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, December 3, 2022

Cop Target (1990)

Back in May of 2021 I had the guys from Comeuppance Reviews on to discuss our top 5 Ginty films, and this was one I watched for it. It was on YouTube at that time, and now it looks like even that's not a possibility. In terms of other reviews, none of our friends of the site have covered this, but it is on Will from Exploding Helicopter's Films with Exploding Helicopters list on Letterboxd--which if you haven't checked out, you should!

Cop Target features our man Ginty as a maverick Miami cop on the edge, maybe Crockett style, though instead of having an alligator for a pet, he has a cat which is fed through a robotic feeder while he's away on cop business. And he's away on business now, to the fictitious island of San Cristobal, where he's escorting the widow (Barbara Bingham) and daughter of a DEA agent so they can accept an award on his behalf. As always, things aren't what they seem, and the daughter's kidnapped and held for ransom, and as always, Ginty's not supposed to continue on the case, but as always, a maverick cop on the edge doesn't follow the rules. He's going to get to the bottom of this no matter what it takes.


This is the fun 80s/90s Italian-directed actioner you came for. It has its moments, like that cat feeder, or Ginty ordering olive oil from room service so he can clean his gun with it; and beyond the Ginty fun, we also have Charles "Napes" Napier as his boss, which is always great to see. By the same token, it's not overly remarkable, it's more like one of those for completists, whether you're a self-styled "DTV connoisseur" like myself, or on a quest to watch every film with an exploding helicopter like Will, or like our friends at Comeuppance or Explosive Action who just want all of these kinds of movies, it's kind of more for someone of that ilk than a casual "I'm looking for a Saturday night time killer." If it were suddenly more available on sites like Tubi or Amazon Prime, I think I'd change that stance, because it is a fun low-budget gem, and maybe this gets to a bigger point about how we need more Ginty available to us overall, but as it stands, I don't know if this is worth the trouble it'll take to track it down if you're not an extreme completist.

We're now at six Ginty flicks on the site, which is still way off the pace of what we'd want, and considering I still have some that I watched for that pod episode in May of 2021, I have a lot of catching up to do--and honestly, I don't know how good I've been at doing it, because this is only the third Ginty film I've reviewed this year, and I think I have at least 4 left of the ones I watched back in May of 2021 for that podcast that I haven't reviewed yet! The thing is, this is everything you want in a low-budget Italian Ginty flick: he's equal parts charming and gruff, does a great job playing the Crockett like character director Umberto Lenzi wanted but giving it his own spin, and is just an all-around fun lead. It's a shame this isn't more readily available, because I think if someone were getting into Ginty, this would be a good one after the first two Exterminators and White Fire for someone's next film of his.


We last saw Napes earlier this year in Frogtown II, which was fun to see him in, but this was definitely more the Napes we look for: angry, behind a desk, telling Ginty he needs to cool it; then wearing tuxes to balls, eating at fancy restaurants, and putting his sport coat and a satchel of drug money in the trunk of his car. Look at that screen we got of him, complete with the Bush 41 picture on the wall, letting us know he's a government worker. It's pure Napes, he came to this movie to get shit done, and that's why we love him in stuff like this. He's one that I feel like should've been on the site more than the now 11 times he has, but when I look at his bio, he isn't in as many movies with the big names that we often spotlight on here as you'd think. For actors, our top five are Dolph, Daniels, Rothrock, Wilson, and Seagal, and he hasn't done a lot with any of them. I think as we start filling out some other filmographies though, like Ginty's, Williamson's, and even say a Z'Dar's, we'll probably start seeing more Napes as well. And who doesn't love seeing more Napes?

I thought maybe we'd done some other Umberto Lenzi films here on the site (or Humphrey Humbert as he's credited as here in the States), but this is the first, and when I looked at his filmography, I realized that he hasn't done much in the video age--and what he has done is mostly horror, which we don't do as much of here at the DTVC, so that probably explains why this is only his first. It's kind of too bad, because he goes into his giallo roots for a lot of the action and mystery here to give us something more fun than simply a Miami Vice Narco-thriller rip-off. That's something I've talked about on previous posts about films directed by Italian auteurs, they bring a unique element to the proceedings that we often don't get in modern DTV with the way line producers and distributors have so much say in how the film is made in order to get the most bang for the buck; but also, these Italian directors come from a school of filmmaking that means even if we gave modern DTV directors the same leeway we probably wouldn't get results like this. It's a piece of the late 80s/early 90s DTV puzzle that will always keep that era at the top for me, and hopefully more movies like this will be available to us more easily, so more people can enjoy something like this. Severin Films has been releasing DVDs of giallo directors like Lenzi, so maybe it's just a matter of time before they release Cop Target too.


Finally, I want to go back to the Miami Vice influence on this film. While the show would've been done for a year or two before this was made, so much of what people think of the 80s came from the colors, styles, and mood of that show. I had Jon Cross from the After Movie Diner and Miscellaneous Plumbing Fixtures on a recent podcast episode (Rage and Honor 1 and 2 in the archives), and we talked about that, how the 80s were actually drab, with a lot of browns, and not all those showy neon and pastel colors. What I think Lenzi does here is splits the difference, giving us some of the Miami Vice esthetic, but also working in the darker giallo tones that he was more comfortable in, which gives this movie an interesting feel. It's like what I was saying above about the Italian directors overall, they almost do "covers" of movies as opposed to rip-offs, whether it's this, Stelvio Massi with Black Cobra, or Bruno Mattei with Cruel Jaws or Robowar. This is a tradition that goes back further than that though, like with all the Star Wars rip-offs--or "covers"--from the 70s that we see on Tubi now. What also made the "cover" work so well here in Cop Target though was Ginty, because he's no Don Johnson or Crockett, he's 100% Pure Ginty, the same way that Williamson was 100% Pure Williamson in Black Cobra.

