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. 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] I'd love to check out what you got. And check out my book, Chad in Accounting, over on Amazon.



Hi everyone, it's been a while since I checked the page, and I wanted to make a few announcements.

First and foremost, it appears a dubious site has claimed the old url, meaning any link in any review that goes to the old mattmovieguy url is corrupt. I'm in the process of trying to remove them all, but it's a lot! It's best not to click on any link without hovering over it first to make sure it doesn't have mattmovieguy in the url.

Second, it appears since my last trip to the blog, Photobucket has decided to charge for third party hosting, meaning sometimes the images are blurred with a watermark and you have to click on the image to see them. That's an aesthetic issue, but still annoying. One workaround I've found is to go to the url bar and add "https://" before the address, then hit enter.

Thank you all for your patience, and again, hopefully this will all be fixed soon.


Thursday, June 4, 2020

Android Cop (2014)

As I said in the Undercover Brother 2 post, my plan was to get more Michael Jai White on the site. Triple Threat was part of that, but I wanted more where he was the lead, so that's where this comes in. We also hadn't seen The Asylum in a while, and this marks their entrance to the 30 Club, which is also a plus. In addition to us, our friend Mitch at the Video Vacuum has reviewed this, so you can see what he thought.

Android Cop has White as a detective in a futuristic LA recovering from a major earthquake. The result was the creation of a quarantine zone after radiation leaked out of a power plant. After a trip to the quarantine zone leads to the killing of a drug lord, White is teamed up with the android cop, Randy Wayne, that bailed he and his fellow officers out. He doesn't get along with him, but he has to when the two are sent back into the quarantine zone to get the mayor, Charles S. Dutton's, daughter out. Seems easy enough, except fellow cop Kadeem Hardison is up to no good--like worse than the Dwayne Wayne troublemaking days up to no good. It'll take everything White and his android partner have to get out alive.

Okay, so maybe the face I chose there is a bit harsh, because this wasn't that bad. It borrows from a lot of places, beyond the RoboCop reboot it was mockbusting. We have The Warriors, Escape from LA, Blade Runner, and some classic Italian produced Williamson flicks of the early 80s like 1990: Bronx Warriors. I can appreciate it that, I just need the action to be there, but the problem with The Asylum, is they can never quite do that. We have shoot-outs where people don't get hit. We have a Michael Jai White that we want to see unleashed, but who never completely gets the chance. By the same token, I did fun with this, and I think that's all you want.

You do wonder though, with White in the lead here, what this could have been if it wasn't an Asylum rush job, but rather a franchise they gave more attention to like Sharknado. Beyond being a top notch athlete and martial artist, White is also a great comedic actor, and you feel like if this script had been given more time you could have had a great buddy picture that could have possibly even had DTV sequels. Imagine a Kadeem Hardison as the baddie revenge flick after this. I think the thing is, we can't fault The Asylum that Michael Jai White brings so much to the table, because what if they can't get him for this part? Now they need something that works for someone who can't do the comedic part, or can't do the martial arts part. They don't have time to rework it for someone else. So that means we're left with something where White elevates the material beyond what it was, but then we wonder what could have been.

I had totally forgotten about the 2014 RoboCop reboot, so in that sense I didn't even consider that this would have been a mockbuster until I looked it up on IMDb. This might be the only Asylum mockbuster like this that actually outlived the film it was mockbusting. Part of that is having White on the cover; but another part is just how sauteed in wrong sauce the reboot was. Hollywood is looking for as many franchises as it can find to package and pull in billion-dollar grosses, and in that wake there are many of these failed reboots. The funny thing is, you wonder how that RoboCop reboot would have done if they'd cast White in the lead. It pulled in about $252 million worldwide, but only about $58 million of that came in the US. Do we think White could have pulled in more? And then where would the Asylum have been left? But that's the thing, while Hollywood does a paint-by-numbers RoboCop reboot, The Asylum does something different, and shows Hollywood what they missed out on by not casting White.

