The Direct to Video Connoisseur

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

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Lone Runner (1986)

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You may remember last year I had the Stars Play 11, when Stars and Netflix cut ties, precipitating a massive dump of titles from Netflix's Instant catalog, including 11 that I wanted to watch and review on the blog.  Well, Netflix is at it again, this time dumping a mass of great low-budget and exploitation flicks.  I've pointed out 8 that I want to watch and eventually review here, including this Miles O'Keeffe gem, and I've decided to collectively call these  movies the Netflix Dump 8.

Lone Runner takes place in a post apocalyptic future or something, somewhere in the deserts of North Africa, where Miles O'Keeffe is Garrett, a wandering hero known as the Lone Runner.  Ten years ago, he saved a stage coach conveying a king and his daughter back to their city-- along with a bunch of the king's diamonds.  Now in the present, the daughter is kidnapped, and the king's right hand man sees an opportunity to extort the diamonds out of him.  Unfortunately for the right hand man, and all the marauding hoards that want the daughter and the diamonds, Miles is on the scene, ready to save the day.

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This is pretty much what you're expecting from a cheap Italian low-budget flick starring Miles and directed by the great Ruggero Deodato.  It's very Ator-ish, though in an Arabian Knights/post-apocalyptic schlock fest kind of way.  It's the kind of thing that MST3K would've done if they'd been on the air longer-- or perhaps wanted to do and didn't get the rights to.  I had a lot of fun with it, and it would be great for a bad movie night, especially with like-minded friends who have a history with bad Italian movies.  On the other hand, if this isn't your bag, you'll be sorely disappointed, so make sure going in you know the kind of movie watcher you are.

Looking through the Miles O'Keeffe tag, I don't know if there's a DTVC Hall of Famer who has as many consistently fun films as he has.  We love Dolph, but he's has his occasional stinker.  With Miles, it's as if the stinkers are also fun.  Whether it's Italian schlock, or Filipino 'Namsploitation, Miles is it.  He was a big part of why I got into writing this blog, and it's nice that almost six years in, I can still have fun with his movies and share them with everyone else.  Here's to you Miles O'Keeffe, you're one of the good ones.

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Many of you are probably familiar with Ruggero Deodato through his classic, Cannibal Holocaust.  I actually read one review from this where the person was disappointed that this didn't live up to the Cannibal Holocaust standard he was looking for.  Like many other great Italian schlock, he comes from a great pedigree, in his case working with Roberto Rosellini.  Also, among his other credits, he was second unit director on the original Django, which we reviewed a while back.

This film had some other great Italian mainstays in it.  We had Donald Hodson, the village elder in Ator, who plays the king.  There was also Hal Yamanouchi, who plays the second in command in one of the gangs.  He's been in all kinds of things, most notably, Life Aquatic.  Cult favorite John Steiner plays Yamanouchi's boss, some kind of cyber punk Adam Ant villain, which was a lot of fun.  Michael Aronin was king's right hand man who turned on him.  He was like a poor man's Costas Mandylor/Mike Damone from Fast Times at Ridgemont High.  Finally, the princess was played by Savina Gersak, who has been in, among other things, a Michael Dudikoff film we did a while back, Midnight Ride.

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Back to Deodato.  In Cannibal Holocaust, he was called to the carpet for killing animals on-screen, and here, we see some horses that look like they might be getting tossed around quite a bit.  I didn't see any disclaimer at the end that no animals were harmed, and this was probably shot away from the eyes of PETA or The Humane Society, so who knows.  Later, when the princess finds a bat in a container, it's obvious that that's a fake one, and it's pretty hilarious, but I'm good with that.  I'd rather silly looking fake animals than real animals going through the ringer.  I guess you can only do so much with two guys in a horse suit though.

So that's it.  Once this is no longer available on Netflix Instant, it's pretty much used VHS, and it looks pretty expensive.  I say keep an eye out for it, and if you see it for $5, go for it.  This is a fun Italian schlock fest featuring Miles O'Keeffe, both figuratively and literally.  (Get it, "how much Keeffe is in this film?  Miles O'Keeffe."  Had to get it in at least once.).

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Thursday, April 25, 2013

Arena (2011)

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So this movie just popped up on Netflix Instant, and while it's one readers have been wanting me to look at for a long time, I've been avoiding it, because, to be quite honest, I've seen enough of these forced to fight films in the 6 years I've been doing this blog, and with this one having that 2010s punchfighting angle, just didn't look like it was going to be a fun time.  But it does star Samuel L. Jackson, and a DTV film with Jackson in it is something I can't avoid, especially when it's on Instant.  Also, our friend at Explosive Action did this one too.

Arena has Samuel L. Jackson as a guy who kidnaps men, makes them fight in his brutal arena, and broadcasts the fights over the Internet for a lot of money.  He's recently kidnapped the meathead vampire from the Twilight series, and that guy is our hero or something.  Will he be able to escape and get his revenge on Jackson?

