The Direct to Video Connoisseur

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

Saturday, May 8, 2021

Fast and Fierce: Death Race (2020)

Back in October The Asylum was inducted into the DTVC Hall of Fame, and I meant to do a post then to commemorate that. Unfortunately I ran into some issues and went on a mini-hiatus, and then had to go back and catch up on those Hall of Fame posts I didn't get a chance to do. On top of that, I needed to find a film I wanted to review of theirs for the occasion. There's a ton out there, but when I saw this was available on Showtime On Demand, I figured it was the right choice, especially after DMX's tragic passing recently. 

Fast and Fierce: Death Race is about a former professional racer named Jack Tyson (Michael DeVorzon) whose brother Nelson (Nelson Tyson?) (Jack Person) is in deep to a crime lord (DMX). His only way out of the debt? Jack needs to race in DMX's underground Mexico to LA competition and win. As always though, things aren't that simple. First, DMX's ex (Paulina Nguyen) has stolen two flash drives that have all the evidence of his criminal operation, and she's jumped into Jack's car; and second, the Mexican cartels have taken DMX, and his crew needs to rescue him. How will Jack maneuver his way out of this one?



 

Where do I go with this? It's not the Asylum's worst, but not their best either. I like DMX better here than Beyond the Law, but we still lose him for a good chunk of the middle of the movie. Michael DeVorzon was a solid enough lead, which helps, especially with DMX MIA. The problem is the problem most Asylum films have: they try to bang it out on the cheap, and often that means you get what you pay for. First off, Jack is only racing against two other people. What kind of race is that that only has two other cars? I grew up on Wacky Races, we need more than three contestants, but if you're doing it on the cheap, that's all you can afford. From there, when DMX goes MIA, he's replaced by his hench-person, played by Veronika Issa, who's good, but she's not DMX good. Part of me wonders why they even did that, because it's not like they couldn't have just shot a bunch of scenes of DMX reacting to things and looped them throughout the movie, especially since she was doing everything from one location too. Finally, with the short runtime (which I love!), they needed to make up for the areas where the plot dragged at points, so the end was one of those put on some eye protection as the loose ends fly together kind of deals. Just the same, it had its fun moments, and I think it gave us the Asylum mockumentary we were looking for.

In true Asylum fashion, you could say they forced us to put them in the Hall of Fame, because they were the only entity on the site--actor, director, studio, etc.--with 30 tags or more that wasn't in the Hall of Fame. I had two Sharknados in the can, parts 4 and 5, that I could have used for this post, but I decided against it, because when I did 3 during my Shark Week last summer, barely anyone read it. As much fun as Sharknado was, The Asylum couldn't get enough blood out of that stone, to the point people were sick of it. I think one could make a similar case for these Mockbusters, but when they have people like DMX in them, it's hard to say no; plus, Android Cop with Michael Jai White was one that I really liked. I think when these Mockbusters work, they're a lot of fun; and when they don't, there's almost a sense that The Asylum got one over on us, and I tell myself I won't be duped again, until I am. Here's to you Asylum, if anyone earned a spot in the Hall of Fame, it's you.


 

When I reviewed The Patriot, I included a comment on DMX after his passing, but when I saw that this Asylum film with him in it was available, I had to take the opportunity to give him a further spotlight. When you think of it, the same way Michael Jai White should have been RoboCop in the reboot as opposed to being in the Mockbuster, DMX should have been in the actual Fast and Furious movies too. Seeing him in this is a reminder of that, he would have been at home in scenes with Vin Diesel, Jason Statham, and the Rock. He was truly larger than life, and I think that comes across in this, to the point that when he's not onscreen, there's a void felt that lead Michael DeVorzon couldn't quite fill. The other thing was how this film and Beyond the Law felt like a pivot in his career, and had he not passed, I think he could have put up a Hall of Fame DTV career of his own. Really one of the all-time greats, and someone who will be missed.

It's easy to crush The Asylum and their Mockbusters, but over time in watching a lot of them, I've grown to appreciate the earnestness with which a lot of the casts in their films approach their roles. I don't know what the mindset is when an actor is told by their agent that they're up for a part in Fast and Fierce: Death Race instead of Fast and Furious 9, but to not mail it in is statement in and of itself. For example, Nate Walker plays Mick, the heel. I think you really have to be a professional to not only take a role in a movie like this, but agree to be a character that's so unlikable. Or Paulina Nguyen and Becca Buckalew's parts, they could just be any female leads that look good in leather pants, which for this film would have been enough, but instead they, and a lot of the other actors in the cast, look at this as more of an opportunity to show what they can do. Maybe one day they'll all make it--whatever "making it" looks like to them--and while they're on a press junket for that "made it" project, they can have fun with the guy from Access Hollywood as they talk about that Asylum film they did.