And with that, let's wrap this up. As far as I can see, at least in the US, this isn't available right now, but maybe a brave soul will re-upload it on YouTube. I would say this isn't worth going too far out of your way for, but if you stumble upon it, it's a lot of fun.

For more info: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0099302

And if you haven't yet, check out my new novel, Holtman Arms, at Amazon in paperback or Kindle!

Saturday, November 26, 2022

Black Friday (2021)

This is one I've had on my radar for some time, especially to get more Michael Jai White up, but it was never available on a streaming service I was subscribed to, so I had to wait. Then Xfinity gave us a free week of Starz, and sure enough, this bad boy was on there. In addition to us, there are 69 critic reviews, none of which are any we're friends with.

Black Friday is about a toy store in Massachusetts that's gearing up for a big Black Friday sale. We have Devon Sawa, the single dad who needs to leave his kids for Thanksgiving, Michael Jai White as the maintenance guy, Bruce Campbell as the store manager, Stephen Peck as his second in command, Ivana Banquero as the young worker with a good head on her shoulders, and Ryan Lee as the poor schlub everyone craps on. Then, as if Black Friday couldn't get any worse, the customers become violent and attack the staff. Turns out they're infected with something, and they're infecting more people and gathering to some kind of big event. It'll take everything our staff has to get out of this alive and make it home to their families for Thanksgiving.


This is a fun time, especially at a good runtime, but it also felt a bit dated. Black Friday here in America was a lot crazier five to ten years ago, but in the 2020s when this was made, we'd already moved on from that craziness. Maybe we can't blame the film on that, because it looks like it was shot pre-pandemic, and the pandemic really crushed the remaining elements of crazed in-store shopping that lingered as the concept of Black Friday as we knew it was dying out, but I don't know if any of the jokes about crazy shoppers on Black Friday were new at all either. On the other hand, as a horror comedy, I had fun with it. The characters were fun, the gore was fun, and the aliens were well-crafted, plus I think the commentary on corporate America was as relevant now as it ever was, even if the idea of Black Friday that the film was espousing wasn't so much. I also liked the fact that they delved into a bit on how poorly retail staff are treated, both by the customers, and by their management. The idea was that 100 years ago when retail as we knew it was forming, stores gave the burgeoning middle class, who couldn't afford servants, the feeling of what it was like to have their own servant--the retail worker--for the couple hours they were shopping. There's a sense that these aliens are that concept run amok 100 years later, but we only get a sense, and I feel like that could've been explored more. The same thing with the idea of the store manager. Campbell gives us a taste of how he feels, but we only get the taste--like when he says "I get to order everyone around, from the coolest guy to the geekiest"--but I think like the other aspect we could've used more than a taste. Overall though, for people who enjoy a good horror comedy, I think this will work for you.

We'll start with our DTVC Hall of Famer, Mr. Michael Jai White. I had planned on doing a birthday post for him a couple weeks ago, but work was crazy, so I'm making up for it now. Spoiler alert, he gets killed off midway through, which was too bad, because I think after Ivana Baquero, he was the best performer here, as he brings a unique blend of action ability and comedic sensibility. The problem I think is that they wanted Sawa's character to be part alpha male part guy who's cool but not that cool, and having White there diminishes him on both accounts. That hurt the movie for me though, because White's mix of action and comedic ability made him one of the best characters and most fun to watch. This is a bit of a theme I found in this film, characters were often sprouted, but seldom fully formed, and while I appreciate that when the movie has a tight runtime, I think White was one whose character suffered as a result. This is now 21 films for White on the DTVC, and every time I think we're going to get more reviews for him, I don't make it happen--his last one was February, and his last one before that was June of 2021. For someone with the work he has out there, I should be doing at least 4 films a year like I do for other big names. 30 Club for 2023 I think is too bold, because we'd be talking about almost one review a month for him, but maybe we can do it. And a belated happy birthday! You're truly one of the greats.


This is our first Devon Sawa film at the DTVC, which I think will change because he's doing more DTV stuff now. In this film, he's essentially inhabiting a Poor Man's Jeremy Renner space, and you get the sense that if this had been a big screen theatrical release, Renner would've played this part. But then the film leans into the Poor Man's aspect of it by having him be cool, but not that cool. For example, he has a "thing" with Ivana Baquero's character, who's 16 years his junior, and the film lets us know that she's only fooling around with him to pass the time, but she doesn't take him seriously. You almost never see that in a character of Sawa's type in a film like this getting treated that way, and I don't know that Renner in a big screen production would get done like that. To his credit, Sawa seems to embrace that, but the film almost can't fully, as there's a sense at the end that he does ultimately "get the girl," though they never explicitly say that. Because of the current DTV work he's doing, it's inevitable that we'll see him on here more, and I think this is a good start for him with us.

While this is our first Sawa film, it's our second Ivana Baquero film, the other being the Kevin Costner flick The New Daughter. For me she was the best character in the film, but going back to that concern about characters not being fully fleshed out, hers might have been the worst, even worse than Michael Jai White being killed off early. We get this sense that she's the only one with a firm head on her shoulders, yet she seldom gets the chance to be the leader of the group. Again, it was an idea that wasn't fully fleshed out, like she could've been the Penny to the rest of the characters' Inspector Gadget, especially if we're going to kill White off, but it just never got there and instead we have Ryan Lee and Devon Sawa taking the lead in more instances. The fact that she proved how capable she was though should be a sign that she should get more leading roles in films, and I think with the horror genre, her standout performance in Pan's Labyrinth should always be a selling point on the tin to horror fans.


