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.

Saturday, January 30, 2021

To the Limit (1995)

A while back we had Ty and Brett from Comeuppance Reviews on to discuss our favorite PM Entertainment films, and after that episode, I believe it was Richard Hawes of the DTV Digest who suggested we do a whole episode on Skyscraper. In talking with Ty and Brett about it, we thought it might be better instead to do both of her PM outings, Skyscraper and this one. That meant I've had this one in the can for a while, waiting for a moment to review it, which I'm doing now. In addition to us and Brett and Ty, our friend Simon at Explosive Action has done this as well, so you can go to their sites to see what they thought. Now, without any further ado. 

To the Limit is actually a sequel to Da Vinci's War, which is not a PM flick, but does return most of the cast, including Joey Travolta as the lead (whose name becomes "DaVinci" between films). Anyway, there's some CIA intrigue going on, and people who know too much are getting picked off. When Travolta is almost killed during his wedding and his bride-to-be dies, he wants revenge. At the same time, Anna Nicole Smith has all the info he needs to bring everyone down. Once they come together, it's game over for the baddies.


Here's the thing with this one: in true PM style we have four car chases and two helicopter explosions. That should be enough to get us there, right? Not so it turns out. First off, it's 98 minutes long. Doesn't sound too bad, but that's an extra ten minutes of plot exposition that bogged the film down. Even at 88 I think this would have had too many lulls to make it work. We have a great cast, and we have the action stats I listed above, but I think ultimately what kills this is, as a sequel, this was a passion project for the people involved. They were too attached to the characters and enjoyed having them banter and riff off each other; but for us watching the film without that same attachment, it doesn't work. How attached were they to the characters? Branscombe Richmond's character dies in the middle, and then reappears for a battle near the end. When comparing the two Anna Nicole Smith PM outings, while Skyscraper is an all-time great, this one just doesn't quite make it.

I tried to get a line on what happened through the tried and true IMDb trivia section, but this was all they had there: Joey Travolta's role of Frank DaVinci was originally offered to Robert Z'dar, but before shooting began Travolta decided to recast himself in the role due to his on-screen chemistry with Anna Nicole Smith. How does any of that make any sense? Travolta was supposed to be reprising a role from a previous film that he played... unless, this was never supposed to be a sequel. The three writing credits might explain that. Was this something that was many projects shoehorned into one, with some car chases and helicopter explosions slapped on to make it work? As I always try to say here, then where does that leave us? Unfortunately it leaves us saying "you're better off sticking with Skyscraper."


One thing we know about Skyscraper is that it took a lot of work to get Anna Nicole Smith across the finish line to make that movie, just because of how green she was. They mitigated it with a lot of edits and having her lean on the cast more. Here they mitigated it by using a kind of Third Man approach where she's missing for portions of the film and we don't know what she's up to. The thing with Skyscraper though, is it's 100% pure unabashed PM, which is why it works; this wasn't meant to be PM at all as far as I can tell, so it feels like PM grafted on some action to try to give it more punch, and all we ended up with was a slow mover with some car chases and helicopter explosions. These two films of hers together though stand as a quirk in the DTV universe, a novelty unto themselves, it's just that because Skyscraper went on to be so much more than that, I think we expect the same thing from To the Limit, when maybe being the quirk is good enough.

In 1995 we see the emergence of the CD-ROM in action films, replacing the old 3 and 1/2 floppy as the standard MacGuffin. I think '95 was when our family got our first computer, and it came with a CD-ROM full of crap sample programs that we were supposed to want to buy after trying them. It also had an encyclopedia or something. Anyway, this film does flip the MacGuffin idea on its ear a bit, and I don't want to give it away, but essentially the MacGuffin is used for more than just an object to be passed around between characters. It was an advancement in the technology that couldn't be done with a 3 and 1/2, that's for sure.


I'd like to use this penultimate paragraph to give some appreciation to the great Branscombe Richmond. Best known for his run on Renegade, if you look at his IMDb bio, he's actually had a better career after it that before it, which is fantastic. What was interesting here, is he played a good guy, and for most of his PM flicks he was more likely to be a baddie, and that was refreshing for me. This is now his ninth film on the DTVC, which may not sound like a lot, but for someone who did a lot of supporting work in the 90s, it's actually quite prodigious. Here's to you Branscombe Richmond, you're one of the great ones.

And with that, let's wrap this up. You can get this on Tubi or Pluto, which means it's only an investment in your time at this point. Without using the term "connoisseur", if you're a huge fan of DTV flicks, or you're a PM completist, I think this is worth checking out; but not until after you've seen Skyscraper.