Speaking of The Asylum, they now join the 30 Club with this review. Maybe this paragraph should have come sooner, because that's a big moment. In terms of movie houses that I tag, they join Cannon and PM Entertainment with that distinction. It's amazing to think how far we've come with The Asylum, from the early days of Snakes on a Train and Transmorphers, to the non-mockbuster Mega [insert apex predator here] vs Giant [insert other apex predator here], which led to the success of the Sharknado franchise. It'll be interesting to see where they go from here, but since a lot of their stuff is DTV, wherever they go, we'll follow.

As I mentioned above, after White, we had Kadeem Hardison and Charles S. Dutton. I thought this was the first time we've had Hardison on in a non Mark Dacascos film, but I discovered that he was also in the Lambert/Mario Van Peebles flick Gunmen. Again, his character is one we could bring back for a revenge sequel if this were turned into a franchise, and I think it could be fun to see him get after it as a total baddie. This is the second time we've seen Dutton here, the other time being when we did Black Dog for our Swayze memorial posts. While he's good here, Dutton is also someone who would have been a cool choice for the Ronny Cox role of the RoboCop reboot.

Right now this is on Tubi, so the only thing you're investing here is time. I went to The Asylum's website, and it looks like they took down their disclaimer saying they can't offer temporal refunds, but I assume they still can't give you your 90 minutes back if you watch this and decide it didn't work for you. White shines here, and I think this is a fun take for an Asylum Mockbuster.

For more info:

Wednesday, June 3, 2020

Accerleration (2019)

This is the second of three films Dolph had come out in 2019, coming just a month before Hard Night Falling, and about three or four months after The Tracker. If either of those two are any guide, we can't expect much Dolph from this. That being said, the fact that it was leaning heavily on Natalie Burn, which was something I said Hard Night Falling should have done, gave me hope. In addition to us, our friend Cam Sully at Action Elite has covered this, so you can go there to see what he thought.

Acceleration has Natalie Burn as an underground enforcer who has the special skills needed to handle tough situations for shady characters. When underground boss Dolph Lundgren kidnaps her son and makes her carry out 5 tasks, she now has to not only do these tasks, but find out where her son is so she can rescue him. The issue is, why does Dolph want these tasks carried out, and what does he have to do with Sean Patrick Flannery, the local kingpin and guy whose name is top billed on the tin? Can she figure it out before her son dies?

Among the recent Dolph efforts, I think I liked this one best, but it still had its flaws, including a very convoluted twist at the end that we didn't need. The biggest thing is that, unlike Hard Night Falling, this film focuses on Natalie Burn, and doesn't even sell itself as a Dolph flick so much as a flick that also stars Dolph. That helps, because you don't go in with any expectations, and then are allowed to be excited by what Burn brings to the table. The thing I wonder is, why not trim it further? Why not get the kid aspect out of it, and just have her doing jobs for Dolph because she wants to get paid? She's a hired gun with no past who just does the job. "I have five jobs for you, if you get them done by sunrise, you get this bonus." Then we can root for Dolph and we don't need a plot twist at the end to redeem him. Just a thought, but overall this is pretty good.

Dolph continues to add to his already record number of reviews on the DTVC, and with all the films of his I watched for the Dolph List on Letterboxd, I have a bunch more in the can that I need to write reviews on--and considering this movie was one I watched after I made the list, it doesn't even put a dent in that backlog. One of the ways we've been seeing Dolph lately is in this role, where he's taking a backseat to let someone else shine, and it really happens here with Burn. It's very similar to another one-word A title he did, Altitude, where he sat in a cockpit and let Denise Richards have the lead, now he's in a control center letting Natalie Burn do it, and it works both times. It looks like Dolph doesn't have anything slated for release in 2020, but that's okay, we have a long way to go before he's finished here with that backlog.

As I mentioned above, Natalie Burn really has a chance to shine here, and she does, which is great to see. Again, I don't think we needed the son construct, and I wonder if there's a sense that, because Burn is a woman, we wouldn't feel it as organic if there isn't a Lifetime Movie mama bear/Taken aspect to underpin it, which is too bad. I think she's plenty badass enough to not need that, and she showed that in this movie. In a way, all of that other stuff about her needing to find her son and her feelings surrounding that padded out the movie and dragged it down, which you don't want in a movie called "Acceleration". Drag works against acceleration, which is bad.