Finally, for people living outside the US, Black Friday is a holiday you may not be familiar with. It's not an official holiday, but because it's the day after Thanksgiving, which is an official holiday that always falls on a Thursday, many companies give people that Friday off too. Combine that with Christmas only being a month away, the major commerce holiday in a country where commerce is its one raison d'etre, and over time it evolved into the major shopping day of the year. The film gives some history behind the name, that police officers in Philadelphia used the term to describe the traffic congestion due to all the shoppers driving on that day--and Philadelphia has one of the great shopping meccas, King of Prussia Mall, which I have yet to visit. As the day evolved over the years, retailers tried to find ways to exploit it as much as possible to maximize profits, and that's when stores started opening earlier, to the point that they were opening during the evening on Thanksgiving day, which is the backdrop to this story. An interesting note about that though is in Massachusetts, the state that the holiday of Thanksgiving was started in, it's illegal for non-essential retail establishments, like the toy store in this film, to open at all during Thanksgiving, meaning this film as it was created couldn't have existed in Massachusetts, even though it takes place there. The other thing is, over time, people tired of the crush of Black Friday, and with the advent of online shopping--which has its day the Monday after, "Cyber Monday"--or the push to patronize small businesses instead of the large chains--which also have their day, the Saturday after, "Small Business Saturday"--Black Friday isn't the crazy ritualized homage to commerce it once was or the way it's depicted in this film. That being said, I still do my best to stay away from any retail businesses on Black Friday.

And with that, let's wrap this up. I think if you can stream this for free, it's worth checking out. I don't know for a rental it's quite worth it, but if you're a big horror comedy fan it might be. It's a fun watch either way, especially this time of year on a Saturday night.

For more info: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt11649338

And if you haven't yet, check out my new novel, Holtman Arms, at Amazon in paperback or Kindle!

Saturday, November 19, 2022

Shadow Fury (2001)

Back in June I had Rich Hawes from DTV Digest on the pod to discuss this film. It's one's he's been a fan of for some time, and even asked me and Ty from Comeuppace if we'd ever consider doing it for our sites--which was a big reason why I suggested it to him as a topic for an episode he was guesting on. In addition to us, he's covered it on his old site, Have a Go Heroes, and Chris the Brain at Bulletproof has done this as well.

Shadow Fury has a group of scientists in the near future who have figured out how to clone a super soldier. One of them, Pat Morita, goes rogue, and creates a super samurai, Masakatsu Funaki. The others call in mercenary Sam Bottoms, an alcoholic in serious need of a new liver, which, it just so happens, Funaki is a perfect match, so if Bottoms takes him down his payment is Funaki's liver. As always though, things aren't as they seem, and when Bottoms discovers one of the other scientists, Allan Kolman, has created his own super soldier--first a young Taylor Lautner, later an adult Bas Rutten--he teams up with the last remaining other one, Alexandra Kamp, and Funaki, to take him down.


This movie was a lot of fun. It borrows from a lot of traditions, the two biggest being the lone gunman in the Western with Bottoms, and the ronin, or masterless samurai with Funaki. The director is Makoto Yokoyama, who was part of the Alpha Stunt team responsible for the Power Rangers movies that Isaac Florentine was also a part of, and more notably, the late 90s Mark Dacascos classic Drive. While this isn't quite at the Drive or Florentine actioner level, it still delivers enough in its fight scenes to elevate it beyond the limitations of its budget. Beyond that, we have really fun performances from Bottoms, Funaki, Fred Williamson, Morita, and Kamp. Also, as Chris the Brain at Bulletproof said, how many movies can you see where Taylor Lautner grows up to be Bas Rutten?

Usually we start with the film's one Hall of Famer, but because Williamson's part was smaller, I figured I'd go with Sam Bottoms first. What's interesting about him in this is when we last had Rich on the podcast, we discussed Total Force and Absolute Force, which starred his brother and Bush 43 lookalike Timothy. What Sam does here with this part is he plays up the lone gun for hire part really well, making him both dark and brooding, and a hero with a sense of humor at the same time. You can see your classic Clint Eastwood hero in him, but also someone like a Richard Boone in Have Gun Will Travel. You wouldn't expect Sam Bottoms in the lead to work in an action film, but because he got what Yokoyama was going for with the character, he was able to draw on that tradition in a way that made this work even better than I think Yokoyama was hoping for. When we're watching low budget movies like this, often it's that kind of thing that's needed to elevate the material beyond its limitations, and Bottoms does that for us with his performance.


From there we have Masakatsu Funaki as the ronin figure, who loses his master, Pat Morita, early on, and from there is on his journey to find his purpose. He gets that in a lady of the night that he saves from her pimp, Cassandra Grae--who didn't do much beyond this film. Usually that construct of the hero saving the lady of the night is a worn trope--especially in those Seagal-type films where it's saving a pretty Eastern European lady from human trafficking and she falls in love with the hero--but here it works to not only underscore this drive for purpose Funaki's character has, but also the drive to discover his humanity. He's part masterless ronin and part Frankenstein, and with Grae's character, we as the audience can join Funaki as he leans into both aspects of himself. On top of that, as an MMA fighter, he does great in the action sequences, but I don't know how well it would've worked if he hadn't leaned into those other aspects of the character the way he did. Like Bottoms, his approach added elements to the film that further elevated it beyond its budgetary constraints.