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Where do we start?  Let's go with the well-worn territory of the forced to fight paradigm.  This film adds absolutely nothing to that.  If anything, it diminishes it, because it doesn't have a lot of fighting.  I'm not kidding.  It has a lot of montages of fighting, but only a few actual fights.  Then, after the montages, we're treated to montages of the woman working for Jackson who fell in love with the Twilight meathead stitching up his bloody wounds.  That seems to be what the film makers think they're adding to the paradigm, a macabre element.  What is that though?  Instead of a scene where our hero fights a guy in a makeshift construction site, we see a few seconds of it, then see the woman pulling nails out of our hero's back.  How sauteed in wrong sauce is that?  And let's look at the star, Kellan Lutz (from this point on back to "meathead from Twilight"), and why this casting decision was also sauteed in wrong sauce.  From the hair to the line delivery, this guy oozes horror movie douche or comedy romp heel, and to sell this guy to us as the hero doesn't work.  This is another example of sauteed in wrong sauce from the get-go.  My initial misgivings were entirely founded.

This is our first look at Sammy L. on here.  Can you believe that, we're almost 900 posts in, and this is the first Samuel L. Jackson.  Maybe I should've done the classic Snakes on a Plane-- I did do The Asylum stinkfest Snakes on a Train.  As you can imagine, he's great here, but he doesn't have much to work with.  At one point, he recites what's supposed to be a joke by his character, and while it doesn't work, he laughs at it, almost in a way that signals him laughing at the script.  I wonder what made him do this movie?  Yes, many great actors are going DTV now, but a lot of those movies are better than this.  Did he know going in that it would be a montage fest sauteed in wrong sauce?  I apologize Mr. Jackson, that this is your first film at the DTVC.  I'll work to rectify that soon.

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I listen to the Dan LeBatard radio show podcast, and he has a segment when he's interviewing athletes where asks them about guys who do a series of things, and they have to label them "douche" or "no douche".  For instance, he had former NFL running back Eddie George on, and he asked George "guys who do credited cameos in Steven Seagal direct to video action movies: douche or no douche?", in reference of course to George's appearance in Into the Sun.  Anyway, I wanted to pose that question then to everyone here: fedoras: douche or no douche?  My Tumblr dash is split on this.  I follow a great blog called dispatchesfromnoir, where a guy writes great hard boiled pulp snippets and celebrates great pulp detective novels  He wears a fedora as a part of the whole aesthetic, and I like that.  On the other hand, there's fedorasofokc-- OK Cupid, not Oklahoma City, which was a mistake I made--, which is made up of a lot of douches who wear fedoras.  If we're using Arena as the tie-breaker-- which is probably a flawed strategy-- it looks like they're firmly in the douche camp, because they're using it here to amp up the douche level of this frat guy who watches the fights.  Man, tough call.  (As an aside, George answered "no douche" to his question, though he thought it was funny.)

So let's look at everyone else who's in the film.  We already addressed the meathead from Twilight.  Can I just say, I saw all the Twilight films with Riff Trax accompaniment, and in that capacity they were fantastic.  As the meathead character in Twilight, he worked; but as I said above, the film built him up-- and even dyed his hair-- to make him into the horror film heel, then tried to sell him to us as the hero.  That strategy makes no sense, and makes even less sense when we see Johnny Messner as Jackson's second in command.  What?  You had Johnny Messner and didn't make him the hero?  Katia Winter played the woman who got the meathead from Twilight captured by Jackson, and worked for Jackson to keep the meathead in line, until she fell in love with him.  The writing on that character, as you can imagine, was all over the place, in varying attempts to add nuance here, or make her one-dimensional there.  It was all one-dimensionality for the two Asian women that worked for and I guess were the love toys of Jackson's character-- I don't even think they had any lines.  We also had Daniel Dae Kim from the new Hawaii 5-0 as a fellow forced to fighter.  Finally, James Remar had a small bookending cameo at the beginning and end.  Love Remar, and seeing him in this made more sense than Jackson.  He must be racking up tons of frequent flier miles and hotel points going back and forth between Michigan and Louisiana for all these Stage 6 DTV flicks he's been in.

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See what you're looking at there?  Yep, "Interupted".  And that wasn't the icing on the cake either, that happened right at the beginning.  That was the "I'm going to let you folks know what you're in for" moment, and it was as painful as "interupted" implied.  Mr. Jackson, I have to ask again, why did you agree to be in this movie?  Sigh, interupted.

This is a no for me.  Luckily, Samuel L. Jackson has an immense filmography for the rest of us to go to for a better movie of his, and everyone else in this movie gets to say they were in a movie with Samuel L. Jackson.    And I'm stuck watching a movie as bad as this because I decided to created a movie that specializes in DTV movie reviews.  Ugh.

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Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Guns and Lipstick (1995)

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This has been one of those holy grail type films that I've had a fair amount of trouble tracking down, but because it has such an immense cast, I never stopped looking.  Really, it wasn't so much that I had trouble tracking it down, it was that when I did, it was often really expensive.  For instance, my local record store had a used copy for $16.  Can you believe that?  Finally, I bit the bullet and put down $5 plus $3 shipping to get it from Amazon.  Let's see if it was worth it.

