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. If you click on an image, it will take you to that post's image page, which includes many more pics from the film and other goodies I couldn't fit in the actual review. For announcements and updates, don't forget to Follow us on Twitter and Like our Facebook page. If you're the director, producer, distributor, etc. of a low-budget feature length film and you'd like to send me a copy to review, you can contact me at dtvconnoisseur[at]yahoo.com. I'd love to check out what you got.
Tuesday, December 10, 2013
Our friend Kevin from MTI Video asked if I could review this one for him, and from the trailer it looked pretty good, so I thought I'd give it a go. It stars Jason Mewes, and growing up in the 90s and seeing Clerks, Mallrats, and Chasing Amy in the theater, Mewes will always hold a special place in my heart, so at the very least I figured he'd be entertaining, right?
Repo is about Leon (played by Ben Gourley, who also wrote and directed), a down-on-his-luck repo man that was dumped by his fiancee and is trying to get his real estate license but is afraid to take the plunge and take the test. His buddy (Mewes) is also his coworker, and he's always getting Leon in trouble. At the same time, Leon owns/is the property manager for (it's not quite clear) an apartment complex, and there's a nice pretty girl (Lindsey McKeon) living there that he has a thing for. But will he screw it up? Or will his buddy screw it up for him? Or will they both?
I think I could be forgiven for thinking this is a Ben Gourley vanity project, and while I'm not going to be that reductive or dismissive, it does hit all the spots: guy who can't get out of his own way, guy afraid to take chances, guy gets the girl, guy screws it up, guy's friend gets him in trouble, guy fixes trouble and gets the girl and has a great life. I think Gourley was more earnest in making this film than simply a vanity project, but it amounts to the same thing though: the 90s and early 2000s were littered with films like this, and this one doesn't really bring anything new to the table. If anything, it suffers because Mewes's character is more fun and someone I wanted to see more of, so he made Gourley's Leon less someone I wanted to root for. Yes, Mewes was a fun time, and it had a few other fun moments too, but we've seen this already, and we've seen it done better 15-20 years ago, so overall it's a pass for me.
One of the things about the Mewes character that I was reminded of was how much he invented that style of sidekick or buddy with his Jay character in Kevin Smith's films. I'm not saying this character here is Jay, what I'm saying is I've seen so many films try to have a Jay-like character in their off-beat independent comedies like this, and that character almost never comes off. With Mewes though it all works, the only difference here compared to films like Clerks or Mallrats, in those films we had main characters that were more compelling, so we were cool with the bits here and there that we get of Mewes; and while he's a bigger supporting character in this, with a main character that was so vanilla, Mewes becomes the character we want to see, so even the bigger role wasn't enough.
One of the weird things about this film is that it's called Repo, but it really spends more time at the apartment complex. Like there isn't a lot of repo'ing going on. Maybe it should've been called Apartment Complex, or Property Manager, I don't know. Maybe Leon, but I think that name was taken. We start off with a nice repo scene, and I thought that's what we had going on, but then we lose that for awhile while we're inundated with all the kooky characters of the apartment complex. Hey, it's an Italian guy in a speedo! Hey, it's an aging cougar hitting on our hero! Hey that guy's overweight and doesn't pay his rent! Hey, there's the nice pretty girl our hero is going to win at the end of the film! The repo aspect was the thing that could've made this film not every-film-we've-seen-before, but instead we got the kooky characters at the apartment complex, and that we've all seen enough of.
Lindsey McKeon plays the girl Leon wins, and she does a great job doing the best she can with a classic one note character. Oh, she's so cute and precocious with her backpack and her thin sweaters with sleeves that go just beyond her wrist and her sweetness and her going to school to be a nurse. And the only time she's able to inject any personality into the role is when she rejects Leon because the other girl he was seeing (who Mewes paid to date him) comes back and ruins things. But that's when things get gross and weird. McKeon's character flatly rejects Leon, and while we know it's a misunderstanding, the fact that he can't take no for an answer and harasses her with flowers and whatnot is problematic, especially when you consider Leon is her landlord and is in a position of power over her. It's this grossness depicted in movies and other popular media that gives guys the idea that if they just harass a woman enough, she'll breakdown and fall for him; and it's this grossness that forces women to give guys a fake number so they'll leave her alone, or lie and say she has a boyfriend. In another movie we saw for Kevin at MTI, Slip & Fall, this issue was dealt with much better. The hero didn't harass the woman, she came back on her own, and as a result it didn't have any of that grossness. The other thing was, in Repo, they already spent the make-up/break-up nickel, and resolved it in a non-problematic way by McKeon helping Leon after tries to drown himself in the pool. For some reason they decided to recycle the make-up/break-up thing by having McKeon catch Leon with the other woman again, and that's where they got into trouble. It was a double whammy of redundancy and grossness, and helped to torpedo a film that was already having trouble.
