The Direct to Video Connoisseur

I'm a huge fan of action, horror, sci-fi, and comedy, especially of the Direct to Video variety. In this blog I review some of my favorites and not so favorites, and encourage people to comment and add to the discussion. For announcements and updates, don't forget to Follow us on Twitter and Like our Facebook page. If you're the director, producer, distributor, etc. of a low-budget feature length film and you'd like to send me a copy to review, you can contact me at dtvconnoisseur[at] I'd love to check out what you got. And check out my book, Chad in Accounting, over on Amazon.

Sunday, September 17, 2023

Villain (2020)

Back in July I had Will from Exploding Helicopter on the podcast to discuss Craig Fairbrass, and this was one of the films we looked at. I have to confess that before the episode, I hadn't seen a lot of Fairbrass's films, so this was a great opportunity for me, and Will was great in providing the context for Fairbrass's career and the characters he was playing.

Villain has Fairbrass as Eddie Franks, a criminal who's released from prison after ten years, and is looking to get his life on the straight and narrow. Unfortunately, if it were that simple, we wouldn't have a movie. To start, his brother Sean, who was supposed to be running their pub when he was away, has a coke habit and is now into some mobsters for a huge debt. At the same time, his estranged daughter wants nothing to do with him, and while he's repairing that relationship so he could be a part of her and his grandson's life, he finds out she's in an abusive relationship. Now to fix both situations, it looks like Franks will have to turn to crime one last time before he can finally put it all behind him and move forward. This shouldn't be a problem for someone as experienced as Eddie, right?

This was really good. I was hesitant to give it the "action" tag, because it doesn't have a lot of action; as was I hesitant to give it the "suspense" tag, because, while it has some suspense, it's not really a suspense move per se. Drama might be the best genre, but we don't have a drama tag, so I had to make the best that I could with it. And as you can tell from the cover, this was hard to market as well, because it's not really anything like you're seeing there. What we get is a solid story about a tragic figure surrounded by other tragic figures. It's more a character study than a classic English hardman flick, but what makes it so great is how much Fairbrass is up to the task. The supporting cast all turn in great performances as well, working well as satellites around Fairbrass's central figure, yet making their characters compelling in the process. It's more Indie art house flick than DTV actioner, and while it's packaged like the latter, don't let the fact that it's the former scare you away from it.

Before I move forward, just a word of warning that in the later paragraphs I will need to give away the ending, so if you want to watch this first, by all means do, then come back and see what I thought about the rest. You can find this on Prime and Pluto here in the States.

The fact that Fairbrass was able to pivot this character away from the standard British hardman role is ultimately what makes it work so well. I think that's because he's a true actor that just happens to also be very imposing in stature, not a former athlete or something like that turned actor due to his imposing stature. The other thing he does here is he leans into his age, almost playing someone even older. When he holds his grandson, he makes himself appear very grandfatherly. Look at the image of him below. That's not Pat Tate Hoovering up lines of coke and beating up stuntmen with a baseball bat, that's a man in his late 50s looking at his infant grandson and trying to reconnect with his estranged daughter. Don't get me wrong, I'm happy to see him playing Pat Tate or another standard hardman, but to see him pull this off as well as he does was fantastic, and really entertaining.

Spoiler alert, a final warning that I'm going to have to give away the ending here, so if you don't want to know what happens, don't read further and go watch the film.

This movie ends with Eddie Franks dying, but in way that you wouldn't expect. As things are unraveling around him, it's actually his daughter's abusive boyfriend who shows up on a motorbike and hoses him down with Uzi fire. For some in the IMDb comments, this was a letdown, which I get. But there was also the sense of the European tragic tradition that this is playing on, something that's more common in the UK than here in the States. Will and I discussed it a bit, and I mentioned how Mark Twain flips that tradition in Tom Sawyer, where Tom gets to attend his own funeral, instead of the hero being destroyed by his own hubris, he gets to see himself celebrated as the center of attention. Will had a good counter to that though, when he mentioned the gangster films of the 30s with stars like Cagney and Robinson, where those characters always died tragically at the end--and that tradition continues with a film like Scarface, or even Goodfellas where Henry Hill symbolically dies when he's forced to live a mundane life in witness protection. Why then is an ending like this so anathema to us Americans, where it fits better for Brits or Europeans? We want to see an Eddie Franks vanquish his enemies and avoid capture from the police, right? But maybe that's a more recent thing, the idea of the "anti-hero," Fast and Furious or Marvel movies where baddies come back to join the heroes, there is no dying by the sword that the main character lives by, only living. So to see an anti-hero like Eddie Franks not only die, but die the way he does, works so counter to that new tradition that it ruins the film for a lot of people. For me though, I appreciated it here.

The other piece I really liked was how we get the sense that Franks has it all figured out, only to find out he was wrong, and that mistake was what becomes his undoing. It's another piece that we often don't see in newer films, especially ones made here in the US. The hero almost always has it all figured out, even when it seems like he doesn't, we find out after the fact that he knew all along. Not only does this not go in that direction, but it warns us that that might be the case earlier on. Essentially, what happens is, Eddie's brother Sean isn't into the baddies for a large sum of money because, as Eddie initially thought, the baddies stole their own goods that he was supposed to transport, a classic scam baddies use to extort their couriers; but rather because the police confiscated it. The baddies warn Eddie that his brother is a "grasser," UK-speak for the US "rat," but he refuses to believe it. It's part of the hubris that leads to our hero's tragic end, but it's the kind of move many modern US films won't go for, which is too bad.

