The Direct to Video Connoisseur

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

Saturday, July 24, 2021

Santa's Summer House (2012)

Last December I had our friend Mitch from the Video Vacuum on the pod to discuss this movie. It was a curiosity on a lot of levels, as it has some big DTV action names in it with Daniels, Rothrock, Bernhardt, and Kathy Long, plus it was directed by schlock auteur David DeCoteau. I figured now, in July, I could post it as a "Christmas in July" kind of theme. In addition to us, Mitch also reviewed this for his site, so you can go there to get more of his thoughts. Now, without any further ado. 

Santa's Summer House is about some people hoping to go to a resort, but whose van gets lost and they find themselves at a mansion. While the driver looks to see if he can get them back on track, the nice couple who own the mansion allow the people to stay there. You've probably already guessed that this mansion is the big man's summer house, and these people are here for a reason: they have shit they need to work out, and the big man and his wife want to help make that happen. But before they do, we're treated to some croquet. A lot of croquet...


 

This is exactly what you'd think it is: David DeCoteau throwing something together in a week or so, all in the same location, with a group of stars who probably had a week between projects that could be tossed in. The problem is, as a Christmas movie, it doesn't have the schlock fun that a Lifetime thriller DeCoteau's been doing lately would've had. One of the toughest moments was the extended croquet scene that Mitch compared to "rock climbing" and "sandstorm" from MSTK, and it definitely had that element of Deep Hurting. In the pod episode, Mitch and I discussed what we thought this movie could have been. Give us people at a Christmas resort, and somehow there's a hostage situation, and our action heroes need to take them down. Of course, that costs money, and this film was made on the cheap. Ultimately what this is, is a novelty for DTV action fans, and as a completist like me who feels like he has to see them all, I had to do it. If you don't have that desire to see all of Rothrock or Daniels's films, you may want to skip this one.

We'll start with Gary Daniels, as this is his 52nd film on the site. He almost plays the same busy businessman that he played in DeCoteau's The Wrong Child. Again, at least that one had the Lifetime fun thriller element that this one lacked. It feels like we've lost him a bit since he had his 50th movie on here, and I don't know that reviewing this makes up for that, even if he's getting his 52nd tag. It's a reminder that we need to get to more of Daniels's action stuff on the site, especially since I have a bunch in the can that just needs to get reviewed. 


 

The film's other Hall of Famer, Cynthia Rothrock, also hasn't been getting a lot of run on here lately either, which needs to be rectified. She's now at 37 films on the site, and closing in on joining that 40 Club. Unlike Daniels though, we don't currently have any Rothrock in the can that we need to review. I'm probably going to need to dig into her Hong Kong stuff, and see how much of it is on YouTube, if we're going to keep her posts going, as we've done almost all of her US DTV stuff--there's also more like this, like A Doggone Hollywood where she plays "Mom in Car." It's going to test my completist sensibilities for sure. 

Let's have a hearty warm welcome back to the great Daniel Bernhardt, who we haven't seen here in almost 10 years! I have to say, out of everyone in the film, he was playing the jerk character who becomes less jerky later, but to me he seemed like the one I'd most like to go on vacation with. Imagine walking around a resort with him in open polos and linen pants. Let's load up on the best of everything and have our run of the place. And I think a European resort would be even better, with a guy whose Swiss, I wouldn't feel as much like an Ugly American. Total European bros just kickin' it.


 

The superhero movie has become really popular recently, but when you think about it, Santa maybe has the strongest set of powers. He's pretty much omnipotent, at least by this film's standards. He was able to make a fog that redirected the resort van in the direction of his mansion, but also could magically make all of these people book a stay at a local resort. He also has the ability to be omnipresent, as that's the only way to explain how he can put presents in so many houses in one night, even accounting for different time zones. How would you beat Santa then if he became evil? He's like Thanos with all the Infinity Stones. I feel like that kind of power could rip the fabric of time and space. How do you stop someone who could be anywhere at any time? 

And with that, it's time to wrap this up. As of this writing, this is only available to rent on Prime for $.99, which in my mind is still too much, unless you're an extreme completist. If you want to hear more about our discussion, you can check out the podcast episode on iTunes, Stitcher, or Spotify. Thanks again for coming on Mitch, it was a great time!

For more info: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt2350954

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

Saturday, July 10, 2021

Behind the Mask: The Batman Dead End Story (2015)

I thought I'd extend my new Christmas tradition of doing a documentary to "Christmas in July," especially since I have a lot of documentaries, in particular this one, that I've seen that I thought would be worthy of review on the site here. In addition to us, our friend at RobotGEEK's Cult Cinema has covered this, so you can go to his site to see what he thought. Now, without any further ado.