The other big drag on this movie was the whole other plot with Sean Patrick Flannery as the big boss trying to track down junkie Jason London about a deal he screwed him on. That whole thing was as paint-by-numbers DTV as I've seen, so much so they may as well have just went up to Michigan and filmed it with a Bruce Willis without his reverse shots. For me, I think that's one of the big issues with modern DTV, is they don't really do anything new, and when they do, they can't commit to it all the way. We've been seeing that former big screen actor now playing a crime boss paradigm for so long now, complete with their quirky Pulp Fiction wannabe philosophies. And you get the juxtaposition here when Flannery's character is sitting across from Burn's, and he's waxing philosophical about the lemon meringue pie--we're seeing the tired, well-worn territory getting recycled again, while right in front of us is the new and exciting next step that DTV needs to take, but they're just not comfortable enough diving in. I get it, the Michigan/Louisiana-filmed Bruce Willis not doing his reverse shots crime thing gets streams, but it's the kind of thing I'm pretty much done reviewing on this site.

Finally, among the many names in this--and there are many--the one that really stood out in a supporting capacity was Quentin "Rampage" Jackson. I think as far as former UFC fighters in movies go, he's got the most natural talent onscreen, which is a huge advantage for him. It'll be interesting to see if he can get some actual leading roles, and what he can do with them. Other names, Danny Trejo is great as usual. He's developing an Eric Roberts ability to make a lot out of a tiny appearance. Chuck Liddell is another former UFC star in this. I believe this is four films he's done with Dolph, in addition to Riot, Altitude, and War Pigs. He's not the natural Jackson is, and I feel like out of those four, Altitude did the best job of putting him in situations where he can succeed. Maybe what he needs is a turn as one of the good guys in a supporting role.

And with that, I think it's time to wrap this up. I saw this initially on Hoopla, but since then it's been made available on Prime as well. I think it is very much something you shouldn't shell out extra for, but if it's already part of your streaming package, or you can get it on Hoopla, it's worth checking out.

For more info:

Saturday, May 30, 2020

Death Fighter (2017)

This one has been on my radar since I came back from hiatus. Always looking to do more Wilson and Rothrock, I was intrigued; on the other hand, after the scant part they both had in Showdown in Manila, I was also worried that we wouldn't get much of them here. I guess there's only one way to know how it is, and that's diving in, so without any further ado...

Death Fighter has Matt Mullins as a cop whose mentor, Joe Lewis, is killed in a bust gone bad. Now he wants revenge, so he goes to ex-mercenary Don "The Dragon" Wilson for help. So he, Wilson, and Wilson's silent partner Otto, load up the gear and head into the jungle for their revenge. At the same time, they come across a makeshift hospital, and the woman there tells them about the slave trade this baddie has been running. So we have drugs, slave trades, and jungles. What more could we want? Maybe a Rothrock-Wilson fight?...

I think this was a set up to showcase some up-and-coming talent alongside names we already know, so the question is, how well did it work? Part of the problem is, this is a heavy-duty Jungle Slog, and while the movie may have been fun for Wilson to make (see his comments on the IMDb page), for us watching it, we don't get to see the fun behind-the-scenes stuff he got to enjoy. In fact, for us movie geeks, that probably would have been more fun for us too. It wasn't all bad, the martial arts were fantastic, especially with Mullins, Jawad El Berni, Chiranan Manochaem, and Prasit Suanphaka, they were all in high-level scenes that showed how well they could get after it; plus Wilson and Rothrock were no slouches in their scenes either; the problem is, the modern Jungle Slog is hard to pull off without any of the charm of the late 80s/early 90s, and this suffered from that.

When we last saw Wilson, it was in a tiny part in Showdown in Manila. This is a much beefier role, which helped. The other thing was seeing him cast opposite Mullins, his experience onscreen was really pronounced. Before the Showdown in Manila post, we last saw him in 2011, and part of the reason for that break was he went on his own hiatus in '07, and didn't do another feature film until 2015's Scorpion King 4 (which I haven't seen yet, and am not sure I will, considering it comes in at a whopping 105-minute runtime. Are you serious?). Now he's got tons of stuff out there that I need to catch up on. If it's more this movie than Showdown in Manila, I'll take and am excited to get after it. He's not just a Hall of Famer, he's a member of the 30 Club and one of the best to ever do it, and it was nice to see a film like this where that was well represented.