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Saturday, January 23, 2021

General Commander (2019)

This is one of the last Seagal films I need to see, so when I found out it was on Prime to stream for free, I had to jump at it. Did I have high expectations for it after what I'd seen of his other recent efforts? Probably not, but we need to get them all reviewed eventually on here, and since I'd seen it I needed to cover it. So, let's see how it was.

General Commander has Seagal as the leader of a special ops team who, in the process of carrying out a job, loses one of his men. He and his team want to go back in and get their revenge, but the US department head who makes those decisions won't greenlight it. Luckily Seagal has an old friend with big pockets who's willing to bankroll his team's revenge mission. Now it's a matter of getting the gang back together, finding the baddie, and taking him down. With an 86-minute runtime, they need to get after it quickly!


You'd think with that short of a runtime this would be quick and to the point, get in and get out, waste no time, make the most of every scene. Turns out, that wasn't how it happened. We have the opening action scene where the teammate gets killed, we have a brief scene in the middle where a guy tries to take out Seagal and he slap-chops then stabs him to death, and then we have some action near the end, but beyond that, a whole lot of nothing happens. I looked in the IMDb trivia and think I found out why: this wasn't supposed to be a movie, it was supposed to be a TV series about this crew pulling off 45-minute episode length jobs over nine-episode seasons. As we've seen over many years here at the DTVC, that trick never works. Throw in a Seagal who was making Attrition at the same time, so he was even less invested than he usually is, and we were stuck with a slog that just didn't work.

This is number 32 for Seagal on the site, and by my count we have 7 left, of which I've seen 6--the last one I'm waiting on is End of a Gun, which to this point still hasn't been included in any of my streaming packages. With films like this one, it's a labor of love. I don't even know how much I can blame this one on Seagal. A studio or whoever was trying to make something out of a TV series that didn't sell, so they packaged it into an 86-minute movie, and were able to get Seagal attached to it. Maybe it was Seagal going to some producers and saying "hey, I need another movie out there, what do you have?" and they were like "actually, you could play the person you've been playing for the last ten years in this part." Where does that leave us though?


To be honest, where it leaves us is, does it at least have some good action? If you look at external reviews on any of these newer Seagal flicks, that's the thing that divides the ones where reviewers forgive all the baggage that comes with these movies, and the ones where they don't. And that's where this one falls on the wrong side of that line. When I'm calculating 40+-minute stretches of no action, we're in trouble. Seagal can do all the Fake Shemps in reverse shots he wants, he can sit in a totally different location than the actor he's supposed to be in the same room as--hell, he can just sit and not stand at all--as long as there's solid action every 15 minutes or so. With Scott Adkins putting out high-octane actioners with Jesse V. Johnson and Isaac Florentine, the bar is higher now, and these ones with minimal action just don't cut it anymore.

When I think about how the plot of this film unfolded, to pull off more suspense and planning than action in an action film, it has to be amazing stuff, whereas action scenes every 10-15 minutes don't need to be perfect every time to work. One I can think of that did work was Sabotage, but in that one you're talking about Tony Todd giving a masterclass on how to be a great baddie, Mark Dacascos as a great lead, along with Carrie-Anne Moss and Graham Greene. I'm not saying this cast was horrible, but they weren't that level. Also, even though that film was more suspense based like this one, they never went a full 40 minutes like this one did with no action at all. 


One of the faces I recognized outside of Seagal's was this one, Byron Gibson, who has done a ton of films shot in Thailand and the Philippines. According to him IMDb bio, he was cast on a whim in a Jean-Claude Van Damme film in 2008, and that's been it from there. He plays the heavy a lot, which makes him perfect for these kinds of movies which are often shot in locations like Thailand and the Philippines. He should be like a modern Mike Monty or Jim Gaines, but I think the fact that he isn't gets to the heart of what's wrong with these modern Philippine/Thailand movies compared to their late 80s/early 90s counterparts. Those movies kept it simple, kept it fun, and didn't try to do too much. Also I think the Italian directors who did most of them, or Cirio H. Santiago, knew how to keep the film engaging. Hopefully some day Gibson will be the next Mike Monty. Someday.

And with that, let's wrap this one up. I think as a TV series of 9 45-minute episodes, this could work. As an 86-minute movie though there are just too many long stretches of no action. It's available on Prime which works in its favor, but I think you should exhaust some other actioners on your list first.