 

Finally, when The Asylum first started making movies, they had what they called a "temporal refund disclaimer," saying that anyone who complains that they want the time back that they lost in watching an Asylum movie unfortunately is out of luck. In my mind, I thought that ended the whole "that's 90 minutes I'll never get back" commentary on The Asylum's movies, but when I browsed the IMDb user reviews, there they were, people giving one star and requesting temporal refunds. As someone who's done 30+ of these--and will probably do another 30 more before I'm done--I can safely say you're not getting that time back, so the best thing you can do is create a blog and try to make something creative out of it. Blogger and WordPress are free, and I'm happy to give any advice if you shoot me an email. Make lemonade out of lemons, that's what I always say--or in my case, lemon water, which is fine too.

And with that, let's wrap this up. As of this writing, this is available on Showtime On Demand and Hoopla, so if you don't have Showtime as part of your cable package, in the US Hoopla is the way to go, because I think this is more of a free stream than it is something worth renting. Hopefully it'll join all of its Asylum siblings on Tubi soon too. Also, congratulations to The Asylum for their spot in the Hall of Fame. Next stop for you is the 40 Club and beyond--and we have plenty of Mockbusters out there to keep that tag count rising.

For more info: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt11765324

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

Saturday, May 1, 2021

Welcome to Willits (2016)

This was one of the myriad Dolph films that came out while I was on hiatus between 2015 and 2019. I caught it on Netflix around the time I started the blog again, and planned to review it, but Netflix dumped it before I could get any images for it. I put it aside and reviewed some other Dolph films in the meantime, and finally, almost two years later, Prime picked it up, so I figured I'd grab some images and get the review in before they dumped it too.

Welcome to Willits is about a couple (Bill Sage and Sabina Gadeki) who grow pot out in the woods of California. They're either being visited by aliens who do gruesome experiments on people, or the drugs they're doing make them think they are. On top of that, the husband thinks the character Dolph Lundgren plays on a cop show is talking to him through the TV and giving him advice on how to deal them. Enter their visiting cousin Courtney (Anastasia Baranova) and a group of campers who stumble upon their weed garden, and you have what we in the biz call a collision course to wackiness. Will Courtney discover in time that her relatives believe they're seeing aliens? What about our adventurous camping crew?


 

This was a lot of fun. All the right combinations of scary, gory, and humorous, which is not an easy combination to pull off. Either the humor is too goofy, the gore too over the top, or the scares too out of place to fit in with the humor; but this one made it all work. A big part of that was the performance by Bill Sage. He made the goofy plenty goofy, yet could turn around and make the scary just as scary. And then his wife, played by Sabina Gadeki, does the same thing, only not as much as Sage, which adds intrigue, because we wonder if she's going to be sympathetic or keep following Sage. Then we tie the thing together with Anastasia Baranova, who's thrust into this "final girl" role where her character is as much trying to make sense of the situation as she's trying to survive it, which puts the whole comedy/horror tone that the film is going for in its proper perspective. Everything, from a writing, directing, and cast standpoint, the whole thing works. 

We're at number 59 for Dolph, one away from him entering the 60 Club all by himself. This isn't so much a starring role for him, but the parts he's in were fantastic. I'll be honest, if I wasn't a Dolph completist, I probably wouldn't have watched this movie, considering all the films I need to cover on here, and considering how much I liked this, that would have been too bad. It does show though how much having a name like his on the cover can help sell a film: but from there, what do the filmmakers do with it? This didn't feel like a bait-and-switch, it felt like a movie that had a lot going for it that was lucky enough to have someone of Dolph's level play the part he did. When I look at Dolph's 2016, we have this, Female Fight Squad, Don't Kill It, and Kindergarten Cop 2 (also a blink and you'll miss it uncredited part in Hail, Caesar!), and of those, this and Female Fight Squad have him in smaller parts, while Don't Kill It and Kindergarten Cop 2 have him in the lead. I wasn't as huge a fan of Kindergarten Cop 2, but I think the other three weren't bad, so 2016 was a pretty good year for him. Next time we see Dolph here, he'll be the inaugural member the 60 Club.


 

As I mentioned above, Bill Sage was the real star of this, and his performance anchors the entire vibe the film was going for. We've seen him one other time here at the DTVC, in the film We Are What We Are, which was another unique horror film, but not anything like this one. In terms of Sage, one difference in that film was he had veteran character actor Michael Parks to co-anchor the film with him, while here it was really on him: if Sage doesn't play his part as well as he does, the whole thing doesn't work, no matter how great everyone else involved was. For him not only to pull it off, but pull it off as well as he did, was great to see. Maybe I should be picking out more films that have his name on the tin the way I do ones with Dolph's.