Guns and Lipstick has Sally Kirkland as a PI who was wrongly removed from the LAPD.  She has a case protecting Sherrie Rose, but Rose ends up dead anyway, and Captain Robert Forster wants to pin it on Kirkland because she wouldn't date him when she was on the force.  Turns out, Rose had something a lot of people wanted, include crime boss James Hong, his fake daughter Bobbie Phillips, and albino Sonny Landham (no Predators were involved.)  She has her allies though, including Rose's brother Evan Lurie, local bar owner Paul Benedict, and crazy drunk Wings Hauser.  Oh, and Joe Estevez has a small scene too.

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This was a story that was all over the place, didn't really know what it wanted to be, could've been cool old school gun shoe thriller with Kirkland great as the lead detective and a great cast of characters around her, but really was just another mystery yarn that felt like it had plot twists for the sake of plot twists, just to add to the run time.  Raymond Chandler this was not.  On the other hand, there is a fun element to fist pumping every time a familiar face popped up on screen, and the 90s elements are in full force, especially the sweet mullets.  Ultimately, I feel like this is really only for completists and people like me who have review sites that focus on movies like this.

I started with Sally Kirkland instead of the film's one DTVC Hall of Famer, because she was the star, and I liked the idea of the classic off-beat detective film led by a woman.  Really, this idea would've worked better as a 90s TV drama, and this movie probably would've worked better as a 42-minute episode, because it's not like Kirkland couldn't have carried this.  She also got to get the hunk, as her and Evan Lurie hooked up.  She was the right person for the role, unfortunately the film didn't hold up its end of the bargain.

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Here's Wings playing the piano.  He's not in this much, but when he is, he's pretty great.  Near the end, he ends up in a car with Kirkland, and right away he's just staring out the window with his mouth agape in that trademark Wings style.  He flips out at her earlier in the film in a drunken rage.  One time by the fire, he gives her a massage.  He drinks Seagram's 7 straight from the bottle, then plays the piano and sings some raspy song.  I mean, it's all just Wings-y.  Is this $8 worth of Wings?  Maybe not, but if you're a Wings fan, you'll appreciate what you're seeing.

Let's try to go through everyone else.  Forster is the classic cop heel.  He's always bringing Kirkland in to arrest her, but the charges don't stick.  James Hong is pretty sweet as the crime boss.  Too many of his scenes are covered with smoke, so we can't see him.  Landham as the albino was weird.  You can try to explain to me why that made any sense.  Benedict was funny as the bar owner, I always love seeing him in anything.  Then there was Joe Estevez, who has one scene near the beginning where he sexually harasses Kirkland as he frisks her, then throws her onto her chair.  Not one of his fines moments, but it's Joe Estevez, so it's always fine for us.

This movie was exceedingly mulletous.  We're talking mullets aplenty.  We had full out business in front and party in the back 9.5 in mulletude mullets.  We had skullets.  We had the classic skullet 'stash combo.  We had twin ape drapes among extras leaving a building Kirkland was entering.  The best one was one of Hong's thugs.  It was one of those "oh man, I can't believe you did that!", the "it's awesome" and "it's ridiculous (in the true sense of the word, not the 'a lot' slang sense we often see it as)" at the same time.  If a 90s movie can give you one thing, it's sweet beaver pelts.

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Oh... oh what's that?  Evan?  What's that?  Oh, oh no!... oh my God, oh no, what am I... what am I looking at?... Evan please, say it ain't so!  Oh God... Fanny Pack!

I don't think I can write anymore.

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Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Invasion aka Infection (2005)

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We've had this one in the Netflix Instant queue for sometime, and often, as we were about to get to it, we'd either get our hands on an Albert Pyun film I wanted to do more, or he'd release a film that would jump this in the priority line.  But we're here now, ready to make it happen.

Invasion takes place in a small town, where a police officer, Brick Bardo (played by Pyun mainstay Scott Paulin) gets a call to help out a man doing some night fishing in a remote state park.  When he gets there, he finds a meteorite, and is also accosted by the man he's there to help, who implants a bug in his ear, Invasion of the Body Snatchers/Star Trek II: Wrath of Kahn style.  As you can imagine, these bugs take control of the host, whose job it is to spread the bugs to more people.  Bardo's first victims: a couple chilling at Lover's Lane down the road.  Problem, he gets the guy, but the girl (played by Paulin's daughter, Jenny Paulin Dare (as Virginia Dare)) escapes in Bardo's vehicle.  Trapped in the park, she now has to survive long enough until help arrives.

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I don't know where to go with this one.  The bulk of it is a one-take found footage film shot from a camera mounted to the police car's dash.  The camera only moves as the car moves.  We seldom see people speaking on-screen.  I thought about it like this: if Albert put a comment on the blog or sent an e-mail telling me "I'm working on this new project.  It'll be like a classic 1950s sci-fi drive-in flick, only almost the entire thing will be shot in one take from a camera on a police car dashboard, like found footage, but on another level.  Cynthia Curnan is writing, Tony Riparetti is doing the score, and I have this great new cinematographer, Jim Hagopian.  Plus, we have Scott Paulin and Norbert Weisser, and Paulin's daughter Jenny is a real talent.  I'm really excited for this."  I'd read that, and think "I can't wait to see this!", because it seems like such a good idea.  But in practice, I think it's a little too long.  A 35-minute short probably would've nailed it, because the talent is there-- including Pyun-- it's just hard to maintain a movie for over an hour in this manner.

