The Kid's heart.  Was that not one of the best baddie kills ever?  Scott Adkins hold it up so the point is facing The Kid's heart, and Van Damme roundhouse kicks the butt end.  See, here's the thing Mr. Van Damme, while the fights in the movie are fake, the performances are real, so while you fake lost your fight with Stallone, you beat him by turning in the best performance.

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And then there's the film's other Hall of Famer, Dolph Lundgren.  He seems to be more comic relief, right?  I loved the inside joke about his history in getting into the film biz.  On the other hand, he didn't have the big role he had in the first one.  The story didn't revolve around him in any way, he didn't have any big fights, he just cracked some jokes and carried some big guns.  It was almost like he was there to be the butt of the jokes too.  I don't know how I feel about that.  Yes, it's good that he can laugh at himself and not take himself so seriously, but damn it, I don't want him to be Stallone's Harpo Marx.

This gets me to a main problem The Expendables series has.  Because we have so many stars, their overall star contributions are severely diluted.  Even our baddie, Van Damme, wasn't in the film that much.  But let's look at it by the numbers: Scott Adkins, 1 fight, and that was with Jason Statham; Statham only had 2, that one with Adkins and another, and though both were really sweet, it was still only two in a 110-minute film; Dolph had none; Van Damme just had his one with Stallone; and Jet Li was in and out so fast he also had none.  It felt like this kind of thing was mitigated better in the first one, and who knows what will happen in the third-- at the very least I'd like more Charisma Carpenter.

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When I watched the first one with some friends a couple years ago, my buddy's wife commented: "Why does the girl always have to be kidnapped?"  I don't know if Stallone's botox and HGH gave him supersonic hearing, but he answered her complaint just the same, because, not only do we not have the damsel in distress construct, but we have a woman in the crew who is equal parts feminine and powerful in Nan Yu.  One could make the complaint though that there was still an element of chauvinism in the fact that all the other guys in the cast-- other than Adkins, and Liam Hemsworth of course-- were much older, while the one female was in her early thirties.  But hey Stallone, you wanna go James Woods, it's whatever floats your boat.

And with that, let's wrap this up.  The Expendables 2 is a very fun movie.  It doesn't do anything so horrible to turn me off, the action is there and big, and there were plenty of humorous moments.  On the other hand, you've been on this road before, you know what you're going to see, no wheels being reinvented, which isn't exactly a bad thing, but for something that's supposed to be bigger and badder than the original, it's not a good thing either.

For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1764651/

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Nipples & Palm Trees (2012)

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Here is another director submission, this one coming from director Dylan Reynolds for his film Nipples & Palm Trees, which was written by and stars Matthew James, who had a reoccurring role on Angel as Merl. I checked out the trailer (which I embedded on the image page, because it wasn't on their imdb), and it looked like a lot of fun.  Let's see how it turned out.

Nipples & Palm Trees follows Jackson, a struggling artist with a bad job who is in love with a woman named Harmony.  Unfortunately, Harmony can't commit to him, so in the periods of time when she's absent, he searches for love and sex in LA with varying degrees of success-- or really no success.  Will Harmony come back to him?  And if she does, will she finally stay with him?

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I really enjoyed this.  The info packet that Dylan e-mailed to me included some notes on what the director and writer were going for, and Dylan said he was trying for a French New Wave/70s New Hollywood combined with 80s/90s sex romp vibe.  I'd take it a step further.  For me it felt like those great 90s indie flicks that were like an echo effect of the French New Wave and 70s New Hollywood from new directors who grew up in the 60s and 70s with those as their influences.  Being born in the late 70s and really coming of age as a moviegoer in the 90s, I loved that time, when it felt like every flick at the local indie theater or every Neo-Noir or character-driven comedy I picked up off the video store shelves was a gem.  This leaned on the strengths of its two leads, who felt natural and nuanced; plus a script that was funny without overdoing the irony, yet had the ability to move me too; and direction, cinematography, and editing that, while it could've been heavy-handed and too much for this film, instead really did it's job in bringing out the things that made this enjoyable, whether it was off-the wall comedy or some serious dramatic moments.