Finally, let's look at everyone else, because this movie had a bunch of other people in it. First off we had Patrick Muldoon, famous on here for getting his ass kicked by Richard Norton in Rage and Honor II, and famous with my girlfriend for being the creepy neighbor in her favorite, Wicked. He plays a former rock star living in the apartment complex, and he's not bad, especially compared to the other tenants. Izabella Miko played the woman Mewes hires to date Leon. Like Mewes, she adds to that vibe that our hero is not compelling, because she has more personality and makes him that much more vanilla. Then we have Sunny Mabrey as Leon's ex-fiancee. She's not in it much, and I think she's supposed to be a horrible person, which I guess is how it goes when we want our hero to be the hero. Finally, Zack Ward has a small role as a local thug. That's about it.
As of this posting, this won't be out on DVD until December 17, 2013, and I'm assuming like all MTI DVDs you can get it at Red Box and whatnot. For me it's a pass, mostly because I think we've seen this plenty of times before, but the aspects that were good, especially Jason Mewes's performance, might be enough to make this a Red Box rental for you.
For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0887161/
Friday, November 8, 2013
New Dolph Lundgren movie, Netflix shipped it out to me the day it was released, and now we're reviewing it. Is there anything else you need to know? All right, let's see how it went.
Blood of Redemption has Dolph as Axel, a bodyguard and fix-it man for mob boss Robert Miano. When Miano finds out his protection in the FBI is done, he decides to retire, but his son, Billy Zane, isn't interested in that, so with Vinnie Jones, who is the nephew of Miano's partner, Robert Davi, he goes for one last gig, a counterfeiting operation. But things go bad, Miano ends up dead, and Zane's behind bars. Now it's up to Dolph to get to the bottom of things.
While I was watching this, my girlfriend asked me how it was going, and my response was "well, at least it has Dolph in it." This thing was just all over the place from the word go. Zane's character uses the term "too many moving parts", and that's what this film suffered from. On imdb it lists three writing credits, and this had the all-over-the-place feel of a film with three writers. For instance Gianni Capaldi plays Zane's younger brother, and in the middle of the film his character is developed like he'll be a key player, only to have him have zero impact on the film's finale. Then what are we doing here developing a superfluous character? We're wasting valuable time, time that could have been some great Dolph Lundgren action instead, but because we have so many writers, we have no consistency. "Blood of Redemption" denotes a simple formulaic action plot about a man on a revenge quest, instead of this convoluted over-complicated mess that focused so much energy on a web of intrigue and a plot twist at the end that no one didn't see coming. As is often the case with DTV action: the simpler the better.
In terms of Dolph, he's great as usual, but this is a movie that doesn't use him the way the cover would have you believe. This isn't really his story, though he's telling it, he's usually talking about things other people are doing. He actually says at one point "I needed to sit this one out." Are you kidding me? Dolph Lundgren in a Dolph Lundgren movie doesn't ever sit anything out! I'm not watching a Dolph Lundgren DTV flick so he can "sit this one out"! Cut the shit man, that's as sauteed in wrong sauce as it gets. Now he does have some great moments, especially one scene where he has to fight a dominatrix, which might go down in the Dolph canon as one of his classics, but the film itself will not.
If you've been rockin' with me for some time now, you know that I'm a solutions oriented guy. I'm not content enough with saying the movie was bad and why, but what I think could have been done to make it better, especially from a writing standpoint. As I said in the first paragraph, the obvious first step is to simplify and streamline it. I'd go for a simple revenge plot, where Billy Zane betrays his father, and maybe even frames Dolph for it, and now Dolph needs to clear his name. Simple but sweet, and Dolph cuts such a compelling lead that it wouldn't take much to develop him, nor would it take much to develop Zane who's a great baddie. No convoluted flashback storytelling style either. Let's just go start to finish and every 15-20 minutes you have an action scene. Maybe you'll say "but we've seen that before Matt?" Well we've seen the kind of film that we got before too, and we know which of the two has a proven track record. Again, simple always over complicated.
