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

Saturday, May 14, 2022

The Killing Zone (1991)

Back in February, I had the guys from Comeuppance Reviews on the podcast to discuss our favorite Evan Lurie and Deron McBee, aka Malibu, movies. Out of the three movies I chose for Malibu, this was the only one I hadn't reviewed, so it's time to fix that. In addition to us and Comeuppance, Bulletproof Action and RobotGEEK's Cult Cinema have covered this as well.

The Killing Zone has Malibu as a guy whose uncle is almost killed by a drug lord, and somehow, Malibu ends up in a prison in Arizona doing hard labor. When the drug lord comes back, a cop who used to work with Malibu's uncle decides the only one who can stop him is Malibu, so he pulls some strings and gets him out of prison. At the same time, the drug lord has a beef with Malibu's uncle, so he keeps attacking the bar his uncle owns. While trying to find the drug lord, Malibu mixes in some reps on the incline bench, and rips the collars off his shirts so they fit over his neck and too sweet pecs. Eventually, the baddie kidnaps the uncle and Malibu's love interest, Melissa Moore, leading to a big confrontation out in the desert somewhere. Will Malibu prevail? Will he prevail in time to get his reps in?

This is pure Malibu, and in that sense it works. If you ever wondered what a Malibu-led actioner would be, this is it, but it feels like this only works in the early 90s. His hair, outfits, sunglasses, and dangling earring only work in the early 90s. But the fact that we had an early 90s, and Malibu worked in that era, makes us all that much luckier that this movie exists as an artifact recording that moment in time. Beyond that, this isn't the greatest. The action is pretty good, but not great for the time it was made; and the story seems to make no sense. We're given Malibu and his uncle as these two great cops/DEA agents or whatever, yet, they keep going back to the uncle's bar, despite the fact that the baddies know they hang out there and keep attacking them there. Wouldn't that be the first place you'd avoid if you were the heroes? In that sense, this is good strictly for the Malibu factor.

But that factor is a strong enough one. In 90s action, we're used seeing Malibu in supporting roles, where his presence rounds out an overall great experience in classics like Skyscraper and T-Force, and while I think that's ultimately where he's at his best, the fact that he can lead a film like this is great too. The problem unfortunately is he didn't get a lot of great action lead scenes. We see him at the prison work yard in the beginning fighting a fellow inmate and taking him down, and we have a sense that that's what this is going to be every fifteen minutes or so, but we kind of lose that, and the film doesn't know how much to give action parts to Malibu, and how much to give them to the uncle; and then the end confrontation scene with the baddie, Malibu doesn't deliver the final shot, which was also a disappointment. So as much fun as it was to get Malibu in the lead, the film didn't do as much with him as they could have.


 

This was distributed by PM Entertainment, but wasn't produced by the PM team of Pepin and Merhi, and also the Tubi version didn't have the PM logo at the beginning. If you look up PM and sort their movies by release date, this is number 16, so very early in the process for them, and this kind of feels like that, like you can almost see the eventual Skyscraper, Sweeper, Recoil, etc. that they would eventually produce for us. I've talked about this before, but looking at the timeline, as the 80s are ending, the Cannon wave is cresting on the back of some bad investments like Masters of the Universe and Superman IV, but then the PM wave is starting, and while the two companies put out different styles of action movies, for us as fans, it led to this fantastic decade or so run from the mid-80s to the mid-90s, and what's great about a movie like this one, is we're seeing that PM wave building from off in the horizon.

Melissa Moore plays Malibu's love interest in this, and while I think she's known as a scream queen, we've seen her here in a good amount of action films, including one of her more famous turns in Samurai Cop, and as the female lead in Jerry Trimble's One Man Army. She doesn't have a lot of work in this though, she has a love scene with Malibu, hangs out at the uncle's bar with him, and then gets kidnapped. She stopped making movies in the early 2000s, and then came back for Samurai Cop 2--except her IMDb shows some porn movies after that. It looks like there's a Adult Cinema actress who is also named Melissa Moore, and the crowdsourced approach to IMDb titles has caused her and the scream queen Melissa Moore to be conflated on a few pictures. This is why William H. Macy isn't Bill Macy, because he didn't want to be confused with Maude's husband Arthur from Maude--and despite this was still confused for him at the 1997 Academy Awards. 

Finally, in the podcast episode I did with the guys from Comeuppance, we combined Malibu with Evan Lurie, in part because they exuded a great meathead quality in the 90s DTV actioners they were in. For some reason, and I can't tell why, the 90s meathead works much better than the 2010s/2020s meathead. Maybe it's the hair, the voice, the language they use, I don't know. Seeing Malibu here with his mullet, dangling earring, and shirts that he ripped the collars off of so they fit over his massive neck and pecs, it works. The modern version of him would be sleeves of tats, busy Affliction T, probably head with shaved back and sides with a hard part, and refers to attractive women as "smoke shows." The idea of putting Malibu or Lurie in that box makes me shudder. I think it's another reason why those 80s/90s actioners work so much better than their modern counterparts, elements like a Lurie or Malibu enhance the film in a way that makes it more fun, not more of an eye-roller.

