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.

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Brother's War (2009)

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After I had reviewed the films that Kevin at MTI Video sent me he asked me if there were any other films in the catalog I was interested in looking at, and this one had been on my radar for sometime before he'd contacted me.  The reason: DTVC Hall of Famer Olivier Gruner.  Anytime a film has a a Hall of Famer, we're all over it.  Let's see how it went.

Brother's War is about a troop of Nazi soldiers fighting the Soviet invasion at the end of World War II.  Tino Struckman plays Capt. Mueller, a Mason who is being hunted by the Nazi's while the troops in his Nazi regiment try to protect him.  That's when he's captured by the Soviets.  At the same time, a British attache, Andrew (played by Hugh Daly), witnesses the Soviets execute the Polish government in exile, and discovers that they plan to take over Germany before the Allies can.  He's also imprisoned, and while he and Mueller are being taken out for execution, they escape, hoping to make it to Allied command to deliver this news.  Will they make it in time?

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I liked what they were trying to do with this one, but at 100 minutes it was a little long, and I think they tried to include too much.  At about the 45-minute mark-- yes, it takes that long to get there-- the guys embark on their mission, and at that point we've gone through so much that we need them to just get there.  If it's going to be another 55 minutes or so of struggle and adventure and commentary about the cruel realities of war, then the beginning needs to be shorter.  The other problem is that Gruner gets bumped off at the 35-minute mark, which means the movie is leaning on people other than its big star.  Finally, we have five writing credits, and it shows.  Elements in the middle feel grafted in.  This wasn't horrible, but it's a war drama, and a slow burning war drama at that, which probably isn't what a lot of people are looking for when they see Olivier Gruner's name on the cover.

What do we do with Mr. Gruner?  Some of these movies he's found himself in lately are so low budget, and he's barely in them, yet is used to sell them.  He deserves better than this.  For over ten years, from 1990 to the early 2000s, he had some real greats, including Nemesis, which is a top ten DTV flick of the 90s.  Is it just that he's been squeezed out by recent additions by bigger names entering into the DTV realm?  Actors that speak English better?  That's too bad though, because he could get after it, and at only 53, I think he can still carry a DTV action film.  Hopefully he'll get those roles again.

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The other name in this film was veteran character actor and horror mainstay Michael Berryman.  He plays a Soviet colonel who is hunting down our heroes.  He doesn't have a big role though after the beginning.  As I mentioned above, Tino Struckman played one of the main characters.  He also co-wrote and produced this.  On his imdb profile, he has gone on to direct his own movies too.  I think a big reason why Gruner didn't have the bigger part is that Struckman wanted himself to be the star, and it looks like a lot of his other films are personal vanity projects.  If they don't have Olivier Gruner or another Hall of Famer I probably won't watch them.  Also, his co-hero, Hugh Daly, was his co-writer on this, so maybe they're buddies outside of filming.  Finally, Haley Karr played Anna, a nurse the guys find while she's being chased down by a group of Russian soldiers looking to rape her.  Her character was the most unevenly written, and it seemed like she was there to provide a level of humanity for our heroes, which was unnecessary because they already had it enough.  Not her fault though that her character was superfluous, and she did as well with it as she could.

The weirdest thing about this film was the idea that I was supposed to root for a Nazi.  Even if he was someone who was banished and hunted by them, he was still wearing a swastika.  Also, Gruner being French and Struckman being Danish made the idea of them playing Nazis weirder, considering both countries were conquered by the Nazis in WWII.  I get what the movie was trying to do, but it still hurt my sensibilities.

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Finally, I want to finish with a personal story based on the film's title.  In college, a buddy of mine tried to hook up with another buddy's sister while said sister was very inebriated, which, as you can imagine, was a very bad situation, and the buddy with the sister wanted to kick the other buddy's ass.  After we'd calmed the buddy with the sister down, this other buddy thought he'd talk it over with him, and in his attempts to patch things up, said "Bros before hoes man", and put out his hand for a shake.  We all (there were about five of us in the room with them) were stunned, and couldn't believe he said that.  Anyway, I told another group of friends in college about this, and the "Bros before hoes" line became this catch-all joke about chauvinism and tools like that friend who would say something like that.  Now, whenever we see something with "Brothers" in the title, we convert it to "Bros before hoes", like "Super Mario Bros Before Hoes", which would make this movie "Bros Before Hoes War".  Just thought I'd share that.

And if I'm scraping the barrel for a seventh paragraph, that should tell you something.  This wasn't that unremarkable though, it just tried to do too much, and wasn't well executed in that sense.  It either needed a shorter beginning or a shorter ending, and with both being long the whole thing didn't work.  Also, I don't know what kind of market there is for a movie like this.  It's not the one for Olivier Gruner action fans, I know that.  Anyway, it's available on DVD from Netflix.  And I want to thank Kevin at MTI Video again for sending me this, and letting us get another Gruner film up.

For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0932661/

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

The Prophecy: Uprising (2005)

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Our friend Johnny Sullivan (Twitter @johnnyblackout ), a screenwriter who wrote the great Stone Cold Steve Austin actioner Recoil, mentioned that before that, he wrote two Prophecy sequels, this one and Forsaken.  He also mentioned that his original scripts were rewritten quite a bit, but that I should give the movies a look.  Considering how great Recoil was, and how gracious he was after I watched it in answering my questions about the process of making it-- and the fact that all five Prophecy films are currently on Instant--, all made this a no brainer.  Oh, and Kari Wuher in it didn't hurt either.

The Prophecy: Uprising is about a British detective of Romanian descent working in Bucharest.  He has a lot of personal demons he's trying to atone for, in particular a brutal mistake he made as a youth that he really couldn't be blamed for.  Anyway, a mysterious man claiming to be an Interpol agent approaches him for help solving a case.  At the same time Kari Wuher, living and working in an Orthodox church in the city, discovers the priest she works for dead on the floor of the basement, and a voice in her head (Jason London) telling her to pick up his massive bible.  Now she's fleeing from a rogue demon that wants the book, and our hero's Interpol agent is recruiting our hero to help her protect it before the bad demon can get it-- but can he trust the Interpol agent?

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This is a fun DTV horror/suspense thriller.  It's compact, with the listed 88 minute runtime actually a good amount shorter with the credits taken out, and none of that time is wasted.  This is a reboot of the Prophecy franchise, and as such could've been full of onerous plot exposition to introduce us to the new storyline, but fortunately that doesn't happen.  I think when we see a DTV sequel of an established theatrical property, we hope for something like this: quick moving, not full of itself, but also not devoid of substance.  This story, while trim and lean, still had great moments, especially the plot twist at the end that I really liked.  This is the kind of 3AM insomnia burner that you see on the guidebar and find yourself still up at 5 (with commercials) finishing it off, thinking of the Tweet or Facebook status update about how little sleep you got last night that you're about to fire off.

It was great to be able to converse with Johnny via e-mail about this film.  I don't want to tell you too much about his original story, because it will give away this film, but he said he had written the script initially as a project that had nothing to do with the Prophecy.  Then he went to Dimension films after selling another script to Sony (which wasn't produced), and they asked him to work on The Prophecy reboot, which was one of many projects they had control over at that time, but needed to be rebooted because they couldn't get Christopher Walken anymore (he also pointed out that this was before the term "reboot" was en vogue).  He pitched that original script, and they loved it, he just needed to amend it to a DTV sequel scale.  He wrote both Uprising and Forsaken, and sold them both to Dimension.  From there though, director Joel Soisson rewrote them to his own vision.  What was interesting for me was how cohesive and consistent it felt despite having two writers, because often that's the death knell for a movie, too many cooks in the kitchen.  He said that, while it was heavily rewritten, the key elements-- especially the plot twist I liked, and the main thread about the bible, were his, which is probably why it still worked.  I will say though, between the two, Recoil, which was completely Johnny's movie and wasn't rewritten, was the better film; but to some degree comparing them is like apples and oranges.