Because his part was so limited, we're waiting for this moment to finally discuss our film's one Hall of Famer, the great Fred Williamson. He plays the Machine Gun Joe type who provides Bottoms with the weapons he needs in a back room of the bar he runs--which works out for the alcoholic Bottoms, he can get his drinks and his tools of the trade. This is now 26 for Williamson, which puts us that much closer to the 30 Club for him, probably something we'll hit next year. While I prefer him as a lead, seeing him in a small part like this is also fun too, and for a lot of the names that have the bigger numbers here, parts like this help get that tag number up to get him into those more exclusive clubs--though when you look at Dolph and Daniels, our two with the most tags, they don't have many supporting role films. The other thing I've noticed is, when I look at his IMDb bio, there aren't a lot of films from this period of his that I'm missing, it's a lot more of the hit or miss variety in the 2010s, or his 80s stuff that I can't always find. That's one difference between him and Dolph or Daniels, is there is a lot of Williamson stuff out there that's either hard to get, or maybe even impossible to get. I think that's another reason why he's fallen behind some of the other bigger names, but hopefully we'll rectify that over the next year and get that tag count up higher.


Finally, in trying to think of what the last paragraph should be here, one thing that stood out was how much Bottoms was drinking, despite being on the liver transplant list. In real life, there's a zero tolerance policy when it comes to that. It might not be common knowledge--I only found out when a close family friend was in that situation in the late 90s, and then it came up again recently when I was watching Scrubs with my wife. It makes sense, right? There are only so many livers to go around, why give it to someone who may just destroy that one through drinking too. Just the same, it would've made for a better plot device here, the idea that Bottoms's character can't get a transplant because he won't stop drinking, but these scientists offer to do it for him anyway with Funaki's. 

And with that, let's wrap this up. As you can see from the quality of my screens, this is only available on YouTube, and it's not the best transfer--even if it does say it's high-def. I think a movie like this could use a nice Blu-ray, so hopefully that'll happen soon, or at the very least a better quality version on a major streaming site. Until then, YouTube is your best bet, and I think this is a fun enough actioner from the early 2000s, which overall wasn't as great a time for this kind of thing. And if you want to hear more about Shadow Fury, check out the DTVC Podcast, episode 102 from back in June that I did with Rich from DTV Digest.

For more info: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0288215

And if you haven't yet, check out my new novel, Holtman Arms, at Amazon in paperback or Kindle!

Saturday, November 12, 2022

Catman in Lethal Track (1990)

This is one I looked at a while back. I believe when I had Mitch from the Video Vacuum on to discuss Godfrey Ho, I asked out loud if he ripped off Batman considering the phenomenon that was here in the States in the late 80s, and sure enough, here was "Catman" from 1990, and it was on YouTube! Does life get any better?

Catman in Lethal Track is about a guy who is scratched by a radioactive cat, and imbued with special catlike powers--or rather just special powers. He then uses these powers to take on an evil Satanic priest who's doing evil things. At the same time, out in the countryside, an evil gang led by a man with an eye patch is kidnapping women and holding them hostage, among other evil things. A young woman disguised as a man rides into town on her dirt bike with plans to take him down. It's not going to be easy, so she needs to recruit as many locals as she can to help her. What this story has to do with the Catman story is anyone's guess, but the question is, will Catman and this girl disguised as a man be able to prevail in their individual struggles?


I think this is about how you'd expect a Godfrey Ho superhero movie to go, and that can either be a good thing for you or a bad thing. For me, I enjoy these kinds of movies, so it was a good thing. I mean, look at that superhero costume? Forget spandex, this is some kind of maintenance worker's jumpsuit with a jumping black cat logo, combined with some kind of as-seen-on-TV sunglasses that diminish glare while you're driving. You could just as easily see this guy in the mall in the commercial for the glasses getting people to try them on and them being wowed by how great they look. On top of that you have that secondary story that every Godfrey Ho film has, kind of like how Seinfeld always had a couple threads going in one episode, and this one made about as much sense as the Catman story--like why did everyone think this girl was a guy? Because she could fight and rode a dirt bike? Beyond the splicing of the two unconnected stories, we also had the Ho American pop culture alchemy, especially in the baddie's gang that looked like extras from Class of Nuke 'Em High. I think this should be a staple of any Godfrey Ho movie night.

This is our sixth Ho film on the site, but only the third of this kind where he's splicing two movies together, the other three were new action films he made with Cynthia Rothrock. When I look at my first review of one of these, Ninja: Silent Assassin in 2011, it was like I got it, but didn't get it. By the time I had Jon Cross on to discuss these films in 2020, I had a completely different perspective, and it was with that perspective that I continued with the podcast episode this past year with Mitch from the Video Vacuum, and went into watching this film. When I had Jon on in 2020, he quoted a Den of Geek article that referred to these films as "cinematic anarchy," and I think that best describes them. There's something about what Ho does with the medium of cinema that is so far outside what anyone who invented it could have conceived of, that that in of itself is fascinating, and for me, entertaining. It'll be interesting as we go through more of Ho's catalog, especially with how many are available on Tubi and YouTube, but I think it'll be a fun ride.