Behind the Mask: The Batman Dead End Story is the story behind Sandy Collora's Batman Dead End short film that took the comic book world by storm in 2003. After directing some commercials, Collora decides to make a short film as a demonstration of his skills. His idea is a Batman movie where he fights the Joker and a Predator. At the same time, Collora's mother is dying of breast cancer, forcing him to split his time between shooting and visiting her at the hospital. When the film is released, it gets a screening at Comic Con, and the rest is history. From there Collora was the hottest property in Hollywood, but instead of taking some entry level films he doesn't like, he tries to strike out on his own, and while he doesn't get the success he expected, he has the sense that he's doing it his way.


 

I really enjoyed this movie. I hadn't heard about Batman Dead End before this, but seeing it now after, I get why there was the buzz. Collora made the Batman movie we as fans would have wanted, and had he had the chance to make a feature-length Batman, we can only imagine how that would have turned out. There's also an element of "pride goeth before the fall," that perhaps Collora was a bit too full of himself and hurt his career in the process; but the film handles that really well, giving us all angles of Collora's life, including the loss of his mother. When we see the video of him speaking before an audience at Comic Con, where even he's now embarrassed by how he came off at the time, there's a sense that he can be forgiven for any brash--maybe arrogant--behavior, considering the price the film took for him to make, and then seeing how successful it is, it had to be a massive flood of emotions. Beyond all of that, I think Collora exhibits the independent spirit we love from directors here at the DTVC, so it's fitting to spotlight this documentary on him.

One thing this documentary does really well, is it tells us not only who Collora is, but also spotlights the talent he had working with him. This wasn't just a fan film done by a bunch of amateur filmmakers who just really had a passion, Collora and his team were professionals, and some of the best at their crafts. The shame is, often for a lot of these guys to get work that pays enough, it has to be on big budget projects where the studios set the rules in an attempt to be as big tent as possible. What Collora shows us here is, if these guys ever got the keys to a major studio big budget picture, it would be better than we could imagine. Unfortunately it feels like the film industry has been going even further in the other direction from 2003, meaning we're even further from ever seeing something like this as a feature-length come to fruition.


 

The one name that came to mind when I watched Collora in his interviews, was Albert Pyun. The big difference between those two, was Pyun tried to make it in the studio system with Cannon, and got burned multiple times in seeing his vision taken away from him, which was what Collora fought against, ultimately hurting his chances of getting some of the bigger James Cameron-style productions he ultimately wanted. The other difference between the two, is Pyun got to make Captain America, and almost Spider-Man as well (Pyun said they didn't have the budget to make it look as good as they wanted, and it ran into the same issues with using wires that the Spider-Man Broadway encountered). In looking at the current comic book movie landscape, you have to feel like Collora belongs there, that the natural progression after Dead End would have led him to being one of the in-demand directors to tackle a half-a-billion dollar Marvel extravaganza--but at the same time, you also have to feel like Collora would have wanted nothing to do with that, because it was the sanitized Disney-fication Marvel that we're seeing on the screen, not the comics from the early 90s that inspired the Infinity Gauntlet and Infinity War sagas. Disney and Warner don't want Collora's visions of what these films should be, because they aren't big tent enough, they would want him to make their visions for them. By the same token, if Collora doesn't want Hollywood, maybe there is a Pyun-like DTV career out there for him where his vision can flourish on the screen for us. I'd love to see what he can do in more films.

For me though the biggest thing that makes Dead End short film work is the inclusion of the Predator, aka "Big Red." In the video of Collora addressing the fans at Comic Con, he shouts out "is that how Batman is supposed to be done?" and when the crowd only gives him a tepid response, he shouts "I can't hear you! Is that how Batman is supposed to be done?" and they cheer. When he saw that video all these years later he was embarrassed, but he also had a great point. That was how Batman was supposed to be done. Clark Bartram was a great choice, a stunt worker and body builder who looked the part and could do all the action scenes. I also liked that there was no origin story here. We all know who Batman is, just dump him in an alley and put him up against the Joker and a Predator. The fact that we don't have 90 minutes of this is a travesty. When you look at the time this was made, we'd just come off of Bat-Nipples in Batman and Robin, but at the same time, the comic book genre on the Marvel side was getting a resurgence. We wanted a Batman redux, and Collora gave us that much more than the Nolan/Bale trilogy we had coming after this, and I'm sure also better than the Robert Pattinson Batman we have coming next year. The reality is though, as long as those mediocre "yeah, but what if?..." Batman adaptations pack theaters, there will never be the impetus to give us a feature-length big budget Collora Batman, which is too bad.


