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.

Sunday, October 17, 2021

Atomic Eden (2015)

After seeing how great Mike Möller was in Ultimate Justice, I was excited to see what else he had for us, and found this on Tubi. Throw in The Hammer, who I'm always saying I need to do more of on the site; and then Lamas tacked on in some way, and this seemed like a no-brainer. As we know though, it's often the no-brainers that turn into the not-so-good ones. In addition to us, our friends at Bulletproof Action have looked at this as well, so you can see what they thought as well.

Atomic Eden has Williamson a private military contractor who's been hired for a big job retrieving an item in Chernobyl, so he needs to round up his old crew and go in there to make it happen. As is often the case though, things aren't what they seem, as a bunch of men in white hazmat suits and gas masks descend on them, and now they need to do everything they can to fight their way out. Will they make it out alive? And exactly what is this device that they're risking their lives to retrieve? Is it worth all this trouble? And how does Lorenzo Lamas figure into all this?



Man, that's a great question, right? Is it worth it? I can ask the same thing about this movie. I mentioned that I was watching it to Ty from Comeuppance, and he asked, based off the name "is it a space slog?" I responded "no, it's a one location slog." I think that unfortunately sums it up. There were some pacing issues, especially with this device where the film starts at the 20-minute mark where they get ambushed in Chernobyl, and then goes back to Williamson rounding up his crew. That was clunky and caused me to lose interest a bit. Then we have the crew interacting with each other, which was also clunky. Then the action starts, and it's mostly the crew getting picked off like the cast of a horror movie. I don't know, I like that device in a horror movie, but action movies are not meant to be "Last Girl"-type constructs. Beyond all that though, We got a good amount of Williamson, and he was great in that good amount of him; I like Möller's fight scenes, which were fantastic again--and well-choreographed by him; and I liked his pairing with Hazuki Kato. To some extent, the movie might have been better if it were just those three kicking ass and taking names, rather then adding in a bunch of characters who are just there to be developed then killed off.

This is the space reserved for our requisite "we had planned on doing more Williamson on the site, and we've been woefully derelict in fulfilling that promise" paragraph, but when I looked I saw that the last Williamson was Jackson Bolt in June, and with the last one before that being Down 'n Dirty in February, it seems like we're doing a new Williamson every four months. When you compare that to Dolph, who's about one every three months, and Seagal is actually where Williamson, averaging about one every four months, I guess that means I have been doing more Williamson on here. And what I liked about this one was how much Williamson we got. It seems like a lot of his newer ones have less of him in them, and I can't blame him for that considering he's done plenty of great ones and he's in his 80s now; but here at 75, he could still get after it, which may bode well for some of the other DTVC Hall of Famers out there that are over 60.


Someone who isn't pushing 60, Mike Möller, who showed up again with some really fantastic fight scenes. The problem here was we had so much else going on with all the other characters, that we didn't get as much of him as we'd have wanted. His stuff is absolutely electric, you could put him up there with guys like Iko Uwais, the problem I think is Uwais speaks fluent English, which allows him to carry the non-action scenes off better. I don't know if we'll get Möller on that level, and it looks like after Ultimate Justice he went back to strictly German films. I feel like with the proliferation of action films being shot and produced by guys like Jesse V. Johnson, Ross Boyask, and Daniel Zirilli, there has to be a place for Möller in at least one of them. We need more of this guy!

The Lamas extra was an interesting twist. I had no idea he was in it until his name came up in the credits. It was a nice surprise, since we hadn't seen Lamas in over a year, when we did Gladiator Cop, which was really just him in edited footage from The Swordsman. This is now 35 for him, and out of all the actors in the 30 Club, he's probably best poised to get into the 40 Club. I have one in the can that I've seen already, Bordercross, which was taken off of Tubi before I could get images of it; and then I saw a few others are available on Tubi as well that I could make happen. We haven't moved anyone into the 40 Club since Cannon went in, so it'll be interesting if Lamas is that one.


 

 

Finally, this film used baddies in gas masks to allow them to have only a few stunt actors be as many as possible. A great trick for stretching the budget, and beyond that, I personally enjoy that approach: it's like this mass of endless, faceless killers coming to get them. I guess that added to the "Final Girl" horror element we had here, but I liked it better from the standpoint of the bad guys than from a plot device with all the heroes getting picked off one-by-one. I get too that it probably sounds inconsistent. How can I like one thing and not the other? My response is, "how can I not?"

And with that, let's wrap this up. Free on Tubi isn't the worst deal, but because of a lot of the extraneous character development and unevenly paced plot, the 90 minutes feels closer to 120, which hurts. I think if you're looking for more Williamson, and want to see what Mike Möller can do, this might do the trick for you though.