From there, there were a lot of other great performances--including Rory Culkin as the creepy drifter the gang of campers pick up along the way--but as I mentioned above, Sabina Gadeki and Anastasia Baranova were the two other standouts for me. With Gadeki, we don't know if she wants to break away from Sage, or if she's just as bad off as he is, which adds a level of suspense to the proceedings that I think we needed without knowing we needed it. And then Baranova is this character who's almost coming from another movie, and is thrust into this Final Girl construct, and there's a feeling that her character is as much trying to make sense of it as she is trying to survive it. I don't know if that was the intent from how the character was written, or just how Baranova played it, but it was an element that helped take the film further beyond the standard horror film.


 

Finally, as I mentioned above, I was delayed in getting this reviewed due to Netflix dumping it and having to wait for it to come up on another streaming service to get images. In some cases, I make do by grabbing the images from the trailer, but that's not easy considering how quickly they're edited, and how limiting it is as far as what I can choose from in the film. Another Dolph flick from 2016, Kindergarten Cop 2, is one I've missed twice: I saw it on Netflix, never got the images before it was dumped, then recently it was added to Peacock, and I didn't get around to getting them on there before they dumped it too. I'm not sure why these streaming sites dump films so often. I get in some cases they lose the rights or lose a deal with the company distributing the film--like we saw in the early days of Netflix Instant with Stars Play ending their deal with them and me having to scramble to watch 11 movies that were about to be taken down, forever immortalized on the site with the tag "Stars Play 11"--but often it just feels like they add things and take them down at will. Netflix might be the greatest offender, but I go into my Prime queue to see a bunch of films no longer available, and now with a new player like Peacock doing it so soon, I think that's a bad sign for them. Either way, us in the movie blogging world--and movie fans in general--feel like we're dealing with a guy playing a shell game on the Broad Street line here in Philadelphia: where's the movie? Is it under that shell? Nope, you lose, we dumped it.

And with that, let's wrap this up. As of this writing, you can stream this on Prime. It's worth streaming and giving an indie film like this your support. Considering it's already been dumped by Netflix, better to catch it sooner rather than later. And the next time we see Dolph on here, it'll be the big 60 for him.

For more info: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt3074952

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

Saturday, April 24, 2021

The Dallas Connection (1994)

Recently I had Mitch from the Video Vacuum on the podcast to discuss this film, and all the films of Andy Sidaris; also to discuss the career of Julie Strain, who unfortunately left us recently. I ended up watching not only this one, but all of the LETHAL Ladies films Sidaris did, because they're all on Tubi. I'll be covering them in subsequent reviews, but I figured I'd start with this one since we did the pod on it. Also, you can see what Mitch thought of this in his Sirens of Skinamax post on Julie Strain over on his site.

Dallas Connection has Julie Strain as the head of an assassination ring that's been assassinating scientists in an attempt to get a hold of the sophisticated state-of-the-art military satellite they're in charge of. To handle a gang this bad, the big guns need to be called in, and that's I/WAR, the best of the best, who include Bruce Penhall, Mark Barriere, and Samantha Phillips. Their task is to protect the final scientist in the group, Sidaris mainstay Rodrigo Obregon. Can this team get to the bottom of things, take out Strain's evil team, and save the world? Fortunately you'll find out the answer in only 90 minutes.


 

This was a really fun time. It's low-budget 90s DTV action the way it's meant to be. I think the level of nudity might make it bad for a group bad movie night depending on who joins you; but if you're someone looking for a 90-minute time killer on Tubi, you can do a lot worse than this. There's a great cast that completely buys in on what's happening, which I think always helps. Also, while this was directed by Andy's son Christian, his son maintains the feel of an Andy Sidaris film so much so that you wouldn't know Andy didn't direct it if you didn't look. I can't believe we're almost 1100 movies into our journey here at the DTVC and this is the first Sidaris film I've done, but better late than never, and now we have some catching up to do.

Right now Cynthia Rothrock is the only woman in the DTVC Hall of Fame, and I was trying to think of who else might belong, but no one was really coming to mind. Pam Grier sounded good, but she hasn't really done any DTV work; Mimi Lessos was another name that came to mind, and she's already in Comeuppance Reviews' Hall of Heroes (the only other woman in their Hall after Rothrock), but I wasn't sure if she had a CV big enough; the same might be said of Karen Shepherd, again, really great, but is the CV there? The whole time, the answer was staring me in the face: Julie Strain. I don't know if another star embodies the DTV ethos as much as she does, and the fact that I've barely touched her filmography on here is more a reflection on me than it is on her. I think for people getting into her work, this is a good place to start, as she plays the femme fatale role here in a way that only she can: equal parts sinister and sexy, but with both equal parts turned up to 11. Here's to you Julie Strain, you were one of the all-time greats, and we'll really miss you.


