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.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Dinosaur Island (1994)

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This was suggested to me on Instant, and right away I saw that it was co-directed by two of the greatest schlock auteurs, Fred Olen Ray and Jim Wynorski.  How can that not be good?  Throw on DTVC favorite Ross Hagen, and I was sold.  (The 79-minute runtime didn't hurt either.)

Dinosaur Island is about a troop of soldiers, led by Captain Ross Hagen.  He's bringing three guys back to the US to stand trial for misconduct.  They're relatively good guys, just a bunch of goofballs and trouble makers.  Anyway, the plane goes down and the troop washes ashore on a remote island.  There they find a bunch of beautiful native women who are terrorized by a massive dinosaur.  If they can kill the dinosaur, then they can live with these women happily ever after.

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This movie was a lot of fun.  An exploitation send-up of the 50s deserted island savage women movies.  It's very USA Up All Night, and I'm sure this aired on it at some point.  It's perfect for a bad movie night, because it does a great job of making fun of itself, but there is plenty of room to make your own jokes too.  Now it is very R rated, so make sure you're in like-minded company if you do a group viewing, but if you know people that dig this kind of thing, it's great.  Wynorski and Ray deliver.

Ross Hagen is great in that Poor Man's William Holden role that we saw in those films of the 50s.  He uses terms like "terra firma" and won't let his guys forget about their mission; but he's also able to have a good time and joke with the guys too.  I was worried that we'd lose him here, because there's a point near the beginning where the film looks like it's going to focus entirely on the three guys, but fortunately my fears were assuaged, and he came back.  He's always so much fun, and he doesn't disappoint here.

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The dinosaurs were absolutely fantastic schlock mega cheese.  So much fun to watch.  They were like a mix of Harryhausen and 1950s film technology.  And the shots of them with the actors were so dead-on, totally nailed those old movies.  Again though, while they may have been making fun of the genre, the way it was made left plenty of room for your own riffs, which I think makes a movie like this that much better.  Sometimes with the modern send-ups, they make the monsters so poorly, and use a lot of bad CGI, that we're left with only laughing with the film makers.  Ray and Wynorski know how to make these films right for their audience, and they pull it off.

Speaking of which, it doesn't say on imdb how this collaboration happened, if it was a collaboration at all.  Who knows if one guy started it and the other finished.  We don't like to think of it like that though, do we?  We like the idea of these two schlock titans teaming up like Lucas and Spielberg to give us the Indian Jones of low-budget films-- not to mention Roger Corman produced it, an even bigger figure in the schlock film industry.  As a side note, in the credits DTVC Hall of Famer David Carradine gets a thank you, and according to imdb, some of the film was shot on his land.  Too bad he couldn't be in the film too.

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Look at that credit.  That came near the very beginning, and lets you know what kind of movie you're in for.  The thing is though, even with a warning like that, where they're all like "this is going to be a goofball fest", there are things that make no sense and are so much fun too.  On the image page, I took a screen of this shot of a dinosaur I guess howling at the moon as the sun set.  It was in this 70s-style TV film stock though, like it was a 70s PSA about saving the dinosaurs or something.  "A dinosaur is a terrible thing to waste."  "Somewhere a dinosaur is crying."  I don't know, but it was pretty fantastic whatever it was.

This is tons of fun, and a great USA Up All Nite throwback.  The availability on Netflix Instant makes it a no-brainer.  Wynorski and Ray deliver, and Ross Hagen is a nice slice of all right too.

For more info:

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Dawn Rider (2012)

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I've been looking to get more Christian Slater DTV flicks up here, and I saw that this one was about to be clipped from Instant.  It also has Donald Sutherland, who starred with Slater in Assassin's Bullet, so it was interesting to see them team up again; and Jill Hennessy, who I liked from Crossing Jordan and Law and Order.  Plus, it's a Western.  All of these things had me intrigued.

Dawn Rider stars Slater as a gunslinger who returns home to a frontier town in Wyoming to visit his father.  When his father is killed by robbers, Slater swears vengeance, but he's shot too and needs to recoup.  Hennessy nurses him back to good health, while her brother, Lochlyn Munro tells him about how their family ranch is going to be foreclosed on.  Slater offers to help, but what he doesn't know is that Munro has his own source of income on the side.  While all this is happening, Sutherland is a marshal in town to collect a bounty on Slater's head.  It's just all kinds of craziness.

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This wasn't bad.  It had some slow parts, but Slater is so good in the lead that he mitigates those; plus Sutherland, Hennessy, and Munro are all good as well.  They seem to understand how a Western works, and they embrace it.  This also had the tense gunslinging moments you want in a good Western, with the duels and the standoffs.  I liked the modern connection to our current economy too, and people losing their land and livelihood and trying to find a way to make ends meet.  All around I think this is pretty good, and worth checking out.

Slater's DTV stuff has been really good, and this is no exception.  He's great as that charismatic maverick gunslinger Western lead.  He's got great one-liners, and exudes that confidence that says "whatever problem comes up, I'll take care of it."  We've seen him do so many roles here, from priests, to gangsters, to former FBI agents, and now he's a gunslinger.  Who knows what he'll do next, but based on what we've seen so far it'll be worth checking out.

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Yes, that's Donald Sutherland.  No, he's not playing Santa.  Who knows why they made him look like that.  He was cool as the marshal, though he doesn't have that many scenes.  He's kind of a dirty old man, but an understated one, which was funny.  The idea of him actually being Santa would've been awesome though.  "I needed to find something to do in the summer, so I make extra cash working as a marshal for the US government.  Ho ho ho, I'm bringing you in dead or alive!"

Jill Hennessy was perfect too as the female lead and Slater's love interest.  Her voice and demeanor are the perfect combination of down-to-earth country strength and femininity that made her role great.  And she and Slater had great chemistry too, which made their scenes together pop even more.  Lochlyn Munro played her brother and Slater's old friend.  He's always great as a guy with ulterior motives that you can't trust, but he also had that added gunslinger element you want here too.  Like I said above, everybody got what this movie was about, and they made it work.

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The Western as a genre isn't one we get on here often (this is only our tenth out of over 900 films), and seldom do we see it done well in a DTV format.  Sometimes it's problematic, sometimes it's just too slow, and sometimes it's just a mess and all over the place.  While this one had some pacing issues, it did get to the heart of what I want out of a Western: a real charismatic lead and some great gun fights.  Sometimes that's all you need, yet so few film makers realize that.

But this one did, and as a result it worked.  It looks like after it's clipped from Instant, DVD will be the only way to go, or maybe it'll be on cable.  If you're looking for a RedBox rental, you could do a lot worse than this.

For more info:

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Deep Cover aka Checkmate (1997)

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So I got my hands on this strictly for the Cynthia Rothrock.  Eventually we'd like to have all of them, but some, like this one, are very hard to find.  Luckily a friend got me a copy from a Dutch VHS with hardcoded subs.  Also, the name "Deep Cover" on imdb, while it'll take you to this movie's page, the cover shot they have for it is for the Laurence Fishburne film of the same name.  I guess Checkmate is the better name to avoid confusion.

Checkmate has Rothrock as an FBI agent who has an evil White Supremacist/Right Wing Militia leader from her home town that wants her dead.  After he tries to trap her with a phony hostage situation, Rothrock comes back home, and with her father, who's the sheriff, investigates things.  What she finds goes way deeper than she expected.  Will she make it out alive?