Our film's other Hall of Famer and member of the 30 Club, Cynthia Rothrock, plays the main baddie's number one hatchet person. As you can imagine, that didn't work at all. When have we ever seen Rothrock in a role where she takes orders? Call it a trope, or a standard movie convention, but we almost never see women as main baddies unless the hero is a woman too. Why does that have to be the case? Rothrock as the main baddie would have been absolutely killer in this. The same barriers that kept movie houses from wanting to cast her as the lead, are here and preventing her from being the top baddie as well. For once I'd love to see a movie take a chance like that, and there's no one better-suited to take that chance with than Rothrock.

What's one of the worst things you can say about a talent in the DTV action realm? To me, it's "I don't understand the concept of [x person]." For example, I personally don't understand the concept of either Vince Murdocco or Ian Jacklin. Many people in this blogging sphere are fans of both though, right? On the other hand, many of my fellow bloggers can't understand the concept of Loren Avedon, and I'm a fan of him. Compare that to Don "The Dragon" Wilson or Cynthia Rothrock. Have you ever heard anyone say that about them? Right, and look where they are. My point is, Matt Mullins is on the edge of those two territories, and I think the thing that will ultimately keep him out of the former is the filmmakers he's working with not putting him in bad situations. High-octane fight scene where he's taking out multiple baddies? Great situation. The image below where he looks like a kid whose mom woke him up at 2pm and is making him clean his room? Bad situation. I don't want to be saying "I don't understand the concept of Matt Mullins," I want to be saying "I can't wait for that next Matt Mullins flick to come out."

And that's the thing, when you pair Mullins with Jawed El Berni, you have some explosive new talent where I'm excited to see what they have next for us. Their fight delivered everything you'd want from it. When we think of who's next, Scott Adkins is at the top of the list. I don't know where you put Michael Jai White, because he's closer in age to Gary Daniels than he is Adkins, so he may not be next wave as much as current wave. Tony Jaa and Iko Uwais are two other names; and then Natalie Burn is another who can bring it. I put these two right up there with them. I get that they don't have the names some of those others do, so maybe they couldn't carry their own two cops on the edge buddy picture set in Eastern Europe without another name on the cover, but it would be cool to see. Maybe you cast Rothrock as the baddie for that for the name recognition.

We made it to paragraph number 8 quick. Right now you can get this on Prime, so if you have Prime, it's worth checking out. I'd like to see it move to Tubi so everyone can get it for free. For a Jungle Slog, there are some great fights that are worth watching, but it's too much of a Jungle Slog for me to suggest paying for it.

For more info:

Thursday, May 28, 2020

Final Impact (1992)

I had always thought I'd reviewed this one before, but when I was putting together my Gary Daniels list on Letterboxd, I realized that that not only wasn't the case, but I hadn't even seen it. It was something I needed to rectify as soon as possible, which I'm doing now. In addition to me, this has also been covered by Comeuppance Reviews, Movies in the Attic, the Video Vacuum, and Fist of the B-List, so you can check out their sites to see what they all think. Also, if you haven't already, check us out on Letterbox. We have lists on movies we want to see, ones we have queued up to review, and lists like the Gary Daniels and Dolph Lundgren lists.

Final Impact is a PM Entertainment flick with Lamas as an old fighter who loses a big match and opens a strip club/fighting ring after. When the Ohio State Champ, Michael Worth, shows up and wants him to train him, Lamas thinks this kid has what it takes to beat Jake, the guy that took him down years ago.

This is what I'm talking about right here. Maybe it could have used more fighting, but beyond that it's just a fun PM Entertainment flick. Lamas is great in the lead, Worth does his part as the young upstart, and Kinmont holds the whole thing together. At the same time, there's plenty of stuff you can get a kick out of, like Lamas's fight with Jake at the Neon Graveyard in Las Vegas; or even the idea of the oil wrestling/strip club/karate club that Lamas runs, which, to be honest would actually be kind of a cool idea if it weren't for the state boxing commissions and the fact that people could die if they got a bad concussion in one of the fights. Now I'm meandering and it's only the third paragraph.