And with that, let's wrap this up. Currently you can stream this for free in the States on Tubi, and I think that's the best way to experience this. It's a solid early PM actioner with Malibu, who's usually a supporting cast member, as the lead. And for the podcast episode I did with Comeuppance on Malibu, it's episode 92 in the archives, "Malibu and Evan Lurie." It's a great conversation, and worth checking out if you haven't yet.

For more info: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0102214

And if you haven't yet, check out my new novel, A Girl and a Gun, at Amazon in paperback or Kindle!

Saturday, May 7, 2022

Action U.S.A. (1989)

Back in January we had Jon Cross from The After Movie Diner and Miscellaneous Plumbing Fixtures on the podcast to discuss this gem. It was a great conversation and well worth checking out. I had been meaning to cover this for a long time, so it was good to finally make it happen, and now we're making it happen on the site too. In addition to us, Ty and Brett at Comeuppance, Fred the Wolf at Full Moon Movies, and Chris the Brain at Bulletproof action have covered this.

Action U.S.A. follows a woman named Carmen (Barri Murphy) whose boyfriend is killed by some baddies looking for the diamonds he stole. That's when two FBI agents, Osborn and McKinnon (Gregory Scott Cummins and William Hubbard Knight), come to her rescue, as they've been tasked with finding the diamonds too. In response head baddie Cameron Mitchell hires famed assassin Ross Hagen to take the girl out and get the diamonds back. Really, none of this plot matters, it's just about how many awesome stunts we can cram into the film.

And do they ever cram the stunts in. This is 90 minutes of pure late 80s action. It starts with a car chasing a helicopter with a man hanging out of it through the city streets of Waco, TX. That chase takes us through various stunts before the helicopter gets ditched, we resume with two cars, and it ends with the boyfriend and our heroine flying over a school bus, and the guys chasing them flying through a camper. And that's just the beginning! The thing is, this film doesn't need a plot, but the fact that it has one and it makes any sense at all is amazing unto itself. On the podcast, Jon said every five years or so we should just give some stuntfolk a bunch of money and set them down in Texas with some equipment and let them have at it, and after seeing the result in this film, I couldn't agree more. 

One of the funnier aspects of this is how the heroes, especially Gregory Scott Cummins's character, aren't that good at what they do. Usually the hero is an expert, like a weapon who is unleashed on the baddies. Here though, Cummins and Knight are constantly getting beaten up, losing shootouts, losing the baddies. Cummins at one point gets caught by Ross Hagen and his men--which included the great Hoke Howell--and is just beaten up continuously; or there's a scene where the guys go into a good ol' boys bar, and the film makes light of the fact that Knight, being black, isn't exactly welcome there, so he gets tossed through some cedar lattice by the patrons. The thing is though, this isn't played overtly like a Frank Drebin or something, it's more something you start to realize gradually as you're watching the film, which makes it all the better.

The number of great B-movie names in this is fantastic too. Gregory Scott Cummins, who usually is a baddie or heavy, is fun as the hero. He seems to get exactly what the filmmakers are going for with his part, and he delivers. As a MSTie I'm always a fan of seeing Ross Hagen in anything, but here he cuts a particularly interesting figure. When Hoke Howell and his partner pick him up at the airport, he arrives in a personal aircraft that's so small he can literally lift up the back and tow it where he wants to park it. He's also in this ridiculous cowboy get up, which he says he's wearing to blend in with the locals. Then we have William Smith as Cummins and Knight's boss. As Jon said in the pod, if you have a B-movie actor you're a fan of, chances are he's been chewed out by William Smith from behind a desk, and that's exactly the part he's playing here, the admonitions to the guys under him sufficiently gravelly. Finally there's Cameron Mitchell, he who never met a sit-down role he didn't love, here he sits in a hot tub or a couch, mostly complaining to people on the phone. It's all the accoutrements that make an 80s movie great, you just feel like you're where you should be when you're watching it.

Then there's the stunts, which are next level. When we see the guys at a gas station, and there's a big storage tank in the background, we know it's only a matter of time before that goes up, but yet they still manage to do it in a way that isn't perfunctory or pedestrian. The plot is a vehicle to get us from one stunt scene to the next: how can we put the characters in a circumstance that allows us to blow something up, set someone on fire, or throw someone out of a building? This is how action is supposed to be. When we see "action" listed as the genre on the tin, this is what we hope for, and seldom get, at least to this level. That's okay though, they can't all be this awesome, but they could all be closer, right? It feels like the filmmakers had a clock in their head as they wrote the script, "oh, we've had too many consecutive pages of dialog, we need to insert an action sequence here." But even then, a chase scene isn't just a chase scene, it's a pace car running off the road and through a house, which causes the house to explode. Why not, right? Just set up the IV and pump this directly into my veins.


