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.

Sunday, September 29, 2019

The Perfect Weapon (2016)

This was another that I watched a couple years ago with the idea that I would start the blog back up again, only to not make it happen.  Now that we finally are back from hiatus, as I was looking for films to review, this was a natural one to come back to, especially since it has DTVC Hall of Famer Steven Seagal and blog favorite Johnny Messner.  It had disappointment written all over it, so let's see if it lived up to that... disappointment?

The Perfect Weapon has nothing to do with the Jeff Speakman great of the same name.  In this one Johnny Messner plays a not-so-perfect hit man created by the State in a dystopian post-nuclear apocalypse society run by the Director, played by none other than a be-Cajun accented Steven Seagal.  When Messner meets a woman while carrying out a hit (Sasha Jackson), she conjures up memories of a past before the State turned him into a killing machine.  What does it all mean?  Could she be the key to his lost humanity?  And could this found lost humanity put the Director and the State's power in jeopardy?

I was trying to put my finger on what was wrong with this, and I think I figured it out.  While this came out a full year before Blade Runner 2049, it felt like what you'd think the Asylum's rip-off version would be to capitalize on that, if you know what I mean.  It had that thrown-together bouillabaisse quality to it that you'd get from a Transmorphers or something like that.  Dash of 1984, dash of Blade Runner, dash of Hitman, toss in a hint of Vernon Wells and garnish with Steven Seagal, and there you go.  There were some nice action moments, but not enough to balance out a plot that couldn't decide whether it wanted to focus on the dystopian futuristic world, or Johnny Messner's character's story, and that ultimately led to all three elements suffering.  One could make the case that DTVC action/sci-fi isn't the place for a story of this scope; but I think if this is the avenue you have to take, then it's necessary to dial it back a bit.  For example, we don't need as much backstory--and sometimes less backstory can make the setting even cooler--Goddard's Alphaville comes to mind.  This film instead did the worst thing it could do: tried to split the difference, and that trick never works.  Probably the most egregious was when characters would give us plot exposition in the form of conversation, which always sounds horrible.  "You mean the thing you did because of the thing that happened in the past that we feel the viewer should know about?"  "Yes, that thing."

Another area where I feel this was sauteed in wrong sauce was in the casting of Messner for the lead.  The character was supposed to have no personality, just be a human killing machine, who then finds his humanity; but Messner's natural charisma prevented that from working on any level.  It made me wonder, the way this film seemed to borrow ideas from so many other places, if this had been made after Blade Runner 2049, if perhaps they would have made this character more like Ryan Gossling's, because I think that kind of character would have fit more with what Messner brings to the table.  The other thing was he didn't have many great fight scenes.  In the opening sequence, he just walks around with guns shooting people, which was boring.  That would have been a great place to open the movie by letting Messner get after it with a bunch of stuntmen, and in so doing, would have both asserted Messner's badassness right from the jump, and also cut the edge off of some of that plot exposition.  I think when you have a talent like Messner, it's better to adapt the film so what he brings works in it, as opposed to diminishing some of his best aspects to make him fit your film.

Seagal doesn't have a big role in this, as you can imagine, and I'm not all that mad about that.  One thing I saw in his final fight scene with Messner, is a way for his martial arts skills to translate in a more organic way beyond the slap-chop routine we've seen in more of his other recent films.  It was a lot of Aikido, throwing and redirecting Messner around, and it looked very believable.  This could be a new Seagal as an action hero.  I would definitely watch a Seagal in a Caine from Kung Fu type role, walking the earth, finding conflicts, and using an economy of movements and his opponents' energy against them to incapacitate baddies to save innocent people.  It was an element in this movie that I wasn't expecting, especially with some of Seagal's other recent films I've seen, which are more about him showing off his Seagal Lawman and Seagal Conservative Activist sides.  Seagal Aikido Expert is guy we could use more of, and his role in this film reminded me of that.

The most interesting part about this film was how imperfect the perfect weapon was.  Now, the creators of the film could argue that to the people who made him, the imperfections--in particular the fact that he could be captured so easily--were what made him perfect, because it was what allowed them to control him.  The problem is, they never really referred to him as being perfect in that way.  A perfect weapon wouldn't be dumb enough to have sex with a woman, even a long lost love from a repressed memory, in his apartment when he knows the State is chasing after him; but that's exactly what happened, all while I'm watching it and thinking "dude, you need to get out of there or you're gonna get caught!"  It's a definite flaw in your film's verisimilitude if a guy like me, with no tactical training whatsoever beyond being an avid action film watcher, is thinking your "perfect weapon" hero is making tactical errors; and if we can't believe the film's title, how can you get us to follow you when you present the idea that Steven Seagal is a futuristic dictator of a dystopian society?

Finally, we did let off a little steam with Vernon Wells as the State's official torturer.  Unfortunately no chain mail top, which was another disappointment.  The torture scene in general is gratuitous and overdone.   All this one did was prove further how imperfect our perfect weapon hero was, because he did nothing to try to escape his predicament, and had to be rescued.  I think it's bad enough to go to the torture scene well with your hero, but it's much worse to go to that well in a way that diminishes our hero's agency in the process.