The superhero movie in modern cinema is seen as this juggernaut moneymaker, which is nice, but I think there are people who want to delve outside of that a bit. When I was younger, all I wanted was to see my heroes together the way they were in the comics, but when I got my wish, I discovered they made them all so interconnected, meaning if I watch one I may not get what's happening if I didn't watch another, which in turn I wouldn't get if I didn't watch these other two, and so on. Also the massive budgets and long runtimes have turned me off some, which is a shame. That's where something like this can fill a void that I didn't even know existed. On the other hand, while this has some notes we expect from a superhero movie, it is also so different from what we expect from a movie in this genre. It's not like Toxic Avenger or Sgt. Kabukiman NYPD, which mimic the style of superhero movies but do a great job mocking it; this only has part of that mimicry, but then the Ho construct of splicing in the second film, plus his attempts to pander to American pop culture trends, as opposed to making fun of them like you'd see in a Troma movie, which makes it all something unique to Ho. I don't even know if it would fit with a Santo movie, but that's another type of non-mainstream superhero franchise that comes to mind. Like everything Ho, it's sui generis.

But the Ho approach opens the door to more ideas, right? What if someone created a rip off of Batman, and spliced it with an early 90s short-lived TV show? Or low-budget movie? Like One West Waikiki, which was around for like 20 episodes; or maybe The Lost World, with it's three seasons, just splice in an episode, so you have a fake superhero that's Batman-esque doing stuff, while in another story you have Jennifer O'Dell running around in the jungle. The problem with that, of course, is all those shows have rights holders, plus the SAG implications would make the film more expensive--but as expensive as a standard Marvel movie production. On the other hand, what a fun way for, say, Paramount/CBS to get into the superhero game, by taking old CBS properties like One West Waikiki and combing them with stories about men or women with superpowers in maintenance jumpsuits and As-seen-on-TV sunglasses. Modern mainstream audiences wouldn't know what to do with them. Can you imagine critics trying to review something like that? Or current comic book movie fans who live by their precious canons. There is no "canon" in a Godfrey Ho movie, even if you used Cheryl Ladd and Richard Burgi in multiple films, there's no rule that says they have to even be the same people, which would blow the minds of toxic canon extremists. They'd be flooding Paramount studios with death threats because their sensibilities would be so hurt. The level of anarchy in something like that is too fun to fathom--sans the death threats, of course. If you need to send death threats to studios you're a loser who should be in jail.

Finally, as I mentioned above, this is available on YouTube. In the IMDb user reviews, people mentioned finding cheap DVDs. As far as I can tell now, YouTube is the way to go, but what a way to go it is. The advent of YouTube, and the number of films like this that you can find on there, is immense. There's always the risk of a copyright claim taking down the YouTube account that uploads them though, and to be honest you never know where that'll come from--when I first started the DTVC, I had a YouTube account with the username Deepcheeks that I used to post MSTK episodes I had, and advertised the site in the episode descriptions. What got me clipped wasn't the people with MST3K putting in a claim, but the rights holder to one of the movies in the episode, and if you get clipped, that causes all your uploads to go away, not just the one that the claim was on. I guess what I'm saying is, while YouTube is great, it's also tenuous. One big account, JCT, looks like they're gone, and with them The Secret of King Mahi's Island, a rare early Gary Daniels flick. I found another version up there, but for us low-budget cinephiles, it's a tough way to live. A film like Catman in Lethal Track deserves a better transfer and physical release, or at least an official release on major streaming service, because God forbid the accounts that uploaded it get clipped, this treasure is gone. I feel like there is enough of a market for it, but maybe I'm wrong.

And with that, let's wrap this up. You can find this on used DVD, but YouTube is probably your best bet for now. It's a fun Godfrey Ho take on the superhero movie, a nice counter to the current superhero ecosystem that you may not even know you needed.

For more info: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0319153

And if you haven't yet, check out my new novel, Holtman Arms, at Amazon in paperback or Kindle!

Saturday, November 5, 2022

Kindergarten Cop 2 (2016)

The big fella turned 65 this week, and as such, we had to review a movie in honor of that, and this is a film of his we've had in the can for some time--in fact, I watched this during the unplanned 4-year hiatus I had between 2015 and 2019, and was going to review it in that period, but it got clipped from Netflix, so I had to wait for it to return to streaming, and the hiatus continued. In addition to us, our friends Mitch at the Video Vacuum and Tom Jolliffe at Flickering Myth have covered this as well.

Kindergarten Cop 2 has Dolph as an FBI detective who, along with partner Bill Bellamy, need to find a flash drive that has the info to bring down a big time crime boss. The problem is, the guy who had it gave it to his brother, who was murdered by said baddie. As luck would have it, he hid it in his kindergarten classroom, but how could they it there? Have Dolph go undercover as a kindergarten teacher, of course! Can this line dancing, steak eating, jeans wearing down-home guy handle modern rich kid education? A young lady 30 years his junior who teaches across the hall and has a thing for him may help, right?

This worked and it didn't, if that makes sense. Some of the jokes were good, some were of the "oh kids have peanut allergies today, that's so crazy!" variety. The thing is though, the Dolph is good, and he and Bellamy work well together, so it's like, if you're going to have a mid-2010s DTV sequel of a big screen hit from the past cash grab, you could do a lot worse. The "you could do a lot better" is the whole "why did this need to be made in the first place?" which I think is a fair question, and when I finish a movie, I shouldn't have to feel like I watched something that maybe didn't even need to exist. Ultimately though, as someone who has to watch all of Dolph's movies, this was 100 minutes that wasn't as bad as I've experienced on this journey, and maybe that's the bottom line, it's not as horrible as it can get for Dolph completists.