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This one isn't so great.  Rothrock only gets a few fight scenes, but the ones she gets are pretty sweet.  The problem is we get more scenes of the bad guys scheming, especially early on.  I wonder if something happened to some of Rothrock's scenes, like some reels went missing or something, because it was weird how many more scenes we had of the baddies.  One that irked me was when Rothrock was fighting, and it was cut with scenes of the head baddie getting laid.  Why would you do that?  You don't do that to a Rothrock fight scene.  For casual Rothrock or action fans, this is a pass.

Rothrock is pretty solid in this, and the fight scenes she gets are pretty top notch, and she nails all of them.  It's just, there aren't that many, and, especially at the beginning, we lose her for large amounts of time.  That can't happen in a Rothrock film.  And some of those baddie scenes were so long and drawn out.  I don't mind if a Rothrock scene is drawn out because I'm coming to the film for her.  And that travesty they did where they cut one of her fights with scenes of the head baddie having sex was appalling.  Rothrock deserves better.

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This has its share of low budget silliness too.  Check that out. "1:PM".  Yep, not "1:00PM" or "1PM", but "1:PM".  They do it later with "7:PM", but they do get it right after that with "7:22PM".  I don't know how that happens, how they get something like that wrong.  There's another scene where the bad guys are playing pool-- which went on too long of course--, and one guy goes for a shot, but another one on the couch behind him is in his way.  It was like "did you script that like that?"  It didn't look like it, but I guess they kept the take.  Also, Rothrock's character never goes undercover at all, but at the end a news report of her bust says she cracked the case by going into "deep cover".  Who knows why they kept that either.

The baddie was played by soap star Stephen Nichols.  His hair was a little shorter than it is on his soap, so he looked more like a Poor Man's skinnier Roddy Piper, mixed with the heel from the first Fast and the Furious.  It was a decent baddie, though when you play a White Supremacist, half the work at being bad has been done for you.  Still, he made him really vile, and we couldn't wait for Rothrock to take him out.

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We always look to Cynthia Rothrock as a great role model.  She stood out as a woman in a male dominated industry, and really kicked ass.  Here though she's doing something really bad.  That's right, she's using her cell phone while driving.  I guess like her martial arts scenes, people should know not to do this at home.  To be fair to her too, the cell phone taboo was new then, and she was playing a character who played fast and loose with the rules, something of a maverick.  Still, cell phone use while driving is not maverick behavior, it's just bad.

I believe this is European VHS, either Dutch or German, maybe some other countries too.  Checkmate is probably your best bet for a title, though you may see Deep Cover too, but I think you'll run into problems with the Fishburne film when you look for it.  I'd say only for Rothrock completists, otherwise it's not really worth it.

For more info:

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Flesh Wounds (2011)

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I saw this on Netflix Instant, and with names like Kevin Sorbo and Bokeem Woodbine, I figured it was a sure bet.  I guess it's technically a TV movie, but on imdb I couldn't see on what channel-- or in country for that matter-- it first aired.  Anyway, it looked pretty promising, so I figured why not?  Also, our friend Mitch at The Video Vacuum has hit this one too if you want to give it a look.

Flesh Wounds is a Predator rip-off starring Sorbo as a misogynistic jerk that leads a special forces unit into the jungle on a mission to get some bodies out or something.  They're ordered to take CIA agent Heather Marie Marsden, so Sorbo and his team of misogynists all have their dander up.  Meanwhile, between their cat calling and sexist remarks, they're also taking out some terrorists that supposedly live in the area.  But when things aren't as they seem, people start dying.  What could it be?  And will they all get out alive?

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This movie was horrible.  First off, it had an appalling amount of misogyny.  I mean, it was so bad, the 1950s called as I was watching it and was like "wow, this is ridiculous."  It might not have been so bad if it were just the guys in Sorbo's troop who we all knew were going to be killed off anyway, but when Sorbo, the guy we're supposed to be rooting for, is as bad as any of them, it makes the whole thing difficult.  It wasn't just the classic "women don't belong out here" or "look at that ass", though there was plenty of that; but we had plenty of moments where men, including Sorbo, put their hands on Marsden in a very threatening and bullying kind of way, which was really disturbing.  Beyond that, we had only very superficial action throughout most of the film, which wasn't doing anything for me either.  We have the Predator-like thing strike at the very beginning, and then we don't see him again for a real long time, and in between it's just Sorbo's guys taking out terrorists in very lackluster, nonaction action scenes.  I don't know, a Predator rip-off could've been a lot of fun, and we've seen it be fun before, but this one was sauteed in ignorance and wrong sauce.

Bearing in mind the understanding that action movies tend to be more male-centered, and a lot of the tropes that we take for granted are problematic, for a movie to be so misogynistic that it made me uncomfortable, it's pretty bad.  In my mind it's like, why even have women in your film if your opinion of them is that bad?  In fact, why even bother making this movie?  Just go back to your subreddit on misandry or your trolling Twitter and Tumblr accounts.  Again, I wouldn't have had as much trouble with it had Sorbo's character not been as bad, or if Marsden's was the lead, and the misogyny was just another obstacle she had to overcome; but that's not what this was, this was a pile of ignorant views on women set up as legitimate.  Not a good look.

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I don't know what to say about Sorbo in the lead.  He didn't write the film, but did he at least know his character had these issues?  There's a scene where he grabs Marsden in a very threatening manner that was very disturbing, and while her character handles it well, it didn't make me want to root for him as the hero.  I'd like to think that Sorbo is better than this, that that character didn't represent him, but I wonder what he was thinking while reading the script.  Maybe it didn't seem as bad then, or maybe even in shooting.  Who knows?  He's built up enough good will that I'll give him the benefit of the doubt.  Beyond that, he had some decent moments, like when he was fighting the Predator-like thing at the end; but he also had some funny mailing it in moments, especially one when he's yelling and shooting into the woods.  He was just like "Aaaaaah, you bastard!" in a very measured "I don't care" tone.  Maybe he was supposed to be more like Reb Brown, but didn't have it in him to scream.

As much as the misogyny derailed this, the bad pacing and lackluster action didn't help either.  I mean, one scene taking out the terrorists on the island would've been sufficient.  From there, we need the Predator picking off Sorbo's team, but instead we had more taking out the terrorists.  Where did they all come from?  Were they spawning asexually through sporing?  The fact that we got to the end and almost his entire team was still alive to help him build up the defenses tells you that a lot of time was wasted.  It was also all over the place, like when one of Sorbo's team captures a terrorist and cuts his fingers off to get information out of him.  It was the kind of scene you'd expect from a film like this, if you know what I mean.  Just bad all around.

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Finally, I had a sense that this wasn't so much a Predator rip-off as it was a Robowar rip-off.  Why did Robowar work and this didn't?  I don't know, the whole thing was just more fun.  No misogyny, consistent kills, and Reb Brown killing it with plenty of screaming.  I think a few improvements, beyond getting rid of the misogyny and ramping up the action quotient, would've started with a more fun group of guys in Sorbo's team.  The only distinct personalities were the biggest jerks, which is dumb.  More Predator-like thing kills spread throughout the film would've worked well too.  Also, maybe have some women on Sorbo's team, that way if you need Marsden's character to be like Carl Weathers's, the team's disdain won't be so offensive.