On the DVD, one of the reviews (LA Weekly), described this as aspiring "to Bukowski-like heights".  The thing is, how many movies have we seen try to do that, and fail miserably?  As I was watching this, I realized what made this one work was the lack of irony.  We see too much irony in these kinds of episodic sex romp type deals, where we just can't make these women and these situations and conversations crazy and zany enough.  And then when the craziness does happen, there's this wink-wink nudge-nudge factor that makes it even worse.  Nipples & Palm Trees never makes that mistake.  Even when the situations seem like they could go in that direction, the film maintains its humanity, which was refreshing.

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As I mentioned above, Matthew James wrote and played the lead, Jackson.  He really typified that New York or Northeast I-95 Corridor transplant in LA vibe, which is why I think the title, Nipples & Palm Trees was so apt, because that's really all we in the Northeast think of LA.  Even though according to Wikipedia I live in the Greater Metro Boston Area, I'm a little north of Boston to fully have that mindset, but really there's a sense that people from about Boston to Philadelphia have, this angry, uptight, ready to argue mindset, that when they go out to LA and encounter the laid-backness, it's like a utopia.  And then there's the weather.  And then the women.  I've only been to LA a couple times, but I've had this feeling too, like the world is my oyster.  But from people I've talked to who are transplants out there, a shift occurs after a certain time, when you realize that the LA you thought you knew no longer makes any sense, and while you hated the Northeast, there's a part of you that longs for it because at least you understood it.  Jackson is in this liminal space, and his Northeast sensibilities are under attack throughout this film-- one of my favorites scenes came when a girl he wanted to bed has a surprise for him, and he tells her "this is wrawng," as opposed to "wrong".  Lawng Island trapped in the absurdity of the City of Angels.

Then we had Sadie Katz as Harmony, who has lived a tough life, doesn't know if she can trust Jackson, and is afraid of what it would mean for her if she finally does.  Jackson has no ability to communicate with her, all he knows in coming from the Northeast is to fight and make up, and Harmony doesn't do that, she runs away and comes back.  Even when she's with Jackson she doesn't know what she wants-- does she want to talk, does she want to fuck; does she like the way Jackson makes her feel, does it make her uncomfortable.  And the thing for Katz is, unlike James who is on-screen the entire film, she doesn't have as many moments for us to get a sense of who her character is, and she makes the most of that limited time to give us as complete and well-rounded a character as Jackson.  Part of that is the writing and the directing, but there's also a lot in her performance, those subtle touches, that really make it work, and as a result, make Jackson's character work better too.

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One of the problems with doing a smaller-budget indie film is that a lot of the actors are just starting out, and as a result, when I go to the imdb page, they often don't have a picture up, which makes it harder for me to attribute credit to the right people.  I know we had Dallas Malloy, who was great as Jackson's philosophical landlord; The Human Centipede's Akihiro Kitamura as Jackson's co-worker (and don't ask, I'm not planning on reviewing that one any time soon) and co-sufferer in heartbreak; Vanessa Rose Parker plays a woman Jackson picks up at the grocery store, and Cary Thompson (who was in the Albert Pyun flick Invasion) plays another woman he tries to get involved with to get his mind off of Harmony.  All of these characters do their job in both being uniquely memorable, but also giving us more perspective on Jackson, which just made the film that much better.

