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.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Blood of Redemption (2013)

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New Dolph Lundgren movie, Netflix shipped it out to me the day it was released, and now we're reviewing it.  Is there anything else you need to know?  All right, let's see how it went.

Blood of Redemption has Dolph as Axel, a bodyguard and fix-it man for mob boss Robert Miano.  When Miano finds out his protection in the FBI is done, he decides to retire, but his son, Billy Zane, isn't interested in that, so with Vinnie Jones, who is the nephew of Miano's partner, Robert Davi, he goes for one last gig, a counterfeiting operation.  But things go bad, Miano ends up dead, and Zane's behind bars.  Now it's up to Dolph to get to the bottom of things.

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While I was watching this, my girlfriend asked me how it was going, and my response was "well, at least it has Dolph in it."  This thing was just all over the place from the word go.  Zane's character uses the term "too many moving parts", and that's what this film suffered from.  On imdb it lists three writing credits, and this had the all-over-the-place feel of a film with three writers.  For instance Gianni Capaldi plays Zane's younger brother, and in the middle of the film his character is developed like he'll be a key player, only to have him have zero impact on the film's finale.  Then what are we doing here developing a superfluous character?  We're wasting valuable time, time that could have been some great Dolph Lundgren action instead, but because we have so many writers, we have no consistency.  "Blood of Redemption" denotes a simple formulaic action plot about a man on a revenge quest, instead of this convoluted over-complicated mess that focused so much energy on a web of intrigue and a plot twist at the end that no one didn't see coming.  As is often the case with DTV action: the simpler the better.

In terms of Dolph, he's great as usual, but this is a movie that doesn't use him the way the cover would have you believe.  This isn't really his story, though he's telling it, he's usually talking about things other people are doing.  He actually says at one point "I needed to sit this one out."  Are you kidding me?  Dolph Lundgren in a Dolph Lundgren movie doesn't ever sit anything out!  I'm not watching a Dolph Lundgren DTV flick so he can "sit this one out"!  Cut the shit man, that's as sauteed in wrong sauce as it gets.  Now he does have some great moments, especially one scene where he has to fight a dominatrix, which might go down in the Dolph canon as one of his classics, but the film itself will not.

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If you've been rockin' with me for some time now, you know that I'm a solutions oriented guy.  I'm not content enough with saying the movie was bad and why, but what I think could have been done to make it better, especially from a writing standpoint.  As I said in the first paragraph, the obvious first step is to simplify and streamline it.  I'd go for a simple revenge plot, where Billy Zane betrays his father, and maybe even frames Dolph for it, and now Dolph needs to clear his name.  Simple but sweet, and Dolph cuts such a compelling lead that it wouldn't take much to develop him, nor would it take much to develop Zane who's a great baddie.  No convoluted flashback storytelling style either.  Let's just go start to finish and every 15-20 minutes you have an action scene.  Maybe you'll say "but we've seen that before Matt?"  Well we've seen the kind of film that we got before too, and we know which of the two has a proven track record.  Again, simple always over complicated.

As you saw above, this film has a lot of names, so let's go through them.  Billy Zane was as cool as ever.  He was wasted though by not being made the out and out baddie.  Vinnie Jones was great too, and this was a bigger role than we're used to with him, which was nice to see.  The more Vinnie Jones the better, that's what I always say.  DTVC favorite Robert Davi attempts to affect an English accent for his role, and it was interesting how it was really good in the scenes he acted out with Jones, and non-existent in the others.  Hey, why not, he's Robert Davi.  Finally, one of my favorites, Robert Miano, had a small role as the patriarch of the mob family.  Always good to see him.  Great names in a not-so-great film.

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From a technical aspect, this had the pernicious modern DTV rapid-jumpcuts coupled with bad camera effects, which just made things even worse.  In one of Capaldi's fight scenes, there was this effect that I guess was supposed to mimic what a seal's vision is supposed to be, I don't know.  I know it made me sick to my stomach though it was such a mess.  Even worse was the gratuitous use of the character title cards.  I mean, it was so bad that characters were literally introduced to us in a prior scene, then they did that.  What?  What the hell are you doing?  And see that one with Dolph?  Guess when that comes in?  At the very end.  How the hell is that helping us?  All it's doing is disrupting the flow of the film, and believe me, this movie needed all the help it could get to maintain any kind of flow with the way it's story hashed out by multiple screenwriters was all over the place.