 

Anyone who's been rockin' with the DTVC for a long time may remember me using the term "Bruce Penhall Julie Strain level" to describe how low-budget a movie is. I think I got that idea from the fact that these films were often on at 3am on TBS, and there was something about them in comparison to the slightly higher-budget films that were on before them that made these feel much lower in quality. Since that time in the early-to-mid-2000s, something major has changed for me: I created the DTVC and I've seen many films since that many levels below this. The same way I wish I could go back and change the review of a Frank Zagarino film where I called him "a lesbian fitness instructor," or my initial Mean Guns review where I said a "person who does car commercials could have done a better job than this," using "Bruce Penhall Julie Strain level" to describe how low-budget a movie is showing how little I knew at the time about what I was doing. These movies really aren't any more low-budget than the PM stuff we love, or the Philippine 'Namsploitation we cover a lot of. We learn and we grow I guess.

The thing about Bruce Penhall that's most interesting as I look back on these movies, is his was often the name on the tin that got me to watch. I remembered him on the later seasons of CHiPs, so if I saw him listed on the cast or in the description, I'd give it a look out of curiousity. If a name like Bruce Penhall's, just because he worked on CHiPs, is enough to get me to watch something, imagine what having Bruce Willis on the cover of a Fake Shemp-fest does to get people to stream or rent it? The thing is though, this is no Penhall bait-and-switch, he's in it a lot, and he's going for it as an actor. One scene in particular, where he's hooking up with Julie K. Smith, he may have gone for it too much, because word on the street is his wife wasn't too fond of it.


 

Finally, I don't know why it took so long, but we're finally tagging Gerald Okamura. He's in this one as a member of Julie Strain's gang of baddies, and he does exactly what we expect Gerald Okamura to do: just be Gerald Okamura. He's like the reliever on a baseball team who comes into the game and throws fastballs and gets outs. I think we sometimes forget, or take it for granted, that low-budget DTV films have guys like him in them who can come in with little fanfare and do their part, but they're often part of the difference between whether a film works, like this one, or it doesn't. If you're curious, Okamura clocks in with 9 tags to start with. Somehow I thought he'd have more, but 9 is still a good number.

And with that, let's wrap things up. This, like all the rest of Sidaris's LETHAL Ladies movies are available on Tubi. You can do like I did, and just watch them all, but it's not necessary to have seen the ones before this one to get what's happening here. This is a just fun, 90s, low-budget DTV movie, and sometimes that's all you need. Also, the podcast I did with Mitch is still up in our archives, and is worth checking out. 

For more info: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0112782/

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

Sunday, April 18, 2021

Zombeavers (2014)

This is a film that Jamie and I looked at on the pre-hiatus iteration of the podcast, back in July of 2015, and I had always intended to give it a proper review on the site as well, but... the hiatus happened, so the review didn't. Then I planned to do it last October along with a couple other horror movies for Halloween, but that's when life was threatening to derail the site and podcast again, and I was barely managing a once every other week pace, and those posts were for our DTVC Hall of Fame inductees. Anyway, I didn't want to wait for October again to review it, so I figured now was as good a time as any.

Zombeavers follows three college students who take a trip to one of their family cabins out in the woods for a weekend getaway. At the same time, the local beaver population has been contaminated by a chemical, turning them into--you guessed it--zombeavers. When the ladies' beaus make a surprise visit to crash their weekend away, it's not all fun and fornicatin', as these zombeavers have other plans for these kids. The question is, will any of them get out alive?


 

This movie was a fun time. I think what I enjoyed the most was that they played it straight. Had it been full of pratfalls and people doing goofy things, with characters who are in on the joke, it wouldn't have worked; but instead there was serious danger to be had at the hands of these frightening beavers. It's like they took all the standard horror movie devices, and then replaced the masked, relentless, ax-wielding killer or whatever with zombeavers, and said "there you go." The other thing this film has going for it is the 77-minute runtime--which is always a plus for me. All that being said, the filmmakers did commit one unforgivable offense, which I'll discuss later, and while it's not enough for me to dismiss this film entirely, it is unfortunately enough for me to say that this is a lot of fun, but not as fun as it could have been. Still, it's overall a solid horror comedy.