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Kari Wuher might have been one of my first celebrity crushes, back when she was on Remote Control in the late 80s.  I also remember that that was the first non-music video show on MTV.  Man, did that open the floodgates, here I am 25 years later watching Catfish while typing this review.  Videos?  You watch those on YouTube now, I watch MTV for Catfish.  Anyway, so you know, I go into seeing Kari Wuher in a film with that imprint on my brain from that many years ago.  But I think too, her character works as someone you genuinely want to root for, whether you had a crush on her as far back as 1988 or not, and that makes everything else in the film work that much better.

We've done over 900 movies here at the DTVC in over 6 years, and we still find things that we haven't see before.  John Light provides that moment for us here.  He looks like a Poor Man's Dane Cook, right?  Yet, as a Poor Man's, he's better than the original!  I've never seen the Poor Man's version be better than the original before.  I understand, when we're talking about Dane Cook, being better isn't hard, but still, a first is a first, and we have to acknowledge it.

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I don't know if you know, but this movie was shot in Romania.  It's well established, with a lot of establishing shots.  They weren't like artistic Ozu establishing shots though, there was a lot of time elapsed film and whatnot.  I think the most egregious case of the overused establishing shots was Fast Five, where it was like "Hey, we're in Rio!"  "Did you know this film takes place in Rio?"  "Oh, by the way, Rio!"  "Hey, Rio!"  I think in The Prophecy: Uprising though, with this type of film, it worked.  It evoked that imagery we already have of Romania and Transylvania in a horror film, plus the old Orthodox churches and gave us that supernatural mystical version of Christianity that we need for a movie like this to work.  So, as gratuitous as the establishing shots might have seemed, I think they worked in adding to the atmosphere.

Especially while this film is available on Instant, it's worth a look, but if you see it for rent or on TV, I'd check it out too.  It's a fun, 90-minute, DTV supernatural-suspense thriller.  This is what we come to DTV for, to be entertained for an hour-and-a-half, and The Prophecy: Uprising does that.  Also, thank you again to Johnny Sullivan for taking the time to talk with me about this and about his role in making the film.  I really appreciate it.

For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0365658/

Friday, July 26, 2013

Bigfoot (2012)

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Our friend Simon at Explosive Action mentioned this one to me after I'd reviewed another film from The Asylum.  He told me it had Bigfoot with Danny Bonaduce and Barry Williams, and I knew from there I was sold.  I put it in my Instant queue, but now Netflix is telling me they're about to dump it, so I better get to it now if I'm gonna, which means I guess I'm finally gonna.  Also, our friends at TarsTarkas.net looked at this one too, so you can go there to see what they had to say.

Bigfoot takes place in Deadwood, South Dakota, not far from Mt. Rushmore.  Local DJ and 80s pop idol Danny Bonaduce is planning a big 80s flashback concert, and his former co-80s pop idol Barry Williams is protesting his cutting down national forest lands to do it.  Williams is not the only one upset with this concert.  That's right, Bigfoot has something to say too, but he can only communicate through deadly violence.  Now we're at an impasse, because town mayor Howard Hessman wants the show to bring in tourism dollars, while acting sheriff Sherilyn Fenn and her co-sheriff Bruce Davison (who also directs) want to keep the people of the town safe.  Will they succeed?

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This was a ton of fun.  It was definitely a send-up of 50s and 60s monster flicks, to the point that Bigfoot, though CG, moved like a Harryhausen creation.  And I loved that they evoked King Kong and North by Northwest at the end.  Bonaduce was great as the heel, and Williams was great as the equally egotistical environmentalist.  Bigfoot was a little heavy with the kills, and it was an interesting take to make him more like a King Kong than a Sasquatch, but, again, it played into the fun.  The Asylum got this one right.

The review at TarsTarkas.net mentioned that this felt like an unofficial sequel to Mega Python vs. Gatoroid, between the teen idols fighting, and the music cameo biting it.  In the former, we had 80s idols Tiffany and Debbie Gibson, plus Mickey Dolenz as the cameo; in this one we have 70s idols Bonaduce and Williams, plus Alice Cooper as the cameo.  If anything, it makes for a fun paradigm; but in both cases, they needed to make it work beyond the gimmick, from the writing to the idols playing their parts, and they did.  I think Mega Python is the better film, but together they'd make for a fantastic double feature.  Another interesting thing to consider is that Bonaduce and Williams, because they were so young as teen idols in the 70s, actually could've been pop stars in the 80s too.  Hell, they're both younger than Huey Lewis.

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Okay all you Twin Peaks kids out there, I won't leave you hanging anymore.  Yes, this has Sherilyn Fenn in it.  The funny thing for us Gen X-ers is that we saw her on Twin Peaks and thought "hey, she was in Just One of the Guys", and now all the Millennials that were born in the 90s and just picked up Twin Peaks a few years ago see Just One of the Guys and think "hey, it's Audrey Horne!"  Anyway, it's 2012, and Fenn is playing neither of those characters, she's playing a no-nonsense cop from Oklahoma City who had to come home and fill in as sheriff after her father passed away.  She has no time for either Bonaduce or Williams, but when this Bigfoot situation arises, she's equal to the task.  I don't know how Twin Peaks fans will feel about seeing her in this, but I thought she was great.

We had a few other notable names here.  Howard Hessman, as I mentioned above, played the mayor.  Very different from the usual counter culture characters he plays.  Growing up, my parents watched reruns of WKRP in Cincinnati, and later I remember him having new shows on TV, both Head of the Class and The New WKRP in Cincinnati.  Another fun addition in this film.  Then we had Bruce Davison, who played both the other sheriff, and directed.  I loved how his character was like "we need to get out of here and leave this to the national guard", but Fenn is like "no, we need to take care of this", and he gives her the look that says "that means I'm dead."  I love that kind of awareness for a character like his.  Then we had Andre Royo as the hunter.  Instead of being killed by Bigfoot, he's killed by the national guard when he's trying to run from Bigfoot, I think a thinly veiled joke about the police's propensity to shoot first and ask questions later when a person of color is involved.  Stephanie Sarreal Park played Williams's girlfriend.  He had a de facto harem of younger women in his environmentalist collective, but she was the one that he was dating.  She doesn't have many more film roles to her credit, but she's good here as the earnest, yet naive young woman who believes in Williams's fight.  As I mentioned above, Alice Cooper has a small cameo before he's punted into the forest by Bigfoot.  We last saw him in Monster Dog singing about "Identity Crises".  Finally, there was a woman in Williams's harem who was killed off by Bigfoot early on, yet who comes back in subsequent scenes.  It was a funny send-up of low-budget films-- if it was a send up, that is.

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Finally, Mt. Rushmore features prominently in this, especially at the end as it channels North by Northwest.  I've never been, never even been close to South Dakota.  Of course, this film wasn't shot close to it either, it was shot in Washington, but I digress.  It would be nice to go sometime though.  America is such a big country, and there are so many places I've never been to, and may never see.  That's why it's great that I have The Asylum to show them to me in their movies with a King Kong style CG Bigfoot scaling them.

Once this is dumped on Instant, DVD on Amazon is the only way to get it.  I wouldn't do it that way, it's probably better to keep an eye on SyFy for it, because this was one of those that SyFy snatched up and aired before it was released on DVD-- that DTV into Made for TV type of thing.  If you can set the DVR, that would be the way to go, because it's a lot of fun, and like Mt. Rushmore, worth seeing at least once.