For more info: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt2974726

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

Sunday, October 10, 2021

Corbin Nash (2018)

This was recommended to us in August of 2020 on our Facebook page by one of our readers, Kevin Hazell, and it's a little embarrassing that I'm just now getting around to the review. I had planned to do it as part of a move to get more horror on the site overall, and if you look back to what I've reviewed over the past year, you can see how well that's gone--I've done just two horror films since October of 2020, Welcome to Willits and Zombeavers. In addition to us, our friends at Bulletproof Action have covered this as well, so you can head over there to see what they thought.

Corbin Nash has Dean Jagger as the film's eponymous hero, a NYC cop who finds out from an old family friend, Rutger Hauer, that his parents were vampire hunters who were killed out in LA. So Nash goes out there, gets work as an LAPD detective, and starts investigating a series of mysterious missing persons cases. He gets too close and finds himself caught and held prisoner in some kind of human kennel, where he's fed bad food and forced to fight for the enjoyment of a group of evil vampires, among them DTVC favorite Corey Feldman. Will he make it out alive? And if he does, can he stop these vampires?


 

This is one of those ones where I don't know where to go with it. It's much darker than I prefer my horror, especially with the idea of the evil vampire kennel. By the same token, I liked a lot of the performances, and I liked the action elements. Where does that leave us then? I don't know how to explain what I think is wrong with the film without spoiling it, so as you're reading, if you don't want to go any further, skip down to the next paragraph. The thing is, Nash never really figures out how to beat the vampires, he just gets turned into a vampire by them when they try to kill him, and now imbued with vampire powers, he's strong enough to take them out. It's like Justice League just waiting for Superman to come in and save the day. It would have been nice if, at the very least, he figured his own way out of the kennel. Ultimately though there was enough good in this that I could appreciate it, and maybe with a movie like this, that's not a bad deal.

Normally, we start with the film's Hall of Famer, but in this case, for me the standout was Corey Feldman. He played an evil, transgender vampire, and he completely immersed himself in that role. From the DTV angle, Feldman in that role would be enough of a novelty to make it worth watching, but the fact that he nailed it as well as he did was something else entirely. He elevates the movie beyond simply that DTV level, especially with all the other names in this to help prop it up. At the same time, as I was looking up his filmography on IMDb, I saw something called "Corey Feldman, feat Snoop Dogg: Go 4 It (Video Short)" for the same year Corbin Nash came out. What was this? I had no idea Corey Feldman had a music career, or that he performed this song on the Today show in 2016. Wonders never cease. In terms of what I think of the song? I suggest checking it out for yourself...



Now for our film's one Hall of Famer, Rutger Hauer. We last saw him in 2014, when we did the film Blood of Heroes, which I did as part of the Drunk on VHS podcast. He has a very small part here, only in the beginning, when he's introduced to our eponymous hero through another DTVC favorite, Bruce Davison, who also has smaller part. This was the last film released before Hauer left us in 2019, with the other films he shot before then released posthumously. In addition to them, we had Malcolm McDowell as the "Blind Prophet," whose character is exactly as his name says. He sits on a bench in LA, and the main character talks to him from time to time. All of these guys are as good as you'd want them to be, but there is a sense that, with Hauer and Davison we want more of them, and with McDowell we want more of a character than just the standard blind wise man. With DTV sometimes you take what you can get.

Getting back to the fact that this is only the third horror film I've done in the last year, I looked at some other major DTV genres to see how that compares to them. I've done four Sci-Fi films, two documentaries, and four comedies--of which, two were Welcome to Willits and Zombeavers, so that covers our two horror films, and also means this is the first non-comedy horror film I've done since I did the screener Coven of Evil in September of 2020. I want to say here that my plan is to do more horror in the future, but I said the same thing last year, and look how that turned out. When I first started the blog in 2007, horror was expected to be a big part of what we were doing, but I noticed early on that action films were the ones getting the most traction, and it wasn't so much that I leaned into that to get more people to the site, it was more like I'd get comments saying "oh, this was good but did you see X from this person?", and then I'd watch and review X, which led to more people commenting on X saying "have you seen Y yet?" or "I think Z was even better by them," so then I'd watch and review Y and Z too, and things grew from there. I also think the horror review ecosystem is much larger than the action film one, so my reviews of action films don't have the competition that the horror ones do. An interesting side note to this though: the 1991 horror film Mom is one of our most-read posts, and when I went to its IMDb page, I saw we were only one of 12 critic reviews listed, which is a common number for us when it comes to action movies, but rare for horror. 


 

Finally, this film also has Courtney Gaines in it. That's important, because it marks a reunion with his costar from The 'Burbs, Corey Feldman. Thinking back 36 years to when that movie came out, it made total sense that not only would it be in the theaters, but that it would be a box office hit. Nowadays, could you ever see a film like that making it to the theater? It would a Netflix original, with maybe a limited theatrical release, but beyond that, it would only exist on Netflix, and in order to see it, we'd have to shell out $13 or whatever a month, as opposed to what we did back then where someone bought it on VHS, and we always had it. Yes, you can get The 'Burbs on Blu-ray for $5, but what about the new movie out there like The 'Burbs that's looking to be made now? Netflix will gobble it up, add some big stars, and give it a social media campaign that makes us think everyone who's anyone is watching it, keep it on their streaming site until they decide they don't want it anymore, and then, long after the faux social media buzz has worn off, it disappears, and we barely remember it ever happened; as opposed to The 'Burbs, where people of a certain age all know and remember it.

And with that, let's wrap this up. You can currently stream Corbin Nash on Tubi here in the US, which I think is a good deal. There were aspects of it I didn't like, and it's definitely on the darker side for me, but there were also some performances worth seeing, especially Feldman's.

For more info: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt2948160

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

Saturday, October 2, 2021

Day of the Warrior (1996)

It's October, and you know what that means here at the DTVC: Hall of Fame inductions! It seems like we were just doing these, which sounds about right since I fell behind on them last year and they went into early 2021. Anyway, our first inductee is the great Julie Strain, becoming only the second woman in our DTVC Hall of Fame. This is also our 1100th post at the DTVC, so what better way to mark that milestone than by celebrating Julie Strain and her work. For more on her and the Andy Sidaris films, you can go to the DTVC Podcast episode that Mitch from the Video Vacuum and I did last year.

Day of the Warrior is the penultimate film in Andy Sidaris's LETHAL Ladies films. In this one, a former agent (WCW great Buff Bagwell) has broken off to form a crime syndicate, and he knows where all the undercover agents are, so he's looking to take them out, one by one. That means agent Willow Black (Strain) needs to let all of them know before his men can get to them, and then have them join her in taking the Warrior down. Will they be able to stop him before his nefarious evil schemes come to fruition? Only time and gratuitous hot tub and airplane landing scenes will tell.


 

For me, this is one of my favorites of the LETHAL Ladies series. It has all the elements that you want in a Sidaris film--especially in these late entries--plus you have the great Buff Bagwell! Julie Strain is great as well, as she turns from a villain to a hero, and continues to enhance this series after joining in Fit to Kill. The film adds in a bit more overt camp than the previous entries, and I think bigger than going from villain to hero, Strain navigates that pivot even better. Beyond that, we had great supporting performances, including Julie K. Smith, Gerald Okamura (which we'll get into later), Sidaris mainstay Rodrigo Obregon, and the great Ted Prior. This is what 90s DTV should be, just a fun, 90-minute ride.

While we don't have a lot of Strain's movies here on the DTVC (this is only her fourth), I felt like if anyone belonged in the DTVC Hall of Fame, it's her, especially with her great resume, and it's more on us to catch up and review more of her films. I think one of the problems is our site has become more action-oriented, and she didn't do as many action films, especially beyond the Sidaris movies, so the rest of her oeuvre tends to fall off our radar. What makes her so great, especially in these LETHAL Ladies movies, is, while they have a lot of TNA and women in little to no clothing, the women have a lot of agency, and Strain was one of the best at marrying sexy with agency. In the DTV world, where racy covers can be the difference between a rental and someone moving down the aisle, Strain could make impression as well as anyone, but, similar to others in the LETHAL Ladies series like Dona Speir and Julie K. Smith, while the sexy gets us in the door, we then get the strong female leads that mainstream Hollywood has always been reluctant to create. Here's to you Julie Strain, you were one of the greatest.


 

After Strain, the other great name in this is Marcus "Buff" Bagwell. He proves yet again how great professional wrestlers can be in action movies. The presence is there to match Julie Strain's, which is important if they were moving her from villain to hero, they need a baddie to work on her level. I looked on his IMDb, and he did the sequel to this, LETHAL Ladies: Return to Savage Beach, and then has a couple small parts in a film called Terror Tract and an episode of Charmed, and that's it. How did that happen? He was one of my favorites when my buddies and I watched Monday Night Nitro in the late 90s. I see that he floated around after WWE bought WCW, doing some TNA wrestling as well, then dropping down to more indies; but at his age, he could do more DTV stuff. Maybe not as an action lead, but supporting roles? Then eventually move into bigger roles like this one? I need more Buff Bagwell.