The one area where this film had the most potential to seem over the top or overly ironic was in the sexual interactions with the other women, and I got a sense from some of the other reviews that they felt like that was the case with them.  I don't know, they didn't seem that unbelievable though (maybe because I've had some interesting interactions with women as well-- and no, I won't be getting into them here).  And the thing about them too is that, while they were out there, they weren't so out there that a guy like Jackson who's looking to get over a woman he's in love with, and also assuage his sexual frustrations, wouldn't be faced with a dilemma as to whether or not he'd just go with it.  In that sense it made it easier to relate to, made me feel like "hmm, if I were Jackson, would that be a deal breaker, or would I stick around"-- and having had to make that decision myself, it's all the more relatable-- again, I'm not getting into my own experiences.

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For this last paragraph I want to get on my soapbox a bit here and rant about something that I really dislike in the American movie industry.  While Nipples & Palm Trees has a lot of sexual situations, and it is definitely for adults, there's really nothing that bad in it.  No one gets killed, raped, has his or her life threatened, and other than some boobs, there isn't much nudity; yet this would easily be an R rating, and maybe an NC-17.  At the same time, The Dark Knight, where people are given bloody smiles, have their faces half-burnt off, sit tied to a chair helplessly while a timer counts down a bomb that blows them up, and are murdered left and right, is PG-13.  Am I the only one who thinks that's ridiculous?

All right, I'll come down from my soapbox and wrap this up.  Nipples & Palm Trees is fantastic.  A throwback (I can't believe I'm saying throwback in talking about the 90s) to the character-driven indie comedies of the 90s, well-written, well-acted, well-shot, and well-directed.  I want to thank Dylan for sending me a copy, I really enjoyed it, and think everyone should check it out. You can pick it up on Amazon.

For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1630052/

Monday, March 18, 2013

Dragon Eyes (2012)

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This was one of the films I was looking forward to checking out once I added the DVD feature back to my Netflix account.  The cover looked pretty sweet with Jean-Claude Van Damme and Cung Le, and I knew from Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning that John Hyams could direct an action flick.  I just wanted to see these guys get after it. Also, our friend at The Video Vacuum did this one too, so you can go there to see what he thinks.

Dragon Eyes has a Yojimbo paradigm, with Cung Le as our hero going into the town of St. Jude, which is overrun by two gangs, whom he tries to pit against each other.  But then there's Peter Weller and his corrupt police force that is making money off the two gangs.  Then there's a Russian gang that wants to step in and pick up the pieces after Le takes down the other two.  Then there's scarecrow's brain.  Oh yeah, and Van Damme is barely in it, playing Le's mentor and martial arts trainer in jail.

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I didn't care for this.  It had too many moving parts, too few fight scenes, and while some of the fights were good, others left a good amount to be desired.  I mean, we have one where Le takes on three or four guys and handles them pretty well, and then another where a guy who weighs like 140 pounds soaking wet gets into a mini They Live style fight with Le that destroys his apartment.  How does that make any sense?  And this whole thing with the police force and the Russian gang was too much.  Yojimbo is a very simple structure, and we've seen it done well so many times-- like in the original Django-- and I thought from the way it was starting that this is what we had going on; but then it spiraled out of control, and by the time we hit the 80 minute mark, the writer/s were scrambling to wrap things up, so we had an ending that was as abrupt as the rest of it was unwieldy.  Overall, a disappointment.

We haven't done a flick from DTVC Hall of Famer Peter Weller in almost three years and over 350 posts, back when we celebrated our 500th and 501st with RoboCop and RoboCop 2.  He was fantastic in this, one of the few bright points in the film.  Over the top, equal parts sinister and clown, all that you'd want in a great action baddie.  In fact, the film was suffering from a lack of anything happening for about twenty minutes or so, and he comes in and saves it from that.  Unfortunately he was just keeping the film's head above water, and he could only do that for so long.