We haven't seen DTVC Hall of Famer Lorenzo Lamas since 2012, and I don't know about you, but I've missed him. I was going through some of the old posts, and at one time he was second to Dolph with the most. While he's still one of only 6 actors in the 30 Club, he's now only tied with Rothrock for the fifth most. I think for an indication of why, we can go back to the last film of his we'd done, Mexican Gold aka Return of the Outlaws. He's all over the cover and barely in the film. And we were finding that a lot. Couple that with the fact that there were movies like this out there of his that I'd thought I'd already done--The Swordsman and its sequel Gladiator Cop also come to mind--and you can see how he stalled while someone like his co-star in this, Gary Daniels, blew past him and into the 40 Club with Dolph. Recently I was on the Jacked Up Review Show podcast with Cam Sully, and I put Lamas 10th on my list of top DTV stars, behind Adkins at 9. It's possible I need to rethink that, that I may have been hasty in having Adkins jump him so soon.

Speaking of Gary Daniels, he only has a small role in this, but when you combine it with smaller fighter roles by another Hall of Famer, Art Camacho, and PM Mainstay Ian Jacklin, the three together work as a kind of PM fighter showcase that was really fun to see. While this is going to go down as a tag for Daniels and Camacho, like I did with Rothrock in the Saber Raine review, it won't count as a film for them, so I won't push any films they've done with bigger parts down my queue. I was going to say that in the past that kept me from doing more films with Daniels in the lead, because I didn't want to do too much Daniels all at once, but the truth is he has the second most tags after Dolph, and Camacho has the third most, so it doesn't really matter. As long as I can find the films, I can do the reviews.

As I mentioned above, Kathleen Kinmont's part was the emotional glue that held things together, especially with Worth and Lamas. Nowadays we applaud someone who can take a low-budget script shot on the quick and do more with it--look at Vivica A. Fox's success with David DeCoteau's "Wrong" movies. I think when we look back at Kinmont's PM career, we find she was just as professional and maybe even endured more--her lovemaking scene with Wings Hauser in Art of Dying comes to mind, and I can see Fox or another actress saying "that's not happening." Coming back to her PM Entertainment films after my hiatus, I think she's one of their unsung heroes, and hopefully as more of these films become available to the various streaming services out there, her contributions will be better recognized.

Finally, with this movie, PM will have 35 reviewed on here, putting them only a few away from Cannon as a movie house--Millennium has even more at 61, but I'm not sure where to put them. For PM to pass Cannon in tags would be a huge feat though. It may also mean I need to consider adding in Pepin and Merhi to the Hall of Fame, considering I already have Golan-Globus and Roger Corman in there. It's a testament to what PM meant to the DTV action world in the late 80s/early-to-mid 90s, and how a site like this wouldn't have been possible without them.

But the site is here, so it's time to wrap up. Right now this is on Tubi and Prime. It looks like a full-screen transfer, which isn't the worst thing in the world--you get to remember what it was like before widescreen TVs. If you want, I still have an old 13" TV kicking around if you really want to have the full experience.

For more info:

Saturday, May 23, 2020

Star Raiders: The Adventures of Saber Raine (2017)

I saw this on Tubi, and with Casper Van Dien and Cynthia Rothrock on the tin, plus the great James Lew, I figured this could be a fun time. Of course, whenever I think something is just going to be a good time, if often isn't, isn't it? So here's to hoping that it is instead of it isn't.

Star Raiders: The Adventures of Saber Raine is an adventure as bold as the size of its title, starring Casper Van Dien as the eponymous hero--or at least the name at the end of the long title eponymous. He's a former decorated soldier from earth who is disgraced after he attacks his own ships to help an alien woman escape. Now a hired mercenary, he's helping a troop of soldiers from another planet rescue their prince and princess who were captured and taken to a far away land. Along the way, they encounter all manner of evil beings looking to trip them up, plus everything with the prince and princess and their captor isn't what it seems. The only constant is we know Casper Van Dien is the man, and he knows how to get stuff done. (And wasn't Cynthia Rothrock in this?)