Finally, during the episode, I asked Will if anyone ever played baseball in the UK, or if baseball bats were just used in bar fights and gang fights like we see in these UK crime films, and he confirmed that it's the second thing. Here I believe Fairbrass uses a hammer to attack some guys giving him a hard time in his pub, which makes more sense, because hammers still have utilitarian uses outside of attacking people with them; but the baseball bat, if no one is playing baseball, has only one other purpose. And to be fair, it serves that purpose really well. The baseball bat has been engineered for more than a century to be able to do something as good as possible that the best players only do about 30% of the time, and that's hit a baseball being thrown at 90+ MPH, that's curving and moving around as it approaches the batter. That makes a stationary human head an easy target for that uniquely designed baseball bat, and while the UK doesn't have a great need for a bat to hit a moving fastball, there are plenty of human heads, especially in London. The question then is, where does one get a baseball bat in the UK? At a sporting goods store? Or a bar supply store? And while we also use a baseball bat as a weapon here in the US, when an assault rifle is so easy to come by, why not spend the extra money? If we did things like they do in the UK, the man rampaging through a school with just a baseball bat may hurt some kids, but someone might be able to disarm him, and you also assume the local police wouldn't be afraid to engage him either like they are when he's stalking the school halls with an assault rifle. 

And with that, let's wrap this up. As of this writing, you can get this on Prime and Pluto here in the States. I think it's well worth it. This may not fit the usual genres we cover here, and the ending may not be what you're looking for, but something that's well-shot and well-acted is all you need to get you to the church on time. And if you haven't yet, check out the podcast episode I did with Will on Craig Fairbrass. It's episode 130, from July 25th in the archives--and warning, in that episode I go off on a long tangent comparing North Jersey in the US, to Essex in England.

For more info:

Looking for more action? Check out my new novella, Bainbridge, at Amazon in paperback or Kindle!


Saturday, September 9, 2023

Hard Hunted (1992)

As we're trying to get all of Andy Sidaris's LETHAL Ladies films on the site, this was next on the list. I had initially seen it way back in March of '21 when I had Mitch from the Video Vacuum on the Pod to discuss Dallas Connection and the rest of these movies, so it's good to finally get it up on the site.

Hard Hunted involves a baddie named Kane--probably "Kaneshiro," but played by a new actor--who has a nuclear bomb triggering device hidden away in a mini jade sculpture. When Mika, one of our LETHAL Ladies, steals it, he sends Al Leong in a gyrocopter to get it back. Al kills Mika, but our hero, Donna Hamilton, and her partner Roberta Velasquez, get the jade and take it back to the rest of the agents in Hawai'i. Kane won't give up so easily though, and he kidnaps Hamilton, who tries to escape, but gets a nasty knock on the head that leads to a bout of amnesia. Now it's a race against time, as Velasquez, Bruce Penhall, and Cynthia Brimhall try to track her down before Kane and his baddies do. And who knows, maybe our lethal-est of LETHAL Ladies, will regain her memory. If that happens, the baddies won't know what hit them.

This might be my least favorite of these films, which doesn't mean I didn't like it, I just didn't like it as much as the others. The kidnapping and amnesia thing almost turns Speir's Donna Hamilton into more of a damsel in distress, and the part where one of the baddies convinces her that they were a couple, leading to their love scene, was uncomfortable. It may not have been a rape scene in a forced sense, but there was definitely a lack of consent there that put it along those lines. On the other hand, when Dona's character had her faculties, she was fantastic, which made it all the more frustrating when we lose it for that chunk in the middle. My favorite is when she's in the plane after she was kidnapped, and she tosses one of her captors out of the plane, then grabs a parachute and grenade. The pilot tells her "you don't have the stones," to which she says "I don't have the stones?" Then she pulls the pin and jumps out of the plane before it blows up. That's the kickass Speir we want. We also get Rodrigo Obregon back after missing him in the previous film. It's just not a LETHAL Ladies film without him, and he makes all of these better. Finally Al Leong and his gyrocopter were a great addition that added to the fun. While it may be my least favorite, it's still very entertaining.

With this film, Dona Speir now has 6 films on the site, which doesn't sound like much, but it ties her with Shannon Tweed and Jillian McWhirter for fourth most tags for a woman on the DTVC. Above her are Cynthia Rothrock, who has 42, and then a big drop down to Kathleen Kinmont at 8, and Lisa London at 7. We have one more LETHAL Ladies film that she was in, Fit to Kill, so that'll get her to 7, but after that it's slim pickin's, maybe a couple more that we could do, leaving her shy of 10. I don't know that it matters necessarily though how many she has, because the work she does in these as a female action lead, especially in the late 80s/early 90s, is most important. I'd say in comparing her to Cynthia Rothrock, this might be her Lady Dragon 2, only there Cynthia Rothrock is a more explicit damsel in distress, and her character is more overtly raped. I think with this one, the amnesia aspect might have just been a sign of a series that was running out of ideas, and they wanted to inject some intrigue into it, so this was what they came up with. As I mentioned above though, when Donna Hamilton has her faculties, she's fantastic, and gives us everything we want with her in a LETHAL Ladies film.