For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1876261/

Thursday, July 25, 2013

The Return of Joe Rich (2011)

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Kevin at MTI Video sent me this screener.  When I saw the cast had Armand Assante and Talia Shire, I was excited to check it out.  I also liked the premise of a guy who loses his legitimate job in this new economy looking for employment with the mob through his uncle.  Let's see how it did.

The Return of Joe Rich has Sam Witwer as Chicagoan who has a normal life in California, until he loses his job and his home and is forced to move back home and live with his mother, Talia Shire.  His father died when he was young, and he always looked up to his uncle, Armand Assante, a local mob boss.  He decides that he wants in on his uncle's business, but maybe he doesn't have the stomach for it.  He's also looking to patch things up with an old flame, and is hoping to make a big score to set himself up with her.  But will that big score come at too huge a price.

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Ugh, for the first hour I thought we really had something.  Scratch that, we did really have something.  We had the kind of movie we were looking for, the regular guy trying to figure out how to make money in the new economy, disillusioned, full of asinine and indulgent philosophies because he's had a lot of time on his hands.  We also had the question of who's the bigger gangster, the mobsters or the bankers?  Then we had documentary interviews with local older guys who had been in the Chicago mob, guys who try to dispel the romanticizing of mob life through movies like The Godfather and TV shows like The Sopranos.  It was all there, all the elements to make that great movie, and then it takes a left turn at the thirty minute mark and loses me completely.  Our hero is no longer our hero, he's now a two-bit punk, and I want nothing more than to see him get his comeuppance, which never happens because he's still being sold to us as the hero.  The movie breaks down from here, and I lose any attachment to it.  Ugh, it was so frustrating.

I think part of the reason why this left turn was so hard to swallow, was that I think we were supposed to still be rooting for the hero, and supposed to be rooting for him against Assante.  Assante brings such a level of dignity to his role that it was impossible to side with the punk that our hero became.  It's too bad, because, despite the fact that his character was a gangster, Assante played him so well, that he deserved better than what he got.  Also, I think he had more to give us, both from how well he was played, but also how well he was developed in the script.  This guy needed to be propping this film up to the end, but it never happened, and that was a shame.

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I don't know what happened at that hour mark, but one area it felt like it was really delving into well, was the idea of the mafia as a legitimate career choice in the new economy, and what that means.  We had the idea of the heartless banks taking people's homes, and whether they're not just a legal form of extortion from another mob; yet, at the same time, when our hero has to collect money from someone who doesn't have it, he sees that similarity and is conflicted in carrying out his task.  Throughout we get this overarching idea that the mob isn't as glamorous as TV and movies have made them out to be, so the idea that the mafia would be a better career path in the new economy is then put to further scrutiny.  Again, all of this is tossed out the window at that extreme left turn with 30 minutes left.

It's always interesting to see Talia Shire in a low-budget or DTV flick like this, because growing up in the 80s 70s movies were ubiquitous on TV, and she was in some of the biggest, especially in the Rocky and The Godfather series.  If you look at her imdb though, during that time the bulk of her work came in those films, and I imagine they took a long time to shoot, which left her little time to branch out.  She's great here in a small role as Witwer's clingy mother, providing some of the funniest moments.

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Technically I have been to Chicago before, because I've switched planes at O'Hare Airport, but, of course, we don't count that as actually having been.  It's a city I'd really like to visit sometime though.  Getting back to growing up in the 80s, Chicago was in so many of the films I grew up watching.  This film used it in a very interesting way, because on the one hand it was very specifically Chicago in the landmarks, but it easily could've been Any City, USA in the story.  Other than the occasional Bears reference, this film could've been in Detroit or Cleveland or Baltimore, or anywhere where people who were once comfortable are struggling.  It was another area where this film worked really well in examining the country in the new economy.

Ugh, but that last thirty minutes though!  I will say, I read another review of this where the person had no issue with the end, so I think it might be worth checking out in spite of what I say so you can judge for yourself.  As of this posting, it won't be released on DVD until August 13th, 2013, but it might be worth a RedBox rental when it does come out.

For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1540014/

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

The Scorpion King 3: Battle for Redemption (2012)

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This has been in my Instant queue for a while now, and I've been meaning to get to it.  I did The Scorpion King 2 almost four years ago, and while I didn't care for it, according to my review, the thing that felled it was the excessive 108-minute runtime and the plot padding used to get there.  This new one is 105 minutes.  Uh-oh, not a great improvement.

The Scorpion King 3 takes place where two left off, but still sometime in the past before The Rock's part one.  Our hero has since lost the kingdom he won, and now is a total jackass who makes money as a paid assassin.  He's given a job from king Ron Perlman to go help out Temuera Morrison (Jango Fett) in Thailand.  Morrison is protecting a book that is used to summon three great warriors from the underworld, and Perlman's brother, Billy Zane, wants those warriors to take Perlman's kingdom.  From here, our hero and his partner, a big smelly guy, are given the task by Morrison to rescue his daughter, who's being held by Zane.  When they get to Zane's camp though, they realize there's a lot more going on here than meets the eye.

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I actually cared less for this one than I did the last one.  The biggest thing was the hero.  He was a total douche.  I get the idea that he becomes a douche and this story is supposed to be his "Battle for Redemption", but he's still a douche and no one I'm interested in rooting for.  Beyond that, this had the same issue the first one did, making a TV episode's worth of story material go 105 minutes.  You could really have taken the whole opening out, and just started with the hero and his buddy getting to Morrison's castle and getting the task to rescue the princess.  Was the action good?  I don't know, that's like asking if a Hercules episode had good action, it's all excitement by repetition: slash, slash, spin, slash, stab, stuntman fall over, repeat.  Sure, mix in some explosions, which are cool, or elephants, which made me uncomfortable, but it's basically the same thing.  Ultimately, this doesn't work for me.

I think no matter what, whether it's the bad wordy dialog with the lack of contractions substituting for sophisticated discourse, or the silly outfits and character names, the two things something like this needs to work is a quick, concise plot, and a likable hero; and from there it can be a lot of fun.  This thing was doomed from the start when they decided the hero would be a jerk, because it's hard to get that toothpaste back in the bottle.  Everything he did, from how he walked, to the looks on his face, to the long hair and the beard, it was all jerk, and I didn't enjoy it.  Someone like The Rock can do jerk and make it work, but he's extremely charismatic.  This guy, Victor Webster, is no Rock, but maybe if they'd made him more flamboyant he could've pulled being a jerk off (no pun intended).  Anyway, I think the better take is the idea of making the hero a jerk was sauteed in wrong sauce from jump street, and never should've happened.

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Krystal Vee played the princess, and as you can see, she's absolutely stunning.  One thing I liked about her character is that we find out she's an accomplished fighter and allowed herself to be kidnapped by Zane so she could gain intel on his operation.  I always like it when action/adventure conventions are turned on their ear like this, in this case the classic damsel in distress.  Even better was how, because she was bound and gagged, she wasn't able to tell our Scorpion King to stop rescuing her because he was screwing things up until it was too late.  The problem though is that this is still The Scorpion King's movie, so Vee can only step outside of the classic female role so much because she's still playing second fiddle to him.  Also, her outfits are still the classic sexy-over-function.