 

Finally, as a certified English as a second language teacher, it's interesting to note that when this came out in the late 80s, we still needed to put periods between the letters in an acronym. Now it's standard to write acronyms without them, but I guess because this film was made when we did, we couldn't go back and Lucas the title to make it fit the modern standard, so we still have the periods. I was trying to think of other standards in English that have changed like that, and one that comes to mind is double-spacing before a new sentence. That one's even more recent, because if you look at my older posts, they all have the double-space after the period, etc. I think I may have held onto that standard longer than it was considered standard, and with my first novel, I had to go back and delete the second space before self-publishing it. It was an arduous process, and now I just single-space all the time.

And with that, let's wrap this up. In the States this is available for free on Tubi. That's a great way to see it, but this is also one of those greats that's worth adding to your collection as well, and Vinegar Syndrome has a great version. This is the 80s action you came for. Also the podcast episode is in the archives, episode 91, so definitely check that out when you get a chance, Jon and I have a great conversation.

For more info: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0096757

And if you haven't yet, check out my new novel, A Girl and a Gun, at Amazon in paperback or Kindle!

Saturday, April 30, 2022

Heartbeat (2020)

Way back when I reviewed Choke after an email from Mad Sin Cinema brought it to my attention, that same email let me know about this film, and I watched it then too, planning to review it soon after Choke. Somehow though that didn't happen, and after getting an email from them about The Wrong Sarah, I realized I still hadn't reviewed this, so with this month's indie spotlight, I'm finally making it happen.

Heartbeat isn't about the Don Johnson song of the same name, but rather is about Jennifer (Nicole D'angelo), a reporter who's discovering that people connected to a recent story are turning up dead. Now she needs to dig back into her research and figure out who could be doing this, and what their motives might be, before she ends up dead herself. At the same time, she's forming a budding romance with a local police detective (Chris Spinelli). Does he know more than he's letting on? And what about the creepy photographer (Shane Ryan-Reid) who seems to be following her around? What does he know? When is Shane Ryan-Reid not a murderer in a movie?

This is another interesting one from Gregory Hatanaka. There's some strange alchemy going on with these films for me, because I feel like they shouldn't work, but for some reason I can't articulate, they do--which is an issue if I'm writing a review of the movie. In the IMDb reviews, someone mentioned the kills had notes of Giallo films, and that might explain some of it, even though I'm not as familiar with that world of cinema; but I did like the stylized way he depicted the kills, so that probably explains it. The lead, played by Nicole D'angelo--who also co-wrote--is much realer than the usual lead in a murder mystery movie like this, and I think that's another element that works. It's almost like this real person has been dumped into this crazy Hatanaka space, and we can use her to anchor ourselves as we try to make sense of things. Then we have the frenetic energy of Shane Ryan-Reid, which, though it's really toned down here for this part, still enhances the proceedings. And then of course you have a runtime of 73 minutes, which never hurts. I don't know if this movie is for everyone, but it worked enough for me.

Nicole D'angelo has done a bunch of movies since 2019 for Cinema Epoch, of which I've only scene Choke--plus she had a part in Samurai Cop 2--but this is one of five she's written, plus she also has five she's directed or co-directed with Hatanaka, so this looks like this is one of many she's had a more creative hand in beyond acting. As I said above, the thing I think she brings to the proceedings here is she's written and she plays someone who feels real, which adds a dimension we seldom see in this kind of movie. Usually the female lead is someone who's not quite human, more like a caricature of an idea of a woman. Beyond the sense that she helps to anchor us while we navigate Hatanaka's crazy world, we also get an authenticity that allows us to follow her when her character is reacting to danger or recovering from an attack. I also liked that the movie sets up like a traditional murder mystery, where she's going to have a man that can save her, but then ultimately it's up to her to save herself when she's caught by the baddie, which I thought was a great decision. Considering the other films she's written or directed for Cinema Epoch are also on Tubi, this won't be the last film of hers we cover.

Shane Ryan-Reid is back as well. As I usually do, I felt like this movie could have used more of his frenetic energy, but I think the amount we got worked better, because it didn't allow us to take the focus off of D'angelo, which is where we needed it. To me it also showed that Ryan-Reid can do this kind of character, where maybe he's not turning the dial to 11 and breaking off the nob, but even in the understated tone there's a sense of menace in there that keeps us from getting too comfortable. The scenes with D'angelo were great too, because I liked the way they played off each other. Combine that with the scenes she has with her other male co-star Chris Spinelli, which had a different kind of energy, but also worked really well. In a way, the Ryan-Reid scenes with D'angelo remind us we're in a Hatanaka film, while the ones she does with Spinelli almost make us forget we're in Hatanaka's cinematic world, and D'angelo does a great job weaving them together.

Like Choke, Hatanaka is bringing his own style to the proceedings, though unlike Choke, I think this has a bit more cohesion to it, while still breaking down the classic murder mystery movie. Also where this differs from Choke is, while Choke couldn't (at least for me) escape the tired trope of the older man and teen girl, even with Hatanaka's stylized shooting and Ryan-Reid's and Sarah Brine's performances; I think here, the murder mystery genre was crying out for a female lead that broke Hollywood conventions, so once we were able to establish D'angelo as that break from the norms, Hatanaka wasn't working uphill like he was in Choke, so the rest of the movie could play out much more easily. Both films though show Hatanaka as someone doing some interesting things that I enjoyed, so, like with Shane Ryan-Reid and Nicole D'angelo, I'm looking forward to seeing more of his stuff.