After Do or Die, which is the only post-Malibu Express entry in the LETHAL Ladies films to not feature Rodrigo Obregon, he's back with us now, fully scarred and eye-patched and chewing scenery. He's not the main baddie, we leave that to Geoffrey "RJ" Moore's Kane (more on him below), but what we get as sort of an intermediate baddie is fantastic. I remember in 2021 when I watched all of these films for the podcast episode with Mitch, my top actor for Letterboxd that year was Obregon, and my top director was Sidaris, a Holy Grail for a low-budget movie watcher like me--only topped in 2022 by both actor and director being Fred Williamson. For a movie series that's a lot of boobs, buttocks, and sex scenes, with shootouts and explosions mixed in, to have an actor like Obregon be one of the hallmarks is a testament to how great he is. Welcome back Mr. Obregon, we missed you.

Speaking of hallmarks, two of the hallmarks of the Fast and Furious films are one, no one ever really dies, and two, baddies become good guys in later films. Sidaris gave us the blueprint though on how that series should have done it. Ava Cadell plays an assassin in Do or Die, complete with a scene of her putting on her leather pants. She gets blown up, and that's it. Now that she's in Hard Hunted is there this whole story around how she survived the explosion and has been turned to the side of the Good Guys? No, she's just here now as new character who's part of the Good Team, helping them out by running radio station KSXY, through which she relays information to them. What about our baddie, Kane? In the previous film he was "Kaneshiro" and played by Pat Morita; now he's "Kane" and played by Geoffrey Moore. They even use footage from the previous film showing Carolyn Liu's Silk character creating the necklace that she gave Morita, and is now giving to Moore, through which the agency is able to track him. Does any of it matter to us, the fans of these films? Of course not, just like we didn't care that Erik Estrada was a baddie in Guns, and was a Good Guy as a totally different character in Do or Die. The Fast and Furious movies should've just relaxed and, instead of bringing people back from the dead, just had actors play new people. You like Jason Statham, but he was a baddie in Furious 7? Just have him play a whole new character in Fate of the Furious. It might actually be more fun for us--as these Sidaris films are more fun than the Fast and Furious films.

Finally, this is our 10th Al Leong film, which I think is a fitting one, because, while this isn't the best of his 10 films on the site, this might be his best performance. First off, I think he has more lines in this than all the other 9 combined. Second, he flies that fantastic gyrocopter, one of my favorite of all the Sidaris vehicles he uses in these films. The problem of course is, being a helicopter pilot and a baddie means he can only meet one end, and our hero Donna Hamilton was more than willing to send him there. Will from Exploding Helicopter talks about what he calls "Chekhov's Copter," which means a helicopter shows up for the sole purpose of being blown up in a later scene. In this case, we have Chekhov's Copter blown up by Chekhov's Gun, because what happens is, Al Leong is spraying our heroes with machine gun fire, hitting Bruce Penhall in the leg, forcing him to abandon his gun on the beach. Later, after our heroes have been disarmed, Donna Hamilton runs back to where the gun was left, and uses it to dispatch Mr. Leong in explosive fashion. With such fun devices being employed by Sidaris in these films, it's hard to stay angry with him for the whole Donna Hamilton amnesia thing.

And with that, let's wrap this up. This, like all the LETHAL Ladies films, are available on Tubi here in the States. While this might be my least favorite, it still has a lot of fun elements, and is worth checking out if you haven't seen it yet.

For more info:

Looking for more action? Check out my new novella, Bainbridge, at Amazon in paperback or Kindle!


Saturday, September 2, 2023

Executive Target (1997)

It's been a little while since we've last had PM on the site, back in February when they joined the 40 Club. With that in mind, I'd had this as one of theirs I'd been meaning to look at for a while now. Beyond the PM factor, we had one of my favorites Michael Madsen, plus DTVC Hall of Famer Matthias Hues, and greats like Keith David and Roy Scheider. In addition to us, out of the six critic reviews on IMDb, three of them are the guys at Comeuppance, Will at Exploding Helicopter, and Simon at Explosive Action, so that tells you this has to be pretty sweet.

Executive Target has Madsen as a stunt driver serving time in prison who's broken out by a terrorist group while he's being transported. The terrorist group, led by Keith David, and featuring Angie Everhart, Matthias Hues, and Robert Miano among their members, want Madsen to drive for them, and to make sure he does, they kidnap his wife (Kathy Christopherson). First he drives for them in a bank heist, and then the real fun begins: they want him to kidnap the President, none other than Roy Scheider. But Madsen has other plans, and while he does kidnap the President, he takes him to a friend's place, and together they hatch a plan to take David and his baddies down. No matter what, in PM fashion it'll be all car flips and explosions to get us there.

PM does it again. Even at 100 minutes, which would be death for many other films, for PM it's just an extra ten minutes of car flips, explosions, Madsen being too cool for school, David chewing scenery as the baddie, and Scheider being bad ass Presidential. As Simon said in his review on Explosive Action: "this is why I got into this game." Here here. They really don't make 'em like this anymore, but PM made 'em like this back then, and we have them available on streaming sites or YouTube for us to enjoy. And it's classic PM too. When we hear bank heist, we know this can't be a simple smash and grab job, and PM gives us the chase we want. Plus it's the 90s, when we see Madsen on the tin it means he's really going to be in the film, not like today where he might be in for like 10 or 20 minutes. This probably isn't even a top 20 PM flick for me, but that's how great PM was back then that this is so entertaining.