Anyway, this is a total pass, I think one of the worst I've seen in my 6 years and 900-plus films.  If the misogyny doesn't get you, the bad action and bad pacing will.  I guess you can get it on Instant or DVD if you were so inclined.

For more info:

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Ferocious (2012)

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This is another submission from Kevin at MTI Video.  It's one I was interested in and I thought my readers would be interested in, because it stars DTVC favorite Kim Coates.  The trailer looked pretty cool too, and I liked the film's premise.  Let's see how it went.

Ferocious stars Amanda Crew as Leigh Parrish, a small town girl from outside of Saskatoon who makes it big on a US TV show, and comes home to see her family.  While there though, she has other loose ends to tie up, namely strip club owner Kim Coates, who is extorting her with a sex tape she made before she became famous.  That sex tape will ruin the wholesome image she's cultivated, and she's tired of being threatened like that.  That leads her to take some drastic measures, the consequences of which could be even worse for her career.

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I was trying to figure out why this didn't work for me, and it wasn't immediately obvious.  Sure, it was paint-by-numbers, from the All About Eve construct with the sycophantic girl Leigh bumps into at the club who helps her go after Coates, to the superficial puncture wound Leigh suffers trying to escape a locked room-- the kind of superficial wound that is only an issue when it's convenient to the plot, and suddenly isn't an issue when it isn't.  These things aren't a big deal, in fact we expect them in a movie like this.  It wasn't the Kim Coates either, because he was a fantastic baddie, taking the predictability and making it tense in that very Hitchcockian "you know something menacing is afoot, and maybe you know when it will happen, but you hope against all odds that it doesn't happen, because Coates seems so evil."  Then it hit me: Amanda Crew's character, the main character, was underused.  How does that happen?  And not only underused, but with so much promise unfulfilled.  We have this scene near the beginning, after Leigh does a local talk show, where she's in her hotel room wiping off her make-up and changing from her dress into jeans and a long-sleeved shirt.  Then, out of nowhere, she grabs a hunting knife off her bed and stows it in her boot.  It was such a "whoa, what's going to happen next?" moment, but it never got there.  We lost her for a bit, and then when we saw her again confronting Coates, it wasn't worthy of the knife in the boot scene.  Then we'd lose her for big chunks as she became tangential to Coates and his assistant (played by Michael Eklund), the sycophant All About Eve girl (Katie Boland), or her manager (Dustin Milligan).  Maybe I'm being too hard on it, because it is the kind of Lifetime Movie Network thing you'd see and say "oh sweet, it's got Kim Coates, let's watch this before we have to leave", and probably keep watching it no matter how paint-by-numbers it is because Coates is so great, and you end up being late for whatever you were supposed to leave for; but it felt like it could've been more than that, and it wasn't.

Coates is so good, and it's an all over the place good.  His villain is cold and calculating, but also neurotic and funny.  Coates moves through these effortlessly, in a way that is uniquely Kim Coates.  One thing that was odd about his role though, was that he seemed like he was in the film more, or at least had more meaningful scenes, than Amanda Crew's heroine.  As I was watching him with Michael Eklund, I had the feeling that, while Coates was great, where was Amanda Crew?  Then we'd go back to her for a second, and she'd look pained from her superficial injury, and her sycophantic companion would say a bunch of silly things, then we'd go back to Coates.  Under most circumstances the more Coates the better, but as a baddie he shouldn't be in the film more than lead.

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I really liked the idea of Amanda Crew's character, but man, when she picks up that knife it was supposed to be a game changer, and it wasn't.  I don't know exactly what I expected, maybe instead of Godard's "girl and a gun" we'd have "girl and a knife", but I think I wanted some kind of daughter of a rural hunter exacting bloody justice.  Maybe some great cat and mouse with Coates, but with the supporting characters taking a definite backseat to Crew.  I mean, when she packs that knife in her boot, the next time we see it shouldn't be when she's futilely ripping up floorboards with it while trying to escape a room she and the sycophant are locked in.  With that kind of emphasis on both the knife, and the way she stashes it in her boot after changing out of her movie star clothes, it needs to play a bigger role, and her character needs to live up to that.  Neither happened.

This movie had some humorous elements that felt out of place in what was an overall serious movie.  Like, what do we do with the manager?  Or the sycophant?  Both played for laughs until the end of the movie, but both played for laughs in a movie that had some very serious and gruesome scenes in it?  It was an identity crisis that I didn't know how to take.  If the rest of the film had more dark humor in it, this stuff would've been great, but because it didn't, the humor detracted, especially when it took the focus away from Crew, who was supposed to be the lead.

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Another area this film avoided that I would've liked to have seen it delve into, is this idea of the wholesome girl next door.  We never see in Ferocious how this idealized myth is problematic in our society, that there's nothing wrong with a woman having a healthy sexual appetite, that the wholesome girl next door is not better than a woman with a sex tape.  Our Leigh Parrish with a hunting knife should've been slashing these problematic constructs, not fighting to maintain them.  And the sense I got of her character, or at least the way Amanda Crew played her, is that she thought that construct was bullshit too, which is another area that she felt wasted.

This will come out on DVD in October (plus will have a limited film release in Canada).  It's pretty standard, pretty predictable, but it set itself up as something more, which made the fact that it devolved into what it was that much more frustrating.  Beyond that, we had a lot of great performances from all involved, especially Kim Coates, whom I know a lot of you love.

For more info:

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

The Lazarus Papers aka The Mercenary (2010)

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This is one I've had on my radar for sometime, but it was having trouble making it to the States.  Finally Netflix got it on DVD, but I was hoping they'd make my life easier and put it on Instant.  No such luck.  Let's see how it went.

The Lazarus Papers has DTVC Hall of Famer Gary Daniels as a white slaver in Thailand who kidnaps girls from the outer villages and brings them to the city to work as hookers.  One girl in particular he's kidnapped, Krystal Vee, has been selected for his marriage scam, where a man thinks he's buying one of Daniel's hookers for his wife, only to be robbed on their honeymoon by Daniels and left broke with no hooker.  When he tries this scam on Tommy "Tiny" Lister, he's busy doing drugs with his other hookers while Krystal Vee is stuck keeping Lister happy, and when Lister isn't, she kills him.  Lucky for her, as she's escaping, her other future husband, a man about to die of a terminal illness, sees her in the hotel hallway, and they run away together.  Oh, and DTVC favorite Danny Trejo is this guy who can't die and heals people.  He wants to die after Daniels kills his wife, and he's sees this terminal illness guy as a potential replacement.  But can he convince him to live forever?

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At best this movie is clunky and plodding, at worst it furthers the Creepy White Guy Fetishizing Asian Women meme, and in between there's plenty of unintentional silliness that we can look at later.  First off, it's just kind of a weird movie, and not in a good way.  The idea of a girl from a small village watching her mother gunned down, then spending a year of hell as a Thai prostitute shooting drugs and contracting HIV, is just not a really fun story, and you need to be a top notch writer to be able to spin that story into something worth watching.  A weird white guy dying of a terminal illness working as the proxy for Creepy White Guy-dom is not that the thing to do that.  There's a scene after Krystal Vee is kidnapped where we see her suffering through her hell, taking pills with mascara stained tears on her face, and I couldn't help thinking "why are we doing this?", and here I'm barely ten minutes in and thinking that.  And to find out it's only to play out Creepy White Guy fantasies with some construct of a guy who lives forever and can heal people clunkily grafted onto it just left me feeling blah.  Daniels, Trejo, Vee, and Bai Ling as the madam were all solid, but they couldn't save this.