As you saw above, this film has a lot of names, so let's go through them. Billy Zane was as cool as ever. He was wasted though by not being made the out and out baddie. Vinnie Jones was great too, and this was a bigger role than we're used to with him, which was nice to see. The more Vinnie Jones the better, that's what I always say. DTVC favorite Robert Davi attempts to affect an English accent for his role, and it was interesting how it was really good in the scenes he acted out with Jones, and non-existent in the others. Hey, why not, he's Robert Davi. Finally, one of my favorites, Robert Miano, had a small role as the patriarch of the mob family. Always good to see him. Great names in a not-so-great film.
From a technical aspect, this had the pernicious modern DTV rapid-jumpcuts coupled with bad camera effects, which just made things even worse. In one of Capaldi's fight scenes, there was this effect that I guess was supposed to mimic what a seal's vision is supposed to be, I don't know. I know it made me sick to my stomach though it was such a mess. Even worse was the gratuitous use of the character title cards. I mean, it was so bad that characters were literally introduced to us in a prior scene, then they did that. What? What the hell are you doing? And see that one with Dolph? Guess when that comes in? At the very end. How the hell is that helping us? All it's doing is disrupting the flow of the film, and believe me, this movie needed all the help it could get to maintain any kind of flow with the way it's story hashed out by multiple screenwriters was all over the place.
I wish I could recommend this. I wish on the strength of Dolph alone I could recommend it, or because of all the other great names. Unfortunately Dolph has been bitten by the bad DTV bug, and even he couldn't save it. I mean this was so much cliched modern DTV that I was surprised that "Wake Up to the Bleeding" or whatever it's called song didn't come in at the credits. You know the one I'm talking about, the one that's in all those UFC punchfighting flicks. Anyway, whatever, this is available from all the usual suspects on DVD if you want to check it out.
For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2510268/
Tuesday, November 5, 2013
So the initial plan for this review was to write it on Halloween, but you can tell from the post date, we're a little late with that one. I figured that, even though it had a theatrical run, the fact that Halloween is a special day, I could make an exception, especially considering this was a video store classic for me growing up and one I've wanted to do here for a long time.
Pumpkinhead stars DTVC favorite Lance Henriksen as Ed Harley, a country man who owns a small grocery and is raising his small boy on his own. When some city kids come to town and one jerk member of the crew hits his boy with his dirt bike, killing the boy, Henriksen swears his revenge. To get that, he goes to an old witch's home on the edge of a swamp, and she tells him of a way: he needs to dig up a deformed body from a scary graveyard, and she'll take it from there. What she unleashes is Pumpkinhead, a demonic killer who looks very derivative and won't stop till all the kids are dead. Any second thoughts Harley? Too late for that now.
As far as great 80s horror goes, I think this is one that's often overlooked with all the Nightmare on Elm Streets and Friday the 13ths. On some levels that's too bad, because this is so well shot, has some great sets, and if the Pumpkinhead didn't look so much like an Alien, that would've been really cool too. I think that's one area where this is written off though, the eponymous killer demon is where the film is has to hang its hat, even if it has some really great American Gothic style horror elements, because ultimately the baddie is what sells. If you are someone who grew up with this and didn't exactly care for it, maybe now that it's on Netflix Instant you can give it another try.
On the other hand, another reason why this one doesn't succeed where the more iconic horror franchises have, is that those ones were much more fun. I mean, Henriksen's son is so nice, and Henriksen is so nice to him, they seem so happy together, and to have this jerk guy run the son over and kill him is just mean-spirited and very dark. Not to mention, the jerk initially makes fun of the poor boy's Coke bottle glasses. That's just gross to do that then kill the boy off. Also, the jerk guy freaks out that he doesn't want to go to jail, and back at their cabin he locks two of his friends that try to call the cops in a closet. That's just weird, and beyond jerk-guy in the group, that's unlawful imprisonment. Things like that work against it where the other greats gave us so much fun. Still, I'm not sure that should be its death knell, just that it's not for everyone.
Lance Henriksen is great in this. I think it would've been easy for him to play the classic evil country guy, but his character had more nuance to it, something you usually don't see in a film like this, and he took what nuance there was and ran with it. He's the character we're sympathetic with, not the kids, and neither he nor the writers lose track of that, even if it looks like they might. One thing I wonder about though: what did he think when he first saw Pumpkinhead? Did they ask him if it looked too much like an Alien? "Um, ah, no, no, it's so different, it has more of a human face, no no, you're okay, no one will think you're ripping that off."