I went back to look at the previous 12 Madsen films we'd looked at to see where this ranked, and it might be the best of his we've done. We have a great performance by him in Vice, and then Final Combination aka Dead Connection is probably the other one I'd consider for the best of his we've covered, but I think that one loses itself a bit in the end, whereas this is consistently PM throughout. Recently we did Dolph's 69th film, and there was a thought of who could catch him. Madsen has the credits, but with this only being his 13th film on the site, he's now 56 behind Dolph, so even if we did one Madsen film a week for a year, he'd still be behind Dolph. The thing is though, I looked on Tubi, and he has like 90 or 100 films on there, and while some are ones we've done before, or they're not DTV flicks so they wouldn't fit on the site, there are at least 60 we could do. Back when I used to do 3 posts a week, that would be feasible, but now that I barely do 60 posts a year it's harder to pull off. Another one we could do that with is Eric Roberts, who has 180+ films on Tubi. So if we did a movie a week for each of them, it would be like a George Thorogood song, "one Madsen, one Roberts, and one beeeeer..."

This is the second time we've seen Roy Scheider play the president on the site, the other being Dolph's The Peacekeeper--and he has another in addition to that, 2000's Chain of Command, which I haven't reviewed yet. Of all the people we've had play the President on here, he might be the most Presidential. Ty and I joke on the podcast about Randall Emmett convincing Donald Trump to play a baddie in some of their movies, but this Scheider performance has me thinking Biden would be one of the best badass Presidents the way Scheider is here, as he seems very Biden-ish. Maybe the best badass ever would be Teddy Roosevelt. Eisenhower was pretty badass too. And don't sleep on George Washington. And while I'm not sure if Bill Clinton would've made a great action star, at least he could play the sax if he was taking Busey's role in a shot-by-shot remake of Bulletproof--and who wouldn't pay to hear Bill Clinton call people "butthorns"?

Usually the film's Hall of Famers are covered in the first paragraph after my initial reaction, but Matthias Hues is barely in this, and I wanted to save my PM paragraph for the penultimate one, so here we are. This is now 19 for Hues, so he's about to pass 20, which doesn't sound like a lot, but as a Hall of Famer, we'd like to get that count higher, so hitting that milestone would be important. According to the trivia, he asked Merhi to be killed off, which may explain the scant Hues we got. We had Keith David as well, this is only 9 for him, but fun to see him acting opposite Madsen, two greats getting after it. We finally tagged Angie Everhart with this being her third film on the site. I'm expecting we'll see her more though, especially with the number of DTV films she did around this time, including more PM flicks. As someone known for her great hair, in this her character has it in a ponytail for good chunks of the film, so it's almost a hair bait-and-switch, though to be fair, we can't really see her hair on the cover, so they didn't sell us on her hair going in, just had us expect it on reputation alone.

Finally, I saved the PM paragraph for last. This is our 41st PM flick we've looked at on the site. The goal is to get as many, if not all, of PM's feature films reviewed on here. According to IMDb, they list 202 titles, of which 48 are LA Heat episodes, so that leaves us with 154, minus the 41 we've already done, so 113 or so to go? That seems pretty daunting--maybe instead of a Madsen project I should do a PM flick every week. A lot of them are available either on streaming sites, or YouTube--in fact, on my YouTube page, I've created a playlist of the PM flicks I've found so far on there. I think at the very least, the action films need to be on here, and there are still a ton of those that need to be covered too. I think what watching this film does is reminds me that, while newer films are good to cover, I should never go too long without covering something from this time, especially a PM flick, because there isn't much happening today that matches what they did back then. Maybe Jesse V. Johnson or Isaac Florentine, but neither of them are doing what PM did at the scale and absurdity we see in something like this. Here's to you PM, you were one of the greatest. As I always say, you don't need the "entertainment" in their name, because when we see "PM," the "entertainment" is a given.

And with that, let's wrap this up. Right now YouTube is the best way to check this out, though Amazon has used VHS and DVD at good prices. This is pure PM, with solid Madsen, great explosions and car chases, and a fun supporting cast. Maybe they don't make 'em like this anymore, but they did back then, and we have the means to watch them now.

For more info:

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

Thursday, August 31, 2023

Lock & Load (2023)

This was a screener submission from Nathan Shepka of Shepka Productions. We'd seen his work before with When Darkness Falls, which I really enjoyed, plus he and screenwriter Tom Jolliffe were guests on the pod earlier this year to discuss their newest project, The Baby in the Basket. In addition to us, our friends Mike, Rich, and Steve at the DTV Digest have covered this as well, in episode 241 of their podcast.

Lock & Load has Shepka and Colin MacDougall as Nick and Derek, two high-end private security guys who think they're going to have a relaxing bank holiday, but instead are called into action when their friend, Agent Stokes, goes missing. As they dig deeper into what happened, they uncover an arms deal between a mysterious figure named the Chess Master, and an arms dealer named Steiger. They also run into a lot of trouble as baddies come out of nowhere and try to take them down assault weapons and explosive devices. Will our heroes find their friend and stop this arms deal from happening?

This was a lot of fun. There were legitimate laugh out loud moments, some of which I thought about after the fact and still laughed at. The thing is though, while it's a send-up of action films, the humor is obvious, but it's not over the top. With the limit resources they had, they made nice looking fight scenes and action sequences, which for me made the comedy even better. It was a bit long for me, it comes in at about 105 minutes, and I could've done with 15-20 minutes shaved off, but this was entertaining enough overall that that mitigated it. The plot may have been a bit convoluted, but I think even that was supposed to be part of the fun--at least I took it that way and went with it. As a fellow action fan, I love something like this that I can have fun with the cliches, but also puts a lot of work into the action as well. It couldn't have been easy on a tight budget, but I think they pulled it off.