I have to give Pyun credit for going for it again, and I don't see this as a total failure.  I went on Netflix to see the reviews-- which can often be a harrowing experience-- and found more people that felt the way I did than I thought.  The thing is, it sounds gimmicky, and it could've been gimmicky, but Pyun isn't doing it that way.  If that were the case, he wouldn't have had the attention to detail in other areas that he did; and the work it must've taken to coordinate these scenes as he's shooting so much in one take must've been immense, plus the cinematography was not simply found footage all over the place crap, it all worked.  This was an attempt to take a new approach to movie making from an established and experienced film maker, and for me, with the talent he had, I think this could've worked over a shorter time; but there were people who not only disagreed with me, but disagreed with my misgivings and liked it more than I did.  Besides, even Citizen Kane has gotten "worst movie ever!" type reviews, so I imagine Pyun has to take those ones with a grain of salt.

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One aspect of his films that I've noticed now that I've watched quite of few of them, is that he has a knack for casting really strong young actresses.  I don't know if, in the low-budget film world, too many casting directors don't give credence to female acting talent, or only focus on beauty and not talent too when they shoot, but it seems like Pyun consistently casts great young women, and leans on them for their great performances to carry his films.  We saw it here with Jenny Dare Paulin, especially one scene that required her to react for an extended period on-screen while we listened to the sounds of a violent struggle going on on the other side of her walkie-talkie.  It looked like a tough scene to act through, and she did really well.  Another thing I wanted to remark on is her outfit.  Her character had her prom that night, so she's in her prom dress, and while being modern, there's something very 1950s about it, so we can see that 1950s sci-fi movie element of the film in her that way.  These are the kinds of touches that Pyun adds to films that makes even ones like this that didn't totally work, at least work on some level.

As always, it's time to play our favorite game: name that Pyun Mainstay!  First up, we had, as mentioned above, Scott Paulin as the first sheriff.  Norbert Weisser plays the voice of an expert on the invasion/infection, which we hear from Jenny Dare's standpoint through her radio; and then he plays the deputy on-screen, though the voice of the deputy on the radio is someone else.  I remember when I first saw Weisser on-screen, I was like "hey, but his voice was...?", then I saw it in the credits.  Also, Jenny Dare Paulin was not the only mainstay offspring in the film.  Morgan Weisser, Norbert's son, played Dare Paulin's boyfriend.  He was 34 when this was made, which might explain why there were no close-ups on him playing a high schooler-- I'm 34 now, and who knows if I could play a high schooler either.

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I want to finish with my own personal take on the 1950s invasion film.  For me, I came into contact with them in two ways: growing up on late-night or early morning television; and through MST3K.  With TV going almost exclusively with either new movies, or syndicated reruns of first-run programming; and with MST3K having been off the air for many years now, many people don't have the access to that kind of movie like they used to.  Sure, they know Plan 9 or whatever, but to know the genre and the type of film consistently to recognize aspects like the old guy needing help with his car, or the old townsperson who's been infected, it helps in understanding where someone like Pyun making a movie like Invasion is trying to go.  It's okay to still not like it after that-- one could make the case that MST3K makes fun of these movies because they're so bad, so why be inspired by them?-- but I think what's going on is people aren't getting what Pyun's going for, because a lot of them haven't been exposed to it, so they judge it harshly.  It's just a theory, and I could be wrong.

And with that, let's wrap this up.  This is available on Netflix Instant.  It says 80 minutes, but roughly 15 is credits, and then about five is prologue and epilogue, leaving you with an hour of one-take dashboard cam found footage.  If that sounds intriguing, I say go for it.  I will say, while it's probably not for everyone, you aren't watching a film based on a gimmick.  Pyun is really going out on a limb to try something different.

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Thursday, April 11, 2013

Deadly Engagement (2003)

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This is one of many Olivier Gruner flicks that hasn't been released in the States, which, of course, makes them not the easiest to get a hold of, though at least here we had a Region 2 UK release, which makes it a little easier.  The irony here is that the production company is known as North American Pictures.  This is why we do this though, for Czechsploitation flicks starring Olivier Gruner produced by a company called North American Pictures that are only released in the UK.

Deadly Engagement is about an Irish Balkan warlord (played by a man named John Comer, who is introduced to us while eating-- a little Spanish language humor for you), that specializes in white slavery, but decides to bump his game up a bit when he gets his hands on a nuclear warhead.  He has a buyer too in an Arab dictator or something, but he needs some kind of access codes to make the bomb work.  So he kidnaps Olivier Gruner's wife, because she's a big time physicist who knows about the warhead.  Bad move, because now Gruner's on his way to take him down.

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I guess we'll start with the worst part about this: it's not centered on our hero!  Have you ever heard of an action film that spends more time showing the baddies?  It doesn't make any sense, and I think had they made it more Gruner-centric, it would've been a fun bad movie.  On the other hand, I don't really know what was going on here.  It was part Women in Prison film, part bad actioner, with neither side winning out enough to make the other work.  In a good Women in Prison film, there's a focus on some of the prisoners and their attempts to escape or something.  All we had here were nameless women with no lines who just got naked from time to time.  Again, we were too baddie-centric to make even exploitation work.  Just sauteed in wrong sauce from the start.