Let's start with Daniels, who is the film's resident Hall of Famer.  He actually does get a little martial arts on near the end, but he's a baddie so we don't really want to see it.  Also, he's not fighting anyone with comparable skills, so it's kind of a waste.  He does a good job as a baddie though, even though this kind of baddie is especially despicable.  I'm not sure though that the film ever really gets at just how bad he is.  Like the murder of Krystal Vee's mother and the year in hell as a white slave just seems to be like "okay, that happened, now enter weird white guy with money who only wants her companionship to save her."  None of this is Daniels's fault though, and he does the best that he can with the role he's given.

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No, that's not Faker Danny Trejo, it's what people in this movie look like as they're crossing over to the other world.  Yes, that's right, we turn into the Faker version of ourselves.  It wasn't just a cheap way for He-Man to make money, by painting He-Man blue and calling him Faker, it was based on reality.  Who'd'a thunk?  This would've made for the best movie though, right?  Danny Trejo versus Faker Danny Trejo, maybe with Gary Daniels somehow involved.  Imagine the knockdown-drag-'em-out fights they'd have?  I'm seeing 2-by-4s, bottles, motorcycles-- hell, this could've been the next Machete movie!  The evil Conservative racists created their own Faker Danny Trejo to kill immigration reform and rally the country around their jingoistic cause.

All right, let's get into this Creepy White Guy thing.  When I was in college, I went to San Francisco for the American Anthropological Association meetings, and I saw a talk a woman gave on her paper called "Little Brown Fucking Machines Powered by Rice".  In it, she discussed this fetishization of Asian women by white men, and how it manifests itself in their interactions with Thai hookers.  The biggest thing she talked about was how these guys would want the woman to tell them how she loved them, and act like she was with them because she wanted to be, not because they were paying her.  We get all of that here, "I'm giving you the money because I want to help you, not to buy you," "you don't have to sleep with me if you don't want to..." "oh, I want to..."-- all the reassurances that he's not just another Creepy White Guy.  Then she transforms into the good Asian, diminutive, caring for him when he's sick, being everything these liberated white American girls supposedly are not.  It's one thing to see this kind of thing play out in a bad action movie where I'm not taking everything seriously, but this is supposed to be more of a dramatic picture exploring deeper themes, and all it is is the same Creepy White Guy grossness.

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Watching the film I wanted to call this guy a Poor Man's Forest Whitaker, because he kind of looks like him, and had all his mannerisms.  Turns out he's Damon Whitaker, Forest's brother.  The brother is the best kind of Poor man's though, isn't it.  Don Swayze and Frank Stallone are two great ones that come to mind.  We also have Joe Estevez, though to me he's really more his own thing, not a Poor Man's Martin Sheen.  Anyway, Damon Whitaker was pretty much as described, a Poor Man's Forest Whitaker, and brought everything to the table you'd expect from a Poor Man's Forest Whitaker.

All right, so this is a pass for me.  Beyond the Creepy White Guy-ness, the overall story didn't work.  It was weird and clunky and, while we had some good performances, when the story is rough, what else can you do?  As I mentioned, this is available on DVD from Netflix.

For more info:

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Slip & Fall (2011)

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This is another submission from Kevin at MTI Video.  When I saw the trailer, and saw that it had William Forsythe and Andrew Divoff, I wanted to check it out.  Then when I saw that it took place just outside of Boston, I really wanted to check it out.  Let's see how it did.

Slip & Fall is about a guy, Danny, who's struggling to make ends meet while going to law school and taking care of his grandmother.  When his grandmother spends their mortgage and his tuition on a satellite dish, he's forced to come up with cash quick, or Dean Dickman (Divoff) will have him kicked out of school with only one semester to go.  So he goes to his uncle Jerry (Forsythe), who makes a living off of slip and fall scams, to pull off one of his own to make some quick cash.  This brings him into contact with all manor of funny, shady characters, but also Sarah, the beautiful, kind secretary of Jimmy O'Malley, the shyster lawyer in charge of Danny lawsuit.  While falling for her, he's increasingly stressed out by the fate of his suit and his ability to make it through school and make ends meet.  Will he succeed?

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I really enjoyed this.  It was funny in parts, but overall it was more fun than it was funny, if that makes sense.  Part of it might be that my growing up an hour north of Boston, a lot of the characters and the things they talk about hit close to home.  William DeCoff's Jimmy O'Malley was one of the best, with his thick Boston accent and hilarious obnoxious Bostonian Guy impression.  I think there's a lot here for people not from the Boston area too though.  Danny's story about struggling to make ends meet in the new economy, and the things he has to do when the situation becomes desperate, rings true everywhere, and the film carries these themes off in a fun and charming way with great characters and enjoyable moments.

One of those characters was the great Andrew Divoff, and while he's still a heel and a bad guy, he's not a diabolical criminal holding a bunch of people hostage or something like we usually see him here on the site.  Not only that, but he's a joke of a bad guy, playing it straight, and very funny.  I think it's good for us at the DTVC to get outside our comfort zone of action and sci-fi and horror to do something like this and see Andrew Divoff do something different.  For fans of Divoff, this is a must watch, I know you'll like it.

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I have to get back to William DeCoff's Jimmy O'Malley, because he was the best.  He was so That Guy you hear on the T after a Sox or B's game, who's had a few pops, is really loud, and who you just hope gets off at the next stop, but you know he's on that Red Line all the way to Ashmont, and it's you that gets off first at South Station, and you and your buddies will be mocking him and his accent the whole ride home.  My favorite line was "hur ass was like Mohrgan Fuckin' Fayrchild dood."  There were some other characters like him, but none as great.

Among the other people in the film, I mentioned William Forsythe above.  He was great as the uncle who gets Danny involved in the scam.  One thing I liked too was that he didn't affect a Boston accent-- maybe being from Brooklyn he couldn't bring himself to do it.  Sam Cohen played Danny, our hero, and he was good too.  The idea with a guy like this is that we want to root for him.  When he resorts to this decision, we need to not only accept his motives, but we have to like him too to have sympathy for him, and he pulls that off.  Zofia Gozynska plays Danny's Russian domineering girlfriend, who thinks Danny will be her meal ticket.  She was funny too, but she was also listed in the opening credits with the dreaded "Introducing" tag, so let's hope she transcends that curse and ends up having a long career, because we know that too often "Introducing" means "never hear from him/her again."  And then we had famous attorney Alan Dershowitz playing himself in a quick cameo.  It's always great to see him in anything.