Nathan Shepka was writer and director for this as well as acting as one of the leads, but I don't think there's much in common between this and his previous directorial effort, When Darkness Falls. The latter was a slow-burn thriller, without a lot of humor in it, while this jumps right in with a hip hop song about Atlanta, a goofy conversation about pigeons fat shaming, and then a shoot out. Because they're so different, I don't know that I can say I like one better than the other--When Darkness Falls is a cleaner film because it has fewer moving parts, and it's not required to take the chances visually that this one does, but the things this does on a limited budget--and does well on a limited budget--can't be overlooked. And again, the jokes landed, which is probably the most important. I'm excited to see what he and Tom Jolliffe do with The Baby in the Basket.

In America, comedy tends to be more over the top, and I think when that kind of comedy is married with action, what that does is, one, make the filmmaker think they're insulated from criticism--"I'm going to make the action sequences so goofy that if they look lazy, I can say 'that's what it's supposed to look like, it's goofy!' " and then two, when I'm watching it, even as an American with my American sensibilities, I feel like I'm getting hit over the head with it. The problem is, to pull it off they way Shepka and everyone else working on this project did, the action scenes need to look good enough, which I think is why most filmmakers doing a send-up of action go over the top. Sure, the action sequences weren't Hong Kong stuff, but they still looked pretty solid. I was waiting for the fight between Colin MacDougall and Laura MacDougall (not sure if they're related) and Shepka and David McCallum, and they didn't disappoint when we finally got them--and didn't disappoint because they were good cinematic fights, but we also had those touches of humor as well. 

Earlier this year I did a series on my solo DTVC Extra podcast looking at the Fast and Furious franchise, and I think maybe a movie like this shows us where big budget action has lost its way. Sure, with $375 million you can make the best looking action sequences, but what good is it if it's running over the same, safe material. It's the same thing with the Marvel movies. This is doing something different with the genre, and while I'm sure Shepka and co. would like a little more money than they had, they didn't need $375 million to make something fun and entertaining. And the point could be made that my doing that series on the Fast and Furious movies was me losing my way, because a movie like Lock & Load, or Lady Terror, which I did on my last indie screener post, are more where I enjoy watching movies, and a big reason why I started the site.

Finally, like Lady Terror, Lock & Load takes place in a part of the world where people drive on the right-hand side of their car. This was shot in Glasgow, which was slightly disappointing, because I thought it would've been funny if it took place in Aberdeen with the movie starting with the song "Do it in the A,"--which writing the title sounds worse, it's supposed to mean "how we do it in Atlanta." Anyway, as an American, the steering wheel on the right hurts my sensibilities, but the amount of shooting in this makes total sense, though as Will told us when he was on to discuss Craig Fairbrass and Rise of the Footsolider 3, shootings and killings by firearms in the UK are pretty rare, which is why the Range Rover killings where Pat Tate was murdered are so compelling to UK audiences. I think that's part of the joke here, that Glasgow--unfortunately not Aberdeen--looks like LA in a PM Entertainment flick with all the shootings and explosions, but it's a joke I don't think I would've gotten if I didn't have that info from Will ahead of time. 

And with that, let's wrap this up. This currently isn't available in the US, but hopefully will be soon. For our UK readers, you can check it out on digital platforms. This is the rare mix of a comedic action film that does a great job on both the comedy and the action. Thank you again to Nathan for sending this along, it was a fun time! And as an aside, I didn't plan this out, but Monday is a holiday here in the States, Labor Day.

For more info:

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

Saturday, August 26, 2023

Repeater (2022)

This is one where there really wasn't much excuse for why I didn't get to it sooner. There was an outside idea that I might save it for a podcast episode, but really, this was the most recent Gary Daniels flick, free to stream on Tubi, I should've made it happen. Finding out Art Camacho was the stunt coordinator made it all the worse that it took us this long to get it in, but at least we're making it happen now.

Repeater has Paul Sidhu as an assassin who has a job go bad in Bolivia, and has to take a high-risk open contract job as a result. That job involves taking out hacktivist Nick Moran, who has stolen data from an unscrupulous business man that's about to sell his business empire and retire. That businessman has a long-time hatchet man of his, Gary Daniels, also after Moran, and when his boss gives him the go-ahead, Daniels's new job is to kill everyone. On top of that, Painkiller Jane is Moran's bodyguard, and she and Sidhu have some history. Now the question is, will Sidhu kill Moran when he gets the chance? Or maybe he'll help him across the border so Moran can get help from the US Marshals.

This was pretty good, but I think it was a bit longer than it needed to be, and had the classic "hit man saves the lady of the night from being a lady of the night, and she nurses his wounds for him" trope that we've seen so many times. The thing here though was we didn't need it, it just weighed the film down. Sidhu as the lead holds his own really well despite the other names in this, and I'd like to see him in some other R. Ellis Frazier flicks; Daniels is great as a baddie; and Nick Moran, while we could've done without the French accent, is solid as the hacktivist. Also really liked the stunt work Camacho did, especially with Daniels in the fight scenes. The other thing was the film looked really nice, R. Ellis Frazier knows what he's doing at least as far as directing a film goes. The story just got away from them a bit, and in cliched ways that we've seen enough already.