The IMDb user reviews of this were pretty harsh, and I feel like this is earnest enough that it doesn't deserve that. For me, this would have been a fantastic syndicated TV show in the late 90s, and I would've watched it between Hercules and Beastmaster episodes. As a movie, I'm not so sure. I loved a lot of the costumes and the creations for the aliens, but then James Lew's as the baddie with half his head taken off looked gross to me, so it was like it took away from that. Casper Van Dien as the rogue hero was fantastic, but because we had so many characters, we lost him for periods, and he was really underpinning the whole thing--especially since we lost Lew with his half-head costume, and Rothrock was only in it at the very end. The other thing was, I think between Van Dien and the budget for the costumes and the alien make-up, the budget wasn't what you'd want in the special effects department, and that betrayed a lot of what this was going for--again, something in a late 90s syndicated TV show we'd forgive, but maybe not as much in a sci-fi flick from 2017.

Casper Van Dien has become a favorite here at the DTVC--in part because in the past he's retweeted, reposted, and replied to my social media posts about our reviews of his films, which is always appreciated. In the last film we saw him in Showdown in Manila, we talked about how his roguish good guy totally stole the show from the guy who was supposed to be the lead, Alexander Nevsky. Here he's not stealing the show from anyone here, he's meant to anchor the whole thing, and I think he does as great a job as he did in Showdown. We need to get more of his stuff up here, because whether the film works or not, he seems to always be great in it, which is all you can ask for.

Again, I think the problem is we lose him because we have a lot of intrigue going on on the baddie end of things, and that's where a James Lew without half his head missing could have really been the Yang to Van Dien's Yin--or would he be the Yin to Van Dien's Yang? A good baddie really makes it in films like this, and we've seen Lew on the DTVC do many great turns as the baddie, and from my experience he does a better job with the top half of his head intact. I also noticed that it's been almost a decade since we've seen him, so it's too bad that we actually don't get to see him here, meaning I need to find something else he's been in so we actually get a chance to see him again.

Cynthia Rothrock, the film's one Hall of Famer, is in this for a tiny bit at the very end. It's enough for her to get a tag, but when it comes to doing Rothrock films here at the DTVC, we won't count it as a Rothrock post, so we won't move some of the ones where she has a starring role further down the list because of it. I think the idea is this is supposed to be a series of films, and as such, she would come in and reprise this character in a bigger way later. Just because Rothrock's role was scant, that doesn't mean the female action talent in this was overall. We had Brit Laree as one of the soldiers from the prince and princess's plane working with Van Dient; Sarah N. Salazar as the princess; and then Holly Westwood as alien woman Van Dien saves who now works with him. All three of them were great and it would be cool to see what they do going forward in the DTV action sphere.

I'm going to use this last paragraph to talk about the exceedingly long name this film has. We always joke about the number of two-word titles in the DTV world, but now with social media and the different ways we chat about movies online, shorter titles help in a lot of ways. One, they're easier to remember--if this were either just "Star Raiders" or "Saber Raine," I would know exactly what it is to tell anyone else I'm chatting with about it; but two, when I need to post about this review on social media, I'm stuck writing this seven-word title on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. When I look at all the reviews I have lined up after this, even the sequels don't have as many words in the title. Just like I prefer an 88-minute movie or less, I like a nice small title too.

And with that, it's time to wrap this up. This isn't horrible, and I think the fact that it is an earnest effort helps. The other thing that helps is the great Casper Van Dien performance. Overall, it takes me back to those 90s syndicated TV shows I loved, but that may or may not work for you. The fact that it's free on Tubi also helps--the only thing you're out is your time.

For more information:

Thursday, May 21, 2020

One Down, Two to Go (1982)

Back in February I had made a pledge to get more Williamson on the site. That was back in February, and now it's May, so it's hard to say how well I'm doing. One thing about this film is it was also featured in a podcast episode that I did with Jon Cross of the After Movie Diner, Miscellaneous Plumbing Fixtures, and Cross Talk, so you can listen to that episode for more insight; also if you go through his archive AMDs, he's actually interviewed Williamson, which is a great listen as well.