Finally, I wasn't sure where to go with this last paragraph, in part because the movie is so short, there isn't as much to cover. That's good though, I'd rather struggle through finding my seventh paragraph than struggle through a 100-minute movie. In a world where the new Batman movie is 3 hours, to see that Cinema Epoch is staying in the sub-80-minute range is refreshing. Yes, I imagine budgetary constraints play as big a role in that as anything, but it's still nice. I've always been a big proponent of supporting indie works, and when the movie is only asking for a small amount of time, it's a lot easy to give that support. That new Batman movie, notsomuch.

And with that, let's wrap this up. You can currently get this on Tubi. Like Hatanaka's other work, I don't know if this is for everyone, but based on the reviews I'm seeing on IMDb, this may be for more people than I thought, which is good. It's definitely unique, so if you've got 70 minutes to kill and are looking for something different, give this a shot.

For more info: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt11127512

And if you haven't yet, check out my new novel, A Girl and a Gun, at Amazon in paperback or Kindle!

Saturday, April 23, 2022

Hard Ticket to Hawaii (1987)

In March of 2021 I did a podcast episode with Mitch from the Video Vacuum on Dallas Connection, but really it was on all the Sidaris LETHAL Ladies movies. Since then I've been trying to get all of those films reviewed here on the site, which brings us now to this gem. In addition to us and Mitch, our friends Todd Gaines at Bulletproof action and RobotGEEK's Cult Cinema, have covered this.

Hard Ticket to Hawaii is kind of a sequel to Malibu Express, only now we have Cody's cousin Rowdy (Ronn Moss), and he works for the DEA with Donna (Donna Speir) and Jade (Harold Diamond). When Speir and her close friend, Taryn (Hope Marie Carlton), come across some stolen diamonds, they open up a world of hurt for local drug kingpin Seth Romero (Rodrigo Obregon), and he wants revenge. He takes their friend and fellow DEA agent, Edy (Cynthia Brimhall) hostage, and now it's up to Rowdy and crew to go in and get her out. At the same time, Donna and Taryn were transporting a large snake that got loose, and said snake has been contaminated with cancer. With all this happening, when will our heroes find time for topless hot tub moments and love scenes?

This film is simply fantastic. What else is there to say? Like I don't even know if that description does the movie justice, but by the same token, if you haven't seen this, I don't know how much I want to tell you and risk ruining you experiencing it all organically. It has a mix of serious and tongue-in-cheek that few films are able to pull off well, but Sidaris just gets it, and his cast does too. The one nit you may pick is that a lot of the backstory is delivered in dialog. "You're did this, this, and this some time in the past." "But do you remember when you did this, this, and this?" The thing is though, we always say, don't let the plot get in the way of the action, and I'd rather a line of dialog do what a five (or, gasp, ten!) minute scene would do so we get more people getting blown up with rocket launchers, more topless hot tub scenes, and more dirt bikes driving through walls of houses. This is the pure 80s Sidaris gem you came for.

While this is technically the sequel to Malibu Express, this is really the one that sets the stage for what the next ten of Sidaris's LETHAL Ladies movies will be; only after this one, the Abilene who can't shoot character gets diminished, and Donna Speir's character becomes the lead, up until she leaves the series and Julie Strain comes in. We also get our first Rodrigo Obregon as the baddie in this one, and he sticks around for all of the next ten films--meaning he probably should get a tag on here soon too. This establishes what I understood late-night cable viewing to be growing up, and while before I revisited all of them for the podcast episode I did with Mitch I couldn't tell you one movie from another, they still had that indelible impact that played a large role in getting me here to creating this site, and I think that can't be understated. In the trivia Sidaris said he funded this with the money he made from Malibu Express so he wouldn't be beholden to a studio. We here at the DTVC always want to support indie filmmakers, but also, it means we wouldn't have had the classics we ended up with had Sidaris been forced to compromise, and for that I'm grateful.

Also according to the IMDb trivia, Donna Speir said she was intoxicated for much of the production, but that Andy and Arlene Sidaris liked what she did and offered her a chance to come back in the sequel, which led to her getting sober. That decision to bring her back also changes the tenor of these movies from standard actioners led by fun, philandering playboys, to more female-driven films which weren't the standard at that time. We talk about how so few movies we do here on the DTVC pass the Bechdel Test, but this one does--even if Hope Marie Carlton is topless in one of the scenes. There's another scene where Sidaris plays a seedy filmmaker meeting with an actress he wants to cast. She says to him "you practically raped me last night!" and he tries to gaslight her and tell her how much he likes her as a person and wants to see her succeed. Not only does it give us a glimpse of what Hollywood was almost 30 years before Me Too--I mean Sidaris sounds exactly how Weinstein sounded when he was caught on tape trying to explain away an assault on an actress when he was talking to her the next day--but it also puts these LETHAL Ladies movies into a different kind of exploitation category. Because of how ahead of their time they were as far as female action leads, maybe we should be putting Speir up there as one of the best female action leads of all time.