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Finally, because this was filmed in the Boston area, I saw actors I recognized from local Boston commercials, including Marie Polizzano here, whom I remember from a commercial for one of the local private healthcare companies.  It had a bunch of "regular" people, all with lines that were supposed to follow one another, and hers was "and they won't drop you", which she said while holding an infant.  Here in Slip & Fall she was Sarah, Danny's love interest.  What I liked about her character was that she was strong and independent, and also going through the same troubles Danny was in pursuing a career in law.  Unlike a lot of comedy movies like this where our hero wins a woman who's way out of his league, we see right away that Sarah likes Danny because he's earnest and real in a world where so few people are.  To make this work we had to believe too that she was down to Earth, and she had that down perfect.  This movie could've been every other comedy romp, and she helped make it something more.

According to the MTI website, this film doesn't come out until September 10th.  When it does, you should definitely give it a look.  It might be a little slow at the beginning, but it really takes off and is a lot of fun.  Even if you don't live near Boston-- or you're from a city that hates Boston and all our sports teams-- this has enough in it for everyone to enjoy.

For more info:

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Hansel & Gretel Get Baked (2013)

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This one was a Netflix Instant suggestion, and the title alone had me interested.  Then I saw that it starred Lara Flynn Boyle among others, and I figured why not give it a look.  Let's see how it went.

Hansel & Gretel Get Baked is about a teenage stoner, Gretel, and her older brother, Hansel.  Gretel's stoner boyfriend goes missing after he goes to an old lady's house to pick up more pot, and she goes to said old lady's house to investigate.  Turns out this old lady, played by Lara Flynn Boyle, is a witch, and she's using the youth of her teen buyers to make her young again-- with deadly results for these teens.  Now Gretel is suspicious of this old lady, and she wants to take her down.  Will she succeed?

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I don't know about this one.  It had some identity issues.  First off, it starts off really macabre, with the stoner boyfriend being tortured to death by the witch.  Then it cools down and becomes more classic horror comedy, but that early part was a bit much; and I don't know how someone who enjoys the more hardcore stuff would feel about the fact that the film completely backs off that after only one scene.  Also, this isn't so much stoner film than it is "people who get baked all the time are dumb", which isn't exactly how it's marketed.  As far as the comedy went, it was hit or miss.  One area that I didn't like revolved around Bianca Saad's Bianca character, where she was so "bad Latina stereotypes" that I was like "please just kill the character off so you can stop telling us all your ignorant opinions about Latinos with your wink wink nudge nudge."  On the other hand, Lara Flynn Boyle was great, as was Molly Quinn, who played Gretel; and some of the horror comedy late in the film worked; but by the time the movie was wrapping up, I was ready for it to be over, which is never a good sign.

Lara Flynn Boyle was pretty fun as the witch though.  She starts off looking really old like you see there, then later grows younger.  Like many actors who relish playing a baddie, you can tell she enjoyed this too and really got after it, which helped the film.  I hadn't seen her in anything since The Practice, which was almost ten years ago, so it was cool to see her in this.  Also interesting: we've done two Sherilyn Fenn films recently, and I've noticed among Tumblrs I follow that are huge Twin Peaks fans, that they aren't fans of Boyle and think somehow her character took away from Fenn's.  I'll be honest, I didn't see much of the second season, so I have no idea.  (It's crazy though how Millennials have latched onto Twin Peaks.)

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Remember this guy from the Twlight movies?  Yep, he's Hansel.  I remember in one of them-- maybe the second-- one of the Riff Trax guys commented that he looked like a "middle-aged lesbian woman".  That was one of the funniest moments in the Twilight Riff Trax series for me, and throughout this film I could only see Hansel as a middle-aged lesbian woman.  I see on his imdb bio that he was also in Star Trek: Insurrection, which I saw at the local dollar theater in college.  Not bad to be a part of two major movie franchises-- and to be called a middle-aged lesbian woman by the Riff Trax guys.  Some of the other folks who have small parts in this: Cary Elwes played an electric company worker, and Lochlyn Munro and Yancy Butler played cops.  Nothing spectacular.

The opening credits for the film are done as medical marijuana pill bottle labels.  That gave me the impression that the film would have something to do with medical marijuana in California, and maybe the way the federal government through the DEA are persecuting them.  Later, when the cops come in, I thought maybe too we'd get some conversation on how the criminalization of marijuana fuels the prison-industrial complex, and how many people in the country are in jail for nonviolent drug offenses.  None of those things happened.  In fact, on some levels I got the sense that this was an anti-drug/anti-pot movie.  There certainly wasn't any glorification of smoking weed, and I don't really see this as a stoner flick either.  That might be as big a bait-and-switch as any I've seen in a film, because the cover makes it look like a stoner film, and will attract stoners.  Maybe their low opinion of stoners tells them that anyone who's baked won't recognize the bait-and-switch.

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Finally, let's discuss Molly C. Quinn.  I know, we're back to "of course you want to talk about her Matt, you're a straight male!"  That's fine, I get that, but I thought she was really good in the lead, and one thing I really liked was how cool her outfits were.  Yep, go ahead, say it, but I'm serious.  They were this mix of medieval and modern fashion, and were really well done.  Yes, they were hot too, from the boots in some, to the leather-corset-hoodie-coat she wears at the end; but really cool too.  No one else has anything like that, which disappointed me.  It would've been cool to have more characters dressed like that.

I think this is one that has a cool title, and from there we're expecting a great film.  It wasn't horrible, but I feel like the warts outweighed the bright spots, making it an overall pass for me.  Still, it's availability on Instant makes it an easy watch, plus it's barely 90 minutes long, so it's not much of an investment if you want to try it anyway.

For more info:

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Class of Nuke 'Em High (1986)

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In the late 90s/early 2000s my buddy and I were on a Troma kick, and this one was swept into that net.  Not long after, in the early days of DVD, Troma's website had a massive sale, and I got this new for only $5.  Not to give this review away in the first paragraph, but as you can imagine it's a prodigious part of my collection.  Also, our friend Fred at Full Moon Reviews did this one too, so you can go there to check out what he thinks (and see my comment on the post where I lament how long it had been since I'd seen this movie!).

Class of Nuke 'Em High is a Troma joint about a high school that is very close to a poorly run nuclear power plant.  That leads to some very bad side effects, including the transformation of the honor society into a vicious drug dealing gang that's terrorizing the school.  When they sell a joint made with atomic weed to the friend of the school's most popular couple, Chrissy and Warren, and Chrissy and Warren are coerced by said friend into smoking it, all hell breaks loose.  Warren and Chrissy have sex, and she ends up giving birth to an atomic hell beast, at the same time more nuclear waste is infesting the school, and the principal expels the gang, who now want revenge.  All of these things are on a collision course to wackiness!

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This is pretty fantastic.  I'd put it up there as far as Troma films go with The Toxic Avenger, Sgt. Kabukiman NYPD, and Surf Nazis Must Die.  It has the great humor, the great social commentary, and the great gore you want from Troma.  It also had fantastic music, including a performance by the Smithereens.  Now, 27 years later, it has the added bonus of the nostalgia factor, which wasn't really as much in play when we first saw it in the 90s.  What's funny though, is how much of it is still relevant today too.  The horrible tragedy in West, Texas is a deadly reminder of what big corporations dealing in hazardous material can do when worrying more about the bottom line than the people who live in the communities nearby.  It's as if in 27 years the problems of corporate greed and pollution have gotten worse, which means, beyond the fact that the state of modern horror is abysmal and we need Lloyd Kaufman now more than ever to save us there, we also need his brand of political commentary to keep fighting the good fight.