One Down, Two to Go is the de facto sequel to Three the Hard Way, and in it, Jim Kelly gets caught up in a mob boss who's trying to fix a karate tournament at New Jersey's Brendan Byrne Arena. Richard Roundtree tries to help, but he's taken out of commission too. That leaves their friends, Jim Brown and Fred Williamson, to come in and save the day. The New Jersey mobsters won't know what hit them.

If you compare this to Three the Hard Way, that one feels more like a Hollywood film; while this one, directed by Fred Williamson, feels like he took everything he learned in Italy and made the best film he could make despite his budgetary restrictions. Part of the reason he made this was the fact that Brown, Kelly, and Roundtree weren't getting the work they should have in Hollywood, and I think you can feel that in this, that Williamson is almost like "you guys shouldn't have to be in one of my movies, you should be with all those other stars." For us, of course, we reap the benefits, because we get them all in this flick, but we also know that Williamson is right. Kelly should have been Chuck Norris; Brown should have been getting more dramatic roles that showed off his talents; and Roundtree was every bit the leading man that his white male counter parts who were getting the biggest roles at that time were. This is as much an indictment on Hollywood, as it is a fun action romp, which I think is part of genius of Williamson as a filmmaker that never gets recognized like it should.

Williamson is one of four directors in the Hall of Fame (we don't count Dolph because he hasn't directed as many), but I think out of the four, I've done the fewest of his directed pieces here, which is bad of me. His films were ahead of the curve in a lot of ways, but in particular something like this predates what ends up happening on a much bigger scale about 5 years later, and that's having action-heavy films that do their damage primarily in the home viewing market. In a sense this is like a proto-DTV film. The reality is, we don't have the action genre as we know it, especially the DTV action genre, if it wasn't for Williamson and his innovative approaches to filmmaking--born out of necessity more than anything, but still innovative--which is a main reason why he's in the Hall of Fame.

The term "blaxploitation" is a loaded concept, and as Jon Cross explained when he was on the pod, any kind of " 'sploitation" is generally meant as a group of people, whether a nationality or ethnicity, in films that have exploitation elements like violence and sexuality. What we discussed further though, was that Hollywood took the term strictly as it was used with blaxploitation, and made that an excuse to dismiss a large pool of African American actors and actresses. Look at Pam Grier for example. Whenever a click-baity online magazine does their top ten lists of female action leads, it's full of Angelina Jolie and Scarlett Johansson, but not only is Grier not at the top, she often doesn't make the lists. There is no ability to even have a list like that without Pam Grier's contributions, yet she doesn't get that credit because her contributions are written off by some as just "blaxploitation." It was because of that that Jon stressed, and I was in agreement, that a film like this shouldn't be watched with derision or ironically; but also these are contributions to the film industry that we need to celebrate more. And hopefully I can make that happen with more posts.

That being said, this movie has some really fun moments, which is ultimately what we're here for. Brown and Williamson have the chemistry that you want in a buddy flick, and the rural Jersey mobsters are plenty bad enough for us to want to watch them getting beat up by these two. They also do some call-backs to Three the Hard Way, like when they shoot without needing to reload. That's the thing, in having his messages and trying to make sure he was depicting African Americans in a positive light compared to what Hollywood usually did, he still knew how to make an enjoyable movie on a limited budget, which ultimately is what keeps people coming back.

Finally, the opening scene takes place at Brenden Byrne Arena, which is now the Izod Center. I never had a chance to see the Devils play there--in fact, I've only seen NHL games in two arenas, the old Boston Garden, and the new TD Bank Garden in Boston--but watching the Devils in their 90s-2000s heyday, it definitely looked like a fun place to see a game. Now they play at the Prudential Center in Newark, which you can see from the Newark train station as you pull in, so it's a little easier for someone like me without a car in Philly to get to--of course, I live a mile from where the Flyers play and haven't caught one of their games yet, so maybe I should start there.

And with that NHL digression it's time to wrap this up. You can currently stream this on Tubi, and I think it's very necessary, if only for the fact that it's a really fun time with some real greats on-screen getting after it. In fact, there's a good amount of Williamson's 80s stuff on Tubi, so I'll be taking my own advice and getting more of them myself.