 

Finally, I thought I would use this paragraph to describe what my perfect Batman movie would be. It's hard to say, because Batman has so many great villains, plus you throw in the Predator. Who do you choose from between the Joker, Penguin, Riddler, or Catwoman; plus baddies like Egg Head, Mr. Freeze, or King Tut; not to mention I loved the Joel Schumacher Two-Face played by Tommy Lee Jones, with the really colorful other half of his face, and his Poison Ivy played by Uma Thurman. Maybe what it would be is a Wacky Races kind of event, where Batman and Robin in the Bat-mobile have to race cross-country, with all the other villains and the Predator racing against him. Imagine the fun cars that each villain would have. Or maybe we just remake Predator 2 with Batman and the Predator trashing Gotham City, while all the villains sit and watch. My hunch is, now that Disney owns the Predator, a Batman movie is the furthest from their mind. They're probably going to jump-start the franchise so they can plug up the theaters with another film: add that to Marvel, Pixar, Star Wars, and their own Disney properties, and they can choke the life out of the competing studios by taking over all the screens. 

And with that, let's wrap this up. As of my writing, you can screen Behind the Mask: The Batman Dead End Story on Tubi. Not only is it a compelling watch, but it does remind me of a time before the Disney-fication I described above, when the film industry was more open and less bid tent-ish. Collora is a true independent spirit, and this film both celebrates that, and gives us a great account of what it took to make his great fan film.

For more info: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt3181178

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

Saturday, July 3, 2021

Captain America (1979)

I had been meaning to watch the Reb Brown Captain Americas for a long time, so once I saw that they were on Tubi, I had to give them a go. From there though, I wasn't sure if I should review them, considering they're TV movies, and the only real connection they have to our site is that they star DTVC Hall of Famer Reb Brown. But then, with this weekend being the 4th of July holiday here in the states, I thought, what better way to celebrate, right? So here we are looking at a TV movie on the weekend of the 4th. In addition to us, our friend Mitch at the Video Vacuum has also done this as part of his Captain America-Palooza, so you can go there to see what he thought.

Captain America has Reb Brown as Steve Rogers, a guy fresh out of the Marines and looking to relax and drive his van up and down the coast of California. But then a friend from the past calls, and when said friend turns up dead, all bets are off. At the same time, Rogers's dad's old research partner calls him over to show him the FLAG serum his dad was working on. When the baddies that killed Rogers's friend almost do the same to him, the dad's partner needs to use the serum to save him, turning him into: Captain America! The baddies won't know what hit them.


 

I'm a bit of split mind on this, because this film is every bit the 70s TV movie it's supposed to be, from pacing to special effects, and so it's hard to compare it to a cinematic counterpart; but at the same time, Reb Brown is Captain America. It was like this is the part he was born to play. So then we're left with this thing that should have been a weekly TV show a la The Incredible Hulk or The Amazing Spider-Man, but wasn't, so this pilot and the film after it are just what remains of something that wasn't finished. I think in comparing it to the MCU Chris Evans Caps, in the 70s they couldn't make the suit the way they can now. That bright shiny thing wasn't doing anyone any favors, and when you compare it to the Hulk who was just Lou Ferrigno painted green, I think it had more camp than the show may have wanted. By the same token, it was exciting to see Brown don the suit and start taking down baddies. Ah, what could have been...

We often look at a stars career here on the DTVC and examine how they ended up in the DTV world. Here we can see what happened for poor Reb Brown. This was supposed to be it, the series that propelled him out of his frequent guest star roles and into his own series. Playing someone as iconic as Captain America on a weekly TV show would have opened so many doors for him--so much so we may not have had him here in the DTVC Hall of Fame, though Adam West played Batman for three years and still became a staple in DTV films. In watching this I couldn't get over how much he was Captain America, even when he wasn't in the suit. I saw that Reb Brown did an interview on YouTube with The Nerdery back in 2012, and he explained why the show never happened. Universal lost the rights to Captain America, after which Marvel wanted $50,000 per episode to use him, compared to $2,500 per show for The Incredible Hulk. From there we know that Marvel sold the rights to Cannon, which led to the Albert Pyun cinematic adaptation in 1990. In my mind, that seems short-sighted, because a TV show in 1979 could have led to all kinds of merchandising that would have made Marvel much more money--or the show may have fizzled after a season or two the way The Amazing Spider-Man did. I just imagine me as a child going to school with a Reb Brown as Captain America lunchbox, and think about how much better my life could have been. In you're curious about the interview, you can check it out here.