I wish I could recommend this.  I wish on the strength of Dolph alone I could recommend it, or because of all the other great names.  Unfortunately Dolph has been bitten by the bad DTV bug, and even he couldn't save it.  I mean this was so much cliched modern DTV that I was surprised that "Wake Up to the Bleeding" or whatever it's called song didn't come in at the credits.  You know the one I'm talking about, the one that's in all those UFC punchfighting flicks.  Anyway, whatever, this is available from all the usual suspects on DVD if you want to check it out.

For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2510268/

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Pumpkinhead (1988)

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So the initial plan for this review was to write it on Halloween, but you can tell from the post date, we're a little late with that one.  I figured that, even though it had a theatrical run, the fact that Halloween is a special day, I could make an exception, especially considering this was a video store classic for me growing up and one I've wanted to do here for a long time.

Pumpkinhead stars DTVC favorite Lance Henriksen as Ed Harley, a country man who owns a small grocery and is raising his small boy on his own.  When some city kids come to town and one jerk member of the crew hits his boy with his dirt bike, killing the boy, Henriksen swears his revenge.  To get that, he goes to an old witch's home on the edge of a swamp, and she tells him of a way: he needs to dig up a deformed body from a scary graveyard, and she'll take it from there.  What she unleashes is Pumpkinhead, a demonic killer who looks very derivative and won't stop till all the kids are dead.  Any second thoughts Harley?  Too late for that now.

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As far as great 80s horror goes, I think this is one that's often overlooked with all the Nightmare on Elm Streets and Friday the 13ths.  On some levels that's too bad, because this is so well shot, has some great sets, and if the Pumpkinhead didn't look so much like an Alien, that would've been really cool too.  I think that's one area where this is written off though, the eponymous killer demon is where the film is has to hang its hat, even if it has some really great American Gothic style horror elements, because ultimately the baddie is what sells.  If you are someone who grew up with this and didn't exactly care for it, maybe now that it's on Netflix Instant you can give it another try.

On the other hand, another reason why this one doesn't succeed where the more iconic horror franchises have, is that those ones were much more fun.  I mean, Henriksen's son is so nice, and Henriksen is so nice to him, they seem so happy together, and to have this jerk guy run the son over and kill him is just mean-spirited and very dark.  Not to mention, the jerk initially makes fun of the poor boy's Coke bottle glasses.  That's just gross to do that then kill the boy off.  Also, the jerk guy freaks out that he doesn't want to go to jail, and back at their cabin he locks two of his friends that try to call the cops in a closet.  That's just weird, and beyond jerk-guy in the group, that's unlawful imprisonment.  Things like that work against it where the other greats gave us so much fun.  Still, I'm not sure that should be its death knell, just that it's not for everyone.

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Lance Henriksen is great in this.  I think it would've been easy for him to play the classic evil country guy, but his character had more nuance to it, something you usually don't see in a film like this, and he took what nuance there was and ran with it.  He's the character we're sympathetic with, not the kids, and neither he nor the writers lose track of that, even if it looks like they might.  One thing I wonder about though: what did he think when he first saw Pumpkinhead?  Did they ask him if it looked too much like an Alien?  "Um, ah, no, no, it's so different, it has more of a human face, no no, you're okay, no one will think you're ripping that off."

Among the other stars, we had the great character actor George "Buck" Flower as a local farmer that Henriksen knows.  That guys has acted in almost everything, and even though he has a smaller part in this, it's always great to see him.  Devon Odessa from My So-Called Life played one of his grandkids.  Nice 90s nostalgia moment.  John D'Aquino plays the jerk guy, and he's great at it.  I have no idea why, but he doesn't have a picture on imdb.  Come on man, you're still working, take care of that.  Finally, Brian Bremer plays the oldest of Flower's grandchildren.  He'd have been perfect for a Hobbit had he been ten years younger.  A shame that he had to settle for Pumpkinhead.

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Okay, that's not actually finally, because we also had Mayim Bialik's first role here too.  Can you believe that?  She played another of Flower's grandchildren.  That makes two Blossom stars to grace the DTVC, the other being Joey "Joseph" Lawrence in Do You Wanna Know a Secret?  Whoa!  Now we just need to find Six in something.  I've seen that Bialik is back on network TV, doing The Big Bang Theory with the guy who played David in Roseanne.  So we have Roseanne and Blossom teaming up to pander for my 90s nostalgia dollars?  Too bad Neil Patrick Harris is on another show.  Or maybe they can get Devon Odessa.

While I had some problems with how dark it was with killing off the kid, and the demon is definitely derivative, it has some great horror elements to hang its hat on.  Henriksen's character and performance, the sets, and the cinematography and direction are all excellent, and elevate this above the usual schlock horror flick.  While it's on Instant, I'd give it another look.

For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0095925/