When I first started this site back in 2007, the idea was to spotlight all genres of DTV, including horror, but as the site developed, it was the action films more than any that got the most traction, and over time that continued to where I'm almost doing all action now. When I looked at the fact that this has 165 critic reviews on IMDb, despite only grossing 50 grand at the box office worldwide, I think I see why. Without me knowing it beforehand back then, the horror blogging community is a much more crowded ecosystem than the action movie one--especially when we're talking about DTV. If I review an action movie that only has 10-15 reviews--or in some cases, it's just 2 or 3--it's easier for someone who's curious about the movie to stumble upon my review from there. With 165, how many people will make it as far as the D's? Also, if you look at the actors, directors, and studios in the Hall of Fame, the bulk of them specialized in action, and Hall of Famers tend to steer my reviews. I guess all of this is a long way of saying I hope to get more horror on the site in the future.


 

You probably recognize Bill Burr there, but do you recognize the other guy? That's Mr. "Your Body is a Wonderland" himself, John Mayer. Unfortunately he doesn't give us any of that sweet 2000s era Mom Rock that he was known for. He's also the only Mom Rocker in the film, as I guess James Blunt, Daniel Powter, and Gavin DeGraw were all busy; but like Daniel Powter, Burr and Mayer "had a bad day" when they were delivering chemicals, as they hit a deer, which caused one keg of chemicals to hop off their truck and float down river, where it burst open, spraying chemicals all over the beavers and turning them into zombies. And like James Blunt, you can see from Mayer's face that they were... "flying high" (that's right, I went radio edit on you there). That could be a horror movie in and of itself, like a group of Mom Rockers are in a cabin in the woods, working on a collaboration album, when a late-fortysomething mom and her teen daughter, who are obsessive fans of theirs, track them to the cabin and go all Misery on them. Hit me up Hollywood, and I'll have a treatment for you by Monday.

Just because I'm saying this film was playing it straight, doesn't mean it wasn't double entendre city, especially considering our villains are beavers. But again, even if there were moments like that, the characters themselves were playing it straight, which I think is important. I've seen a lot of horror comedy that feels like it needs to tell us at every turn how smart it is; or is so afraid we're not going to get the joke that they can't not show us how in on it they are. This film trusted that we as the audience would get it. We have elements in the film, like sexual intrigue between the characters, that are elements we should be taking seriously, at the same time that these characters are fighting for their lives against zombeavers. If they weren't playing it straight, the characters would be exaggerated caricatures of themselves, waiting for their goofy deaths to happen, and for me that wouldn't have worked as well as it did with this approach.

Now, I'm saying all these good things, but there was an extreme area where I felt the film missed the mark: killing off the dog. I know, right? Major mistake. One of the male characters throws the dog into the water as bait to get the zombeavers to go in the other direction so he and his friends can escape, and the zombeavers devour the poor little guy. Even though that character gets his comeuppance later, killing a great guy like that fella above is unforgivable offense. If anything, he should be the lone survivor, and let all the humans die. And killing the human who killed the dog isn't enough to make up for it. When you consider that John Wick is based off a man going on a killing spree to avenge the death of his dog, and that film grossed tens of millions of dollars worldwide--while this only grossed 50 grand--you can see how a filmmaker can't just casually kill off a dog in a film and expect it to work. A filmmaker should understand the seriousness of it when they consider writing it into their film, and unless it's leading to the main character going on a 90-minute killing spree, it's probably best to not kill off the dog.

Animal lover me aside, I did enjoy this film overall. The fact that you can catch it on Tubi (as of this writing), and the fact that it's only 77 minutes, are two pluses that make this well worth it. Also, if you want to listen to the old podcast episode, that one is in our archives, episode 47.

For more info: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt2784512

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

Thursday, April 15, 2021

Finding Purpose: The Road to Redemption (2019)

Back in September, our friend, producer Joe Williamson, reached out to see if I could watch and review this film for him. I said yes, but then I ran into the issues that led to a short hiatus for the DTVC on both the site and the pod, and when I got things back on the rails, it wasn't even me watching new movies, I was just reviewing from the backlog of things I'd already seen. Now it's April and I'm finally getting around to making this happen.

Finding Purpose: The Road to Redemption is written, directed, and stars John Reign as a former vet who fought in the Balkans and who's now caring for his developmentally delayed brother (Tom Stoops) along with his wife Skye (Dawna Lee Heising). After John gets a terminal cancer diagnosis, and one of his friends from the war passes and leaves him with some money and a motorcycle with a side car, John decides to go on a road trip to give back to some of the families of the men who served with him, plus patch things up with his estranged daughter, who doesn't know he's her dad. Will he get the redemption he seeks before he dies?