What do we do with Gruner then?  He had his moments, but he had so few.  I found myself saying "hey, isn't Olivier Gruner in this film?"  And in his one big moment, when he goes to rescue his wife, he can't even do that before Comer dry humps/rapes her (seriously, the film tells us he rapes her, but really he just feels her boobs and dry humps her, which, still an ordeal and would've been enough to sell as an ordeal, but not what I think the film was going for).  I wonder what Gruner was thinking when he went for this.  I have to assume the big thing he thinking was "I'm not in this much, so I should be able to get as much money as possible for as little work as possible."  On the other hand, I have to assume if he had better and more consistent work, he wouldn't have to think like that.  The guy can fight, and he has something of a sense of humor, it'd be nice to see him get more like the great films of his we remember.

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On imdb, this is tagged as "Czechsploitation", so I clicked on it.  I found mostly Women in Prison or Women in Bondage type films, you know, white slave trader type deals.  I guess that's where that angle came in here.  The nudity was not quite Skin-a-max level, it was mostly women naked except for their panties, with a few instances of women totally nude.  No sex scenes either beyond the dry hump variety.  Then we had the perfunctory whipping scene, though I don't think I've ever seen one more perfunctory than this one.  The dominatrix type whipped at the air, and we heard cracking and screaming sounds from the background.  That's fine with me, I'm not down with all that brutality stuff, but you may find it a bit fatuous.

I want to get back to the baddie-centric plot, because I'm not sure I've ever seen anything like that before.  We've seen baits-and-switches before, but usually it's when we think the guy on the cover is the hero, only to find out it's a 300-pound pork roast or something instead.  Here, Gruner was the hero, no one else was saving the day, and we still had something of a Gruner bait-and-switch.  It wasn't as egregious as we've seen, but it was still weird to see these vast stretches of film where Gruner was nowhere in sight, and his wife and the baddie were bantering, or the baddie and his second in command were discussing their plans.  It just makes for a movie that doesn't work.

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I'm going to finish this with an interesting question: how would I feel about this film if it were a Filipino Women in Prison film from the mid-to-late 80s, directed by Cirio H. Santiago, starring Reb Brown or something, with Vic Diaz as the main baddie?  Everything else is equal, even the baddie-centric plot.  I want to say I'd be as hard on it, but I don't know.  Then you start talking about a Japanese VHS of said film, man, I don't know.

But it wasn't a Japanese VHS of a Filipino exploitation flick, it was this Region 2 DVD of a Czechsploitation Gruner flick by North American Pictures Productions.  For American readers, this isn't worth the effort.  For my readers from across the pond: go Arsenal!  And then, I'd avoid this unless you find it really cheap.

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Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Stash House (2012)

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This is one I've been wanting to get to for some time.  If you've been rocking with me for any amount of time, you know Dolph Lundgren is the tops for me, the Babe Ruth of DTV action, and anything he's in, especially DTV, is a must see.  Obviously, this is no exception.

Stash House is about a young couple (Briana Evigan and Sean Faris), who go to the dream foreclosure house that the husband has picked out for them.  Problem is, it's a foreclosure stash house, and what's inside the drug cartels want.  So they send Dolph over to help out this other guy to get it.  Of course, as luck would have it, this stash house is equipped with the best in security equipment, and now the couple are holed up inside, hoping Dolph doesn't get in and kill them.

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I feel like it's not unreasonable to ask a film to do something-- anything-- to make me interested within the first 20 minutes.  Most people want to be drawn in right away, so my 20 minutes is very generous.  After that, if you haven't done it, you won't be able to do it, and I think the first plot point in this film came in around the 22-minute mark.  No good.  There were other major flaws here though.  No real character development, which, in a bad action film is fine, but when retreading over well-trodden territory like this film's plot, I need a couple I care about if I'm going to care what happens to them.  There was this vague idea that maybe the wife was more down-to-earth and the husband more all about money, but they never got off the ground floor with that one.  Later, we had an insinuation that the husband had been cheating with the wife's best friend.  Again, it never got beyond the insinuation stage.  We also had potential intrigue between Dolph and his bosses, but it was never more than potential.  As far as I can tell, the only thing new this film was trying to bring to the table was the use of surveillance footage for entire scenes, which first, wasn't new-- I can see that crap in real life on TruTV--, but second, was annoying and wasted what was good cinematography in the real cinematic shots.  Sautéed in wrong sauce is as generous a take on this film as I was in the beginning with giving them 20 minutes to do something interesting.

The Dolph is the most disappointing, because in the few moments where his character has some real nuance, he rings the hell out of it to get every drop and make the most of it.  Most of the film though is either the couple, the guy Dolph is with, or shots of Dolph not really doing anything.  This should be Dolph's movie.  At the very least, this should be Dolph giving us Gary Oldman in Léon: The Professional.  His character needed the room to do that, and it never happened, except for a few moments near the end, which, in a way made the film that much more uneven because we're left wondering why this character didn't figure more prominently near the beginning, and why he's such a big deal now.  I know Dolph was looking to do something outside the usual action film role by taking this, and the fact that it didn't work shouldn't be an indictment on him.