The thing we expect from Troma above everything else is over the top gore, and I think this delivers.  It's not quite Toxie, but it's not afraid to gross you out.  Then, when we get to the ridiculous ending with the nuclear hell beast, the film has build up such a large reservoir of fist pumps, that we'll accept anything at that point, and the hell beast feels like the film's logical conclusion.  It's perfect for a bad movie night selection, because it has no lulls, there's a constant source of stimulus, but then it delivers that fantastic ending that gets everyone to the credits happy and either glad they got together for bad movie night, or excited to take a quick break and see what the next film has in store.  This is where the I think a lot of modern horror movies miss the mark.  It's like they're pandering to the faux-horror aficionado who watches these films on his/her own and tries to wax intellectual about their minutiae, while forgetting about everyone else who loves this kind of thing too.  Kaufman and Troma make the movie we want, the big group picture that we can all have fun with, and it's refreshing to watch.

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The Smithereens make an appearance in this movie, meaning this is the second film we've had here that's featured them, the other being the Albert Pyun film Dangerously Close.  Both films came out in 1986 too, which is interesting.  We think of progressive or alternative rock in the modern context as this thing that's always been there, especially post Seattle and the early 90s, and we think of it in that manifestation; but in 1986, 120 Minutes was still a fringe show, and bands like The Smithereens were moving the movement into something resembling the mainstream.  To some degree now, that late-80s era of progressive rock has been swallowed up by the later movements of the 90s, which is too bad, because The Smithereens remind us that there was a lot of good music in that pre-90s scene.

The late, great Pat Ryan plays the nuclear power plant manager, and he's as sleazy as ever.  What a great character actor he was, and it's a shame he only had 9 credits before he passed away at only 44 years old.  What's great about him in a film like this, is that he's a definite baddie, but he manages to play it both over the top and realistic at the same time.  Like, it's kind of absurd the way he talks about covering up waste spills, but you can also see as he does it how, say, a BP oil exec might do similar damage control after the massive Gulf Oil Spill.  He was perfect for Kaufman and Troma's brand of comedic social commentary.  Here's to you Pat Ryan, you were one of the great ones.

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Finally, you might notice a container of Popeye's Chicken on the table that the girls are eating at.  You may also know from having rocked with the DTVC for some time that I am a Boston Red Sox fan, and as a Red Sox fan, Popeye's Chicken will always have a special place in our team's history.  There is a Popeye's Chicken right up the street from Fenway Park, you pass it on the way there from the Kenmore T-stop, and this Popeye's Chicken played a key role in what was the biggest tank job in the history of baseball.  The Red Sox were in first place by ten games on September 1 of 2011, and in that last month of the season they only won 7 games, and were caught by both the New York Yankees and the Tampa Bay Rays, missing the playoffs entirely by losing on the last game of the season.  In the aftermath, it came out that the starting pitchers were partaking in beer and fried chicken from, you guessed it, Popeye's, from which they became overweight and pitched poorly, contributing to the team's collapse.  I haven't been to the infamous Popeye's, but the word on the street is that former Sox pitcher Josh Beckett has his picture on the wall.

All right, enough baseball, let's wrap this up.  I have it on an old DVD, which is a great way to go.  You could also do used VHS if you were so inclined.  As of this posting though it's also on Watch Instantly, making that an easy choice.  A definite watch for Troma fans and anyone looking for a great bad movie night choice.

For more info:

Thursday, August 8, 2013

AE: Apocalypse Earth (2013)

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This is an Asylum joint that I saw on Instant, and it listed Adrian Paul and Richard Grieco as its stars.  The whole thing looked really fun, so I figured I'd give it a shot.  Let's see how it went.

AE: Apocalypse Earth takes place in the future, where we're being attacked by aliens, and it looks like the aliens are winning.  Humans are trying to colonize other planets, and while Army Lieutenant Adrian Paul is protecting a group of evacuees boarding a ship to one of those planets, he ends up on board it as it takes off, and the ship's captain, Richard Grieco, lets him know that due to the laws of physics, he's on board for the long haul.  After who knows how much time, the ship crash lands on a planet, and the evacuees wake up as an army of invisible aliens are shooting at them.  Now it's up to Paul and the survivors to get their ship fixed and get off that planet before they all die, and in that endeavor they have the help of Lea, a local alien whose people have been hunted by the invisible aliens for generations.  Will they make it?

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So this one was fun.  It was a throwback to those 1950s lost island adventure kind of things.  The end was a little weird and convoluted, and one thing I don't like about these throwback things, is that they can call the hokey ending an homage to the hokey endings those films in the 50s had, which to me is a cop out.  I don't want to get into the ending because it will give too much away, but it was kind of predictable, and then had an awkward element on top of it that betrayed what the film was before it, which was both fun, and, to a large extent, well executed.  It was as if in the ending the old Asylum reared its ugly head, and I was seeing Transmorphers; but before that we were treated to that new, more consistently better Asylum, and I think that's what counts.  Overall it was a good time.

Back when we started this blog, the expectation was that Adrian Paul would be a big part of it, that his post Highlander: The Series acting career would be in a lot of DTV flicks, and we'd be reviewing a ton of them.  In fact, our third ever review was a Paul film, The Breed.  That makes it all the more crazy then that in the over 900 reviews since then, this is only the fourth Paul film review, giving him now a whopping five total.  That's too bad, because he is one of my favorite syndicated TV actors of all time on one of my favorite syndicated TV shows of all time.  Who knows how he got so lost in the shuffle, especially when we have so many alums from Highlander: The Series on the blog.  Anyway, he was great in this movie, second only to Bali Rodriguez for me, meaning my lapse in reviewing his films has been a mistake on my part, and one I hope to rectify.

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What do we do with Richard Grieco?  This is not the first time we've seen him here either, nor is this his first Asylum joint, having played Loki in their mockbuster of Thor.  Funny, I don't see a lot of young ladies making gif sets of him on Tumblr like they do Tom Hiddleston-- I haven't seen The Avengers or Thor yet, but I loved him as F. Scott Fitzgerald in Midnight in Paris.  Have you ever heard that joke about him?  "Who is this 'Scott Fitzgerald', and why is everyone so upset with him?"  Haha, get it?  F. Scott Fitzgerald?  Wait, wasn't this a paragraph on Richard Grieco?  Oops.  In the film, he gets a concussion in the crash, and from then on he's pretty much just there, popping in and out.  Kind of like this paragraph about him.

There was this gross looking troll-ish guy in the movie who was like the heel trying to cause problems and derail Paul's plans.  I don't know why movies put in characters like this.  Intrigue?  Really, we didn't have enough with the large carnivorous lizards and invisible alien hunters?  So we need someone to annoy us too?  Maybe characters like that were in the 50s versions of these films, but they weren't fun then either.  They were the characters that MST3K dedicated fantastic host segments to, but they did that because they loathed them as much as we did.  Stop putting these characters in your movies.  Please.  They hurt.

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I wanted to save the best for last, and that was Bali Rodriguez.  Yes, I know what you're going to say: you're a straight male Matty, of course Bali Rodriguez is the best for you in this movie.  Fine, I'll accept that, but she turned in a better performance than just the hot model in green paint that she was.  Yes, her character was supposed to be that exotic Amazon woman type that those 50s and 60s films objectified, but I think she transcended it.  She gave her character a humanity that made us root for her, and in turn made us root for Paul because he rooted for her too.  All right, maybe I'm just a straight male, but don't hold that against Bali Rodriguez.