 

In the trivia there was also mention of possible crossovers with the other two Marvel series at that time, which also would have been too amazing for words. That's what made comics so great, the idea that I could read an issue of Spider-Man and see Cap help him; or even better, Daredevil and have Ghost Rider show up. When I look at the success of Arrow, I see the same thing: they started with the Green Arrow, added the Flash, and it grew from there. Now we're stuck with the MCU, but one thing I did like was how they had their Daredevil series, and in the second season they introduced the Punisher. The problem with those series though was they were 13-hour movies, and by episode 8 or 9 I would hit a wall. The idea of a more episodic Captain America that was kind of like the Six-Million Dollar Man is definitely more appealing to me; and then throw in crossovers and I think it would have been perfect.

One thing the film did that I think rankled some feathers was they took liberties with the origin story. He's no longer the WWII soldier given the serum and then frozen in ice. I was okay with it though. This is its own thing, I thought it was a better product of the 70s the way they did it here. For me, I'm more upset that the Silver Surfer and Adam Warlock weren't in the Infinity War movies than I am about a TV show about Captain America that redid his origin story. It is a slippery slope though, because sometimes we need that origin story as an anchor in order to buy the rest of what we're seeing. I think that was more important for Chris Evans's Cap, because I needed something like that to believe he was the hero; whereas Reb sold it for me the moment he drove his van into the first scene. (And I am aware of why Silver Surfer and Adam Warlock couldn't be in the Infinity War movies, but that doesn't make me any less disappointed that they made the movies without them.)


 

Finally, I want to touch on that point I keep making about how Reb Brown looks the part of Captain America, because it is iffy territory to say that a white, blond-haired, blue-eyed, beefcake is the perfect Captain America, right? It reinforces this idea that "American" looks a certain way and dismisses the many different ways that "American" can look. On that score, I've always thought Steve James would have also made a perfect Captain America. The build, the martial arts ability, and the screen presence all add up to gold in my mind. We live in a world now where I think that's a possibility, but back when this was made--or even when American Ninja was made, where Steve James was passed over for the lead in favor of Michael Dudikoff because Duds had that "all American look", aka blond-haired and blue-eyed--it would have been a non-starter to cast a Steve James as Captain America. It's a shame, because like Reb Brown, where it would have been nice to see what he would have done with Cap in a weekly series, the same is true about James, but at least with Brown we got to see it for two TV movies, while with James it never would have been considered in his lifetime, which is too bad.

And with that, it's time to wrap this up. While Brown is great here, I think it's important to keep in mind that this is still a 70s TV movie. While it's available on Tubi, I think it's a worth a watch, and a great way to celebrate the 4th, whether you're an American or not.

For more info: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0078937

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

Saturday, June 26, 2021

Jackson Bolt (2018)

I saw this was on Tubi, and considering I've been meaning to get more Williamson on the site, I figured it'd be worth a go. In addition to us, our friend Mike Parkin from the DTV Digest looked at this on his review site, Flash Bang Movie Reviews, so you can go there to see what he thought. Now, without any further ado.

Jackson Bolt stars Robert D. Parnham as the eponymous hero, a former kickboxing champ turned cop on the edge who's been framed for murder and now needs to clear his name. Meanwhile, he has demons he's dealing with, like his failed marriage, and these demons have created a mental block that gives him migraines whenever he tries to use his gun--a major issue for a cop on the edge in an action film. Enter his psychiatrist, played by DTVC Hall of Famer Fred Williamson. He needs to get Jackson straightened out quickly, as whoever has had him framed is trying to kill him too. As all this is happening, there's a subplot with James E. Meyer as a pimp turned debt collector who has press-ganged one of his ladies of the night into helping him. Will Jackson manage to make it all happen and take down the baddies?


 

Mike was definitely nicer to this movie than I was going to be, but maybe he has the right approach, because at the very least, this film was made in earnest, which I think is very important. But where does that leave us, saying "at least you tried"? For me one big issue was how story elements seemed to be slapped on, like Jackson getting migraines when he tries to shoot someone, or the secondary thread about a pimp who decides to be a debt collector. Parnham is a former kickboxing champ in real life, but the fights don't really bear that out, which makes them look clunky compared to their modern counterparts. That's a problem when it's supposed to be a key component of the film. I liked the Williamson factor, but he's not in it enough to prop it up the way we know he can. I guess that does leave us with "at least they tried," because, with all its flaws, it does have a labor of love feel with all parties involved, and maybe that's the selling point: if you're looking to support indie, and can overlook the flaws, this may be a good one for you; but if you're looking for your classic hard boiled Williamson action, this is probably a pass for you.