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I have no idea what was going in with Jean-Claude Van Damme here.  Really?  The wise prison mentor?  What, James Hong wasn't available?  Seriously, he's too young for that, the wise mentor.  He's still plenty young enough to have played Le's part.  It just made the whole thing weird.  Not to mention, we have the immense bait-and-switch from the fact that the cover is selling us this awesome actionfest starring Van Damme, Le, and directed by Hyams.  To fire the movie up and get this, I don't know, it's like seeing some gimmicky "Seen on TV" thing that looks pretty sweet in the commercials, but you buy it, and it doesn't work.  I guess I was ripped off again, huh?  I'm really beginning to wonder if I can't go to the Better Business Bureau about these bait-and-switches in these DTV action movies.  I mean, seriously, was there anything on that cover that says "Van Damme as the wise prison mentor"?  I checked the Netflix description, and I saw nothing of the sort.

That isn't to take anything away from Cung Le, he was a very capable hero, and I think with a better story that wasn't so all over the place, he would've excelled.  He had this great scene at the very beginning, where he goes to his car, and this local thug puts his hand on it, and Le says "Don't ever touch the car", and then a great fight ensues-- which had me thinking this was going to be that awesomefest, only to see the action diminish to nil for the next twenty minutes.  I also think the amount of hits his character took was a great disservice to him as a hero.  I go back to that one with the guy who was barely 140 pounds.  He should destroy that guy, and it was a total back and forth.  And he has this big showdown with the two gangs early on, and while he has some great fights with them, there's also this weird construct where some of the guys he fought in the first scene are now fighting for him, like he hypnotized them or something.  Le was good, the movie was weird.

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As I said above, we know from Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning what Hyams brings to the table, and I can't blame him for the story when he isn't listed with the screenplay credit-- and really, when you consider this is available new from Amazon for $5.97 already, this whole thing could've been sauteed in wrong sauce and we have no idea who to blame.  One thing that annoyed me, and I feel like this is a Hyams call, was this constant need to freeze the film, make it a different color, and tell us who we were seeing on-screen, as if it told us anything at all.  All that does is destroy the rhythm of the film.  Telling us who someone is without any context or background whatsoever is a waste of time, and also a sign of weak writing.  Characters introduce themselves organically through their actions.  Do we need a freeze screen and Peter Weller's character name?  Why, when all it is is his name.  What's important to us is what he does, that's when he reveals himself to us, not through some gimmicky intro shot.  And there were so many of them, it go to a point when I was like "Oh, it's an old man painting a wall, where's the freeze frame?  Who is he?"

This has some decent fights, some decent action, but for me that is overshadowed by a story that can't stop itself, a weird construct that had Van Damme as the wise prison mentor, and an ending that just felt like "we need to end this now, it's gone on too long."  Not to mention, while some of the fights were good, others made no sense.  That's too bad, because Weller and Le were really good.  Also too bad, because it's really cheap new.

For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1735862/

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Recoil (2011)

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Recently John Sullivan (Twitter@johnnyblackout), screenwriter of Recoil, liked The Direct to Video Connoisseur on Facebook, and left a post on my wall asking me to review his film.  I definitely wanted to, but it's only available on DVD from Netflix, and having just reinstated the DVD portion of my account, I had to do Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning first, and in the meantime, hit the Steven Seagal/Stone Cold Steve Austin flick Maximum Justice, because it was on Instant.  Of course, you know how that flick went, and Sullivan was back on Facebook letting me know that Recoil was much better and used Austin much better.  Now we're finally making it happen, so let's see if it lived up to it's billing.  As an aside, this film is not to be confused with the Gary Daniels film of the same title, which we used to induct Art Camacho and PM Entertainment into the DTVC Hall of Fame.

Recoil has Austin as a bad ass vigilante who travels the country tracking down men who have committed violent crimes against women and children and got away with it.  He goes to a small town named Hope to kill a member of a biker gang there.  Turns out the guy is the younger brother of the head of the gang, Danny Trejo, and now it's on.  Will Austin be able to take them down?