Among the other stars, we had the great character actor George "Buck" Flower as a local farmer that Henriksen knows. That guys has acted in almost everything, and even though he has a smaller part in this, it's always great to see him. Devon Odessa from My So-Called Life played one of his grandkids. Nice 90s nostalgia moment. John D'Aquino plays the jerk guy, and he's great at it. I have no idea why, but he doesn't have a picture on imdb. Come on man, you're still working, take care of that. Finally, Brian Bremer plays the oldest of Flower's grandchildren. He'd have been perfect for a Hobbit had he been ten years younger. A shame that he had to settle for Pumpkinhead.
Okay, that's not actually finally, because we also had Mayim Bialik's first role here too. Can you believe that? She played another of Flower's grandchildren. That makes two Blossom stars to grace the DTVC, the other being Joey "Joseph" Lawrence in Do You Wanna Know a Secret? Whoa! Now we just need to find Six in something. I've seen that Bialik is back on network TV, doing The Big Bang Theory with the guy who played David in Roseanne. So we have Roseanne and Blossom teaming up to pander for my 90s nostalgia dollars? Too bad Neil Patrick Harris is on another show. Or maybe they can get Devon Odessa.
While I had some problems with how dark it was with killing off the kid, and the demon is definitely derivative, it has some great horror elements to hang its hat on. Henriksen's character and performance, the sets, and the cinematography and direction are all excellent, and elevate this above the usual schlock horror flick. While it's on Instant, I'd give it another look.
For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0095925/
Wednesday, October 30, 2013
I've seen this one on Instant for some time, and it looks like it could be a lot of fun. Plus it lists Robert Englund in the cast, which is another selling point. On the other hand, I had similar expectations for Zombie Strippers!, and was somewhat disappointed with that one, so who knows. That one also had Englund. Am I sensing a theme here?
Strippers vs Werewolves is about a London strip joint where Justice, giving Martin Kemp of Spandau Ballet a private dance, turns him on so much he turns into a werewolf and she stabs him in the eye with a silver fountain pen, killing him. That's not a good thing, when his werewolf friends want revenge, and it'll only be a matter of time before they trace his death back to the club. That leaves club owner, Sarah Douglas, with a choice (and no it's not to jump in a flying parallelogram and escape into space): fight or run. She chooses to fight, resulting in the ultimate showdown between strippers and werewolves.
You ever heard that joke "how many people with ADD does it take to change a light bulb? Let's ride a bike!" That's how I felt watching this movie. My God, it was all over the place, it never knew what it wanted to do. Not to mention, it did this comic book editing/cinematographic device where the screen would be split into panels and make things even worse. I don't remember that device working in Ang Lee's Hulk either. The worst was how it would look like it wanted to develop something, and then just totally abandon it. Whether it was Martin Compston's character torn between protecting Justice, his fiancee, or siding with his fellow werewolves, which runs through the film only to have him decide on his werewolves in a way that made it seem like he was never torn; or the strippers vs. zombie scorecard during the end battle, which is inexplicably abandoned after two minutes, and really never even kept score considering the strippers who were killed weren't actually killed. I understand, a movie called Strippers vs Werewolves should be all over the place, but considering most of the jokes were of the "waka waka waka" notsomuch variety, and the gore mixed with the bad jokes felt off in terms of dark humor, the inconsistent story had me thinking "what am I doing here?"
Why is a movie like Strippers vs Werewolves so hard to make right then? It sounds like it should make itself? When I tell people about the Direct to Video Connoisseur, it's movies like this they think of, and movies like this they assume I'd love, and I assume it too. I think it's that problem though, it feels like it should make itself, and then the film makers start going off the rails, whether it's a story that doesn't know where it wants to be, jokes that are just "hey-oh! Irony! waka waka waka!", or this Michael Bay split second take combined with comic book frames all over the screen style of editing. Simpler is often better. Maybe because I grew up on the coast of Maine, where simplicity is desired, where a lobster is simply boiled alive, cracked open, dipped in butter, and that's it, I have trouble with too much being done to jazz up something that should be so good on its own. This story of Martin Compston and Adele Silva's Justice should be enough to carry the day if he throws in his lot with her to protect her, and in the late 80s early 90s, it would have been, and all of this craziness would've been dialed down.