 

This was an earnest attempt at an honest, feelgood movie, and with that in mind, I want to use my review to give it the proper respect it deserves. I liked the idea of this story, and I liked how he used a lot of non-actors to give it a more down-to-earth feel. By the same token, I think Reign betrayed the feeling he was going for in a few areas. First, poor Dawna Lee Heising's character is put through the ringer. She swims in a pond and gets leeches on her. Then she's in a boat on that same pond with John, and he absentmindedly tips the boat so she falls in. After that she gets sprayed by a skunk, and then for good measure, a snake crawls up her pajama pant leg. All because she's supporting her husband and going on this trip with him. There's also a scene where they go to a wing joint that looks like a pretty rough place, and she says multiple times "I don't feel comfortable with this," and he insists on them going in anyway. I'm not sure how that's supposed to endear ourselves to John, both as the character, because this is how he treats his wife; but then as a filmmaker, as this his how he treats the character of the wife. In addition to that, the element of the estranged daughter seemed to come out of nowhere, and maybe I missed the mentions earlier in the film, but I feel like it's something that could have been sprinkled in throughout the film so it didn't feel so grafted on. I saw people online who killed this movie, and I saw people giving it a 10 our of 10, but I think the reality, as in most cases, was somewhere in between.

I could tell this was a passion project for John Reign, and it felt like everyone involved got what he wanted and were as invested in what he was trying to do. I think film making like that is what this site was meant to celebrate, but by the same token, I think it's important to give as honest a take on the film as the honest attempt that was made to make it. One of the things about the passion project is it can veer into the vanity project quickly, which is something we've seen a lot of on this site, and might be why seeing that it was Dawna Lee Heising's wife character that was put through the ringer instead of John's character was such a red flag. We normally see this kind of vanity thing in an action film. Maybe a Seagal or Van Damme gets to beat everyone up and get the girl; instead here, John Reign gets to observe unscathed while his wife gets leeches on her from swimming in a pond. Had these things happened to John instead, it would have made his character more endearing. On the other hand, do we want to see someone who's dying of cancer getting sprayed by a skunk? So maybe no one gets sprayed by the skunk or bitten by leeches then?



The one place that I thought really worked was how John illustrated the bond his character had with the people he served with. It transcended the standard "thank you for your service" approach we see in a lot of movies about war veterans, and gave us something really unique. I also liked the way he demonstrated how that bond was felt by the generations that followed them, as he interacted with the kids of the people he served with; but then also the generations before when he visits the mother of one of the men who died in his unit. He tries to explain how her son died a hero, to which she responds that if her son had been a coward, she'd still have her son. I don't know that I needed more of that kind of scene, because I think one of those scenes was powerful enough on its own; I think it was more that when that scene comes after Dawna Lee Heising gets sprayed by a skunk, it's maybe hard for me to switch gears.

One thing I didn't know about this film until I looked it up on IMDb when I started writing this post, is that this is a sequel. The first film was just Finding Purpose, and it followed John as he dealt with PTSD after his time in the Balkans and he loses his developmentally delayed brother to the state. I don't know if seeing the first one would have changed how I felt about this film, just because I think the issues I had with it were still the issues whether I learned more of the backstory first, but also I think what I liked still would have been what I liked too. The one area that I may have gotten a better sense of was his relationship with the social worker who checked in on him and his brother early in this movie. I don't know if the estranged daughter was brought up in that one too, making it perhaps feel less of a tacked on thing here.


 

Finally, this is more of a general concern I have with screeners. Don't get me wrong, I always feel appreciative when someone comes to me to screen a film for our site, as it's been a part of this DTVC experience that I never saw coming when I started everything, and the ability to help get the word out on an indie production is something I love being able to do; but these large watermarks in the screeners reminding us that the film is not to distributed illegally are getting excessive. I get it, when you've poured not only your heart and soul into a project, but so have all the people helping you along the way, you want to protect your creation as much as you can; by the same token, these things can be obtrusive to the overall watching experience. Does it have to be a static watermark? Could it be a periodic crawl that rolls along the bottom of the screen? Something that doesn't interfere with my ability to watch and enjoy the film.

And with that, let's wrap this up. This can be rented for a dollar on Prime right now. I don't think that's a high price to pay for supporting an indie filmmaker. One word of caution though: IMDb lists this as a 90-minute runtime, but when I watched the screener I was given the link to, it clocked in at 100 minutes.

For more info: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt10332260

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

 

Saturday, April 10, 2021

The Patriot (1998)

I actually had this for next week's review, but with today being Seagal's birthday, I figured I'd bump it up in the rotation. This film represents something of a milestone for Seagal, as it's his first ever DTV film, so we could say that this is the start of his DTVC Hall of Fame career. In addition to this review, Richard Hawes of the DTV Digest and I discussed this on a podcast last year, episode 73, so if you haven't yet you can go check that out in our archives--and also you can check out Richard with Mike and Stephen on the DTV Digest podcast on iTunes.