I initially watched this on Netflix, but now it's only available to stream on Tubi TV as far as I can tell.  Either way, I don't think this is all that worth it, which is too bad, because I think this could have gotten there.  It never really knew if it wanted to examine Messner's character's existential crisis or the dystopian future it took place in, and the action wasn't enough to carry it in either case. 

For more info:

Sunday, September 22, 2019

WolfCop (2014)

I first watched this film for the podcast I used to do with Jamie.  It's still available if you look up "DTVConnoisseur" in iTunes if you want to check it out.  The idea with the podcast was that I'd eventually also do the films here in written form, but then the unplanned hiatus happened, so here we are 5 years later, finally reviewing it.

WolfCop takes place in a small town in Saskatchewan beset by a massive crime wave.  At the same time, drunken cop Lou Garou wakes up after investigating a disturbance in the woods with a pentagram carved into his stomach and an enhanced sense of smell.  Looks like we got ourselves a WolfCop on our hands.

This is a pretty great deal.  First and foremost, it has an 80-minute runtime.  Anyone who's been rockin' with the DTVC over the years knows that I love me a good 90 minutes or less.  Also, this had a good mix of humor, horror, and action, which is something I need in my 80 minutes of movie.  When I wasn't watching a werewolf cop shoot or slash people, I was laughing.  Granted, it's easier to not have any wasted space with only 80 minutes of time to fill, but we've seen worse before here, so it's worth giving this film credit in that respect.  This is just good, independent horror/action done refreshingly right.

That then begs the question: does it beat out Howling II: ...Your Sister's a Werewolf for my top werewolf movie of all time?  Unfortunately no, but finishing second isn't too bad.  Where does it fall short?  One, no Reb Brown.  Two, no Christopher Lee.  And then how can you ever top the incomparable Sybil Danning as Stirba, the immortal werewolf queen?  Before I turn this into a review of Howling II, I should get back to why I liked this as a werewolf movie.  First, the canon surrounding it was unique.  I don't want to get too much into it and give away too much of the movie, but the basic idea was that a person was turned into a werewolf in order to carry out a centuries-old ritual, and usually the person chosen was the village idiot because they would be easier to control.  That's pretty far from the standard "a werewolf bite will make you a werewolf" we're used to.  From there they had some really interesting takes on what a werewolf's powers would be.  You had the standard enhanced senses and superhuman strength, but thrown in were the idea that donuts and booze make a werewolf stronger, and the notion that a werewolf is a crack mechanic who can make custom alterations to a vehicle at blazing speed.  It'll be interesting to see if they explore that last thing more in the next movie.

Another area where this and Howling II dovetailed was in the line of human-werewolf sex--though to be fair, in Howling II that was more like an orgy, and this was just one woman having sex with our hero in his lycanthrope form.  The great part about this one was they tried to play it straight, despite the fact that this massive werewolf was having sex with a human woman, which made it all the better.  I feel like if we looked it up, there are some states in the US that still have laws on the book making fornication with werewolves a crime.

Going back to the werewolf love-making scene, a song plays in the background, "Moonlight Desires" by Lawrence Gowan.  Jamie mentioned in the pod that she thought it sounded very retro, and found out that's because it was an actual retro song that Gowan had released in the 80s.  She also said that Gowan was the lead vocalist and keyboardist for Styx.  At the time, I was like "ah, that's why Gowan sounded familiar when I saw it in the credits," but something about it didn't sound right, because I thought Dennis DeYoung was the lead vocalist and keyboardist for Styx.  I did some digging--er looked Styx up on Wikipedia--and found out what I probably should have known a long time ago: DeYoung isn't in Styx anymore, he was replaced by Gowan.  The other thing I discovered when I looked the song up on YouTube is that it's a huge piece of nostalgia among Canadians because it was used in the late 80s in Degrassi.  It made me wonder how many other inside Canadian references were made that I didn't get...  

I'm going to use my last paragraph before the wrap up to vent a little about Hulu and their online movie player.  Unlike Netflix, which removes the slider and the play/pause buttons if you wait a few seconds after pausing, giving you a clean picture to take a screenshot, Hulu's never goes away, so to get screens for the blog, I had to take them while the movie was running and hope I got the shot I wanted.  For this reason, I won't be doing anymore movies through Hulu, which isn't the worst thing anyway, because they don't have a great selection, but still, pretty annoying for us movie bloggers and instagrammers trying to get screenshots for our content.

Vent finished, time to wrap this up.  This is definitely worth checking out--and I'm realizing now as I say that that the only place I could find to stream this is Hulu, so after I'm killing them for how their player won't let you hide the slider on pause, I'm then telling people to go there to watch this.  Either way, however you can find it, WolfCop is deserving of our support: solid, earnest, independent film making that I think reminds us how good this can all be.