Ten or fifteen years ago, The Scorpion King wouldn't be a series of DTV prequels, it would be a syndicated TV series, and may even still have Ron Perlman and Billy Zane in it.  Because we live in an age when original syndicated TV programming doesn't exist, it's now DTV that the owners of these properties turn to to make money off of them.  I think that's too bad, because 13 42-minute episodes would probably make something like the Scorpion King work better.  It could be both episodic and have a running story arc, which would allow the writers to keep the stories quick and concise, while still building up to greater events.  Many of the best shows on TV period from the mid-80s to the late-90s were syndicated: Star Trek: The Next Generation, Highlander: The Series, Hercules, The Legendary Journeys, and Xena, Warrior Princess-- Xena especially big, because it played such a key role in showing Hollywood that female action leads were commercially viable.  Now we're left with this compromise of bad to mediocre at best DTV franchises, which isn't the same thing.

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Look, it's Kelly Hu!  Her archive footage from the first film made it's way into the beginning of this, though she isn't credited.  I love Kelly Hu, and it's too bad she wasn't in this more-- or I guess at all since this is only archive footage.  We've only seen her one other time on here, about four years ago when we reviewed The Tournament.  She's always been more of a TV actress with big screen films mixed in, but with every actor doing more DTV work, maybe we'll see her more on here.  Until then I guess I'll have to settle for archive footage.

While this is on Instant, I think the length and the overall unremarkableness of it makes it a pass, even in that capacity.  It had some bright moments, especially Krystal Vee; but Zane and Perlman were somewhat under used, and any fun factor seeing those two or Vee in this might have, is overshadowed by the decision to make the hero a jerk for so much of the film.  Again, it's the attempt to salvage the lost syndicated TV market with bad DTV, which, as we know, has varying degrees of success.

For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1781896/

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Commando (1985)

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I told this movie I was going to review it last.  I lied.  Commando, 900th post, let's do this.

Commando stars Arnold Schwarzenegger as Colonel Matrix, the greatest army guy in the history of army guys.  Shit goes bad when baddie Dan Hedaya, deposed dictator of a Banana Republic, has Vernon Wells and some other bad dudes kidnap Arnie's daughter, Alyssa Milano, and he'll kill her if Arnie doesn't kill the current leader of Hedaya's country.  Arnie won't take this shit lying down though, and now he's got 11 hours to get to Hedaya before the plane he's supposed to be on lands there and they realize Arnie's not on it.  Luckily he has help in the form of flight attendant/beginner pilot Rae Dawn Chong.  All fucking hell is going to break loose, and nothing will be left but the bodies.

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Do you need me to tell you that this is a 90-minute awesomefest?  It's my all-time favorite action film, just for the pure actioness of it.  First off, you have the great hero in Arnie's Colonel Matrix.  How do you not want this guy to prevail?  Then you have fantastic baddies in not only Hedaya and Wells, but also Bill Duke as a lower-down baddie, and David Patrick Kelly as the heel.  Rae Dawn Chong is only a damsel in distress as far as her being kidnapped initially by Schwarzenegger, but beyond that she's his partner, and is a lot of fun to watch too.  Finally the action is there, from the great scenes in the mall and Arnie's house, to the fantastic finale that ups the kill count exponentially.  I could write on how amazing this movie is until I'm dead tired.

One of the fascinating things about Arnie's career is that, while other stars like Seagal and Van Damme went into DTV flicks, he became governor of California.  But this was before then, when he really only had the Conan films and Terminator to his credit, and after Commando he exploded in stardom.  A movie like this starts and ends with the hero, and Arnie sells it from the moment his biceps are on screen holding up an enormous log.  Larger than life, one-liner after one-liner, this is what we want from our action lead, and his Col. Matrix is one reason why I'm so hard on current action films that don't give us a hero this great.  Would we root for Arnie today if he were mean-mugging in a white tank top and telling us he lives his life a quarter mile at a time?  No chance.

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One thing I've never understood about the modern action flick is that they cast women in the classic "lead's lover/damsel in distress role", but then in the behind the scenes featurettes try to tell us her character is something bigger than that, like she's a strong woman and not just window dressing for the hero, when glorified window dressing is often all she is.  The reason why I've never understood that, is that we only have to look at Rae Dawn Chong's character in Commando to see a real female lead in a male-centered action flick who isn't just window dressing.  She's barely a damsel in distress only by virtue of the fact that Arnie catches her, and she's not his love interest.  Instead, she's a well-rounded, fully developed character who contributes to Arnie's quest in vital ways that made his success possible.  I'm not saying an action film can't have a female lead who is de facto window dressing or the classic damsel in distress; but don't sell us that she's Rae Dawn Chong in Commando when she isn't.  Sometimes I can't believe this macho bullshit...

Vernon Wells as Bennett is probably the most memorable baddie in Commando, especially because of his name being attached to one of the most famous lines in the film: "Let off some steam Bennett".  I think in 2013, we aren't sure what to do with him, because he's pretty sinister, but he's also wearing a chainmail tank top over a black shirt with leather pants and big boots.  As much as it's 80s leather bar enforcer crossed with Philippine post-apocalyptic exploitation flick extra, it's also very unflattering to Wells's ample frame.  That's the thing though, when the rest of the movie is that awesome, Wells's outfit becomes awesome too.  Besides, he does need to be a little off, because anyone who turns down $100,000 to do a job for free isn't playing with a full deck and is likely the kind of guy who dresses like Bennett does.

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I asked my friend, who's about seven years older than me, what he thought about Commando while we were rock climbing today-- or rather, he was rock climbing and I was belaying him while flailing ineptly on the rock when it was my turn to climb-- and one thing he mentioned was the music.  He liked the fact that Commando didn't have any hit popular music or a soundtrack it was trying to sell (he forgot about "We Fight for Love", but I know what he's saying).  Let's look at the music in Commando then, because music seems to be a big deal in modern action films.  What was that sound in there for most of it, a xylophone, or steel drums?  And a fucking saxophone too.  Wait, you mean it wasn't a bunch of asshats in a Sevendust knock-off playing the same three guitar chords and the same scratchy, screaming lyrics?  That's right, one of the best (and in my opinion the best) action films of all time rocked your ass with a fucking xylophone (or steel drums) and a saxophone.  That's the thing, you don't need to dress your movie up with silly crap when the action is as fantastic as it is here.  I am a mountain, surrounded by your love you are a fountain.  That's all you need.

My ultimate judge for how good an action film is is how many fist pumps it evokes from me.  For instance, Fast Five did one: that scene at the end when all hope appears to be lost, and Vin Diesel asks his crew who's with him to get the money back, and after none of them say anything, we hear The Rock in the background say "I'll ride with you Toretto."  Commando has more fist pumps than I could count, sometimes multiple fist pumps for one moment.  Even now, seeing it again for this review after having seen it myriad times before, the fist pump quotient was still high.  This might be why I'm so hard on a lot of action movies from the 2000s, not because so few are Commando, but because so few realize how good Commando is, or what makes Commando good.  Maybe it's wrong that I'm so hard, but on the other hand, I think when I say a movie is good, you at least know this is the kind of standard I'm measuring it against.  I don't think I'm unreasonable about that though, especially when both action fans my age and younger action fans all agree that it's the Commando and not a lot of these modern flicks that is the superior product.  Hey, it's not like I'm expecting World War III.

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I'll finish this by being a little self-indulgent.  In 2007 when I started this thing, I guess I saw us getting to 900 posts, but not to be here over 6 years later, interacting with all kinds of great people on not only the site, but Twitter, Tumblr, and Facebook too.  Fellow bloggers, indie directors looking for publicity, low-budget movie fans, and even higher ups like screenwriters, directors, and actors of these films I review.  It has been a fantastic experience, and hopefully it'll continue for another 900.  I want to thank all of you for your support and readership, because without you it would just be me and my buddies and Russian spammers.