Don't get me wrong, there were some great touches in this that worked really well. The opening credits had "Hungry Like the Wolf" playing, which was really cool. At the end, when the strippers confront the werewolves at the end, they dress as Little Red Riding Hood, which I liked and was really hot. I liked the idea of the strippers fortifying their club for the showdown with the werewolves, but like a lot of the film, it felt like the build up was better than the payoff. And the actors, which I will get into more in the next paragraph, all turned in great performances and seemed to be on board with what the film was all about, even if the film didn't seem to know.
All right, so let's start with Martin Compston, who we've seen before in The Disappearance of Alice Creed. If you look at his imdb photo, he seems so happy to see you, doesn't he? Man, he was perfect for the guy who doesn't feel comfortable being a werewolf, and wants to protect his girlfriend, but doesn't know if he wants to cross Billy Murry, the werewolf leader. It's too bad we never got there with that. Billy Murray we've also seen before in One in the Chamber, and he was perfect as the baddie. Sarah Douglas was equally great as the strip club owner, but her death was pretty weird and muddled, something I was disappointed in. Even worse was Alan Ford, Brick Top in Snatch, who was fantastic, and is rubbed out by the werewolves without a fight. What a waste considering they somewhat developed his character. Finally, of all the strippers, I really liked Barbara Nedeljakova's (the two Hostel movies) character, though I think if they'd gotten rid of her awkward vampire hunter boyfriend character and made her the expert on the occult, it would've been so much better; and Adele Silva as Justice was good too, but would've been better had her character along with Compston's not been at odds with each other. Oh, and I almost forgot Martin Kemp and Robert Englund. That's because they're barely in the film.
I'm writing this review as my Celtics start their first season since 1998 without my favorite player, Paul Pierce, and of all the places to see someone in a Celtics Pierce jersey, it's here in a campy horror film shot in England. Yes, I'm also watching my Red Sox play in Game 6 of the World Series tonight too, and hopefully they'll win it, but still, I'm in for a long year with my C's, and seeing that jersey didn't help. On the other hand, I guess it's cool that those jerseys are sold there.
Okay, enough of that, let's wrap this up. It didn't work for me. You might dig it though. Too all over the place, too many things started but not finished, too hard to concentrate on anything. As of this posting, you can get it on Instant. Maybe check it out, at least you don't have to finish it if you don't like it like I did to write this review.
For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1702009/
Tuesday, October 29, 2013
This is one I've been meaning to do for a long time now, and even with it's availability on Netflix Instant for almost as long, I still haven't managed to make it happen. Well, now we're finally rectifying that and getting after it. One of our friends who already got after it is the great Exploding Helicopter, written though by guest reviewer and other friend of the site, Ninja Dixon. You can go there to see what they thought, and read further to see what we thought.
DNA has DTVC favorite Mark Dacascos as a doctor in a small hospital in Indonesia who is approached by Jurgen Prochnow to further his work on an experimental serum that boosts the human immune system. The problem is, he's trusting Jürgen Prochnow, and that proves costly as Prochnow double crosses him and uses the serum to resurrect this alien killing machine that looks exceedingly derivative. Now Dacascos, with the help of a beautiful CIA agent (Robin McKee), is looking to take Prochnow down and stop this beast.
While this is a DTV flick, it looks so much like it could have been widely released theatrical flop from the same time period, between the special effects and the canned dramatic wannabe John Williams orchestral music. In that sense it's cool to see Dacascos in a film like that, but beyond that, what are we doing here? Who knows why it wasn't a theatrical picture, but one guess is how derivative it is. How many times have we seen this before? And while we see it so much still on SyFy, at least those ones are bringing a camp element that this doesn't. All time special effects great William Mesa directs this, so he gives the film a competence that on some levels works against it, because the story is such well-worn territory that it's crying out for camp. At the same time, this is still 1998, so even his great special effects look dated at times, not to mention he probably didn't have the budget here to do what he could in some of the pictures he's known for. The film's one exploding helicopter comes to mind as an area where his visual effects missed in a hilariously bad way, probably due to that lack of budget, and it stands out as a fun schlock moment, one that unfortunately wasn't indicative of the film as a whole. Overall, while this isn't horrible, it's too unremarkable for a recommendation.