Saturday, September 14, 2019

Skin Trade (2014)

It's been a while since I've made a new post, and this film was a reminder that I hadn't intended to take as long a hiatus as I ended up taking.  I think I saw this sometime in 2015 or 2016, with the idea of writing a review on it that never materialized.  It's funny, because when word first came about this film back in 2012/2013, I couldn't wait to make it happen; but life took over and suddenly it became 2019 and nothing had been done.  Well, we're making happen now.

Skin Trade stars DTVC Hall of Famer Dolph Lundgren as Nick, a cop in Newark, NJ, trying to take down a Serbian mob boss played by Ron Perlman--which means we're already knee-deep in the hoopla of what is a great cast.  Perlman blows up Dolph's house, kills his wife and daughter, and almost kills Dolph in the process--but doesn't, so Dolph heads over to Cambodia to get his revenge.  At the same time, Tony Jaa is trying to take down Perlman's white slavery ring in Cambodia.  Looks like Dolph and Jaa are on a collision course to whackiness!

This wasn't too bad.  Dolph and Jaa were both great, there were some solid fight scenes; plus DTVC favorite Michael Jai White was in this in a supporting role, and his one fight with Jaa didn't disappoint either.  In addition to Perlman, we had DTVC Hall of Famer Peter Weller, and Cary Hiroyuki-Tagawa had a small part, making this the third film after Showdown in Little Tokyo and Bridge of Dragons he's done with Dolph.  I think you could do a lot worse than to stream Skin Trade for 90 minutes on Netflix if you're looking for a movie to watch.

We had had some misses with Dolph films lately, so to have something solid like this was a relief.  He co-wrote the script for this, and the movie had a strong anti-sex trafficking message he wanted to get across, but he made sure that in getting that message through to us that the plot didn't take away from the action.  While I have been on hiatus the past four years, Dolph has been busy, so we have a lot of catching up to do with him.  Hopefully we'll be able to take care of that.

I believe this film is Tony Jaa's America debut, and he was great as always.  The one thing I would say is, for the film that would be his US debut, I would want it to be more of a Jaa vehicle, not a Dolph-Jaa vehicle, if you know what I mean.  The fight scenes he had with Dolph were great, and then the one he did with Michael Jai White was fantastic.  There was a sense that White and Jaa were looking forward to shooting that scene, which is something I love in a DTV actioner, stars that enjoy putting out a high-quality product to such a degree that they look forward to what the end result could be on-screen for us.  In the current DTV age where stuff gets pumped out assembly-line style with a spate of big names flashed across the cover mailing in performances to pay off alimony and child support claims while scenes are cobbled together with split-second edits in post, it's refreshing to see some stars really get after it, especially the way Jaa and White did, and hopefully we'll see more of that in the future.

As I mentioned above, this film had a strong anti-sex trafficking message, which I think is great.  I don't know that you can make villains more despicable with less work than to have them selling young girls into slavery.  When Dolph and Jaa rampage through the warehouse that's holding the girls, the baddies can't die enough, or die painfully enough.  The film also tries to address two themes that adjoin the sex trafficking plague: one, that there's a market for it--Perlman's character tells Dolph that he's just giving his buyers what they want--; and then the idea that it's such a big problem, what is saving a few girls going to do when there are millions of others out there--White's character's rationale for why he sold out and took Perlman's money.  With the first one, it's a tepid message that the film tries a couple other times to drive home when we see Americans at the clubs in Cambodia where the trafficked girls are, but never really gets into enough.  Maybe we needed to see an America guy bring a girl out to a back room and then see Jaa kick his ass to fully flesh out that message more--what would it have taken, five more minutes of screentime?  The second one also isn't really addressed.  The fact that Dolph's family was killed gives him a motive beyond simple altruism to take these guys down.  To really rebut White's character's assertion that the struggle against sex trafficking is a futile endeavor, it would have been better if Dolph had no motives other than taking down a sex trafficker to make it stick.

Among the many DTV stars having a small part in this, one of my all time faves, Peter Weller, plays Dolph's boss.  I almost feel like they could have done more with the few scenes he was in.  I'm not saying give him a bigger part, but maybe give him better lines, really bring out the fast-talking, no-nonsense guy we've loved in his other films.  This is something I think could be done with a lot of DTV flicks that have big names in small parts.  We don't need everyone to be Brando in Apocalypse Now, but it would also be nice to say "only Weller could have done what we saw there," or "that's what we love about him, it's great to see him in this." 

Finally, before I wrap up, I wanted to mention one of the main baddies.  His character name was "Janko," which reminded me of JNCO jeans.  Did anyone have a pair of JNCOs back in the late 90s?  I did, a pair of wide-leg khaki ones that had back pockets so deep, I could literally fit a 40 in them.  I'm not kidding, I would walk across the UMaine campus on a Friday or Saturday night with a Bull Ice 40 in my back pocket.  God, those were the days...

Okay, if I'm digressing into JNCO jeans and Bull Ice 40s from twenty years ago, it's probably time to wrap this up.  My final verdict is that this is pretty good, certainly worth checking out through Netflix streaming.  Good cast, good fights, nice action overall.

For more info: