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.
Monday, September 29, 2014
As always, when there's a new Dolph flick on Netflix Instant, we need to make it happen here at the DTVC. Before we did it here though, we featured it on a podcast, hoping to build on the Dolph goodwill we created with Jamie when we looked at Puncture Wounds. Also, as an action film, this was a great time to get Ty and Brett from Comeuppance Reviews on the pod, long time friends of the site and purveyors of a great site themselves. Based on the trailers and synopses, this looked like a great DTV Dolph actioner, so based on the trailers and synopses, this couldn't fail, right?
Ambushed is about an extremely unlikable guy named Frank, who's a scam artist who thinks he's cooler and smarter and more interesting than he is. He decides to steal a bunch of drugs from someone big, Vinnie Jones, and then sell them and make a big score. Randy the Natural Couture is local detective who wants to lean of Frank to get some cash, and Dolph is a DEA agent who wants to figure out who Frank is and take him down. They're on a collision course to shaky-cam and Timbaland-rip-off early-2000s double-beated wackiness.
Wow. We've seen Dolph bait-and-switches, and we've seen Netflix synopsis bait-and-switches, but never a trailer-synopsis-Dolph bait-and-switch all in one. I mean, there was no indication anywhere that this would be following the uninteresting tale of an annoying all-American jackass who plays video games while saying things like "that's grimy dude." Who thought this was a good idea? Who thought this would be a good movie? The trailer would have been a good movie. The synopsis would have been a good movie. This was bad. First and foremost, plot gets in the way. Also, action scenes filled with shaky-cam. Again, Dolph bait-and-switch, by far the worst we've seen here. Finally, unlikable hero-- I mean really unlikable. The character would have been great as the local sleaze-fest that Dolph or Couture goes to for information or who tries to rip off Vinnie Jones and is killed for it, but not as your lead. This film may have the distinction of being the worst Dolph film we've ever done.
This review comes at an interesting time in sports, because Derek Jeter is retiring and, though the hype surrounding it has been insufferable, it creates an apt comparison with Dolph's DTV career. One of the many great stats Jeter had was that none of the teams he played on finished below .500. Yes, a large part of that is due to the Yankees' enormous resources, but still, Jeter was always on a team that won more than it lost. The same can be said for Dolph I think. Even when his films were bad, they weren't Red Sox 2012 bad-- until now. The thing is we can't blame Dolph for that, because he was great in the role he had-- which made this worse, because we wanted more Dolph and less jackass guy, and instead we got more of the latter. This was a Dolph bait-and-switch in the truest sense of the word, because it is sold almost completely as a Dolph vehicle, and nothing could be further from the truth.
Again, we've seen bait-and-switches before. The term was coined originally for Rutger Hauer, because the early-to-mid 2000s were rife with Hauer bait-and-switches, where he would be splashed all over the cover, only to appear for 5 minutes of actual film time. This wasn't so bad as far as Dolph screen time, but the fact that we also had a plot bait-and-switch from not only the Netflix synopsis but the trailer bait-and-switch, combined with the character they bait-and-switched for, and what we have is the most egregious bait-and-switch of all time. I guess you can't do a trailer that says "follow jackass Frank as he reminds you of every douchebag jerk you've ever encountered in a casino or nightclub or Starbucks. You will be astounded by how well this douchebaggery is captured on film, with every shaky cam and not-so-clever screenwipe. Also, Dolph Lundgren, Randy Couture, and Vinnie Jones all have small parts."
To give you an idea of just how much of a douche this main character is, I made list of things his character either does, or you figure he'd do if given the chance. I already mentioned when he said "that's grimy dude!" In that same scene he also said "hey man, this isn't high school", yet proceeds to live his life as if he's still in the social construct of high school. We all know that guy right, the "this isn't high school" guy who always acts like he's still in high school. We can assume that he'd also be the "Facebook sucks and is full of losers" guy who uses Facebook all the time and always comments on people's stuff, and the only reason why he hates it is no one likes of comments on his vacuous 5-times-a-day status updates. Other things he might do: say "I never eat that shit at McDonald's" when he always eats at McDonald's; smokes Parliaments, calls them "P-Funks", and doesn't inhale; calls women "grenades", and also quotes Wedding Crashers when describing his interactions with women; and finally, every decision in his life is a "big decision", and he needs to talk about it incessantly. Does this sound like the kind of guy you want to base your film around?
To make matters worse, we get this tool's self-indulgent narration throughout the film, which is like being cornered at a party with him when you go to the drink table to refill you and your wife's beverages and you're like "Jesus Christ I don't care about your fantasy football team and whether or not you should start this guy over that guy!", and really, all you're doing is exchanging this insipid conversation for insipid monologues about how he thinks he's getting over on everyone and has all these great plans. He doesn't, he's a douchebag who is going to start Robert Griffin III on Sunday, call him RGIII, and pound Miller Lites and boneless Buffalo wings while he feigns anger among his "boys" when Griffin throws three picks. With each bad monologue, I tuned out and looked at the local ShopRite circular. Deals that week included: pork roll for $1.88, La Yogurt probiotics 10 for $5, CrazyArt crayons 5 for $2, and my favorite, Elio's Pizza for $1.99. Also, I wanted to mention, the guy above is not the main character, he's this guy from an old Coke commercial who said "Yo, it's 'Deluxe' son!", and my buddy and I used to say that all the time as a joke, so I thought it was great to see him in here. "It's deluxe son!"