Fred Williamson was 80 when this came out. What does that make 80, the new 60? At 80, he still has the ability to carry his scenes as if he were doing this in the late 80s instead of the late 10s. But I think that's the issue, he can't be expected to carry a movie anymore; and I also think he wanted to let Parnham shine here, to usher in a new generation of black action leads. So then we end up with a situation where his scenes are the best scenes in the film, leaving us wanting more, but that's not what he's really here in this film for. I honestly don't know how you mitigate that.


 

This brings up a good point too when comparing Parnham and Williamson when it comes to action leads. Parnham was a former kickboxer, but Williamson, who picked up martial arts later in life and never competed professionally (at least not at Parnham's level if he did), looked better onscreen when he did a fight scene back in his prime, and then had tons of charisma to boot. These are all things that can be worked on, but the problem is, in a smaller budget production, like everything else, any flaws Parnham has as he's trying to gain his footing become that much more apparent. A fight scene that isn't as well choreographed is going to come off more harshly on a Parnham than it does on a Williamson--even an 80-year-old Williamson. By the same token, that's not Parnham's fault, he goes for it in this for sure--and can we blame him if he's not at the level of a legend like Williamson?

When we think about which genres of film are the toughest to do on a small budget, we usually think of action because of the effects, and we also think that now with CGI a filmmaker can do more of those effects on the cheap--like there's no need to blow up a car if I can show a car and use CGI to make it look like it exploded. The thing is though, we forget how difficult fight scenes are to do on a budget. It's not just about having the talent onscreen, or the right choreographer, but the actual editing and film work needed is also expensive. The result is, when it's done on the cheap, we saw all the flaws in it, not to mention all the parts where they aren't actually hitting each other. It was ambitious that this film tried to pull that off on the budget they had, but I wonder if the better bet would have been to keep it quick and easy with the fights, or lean on more shoot-outs instead.


 

Finally, going back to Williamson, the date of this film, 2018, not only marks his 80th birthday, but it also marks another important milestone: 50 years in the acting world. He retired from football that same year, at only 30 years old, and went on to have an even bigger film career, which I think we don't appreciate as well as we should. For most of his first 30 years on the planet, he's putting everything he has into playing football at the highest level, only to have to turn around and carve out a new career for himself, and here he is 50 years later in this film, fully established as an acting legend, not simply a former football player who became an actor later. As we see former football players like Gronk taking a stab at this, I think it's important to realize just how much Williamson was the exception instead of the rule, and just how much of an accomplishment it was that he made this transition as successfully as he has.

And with that, let's wrap this up. As of my writing this, you can still check this out on Tubi. I think it boils down to the binary I mentioned above: if you're really looking to support indie films, I think it's worth checking this out; but if you're looking for some hard boiled Williamson action, I think you're better off going into his 80s/90s catalog.

For more information: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt4795624

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

Saturday, June 19, 2021

Wilding (1990)

I found this on YouTube when I was trying to get more Wings in for the podcast episode I did with Ty and Brett from Comeuppance awhile back. I wanted to watch it just in case it may have cracked my top 5. When I checked the IMDb page, it said this film had only one other critic review, which was, you guessed it, our friends from Comeuppance, so you can go there to see what they thought; and you can listen to the DTVC podcast we did to see if it cracked either of our top 5s. Now, without any further ado.

Wilding is about a group of teens who are, as the title suggests, wilding. They're going out every night terrorizing the community. After a kid ends up dead and his girlfriend ends up in the hospital due to one of their attacks, the city decides it's time to do something. While one cop is having meetings with their Boomer parents in the local high school gym, beat guys Hauser and Joey Travolta are hitting the pavement, hoping to take these kids down. The question is, will they be able to do it before the whole city burns first?


 

This is a lot of fun for what it is, a DTV actioner from 1990 that's cashing in on a trend, in this case the idea that kids were out of control and run amok. I mean, look at that Guns N' Roses poster on the wall. I had that poster too, along with the Appetite album, which had the parental advisory sticker OG Karen Tipper Gore pushed congress to get stuck on all tapes that had songs with bad language. There was also a great Pat Benatar wannabe song called "Don't Try to Stop Tomorrow" that featured in this. The idea of that was great, like who's trying to stop tomorrow? That's like trying to stop physics. Take a company like AIP, throw in two great names in Hauser and Travolta, add in a great song, and capitalize on a hot topic that's blazing across the headlines at that time, and what you have is something that years later is DTV movie nostalgia gold.