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Wow, this more than lived up to its billing.  We're talking 80s/90s throwback actioner, the kind of thing you could see Jeff Wincott doing.  Austin as the hero is fantastic, totally badass, and the kind of hero we want to see delivering justice.  The action keeps a good pace, and when it's not there, whatever else is going on is enough to keep me interested.  No gimmicky edits or shaky cinematography either.  Danny Trejo is the perfect choice for the baddie, and everyone else, including Serinda Swan, Locklyn Munro, and Keith Jardine, was great too.  Why we don't see more of this is beyond me: simple story with heroes we want to root for and villains we want to see get theirs, and a solid action quotient with clean direction and no gimmicks.

It should be no surprise though that John Sullivan wrote a movie like this.  You may have seen him on the DTVC Facebook applauding me for my Jeff Wincott reviews and asking me about various C. Thomas Howell flicks.  In talking to him, he said he worked in a video store in the early 90s, at the time these flicks were huge, and he was given the task of ordering videos.  Like all of us, he said, while these films weren't always good, they were always entertaining; and like us, he agrees on what makes them entertaining.  So he went into Recoil wanting to give us that: something like a modern Western, and you can see the results.  I asked him how much of his movie ended up in the final product, and he said this is exactly what he wanted, and it shows.  The film is very consistent throughout, nothing feels tacked on or out of place.  The other thing is, because this is well-written, we don't have cheap add-ins like the classic "freeze the shot, make the color a little different, then put a title on the screen telling us who the character is."  Nothing spells lazy writing like that.  Here, everyone is revealed and introduced to us organically, and there aren't too many moving parts that weigh it down.  Yet, as I said above, Sullivan pays enough attention to detail to give us solid heroes and villains, and a great action level.  We need more DTV action written by John Sullivan.

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This is also the Stone Cold Steven Austin we've been looking for.  Maybe not the beer drinking, motorcycle driving, Stone Cold Stunner delivering badass; but a solid, stoic, asskicking badass.  He was on board with the Western-style lone hero, knew what was expected of him, and drove it home.  I think this affirms what I knew all along, that the lack of good Austin films was due to poor writing and characters that didn't fit for him.  Sullivan wrote a consistent, strong character.  The director, Terry Miles, who comes from a dramatic film background and was working on his first action film, was also able to get that dramatic element out of Austin in a way that didn't feel forced or silly.  Finally, a role worthy of what we knew Austin could bring to the table, and he didn't disappoint.

Check out Noel Gugliemi, also known as That Guy.  He plays Trejo's younger brother-- surprise, surprise.  I asked Sullivan about him, because he always plays, not just a gang member, but a particularly bad heel that we always want to see get it.  Sullivan said he's actually a really nice guy, and according to imdb, he goes to schools to talk to kids about staying away from gangs.  But here he is again, playing a mean gangster who assaults women, and we can't wait for Austin to tie him to a car and drive him into an exploding building.  I guess there are worse ways to make a living.  Hell, you give me a flight and room and board in Vancouver, and I'd be glad to have Austin kill me in a movie.

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Speaking of explosions, Austin put a handkerchief on the truck, run!  Total Mitchell style there.  I don't know if this was an ode to Mitchell and MST3K, but it worked just the same.  It was then followed by a "Cool Guys Never Look at Explosions" moment with Austin, which I posted above.  That's what this movie was, fun after fun, topped with more fun, with a side of fun.

So let's wrap this up.  If you dig 80s/90s action, and wonder why so many modern DTV flicks can't deliver on it, this is the film for you.  John Sullivan made the movie that he wanted, and that we've wanted to see for a while now.  We need more guys like Sullivan out there writing these things, and hopefully more of them will be made.  These are the reviews I want to write, and it's nice to have a movie that I can write them about.

