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.
Tuesday, October 14, 2014
I looked at this film back in February or March before I moved down to DelCo, PA, with the idea in mind that I would use it to get back to doing more posts again after a hiatus. Instead, it sat on the shelf until June, when, after telling Moe at Drunk on VHS and Jon at the After Movie Diner that I would do a podcast on their night of programming (the DTVC Podcast can be heard live every Wednesday from 8-9pm at www.mixlr.com/2nd-unit), I was stuck without a movie and a guest for my second show. So I decided to do an hour, solo, on this film and Steven Seagal in general. It wasn't pretty, which is why you won't find that episode on our archive page. What did happen in that episode though, was my guest from the first episode (Mega Shark vs. Mecha Shark), Jamie, was commenting in the chat, helping me out, and from that episode on she's been our regular cohost on the DTVC Podcast-- and the show has been great ever since.
Force of Execution has Mr. Seagal as a crime boss in New Mexico or something, who sends his number one guy, Bren Foster, in to take out a snitch in the local prison. Problem is, Ving Rhames tells him to kill the wrong guy, and the people who wanted the snitch dead are pissed at Seagal's guy. This leads to the guy getting his hands smashed and Seagal retiring him for awhile, living in a studio above Danny Trejo's restaurant, which is own by Seagal and is where Seagal's daughter works. Long story short, Rhames gets out of prison, tries to start a turf war to take over from Seagal, Trejo uses scorpions to fix Foster's hands, and after the daughter is kidnapped they save her and live happily ever after.
I don't know what happened with this film. It was okay in the early going, the Bren Foster going into the prison to take care of business was awesome, and I thought, "hey, I can live with this." Then it was left turnsville all over the place. We got Foster with crippled hands, then Trejo uses scorpions later in the film to fix them. What? Was there any point in the film that it looked like Rhames would beat Seagal? No. Then we have the damsel in distress trope mixed with the gross, "protect our blond white women from degenerate black men" trope that those espousing a so-called "post-racial" US will tell you shouldn't exist anymore, but there it was in all it grossness. Ultimately I'm left wondering "where was that film I used to know when Bren Foster was kicking ass?"
Let's start with Seagal. When I was writing this and also preparing for that ill-fated podcast, I went into it after watching this film with the idea that all of Seagal's recent DTV stuff was crap. That's not really true, in fact he's had some good ones. For example, 2009's Driven to Kill. Okay, I guess that was 5 years ago now, so who knows. The biggest problem here was that the film was setting up as a Bren Foster vehicle with Seagal perhaps passing the torch, or maybe being the number one but giving Foster the bulk of the fights. Either one would have worked, instead of this muddled thing we had here. Is it possible that Seagal isn't able to pass the torch? That he can't let a potential talent like Foster really take the film and run with it? I can understand that, but if that's the case, don't set it up like Foster is the main guy, or the one the story is centered on. This film started in one direction, a direction that worked, and then went in an entirely different direction that didn't work, and that was the biggest disappointment. Seagal still has some more films coming down the pike. We'll see what they look like.
I want to get back to Bren Foster and his character. He had a sweet scene in the beginning, proving beyond anything that he can get after it. Also, the having his hands crippled I don't think was a deal breaker, that has happened before-- Yojimbo for example. What would've been cool is if he could've gone all Yojimbo to get his revenge on both Seagal and Rhames, like he starts a turf war between the two and they kill each other and he comes out on top. Again, Seagal couldn't let that happen, he had to be the omnipotent leader, he had to be a good guy despite being a crime boss, and he couldn't let anyone, especially not Bren Foster, get over on him, even if he was playing a baddie. And then we have the scorpion thing, which made no sense. We had a good fight where Foster took out some guys with no hands. Why couldn't we do that? Have a guru train him to fight without his hands, and then he gets his revenge, fooling people by playing the part of the helpless crippled man. Instead we got a mess.
Ving Rhames plays the baddie. Unlike Seagal, he doesn't mind being the bad guy who ultimately loses. He was awesome in this role, making sure he played a baddie that was entertaining but sufficiently bad enough that we want him to be taken down. In my mind though, while he can play a great villain, his best DTV turn was as the hero in The Tournament, and hopefully we'll get more of that in the future. Danny Trejo had a smaller role as, I don't know, The Noble Savage? As I mentioned above, this film did not do well with the way it injected race into it, and while Trejo with the whole scorpion thing wasn't as bad as the black degenerate gangsters and the need to protect the blond white woman from them, it was still a little off. I think Trejo as Foster's landlord as an independent character, apart from Seagal, would've worked much better-- and get rid of the scorpions too.
This was what Seagal looked like in the final scene, SWAT gear, special ops, seemingly out of nowhere. "Oh, by the way, crime boss knows special ops too. What? What's wrong with that?" Maybe this is the future of Seagal though? No more slap-chop covered up by shaky cam attempt at a solid fight scene, maybe special ops is how he furthers his action career. We did have it in Maximum Conviction, and while it didn't necessarily work, I'm willing to withhold judgement. Let's see what happens, but if we get a Pistol Whipped with good shootouts based on this Seagal, I'll take it.
So this is a pass for me, it's just a muddled mess that seems to be more indicative of Seagal's recent DTV output. That's too bad, because if Seagal took a step back and let a Bren Foster take him down, we might have had the film we wanted. As he saw in Machete, it's okay to be the baddie, and for some movies, it works better. This film is one where it would have, and because he didn't play the baddie, the whole thing suffered.