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It's interesting to consider what this role is for him though.  Other than the DTV Universal Soldier sequels, where he was playing an already established villain from a big screen flick, all of Dolph's DTV films have had him as the hero.  Sometimes, like in One in the Chamber, he plays a wild card, but never the villains like in Universal Soldier, Rocky IV, or Johnny Mnemonic.  One could make the further point that, outside of Masters of the Universe, all of Dolph's mainstream Hollywood films have either had him as a villain, or an almost villain-- or as comic relief like he was in The Expendables 2.  What a weird dichotomy, right?  On the video store shelves he's always the hero, and on the big screen he's always the villain.  Was it as a simple as he only had one bite of the lead hero cherry, and once Masters of the Universe flopped, that was it?  What a fascinating career tract Dolph has had.

Man, we were hit over the head with that surveillance footage.  I get it, the property is under surveillance.  I get it.  I get it.  I get it.  I get it.  I get it.  I get it.  Is that annoying yet?  Try watching a movie that insists on stuffing our faces in grainy surveillance footage.  Once or twice is cool, but entire scenes taking place in that film quality?  Why am I even watching the movie then?  Why don't I just go down to the 7-11 and hang out behind the register?  Hell, why don't I get a job there, and get paid to watch their surveillance footage, instead of paying to see it in this movie.

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The thing is, we had some really nice shots throughout, the kind of thing we'd want from a real stylish thriller. Sometimes these shots were poorly used, like one of the two cell phones in the backseat of the couple's car-- ooh, foreshadowing, thanks for hitting us over the head with that one!  A lot of the other ones created the mood and tension a thriller like this requires, which made it all the more frustrating that we had to suffer through so much of the surveillance footage, when we had this level of cinematography that could have made those scenes so much nicer to watch.

This is a pass for me.  We've seen this plot before, and while this brings nothing new to the table, it also gives us poorly formed characters, which is especially detrimental with the plot the film was leaning on; then we had the aforementioned grainy surveillance footage, and an underutilized Dolph.  In the end, none of it worked, which was too bad, because I was looking forward to it.

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Thursday, April 4, 2013

Shadow Warriors (1995)

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If you've been rockin' with us for some time, you know I love me some Evan Lurie.  Ever since American Kickboxer 2, I've been a huge fan, and have wanted to get all of his films up here.  That's where Shadow Warriors comes in.  All I needed to hear was "starring Evan Lurie", and I was sold.  On the other hand, we've had some Lurie bait-and-switches in the past, so I was on my guard.

Shadow Warriors stars The Stepfather's Terry O'Quinn as this guy working for a major global security corporation, making new age security guards from dead people, among them the great Evan Lurie.  But a man sent by the company's security counsel (?) to watch over O'Quinn's operation gets suspicious of O'Quinn's motives.  With good reason, because O'Quinn is using another of his soldiers from their Ukraine branch (?) to take over the company.  Now Lurie, the security counsel guy, and another of the company's scientists are rushing over to the Ukraine to stop him.  Will they make it in time?

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This sounds like a great schlock moviefest fun time, but it isn't.  Half the time it doesn't know what it's doing. This Ukrainian super soldier wipes out tons of dudes, can take out Lurie, who's a fellow super soldier, yet this security counsel guy can fight him?  Why doesn't the super soldier just kill him like everyone else?  Lurie has some incident where we think he might be capable of individuality, and that's it, we never deal with it again. In one moment he's controlled by O'Quinn and acts like a bad guy, the next he's with the security counsel guy.  And then the security counsel guy is wearing an ATF jacket.  What the hell is that?  And what counts for action in this film is often this Ukrainian super soldier mowing down shimmying stunt doubles, with the occasional explosion thrown in.  We don't get any good fights between him and Lurie, we don't get any good pitched battles-- it's just blah.

And that's a shame, because I thought, based on the beginning, that we really had something here, especially with O'Quinn and Lurie.  I don't know if I wanted to see Lurie as a baddie, which is what it looked like he would be, or a good guy fighting multiple super soldiers, I know I just wanted more Lurie.  And then he drops out at the midway point, only to be seen again at the very end.  I don't get this at all.  Did the Ukrainian dude fund this film as his own vanity project?  He's given the classic "introducing" tag in the opening credits, and when you look him up on imdb, this is his only film.  The vanity project theory is the only one that makes sense, because I don't know who looks at Lurie, then that Ukrainian dude, and decides to center the film around the Ukrainian dude.

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More on Lurie.  According to imdb, he up and disappears from the action scene in 1997, and the question has always been, what happened to him.  Well, I did some digging, and found out he was hired by a city in Indiana to jumpstart an artist's community there.  He has his own gallery and was paid well as a consultant.  I guess he's been doing the art thing for a long time.  I also found out he got into some hot water there, something I won't get into because this is supposed to be an Evan Lurie appreciation post, but I'll just say I wish him good luck with all of that in his future.  And on a selfish note, I hope someday he'll do some more action films!