If I'm telling you what I read in a circular two months ago, I need to wrap this up. It was a unanimous "no" across the board, and will go down as the most egregious bait-and-switch and worst Dolph film in the history of the DTVC. Never seen anything like it. I want to thank Ty and Brett again for being on the show, remember you can always check them out at Comeuppance Reviews, and you can always check Jamie and I out live every Wednesday from 8-9 EDT at www.mixlr.com/2nd-unit, and can download the podcasts after on Talkshoe at http://www.talkshoe.com/tc/134494 or on iTunes, just type in DTVC Podcast and subscribe.
For the Ambushed episode, right click here and click "save link as". (Beware, there were some technical difficulties with this episode.)
For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2497808/
Sunday, September 21, 2014
This is a movie that I'd been looking to get to for some time, so when I started doing the DTVC podcast with Jamie, I saw this as a great opportunity to make it happen. On this episode we also had long time friend of the site Karl Brezdin at Fist of the B-List, who has a great site and was a great contributor to the pod. Speaking of friends of the site, our friend Mitch at The Video Vacuum also covered this, so you can go there to see what he thought of this flick.
Ninja II is a sequel to the first Ninja, where Isaac Florentine and Scott Adkins team up again to give us 90 minutes of pure awesome. Adkins's wife, Mika Hijii, is killed by a bad person, and Adkins naturally wants revenge. His revenge leads him to Thailand and the ninja dojo of friend Kane Kosugi. Turns out these killers are linked to a drug ring operating out of Myanmar run by Shun Sugata, which is where our ninja is headed to take care of business so bad that Myanmar is knocked back to being called Burma.
As I said, this is 90 minutes of pure awesome. Jamie loved it so much she watched it twice and put that pic of Adkins from the film beheading the baddie as her Facebook banner. All the complaints I made about the first one were erased. We had no Adkins running away, we had all Adkins as a bad ass performing in great fight scene after great fight scene. There is no shaky cam here, no special effects cheating, just good ol' fashioned well choreographed and well performed martial arts battles. For my money, this is one of the few modern flicks that can take the Pepsi Challenge with any of the greats from the 80s and 90s.
Let's start with Mr. Adkins, because he was perfect in the lead, and perfect as all of our new celebrity crushes. Jamie loved him, and you can see why. He's someone who grew up in the 80s like the rest of us loving the films we love, and as such he brings that kind of commitment to the role, which comes out in the final project. When talking about who might be the head of the next wave to take over after the old guard retires (or we get sick of them!), Scott Adkins needs to be at the top of the list with Michael Jai White. The one thing I think we do need more of though: Adkins with his natural English accent.
Isaac Florentine has been directing great martial arts actions films for some time now, and seeing this I was reminded of just how important he is in keeping DTV action films the way we want them: good fights, well-choreographed and well-shot, and not a pile of shaky cam where we can't see and which is covering up for substandard fight scenes. Isaac Florentine, like Adkins, is a fan of martial arts films, in particular Hong Kong films from the 70s, and that shows in the way his films are done. We need to show these studios that we need more legit directors like Isaac Florentine, Albert Pyun, and John Hyams making these films; that it's not good enough to just throw a stuntman or set designer in for his or her first ever directorial debut, nor good enough to go in after the director is finished and edit the hell out of it. We need to speak with our wallets and support more Ninja IIs.
I want to go back to the discussion on Adkins being the next guard, and really overall the future of the action genre, not only in the DTV world, but also on the big screen. Since the Bourne Identity, where deft split screen edits were used to turn Matt Damon into an action lead, action films have been following suit, making action stars out of non-action folk, most notably now Liam Neeson; but also has allowed older action stars like Steven Seagal and Sylvester Stallone a longer action film shelf life. How does a Scott Adkins break into the mainstream in this environment? He gets a part as the baddie's number 1 henchman in Expendables 2, and that's about the extent of it. Is DTV and Isaac Florentine flicks the best we can do? And on some levels, is that maybe better? I don't know, I think we need to get to a point where we're not just rumoring about Scott Adkins as Batman, but it's a reality.
Among the other stars in the film, as I mentioned above Mika Hijii returns to reprise her role from part 1. It's a very small part, and she gets most of her screen time in flashbacks. I have a hunch that if there's a third one, she'll be back, having used some kind of ninja magic to fake her death. You can't keep Mika Hijii away that long. As we mentioned above, Kane Kosugi plays Adkins's buddy. He's fantastic as well, and like many actions fans, we've been rockin' with him for a long time, since he (and we) were very young in the early 80s and he was in his father's, Sho Kosugi's, films. When talking about Adkins potentially heading the next class of action stars to take over from the old guard, you need to put Kane Kosugi in there as well. His final scene with Adkins was spectacular. Finally, the great Shun Sugata plays the main baddie, and he's fantastic as well. Among the 100-plus films to his credit, the only other one we've done here is Bunraku, but I'm sure readers will know him for a variety of other things, from The Last Samurai to Kill Bill and Ichi the Killer.
Is there any question about where I'm going on this one? It's a must, especially now while it's on Instant. This is one of the best action films, DTV or otherwise, in the past ten years or so. Go check it out, or if you're like Jamie, you can go see it again, it's that good. I want to thank Karl again for coming on the podcast. Remember, you can check him out at Fist of the B-List. And as far as Jamie and I, you can check us out as always live on the DTVC Podcast from 8-9pm Eastern every Wednesday at www.mixlr.com/2nd-unit, and download the podcasts not only from our Talkshoe page at http://www.talkshoe.com/tc/134494, but now we're also on iTunes! Just type in "DTVC Podcast" into the search, and subscribe.
For the Ninja II episode, right click here and select "save link as".
For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2458106/