We're slowly creeping our way to getting Wings into the 30 Club, as this is his 21st film on the site. If you look at that image above, that's pretty much pure Wings there, and he maintains it throughout. He plays both cop on the edge, and jerk cop, which most actors can't do, but he makes it work, so we root for him at some points, and think he's a jerk at others. When I looked up his son, Cole Hauser, on IMDb, I saw that he actually would have been in high school when this was made, so perhaps Wings was drawing on personal experience. Was Cole out there Wilding? "I don't want you wearing that leather jacket and listening to that Guns N' Roses, Cole!" "But dad, you wore a leather jacket when you were on Roseanne." "Don't talk back to me son!" The reality was, it was probably more like Cole and his buddies got into some minor trouble that some rule-crazy cop tried to exacerbate, and Wings thought "I'll try to be that a-hole when I do Wilding." Either way it worked.


 

We're back with more Joseph Travolta as well. In January we did To the Limit, Travolta's first film on our site, and now five months later we're already back with his second. His role here is to be the sensible one to Wings' not so sensible one. (I didn't know if I should've added the "s" to the apostrophe when showing something belonged to "Wings." Yes, his name is plural, but he's not plural, so how do we manage that? I guess the same issue comes up with Powers Booth, is it "Powers's" or "Powers'?" The mysteries of the English language never cease.) Travolta didn't have the most prolific career, but there are still some other DTV flicks out there of his that need watching, so I imagine this won't be the last time we see him here on the site.

I touched on this a little bit in an earlier paragraph, but I think it bears repeating what the climate was like for high schoolers at this time. The Baby Boomer parents that had been so neglectful up until this point, decided suddenly that they were going to care, but their version of caring was passing laws to make life more difficult for kids, as opposed to actual parenting. We mentioned Tipper Gore and her parental advisory stickers. We also had Mothers Against Drunk Driving pushing the drinking age back to 21, after those same mothers helped get the drinking age down to 18 when they were teenagers. The thing was though, in the 90s teens were no worse than they were in the 60s, when the Greatest Generation parents were coming down on those same Baby Boomer as kids. If you watch Dragnet from that time, it plays out just like a movie like this did. As someone who was on the cusp of Gen X and Millennial, I got to live through the transition, between Boomer parents deciding they wanted to care more, to then turning into the helicopter parents they were known for with their younger Millennial kids (though to be fair to my parents, they always maintained a "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy with us: don't make us have to ask what you're doing, and we won't make you tell us). It may have been bad for the teens at that time, of which I was one, but it made for DTV and Lifetime movie cinematic gold.



Finally, after that rant, I wanted to spotlight the character of Jason, played by Derek Anunciation. In their review on Comeuppance, Ty and Brett described him as "a cross between Lou Diamond Phillips and Alfred E. Newman." I think that's as good an attempt to make sense of him in this as any. He felt like some kind of 70s throwback, like maybe a kid on a Love Boat episode causing trouble. He could have been one of Jerry Lewis's kids, or something like that. He was supposed to be the most dangerous of all the kids in the gang, the one who was out of control that needed to be stopped before something bad happened; but instead he was more like the guest star kid with a problem in a "very special episode" of a family sitcom, one of those episodes that dealt with a serious topic and did more to traumatize us as kids than it helped bring our attention to a problem facing our society. 

This thing's totally going off the rails, so better to wrap it up now. As of my writing this, you can stream this on YouTube. That's your best bet. This is a fun ride and worth the watch--though one IMDb user review said it wasn't worth the Australian dollar they paid for it. We're each entitled to our own opinions I guess.

For more info: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0103267

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

Saturday, June 12, 2021

Welcome to Sudden Death (2020)

Recently the guys at the DTV Digest Podcast had me on to discuss the films of Michael Jai White, and this was one of the ones we talked about. I think we all had high hopes, considering it's White in a DTV sequel to a Van Damme film. The problem before we even started it though was that basketball isn't a game that has sudden death as a part of it's overtime structure, so that wasn't a good sign. In addition to us, our friend Mitch at the Video Vacuum has done this as well, so you can go to his page to see what he thinks.

Welcome to Sudden Death has DTVC Hall of Famer Michael Jai White as a former special forces guy working security at a Great Value NBA arena. As luck would have it, a former CIA agent with a bone to pick with the team's billionaire owner takes over the arena, and in the process kills off all the security guards--all but one, and that one is, you guessed it. Throw in the fact that he brought his kids to the game, and his daughter gets taken hostage by the baddie; and a goofy janitor who may be more harm than help to White, and we have ourselves a Die Hard movie.


 

When I was on the DTV Digest, they had us rate the film from 1 to 10, and since I had this at a 2 out of 5, I gave it a 4 out of 10 (if I remember right). I was the toughest on it, but I also felt like there was a lot to be tough on. The biggest issue is the film didn't know what it wanted to be. It had the look of a Disney Channel movie, and with the kids, that gave it more of a Disney Channel feel. Then we had Gary Owen as the janitor comedic relief, who also couldn't tell if he was family friendly or wanted to work blue, and ended up becoming Dane Cook in Simon Sez. I think those two elements together still could have worked, except we had the darkness of all the security guards being brutally killed off. White does his best to make the most of his action scenes, but this was no Jesse V. Johnson actioner, so he could only do so much. If anything, this one did live up to the promise of a movie called "Welcome to Sudden Death" that's about a sport that doesn't have sudden death.