While this is 65 tags for Dolph on the site, it's only 64 films, so he doesn't quite yet have as many films as his age, a distinction that he alone will have when he gets there on our next Dolph film review. He definitely elevates material that is more contrived than even my synopsis above will lead you to believe, material that looks like it was passed from screenwriter to screenwriter in a desperate attempt to save it. The one piece that was probably least believable was the idea that the kids would be unruly for him. I don't have many memories from kindergarten, but trying to imagine myself as a five-year-old, if Dolph walked into our classroom the last thing I'd do is act up. Interestingly enough, this is the 4th of the four films he released in 2016 that we've reviewed, and I would say this is the most paint-by-numbers cynical DTV cash grabbiest of the bunch. Welcome to Willits was a unique horror comedy where Dolph had a small part as a TV police officer; Female Fight Squad was a woman-driven actioner with Dolph taking a back seat to Amy Johnston; and Don't Kill It was another horror comedy, in this case with Dolph in the lead, but also was unique and off-beat. In that sense, I don't think we can look at this movie as a trend in his career, I think it was more a one-off, and hopefully he made enough money from it.

Anyone who grew up watching MTV in the 80s and 90s knows Bill Bellamy. I remember him at the MTV Beach House telling Montel Jordan how "This is How We Do It" was the song of that summer, and now we're closing in on 30 years since that song came out. In 1997 he tried to move into the film world with Def Jam's How to Be a Player, and while it didn't take, he's worked consistently since then, with perhaps my favorite being the modern Miami Vice remake Fastlane. He and Peter Facinelli were a great early 2000s version of Crockett and Tubbs, but I think as much as Miami Vice was ahead of its time, Fastlane as a newer version was even further ahead, and only lasted the one season. Because of that though, seeing him here was fun, and he and Dolph had great chemistry, which elevated it beyond the usual DTV cash grab sequel.

As Dolph turns 65, we're confronted with all of our 80s action stars growing older, and what that means for them as action leads. The biggest trope is the cute leading lady that they get to woo over, and like Matthew McConaughey said in Dazed and Confused, these action stars get older, and their leading ladies stay the same age. The love interest here was played by Darla Taylor, and according to IMDb she hasn't done anything since. The question is, would we as viewers be okay with it if Dolph's love interest was someone closer in age to him? Gary Daniels is only a year older than Vivica A. Fox, and that worked with them in The Wrong Child together, so it can be done. But as part of the DTV cash grab, it's about the hottest young woman they can get, give her outfits that are professional yet sexy as a teacher, and pair her with Dolph. When it's this paint-by-numbers, there's no room to paint outside the lines.

Finally, we're at a point here in our Dolph journey that each review not only requires a second paragraph, but some kind of understanding of the scope of what his numbers mean, and where we might go from here. This is the 1163rd post, and if we're counting the raw post number we can count his 65th one, which was the Van Damme Film Fest for our 400th. That means he's responsible for almost 6% of all posts. With 64 movies, he has 9 more than the next most, Gary Daniels with 55. 70 looks very likely, as we still need to do 4Got10 from his back catalog, plus Pups Alone, Section 8, and Operation Seawolf as newer movies, so we're already at 68 there. With the rate at which I review movies, and how I try to space out the stars so everyone gets reviews, the odds of anyone else, outside of Gary Daniels, getting to that number is slim. Someone like a Fred Williamson has the movies, but will I review enough of them? I'm on pace to do five of his movies this year, and he's at 25 now, so in roughly 9 years I'll get him there. I guess that means we'll see where we're at in 2031.

And with that, let's wrap this up. For me, this is a free stream for a Dolph completist only, but when you put those two elements together, it works enough to get you there. And a big happy birthday to the Babe Ruth of DTV action, Dolph Lundgren! You truly are the greatest.

For more info: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt4763168

And if you haven't yet, check out my new novel, Holtman Arms, at Amazon in paperback or Kindle!

Saturday, October 29, 2022

Close Range (2015)

As we wrap up the month of October, our last 2022 Hall of Fame inductee is our director pick, Isaac Florentine. This film is one I've had in the can to review for a long time, but had been putting it off because there were so many newer Adkins films I wanted to review; but with this being Florentine's induction post, I figured this was the chance to do it, as I thought this film really spotlights what Florentine does best. In addition to us, Comeuppance, Bulletproof, and Cool Target have all covered this as well.

Close Range has Adkins as a former special forces guy who is wanted by the military after he refused to carry out an order. On the run, he's like a samurai without a master, a ronin, a gun for hire. That changes when his sister (Caitlin Keats) needs him to rescue his niece from some drug cartel guys her horrible new husband has run afoul of. He does, but in the process erroneously steals a flash drive they have that contains all their cartel admin information, and they want it back--how can they do payroll without those spreadsheets? So they lay siege to the sister's ranch in Arizona, helped by local sheriff Nick Chinlund in his most Chinlund-iest. Can Adkins take all these guys down and protect his family?

Spoiler alert: yes. This is the high-octane action Florentine and Adkins are known for. Great stunts, great action sequences, well-shot, well-performed. The film clocks in at about 80 minutes, and within that 80 minutes there aren't many down moments, we go from action sequence to action sequence. On the other hand, there isn't a lot of plot here, and what plot we do have is well-worn territory, so there might be a question of "this movie had all this great stuff, but what are we left with?" I get that, and even further, we have an Adkins with an American accent, shaved head, and goatee over top of five o'clock shadow, making him pretty one-note despite the great action scenes. So in answer to that question, what we're left with is a straight-ahead actioner that doesn't let the plot, as paint-by-numbers as it is, get in the way of the action, with a hero who, while he may be pretty one-note, is still Adkins bringing it. I'll take this over a lot of DTV action films from the 2010s, and while it may not make any best of lists, it also doesn't do anything too egregious to upset us, which is important. For an evening time killer as a free streamer, this does the trick for me.