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Saturday, January 16, 2021

Boyka: Undisputed aka Boyka: Undisputed IV (2016)

Scott Adkins is back, and back with a character he's become well-known for. It was sitting in my Netflix queue for a long time, and once I got back into doing the site again, I figured I'd make it happen. Of course, now it's no longer on Netflix, because, as we know, that's how Netflix gets down. In addition to us, our friends Ty and Brett at Comeuppance and Mitch at the Video Vacuum have covered this, plus Bulletproof Action, so you can go to their sites to see what they thought as well. Now, without any further ado.

Boyka: Undisputed has Adkins back as the eponymous hero. He's making it happen in Eastern Europe as an MMA fighter, and he's ready to make the big time. That's until he accidentally kills his opponent in the ring. Now, right before his big break, he sneaks back into Russia to make amends with the fighter's wife, Alma. Turns out, her husband was into a local mob boss for a lot, and that debt reverted to her when he died. To pay it off, she's working as a waitress at his club at night--a club that just so happens to host fights as well. Boyka makes a deal with the mob boss to fight for him to pay off Alma's debt. The thing is, mob boss aren't good about keeping their deals.


This was really good. In terms of the Adkins films I've seen, I'm not sure where I'd rank it. Definitely after Avengement, probably after Savage Dog, but maybe above Accident Man? Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning? This takes the Boyka character to another level, as Adkins delves into him more and really flexes his acting chops; but by the same token, the action and fighting never suffers. It's like the filmmakers and Adkins know what we want from this movie, but then Adkins and the filmmakers also want to do something a bit more with it, and they're able to do both without sacrificing either. We seldom see that kind of mix in a movie, let alone a DTV production. 

Since I've been back from hiatus, we've seen some great Adkins, and as I mentioned above, this definitely is one of those. The action and fight scenes are the kind of high-octane stuff we love from him; at the same time, he acquits himself well in the dramatic scenes as well. He did an interview with our friend Jon from After Movie Diner for his Booth Talk podcast, and he told Jon that the common knock on action actors is that they can't act, which was something he wanted to prove wrong. I think that's part of how these guys all are, they're very competitive and very driven to succeed, and so even if we don't need them to be great at their dramatic scenes, the idea of not being good at something is such anathema to them that they need to be good at that too. For sure I can say in this one, at least in my opinion, he made it happen.


Isaac Florentine didn't direct this outing, but he did produce it, so I gave him the tag. According to the IMDb trivia, Florentine's wife passed away, which is really sad and explains why he was unable to direct. Stepping up for this one is Todor Chapkanov, who has had some second unit director credits on a lot of DTV flicks, including Boa vs. Python, which was the first film we ever reviewed here on the site. I think that second unit director experience works well here, because Todor seems to do this well in the style and feel of a Florentine film, which I really liked. In 2020, Florentine and Adkins put out Seized, which I haven't seen yet, but our friend Todd Gaines at Bulletproof Action reviewed it and said it was great, so I'll have to check it out--I mean, I would have to check it out anyway because I'll have to do all the Adkins DTV films eventually one way or the other.

The final fight in this is with Martyn Ford, and he is a beast of a man. 6'8", 300+ lbs. body builder, looks like Sagat from Street Fighter. The thing is, he has one fight at the beginning, and then we don't see him again until the end. It speaks to what this movie was about, Boyka's redemption, not the standard fight film where Boyka needs to train to overcome this extreme challenge. When you juxtapose that with the paint-by-numbers that was Kickboxer: Retaliation, you can see how this really did something different and made decisions that really were different in trying to pull that off. More movies should look at some of the choices that were made in Boyka and realize that they don't need to stick to the same old tropes when they're making their movies. You can take chances, and as you can see in this, the chances can work too.


Let's wrap this up by talking about how big Adkins's career could be in just the DTV action world alone. He's been putting out 4 or 5 movies a year for the last five years or so, and it doesn't look like he's slowing down anytime, as he had five this year alone, when a lot of stars don't have anything coming out. This is going to be his 17th on the site, and by my count, I have 18 more I need to do, some of which I've seen and just need to write the review on. But you can see, if he keeps on his current pace, he'll have another 15-20 in a few years that are eligible to review here too. Other than the backlog of Fred Williamson movies I need to catch up on, no one else has that kind of potential for films on our site. What will be fun, if that is the case, is we'll see the bulk of the progression of his career evolve in front of us throughout the time the site has existed, which is really cool.

And with that, it's time to end this post. You were able to get this through Netflix until they dumped it. I think now you may need to pay to rent it, which isn't horrible, but it would be nice if Tubi or another free streaming site could pick it up. I could say this about a lot of Adkins's 2010s catalog, which is too bad, because his action counterparts like Dolph and Seagal have a ton more of their films from this era available. 