The Patriot has Seagal as an immunologist living a relaxing life on his ranch, raising his daughter, and running a clinic in Montana. That's when a White Supremacist separatist group gets their hands on a deadly virus created by the US government to use as a biological weapon, and the separatist group unleashes it on the town. Now it's a race against time as Seagal needs to use everything he knows to try to defeat this deadly outbreak--at the same time using everything he knows to kick the asses of any militia members who try to get in his way.


 

This wasn't so bad. It doesn't have as much fighting, and I think that was on purpose to keep the runtime shorter--which is a reasoning I can get behind, though it does feel like the opening to get us to a place where things actually happen is a bit long. It also has the feel of a 90s big screen film, even if it's not a huge budget, and that may explain why I thought for so long that this was a big screen film. It's more of a quirk that it's DTV, than it is the DTV kinds of flicks we've grown accustomed to with him, and I think that novelty plays well. In addition to all that, the scenery in Montana is fantastic. 

For Seagal, 1998 was a time when the wave was cresting, and this film is an example of him trying to either keep it from cresting a little longer, or at the very least find another wave to ride. In 2001, he has both Ticker with Albert Pyun, and Exit Wounds, the latter of which ends up being his last theatrical gasp, with one more attempt in 2002 with Half Past Dead to keep up the momentum from Exit Wounds, only to see it not do so hot and Seagal's DTV career start in earnest, giving us another 30+ films (many of which have been reviewed on here). The end of the 90s wasn't just the cresting of the wave for Seagal, as we see the same thing happening for Van Damme, the only difference being that Seagal hit on one of his last gasps with Exit Wounds, and Van Damme never had another success like that.


 

The question then is, where does Seagal go from here. He's turning 69 today as I write this, which means he's 4 years away from 73, the age Bronson was when he did Death Wish V. We're seeing action stars work longer careers now, and with Fake Shemps and split-second editing, it's possible that Seagal could go longer than 73. The thing is though, he doesn't have anything in the hopper beyond an announced Above the Law sequel, and after he had 6 films come out in 2016, he's been down to 1 or 2 a year until 2020, which was the first year since 1999 that he didn't have anything released. It'll be interesting to see if this is ultimately where he leaves us; or if he does get that Above the Law sequel off the ground, what that ends up looking like. By my count, we have six more of his DTV films to review, so if he doesn't put anything else out, he'll be just shy of the 40 Club--though I guess we could bend the rules and do some of his big screen films to get him there.

Among the costars he had in this, including mainstay character actor LQ Jones as his ranch manager; Camilla Belle, who later went on to star in the remake of When a Stranger Calls; and his own daughter, Ayako Fujitani; for me the best supporting performance was the fantastic Montana scenery. One of the problems with DTV films, is they're either shot in places that are meant to look like others, so we can't focus on the scenery, especially if it'll give away the true location; or they're shot in smaller urban environments in order to save costs. Bringing all that equipment out to an area like that is difficult and puts a huge burden on the crew, so I get why fewer films are shot in places like this--plus I'm not sure Montana needs the money that states like Louisiana and Michigan do, so it may cost more for permits to shoot there. I have never personally been to Montana before, but a movie like this is a great advertisement for it, so hopefully someday I'll be able to make the trip out there.


 

Finally, while he didn't star in this movie, I thought I'd mention the passing of DMX this past week. He and Seagal are forever linked with Exit Wounds, so much so that in 2019 there was an attempt to trade off that success with Beyond the Law. He was an absolute icon of the late 90s/early 2000s, in part because of roles like the one he had in Exit Wounds, but much more so because of his massive success as one of the greatest rappers of his era. I don't remember a party I went to at that time where I didn't hear one of his songs at least once over the course of the night. To say he will be missed would be an understatement. Here's to you DMX, you were one of the greatest.

And with that, let's wrap this up. Right now you can stream this on Tubi if you're in the States. I can't think of a better way to go. In and out in 90 minutes, and you get to see Seagal's first official DTV flick. Also, if you haven't yet, you can go in to our pod archives to check out the episode Richard Hawes of DTV Digest and I did on this film; and definitely subscribe to the DTV Digest on iTunes as well.

For more info: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0120786

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

 

Saturday, April 3, 2021

Operation Rogue (2014)

In the spirit of getting more Dacascos on the site, I saw this on Tubi and thought I'd give it a shot. The idea is to eventually get all of Dacascos's stuff up on here, so to find a free one on Tubi it's like low-hanging fruit. Often we've found this can also lead to bad results, so I guess the question is what we'll get with this one. In addition to us, our good friends Ty and Brett at Comeuppance have covered this too, so you can go there to see what they thought as well.