We've seen a lot of great Gerald Okamura scenes in our time here at the DTVC, but Elvis Impersonator is by far the best. It just doesn't get much better than that. And then, while he's doing his Elvis impersonation, Julie Strain is there in the lounge in a red gown yucking it up as he's singing, making the whole thing even better. I would say, in terms of Las Vegas casino scenes, it would be behind only Mick Fleetwood taking one between the eyes from Robert Patrick in Zero Tolerance for me. If I knew that every time I went to Vegas I'd see Gerald Okamura as an Elvis Impersonator, I'd probably move out there.


 

Usually I tell you how you can find something in the last paragraph, but I wanted to do it here to continue my rant about how streaming services dump films from their library. Last year I was able to do a marathon of all 11 of the LETHAL Ladies movies on Tubi. When I went to grab images for this review, I discovered that they were gone, and to see them on Prime I had to subscribe to the Full Moon channel. What? Luckily this is on YouTube, but look at the quality of YouTube screens? I'm not saying it's at the level of Metallica and what they did to Napster in the late 90s, but Full Moon pulling these off of Tubi is pretty bad. These should be free and great for everyone. If you don't do it for us, do it for the kids.

And with that, let's wrap this up. This is one of the most fun of the LETHAL Ladies movies for me, though you really can't go wrong with any of them. In particular, newly inducted Hall of Famer Julie Strain does a great job. If you haven't seen this, definitely check it out on YouTube--and hopefully soon Full Moon puts these back on Tubi.

For more info: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0116039

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

Saturday, September 25, 2021

Kill 'Em All (2017)

I saw this was free on Tubi, and I had to make it happen. For a while, a lot of Van Damme's DTV stuff was harder to get on free streaming services, so I wanted to take advantage of a time when one like this was. Now it looks like a lot of them, including this one, are available again, so the rush to make it happen may not have been warranted, but you never know with streaming services, and at least it's been watched, so now I'm reviewing it. In addition to us, our friends at Bulletproof Action have covered this, so you can go there to see what they thought.

Kill 'Em All has Van Damme as a mysterious man who we find on the verge of death, probably having gone through a horrible ordeal. We also have Autumn Reeser as an emergency room nurse being interrogated by the FBI about a shootout that happened at her hospital. What does she know about this mysterious Van Damme guy in black? As she tells them what she knows, we get to see the film in flashbacks--her flashbacks, but flashbacks nonetheless. What is this Van Damme guy up to? What are his motives? What do the Serbian mafia have to do with it all? I guess we need to sit back for 90 minutes and wait to find out.


 

This is one of those ones that isn't horrible, but the storytelling device I mentioned above gets in the way a bit. I liked what they were trying to do, but from a movie standpoint, I always find that jumping back and forth to be disruptive. Beyond that, there was a great cast: beyond Van Damme and Reeser, we had DTVC favorite Daniel Bernhardt; big picture stalwarts Peter Stormare and Maria Conchita Alonso; and someone we haven't seen since we reviewed 2002's painfest Whacked! in 2008, Paul Sampson. On top of that, the action is pretty good, but we're also saddled with this construct of Van Damme's character having a concussion that, like the classic leg wound, is an issue when it is, but isn't when it isn't, if you know what I mean. By 2017's DTV standards, this isn't bad, and if you're a Van Damme fan, a free stream isn't a bad deal to make it happen.

Mr. Van Damme is closing in on his 61st birthday in a few weeks. 12 years ago, when we covered JCVD, I mentioned then that in that film he was complaining how he was almost 50 years old and he couldn't do those one-shot scenes anymore. By the same token, he was in Pound of Flesh seven years later at 55 showing off his trademark flexibility and trademark buttcheeks. In that latter film, like this one, he's playing someone younger than himself, someone born in the early 70s instead of early 60s. I kind of get it here though, as he needed to be the right age to fit with the unrest in Eastern Europe that his character was born out of. From an action standpoint, he's good here, but it felt like a lot of his fights were him dominating--especially his one with Bernhardt, which I'll get to later. It's like the Seagal problem, where he can never lose, only at least here the fights have more choreography and Van Damme isn't spending the whole film sitting. Maybe we should take our small victories when we get them.