Mr. Daniels is now on 58 films on the DTVC, second all time after Dolph. He just turned 60 this year, so when we finally get him into the 60 Club, he'll also join Dolph as the only other person on the site to have the distinction of having as many films on the site as years on the planet. What we get here is a solid-enough baddie, which worked if we just want more Daniels movies, but I liked the role he had in Bring Him Back Dead better, where he got to be the lead. If this performance shows anything, it's that Daniels can still lead a film if he's given the opportunity. The question now is, where do we go from here with him to get him to the 60 Club? Astro is next on the docket, unless The Gardener suddenly comes available, which I doubt it since it's been this long, but you never know. After that he has his religious films, all of which are on Tubi now, and of which we've already done one, so that leaves us two more of those. The 70 Club where Dolph is headed soon is probably not within reach, but 60 by the end of this year should be.

Third in line for number of tags is Art Camacho, who now has 49, putting him one away from joining Dolph and Daniels in the 50 Club. In talking to Ty from Comeuppance, we have a film lined up for that one, Chinatown Connection, because he stars in it. Here's the thing though: according to IMDb, Camacho also did uncredited writing work on another R. Ellis Frazier film, The Line, something we haven't tagged him for on here. With what happened with Don "The Dragon" Wilson and us having to remove tags from him after films were erroneously credited to him, it might be better to keep his count where it is for now, and we can add that in later if we need, so the next post will be still 50 for us. (Speaking of Wilson, in the trivia it says that the Ray Liotta role in The Line was originally written for him, and then totally rewritten for Liotta to remove the martial arts content. Wilson cites losing that role as a reason why he took the hiatus he did, something that had been a bit of a mystery to us, so interesting to find out that that was a reason why we lost him for about five years.) When we get to that 50th post for Camacho, we'll talk about his contributions to DTV action more, but it's also cool to see him lending his talents to something like this, which just takes everything up a notch. Also cool to see him back with Daniels for the first time since 1998's Recoil (if we're not counting The Line), which I have up as my favorite PM flick of all time.

As R. Ellis Frazier films are wont to do, we had a bunch of other people in this. First off, Nick Moran, traditional British crime film mainstay, is in this as the French hacktivist everyone is after. Why he had to be French--complete with the French accent--is beyond me. It's not possible to be a British hacktivist? You can rewrite an entire role for The Line so Ray Liotta can take Don "The Dragon" Wilson's part, but you can change the hacktivist's nationality when you get Nick Moran for is? We also have Painkiller Jane, aka Kristanna Loken. When I first reviewed a film she was in for the site, back in October of 2007, Painkiller Jane was still on the air, so me, being snarky, put that tag instead of her name, and it's stuck. This is only her 5th film on the site, so who knows, maybe if she gets some more I'll swap that tag over, but it's kind of fun that she's remained "Painkiller Jane" on here long after that show was cancelled. Finally, we have Corbin Bernsen as Sidhu's fixer. We've seen him two other times on here, both Frazier films, so I figured it was time to give him a tag.

Finally, an R. Ellis Frazier mainstay whom I love, and want to give some more shine to, is Luis Gatica. He's only in this in the opening scene, which is too bad, because I prefer to have my Gatica sprinkled in throughout to keep my interest, but I'll take my Gatica any way I can get it. Here he's like the opener in baseball, which, the purpose of the opener is to use a reliever to start the game, get through the other team's top of the batting order, and then hand it over to the a starter to take over from there. Like Paul Sidhu is good, but he's not great--at least not yet--but Gatica is, so let him open the movie, get us through the tougher bats, and then when Sidhu takes over, Gatica has already started us off in a good enough place. It was pure professional Gatica, absolutely killing it, and while, again, I would have preferred to see him in this more, I respect the role and performance he put in and its importance to the film. This isn't my first Gatica appreciation post when doing a Frazier film, so I was surprised I hadn't tagged him yet. We've remedied that now, this is film number 5 for him here. Here's to you Senor Gatica, you're one of the greats.

And with that, let's wrap this up. You can currently stream this on Freevee, Plex, and my favorite Tubi, here in the States. As this is a bit on the longer than it needed to be side, free streaming is the way to go. Sidhu is solid, you get the Daniels you want, with some great Camacho stunt coordination too. 

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

Saturday, August 19, 2023

Come Out Fighting (2022)

This is one I had planned to do earlier this year, but then I discovered Comcast had upped the price on new releases from $5.99 to $7.99, which meant it didn't qualify for the one movie a weekend we could get for $1, so that $2 increase was actually a $7 for me, and made it not worth it to rent. Finally they brought the cost back down to $5.99, so I could get it for a dollar and make it happen.

Come Out Fighting stars Hiram A. Murray (conspicuously absent from the cover) as a lieutenant who's falsely blamed for soldiers in another unit getting ambushed by the Germans. While moving to a new division, the inept captain running the unit taking him there gets lost, and then uses a radio to tell the Germans their position so they can ambush them too. Murray survives, and runs across a downed pilot (Kellan Lutz) they needed to rescue anyway. At the same time, the sergeant in his division, Michael Jai White, is given command, and with the support of his major, Dolph, and General Patton, goes to find Murray and Lutz. They'll need more help to take out the Germans, and luckily Tyrese and his tanks are there to provide support to White's unit.

This wasn't bad. This is the second time we've seen Murray in a Steven Luke WWII film, the other being Operation Seawolf, but here he had a bigger part and shined in it. From there, everyone you see on the tin is there in support, and they do well too. I'd say Michael Jai White has the biggest role after Murray, and I think he was also the best actor out of everyone in the film, which just shows again how much range he brings beyond his martial arts skills. Going back to Operation Seawolf, that film touched on the way African American soldiers were treated in WWII, but this film leans into it and makes it a focal part of the story, and does it in a way that I felt handled it really well. A tight, compact story in a short runtime, with solid performances and a proper historical context, it all worked for me.