For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2611626/
Monday, October 6, 2014
Back in June Moe at Drunk on VHS came to me to see if I would be back on his show to discuss this film. After the great time I had with him and Jon from The After Movie Diner discussing Hard to Die, I was excited at the opportunity to do another pod. Of course, the episode devolved into Moe, Jon, and I discussing subReddits about people dry humping bags of dog food. Also, it was after this episode that Moe and Jon decided to create their own night of live podcast programming on Wednesday nights, and they asked me if I'd like to do my own show on their night, which is what led to the creation of the DTVC Podcast with Jamie and me. Finally, this film was also covered by our friend Mitch at The Video Vacuum in his Rutger Hauer-Palooza.
The Blood of Heroes takes place in a brutal, post-apocalyptic future. In it, a game known simply as "The Game", played by "Juggers", is all the rage. It's a macabre spectacle in which a dog's skull is the ball, and the goal is to post the skull on the other team's stake-- the catch being that there are no rules governing how you stop the other team from winning. DTVC Hall of Famer Rutger Hauer plays a disgraced former star who leads a barnstorming team from watering hole to watering hole to play for money. When spunky newcomer Joan Chen pushes the team to go to one of the big cities to challenge a pro team, at first he disagrees, but then they all decide to go for it. Will Rocky be able to prevail against all odds? Will the spunky Bad News Bears get it done?
I don't know what to think about this movie. It's not the worst thing ever, but overall it is still a Rocky or Bad News Bears paradigm with the only differences being that it takes place in the future and it's brutal. Rutger Hauer is as great as ever, and the rest of the cast was great too, including Delroy Lindo, Vincent D'Onofrio, and the aforementioned Chen, plus Richard Norton in a small cameo at the end. I guess, for my money, if I'm watching a post-apocalyptic cheesefest, give me Mr. Norton in a leather vest with no shirt and big gun driving an '84 Caprice Classic with no windows and spikes affixed to the front, blowing the shit up out of everything. But that's just me.
Rutger Hauer is pretty great in this, but when is he not? And this is no bait-and-switch, this is Hauer in his 80s prime doing is Hauer best. One area where this film differs from the classic Rocky or Bad News Bears paradigm is that we have a character like Hauer who was once one of the best, and only had to stop due to a falling-out with one of the higher ups in the city. That gives the Bad News Bears aspect of the team a level of quality that makes them less rag-tag, but it only works if Hauer sells it with his natural charisma and awesome-ness, and he does that in spades. This is one of those ones that doesn't work in spite of Hauer, not in any way because of him.
As I mentioned above, DTVC Hall of Famer Richard Norton also appeared in this at the very end. He's an Aussie, and this was an Aussie production, so it makes sense, but I felt like he was there reminding me of what a post-apocalyptic cheesefest was really supposed to be like. Okay, maybe this film was trying to do something new with it, and I applaud them for that, but to what extent is it really new if the end is the same, and a lot of how we get there is the same? Maybe it was bloodier and more macabre, but it's still The Bad News Bears. Seeing Norton, I rued the fact that we weren't driving old cars with black paint jobs and spikes and bars attached to it, that we weren't seeing big guns and exploding huts, that we weren't seeing Norton and Hauer kicking massive amounts of post-apocalyptic ass. I guess we could also say that this idea of brutal futuristic sports was not entirely new either, considering we had films like Rollerball and Death Race 2000 that also banged home this idea, so who knows.
According to Wikipedia, "The Game" is actually played in real life, known as "Jugger", and they don't use a real dog skull, and I'm assuming it's also not as bloody or dangerous. I guess based on the movie it originated simultaneously in both Germany and Australia, and they have international tournaments for it and whatnot. Here in the States I see it becoming more hipster than Ultimate Frisbee and kickball, as thin, bearded, not-quite-athletes talk about how they play Jugger, and how they stopped playing Ultimate or kickball because everyone was playing those sports. Lots of craft beer and food carts at the games too.
As I mentioned above, this had a pretty robust cast. Joan Chen was Hauer's costar, and if it weren't for the fact that he's a Hall of Famer, the first paragraph after the synopsis could have just as easily gone to her. For the kids who love Twin Peaks, she's great, so you'll love that. She's small enough yet driven enough that her character works as the newcomer Hauer believes makes the team good enough to challenge the pros. And then there's Vincent D'onofrio as the kid who joined the team just before Chen. This is the third film of his we've done here, the first being the fantastic Kill the Irishman, the second the lackluster Fire with Fire. Then we had the great Delroy Lindo, who my wife and I loved in Crooklyn. He's as great here, even with a smaller role. Finally, I should have mentioned this earlier, this film was written and directed by David Webb Peoples, who wrote Blade Runner, Unforgiven, and 12 Monkeys.
So ultimately I'm not saying this movie is a pass, just that it didn't work for me. No matter how you package it, it still seems like The Bad New Bears, only bloodier. As far as purchasing it, used VHS or DVD is the way to go. I want to thank Moe again for having me on Drunk on VHS with him and Jon. If you want to check out that podcast right click here and then select save link as. And remember, you can always catch Jamie and me live Wednesdays at 8pm EST at www.mixlr.com/2nd-unit.
For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0094764/