For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1839591/

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Captain Slickpants (2012)

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Ben Dietels at BPO Films contacted me about reviewing his film, Captain Slickpants.  As always, I love the opportunity to check out a smaller budget film and get the word out-- and hopefully the word that I enjoyed it.  This has been an unintended bonus of having this review site, that people have reached out to me to look at their films, and has turned out to be one the aspects of it that I like most.  So without further ado, let's look at Captain Slickpants.  (And for more information on BPO Films, check out their website, bpofilms.com)

Captain Slickpants stars Dietels as Gregg Henley, an off-beat dude who lives in his late grandmother's house in suburban Pittsburgh, has a thin, adolescent mustache, and lights off fireworks and does aerobics in his spare time.  He also has a thing for Vanessa, a nice young lady who works as a waitress at his favorite restaurant, the Bocktown Bar and Grill.  Anyway, he decides to finally tell Vanessa how he feels, only to have her leave work early that day before he has the chance.  Never fear though, fate is smiling on poor Gregg, as he comes across her wallet lying in the parking lot.  Going against his friend Steve's advice, which is to just hand it back in to Bocktown, Gregg looks at this as an opportunity to show Vanessa how great a guy he is.  Only problem, some thug on a bike steals it out of his parked car.  Now Gregg, with his friend Steve's help, need to track it down for her.

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Overall, I really liked this movie.  It had some top notch film making elements, in particular the way they dealt with the missing wallet.  It was like classic Marx Brothers comedic tension, and had that ability to keep me on the edge of my seat, yet laughing at the same time.  I also loved the Gregg workout scene in the opening credits.  It was like a goofy Travis Bickle, and really set the stage for what we were in for with Gregg.  Gregg's sometimes funny sometimes creepy behavior was offset by his friend Steve, who was equal parts straight man and goofball himself.  There were also a couple plot twists that I don't want to give away, especially an expertly executed one near the end, that demonstrated how good these guys are, and makes me want to see what they have next.

Now this movie wasn't perfect by any stretch.  The ending, for instance, was predictable, at least for me.  In listening to the commentary track, they said they went with the ending they did because they wanted to turn the classic Hollywood romantic ending on its ear.  The problem with that though, is everyone, including Hollywood, is turning the classic Hollywood ending on its ear.  Irony is the new classic ending, so in trying to be ironic, they became what they didn't want to be.  A couple things could've mitigated this.  One, they could've gone with the classic ending, only with Gregg existing in it, and that alone would've been unique enough and satirical enough.  They also could've just gone with a non-cinematic ending.  What I mean by that is, just something that would've happened in everyday life.  Maybe Gregg brings Vanessa the wallet, and she just thanks him and shuts the door, and that's it.  All that said, I liked that they tried to mock the Hollywood romance film with their ending.  Another misstep they had though would've been the death knell for me had I not been watching this to review it.  They covered the well-worn "accidentally run over guy and need to get rid of the body" routine.  This I've seen so many times, and when I saw it here, I wanted to turn it off, which is important, because I would've missed the best part of the movie in the following scene.  Had this movie been full of cliches, it would've been one thing, but so much of this movie was great, so I think these two missteps can be overlooked to some degree.

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This is a shot from the outside of the Bocktown Grill, which is in Robinson, just outside of Pittsburgh, and looks like a pretty decent place to grab a beer and some food.  Captain Slickpants isn't the first film we've done that took place in Pittsburgh.  You may remember, a little over five years ago, when we reviewed Bloodsucking Pharaohs in Pittsburgh.  While I don't think this is quite as good as that horror comedy romp, I do like this one much better than the other film I've seen that took place in Pittsburgh, Zack and Miri Make a Porno.  As a Patriots fan, I'm not supposed to like the idea of Pittsburgh, but it seems like a pretty nice deal, and maybe I'll visit there sometime-- though I'll leave my Pats jersey at home, just in case James Harrison sees me.  Also, I embedded a short on the image page that the guys at BPO Films did about Steelers fans suffering depression after the Tebow game last year, and in it, "Patriots Fan" is used as an epithet.  What's funniest about their video, is you could substitute it with Pats fans and guys with Boston accents, it would've been the same film.