Anytime I'm watching a movie from the 80s, it's fun to immerse myself in the trends and fashions that were cool at that time, but it was interesting here to see a couple trends that are popular now. One, on a few occasions the women wear leggings and boots, which is pretty much standard attire nowadays. When Speir and Carlton join Moss and Diamond in storming the baddie's lair to rescue their friend, they could've been wearing the same thing today and no one would've noticed--Moss on the other hand in his Speedo would've been a bit much. Also in storming the baddie's lair, Diamond opted for a man bun to keep his hair out of his face. It's not like the modern man bun though, it was more like what an older female guest star on All in the Family would've sported. Beyond that, there was one old term that I loved hearing. When one of the baddies passes Moss and Diamond by riding a skateboard upside down on his hands, Moss says "he must be smoking some heavy doobies." I don't remember the last time I referred to a joint as a "dooby." And not only that, but "heavy doobies," Just more of why this movie is so amazing.

Finally, people may think the snake in this looks ridiculous, but to me, what looks ridiculous is when people use real snakes in movies instead of just leaving the snakes alone to be snakes in the wild; or when people in Florida need pythons as pets, then let the snakes escape, so now they're in the ecosystem trying to swallow deer and alligators. Give me all the rubber snake puppets you have as the alternative. Just like, I want CGI lions, tigers, and bears, no matter how fake they look, instead of needing the real animals on movie sets. You want to have a real cat sitting on crate like we had during the end credits of this? That works for me. You need to have a chimp playing basketball? No, leave the damn chimp alone. If Lucas can use computers to insert Hayden Christensen into the end of Return of the Jedi, we can use computers to replace animals in our movies--with Hayden Christensen? And if it's not a computer, I'm happy with the puppet snake they used here.

And with that, let's wrap this up. As of my writing this, you can get this on Tubi here in the States. It's an absolute must watch, but also with it on Tubi, it's good for a rewatch as well if you haven't seen it in a while. Finally, you can find the podcast episode Mitch and I did on Sidaris movies in the archives under the title "Dallas Connection."

For more info: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0093146

And if you haven't yet, check out my new novel, A Girl and a Gun, at Amazon in paperback or Kindle!

Saturday, April 16, 2022

Dancin': It's On! (2015)

When I was going through Gary Daniels's filmography for the Letterboxd list I made, this mysterious gem stood out--along with The Wrong Child--but it seemed it was nowhere to be found. Alas, I kept looking, and lo and behold, Tubi picked it up. At the same time as I was watching it, Will from Exploding Helicopter was watching it too, and thought it would be best to take advantage of fate by having me guest on his podcast to discuss it. That episode was released last year, so you can check it out in the show archives.

Dancin': It's On! has Witney Carson of Dancing with the Stars as young lady who's been sent to live with her estranged father, Gary Daniels, who owns nice hotel resort in Panama Beach, FL. She's into dancing, which brings her into the orbit of a young man, Chehon Wespi-Tschopp of So You Think You Can Dance, who is also quite the dancer. This is an issue, because he's just a dishwasher, and Daniels does not want his daughter dating a dishwasher. At the same time, there's a big dance contest, and it would seem these two would be perfect for this. Will fate bring them together the way it brought Will and I for the podcast episode we did?

As you can imagine, this isn't our usual fare here at the DTVC, so with that in mind, I probably should approach this one differently as opposed to a Dolph actioner or Troma horror flick. It has its holes for sure, like how Wespi-Tschopp as a dishwasher seemed to be washing dishes off and on all day--which as a former dishwasher myself was particularly grating; or why Daniels didn't want her to date the dishwasher, but the guy he did want for her was the head bellhop, like that's that much more of a high-end career? But overall it's kind of fun, and I think David Winters's earnest attempt at making a last dance film for his legacy is something to appreciate. Then there's the exploding helicopter, which is what brought this into Will's orbit. Wespi-Tschopp, after getting into a fight with Carson, has one of those angry dance routines, a la Bacon in Footloose, and when the routine brings him to the resort's pool, he starts throwing patio furniture into it. At the same time, David Winters is dreaming about his son dying in a helicopter explosion while serving in Iraq, which causes him to wake up and see Wespi-Tschopp tossing lawn chairs into the deep end as part of his angry dance routine. He intervenes, explaining to the young man that he was once a dance star himself, and he'd be happy to help him train for a routine that doesn't involve throwing anything into a pool.

This is 54 films on the DTVC for 50 Club Member Gary Daniels, but the first of the new year. This, like The Wrong Child and his religious movies, is another quirk in his career. Unlike The Wrong Child though, where he was one of the stars, he's very much a supporting character here, which had us wondering why he did it at all. He doesn't have a dance number, and the closest thing to action is when he hits a punching bag while working out to try and intimidate Wespi-Tschopp. The thing is, if they'd removed the construct of Daniels wanting Carson to date the head bellhop (played by another dancer, Matt Marr), they could have given Daniels more to work with. Just the same, this is an interesting addition to his filmography, and the only reason we're reviewing it here is because he did it. We'll get back into more of his straight-ahead actioners from here, but we need to do them all eventually, so why not get this one in the can now.