Usually we start with Adkins in this paragraph, but since this is Florentine's induction post, we should start with him. In an age where DTV is moving in more of a Bourne/Taken-Damon/Neeson quick edits approach to make the non-action lead look like an action lead, Florentine is one of the few out there who still looks to make solid, well-shot, well-performed, actioners. The knock on his earlier stuff is that he was too wedded to his sound effects--looking at you Bridge of Dragons--but he's always been true to the genres he came up in, notably martial arts, Japanese samurai, and Westerns, and this film has all of that. We generally think of him as one of two main directors who's doing great stuff with Adkins, along with Jesse V. Johnson, but Florentine has actually worked with almost every big name, from Dolph, to Van Damme, to Gary Daniels, even guys like Michael Jai White and Olivier Gruner. This is now 15 tags for him, but one was for his stunt work on American Cyborg: Steel Warrior, and another was him as producer on Boyka: Undisputed, which he couldn't direct due to the tragic passing of his wife. 13 director tags is third all-time, behind Albert Pyun and Fred Olen Ray. While he doesn't have the output to keep up with a Ray, or to probably ever catch Pyun, there are a few in the back catalog that I can still get to, plus it looks like he's made some stuff recently that's in various stages of post-production. His ultimate legacy to me is taking what we loved about 90s action, and staying true to it into the 2000s, 2010s, and now 2020s, at a time when the industry has been moving in another direction. Hopefully the industry will follow his lead and swing the pendulum back toward what he's doing.

Now to Mr. Adkins. I think when I had this listed for our Hall of Fame induction posts, people probably expected that it would be him getting this honor, but I was thinking he's not quite there yet. In looking at his IMDb bio though, he probably is, and I was just looking at his overall tags and not his overall body of work. We're now at 23 tags for him, but on top of that, I have five others I've watched and haven't reviewed, plus he has some others on free streaming sites that I haven't seen yet, so we could potentially get him to 30 next year. It sounds aggressive, but as we near having all of Dolph and Seagal's stuff up, there are going to be more openings for posts, and with his output, he'd be poised to take more of those openings. This film typifies what he brings to the table, solid martial arts and action sequences, and a strong leading man presence that makes him one of the best in modern DTV action. The one problem this has, and that many he does with Florentine have, is him speaking in an American accent. It's not that he doesn't have a good one, it's more that I'd rather he play a Brit, like he does in Jesse V. Johnson's movies. Maybe Florentine will see the light on that. One can only hope.

Chinlund. It doesn't get more Chinlund-y than Chinlund, and this film brings the Chinlund-iness. It's maybe not Chronicles of Riddick level Chinlund-iness, but it's pretty Chinlund-y. It's one of those things where a filmmaker says "my move needs a certain Chinlund element," they see if he's available, and if he is, it's an ingredient that's hard to approximate with anyone else. What it does here is gives us instant bad, corrupt sheriff with little-to-no backstory, perfect for an 80-minute actioner that wants to spend more time on the action than the plot. As an ingredient, I don't think he'd be MSG, probably more like Lowry's Season Salt, where you can sprinkle him in and add a flavor to the film without a lot of effort. We don't see him often here at the DTVC--I think the only other time was Felon--in part because bigger productions also want to add the Chinlund flavor to their films, so for Florentine to get him here was a nice change of pace, and again, that flavor we got by adding him really helped in an 80-minute actioner with minimal plot development.


 

Because Florentine tends to focus on the action in his movies, if his plots are thinner they tend to be trope-filled as a result, but I noticed he tried to mitigate one in particular: "the white man dispatching the faceless brown hoard." Here we had Adkins as your American hero, fighting a gang of Mexican cartel baddies. Only one year after this came out Donald Trump became president primarily by race-baiting white Americans on the prospect of the "brown hoard" coming across the border to take their jobs and commit crimes. Florentine must've been cognizant of that vibe, so he tried to mitigate it by individually introducing us to each of the Mexican cartel baddies as they were driving out to Adkins's sister's ranch. The problem was, it was a clunky device, and I don't know that slapping that on was enough to get past what is so embedded in the rest of the film, especially since this is a trope that's been established in American movies since those Westerns Florentine was influenced by were being made decades ago. The reality is, Mr. Florentine, they all ruined it for you, if you make a movie like this, you can't divorce it from that tradition. The better mitigation technique would have been to have Mexican characters who weren't cartel baddies, but that could've weighed down his film in ways no one wanted. Despite the fact that it may not have worked though, I think Florentine needs to be given credit for at least recognizing it was an issue, and trying to mitigate it.

And with that, let's wrap this up. Currently you can get this on most free streaming sites in the US, and I think that's the best way to go. I was trying to think where I rank this for Adkins films, and while it may not be a top one, it's also not anywhere near his worst either. For Florentine, this is another solid actioner at a good runtime with not a lot getting in the way of his well-shot and well-performed stunt work, and in 2022 when you're looking for something fun to stream on a Saturday night, maybe that's all you need. Congratulations to Florentine for getting into the Hall of Fame this year, you're truly one of the greats, and we look forward to what you have in store for us next.

For more info: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt3511596

And if you haven't yet, check out my new novel, Holtman Arms, at Amazon in paperback or Kindle!

Tuesday, October 25, 2022

Don't Let the Riverbeast Get You! (2012)

As we wrap up October, our indie pick for the month is one I've been meaning to watch for a long time, so once it appeared on Plex, I figured I'd make it happen. I first got wind of the movie's existence through our friend Jon Cross at the After Movie Diner. He does a great job getting the word out about all kinds of indie creatives, and deserves a lot of credit for the work he does in that regard. 