Mark Dacascos is a solid lead as always. Don't know if I liked the hairdo after the beginning, but beyond that he's good. I'm not sure why he didn't get more bigger roles, but I wonder if it was a film like this being relegated to DTV in the late 90s that held him back. I wonder too if he lacks a certain on-screen charisma, which isn't as evident in his films where he's allowed to showcase his superior martial arts skills, but in a film like this rears its ugly head and holds him back in the lead. I don't know. One thing that would be really cool is if he can get a spot in the next Expendables film. I know for guys like Scott Adkins and Gary Daniels, seeing them opposite more of the heavy hitters did a lot to showcase them to newer audiences, and I think that would be key for Dacascos as well.
Okay, do we want to do Jürgen Prochnow, or Proch-later-- Hey-oh! The thing I don't get is, how does Dacascos not know what Prochnow brings to the table? He's one of the ultimate baddies, of course he's going to double cross you and try to kill you-- Cenk Uygur voice: "of cooooourse!" He is one of those ready-made baddies though, where you can just take him out of the package and insert him into your film and you're good to go. I don't know what this one was trying to do by passing him off as a potential good guy for the first ten minutes, they weren't fooling anyone, but hey, good of you to try though. Here's to you Jürgen Prochnow, you're one of the good ones.
Robin McKee as the CIA agent helping out Dacascos was so 1998. She doesn't have a lot of other roles on her CV, and most of the ones she does have are small ones, but here she is 1998-ing it up. Between the hair, the outfits, the make-up, it was all like "just give me the Friends look", and I gotta say, I loved that time. It's an interesting fashion period, because the kids today miss it in favor of the more notable early 90s fashions, not the way guys getting their tips frosted has been embraced by them, even if they lump it in with early 90s Chess King style, as if the 90s existed as a monolith (sorry if I sound bitter about twentysomethings butchering my decade...!). The only places I ever see the 1998 aesthetic exist today outside of movies like this are in tributes to Friends or Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and it is there that it will survive and exist for posterity.
What travesty did this film commit that truly sunk it for me? No, not the fact that it's story was derivative, it was the addition of the kid. Argh! Why do movies do this to us? And this isn't an indictment of the kid playing the part, it's an indictment of the actual plot device in toto. Kids in action movies are annoying. Period, end of story. And this film makes it worse by committing the classic two wrongs don't make it right, by killing the kid off later on. You can't do that. The only thing worse than kids in action movies is killing kids off in action movies, so you can't fix the mistake of including him by having his death scene near the end. All sauteed in wrong sauce.
Okay, let's wrap this up. Beyond being there for a Dacascos completist or exploding helicopter connoisseurs, or maybe even Philippine movie connoisseurs-- check out the great Jim Gaines with a cameo up there!--, but it's a pass for me. Even the nice run time and availability on Instant can't save it for me. While it's not bad, it's not all that good either, and the fact that it's that unremarkable kills it in a sea of other options for you.
For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0118912/
Friday, October 25, 2013
Back in 2010, our friend Simon at Explosive Action sent us five films that he ripped from his Japanese VHS copies. They were: Deadly Prey, Robowar, Strike Commando, Strike Commando II, and this flick. Somehow though, this one was lost in the shuffle, and we're only just getting to it now, more than two years after the most recent one we've done of them, Strike Commando II. I guess better late than never, right? Also, our friends Ty at Comeuppance Reviews, Fred at Ninja Dixon, and Jason at robotGEEK have all hit this one too, so you can go to their sites to see what they thought.
Hands of Steel has Daniel Greene as Paco Queruak (I'm not kidding about that name), a cyborg with no memory of his past who is programmed to kill a charismatic leader and environmentalist who threatens the evil John Saxon's corporation. When he has memories of his past he doesn't fulfill his job, and runs back to his home state of Arizona, where he finds love, takes on a bunch of truckers, and beats the tri-state arm wrestling champ. But hot on his heels are Saxon and his men, looking to take him out before the FBI finds him. Will they succeed?
This is a Sergio Martino joint, and as such, you know what you're in for: a straight up Italian no-budget schlock fest, and that's what you get. It might have a bit of a slow start, but once it kicks in, it's equal parts hilarious and bad action, everything you'd want when you fire something like this up. The sets, the futuristic props, the Daniel Greene, the John Saxon, it's all there. Some of my favorite moments included when the old guy who owns the junk yard is offed by a baddie, and the "Indian Style" arm wrestling match, which is simply the usual arm wrestling match, only with rattlesnakes posted on either side of the table. Oh, and then there's the too sweet laser at the end. This is as fun a time as you think it would be.