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Tuesday, May 19, 2020

Avengement (2019)

This was actually my nominee for the 1000th post, but when I put it out there for suggestions and saw some other great candidates--and also decided based on one that I would be going in another direction--I chose to spotlight the movies people nominated, and left this one out to do on my own. In addition to my review, you can see what our friend Mitch at the Video Vacuum thought; and we featured this on a podcast episode some months back with our friend Simon from Explosive Action.

Avengement has DTVC favorite Scott Adkins as a guy who escapes from prison after he's let out to see his dead mother before she passes. His plan is to get revenge on the people he puts there, so he holds a pub hostage and waits for the guy he wants to show. While he's waiting, we learn his story through a series of action-packed flashbacks, featuring some intense fight scenes by Adkins. All this leads to one big fight at the end. Has his time in prison prepared him to take on this many crazy English gangsters at once?

I have this as one of the best DTV flicks in recent memory. I can't remember something that's generated this much buzz and delivered in such a strong way--Black Dynamite is the only one that comes to mind, and that was almost ten years ago. First and foremost, they take the fight scene to this level of extreme, brutal art, that is fantastic to witness. Adkins underpins all of it with his combination of skills and extreme get-after-it-ness (I couldn't think of another word to describe it) that he throws into the role. Decisions on things like telling the movie in flashbacks, which usually feel gimmicky and contrived, worked here for me to keep it from feeling like every other prison flick. This is the Adkins you came for, and hopefully it'll only get better from here.

I recently gave my list of top DTV stars when I was on Cam Sully's Jacked Up Reviews podcast, and I put Adkins at 9. One could make the case that that's too soon for him to be in the top ten; others may say why only 9? I think he still has some work to do--and you wonder how much of it will continue to be in DTV with flicks like this, though I would put something like Recoil ahead of it, and unfortunately Daniels never made the jump to the big screen, so we'll see. Either way, Adkins is generating a lot of heat, and I feel like this is that movie where you say "this guy gets it," and as a fan of the genre, that's really all we can ask for.

This is another collaboration Adkins did with Jesse V. Johnson--and the third we've covered here, along with Triple Threat and The Debt Collector. As someone who started out in the stunt world, he's come over to directing with varying degrees of success, but I think this film allowed him to showcase exactly what he can do with the DTV action film, especially when paired with a talent like Adkins. Another former member of the stunt world who directs is Art Camacho, and all of his aren't perfect either, but if Johnson can approach Camacho's career, I think for us as fans, we couldn't ask for anything more.

In addition to Adkins, we had Craig Fairbrass as his brother. I think he's always great as the English heavy who adds a little bit more to the role. Whereas like a Vinnie Jones character might slam a guy's head in a car door, and you're waiting for that payoff of him doing it; with Fairbrass, you know his character would do it too, but we're satisfied with just the fact that we know he'd do it, if that makes sense--we don't need him to actually do it for that same Vinnie Jones payoff. I also liked Nick Moran for the same reason, and the two together form a combination that really works in offsetting Adkins's brutality without us feeling like they're any less sinister. Finally, we had Louis Mandylor again, who has become something of a Jesse V. Johnson mainstay. What I like about that is when a director can pull someone in they've worked with for a small role, they tend to nail it better. Ask Albert Pyun about all his mainstays. It's little things like that that can make or break a DTV film, especially when the margin for error is smaller.

Finally, because Adkins is all scarred up in this, I wanted to post a picture of him not scarred and with his hair intact for my former pod co-host Jamie, and everyone else out there that finds Adkins the dreamiest. It would be interesting to know which is worse for people when it comes to Adkins: making him affect an American accent for a role, or scarring his face. For me, it's just slightly the former, so scars over American accent.

Right now this is on Netflix, along with a lot of the Adkins/Johnson catalog. Get after it and make it happen. As Simon said when he was on the podcast, this is one of those that you show your friends who aren't into DTV, and they're like "I had no idea a DTV flick could be this good." I don't know where I'd put it on my best ever list, but it's definitely my favorite DTV flick since Black Dynamite. For the podcast episode, you can follow the link on the left-hand side to choose which platform you want to get it from, then look for episode 64, Avengement.

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