Going to a basketball analogy, I think Michael Jai White is like the Paul Pierce of DTV action. Black Dynamite is his championship, but there's a sense that he was on a lot of teams that didn't win, but it wasn't his fault that they didn't win. I don't know where you put this movie--not exactly the '06-'07 Celtics season, it wasn't that bad, but maybe one that didn't quite make the playoffs. I haven't seen the new Never Back Down that he directed, but I wonder if he's going to start going the Fred Williamson and Dolph route, where to get more control, he starts directing more of his films. It's too bad it's not the 80s, because I think he could've made some great Italian funded DTV gems. We can see the talent here for sure, and he has a few great fight scenes, including one with his wife; it's just another situation where the movie itself could have been better.


 

No Powers Booth this time around--or even another plural first name like Wings Hauser--, but Michael Eklund does well for what's asked of him here. The problem for him though is he's from Saskatoon, and you know who else is from Saskatoon: DTVC favorite, Kim Coates. That's the problem, and while it's not fair to Eklund, how do you get out from under the shadow of Coates, one of the best all-time DTV baddies? I think that's the problem with modern DTV films, they try to reach a bigger audience, so they cast someone like Eklund, who maybe has a greater general appeal, but that turns off the DTV hardos like me; but then the movie doesn't end up having the reach they wanted either, so no one ends up happy. Eklund is good and all, but for a movie like this, go big or go home, and get Coates as your head baddie to give us hardos something we can latch onto.

The doughy white comic relief is a device that doesn't make a lot of sense to me, but a lot of films go for it, thinking they'll be the one to make it work. If you have to have a be-jumpsuited janitor for comic relief--and again, I can't understand why you do--why does he have to be white, doughy, and goofy? It was just one of those things that hurt the overall tone of the film and added to the identity crisis that was ultimately its undoing. When I think of the great PM flicks, were there doughy white comic relief characters? No, yet somehow the bulk of those movies worked. Funny how that is.


 

Finally, it's interesting that the first film in this series featured the NHL, and this one features a Great Value NBA, because here in the States the two sports compete for viewers. For me, I've always been a fan of both sports, though neither quite matches my favorite sport, baseball. Anyway, one that would have made the basketball action a little less of a Great Value version is if they had used some actual NBA players. Maybe even just retired ones, and they wouldn't have had to be the best ones. Just give me some guys in Ice Cube's 3 on 3 league, or maybe a Terry Dehere. Just show me a little bit that you're trying, that's all I need.

And with that, let's wrap this up. Ultimately there were too many flaws here for me to really recommend it. The identity crisis was the biggest issue, but there were a lot of cost cutting measures that left us with a "you get what you pay for," and there wasn't enough of White's solid action to save it. What I can recommend is the DTV Digest podcast. For DTV junkies like us, it's just what the doctor ordered. Thanks again Mike, Richard, and Stephen for having me on, it was a blast!

For more info: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0114576

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

Saturday, June 5, 2021

American Cyborg: Steel Warrior aka Steel American Cyborg Warrior (1993)

Last weekend, my wife saw in a forum that a fundamentalist televangelist who ran a congregation that focused on women being thin for their husbands and for God, died in a plane crash, along with her family members. It turned out, her husband was none other than Joe Lara. I couldn't believe it, and felt I needed to cover one of his films in my next review, so here we are. In addition to us, our friends at Explosive Action, Ninja Dixon, The Video Vacuum, and last but not least, Ty and Brett at Comeuppance have all reviewed this, so you can go to their sites to see what they thought--in addition to Entertainment Weekly, who had some fun things to say about it. Now it's time for us to say our things about it.

American Cyborg: Steel Warrior (or Steel American Cyborg Warrior as the opening title puts it) takes place in a post-apocalyptic future (what other future is there?) where cyborgs rule, humans drool, and since we're all infertile, the cyborgs figure it's better to herd us into cities and let us die out rather than fight a war with us. Then a lady has a fertile egg that results in a test tube baby, who is now a fetus that needs to get to Europe so he can live. The problem is a cyborg is after them, and as the lady escapes, she meets a strapping young man, Joe Lara, who offers to help her get to safety.