As of this posting, this is available on Netflix Instant.  If you haven't seen it before, go, now, it's only 90 minutes.  If you already have-- and I'm sure you have-- then I'm sure you know why I think it's so amazing.  Again, my favorite action film of all-time.  Now I'll let you go.

For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0088944/

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Blood Games (1990)

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This is another in our Netflix Dump 8, and I chose this one for two reasons: one, it has the late great Ross Hagen; and two, it looked like the kind of late-night schlock thriller I remember being on cable TV on the early 90s.  Of course, it could just fall flat and I'll have wasted my time and end up writing a review no one reads about a movie they have no intention ever of seeing.  But still, Ross Hagen.

Blood Games is about a team of barnstorming women baseball players who make money by betting locals in games.  In a small Southern town, the local town boss won't pay Hagen after the ladies win, so Hagen has to get his money by attacking the boss in the bathroom of the town's one bar.  The problem is, one of his daughters and another girl get worried (why would you worry about Ross Hagen taking care of business?) and are assaulted by a couple locals, including the son of the town boss.  Hagen has to save them, and he's fatally stabbed in the process; but as the girls escape, they kill the town boss's son.  Now all the redneck males in the area have been mobilized to stop and kill the girls.  Can they get out of town before they're caught?  And what happens when some of them decide to fight back instead of run.

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So this is that early 90s cable schlockfest.  This is like 3AM on TNT pre-New Classics, and if that kind of thing were still as prevalent on cable TV, it's a definite rabbit hole thing that you could find yourself in if you were up that late battling insomnia or procrastinating on a term paper.  I mean, don't get me wrong, it's got bad dialog, and most of the actors and actresses have only this film on their imdb bio, but the tension is real and it drew me in all the way.  It does have some mean-spirited elements, like a woman who is gang raped, then rescued, only to be killed right after.  But I think even as a guy, it's really entertaining to watch a group of women take out a bunch of ignorant rednecks, probably the same way it was entertaining to see Jamie Foxx do it in Django Unchained.

Ross Hagen, as I mentioned above, isn't in this much, which is disappointing, because he's great early on.  When is Hagen not great though?  I imagine the film makers only had enough to pay him for one day of filming, which is why he's not in it as much.  The other name in this is Gregory Scott Cummins, and he plays the town boss's son, meaning he's done early on too, so it's probably the same deal with him.  Ross Hagen passed away in May of 2011, just shy of his 73rd birthday.  Even though I've just scratched the surface of his DTV output-- which was very prodigious-- I loved him in his great biker flicks from the 60s and 70s.  Here's to you Ross Hagen, you were one of the great ones, and you will be missed.

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With Wild Girl Waltz and Venom on here recently, we've had a lot of talk about the Bechdel Test, and surprisingly, I don't think this movie passes it, despite how many women are in the film.  I guess in the moments when they're talking about their wounds or a play one made, but really, all of the conversations are centered on the threat posed by the guys.  On a female empowerment level it might work better, because the women refuse to simply be victims.  It's an odd interplay though, because we're still left with the overarching idea that these women wouldn't be in this mess if the two girls had listened to Ross Hagen in the first place, though perhaps the better point is that they were in the mess because they trusted Hagen who brought them to that shady town, and it wasn't until they took agency over their own affairs that they got shit done.  All things to consider in unpacking the film industry's default setting of patriarchy.

Let's get back to that then, this idea of being a barnstorming women's baseball team.  This was an outdated idea for 1990, at least in the form we saw here.  Maybe they could play against independent leagues, but how would you organize something like this otherwise?  Get the town together for a baseball game?  Really?  I could see maybe as a novelty at a local fair.  But that's how movies like this often start, with an unbelievable premise, and it's what happens after that counts, which is where this film made its money.  We can all sympathize with being chased by rednecks in a small Southern town and how scary that would be.

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That brings up another greater point about Major League Baseball in America between the time this was made and the time I'm writing this review.  In 1990 MLB was it in the sports world, bigger than anything else.  Now it's the NFL, and even in the summer when MLB technically has no competition, the NFL is tops, for instance with ESPN having more shows dedicated to the NFL than MLB.  So as out of date the idea of a barnstorming women's baseball team would have been in 1990, the idea of centering a movie like this on baseball instead of football or basketball today would be equally out of date.  Maybe a barnstorming women's basketball team playing pick-up games would be the perfect film in 2013.

Now that Netflix has dumped this, used VHS is the only way to go, and it can be pricey, like $20 or $30.  That's why I say this should be for VHS collectors only, and really hardcore ones at that.  It's a perfect "post the covers pics on my Tumblr/showcase it on the shelf" kind of gem.  As an aside, for our Australian readers, including our friend Simon at Explosive Action (who we know is a big VHS collector), imdb says that the Australian title is "Baseball Bimbos in Hillbilly Hell".

For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0099151/

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Miami Connection (1987)

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This is one of those cheese classics, the kind of thing the DTVC was made for.  The question then is: is it so bad it's good, or just so bad?  We've seen plenty of both in our nearly 900 films, but when this became available on Netflix Instant, I knew I had to do it either way.  Also, our buddy from Sweden, Fred Anderson, Ex-Ninja, has looked at this too, and you can go there to see what he says.

Miami Connection is about some ninja bikers from Miami who steal drugs and drug money there and are looking to move those drugs in Orlando.  The man they use to sell those drugs runs his own gang there, but his sister is dating a guy in a local band that he doesn't like, which is causing friction.  That band, a group of five orphaned Tae Kwon Do champs, led by Mark (YK Kim, the writer and director of this as well), won't take any crap from any gang, and are ready to fight them.  Can Tae Kwon Do defeat Ninjitsu?

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I never want to be That Guy, but going into the last 15 minutes, this wasn't holding up with some of the best so-bad-it's-good greats.  It had too many slow points, and a lot of weirdness that was more weird than funny.  This was in sharp contrast to the awesome opening, which had me all the more disappointed.  That's when it kicked into high gear for the finale, delivering what I came for and pulling me out of that That Guy hole.  For me, I think this is harder to take as a solo mission.  It's like The Room, where there aren't as many fist-pump moments as say a Strike Commando, but so many silly moments that you need people there helping you make fun of it.  It's also much betting in gif or video clip form, where the best parts given to you in small bites.  The action and martial arts are a lot of fun, and I think if there were more of that and less silliness/weirdness/make-me-uncomfortableness in between, it would've been in that Strike Commando category.  As it is, I think it's a solid bad movie night fun time.

In the past, I've had to explain to people that my blog title, The Direct to Video Connoisseur, is a joke.  It's supposed to evoke images of me as an Alistair Cooke in Masterpiece Theater, partaking in a Dolph Lundgren film in an ascot and smoking jacket.  But as we've gone on, I've seen more and more of these movies, and so the things that people latch onto with something like this is old hat by this point.  And sometimes that's enough, but sometimes it isn't.  I've seen the bad dialog.  I've seen the severed limbs.  I've seen the ninjas doing silly stuff.  And so to get to that "cheese classic" level, it needs more, and that more needs to be more funny than weird, which isn't exactly what we got here.  Near the end it was amazing, but, I mean, this is not a Deadly Prey or something, and I think people coming to this with that kind of background will think "that was a lot of fun, but have you seen...?"