Operation Rogue takes place in the Philippines, where--wait for it--a local terrorist group is causing problems, so we need Americans to come in and fight them. Treat Williams is leading the American forces there, with Mark Dacascos as his number one guy. When Treat's daughter--who also happens to be Dacascos's girlfriend--is kidnapped, it goes from imperialist intervention to being personal. After a couple failed escape attempts on her part to pad the film, Dacascos and his men swoop in and save her--only to find him captured, leading to more padding. The question now is, how much torture does he endure before he turns the tables and takes these guys out?


 

This didn't work for me, and I know it probably should have, and maybe I'm being tough on it, especially considering how cynical my description was above. The thing is, the whole "Brown Menace" theme, whether it's in the Philippines, Vietnam, Africa, Latin America, or the Middle East, seems so tired and dated. Throw in the padding that itself was full of however many lazy devices--like the failed escape attempts, with the daughter's weaker friend getting his head chopped off after they get caught one time because he was too weak to wield a gun properly, that way we feel like he kind of deserved it, but also the baddies get to kill someone so they seem baddie enough. When the whole movie has a lot of fun elements, it can overcome those tired standards, but this didn't have enough good Dacascos action; plus the construct of him getting captured at the end also dragged the film out more. This could have been a fun Philippine actioner--and I think a lot of people could find fun in it, but unfortunately it didn't work for me.

Our man Mark Dacascos has a couple good fight scenes, the problem is, in a 90-minute film, he either needs more, or there need to be more people with him to have scenes too. I saw one of Scott Adkins's interview shows recently, the one where he talked to Michael Jai White, and they discussed how, if a movie doesn't work, they get the blame for it. I've never really seen it that way. Mark Dacascos in a movie like this makes it better than it would have been for me if he wasn't in it; and when he's in a movie that's great, it's usually great because of him. The other thing is, I think this movie did work for some people, so it would be even more inappropriate to blame him for a movie that I just didn't care for. I don't know, maybe Adkins and White were right, that people do blame them when the movie doesn't turn out well, and if that's the case, unless we know it's the star's fault, I don't agree with that. I do understand that they want their movies to have great things said about them no matter what, so I do get that no matter how much I say I like Dacascos, if I say I don't care for his movie, he still might take it personally.


 

The other name in this (other than Roger Corman) is Treat Williams. I looked, and while this is his fourth tag on the site, we haven't seen him since September 2007 when we did Gale Force. I know, I know, that's no way to treat Treat. Here he doesn't do much beyond tell Dacascos to bring his daughter back alive, no matter what it takes. I don't know what more I wanted to see from Treat at this stage, but I think what we got here adds to the overall unremarkability of everything. If this had been made in the late 80s/early 90s, Treat's character would have been played by Mike Monty, and it would have been tons of fun. Instead it's just Treat playing a one-note and making a paycheck. It's not Treat's fault, he can only work with what he's given.

And maybe therein lies the rub. If the goal is to pump out something paint-by-numbers on the cheap and on the quick, if it comes out relentlessly unremarkable, what are we supposed to make of it? Do we just accept it and say "it's not bad for what it is"? To a large extent, this film represents a lot of what was wrong with the 2010s. Pump out something unremarkable, splash a couple names on the cover, and call it good. There was no PM of the 2010s out there fighting the good fight; but I think the name Roger Corman still meant something, and I feel like seeing his name on the tin meant we'd get something more in line with the fun of the 90s and less in line with the cynicism of the 2010s. I guess it could be worse, it could've been a Bruce Willis Fake Shemp vehicle.


 

The main problem with a film this unremarkable is it's hard to fill the paragraphs I need to for a review. If it's horrible, I can complain more; if it's awesome, I can continue to extol its virtues; but here we have neither. I guess we could go with the old "Matt, what would you have done better?" There was this tangential chemical bomb plot that I think may have been something better to underpin the film. Just remove the rescuing the daughter thing, and instead maybe have it where she stows away on the transport Dacascos is taking to retrieve the bomb, so the two of them are working together, and the bomb is the thing they need to get. It can get a little jungle-sloggy there, so I think you need a lot of explosions and fight scenes. Also, to remove the "Brown Menace" angle, make Treat the baddie. This way you get more out of Treat, as we know baddies have more places an actor can go with them. He could be more of a scene-chewing baddie than the guy they had in this, and instead the guy they had as the baddie could be Dacascos's superior and father to the daughter character. I think we're getting somewhere now.

Rather than flesh out my entire rework, why don't we wrap this up. Unfortunately it appears that this has been dumped from Tubi, which is no good, because I think paying to rent it isn't the way to go. I think even for the people who enjoyed it, I don't know that it's enjoyable enough to pay for a rental, considering there are so many great ones out there free to stream or included in streaming packages.

For more info: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt3560658

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