This was one of the last films written by the great David Prior, who, with David Winters, put out a lot of DTV flicks through AIP. No, this doesn't feature a corrugated iron building shanty town, or appearances by his brother Ted or the great William Zipp, though those would have been some nice touches for us DTV action fans. We lost prior in August of 2015, only a couple months before his 60th birthday, and only a couple months before this film came out. When you think about it, you combine his passing with Albert Pyun's debilitating illness sidelining him around the same time, that's two heavy hitters in the DTV world no longer putting out work, and I think we felt that loss of work more than we've realized. With all the talk of how the overall quality of DTV films has dipped since the 2010s, this was one reason we haven't considered, but I think it is important.

Getting back to David Winters as director, for someone who was more into the musical/dance film genre, he has some solid DTV actioners to his credit, including some Ginty classics like Code Name Vengeance and Mission Kill--plus the Reb Brown MSTK great Space Mutiny. In addition to this, as mentioned above, he did a lot through AIP in producing many more gems. I've finally, with this movie, given him the tag he so greatly deserves, which puts this as his sixth film on the site. Out of all of them though, this is the one that feels like the passion project, which makes the DTV action that much more astounding. It's like if Gary Daniels didn't do just one dance film, but 15, plus produced another 20. He left us in 2019 at the age of 80, and while I think he'd want his legacy to be all the dance work he did, he also leaves behind an indelible contribution to the golden age of 80s and 90s DTV action, for which we'll always be appreciative.

Finally, I was trying to think if this is the first film with a mime in it that we've done on the site. When I saw it, I tweeted at Will to see if this was the first exploding helicopter film to feature a mime, but he thought A View to a Kill did as well; and it was through that tweet that he realized we were watching this at the same time, and decided to have me on the podcast episode. I feel like, 1100+ films in, we must have had a mime at some point, even if it was just a goofy Paris establishing shot, or even a guy as part of a heist disguised as one, but if there was, I can't think of it. Unfortunately, while the mime makes an appearance, spoiler alert, he doesn't have any scenes with Daniels, let alone any scenes where he has to fight Daniels. Tell me that wouldn't have made this film an instant classic? Maybe Daniels roundhousing the mime through a cheap plaster wall?

Alas, we get nothing of the sort here, but if you're a Gary Daniels--or an exploding helicopter--completist, this is a must, just for the quirk factor alone. As of my writing this, it's available free on Tubi here in the States, so you don't even have much of a financial commitment. And if you haven't yet, you need to check out the Exploding Helicopter podcast. I get it on iTunes, but I think it's available on most major podcatchers.

For more info: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt2598580

And if you haven't yet, check out my new novel, A Girl and a Gun, at Amazon in paperback or Kindle!

Saturday, April 9, 2022

Code of Honor (2016)

With Mr. Seagal turning 70 this weekend, we had to do one of his movies to celebrate, and this one's been in the can for a long time, so what better time to review it--especially since soon I'll be getting to the point where I'll need to watch it again in order to remember what happens in it. In addition to us, our friend Mitch at the Video Vacuum has done this one as well.

Code of Honor has Seagal as a retired military colonel who has snapped and is now waging a vigilante war against local drug dealers and mobsters. The cops have no idea how to stop him, but as luck would have it, his former protege, Craig Sheffer, is in town, and he knows what they need to do to take him down. The problem is, Sheffer has his own demons to tackle. When a dancer at a local club is a witness to one of Seagal's attacks, Sheffer agrees to help her, and protecting her and her son proves to be the chance at redemption he's needed. At the same time, criminals are still dying. What does Sheffer know about his former mentor that could help bring him down? It turns out they're connected in a way that goes much deeper than just Sheffer trying to stop him.


 

For a Seagal DTV actioner, especially one from this period, this isn't too bad. Mitch had this as his best DTV flick since Pistol Whipped, which I agree with and think was definitely true when it came out, and really only now I'd personally put Attrition over it. The major difference between this and Attrition though, is in Attrition we had a totally invested Seagal, whereas here we have our usual not invested Seagal, but the film construct makes it all work. Seagal doesn't talk until 48 minutes in. It works. He sits most of the time. Same thing, it worked with what they were going for here. The problem is, the card this film played from a story standpoint, can only be played once--it's the film equivalent of a gun with only one bullet, and they fire it here, so no other movie can use this approach to mitigating the Seagal Factor. Beyond that, the action was good, Sheffer was solid, and Louis Mandylor was the DTV mainstay we've come to know and love. For 2010s DTV Seagal, this is a pretty good bet.