We have to start with Dolph, because this is his 69th film on the site. With 1209 posts, he accounts for 5.7% of them--actually closer 5.8%, because his 70th tag was in the 400th post on the Van Damme film fest. He doesn't have a big part here, but I think if you were going to have a major in charge of Hiram Murray's character, it needed to be a presence like Dolph's to make it work. And that's what Dolph still brings after all these years, that presence, even in a smaller role. One thing I noticed about this film is it only has 11 critic reviews, and his other two most recent DTV outings have similar low numbers of critic reviews. I don't feel like the shine has dulled on Dolph, and when I review one of his films he still moves the needle like no one else, so I'm not sure why that is--maybe these distributors aren't sending screeners out? I'm not cool enough to get screeners to Dolph Lundgren films, I just review them because he's in them when I get the chance, so maybe that's why I'm still plugging along.

Still a ways to go to catch Dolph, Michael Jai White is now at 23 films on the site, so I think 30 Club is first on the horizon for him. It's not his fault he doesn't have more tags, it's mine, as this is only his sixth film since his Hall of Fame induction post in December of 2020. In talking about his range as an actor, he plays the part of someone younger and greener than Hiram Murray, despite being almost 15 years older than him. The fact that he was able to do that is a testament to how good an actor he is, and if he doesn't pull it off, no one believes Murray in his role. I looked on Tubi and saw 7 of his films on there, so that alone could get him into the 30 Club if I just hunkered down and did them, which I should do. There's no reason why he gets lost in the shuffle as much as he does, considering how great he is.

This is our first Tyrese film on the site, which was a bit surprising. Also surprising was that he was in this at all, as someone who is a big part of a major blockbuster franchise. One thing I really liked about him here was how his character wasn't goofy at all, unlike the way they've painted his Roman character in the Fast and Furious films. I'm also a big fan of his music, I had his first, self-titled album, and technically saw him live, because he was the musical guest and performed the one time I was in the audience for The Craig Kilborn Show. Great to finally see him on the site, so hopefully we see him again. Another great actor in a supporting role making his debut on the site is Vicellous Shannon, who turns in another solid performance. My saying Michael Jai White was the best actor in this was said knowing how good Shannon is too, which I think further underscores the quality of the performance White turned in here. Finally, again I really like Hiram Murray in the lead role. Hopefully in his next film with Steven Luke he'll get his face and name on the cover, like he did for Operation Seawolf despite having a smaller role there.

Finally, as we've been doing now that Dolph's film count is so high, we've been giving him two paragraphs in our post. Out next review of his will be his 70th film on the site. We've been meaning to do 4Got10 for some time now, and it's the only of his older films that we haven't done, not counting his big budget stuff, or the things that don't really fit the site like a Small Apartments or a scant role in Sharknado V--but we will get to films like those eventually too. That brings up two questions: is 80 in the cards? and could anyone potentially catch him? I think yes to the first one, as he has 4 or 5 things in various stages of development, plus we could tack on a Sharknado V or a Small Apartments to get him there. So then, could anyone catch him? Let's start with Gary Daniels, the person in second. I'm seeing 7 films plus two religious films that we could do, which would get him above 60, but well short of 80. Art Camacho is definitely one, he hasn't quite hit the 50 Club yet, but looking at his stunt work, acting work, and directing work together, I think we could get 30 movies for him, but when would we review them all? That would also still leave Dolph as the number one actor, could anyone catch him there? From a numbers standpoint, I don't think so, we'd have to suddenly push for Michael Madsen or Eric Roberts, and to give you a sense, Madsen has 12 films right now, and Roberts 14, so even if we did 10 films for each of them a year, we'd be talking like the 2030s by then--and who knows how many more Dolph films will be out at that time! I don't like the expression "GOAT," but Dolph is the greatest of all time, that's for sure.

And with that, let's wrap this up. As of this writing, you can rent this on Prime and other services. It may be better to wait until it's a free streamer or on one of your packages you already subscribe to, but when it gets there, it'll be worth watching.

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

Thursday, August 17, 2023

Lady Terror (2023)

Producer, actor, and director Nathan Hill came to me to see if I'd review his newest film for him. It's based somewhat on Blown Away, a film I did way back in August of 2007, when the site was very new. Now here we are, 16 years later, covering an indie film inspired by it, something I would not have predicted if you'd asked me back in 2007. It's always fun to do streamers for filmmakers though, and I was excited to see how this one went.

Lady Terror has Hill as Jake Large, a lawyer in Australia who spends a lot of his time exiting buildings, entering his silver Honda, driving to new buildings, exiting the Honda and entering the buildings, only to exit and start the process over again. His romantic life isn't going so hot, so when exotic dancer Candice takes a shine to him, he's all in, to the point that he'll even entertain killing her stepfather, a Danny Trejo look-a-like who's as bad as it gets. But does Candice really like him? Or is she just using him to kill her stepdad? And if she is using him, is he in too deep to get out now?