Don't Let the Riverbeast Get You! stars Matt Farley as Neil Stuart, disgraced local tutor who was run out of town when he told everyone about the riverbeast he encountered. He returns when his God-cousin is getting married, but the demons of his past haunt him. If only he could prove to the world that he's not making it up. It won't be easy, as rivers are mutable by nature, so it's hard to know where to spot the beast should it return. When locals who once had issues with Stuart turn up dead though, is it his doing, or is the beast returning to kill?

This was a fantastic movie, a lot of fun, but it is possible because I grew up near where the film takes place in New Hampshire, that my bit of homesickness mingled with the characters and accents to make it more charming for me. Just the same, I think the goofiness and charm transcends that for people who don't have that same connection. How do you not find Chekhov's kitty litter funny? Or when Stuart, angry at a local reporter who's trying to ruin his life, tells him he's going to "give him a knuckle sandwich"? We also had a fun monster, which is important for a 50s monster movie send-up. I think for horror-comedy fans, this isn't as gory as you might want; and the film is a bit long, but on that score it felt like every time it was about to lose me, something would happen that made me laugh out loud, which pulled me back in and got me reinvested. When you're looking for a film to watch, I think fun is the most important thing, and this delivered on that.

Matt Farley's Neil Stuart character is the center of the action, and what I loved was how no one thought he was goofy for being a tutor with a set of guidelines for his students--including a dress code, or for not having a cellphone in 2012, or not driving in New Hampshire (which, as someone who also didn't drive in New Hampshire, I can say that would be considered the goofiest), but because he said saw a riverbeast. Yet, it was all those little touches to his character that made the rest of it all work. I can see though how the humor in his part may not have worked for everyone, like when he asks his tutor friend Troy (Bryan Fortin) if he thinks the Ministry of Tutors has more work for him so he can pay famed hunter Ito Hootkins (Jeff Farley) to help him find the riverbeast; or when his friend Ted's (Tom Scalzo) girlfriend leaves him because she's feeling restless, and he offers the friend a piece of beef jerky to make him feel better. It worked for me though, and Farley set the tone that made that work.

There are a lot of send-ups or spoofs made of the 50s monster movie, and I often have trouble getting into them because it's hard for me to connect the modern movie, made on modern color film with modern settings, with the movies I watched on TV growing up from the 50s in black and white with clothing and styles from that time. I thought this did a great job of splitting the difference though. The dialog was a mix of something from that period, and modern ways of speaking, with Farley's character doing more of the anachronisms, while some of the more uncouth characters defaulted to the modern new England bro type, like the guy who's engaged to his former love telling him he's going to "give him a beatin'." I also liked Sharon Scalzo's Allie character, because she played up that vibe of the 50s teen girl character from those older films in the way she spoke and interacted with Stuart. Another part that I thought was funny was how Ted meets his girlfriend Pamela (Tiffany L'Heureux) when she dances next to him playing guitar at the park. She then explains that her dance is called "popping and locking," in this way that was completely like a character in one of those old movies explaining a popular dance that was however many years old at that point too. Tonally it all came together in a way that these old monster movie send-ups don't always do for me.

I listed this as horror-comedy, but when I think of my favorite horror-comedies, they're all much grosser, like Blood Diner, Bad Taste, or even Bloodsucking Pharaohs in Pittsburgh, there's more over-the-top gore, plus other gross elements, like disgusting food, vomit, or gooey slimy things. This by contrast is relatively clean, there's one shot of innards from a victim of the riverbeast, and we get some potato casserole thrown on the ground, but that's about it. It actually worked with the rest of the film's clean feel, with everyone in clean clothes, yards nicely landscaped and houses well-kept--even the scene at the rock lookout, I believe that's a spot in Manchester where my buddy and I went rockclimbing one time, and if that is the spot, it was also a place where kids threw things like beer bottles and TVs from off the cliff face, so we had to step around the broken glass while we belayed the person climbing, but they didn't show any of that in the film. Back in high school my buddy and I used to do the Firecracker pickled sausage challenge with those gross horror comedies, where we'd buy a bunch of them at the convenience store and see who could eat them at the grossest parts. This is a movie where we didn't have to worry about losing our appetite, which was a fun change of pace.

Finally, as I'm wont to do, I'm making this last paragraph about me, especially since this film took place near where I grew up. I've been living in Philadelphia since 2014, and I don't have any plans to move back to the Southern Maine/New Hampshire area where I'm from, but it's nice to find some home cooking like this while I'm living down here. One of the things this movie spotlighted was the regional accent, which I don't really have--if I get tired I may drop my Rs, but now I've also picked up the South Philly "O" sound, so I'm all a mess. When I met my wife, she joked about the accent, but assumed because I didn't have it, that my parents wouldn't either. I informed her, after we heard Emeril Legasse on Top Chef and she got a kick out him, that my parents had even stronger accents--which was only a few minutes before my mother was picking us up at the hotel. First thing my mom says when we get in the car: "I need to go to Wahl-maht to get some things fuh yah fah-thah." Later, when we were walking on the beach, Jen said "awff" for "off," and my mom said "oh, do I detect an accent?" For me, this film really captured the charm of that moment of my wife and mother meeting for the first time, and just the charm of where I grew up, which, again, was really nice as a New Englander living in the diaspora down here in Philly. 

And with that, let's wrap this up. As of this writing, you can stream this free on Plex and the Roku Channel, or buy it digitally for a low price on Amazon or Vimeo. Also, if you're a fan of physical media, this is available to buy on Blu-ray through Gold Ninja Video. At the very least, this is worth streaming, but I also think for those physical media fans, worth adding to your collection.

For more info: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt2202382

And if you haven't yet, check out my new novel, Holtman Arms, at Amazon in paperback or Kindle!