By my count, we have three Seagal films left, Cartels, Gutshot Straight, and End of a Gun; and then we have others like Clementine and The Onion Movie if we want to do that. It makes sense, as he hits the big seven-oh, that he'd slow down some. We can compare his turn in this to another vigilante flick, Death Wish V, where Bronson was 73 when he made that. Is that the number for Seagal? Or should we expect him to go beyond that? An 80-year-old Seagal still making DTV actioners? And considering Bronson was killing people with remote control soccer balls in that movie, and also considering Seagal has been sitting more in his films since he's hit his 60s, maybe Death Wish V is the model for the newly septuagenarian Seagal going forward. I for one would be okay with that. This film also provides a roadmap for a potential less active Seagal, but, as I mentioned above, it's the gun with one bullet, and the film has already shot the bullet, so another film can't use this story device. 


This is our fourth Craig Sheffer film here on the site, but this might have been my favorite role of his. He does the heavy lifting expected of someone costarring in a Seagal DTV actioner, but it doesn't feel like he's doing the heavy lifting to support Seagal. The way the story unfolds, it slowly becomes more about Sheffer, which is very different from the usual Seagal fare where Seagal remains the main character around which the story revolves, but he sits while the younger star has all the hard action scenes. It's the perfect mitigation of all the limitations Seagal puts on a production he's in, and Sheffer is great in his part to make it all work. I don't know how many more times we'll see Sheffer on here, but he has a fair amount of older DTV stuff that we haven't done yet, so this definitely won't be the last time. Another DTV mainstay who we've been seeing a lot of here lately is Louis Mandylor. He's in that new breed in the mold of Eric Roberts where he's trying to pump out as many films in a year as he can, yet unlike Roberts he also has some pretty substantial parts in some of these movies, especially the Jesse V. Johnson actioners. He I definitely can say this isn't the last time we'll see him, because he's been in some films I have in the can that I'm ready to review.

One of my favorite comic book characters is The Punisher, and I appreciated the way this movie used the Punisher Paradigm. It's easy to just rip off that concept, but they did some unique things that worked. By the same token, I like the idea of Seagal as the actual Punisher in a reboot DTV film series. If you think about it, his first appearance was in Spider-Man 129 in 1974, which would've made Seagal 22, so he could be a modern, elder Punisher, making sense of nearly five decades of killing. That's the thing with comic book characters, instead of aging they're often rebooted, but for someone like the Punisher, who has no superpowers, he'd age like the rest of us, and it would be great to see that ground covered. There is some hope now that despite Disney taking over the Netflix Marvel shows, they haven't cut them at all; by the same token, could we see Disney doing the Punisher, especially a 70-year-old Seagal Punisher, the way it needs to be done?

Finally, back to Seagal, in addition to those last few DTV flicks I have to do here, there's the matter of the True Justice releases. For those that aren't sure what those are, instead of releasing Seagal's True Justice series as complete seasons on DVD, they released a series of two-episode "movies," and these "movies" are now available on Tubi. What's interesting is these were once listed on Letterboxd as part of his filmography, but have since been removed, I think because they're technically not movies; though, in the DTV world, we see this thing a lot, especially with failed TV shows, they'll be merged and packaged as movies to recoup some of the lost revenue on them. I guess the thing with these True Justice ones is we'll worry about them when we finish the last few actual DTV movies Seagal has left that we still haven't reviewed. It is very Seagal though that he would have his TV series released this way, isn't it?

And with that, let's wrap this up. As of my writing this, you can stream this for free on Tubi. I think if you're looking for great Seagal on his 70th birthday, a classic like Hard to Kill or Marked for Death is a better way to go; but as far as DTV Seagal from the 2010s, this is one of the best--which isn't saying much, but still means this is a good time.

For more info: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt4060866

And if you haven't yet, check out my new novel, A Girl and a Gun, at Amazon in paperback or Kindle!

Saturday, April 2, 2022

Felon (2008)

Last year I was a guest on Francis Rizzo III's KilmerKast podcast, and we discussed this film. I've been meaning to review it here since then, but something else seemed to always bump it down the list, so once we got through my February and March posts, I made a point of getting this up first thing in April, and here we are. In addition to us, Cool Target Action Reviews has covered this, so you can go there to see what they thought.

Felon has Stephen Dorff as a guy with a wife, a young child, and a contracting business that's doing well. All that changes one night when an intruder breaks into their house, and after he chases the guy outside, he strikes him in the head with a baseball bat, killing him. The cops decide this isn't a simple case of self-defense, so he ends up in the system, where, to save money he takes a plea that only gives him three years in prison. That doesn't work out so well either, because on the way to the prison a guy is shanked, and the weapon is stashed under Dorff's seat. Afraid to rat the killer out, he gets put in the maximum security unit, where the head guard is pitting prisoners against each other in brutal brawls. Will Dorff make it out of the system alive?