 

Had this movie been made today, I'd be killing it for its repetitive wash, rinse, repeat plot: cyborg comes, Lara fights off cyborg, he and the lady, Nicole Hansen, run away, they relax, and the the cyborg shows up and they do it all over again. But this 90s Cannon effort had the look and feel of an Albert Pyun film from five years before--without his added Pyun-ness that made those work more of course, but it was enough of the look and feel to transcend its obvious issues. Lara works as the hero, Hansen was good as the woman toting around a yoga mat and a bank drive-up capsule for the deposit tube with a fetus in it, and John Saint Ryan was good as the Rob Halford-esque leather-clad baddie. Again, it's the kind of thing that, if it were made today, I'd be killing it; but in the 90s, it has enough nostalgia for me to work a bit more.

This is only our sixth Lara post on the site, which doesn't seem like a lot, unless you consider that he didn't do that much, and then it makes a bit more sense. One of the last ones we'd done was Final Equinox, which me, hilarious guy that I am, referred to as "Final Deep Cheek-quinox" after a porn film my buddy and I saw on a porn shop shelf called Deep Cheeks. I was also pretty rough on him when I reviewed that one, saying "I didn't understand the concept of Joe Lara." On the other hand, there's Hologram Man, which I have 4th on my all-time PM list, and it's 4th in large part because of Lara, not in spite of him. I think why Hologram Man and this film work more than Final Deep Cheek-quinox is that they knew how to use Lara properly. He didn't have the rugged good looks of a Dolph, Van Damme, or even Lorenzo Lamas; Lara was dare I say pretty, but in the right roles, he could transcend that and be a real lead. According to IMDb he hadn't really done anything since the early 2000s, but his passing is still a shock and an immense loss. Here's to you Mr. Lara, you were one of the great ones, and you will be missed.



Previously when I did Street Knight I said it was the last Cannon production; and when I did Hellbound I said it was the last Cannon Group film. This film had the distinction of being the last one released theatrically in the US by Cannon--where it grossed just under a half-a-million. It was also the last team-up of Golan and Globus. It definitely doesn't have the quality of those 80s Cannon actioners, as this film bounces from abandoned warehouse to abandoned factory to abandoned tunnel--and may even be reusing sets. We can see the effects of the losses on Masters of the Universe and Superman IV onscreen in front of us. Yet there's also an inimitable Cannon quality that does shine through and makes this more endearing. Put with Street Knight and Hellbound, there's an odd vibe, similar to when you go to a store that's going out of business. Something's ending with these movies, a wave is cresting, and while we had a second wave in PM Entertainment that was building strength behind it, that Cannon wave was something special that we may never get back again. We often lament the state of the current overall DTV market, but maybe what we got with Cannon in the 80s and then PM in the 90s was a beautiful anomaly that we'll just never see again. It was definitely great while it lasted.

In the trivia on IMDb, they quoted an article Nicole Hansen did where she said a revised version of the script had her getting nude and doing love scenes every five minutes. She objected, thinking they'd use a double for the scenes, but instead Cannon agreed and cut them out, which allegedly upset the film's director, the great producer Boaz Davidson. It looked like one way he got back at her was by having as many scenes as possible where she got wet. "Oh, my skin is burning from acid rain, let me dump water all over me!" "Oh, I need to get to the ocean to meet the boat that will take me to Europe, why don't I walk out into the water and let the waves wash over me." These were the days before wet look leggings, so Boaz had to create the effect on his own I guess. To her credit, Hansen does a great job with it all. When I looked her up, I discovered that we'd seen her before, in the Michael Dudikoff Dirty Dozen flick Soldier Boyz. Brophey!


 

Finally, you'll notice we tagged Isaac Florentine. That's because he was the martial arts choreographer. That makes this the second time we've tagged him for something other than director work, the other being Boyka, which he couldn't direct due to the passing of his wife, but did produce. If you look at his filmography, I think this is contiguous with his first feature film as a director, Desert Kickboxer, which I haven't seen yet. When we think of DTV directors who aren't in the Hall of Fame, he may not have the numbers that a guy like Jim Wynorski has, but the action hits really stand out. By my count we have six more movies of his left to do, which will put him at close to 20 tags. Maybe we should see how those six go, but I have a feeling he's on his way.

But this wasn't meant to be an Isaac Florentine post, it was meant to be a Joe Lara post, so let's wrap this up. I think Hologram Man would be a better way to celebrate Lara's life and career, but this one isn't bad either. The other thing is this is only available to rent on streaming, while Hologram Man is free on Tubi. Lara may not have been at that Dolph level, or even Daniels level, of DTV action, but he still made very valuable contributions. I'll say it again, here's to you Mr. Lara, you were one of the greats, and you will be missed.

For more info: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0109098

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