Check out Steve's blog.  He has a Tumblr!  If you don't know, I'm something of a Tumblr addict.  Steve's character was interesting because, unlike Gregg's, which was pretty consistent throughout, Steve becomes sympathetic as the film goes on, and almost becomes our conduit through which we experience Gregg.  In this opening scene with him, he seems like a jerk, calling his friend out; and when we see him at the Bocktown Grill later, he still seems like a bit of a tool; but it's not until we get to know Gregg better, and see Steve with him more, that we see how much Steve just wants to kick him out of his dysfunctional rut.  The lengths to which he does it though gets Steve into more trouble than maybe Gregg's worth, but Steve plays all of these aspects well.  With these two guys as the main characters, they needed to carry the film, and I think Gregg's character would've gotten old quick if it hadn't been for Steve's propping him up and giving us someone to relate to.

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I'm going to do something a little different here for the next three paragraphs.  As with most of the reviews I do for director submitted films, this is a ten paragraph as opposed to the usual 8 paragraph post, so with 7, 8, and 9, I want to discuss the film through a note Ben sent me along with his movie.  No, it's not the fact that he used two dots instead of 3 for all his ellipsis-- I know I'm a Grammar Hammer, but not that bad-- but it's what the note said.  It gave me instructions to not treat his film like a big budget Hollywood production.  That rubbed me wrong for two reasons.  First, let me decide how to take the film, and if I didn't get it the way you intended it, if I'm upset that it's not Failure to Launch, that's my problem; and second, and most important, it gives me the impression that the movie isn't going to be any good, that it's just a bunch of kids fooling around with their dad's camera, and that I shouldn't be too hard on it because of that.  Either way, the note ends up selling the film short, which, I'm telling you Ben and everyone else at BPO Films, you shouldn't be doing, because you've got a good thing going here.

Before writing this review, I went to the imdb page for Captain Slickpants, and looked at the few external reviews they had up.  In one of them, the reviewer said he liked it a lot, but thought the guys should've used better camera and sound equipment.  With that review in mind, I can see why Ben would want his disclaimer; but I'm here watching your movie on my laptop, pausing the scenes I want images from, hitting "prnt scrn", pasting the screen print into MS Paint, then cropping out the actual screen image and saving that-- in fact, while doing it for this film, I clicked on something in Windows Media Player that resized the video screen, and I couldn't get it back to the original, meaning the pics for this review are in two separate sizes.  With that said, the last thing I'm going to do is get on you guys who are working under an extremely limited budget for not using a high end digital camera and a professional boom mic.  And again, if I do, that's my problem for being an ignoramus, not yours for assuming I had enough sense to understand you're working on a micro-budget.

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Take the picture above.  This is from that fantastic plot twist near the end.  Can you see hanging on the wall a picture that reads "If all else fails, ask grandfather"?  That's right, this scene was shot in one of their grandfathers' houses.  For me, this is what adds to the charm of these no-budget films, just taking what you can get and making it work.  Was this sequence any less awesome due to the fact that it was shot in someone's grandfather's house?  Absolutely not.  Now I understand the fear that a low-budget film maker might have in giving me his or her film, that I could spend three paragraphs lecturing them on how cheesy it was that they couldn't get a decent set-- or even that they didn't just take the picture off the wall--, and a note like that is an attempt to make sure I don't do that; but for me, that note undermines what makes this movie so good, and has the reverse effect of making me hone in on what's wrong-- or even, if I didn't enjoy the film, a place to start from to rant about everything I didn't like.  I guess what I'm saying is, don't give me a reason to think your movie is poor before I even see it, especially when it's really good.

All right, let's wrap this up.  Captain Slickpants, despite a few areas that didn't work for me, was a fun movie that I really enjoyed, and I think you will too.  You can pick up the film for $10 at their website, bpofilms.com.  I have a feeling these guys are only going to get better, so I can't wait to see what they have next.

For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2123919/