Brutal is one way to describe this. Visceral is another, especially with the fights. These aren't nicely choreographed affairs like we saw in Avengement--though those were brutal too--instead we had two people whaling on each other. The realistic view of jail and prison that this movie gives us isn't fun at all, which makes this a bit of a tough watch. The problem for me came in when we had some holes in the plot. That's the thing, I can do not fun if the story's compelling and believable. The first thing is Dorff foregoes an attorney for a public defender to save money. Later we find out that they had money available that they could have used for his defense. Why didn't he do that? Any decent lawyer--which for the money he was talking about having, he could've afforded--could have pled this thing down to probation. Once we find out about this money, it's like, why are we here watching him go through all this? Second, the end of the movie requires a lot of Hail Marys for it to work. When the protagonists need a lot of luck for it to all go right, it's harder to buy in, and again, this movie needed that buy-in. Also, not necessarily a bad thing, but the film touches on some things, like the prison-industrial complex, where the number one money maker in the town is the prison, but it was beyond the scope of their 104-minute runtime to really get into it. Just the same, the stark, realistic view of our jail and prison system was very necessary and very well done, and to me that's really where this movie makes its money.

Val Kilmer was the reason why we were talking about this at all, and I've realized I didn't mention him in the first three paragraphs. He's interesting here as the mercurial prisoner in for life after he avenged his wife and daughter's deaths by killing the men responsible and their families. He ends up in the same cell as Dorff after he starts a riot in his previous prison. He's a bit of the wise lifer who shows Dorff the ropes, but what I liked was the film depicted him having to go through the same humiliating rituals of prison as everyone else. Often these movies have a character like him, and the guards and fellow inmates pay him deference so he doesn't have to deal with things like strip searches or having his hands cuffed behind him before he leaves his cell. I think in that sense, Kilmer leans into this role and fills exactly what the filmmakers were looking for, which I really appreciated. The goatee he sported, maybe notsomuch.

This is our fifth Stephen Dorff film on the DTVC, the last being in 2011 when we posted Shadowboxer. The thing about him here, is he had a bit of the shine of child actor on him, and despite the work he did to immerse himself in this part, I kept seeing the cool 2000s star who always got into trouble. I always that early e-cigs commercial he did, where he's standing on the beach in his James Dean pea coat with collar up, face perfectly stubbled and hair perfectly coiffed, smoking his e-cig in the best movie star leading man style, while we hear his voice-over telling us "hey, we're all adults here." And maybe that's my issue and not Dorff's. The character too had some issues though. One, we have no idea how he knows how to fight, yet he has no problem defending himself in prison. Two, perhaps if we did, we'd also understand why he, after chasing he intruder from his home, followed him out, leading to hitting him in the head with the bat. I get wanting to protect your family, but for most people getting the guy out is enough, so it would've been good to know why Dorff's character took it further than that. Again, we needed these things in place to follow this movie into the darker, bleaker story it wanted to tell.

Dorff's wife was played by Marisol Nichols, who I knew from her role as Audrey in Vegas Vacation. Obviously this film wasn't as fun as that one, though this could have benefited from a Wayne Newton cameo to lighten things up. In one scene, when she comes to visit Dorff in prison, she needs to take off her clothes for a strip search, and according to IMDb it's the only nude scene of her career. Francis and I agreed that it wasn't really necessary (I know, me the guy who grew up on raunchy romp comedies saying a nude scene isn't necessary!), and in fact actually took away from the impact of the scene that they were going for. Had they gone shoulders up--even if she still needed to be nude for the scene for her to get into character--and focused on her face and the indignity of what she was going through, it would've been more powerful and really hit home. Her character was another example too of how the limited scope of the film caused them to touch on things they couldn't really delve into more. You could almost have made a separate film about what it was like for her on the outside dealing with everything that comes with having her husband in prison.

Some of the events in this film were based on the notorious Corcoran State Prison in California, so I decided to look it up, and it turns out this film may have gone easy on the brutality. Yes, the staged fights that the film depicts happened, but in the film, the shooting of the fighters seemed extreme--like the main guard, played by Harold Perrineau, had gone off the rails. Turns out, those shootings of the inmates were more common than that. Also, among the more famous inmates, one was Joe Son, who I had no idea when I reviewed Shootfighter 2 last October was convicted of torture in 2011 (not rape because the statute of limitations had passed on that, which makes no sense that there's a statute of limitations on rape, but that's our justice system for you), and then got more time after he killed his cellmate. Beyond the fact that this prison seems like a cesspool of corruption and maltreatment of the prisoners, in reading the lists of inmates, these seem to be the worst of the worst, which makes it seem even stranger that someone like Dorff's character would've been sent there--by the same token, it adds enough plausible deniability in case anyone asked about whether certain details actually happened the way they told it.

And with that, let's wrap this up. Currently you can stream this on Netflix--but whenever you end up reading this you never know if they'll have dumped it by then. This is not a fun movie by any stretch, but while it has some holes in it, overall it has a solid commentary on the US justice system that may be worth your watch. Also, you can catch KilmerKast on iTunes, or by going to this link here: https://anchor.fm/francis-rizzo-iii1 In addition to talking Kilmer, Francis does a great job with segments like Kilmer in Kontext, where he looks at the movies, music, and TV shows that were popular when the film came out; and then games with his guests, like on this one where I had to guess whether the Kilmer film he mentioned had Kilmer as a cop or a criminal.

For more info: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt1117385

And if you haven't yet, check out my new novel, A Girl and a Gun, at Amazon in paperback or Kindle!