What is the deal with the "and introducing" tag in the opening credits?  If I were an aspiring actor, the last thing I'd want is that in front of my name.  And how many times have we seen these movies, sauteed in wrong sauce, that based themselves around these no names, with the idea that what, he or she is on the path to stardom?  It's one of the many DTV or low-budget movie rules: "introducing" means "no career after".  It's like what Colin Hay said about Men at Work's Best New Artist Grammy: "slash kiss of death award".

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Terry O'Quinn is probably most famous now for Lost.  In fact, I imagine he fired his agent after this film, and probably buries it in his CV.  Like, I bet if he's talking with the producers about a new project, it's understood that they're not to mention this movie, the way people wanting to work with Mark Wahlberg can't mention The Funky Bunch.  The thing is though, when you look at his bio, there isn't a dip where his career hits the skids and you can understand why he'd do something like this.  He was in some big Hollywood films and some hit TV shows at the time.  I mean, he really must've fired his agent.

I got this on DVD from Netflix, and it's pretty readily available through them.  That's too bad, considering how many great DTV films from the 90s aren't available.  This is the kind of thing that would've been on at 3AM on TNT on a night Joe Bob Brigg's aired, and maybe if you had a bunch of buddies over drinking and watching these things, there'd be that one guy that stayed up later than everyone else and watched it.  If you were that one guy, this is the film for you.  Everyone else, I'd say pass.

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Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Night Vision (1997)

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This is one that's been on my radar for a long time now.  Two DTVC Hall of Famers, Cynthia Rothrock and Fred Williamson, make it a must, plus Robert Forster, Bushwick Bill, and former NFL standout Willie Gault are hard to ignore.  Even if this is bad, it should make for good review material.  Also, our friend Ty reviewed this at Comeuppance Reviews.  As you can imagine, he couldn't pass up a cast like this either.

Night Vision has Williamson as Dakota "Dak" Smith, a renegade detective who's been demoted to third shift motorcycle patrol cop due to some mishaps and his drinking.  Then he has a run-in with this serial killer who spies on his victims using hidden cameras, and creates snuff films out of their deaths.  Now this killer wants Williamson, and Williamson wants him too.  Helping him out are Rothrock and Forster.  Can they bring this guy down before anyone else dies?

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I had a lot of fun with this.  It was classic late-90s cable TV stuff, like that Cinemax or The Movie Channel thing that might air either really late at night or right smack in the middle of the day-- or both.  Williamson was fantastic, and he carried every scene he was in.  Forster and Rothrock were excellent too, and they played off Williamson well.  It definitely has its silly moments, like Williamson chasing the killer on his motorcycle, and the killer shooting grenades at him, followed by Williamson surviving an exploding bike crash, and the local news crew in the helicopter above catching it, punctuated with the cameraman's mustachioed smile.  Yes, that's what I want, big frickin' mustaches.  I want Williamson smoking cigars and walking around his apartment in his underwear.  I want Rothrock making sexual innuendo jokes with Williamson at the other character's expense.  I want scenes set to music that sounds like Phil Collins's "Sussudio", or Weather Channel Smooth Jazz, or Williamson's character's own soulful theme song.  Give me all of this, and I'm a happy man.

We'll start with the star, Williamson.  Everything about him here works.  Even when it doesn't work, it works, if that makes sense.  It's just so Williamson-y, and I love it.  We see so many films where it's a Williamson cameo or a Williamson bait-and-switch, and this is Williamson in almost every scene, just being Williamson.  I mean, the cigars, the briefs, the scene where he's giving confession in a Catholic church, the sexual innuendos-- when I see Williamson's on the cover, this is what I want, and this is what I got.  Also, this character, Dakota Smith, is one he uses in subsequent films, of which we've done one, On the Edge, which was also fantastic in its Williamson usage.  Can you tell I enjoyed this?

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The other DTVC Hall of Famer was Rothrock, and she was great too in a supporting role.  She only uses her martial arts here and there, but what I loved about her ability to do martial arts was that it converted her from a damsel in distress or one-dimensional female love interest, into Williamson's equal as a partner.  It allows for more of a buddy picture dynamic, which allows Rothrock to play off Williamson better, and makes their interactions much more fun.  This is different from her traditional straight ahead actioner, but it works for me.

Among the others, Robert Forster was the best.  In a lot of films like these, it's hard to root for him, because you never know if his character will turn out to be the baddie in the end.  I can tell you here that that doesn't happen, he's Williamson's buddy throughout, so it's safe to root for him, which makes it even more fun.  Forster and Williamson are much better together as friends than they are as foes.  And he plays off Williamson so well too.  My only complaint was that there wasn't more of him in this.  He usually appeared after Williamson created a violent crime scene, and told him "you call this a low profile?"  He also tells the heel police chief "you don't mess with a hard-on."  Then we had Bushwick Bill, who was Bushwick Bill, which, again, is fantastic.  The local TV reporter was played by Amanda Welles, who I thought had been in more stuff, but I was wrong, because she has very few credits on imdb.  Finally, Willie Gault has a small cameo as an FBI agent.  When I played Tecmo Bowl on the NES growing up, I used the Raiders and would  chuck the ball down field to Gault all day.  Remember how you'd take the QB and run him backwards, then at the last minute chuck it up?  That was so much fun.