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There were some really weird scenes in this, including the one I posted here.  YK Kim is walking around to his buddies and shoving grapes in their mouths.  It's not like a spur of the moment thing, where he's sitting at the table and just shoves a pile into one guy's mouth.  He gets up and goes to each one individually and systematically.  There were other weird elements, like when one of the guys finds his father, and Kim grabbing the letter from the father and keeping it as they celebrate.  It's like "Geez Kim, does everything have to be about you?  Give the guy his letter back!"  And then there's Kim sparring with his friends and shoving his feet in their faces.  He was rubbing them in there, then grabbing their noses with his toes.  All of it together is great fodder for a bad movie night kind of thing, where those elements carry over to other scenes and you and your friends can mock it.  It's not as good by myself when I say out loud "All right guys, let's celebrate with me shoving grapes in your mouths" after the one gets his letter from his father.

One thing we've seen a lot of on here is omnipotent ninjas.  They can take out anything.  Well, after over six years of looking, we at the DTVC have finally found their nemesis: the Tae Kwon Do master.  The ninja is no match for Tae Kwon Do.  How did we not know this?  And it was solved back in 1987, yet we're still seeing seemingly omnipotent ninjas in modern movies.  Maybe that's why this film had so much trouble finding a distributor: it unlocked the secret to the all-powerful ninja.  I can't watch a Sho Kosugi film again without thinking of Baek from Tekken Tag kicking his ass.  Or YK Kim.  But that begs the question: what beats Tae Kwon Do?  I say wrestling, because the Kings could crush Baek in Tekken Tag.

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With the current Sharknado craze, it's interesting to look at that kind of purposeful B-movie, versus something like this that, while Kim may have had a similar Tommy Wiseau-style need to aggrandize himself, was meant to be a good movie and was really made in earnest.  On the one hand, we like the unintentional bad movie, because the intentional one is done well so infrequently; but on the other, a bad movie is a bad movie, and this one has a lot of scenes that are just bad, not funny bad.  Again, I think movies like Miami Connection should be tackled in groups, not alone, and that often mitigates the moments that are just bad and not funny bad.

While this is available on Instant, it's worth looking at.  You can also get it on DVD and Blu-Ray on Amazon.  My caution, especially if you're one who has done his or her share of D-grade Italian flicks or Godfrey Ho ninja schlockfests, is to attack this in a group.  At the very least, it makes for a really fun bad movie night.

For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0092549/

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Godforsaken (2010)

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This is the final film submitted to us by Kevin at MTI Video.  I wasn't really sure what to make of it.  It looked low-budget, the trailer didn't give me much to go on, and I didn't recognize any of the actors.  I don't know, let's say I was a little nervous.

Godforsaken is about a fallen angel who is fallen because he let a 3-year-old girl he was supposed to be protecting die when she's kidnapped for ransom.  Now he wants to atone for that and hopefully get back into The Big Fella's good graces by protecting the father's new child with his new wife-- and potentially protect the child from the father.  Will he succeed?

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Wow, this was an icky movie.  I took a bike ride today before I watched this, and I was caught in the rain and took a shower when I got home.  After seeing this, I needed another one.  I don't know if I've seen a movie for the DTVC that made me feel like that before.  Part of it was that it had some legitimately macabre elements that were weird and gross; but the biggest part of it was the story, which I can't get into fully without giving it all away, but the way it all played out made me feel uneasy and dirty.  The hero, the fallen angel, was also a weird gross guy, so the more I saw him the more icky I felt.  He did some really shady things too-- shady is actually putting it lightly, more like psychopathic-- so I don't know if I was supposed to be rooting for someone like that who really belonged in jail.  I'll just say this was sauteed in wrong sauce and leave it at that.

This is based on a novel, so I don't know how faithful what I saw was to the novel.  Maybe the novel was worse, and this tried to split the difference.  Maybe the novel was better, and this lost something in the adaptation.  I don't know, I just know whatever they were doing wasn't for me.  The idea of fallen angels living among us on the planet was a cool idea, but I feel like it was never quite realized in this context.  Maybe because the fallen angel in this was more creepy than cool to me.

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Don't ask me what's going on here.  Okay, I'll tell you.  This woman, with her Eyes Without a Face mask on, has a sex scene with the fallen angel.  To ramp up the creepiness, it was done on a gross mattress in an abandoned building, and set to this somber, creepy violin soundtrack that is in the background throughout the film.  She's topless in the actual sex scene, so I left it out, but I don't think you need me to tell you how weird that is.  I wonder though, did either the novelist or the director-writer put this scene in as a way to metaphorically fornicate with either Eyes Without a Face director Georges Franju, or his film.  Man, how would that work if I did something similar to symbolically have sex with one of my favorite directors?  Have one of the characters in my film have sex with a red teapot in honor of Ozu?

The main actress in this, Annabel Wright, has been in a couple things before that I haven't seen, but I recognize, one being Sniper: Reloaded.  According to the photos in her imdb bio, she was nominated for best actress at the Milan Film Festival for this role in Godforsaken.  I say good for her, it certainly wasn't her fault the movie was weird; in fact, it might be because I liked her character, that what they did to her in this film irked me and made the film that much tougher to stomach.  Who knows.

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SPOILER ALERT!!!!   SPOILER ALERT!!!!   SPOILER ALERT!!!!   SPOILER ALERT!!!!
All right, here's my opportunity to really get into what upset me about this movie while giving fair warning to anyone who is planning to see it and doesn't want me to ruin it.  First off, that woman with the mask above, yeah, she had her faced carved up with a razor and needed plastic surgery, and that mask is on while she heals.  The thing is, the angel did it to her, so her face could be remade to look like our lead actress's.  What?  Yeah, so later, he kills our lead actress (who is now playing both women), and after a car accident kills the husband, she raises the new daughter as her own, and we're supposed to be okay with this because the new daughter is the reincarnated version of the dead one.  What?  No, that's all weird, gross, and evil, and I want nothing to do with any of that.  Then, this impostor mom is confined to a wheelchair and raises this daughter to teen-hood, where she tearfully leaves her (fake) mother to go to Paris to study ballet.  She's reluctant to go because she doesn't want to leave her mother, and what happens?  After the plane takes off, the impostor mother dies in the airport.  That's awesome, this daughter gets to land in Paris and find out her mother is dead.  Who comes up with this depraved BS?  It's just too disturbing.
END SPOILER!!!   END SPOILER!!!   END SPOILER!!!   END SPOILER!!!

Okay, so you can get this on Netflix, Amazon, RedBox, etc.  You know how I feel, I need a shower.  You might not.  Maybe you read this review and think "I know how you are Matt, and I want to watch this in spite of what you said."  By all means, I gave you the places to go for it.  Proceed at your own peril.

For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1414823/

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Never Back Down 2: The Beatdown (2011)

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This is one I've been meaning to get to for some time, strictly due to the Michael Jai White factor.  Without him, I'd pass on it in a heartbeat, because it just looks like your classic 2000s bad MMA punchfighter, complete with bad camera edits and angry derivative hard core jams.  But it does have him, so we gave it a try.  Let's see how it did-- or how he did.

Never Back Down 2 has four kids who want to learn to fight and enter a punchfighting tournament called-- wait for it-- The Beatdown.  Their trainer: the one and only Michael Jai White.  Will these kids be able to overcome their personal demons and prevail in this tournament?  Will White be able to overcome his own in order to train them?

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The only reason why this is any good at all is the Michael Jai White factor, both as an actor and a director.  As an actor, he has an immense charismatic presence, which is so massive no other actor or actress in the film can move outside of his shadow.  That would be even better if he were in the film more, but he's in it enough to make a huge difference.  As a director, along with his cinematographer Yaron Levy, White shows how much he knows about what makes an action film great.  The party scenes and the love scenes are pretty standard blah for the average punchfighting movie; but the fight scenes and training montages are top notch.  No shaky cam, no jumpcuts, no MTV edits.  In some cases we have long takes with multiple moves within the takes, which is a massive and welcomed departure to the usual split-second cuts within a single move we're used to seeing with these 2000s punchfighters.  Pretty much everything else about this is paint-by-numbers, from the plot, to the characters, to the music; but where it counts, the fights and the action, Michael Jai White puts his stamp on it, and it elevates this to something better than paint-by-numbers.