 

Speaking of that Bernhardt fight. My issue was, it wasn't a good "these guys both know how to fight" fight, it had Van Damme dominating, so it didn't really show off what Bernhardt could do, or really give us the payoff we're looking for when we're pitting Van Damme and Bernhardt against each other from the start. It wasn't as bad as Seagal and Byron Mann in A Dangerous Man, but bad enough. As far as Bernhardt, this is now his second film on here since we've come back from hiatus, the other being Santa's Summer House, and while he had more martial arts and action in this film, I think his part in Santa's Summer House gave him more to work with. He was one when we started the blog that we had pegged as a future Hall of Famer, especially with his work in the Bloodport sequels; but then he tailed off, and we even recognized it then, in the late 2000s, that he was doing more smaller parts in big budget films--or even smaller parts in DTV films that had bigger names in them. This was more than that here, but to some extent it also followed the trend a bit too. I wonder if the main issue was, once JCVD fell into the DTV world, the parts for Bernhardt dried up. A similar thing happened to Gary Daniels, and he went a different route, getting leads in lower budget fare in places like Thailand--even doing faith-based films. How can we knock it though when Bernhardt is getting parts in big films like the John Wick franchise?

I want to get back to the storytelling device used here. For me, as someone who enjoys writing novels in my spare time, I can see how this may have looked good on paper--though even trying to map it out as a novel, it still feels like it would come off as something that would hurt the momentum of the plot to go back and forth like that, so imagining it in an action film is worse. They attempted to mitigate that by making the interactions between Reeser and her interrogators, Stormare and Alonso, more tense, but I feel like a storytelling device shouldn't need to be mitigated. Beyond that, I get that there's a bit of a Rashomon element here, as we're getting the story from the viewpoint of what Reeser wants her interrogators to know, but when we think of Rashomon, we don't see this kind of back and forth approach, each story in that is delivered individually. Action is a tricky thing, and I think we see just how tricky with all of the attempts we've witnessed over the years to reinvent the wheel with it.


 

This is another one that has Van Damme's son, Kris, in it, which I always like seeing. It seems like Van Damme kicks his ass a lot, which I kind of also get too--you need to pay your dues in this industry before you get to be the lead--look at Frank Grillo, who's finally getting those parts now. By the same token, there's a sense, whether it's Kris or his daughter Bianca, that Van Damme is passing this business down to his kids. That feels more authentic than just "your dad's Van Damme so he's going to get you into the movies," if that makes sense. According to IMDb, Kris hasn't done a film since 2018, but hopefully we'll see more of him in the future, especially getting his ass kicked by his dad in movies like this.

And with that, let's wrap this up. As of this writing, this is free to stream on Tubi, Crackle, and Plex here in the US. I think that's the way to go, especially if you're a Van Damme fan. Beyond that though, the storytelling style of going back and forth with flashbacks was disruptive, and makes it hard to recommend if you have to pay for it.

For more info: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt5767628/

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

 

Saturday, September 18, 2021

Contract to Kill (2016)

This is one I was trying to watch for a long time--in fact it was the second-to-last Seagal film I needed to see, the last one is now End of a Gun. It came up for free on Xumo, so I jumped at it and made it happen. In addition to us, our friend Mitch at the Video Vacuum has covered this too, so you can go to his site to see what he thought. Now, without any further ado.

Contract to Kill--not to be confused with any of Seagal's other to Kill movies--has Seagal as a former secret service assassin--not to be confused with the other films where he plays a former secret service agent--who's called back to duty for one last job--not to be confused with the other films where he's a former agent called back into duty for one last job--that involves him forming a team that does most of the heavy lifting and allows him to sit most of the time--not to be confused with the other films where he forms a team that does all the heavy lifting and allows him to sit most of the time. As luck would have it, he and his team find out they're pawns in a government game--not to be confused with the other times... okay, you get the idea. This is your standard Seagal/Waxman get Seagal some money 2010s DTV actioner.


 

And that's what we've got here, standard DTV fare from Seagal, especially when it's directed by Waxman. Seagal has his trademark chia fuzz goatee and widow's peak hair; he sits more than he stands; he does some slap-chop fights where the other guy can't possibly get a hit in; and his co-stars do more of the heavy lifting. The thing is, these movies have kind of got me. They're fun in spite of themselves. It's not like a bag of Doritos, where I know where the goodness is, and I know I'll be paying for it later if I finish the whole family size bag; these are more like the Wise rip-off Bravos, where I see them on sale, eat them, realize they're not as good as I remember, but their rip-off-ness kind of grows on me, and I like the idea of spending less to eat something not as good. Does any of that make sense? Maybe I out-metaphored myself.

We're nearing the finish line of Seagal's DTV films. By my count we have five left after this--six if I do Clementine, which I may do because it'll be the one that puts him in the 40 Club. The other thing is, with the slow pace at which I'm putting out reviews, he may get some new films out by the time we're finished, meaning we'll have to do those as well. Seagal is going to be 70 next year--which is interesting, because when we started the site his IMDb listed him as born in 1951, so somehow became a year younger since 2007. I used to go by what I called the Death Wish V Standard for action stars, meaning Charles Bronson was 73 when that came out, so that's the oldest for an action lead. Seagal is closing in on that number, and I feel like if he gets more sit-down roles with Waxman at the helm, he could surge past Bronson's Death Wish V age. I never considered it before, but killing someone with a remote control soccer ball is perfect for a sit-down role--and to some extent this movie sets us up to go there, using drones to do a lot of the work for Seagal instead.