And with that, I'll wrap this up.  This is a fun time, and whether you see it on Instant, RedBox, or cable some night-- this one is listed on imdb as "Video", meaning it went DTV without taking the SyFy detour first, so who knows if it'll be on that channel--, it's worth a look.  When the Asylum is right, they're a lot of fun, and I think they were right here.

For more info:

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

The Prophecy: Forsaken (2005)

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This is the second of two Prophecy sequels written by our friend Johnny Sullivan (Twitter @johnnyblackout), who also wrote the fantastic Recoil.  Because both are on Instant, it worked out great that I could watch both, and Johnny was gracious enough to answer my questions about the writing process of both this, and the one before it, The Prophecy: Uprising.  Also, our friends at Comeuppance Reviews and The Video Vacuum have done this one and the previous one too, so you can go there to see what they thought.  (And I feel bad that I totally forgot to include their links to Uprising in that review.  Sorry guys.)

The Prophecy: Forsaken picks up where Uprising left off.  Kari Wuher is protecting the Bible, but now a new angel wants it, played by the great Tony Todd.  Angels can't get blood on their hands though, so he sends hit man Jason Scott Lee to kill Wuher.  Lee has a change of heart though after something inside Wuher tells him not to.  After she escapes, she seeks out the Devil's help (played again by John Light), but can she trust the Devil?  If not him, then who can she trust?  And why does Tony Todd want this damn book so bad?

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This is pretty good.  It's not quite as good as Uprising, mostly because it's so short-- only 75 minutes, which, I know, it's crazy I'm complaining about the length being too short, but the shortness prevented us from developing the great characters played by Lee and Todd further.  Still, I found it to be a fun DTV supernatural thriller, and was a fun companion to Uprising.  Wuher, Lee, Todd, and Light all turn in great performances, and anyone who's a fan of them will enjoy seeing them here.  Not a bad deal for something on Instant.

As I mentioned above, Johnny was kind enough to tell us about the writing process for both of these films.  One thing I see a lot in the Netflix reviews and other places the films are discussed, was the idea that this was one script turned into two movies, and that wasn't true.  Johnny had two previously written unrelated scripts that he made into these films, and both of them were rewritten by director Joel Soisson to his personal vision and to fit Dimension's budgetary restrictions.  He said both films were meant to be short, but this one was shorter than his initial 80-90 page script, and it was very different from both the original story it was based on, and what he sold to them.  Also, fun fact, he got his Twitter handle from the original title of the Forsaken script: "Johnny Blackout".  You can read more about his work on these films in the Uprising review.

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Kari Wuher reprises her role from Uprising, this time getting a little more background on her story.  We find out she was in Bucharest working at the church where the sacred Bible was kept because she was finishing her PhD dissertation on theology from the University of Chicago.  As the story becomes more convoluted, and we don't know who to trust, we're still with her exclusively and rooting for her to prevail, even if her prevailing isn't the best thing for us.  It makes for a level of nuance in a 75-minute DTV flick that we seldom see, which is always welcomed.

Tony Todd comes in as a bad angel and is immediately menacing, yet also has the sophistication you want from a character like that.  The man is the consummate professional, and has a pile of credits in everything from big Hollywood pictures to DTV to TV movies to TV shows to video game voice work.  I love seeing him in anything, and he was great here.  Jason Scott Lee, like Todd, had a cool part, but also like Todd, his role was underdeveloped, which was a disappointment.  I guess the issue was, how do you tell us who Lee and Todd are, while still centering the film around Wuher, and keeping it all in under 75 minutes.  Oh, and Jason London reprised his small role as Simon, Wuher's guardian angel.

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Finally, John Light is back as the Devil, and he's even better this time.  Here is a great scene with him eating a Twinkie.  I love the idea of the Devil not exactly being the bad guy, but he's still the Devil and still a bad guy.  Like, he's helping Kari Wuher, but he helps her by killing a little girl.  How do we make peace with that?  We do it through John Light's great performance.  I joked in the Uprising review that he was the Poor Man's Dane Cook, and the first Poor Man's anyone to be better than the original; but now I'm going with him as great on his own, and won't put him and Dane Cook in the same sentence anymore, even as a joke.

Both as something to check out on Instant and as something you might come across on cable at 3AM, this isn't a bad deal.  I liked Uprising better, but after Uprising this is only another 75 minutes, so not bad to watch after.  Also, I'd say that watching Forsaken without seeing Uprising first is a bad idea, because you need to know what happened in Uprising.  And again, thank you to Johnny for answering my questions and talking about the film with us, I really appreciate it.

For more info:

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Dream Warrior (2003)

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I found this on Netflix Instant when I was looking for more Richard Norton.  It turned out it had been buried in my Instant queue for a while, but with over 400 movies in there, it's not inconceivable that something would be lost in the shuffle.  I know, that's way too many, but what can I do, I run a review site, I'm always looking for more material, and throwing something in the Instant queue seems like the right thing to do at the time, but at this point, with so much out there and me only doing three movies a week, most of those will probably never been seen or reviewed.  But we're doing this one, so let's see how it went.

Dream Warrior takes place in the post-apocalypse after an asteroid hit the earth.  A small community is run by a dictator, Lance Henriksen, who is very religious, very cult-like, and has his group of people to vilify: the Freaks, or mutants who looks like regular people, but have special powers.  Dar from Beastmaster is one of them, and Henriksen wants to hunt him down.  While escaping, he runs into an enclave of fellow Freaks, including Sherilyn Fenn, who has the ability to heal people.  Dar wants to take Henriksen down, and a prophecy has foretold that he will do that through Henriksen's newborn son, who also has special powers.  Will good prevail?

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I don't know what to say about this one.  First and foremost, the cover has nothing to do with the film.  No badass knight, no spiked bat, no broken Statue of Liberty.  There are aspects of the movie that are fun, like the construct of Henriksen's dictatorship, and the people with special powers fighting him; and there are a lot of fun performances, from Dar, Sherilyn Fenn, Richard Norton, Henriksen, and Isaac Hayes-- who is listed as a "special appearance", but is in it with a solid supporting role as a stoic mutant master in a cloak.  The big problem for me though, and what is often the problem with these films, is the inconsistencies/Plot Convenience Theater.  Dar is telepathic, but he can't sense that one of Henriksen's men is spying on him.  What?  Another guy has the ability to touch the ground and figure out where he is and where other people are nearby, yet he too can't sense that the guy is following them until, again, it's convenient to the plot, then we find out he has that ability to know if someone is nearby.  Then, we have a third guy, who has the ability to see the future, and he can't sense that this guy is spying on them.  The other issue, which might be more egregious, is the shaky cam syndrome during the action scenes.  I think that was a budgetary issue, because this was obviously made on a shoestring budget, and probably most of the money was spent on the cast, but still, it's hard to watch at times.  I don't know, it's not the worst thing ever, but it's not the best.