I can't believe this is the first and only film Michael Jai White has directed, because he does such a great job.  I imagine Levy as cinematographer helped a fair amount, but White brings a perspective as someone with a background in action films and Hong Kong cinema that really shows in this.  I was also surprised to see that White wasn't the fight choreographer, because some of the scenes seem to have his fingerprints all over them.  There are much better Michael Jai White films out there-- Black Dynamite and Blood and Bone come to mind right away-- but this one at least shows how big a talent he is, which is great to see.

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This movie looks at two social issues with varying degrees of success.  First, one of the fighters' fathers comes out as gay and leave his mother for another man.  Much of the homophobia surrounding this comes from characters we identify with in the film as being unsavory, but it's not obvious right away that that's the case.  We also find out that the fighter's issues with it stem more from him being young and hurt that his father left the family than it is that he's gay.  The whole thing though isn't exactly handled well though, and was probably an issue they would've been better staying away from.  The other one is racism by the police toward people of color.  That one is a bit more subtle than the homophobia, but delivered much better.  I don't know what Michael Jai White's personal experiences were with that, but I could see him taking it out on them in one scene in particular.  This is an issue that should appear in more mainstream films, because it's something that needs more attention, especially in light of current institutions like Stop and Frisk in NYC.

Among the other actors, we had Alex Meraz, who I believed played a werewolf in the Twilight movies.  He was one of the fighters.  Laura Cayouette, who's been in a couple Tarentino films, played one of the fighters' mothers.  That fighter was played by UFC fighter Todd Duffee.  One thing I liked about his character, is that usually in a film like this he'd be the meathead, and instead he was the most thoughtful and most likable outside of White.  The main character was played by Dean Geyer.  His love interest was played by Jillian Murray.  The one holdover from the first one (which I haven't seen) is Evan Peters as Max Cooperman.  He's the guy organizing The Beatdown.  Veteran character actor Rus Blackwell plays the "Caucasian Cop"-- that's what he's listed as in the credits--, meaning he's the racist cop that leans on White.  That seems like White's sense of humor to name a character like that, but I don't know if that was him.  Finally, there were some MMA folks in this, most notably Lyoto Machida and Big John McCarthy playing themselves.

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Oh, and I can't forget this guy.  DTVC favorite Jerry Katz!  Again, like Lay the Favorite, he wasn't listed in the credits.  Jerry, baby, what's going on with you man?  You need to build that resume, get these things on your imdb bio.  We're pulling for you here at the DTVC, and seeing you in anything is great.  I was hoping you'd get more chances with the push to make more films in your native Louisiana, and it looks like that's coming to pass.  Hopefully we'll see him in more things in the future.

This is on Netflix Instant.  It's a little long at 103 minutes, but if you're a fan of what Michael Jai White brings to the table, it's worth a look.  He takes it from blah to pretty good, which is no mean feat with a run-of-the-mill punchfighter like this.

For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1754264/

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Silent Assassins (1988)

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In the quest to get more Sam Jones on the site, we're here with Silent Assassins.  The other names I liked in this were Linda Blair, Mako, and Phillip Rhee.  It just looked like a great low-budget 80s actioner.  Also, our buddy Ty at Comeuppance Reviews has done this one, so you can go there to see what he thought (this is definitely a Ty kind of flick).

Silent Assassins has Jones as Sam Kettle, an LA detective who goes to take down this horrible criminal, only to have all his partners killed as the bust goes bad.  He and his wife Linda Blair plan to move away to Colorado to start a new life, when this criminal kidnaps veteran old guy character actor Bill Erwin, who is a bio chemist, in order to get some heavy duty formula he has.  Now Jones is back on the case, along with Jun Chong, whose niece was kidnapped along with Erwin, and Rhee, whose dad, Mako, wants him to help.  Will they be enough to take down this criminal and his gang?

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Yeah this is what you want here.  All kinds of good 80s, between the music, the clothes, and the cars; Sam Jones is all kinds of good Sam Jones; and then Rhee and Chong as the fight choreographers took this thing to another level.  It had its slow moments, but I think the 80s awesomeness allows it to transcend that; plus some of the scenes of Erwin and the girl in captivity were a little dark-- though there's the fascination aspect of Erwin, off-screen, having bamboo shoots shoved under his fingernails-- I mean, it's like the violent deconstruction of America's favorite grandpa.  Beyond that, the action is stellar and tons of fun.  Near the end, there's a scene where a baddie with a rocket launcher is on a rooftop, and Jones shoots him down and retrieves it.  Then we're teased for five minutes, and I'm like "come on, shoot it already!", but when he does it's so fantastic, like Tiger Woods fist pump worthy.  This is well worth checking out if you get the chance.

How do you not love Sam Jones?  Flat tops, five o'clock shadow, profile glances over up-turned collars, it's all great.  He was 34 when he did this, which is crazy, because I'm 34, and I still look like I'm 24, where he looked like a total dude.  In fact, I don't know anyone my age that's as much of a dude as he is in this.  I think Maximum Force might be the better movie, but this Jones is as good as it gets, and a definite watch for any fans of his.

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Ty mentioned, and I concur, that Linda Blair's representation on the cover is very misleading.  She is not teaming up with Jones and taking out baddies.  She's his wife, and wants him to leave his life as a police officer.  At no point does she don a leather outfit, and only once does she use a gun.  Take that for what you want: a disappointment, a silly thing that happens in these 80s DTV actioners, or a bait-and-switch.  I liked her in this though, and she and Jones had great chemistry, which made them fun to watch.

Bill Erwin as the scientist was a trip.  First, he was in the film for more than I'm used to seeing him in a film; and second, he was tortured.  I don't know how many serious roles I've seen him in, but this was very serious here.  Again, he's America's favorite grandpa!  Looking at his imdb bio, before he died in 2010, he had over 200 film credits, and many of which came when he was much younger, so I wonder what he was as an actor before he was America's favorite grandpa.  Another late great talent in this is Mako, who played a former Yakuza member working as a businessman in LA.  He has a great samurai sword fight near the end that was great to see.  Gotta love Mako, and both he and Erwin have been, and will continue to be, missed.

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Finally, Phillip Rhee and Jun Chong did the fight choreography in this, and it added another level to what would still have been a great 80s DTV actioner without their work.  They also did a great job of saving their best stuff for the end, almost like a fireworks display, and the finale was great.  We don't see a lot of Rhee throughout much of the film, but man, what we get near the end is plenty good; and I haven't seen much Chong before, and according to imdb he didn't do much, but like Rhee, he was great here too.  This is definitely a Sam Jones picture, but these guys played key roles, both on screen and behind the scenes.

This is out of print in the States, so used DVD or VHS is the way to go.  I think it's a must for collectors, but also one to keep your eye out for in bargain bins and whatnot.  For fans of late 80s/early 90s action, this is the kind of thing you want.  Great too for people like me that are still getting into Sam Jones led films.

For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0096109/

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

La Linea - The Line (2008)

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Here is another in the Netflix Dump 8, though this one was slightly different, in that it wasn't a part of the initial dump, but came a week later.  It's one I'd been meaning to do for some time, because the cast is exceedingly prodigious, including DTVC Hall of Famer Gary Daniels, and favorites Ray Liotta, Andy Garcia, and Danny Trejo.  Let's see how it went.