This is Keoni Waxman's ninth film here on the site. That doesn't sound like a lot, but for a director that's a pretty big number. To give you a sense, he's one behind DTVC Hall of Famer Cirio H. Santiago. Does that mean Waxman could someday make his own way into the Hall of Fame? I think it's a real possibility. From a numbers standpoint, I think Isaac Florentine and Sam Firstenberg would need to get in before him, and Jesse V. Johnson is right with Waxman as another director who needs consideration; but Waxman's work as the Seagal whisperer alone is Hall of Fame worthy. Between '09 and '17, the only film he did that wasn't a Seagal film was Hunt to Kill. He also did the The Anna Nicole Smith Story, the one that starred Willa Ford as Anna Nicole Smith. That might be an interesting non-Seagal Waxman to check out.

One of Seagal's costars in this is the always great Russell Wong. I saw on his IMDb bio that he's in the new Clifford live-action film that's opening in theaters this weekend. I wonder who's tougher to work with, Seagal or a big CGI red dog? Wong plays the drone guy, so he does a great job allowing Seagal to spend more time sitting. Again, I wonder who sits more, Seagal in this film, or the big CGI red dog? It's a unique situation, because we're used to guys like Byron Mann or Bren Foster who do the heavy lifting in more martial arts scenes, but Wong is doing it with a remote control. Either way, whatever allows Seagal to do the least amount of work, the better.


 

Speaking of which, look at that screen above, which comes from an extended slow chase where all Seagal does is sit behind a steering wheel and pretend to drive. It's amazing stuff. Seagal also does a fight scene sitting, but this takes the cake for me. With Waxman coming up with new and creative ways to give Seagal action scenes while he's sitting, this shows the lengths of his ingenuity. Hall of Fame nominations are coming in October, and it feels like Waxman is really making a push. If not this year, maybe next year? Especially if more of his Seagal films have gems like this.

And with that, I think we're done. That was quick, right? I feel like I was just starting this review, and suddenly we're on the 8th paragraph. This is now available on Tubi, which makes it a much better option. If you like a good ol' Seagal/Waxman 2010s DTV "actioner," this will do the trick. If you don't, then even for free on Tubi it's a pass.

For more info: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt5470222

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


 

Saturday, September 11, 2021

The Intergalactic Adventures of Max Cloud aka Max Cloud (2020)

I caught this when it was available on Hoopla, which I thought was a big deal, since it didn't seem like it was available for free anywhere else. Now that I've finally gotten around to covering it, it's available on Prime too. Either way, it's more Adkins, and we have a lot to catch up on with him. In addition to us, our friends at Bulletproof Action have covered this too, so you can go there to see what they thought. Now without any further ado.

Max Cloud has Scott Adkins as the eponymous hero of a video game that a girl, Sarah, living in Brooklyn in the early 90s, loves playing. As luck would have it, she gets transported into the game, and the only way out is for her friend Cowboy, who has a penchant for eating "tinned" sausage, to beat the game. That's not going to be easy, because the characters are stuck on a prison planet, with baddies aplenty and danger all around--a lot of places where a character can get themselves killed. Will Cowboy do it and get Sarah out of the game before she dies--and more importantly, before her dad wonders where she is?



The  problem with this one, at least for me, is we've been here before, and I don't know what this film is doing that's new on that score beyond giving us a female video game playing protagonist--which I agree shouldn't be understated, as the stereotype is only boys play video games. The thing is, for me it needs to be more than that. It had some nice callbacks to the games I enjoyed from the early 90s, which was a nice touch, but again, nice touches need to be accoutrements to a solid greater whole, and this just wasn't quite there. There was some good Adkins, as he played a goofier kind of hero, almost Inspector Gadget, only instead of gadgets he had his martial arts ability. The sets were nice too, there was a great supporting cast, and I liked the way the shots of the video game on the TV looked like a 90s sidescroller I would've played; but ultimately, I felt like we were left with a concept that's been done many times before, and the film's nice touches couldn't get it past that for me.