This movie was a lot of fun, if I'm understanding it the way I think it's meant to be understood. While it's a dedication to and inspired by Blown Away, it also plays on a lot of tropes and conventions in low-budget 90s Erotic Thrillers, and mocks what feels like could be a vanity project on the part of Hill. But this is where two things come into play that made it hard for me to get there: I've seen too many legitimate vanity projects that were serious in doing the same things Hill was doing tongue-in-cheek; and as an American, I think if the humor's too subtle, I won't always get it. Like one scene where Hill gets jumped by kid that the stepdad hires to attack him. He blocks the kid's punch from behind, then dispatches him with his martial arts prowess, saying "I've been sweeping legs since the 80s." Yes, I get now that Hill was playing that whole thing for laughs, but I've seen guys play that same kind of thing totally straight. Once I got it though, there's almost a genius in the way Hill executes this film. He essentially creates a "that kind of movie," a term the guys at Comeuppance use to describe films like Samurai Cop or The Room. They've always said, you can't manufacture a cult classic, and while I don't know if this is a cult classic, Hill has succeeded in crafting something here that you could watch along with one of those, and it's just as fun. Beyond Hill, the rest of the cast was great too, in particular I liked Phillyda Murphy as Candice, she was great as the Erotic Thriller femme fatale; also Simay Argento as the woman working in Jake's office who's also studying to be a PI; and of course Anton Kormoczi as the Danny Trejo look-alike stepdad--his reaction to being shot by Hill is one of the best parts of the film.

To get a better context of Hill's film making style, I watched another one of his films, Revenge of the Gweilo, which felt more obvious to me as a tongue-in-cheek send-up of action films, which in turn made the humor in this more apparent. Also, he did an interview with Jay Harangue, who has a great YouTube channel where he breaks down movies like this and pokes fun at them, and the fact that Hill would do an interview with someone who spent 11 minutes taking the piss out of his work had me intrigued, and sure enough there was a better sense that things I thought were serious actually were done more in jest. For example, there's the scene where Hill kills the stepdad, first shooting him in the stomach, then trapping him in an SUV and setting it on fire. I was like "how am I supposed to root for a guy who burns someone alive?" and the answer was "you're not supposed to root for him, you're supposed to get a kick out of it." And seen through that lens, I definitely did get a kick out of it.

One of the things that stood out was the frequency with which Hill's character was entering and exiting his car and driving places. He said on the Jay Harangue interview that in doing he was trying to replicate the vibe of lockdown during COVID, where people just ran errands and went home. The thing is, that wasn't my experience, I lived in a city in the US, my wife and I don't drive, and things were happening here like Black Lives Matter protests that turned violent, resulting in curfews and an enhanced police presence; or MAGA-heads cruising up and down Broad Street trying to intimidate us into not voting for Biden in 2020--which we did in droves, crushing Trump here in Philly. We also had the aftermath of that tumultuous presidential election, where the loser, instead of conceding defeat, was trying to find ways to circumvent the loss to stay in power. We'd never seen anything like this before in the US, but it wasn't the kind of mundane experience Hill described for himself in Australia. I think this is a risk anyone runs when they put too much of a personal experience into the vibe of a film and expect it to resonate with everyone. I get what he was trying to do, but working on the noir-ish vibe he was also going for, I could've gone for some shots of him driving, maybe arm on the window frame, trying to look cool in his silver Honda. With the humor he was able to bring in other parts of the film, I think it could've been really funny to see him do something like that.

That this is based on Blown Away is fitting, because back in 2007 I expected Erotic Thrillers to play a bigger part of the site--as I expected comedies, horror, and sci-fi to also be a bigger part of the site. What happened though, soon after I started the DTVC, was the action films got more engagement, which led to me doing more and more of those, and leaving these other genres behind. That was never my intent though, and for Hill to come to me 16 years later to have me look at this film, it reminded me how big a part Erotic Thrillers played in my love of DTV and low-budget film. To be fair, Blown Away was one I didn't entirely care for--how did everyone in that have expert-level bomb making abilities?--but they're fun in their own way, even if they don't completely work, and if anything, Hill captures the fun in this film, which I really appreciated.

Finally, despite how much we saw Hill's character getting in and out of his car, as an American I couldn't get used to him driving on the right side of the car. Look at that image above, what is the steering wheel doing there? And I don't even drive, but as a lifelong passenger I'm used to sitting in that seat while the other person drives on the left-hand side. In a way, it gives the film an alien, exotic feel, like I'm really watching a foreign indie flick. There are two things about Australia that have always scared me: one, the flight there from the East Coast US, my back and knees are hurting just thinking about it; and big spiders, if Australia has big spiders I'm out; but having experienced the driving on the left in England and almost getting hit by a car there, it does worry me if I'm ever in Australia that I may look the wrong way when crossing the street, while a distracted guy driving from one woman to another in a silver Honda might hit me. I think other than Simon from Explosive Action's shopping trips for his films and metal albums that he posts for his YouTube channel, the last time I saw something take place in Australia was a series Netflix did on sex in the digital age, where a guy in Australia had a thing for a webcam lady in the US, and he flies her out to Australia to meet him. Nothing happened between them, but it sounds like a ripe story for another Erotic Thriller--and spoiler alert, maybe she dies crossing the street while trying to run away from a giant spider!

And with that, let's wrap this up. As of this writing, you can get Lady Terror by renting it on Amazon Prime. I think it's worth it to support an indie film like this, but if that's outside your budget, Nathan has a bunch of other films on Tubi here in the States, including Revenge of the Gweilo and I, Portrait, two of his more recent films. Thank you again to Nathan for sending me this screener, this movie was a lot of fun, and I look forward to checking out more of your films.

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