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Saturday, January 2, 2021

Power of Grayskull: The Definitive History of He-Man and the Masters of the Universe (2017)

Last year for Christmas I looked at the documentary on Roger Corman's never released Fantastic Four adaptation, and I thought it might be nice to do another documentary for the same time this year, especially since I'd seen so many over the course of the year that I could cover. Out of all them, this stood out as the perfect Christmas one, because as a child I had fond memories of Santa--whose handwriting was suspiciously similar to my mother's--bringing me all kinds of He-Man figures I'd picked out in the Sears Wishbook that season. Anyway, let's see if the documentary lived up to my childhood Christmas morning expectations.

Power of Grayskull is a comprehensive, 90-minute documentary that takes us through the creation of He-Man at Mattel, his rise, his fall, and the attempts at reboots, along with everything that came with that, like the cartoon and the movie. We hear from the players involved, how and why they came up with this or that, plus the forces of evil that prevented them from doing other things they wanted to do. And it has Dolph.

I really enjoyed this. If there was going to be a documentary on He-Man, this feels like it, which I appreciated. The other thing though, now as an adult, I could hear the people involved in He-Man's creation and evolution from that standpoint--I could both remember being a kid and getting He-Man figures, and now be an adult and get a kick out of the stories they told about the process. I think the most interesting part about He-Man is that he and Masters of the Universe were created out of thin air, they weren't based on an established book or movie. I don't think that could be emphasized enough, and this documentary leaned on that more than anything I felt, which did it the most justice. 

As I watched, I couldn't help but go back through my own memories of collecting He-Man figures. I got Man Ram I think when I was 4, at our local Osco Drug, while my mom was picking up a prescription for my ear infection. When the Toys R' Us in Newington, NH first opened, the He-Man section was overwhelming with how many figures they had, the end cap towering above me, and me wishing I could have every one of them. That may have been what started my desire to collect things overall, to have all of something--that and an early love of comic books. Maybe my best memory was of me getting the Slime Pit for my birthday. I was the first of my friends to get it, and I remember how crazy everyone at my birthday party went when I opened it. I stupidly put Moss Man in it, which ruined him and I had to buy another. 


But what I don't remember is when I stopped getting them. Somehow I transitioned to GI Joe, and then Ninja Turtles, but I can't point to a specific time where I said "I'm not getting He-Man anymore." The movie tries to put that into context for me, which is crazy to think, right? I need the documentary to tell me why I did something when my memory fails me. I think that was another fascinating aspect of this: the film was filling in gaps in my memory--or in some cases, it was correcting my memory. We have these memories of life as a kid that feel so real, and then we watch something like this, and realize, no, that didn't quite happen that way, or based on what they're saying, that couldn't have happened when I thought it did. Probably a good reason why I make sure I watch a movie close to the time I review it now.

This is Dolph's 57th film on the site, as he cruises toward being the first person in the 60 Club--after recently being joined in the 50 Club by Gary Daniels--, but this marks the first time he appeared as himself on the site. It's a great and engaging interview as he discusses what it was like for him to make the movie, the challenges it met in production, and even how he felt about the whole idea. When we think of the roles that have defined him, it's He-Man, Ivan Drago, and Punisher, which, when you put them all together, should have made him one of the biggest action stars of all time; and maybe that's why we love him so much on this site, he still has that larger than life quality, even if he didn't have the box office returns to go with it.


The film finishes with a kind of "whither He-Man" idea, which makes sense: this massive cultural and financial phenomenon that had such a huge impact and then disappeared almost as quickly feels like a reservoir of untapped potential, especially now with the technology we have to do cinematic adaptations. The film focused on new action figure releases and reboots with cartoons, but I think there isn't the market for that the way there would be for a DTV franchise with Dolph at the helm. But do it right, make it closer to the original He-Man, only with Dolph as the too sweet He-Man he was in the film. My biggest fear if a studio were to make a DTV He-Man franchise is that they'd cast someone like a Kellen Lutz in the lead. If it's not going to be Dolph, it needs to be someone of that stature, which I know isn't easy to find, but if they can make it happen, I think it would be a huge a success.

With that, I think it's time to wrap this up. You can see this on Netflix now, and it's totally worth it if you haven't seen it. Even if you were too young or too old for the He-Man craze, just how it all went down and the backstory behind it is compelling enough; but if you did live through it like I did, it has the added nostalgia factor that makes it even sweeter.

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