Daniel Greene as the hero looks like the kind of guy you'd see playing a guest role on Murder, She Wrote or something in the 80s, maybe rocking a sweater over a button-up shirt, or if he's playing the young boyfriend/doughnut salesboy maybe some more revealing clothing. Not necessarily the heel, but if you needed him to be he could do that too. Somehow he found himself here as the lead, and while his torso screams it, his face, hair, and demeanor screams a bridge too far. Yet that's what makes it so fun, and when he's paired up with a great heel like Italian D-flick mainstay George Eastman, he's fine, so it all works. As an aside, I see that he had a part in Arthur 2: On the Rocks. I totally forgot that sequel happened.
John Saxon is back and he's great. How he ended up in this, I have no idea, and he's not in it much, but he's great as the head baddie. His final showdown with Greene and the big laser is the tops. The thing is, he's just so cool, whether it's Enter the Dragon or Mitchell or this, he's just so much fun to watch, and he's a great addition to any film. When we start to really see him, and he's in a helicopter shooting down at out hero, it's such a great moment, I almost wanted to see him succeed, he's that awesome. Here's to you John Saxon, you're one of the good ones. Also, according to imdb, he only shot his scenes in Italy, because this wasn't a SAG film, and as such refused to do any of the shots in the US. He credits that with saving his life, because there was a helicopter crash during shooting in Arizona that claimed the life of co-star Claudio Cassinelli, and he would've been on that helicopter too. He hasn't done a non-SAG film since.
All right, so we mentioned Greene, Saxon, and the late Cassinelli, who played a hit man hired by Saxon to track down Greene. We also had Janet Agren as Linda, the woman who ran the arm wrestling joint/cheap motel Greene goes to while he's on the run. She made a great living as a D-movie actress in Italy until 1991, when she gave it all up. Who could give up all of that? We also mentioned George Eastman above. He plays Raul, the heel and bad trucker who tries to kill Greene on multiple occasions. I think the only other flick of his we've done is 1990: Bronx Warriors. There was also a guy working for Saxon who looked like JC's buddy from Sidehackers. He always had these shades on and looked ready to tell Saxon "right-on daddy-o". It's touches like that that make films like this a lot of fun.
I've mentioned this before when talking about the great Bruno Mattei, but I feel it's worth bringing up again while discussing Sergio Martino. As bad as these films are, these directors come from a certain pedigree that gives these movies a certain, I don't know, watchability, because, as bad as they are, they're shot and planned out with a certain amount of craftsmanship. This is the difference between these flicks and their modern counterpart where stuntmen and other non-directors are helmed to directed them. It's not just these Italian directors too, Albert Pyun, Fred Olen Ray, Isaac Florentine, they all direct and give us something we can sit down and watch. Cameras aren't all over the place, they aren't afraid to give us a still frame, or lock into a good shot. We took this kind of thing for granted in the 80s and 90s, and now I can't watch a modern action flick without getting a headache.
Okay, time to get off the soap box. You can actually get this on DVD-R from Amazon, so it's not as hard to get as it used to be. You can also do used VHS, both foreign and domestic. It's a lot of fun and worth checking out in any case. Thank you again to Simon at Explosive Action for hooking us up with this.
For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0091166/
Thursday, October 24, 2013
This one has been on Instant for a long time now, and I've been meaning to get to it. The cast list is prodigious to say the least: Christian Slater, Ving Rhames, Colm Meany (we always want to do films with Star Trek: The Next Generation cast members), Sean Bean, Dominic Monaghan, and James Cromwell. How could I possibly ignore that? And how could that possibly be bad? Well, we'll see. Also, our buddy Mitch at The Video Vacuum hit this one too, so you can go there to see what he thought.
Soldiers of Fortune stars Slater as a special forces guy who's dishonorably discharged after he punches a CIA agent (Colm Meany) in Afghanistan that's about to kill a member of his unit. Poor and in need of cash, a woman comes to him with a proposition: take four billionaires into battle, bring them home alive, and the money they get will be enough for him to fix his problems and enough for her and her brother to fund the resistance to liberate the small Black Sea Island she's from from the evil regime that's terrorizing it. And it just so happens that that regime's security head is none other than Meany, Slater's old nemesis. Sounds like two birds with one stone if you ask me.