Richard Norton was our one Hall of Famer, and he was pretty sweet as Henriksen's main hatchet man.  He plays a great baddie, but he plays a better good guy, meaning I need to dig into his 80s and 90s D-grade stuff that's only available on import VHS to see some of that great stuff where he's the lead.  Also, in this film, he was the second unit director, and the stunt coordinator, both jobs he also did for writer/director Zachary Weintraub in another film, Amazons and Gladiators, that came out in 2011.  We don't get a lot of Norton martial arts here, but in the fight scenes we do get his expertise, which is almost as good.  Unfortunately, we have that shaky cam thing so we don't see them as well.

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Sherilyn Fenn was very interesting here.  The character was great, and she was great playing it, but it was like, man, this is a really low budget film, why is she here?  I know I say this when she was in the Asylum flick Bigfoot with Danny Bonaduce and Barry Williams, but still, for some reason here she was a different actress among everyone else.  Like seeing her act opposite Dar, it was hard to swallow.  The thing was too, her character was really strong, yet the writing betrayed her and made her play second fiddle to both Dar, and the guy who could touch the ground and know where he is (played by Matthew Porretta of both The New Adventures of Robin Hood and Beverly Hills 90210 fame).  It was weird, she should've been the leader, and Dar the outsider who needed to work through her to get everyone's help; and while it started like that, that aspect fell off for some reason, and made Fenn's presence that much weirder.

We love Henriksen here, and he was great as the baddie.  He always plays a great baddie.  It's like he taps into that smug, Conservative, money-grubbing politician ethos, and puts it into the bad guy he's playing.  Like, all you have to do is replace "I want him dead" with "I want transvaginal ultrasounds in this bill", and he's Rick Perry or Scott Walker.  Of course, we know Henriksen is acting, which makes us love him while we loathe him.  The other big name in this was Isaac Hayes, and he was some kind of mystic or guru, an older mutant with all kinds of powers who was helping Dar fulfill the prophecy.  Again, I have no idea why he was listed as a "special appearance", because he was in it enough to be a co-star.  The opening credits to these movies can be all over the place sometimes. Then of course there's the star, Daniel Goddard, aka Dar of The Beastmaster.  He's very Dar-ish here too, though much more fully clothed.  As someone who's telepathic, it seemed like his telepathy came and went.  He couldn't talk to animals though, so that was a disappointment.  In fact, I don't remember there being any animals in this.  Goddard was the guy who needed a few consecutive syndicated TV shows to cement his status as a lead before he jumped into DTV flicks, but, sadly, that world of syndicated TV shows disappeared before he had his chance.  Now, according to imdb, he's on The Young and the Restless.

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Finally, this woman above played the queen of The Orphanage, a gang or unruly kids in cool make-up that Dar finds himself the prisoner of before Isaac Hayes helps him out. It's only a short scene, which was disappointing, because this is the kind of thing we come to a movie like this for, and it was barely in the film as little more than an afterthought. Maybe the issue was that there weren't any of the big names in the gang, so they couldn't have as much screen time. It felt underwritten though, which maybe is a metaphor for the film, because it had the most character.

While this is on Instant, it's not the worst thing ever, but it's not the best either.  I'd say it's more a 3AM rabbit hole movie than one to pick specifically from all the titles on Instant, but also, if you like anyone in the cast, it's fun to see them in this.  Sometimes, with movies like this, that's all you need.  (Oh yeah, and this has nothing to do with the Dokken song or the Nightmare on Elm Street film, but it did sufficiently get the song in my head!)

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Friday, August 2, 2013

Deathstalker (1983)

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As you can imagine, this is a film that a review site like mine should have up, and now that it's on Instant, I have no excuses-- not that I had any excuses before.  It is something of a travesty that it's taken me this long to do it, but now that I am, it will be up on here for all of posterity.  Also, our friends at The Video Vacuum and Trash Film Guru have hit this one too if you want to see what they thought about it.

Deathstalker features the all too sweet Rick Hill as our eponymous bad ass hero, who is tasked to take out some nasty sorcerer dude that has a magical chalice and amulet.  The thing that can stop him?  A kick ass sword that only a great hero and total dude like the Deathstalker can wield, so he takes it and enters the sorcerer's tournament to find the greatest warrior in the land.  Is there any question who that is?

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This film is 76 minutes of pure bad-assery.  The moment Rick Hill pops on the screen until the end credits roll, it's a straight up awesomefest.  As far as sword and sorcery films go, this is about as good as it gets.  When I watch modern DTV attempts at this genre, and I'm very hard on them in my reviews, now you know why I'm so hard on them, because this is the standard that's been set.  I think if you combine it with The Sword and the Sorcerer and The Beastmaster (another film I've been woefully deficient in not reviewing here yet), it makes for a great trilogy.  Or you can just watch this three times in a row, it's that good.

And a major reason why it's so great and so iconic, is the hero, played by Rick Hill.  He's the perfect charismatic lead, between the way he delivers his lines, the looks on his face, his way with the ladies, even the way he walks.  Movies like this need actors like this, otherwise they fall flat.  There were other things that made this great, like the writing, including that great scene where Deathstalker finds out his companion is working for the baddie, and he overhears the companion tell the baddie that he's going to take Deathstalker's sword away.  When the companion meets Deathstalker in his room, Deathstalker stick the sword in the floor as if to say "it's right there, now all you have to do is pick it up", and then they fight.  Totally bad ass.  The thing is though, as great as that writing is, it falls flat if Hill doesn't sell it as well, and because he does, when we get to that scene, it's all the more awesome.

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As I went through the rest of the cast, I saw Lana Clarkson listed as the woman warrior Deathstalker picks up on the way to the tournament.  I didn't know this, but she was the woman Phil Spector murdered.  What a crazy thing to read about.  According to imdb, she was barely 21 when this came out, which surprised me, because she seems much more mature.  Her character, outside of Deathstalker, was the most interesting, and the lack of development for it was the only complaint I had with the short runtime-- though Roger Corman made up for it by giving her the lead in Barbarian Queen.

This was the evil sorcerer, and I noticed he looked kind of like Quan Chi of Mortal Kombat fame.  I know they found a lot of their inspiration for the characters from B-movies, so I wonder if this is where the idea of Quan Chi came from.  If that's the case, then why wasn't there a Deathstalker character in the game?  Maybe because it would've been too awesome.  As a baddie went, Munkar, who was played by Bernard Erhard, was pretty sweet.  I don't think it mattered though, he could've been running a nonprofit puppy rescue operation, and we still would've rooted for Rick Hill as the Deathstalker to kill him.

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Finally, I want to touch on the degree to which this film features scenes of men forcing themselves on women.  There are quite a few, which could be triggering to a survivor of sexual assault.  It was done in the film to play up on the exploitation/women in prison and barbaric world setting aspects, and it also worked in making our hero stand apart, because he never needed to force himself on any woman, they came to him willingly.  It was almost as if within that exploitation element there was the message that a real man like the Deathstalker doesn't need to force himself on a woman.  Regardless, I thought I'd mention it because it could be problematic.

This is the sword and sorcery movie you came for.  Rick Hill simply kills it, and everything else is great from there.  And at 76 minutes, how can you beat that?  Whenever I see another movie from the sword and sorcery genre listed at a 100-minute runtime, I'm suspicious, and Deathstalker is why.  If Deathstalker can do it in 76, you should be able to do it in no more than 80.  And while this is on Instant, I may just boycott all 100-minute sword and sorcery flicks and watch this instead.

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