La Linea is about a well-established drug trafficking line that carries drugs through Mexico and into the United States.  As you can imagine, all sorts of intrigue surrounds it, in this case specifically: a shift in the leadership in the cartel that controls it, complete with a power struggle between two parties that both feel entitled to that power; and the impending deal between the cartel and Afghan heroin dealers, which has tipped off the CIA, who isn't happy about this.  Tijuana is about to explode.

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I think if this one has any problems, it's that it's trying to do too much in only 90 minutes, which often means that everything suffers.  We have some core storylines that the film tries to focus on, but it's hard to do.  Liotta, for instance, plays a hit man who has cancer, and at times we get into what he's going through, but at others we lose him, because we have to with everything else that's going on.  The same thing happens with Andy Garcia, who plays the original cartel leader, and Esai Morales, who Garcia is handing control over to.  You could almost make the whole movie about either storyline, or maybe even a longer movie that included both.  There was some decent action though, and some fun performances from a lot of great actors.  If you see it on cable sometime, and like the actors, I'd give it a look.

The film for the most part centers on Liotta and Garcia-- though again, we lose them at points, especially Garcia-- both of whom were good.  It's funny, I looked up the Goodfellas year for the Oscars, and Andy Garcia was up for best supporting actor for The Godfather III, which Joe Pesci won for Goodfellas.  I was wondering why Ray Liotta wasn't up for best actor in that film, but that year was pretty stacked for candidates.  The two never appear on-screen together until the very end, which in a way is too bad, because it would have been nice to see them together, but I liked them in two interweaving stories that only intersect in the denouement.  Again, the only issue was that neither could be delved into as well as I'd have liked.

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Gary Daniels was the film's one Hall of Famer, but his role is rather scant.  This was a common thing for Daniels in the late 2000s, doing small roles in slightly better films with bigger casts, than bigger roles in lower budget films-- even though those are the ones we love.  I think for him though he enjoys rubbing shoulders with these big stars, and I can't be mad at him for taking that opportunity.  Still, what would one fight scene hurt?  One moment where we see him flex his martial arts muscles?

Rounding out the rest of this heavy duty cast: I mentioned above that we had Esai Morales as the new cartel boss.  He's always someone I enjoy watching, but I felt like his character was set up to fail here, which wasn't as much fun.  The great Armand Assante played a priest.  Always great to see him.  Speaking of the 1991 Oscars, Bruce Davison, who was also a best supporting actor nominee that year, was in this as a CIA agent.  Another great, Joe Morton, played another agent who worked separately from Davison.  I already mentioned Danny Trejo.  He was Morales's second in command.  Then we had Kevin Gage as Liotta's guy in Mexico who helps him out.  Pretty much as Kevin Cage as it gets.  And then, in a very small part at the beginning, Michael DeLorenzo.  Not sure why he's in this, but he's there and worth a mention.

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Finally, Valerie Cruz had a great turn as a prostitute who takes Liotta in when he's injured and nurses him back to health.  We see this construct a lot in movies like this, but here it had the feeling that it might be something more, especially with the chemistry Liotta and Cruz had, but again, as with much of the film, it wasn't delved into enough, and as a result was just kind of there.  That was maybe the most disappointing, because this had the potential to be some of the best stuff in the film, an area where it could really make its money.

Because of the cast, this isn't a bad cable TV watch, or if it ends up back on Netflix Instant.  I wouldn't waste a DVD rental on it, let alone pay full price.  You can see these guys in other places in better films in that case.

For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1111918/

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Deadly Intent (1988)

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This is another in our Netflix Dump 8, which came in April of 2013 when Netflix dumped a huge cache of low-budget flicks from the Instant catalog.  I targeted 8 films I wanted to do here at the DTVC, and this one in particular because it has DTVC Hall of Famer Fred Williamson, plus DTVC favorites Lance Henriksen and Persis Khambatta.  Do we need any more reason to review a film?

Deadly Intent is about a woman, played by Lisa Eilbacher, whose jerk husband, Lance Henriksen, dies in a car accident after returning from a big archaeological expedition in South America.  That's when the fun starts, because it turned out Henriksen smuggled a massive jewel back with him, and all kinds of crazy characters are coming out of the woodwork for it.  This spells trouble for poor Eilbacher, who has no idea what they're talking about, no one she can trust, and a whole host of shady people threatening her life.  Will she make it out alive?

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This is a bit of a slow-burner, definite Noir-ish suspense yarn, which might make it a little tough for some.  Also, Henriksen, Williamson, and Khambatta have small parts.  Even Steve Railsback, who plays Henriksen's buddy and Eilbacher's love interest, isn't in it as much as you'd think.  This is really Eilbacher's movie, and I think she's definitely good in it, but if you're coming to it for those other people, don't expect to see them as much.  We're stuck though, because, while this isn't exactly bad, it's rather unremarkable as well, so what does that mean for you?  I say it's not a bad 2AM cable insomnia deal, otherwise it's nothing special.

Fred Williamson plays a guy who, with Persis Khambatta, is an old colleague of Henriksen, and they have a few scenes early on stalking Eilbacher and killing a friend of hers.  At the end they have a bigger scene when they kidnap Eilbacher and hold her until their boss, Maud Adams, shows up to interrogate her.  That's where we get the best Williamson, and it's pure, fantastic Williamson.  Sometimes, when we're talking about an 83-minute Noir-ish suspense yarn from 1988, ten minutes of good Williamson is all you need to make it worth it.  We've seen better Williamson films, but this one isn't bad, and I liked it.

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Even in 1988, Lance Henriksen was Lance Henriksen.  The disappointment of course is that he's killed off rather early on, especially when he's tearing things up so well at the beginning.  The thing is though, his character needed to be played by someone with a screen presence like his, because he casts such a large shadow over the story, even as a dead character, and in that sense Henriksen is great.  I guess I can accept less Henriksen in that case.

Some of the others in this included the aforementioned Persis Khambatta, who is great as Williamson's partner/spouse.  She's in the film slightly less than him, because she's offed slightly sooner.  Steve Railsback as Henriksen's friend and Eilbacher's love interest was about as Steve Railsback-y as you can imagine.  It's funny, because I would've loved to have seen he and Henriksen interact on-screen some, because that would've made the movie more fun, so we were robbed of that opportunity unfortunately.  Maud Adams played the curator of the museum who bought Henriksen's archaeological finds.  She was very sinister in that Noir-ish black widow kind of way, though her role was very different because our hero was a heroine, in this case Eilbacher, which made it more interesting.  Finally, the late David Dukes played a priest/con man/jewel fence, who, with his nun partner, was a lot of fun to see.  It's characters like that that make movies like this work.

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Finally, I picked this photo of Lisa Elibacher in the film because it's near the end, and it demonstrates how much her character was sent through the ringer.  We often see the Hitchcockian-Noir theme of the man who is thrust into a situation and a world he has no clue about, so it was different to see a woman in that role.  Sometimes she takes some agency in trying to fight her situation, while at others she just wants to be left alone, and by the time we get here, when she's chased down and wrestled to the ground by Khambatta, then tied up and gagged by Williamson, who later menaces and mocks her, she's had it.  The whole film actually felt a bit before it's time.  This could have been a mid-90s indie Neo Noir, and who knows, maybe if it had been made then, it would've had more life than a 1988 DTV flick.

So, again, nothing overly remarkable about this film, but it's a good 2AM cable TV insomnia flick, or as I used to say when I first started this blog over six years ago, something you can check out while procrastinating on a term paper.  Now I'm just an old guy who drinks tea in the evening and is in bed by midnight-- making sure I watch Matlock first, of course.  No more term papers though.

For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0094970/