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I don't know who this guy is here, but doesn't he look like the logical conclusion of Keith "The Dean of Mean" Jardine's DTV acting career?  Am I being generous if I say this is where he'll be in ten years, or should I go with five?  Nothing wrong with this though, it's better than the beating he'd take if he stayed in the UFC all that time, even if he won most of his fights.  Hell, would anyone be surprised if in ten years when Jardine gets to this point, an 85-year-old Williamson is still making movies and Jardine is playing this exact character?

Of course not, and films like this are why.  This is the Fred Williamson you came for, with a great Rothrock and Forster to boot.  Sure, as a movie it's pretty paint-by-numbers and late 90s low-budget thriller, but you're here at the DTVC because that kind of thing appeals to you, so why not go with it?  I think you'll be happy you did.

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Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Ides of March aka Ultimate Target (2000)

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This movie has a very interesting back story.  Made in 2000, the production company went bankrupt before the film was released, so it sat on the shelf.  Then, somewhat recently, a copy taken from a Russian TV recording surfaced, the only problem being that it was dubbed in Russian.  No good for us, right?  But there was a rumor of a Greek DVD release, which would mean an English language version if the rumor were true.  Turns out it was, and a friend of mine was nice enough to hook me up with a copy.

Ides of March has DTVC Hall of Famer Gary Daniels as a hit man working for a large hit man corporation. He has a falling out with his fellow hit men, among them DTVC favorite Michael Madsen, and now they're after him.  Daniels sends his family away up north, and establishes himself in a small town in New Mexico, waiting for his pursuers to arrive.  When they do, will he be able to take them all down?

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This isn't very good, and perhaps sat on the shelf for a good reason.  We have a lot of plot exposition with nothing really happening.  The mindset was that this plot exposition was entertaining and funny and filled with enough irony that it was worth keeping us from the action.  It couldn't have been more wrong.  It was supposed to be a mix of 90s Neo-Noir and Pulp Fiction style action/macabre comedy, and ends up missing on all accounts.  We get it, two killers are discussing Crunch Berries while eating breakfast over the dead body of one of their hits.  Great, it's so off-beat and ironic, I can't contain myself.  In another instance, we have what would've been a great fight scene between Daniels and some samurai sword wielding thugs, only to have it interrupted by a hit man talking on a cell phone with his mother.  Oh, such sweet comedic irony, I can hardly stand it.  The problem is, when the action was there, it was so good, especially the Western-style/modern action showdown at the end.  If we'd had more of it, this would've been a winner.  This is another example of the old adage: keep it simple.  Trying too hard to be a talky-90s indie flick when you could've been a solid DTV action flick is a bad formula.

The biggest reason why getting my hands on this was such a priority, was Mr. Daniels here.  Any time we're talking DTVC Hall of Famer, I want to see their movies and review them on here.  Unfortunately, because we're dealing in low budget DTV flicks, this kind of thing happens where we can't find them-- in fact, Daniels has a few others that I've had trouble tracking down.  In terms of how he is here, when he's allowed to let his action star prowess come through, it's all there.  The thing is though, he doesn't get much.  When we get to the end, it's almost like he's unleashed, which is good, but when I'm coming to the table for a Daniels film, I want more of him fighting and less of him doing glib voice-overs.  Even in his English accent, they don't work.

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Then we had Michael Madsen.  He was great as a competing hit man.  The thing with Madsen is, he can take a lackluster script, and make it enjoyable.  It's always interesting to see an actor of his quality fall through the cracks and end up in films like these, because most of the other actors are there because that is the ceiling of their ability-- which is fine, I'm not knocking it, but Madsen is on a different level, and you can really see it in something like this.  Always good to see Madsen.

Another major notable in this film is veteran character actor George Cheung-- also known as "George Kee Cheung", which, if you look at the image I got for the cover, the names "Kee" and "Cheung" accompany "Madsen" and "Daniels".  That's right, one man listed twice, not to mention, that young fella in the middle in the picture, he's not even in the film, I have no idea what he's doing there.  Anyway, back to Cheung.  Among his 175 credits on imdb, he was in the Seinfeld episode where Elaine tries to get flounder delivered from a Chinese restaurant, and has to pretend she lives in a janitor's closet.

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Finally, here are our two hit men discussing Crunch Berries over their deceased hit.  Everybody together now: "wacka wacka waaackaaa!"  This is one of those things that sounds great at the time, but the whole idea is that it's supposed to be so ironic that two hit men that just killed someone would sit in the guy's house and discuss Crunch Berries, and as much as the people making the film might thing that was so creative and unique, the rest of us have seen it so many times.  Even in 2000, when this was made, the whole irony mixed with people killing each other had beyond run its course.  How many potentially great action films were felled by the 90s irony movement?  More than I care to count.  Put this one down as another.

If you live in Greece you can find this on DVD, or if you have a region free DVD player and want to get it on the secondary market from there.  I won't go so far as to say it doesn't deserve to be released here in the States, because there have been a lot worse, and this has some big enough names that it deserves at least a $5 DVD; but would I say it's worth going through the trouble to track it down?  Probably not.

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