We last saw Adkins here when we did Accident Man in March, and I think in that time he's released three more movies. I'm kidding, but it's still believable with him and his output. This is one of five films he had come out in 2020, which is following four each for 2019 and 2018. Of those 13, I've seen 8, and now have reviewed six, so we have a lot to catch up on, and with the rate at which I'm watching films and doing reviews, he might as well be Eric Roberts, I'll probably never get there with him. The thing about this one is, when I saw it being mentioned, I thought it looked fantastic--the problem was, I didn't know it was going the "player transported into her video game route." I do like though that Adkins is showing us his range here, and maybe in the future, we can get more fun, wisecracking heroes from him who also kick a lot of buttocks.


 

As always, whenever I have bones to pick with the film I'm reviewing, I try to be solutions oriented, so that leads us to what I would have done differently. I think the first thing I would have done is stopped at "kid transported into her video game." Whether it's transported into movies, TV shows, or video games, we've seen it, and I think it takes a lot to take that idea and do something new with it. With that in mind, I think you just scrap the transported into the video game part, and keep the rest. Adkins as the Inspector Gadget-type goofy hero, Sally Collet and Elliot James Landridge as the people left on his crew trying to help him, and the rest of the story of them trying to fix the ship and get off the prison planet is the same. The transported into and stuck in the video game part I think bogged the film down in a way that it didn't need, and also took the elements that were inventive and made it less so.

This film had a great cast, and two great parts beyond the ones I've already mentioned, were Tommy Flanagan as the mysterious intergalactic bounty hunter Brock Donnelly; and John Hannah as the evil villain Revengnor. The problem with both I think is that, with this added intrigue of Sarah trying to get her friend to get her out of the video game, neither Flanagan or Donnely's characters are really developed well, and we kind of lose them for parts of the film. On the one hand it's good, because both do their jobs so well that we don't need a lot of development for them, but on the other, there was a sense that we weren't getting enough of them. Either way, they were a welcome site and fun to have here.


 

Finally, no post like this would be complete without my own memories of early 90s video game playing. The thing about sidescrollers is they were good on my own, or if only one buddy was coming for a sleepover, but in bigger groups, the fighting games that were becoming popular at that time were a much better bet. Winner stays, loser gives up the controller. My wife and I got one of those new Super Nintendo machines that has a bunch of games pre-loaded in it, and we were playing a lot of Super Mario World, until we weren't. I think we got it like two years ago, and it just sits now. Not that I don't play video games, I have some on my phone, but this movie did bring back some of the nostalgia of loading up on junk food and having a friend over to try to beat a certain game; or just playing myself and trying to pass a certain point or gain another accomplishment. Again, ultimately more accoutrements accompanying an overall idea we've seen before.

And with that, let's wrap this up. This is now available on Prime, and if you have Prime, streaming it without paying extra may be the way to go. It has a lot to like, the problem for me was, I've been there and done that with the whole transported into whatever medium I'm consuming, and I think that hurt the film overall.

For more info: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt9472532

And if you haven't yet, check out my novel Chad in Accounting at Amazon in paperback or Kindle!




Saturday, August 21, 2021

Female Fight Club (2016)

This film is a milestone on here for two reasons. One, it officially marks Dolph's entry into the 60 Club. I don't know if I'll create any imaging for that until Gary Daniels finally joins him in a year or two, but we'll see; and two, this is the last DTV film of Dolph's I needed to see, and now I've seen them all. (There are three more Dolph's I need to see though: Small Apartments, Fat Slags, and Electric Boogaloo.)

Female Fight Club has Amy Johnston as a woman working at an animal shelter in Vegas who has a past... turns out she was once an underground pit fighter, but she quit after her sister (Tracy Palm) was assaulted by someone and her father (Dolph Lundgren) killed that someone. The sister is also a fighter, and she has a daughter of her own to support. When she gets in big to a crime boss running an underground fight ring, she enlists her sister to help train some female fighters she's been working with, so they can win a tournament and she can make good with the crime boss. But, as we know in movies like this, pasts don't go away that easily, and who's casting Amy Johnston in a movie like this if she isn't going to fight eventually?


 

This wasn't horrible, but it does miss a few marks. First and foremost, there isn't much of a female fight club. Johnston trains them for a second, then a few scenes later they get beaten in the tournament, and that's the end of it. Also, not to give it away, but they kill off a character that they didn't need to kill off, as it doesn't advance the plot in any way, so it just felt like they were trying to be dark to be dark, or dramatic to be dramatic. On the other hand, there are some good fights in this, in particular a nice Dolph one just so we feel like we got our money's worth out of seeing his name on the tin, and Johnston feels like someone who could be in that next generation of DTV action stars if she gets the right vehicles. Maybe this isn't the right vehicle for her, but she at least showed she could handle something better. Overall, this isn't the worst thing to watch if you find it on your streaming package.