This one is pretty rough. To start with, we have this construct of training billionaires to fight that bogs the story down immediately. It's an interesting idea in theory, but in practice it's a series of bad montages with off-beat music and bad comedic asides. From there nothing else is ever developed. The baddies aren't developed, Slater isn't developed, the woman who recruits him isn't developed; all we get are these billionaires, who are not people we really want to know that well anyway, and because there are so many of them, we never get to see any of them developed well either. The problem with that is, we wonder why we're here, what the point is. If it's for the action, what we get is not all that compelling beyond a few moments here and there. For instance, when the rebel villages is raided by Meany and his men, it's supposed to be tense and action-packed, but instead we see the woman who recruited Slater running around ducking her head like we're watching a behind the scenes featurette-- it was that unconvincing. Between the plot that was a mess, and the action that was hit or miss, Soldiers of Fortune is a skip for me.
I don't know what we're doing with Christian Slater here either, because he was really good, but his character was so sauteed in wrong sauce it wasn't funny. He's playing a special forces guy that saw real action in Afghanistan trying to show these rich boys that it's not really a game out there. The thing is though, he's doing the same thing in a real life way by acting in the movie! I like the potential message to the consumer of films like this: that what you see isn't what the real thing is, and you shouldn't delude yourself into thinking seeing a bunch of action films makes you a soldier; but by having Slater be the messenger you cut his legs out from under him as a character, plus, the movie itself isn't realistic either, it's still a movie! I can't blame Slater for that though, he did his best with the role. As far as I can tell, as an actor, he hasn't had a DTV dud performance, even if some of the films like this one have been.
Here we have Sarah Ann Schultz being held by the woman who recruited Slater (if you see her real name on imdb you'll understand why I don't use it here), and I wanted to use this moment to talk about how this was indicative of a much bigger problem in the film. Schultz's character was the daughter of the colonel who runs the island, and she's introduced to us as a psychotic femme fatale, and the one real weakness of the colonel, as you can get to him through her. So we get that introduction that they go out of their way to give us at the beginning instead of getting on with the action, yet they only use it for a quick moment at a plot point near the end. Why bother if that's all you're going to do? And this was the whole film, things introduced and never fleshed out, so it's like our time is wasted constantly. The thing is, this could've been a great underpinning for a better plot: kidnap Schultz earlier, create more tension, delve deeper into the characters, and then if the action scenes are still lackluster, at least they have more purpose; and if you're not going to go in that direction, forget these big introductions that lead us to believe you will.
All right, let's try to go through this cast. Ving Rhames plays an African arms dealer, complete with a bad accent. Why make Ving Rhames into a goofball? He can't do it, he's too bad ass for us to believe it. Sauteed in wrong sauce. Colm Meany would've been a great baddie, had he been developed. He was great at the beginning, but he only has a few other scenes. Again, why are you giving him to us as this awesome baddie if you're not going to use him? Sean Bean played a metal magnate or something. He's Sean Bean if you're wondering. Dominic Monaghan played a video game designer who creates really violent video games. For some reason his character has a broken leg, but it was one of those "plot convenience theater broken legs", meaning it's broken when the plot needs it to be, and not when it's more expedient. James Cromwell plays a cell phone mogul. I think he's supposed to be the new fangled version of the Texas oil man, but, as much as he tried, it wasn't written well enough to come off. Finally, imdb says DTVC favorite Tim Abell is in this, but I didn't really see him. There's one scene that's an ad for the rich people go to war camp that Slater is recruited to work for, and I thought he could have been in there, but if that's so, it's a tiny non-speaking part. On the one hand I think it might have been for the best because this wasn't the best movie, but on the other, it would've been cool to see him in this, and cool to see him act opposite all of these great names.
Finally, I noticed this great blue bird in one of the establishing shots. When a film is the kind of slog this one was, an avian buddy like this can be a welcomed sight. I wish we had more birds in the film, because we really needed them. Just a big ol' bird sanctuary for 20 minutes of film would've been great.
Okay, I have no idea what's happening here, so I might as well wrap this up. Even with the cast, even with the quick runtime, even with the availability on Netflix, this is a skip for me. It was like a bad City Slickers paradigm, or worse, Soldier Boyz, and between the lackluster action and the bogged down plot, I was looking for all the avian friends I could find for support. Unfortunately they were few. (I believe I've officially lost my mind.)
For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1678051/