60 movies for the great Dolph Lundgren, the Babe Ruth of DTV. I finally made a trip up to see a game at Yankee Stadium a couple weeks ago, and made sure I got my pics of the Babe Ruth's granite monument and retired number at Monument Park, and his jerseys in the Yankees Museum; and my grandfather actually saw Ruth play in his 1935 season with the Boston Braves. The point I'm getting to is, maybe I'm pumping Dolph up too much by comparing him to perhaps the greatest player in baseball history, but everyone knows I love baseball analogies, and who else would Dolph be if not Babe Ruth? And 60's a big number for Ruth, as that was the single-season home run record he held until Maris broke it with 61--and we even have our asterisk, because technically Dolph has been tagged 61 times, but we don't count the time he was tagged for the Van Damme Film Fest post. There's never been a DTV star who's moved the needle the way Dolph has--maybe Seagal, but he doesn't have as many DTV films. By my count, we have six or seven Dolph's left to review, plus he has some in post-production that haven't been released yet, so the 70 Club isn't that far fetched. If it's a Dolph movie, we'll be there.


 

This is definitely more an Amy Johnston movie than a Dolph movie, and while Dolph is the reason we're here, Johnston is developing a name where she can be the main draw without a Dolph alongside. I also liked that Dolph in this, like he did with Natalie Burn in Acceleration, and Denise Richards in Altitude, took a step back to let a woman making a name for herself in DTV action have the spotlight. The thing is, this movie couldn't tell if it wanted to be a dramatic, suspenseful slow-burner, or an action-packed punchfighter, and for someone like Johnston who's making a name for herself, that doesn't help. I think she needs a full-on, 85-minute, Adkins-style actioner where her character is allowed to just get after it. Maybe a Debt Collector sequel where it's her and Natalie Burn beating up guys and collecting debts. Speaking of Adkins, we've seen her once before in Accident Man, and she was great there in a smaller supporting part; but looking at her IMDb bio, I don't see much more of her stuff for us to do, beyond Lady Bloodfight and Breaking Barbi. Hopefully this is just the start of a big DTV career for her.

As I mentioned above, there isn't much of a Female Fight Club in this film, which isn't good since that's the name of the movie. It ended up feeling like an underdeveloped aspect, but by the same token, the women in the female fight club weren't as compelling Johnston's character, so I get why they weren't developed further. It makes the movie feel uneven though, to have this whole thing of her training fighters midway through the movie, and then it's abandoned. This ends up feeling like the issue we've been seeing with a lot of DTV movies lately: they have enough material for an episode of a syndicated action show, but not enough to fill a 90-minute movie. I don't know why this problem has become so prevalent, but it feels like something that we've been seeing a lot of since 2011. Is it because there is no more syndicated action TV for screenwriters to get work on, so they're just taking scripts they would have written for that and adding 45 minutes of pages? Maybe the number of streaming services looking for content could be a new avenue for syndicated TV--I saw that there's a From Dusk Til Dawn TV show that probably would have been a syndicated TV show in the 90s. Hopefully that kind of thing will fill the gap, and eventually our DTV movies will start to feel like movies again, and not TV show episodes with a bunch of fluff tacked on.


 

Finally, I feel like Dolph's 60th film on the site deserves another paragraph, so here we are. Dolph is about five or six years older than Mark Dacascos, but the point is the same that, like Dacascos did in One Night in Bangkok, he's leaning into playing an older part here, which is refreshing. He's not playing someone older than himself the way Dacascos did, but he is playing someone his age, who has two grown daughters, one of whom has a daughter of her own, making his character a grandfather. We have a whole collection of films available on Tubi and other streaming services where we can revisit Dolph's career when he was younger if we really need that. There are also some films we haven't reviewed yet where he plays someone younger--or gets the younger female costar--and I think we'll be able to go back to this one when we look at those and say, this is a much better way to do it. With Dolph and Van Damme in their 60s, and Seagal approaching 70, we're seeing a new age with action stars staying relevant longer, and I think how they play these parts is uncharted territory that DTV filmmakers are going to have to navigate, along with the stars themselves in how their characters are portrayed. Doing it this way, where Dolph is playing someone his own age and isn't as much in the spotlight so a new star like Johnston can shine, is one avenue that I think can really work.

And with that, let's wrap this up. As of right now, I don't think this is available on any of the main streaming platforms--IMDb lists it as on the Tribeca Shortlist Prime Channel, but the best I can tell it's a $4 streaming rental here in the States. For my money, it's not worth that--I was able to get it as part of another streaming service's free preview week through our cable provider, and if you get an opportunity like that, I'd say it's worth checking out.

For more info: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt5153860/

And if you haven't yet, check out my novel, Chad in Accounting, in paperback or on Kindle!