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, June 18, 2013
I was having a conversation with a buddy recently, and he asked me if I'd seen this film. He saw it on YouTube. He had no idea who Reb Brown is, but I could tell he appreciated the movie anyway, which made me all the more excited to check it out.
Mercenary Fighters is a Golan-Globus production of a Cannon film that takes place in a fictitious African country that sounds suspiciously like what was then Zaire (and now the Congo)-- Shinkasa was the capital, as opposed to Kinshasa, though how many action movie fans would know of Kinshasa anyway? Peter Fonda is a mercenary hired by the government to wipe out a local rebel tribe that stands in the way of a huge development project. In recruiting his team, he gets Ron O'Neal, a crack pilot, and his buddy, Reb Brown. Once there though, Brown and O'Neal see that these rebels are more freedom fighters, and that maybe they're on the wrong side. This feeling is only exacerbated by Brown falling for a pretty young nurse who treats the people in the surrounding villages. The problem is: siding with the rebels puts Brown directly in the way of Fonda getting his money, which is not a good idea.
This is pretty fun. There's one scene near the beginning between Brown and O'Neal, where Brown is shirtless and O'Neal is in a button-up shirt with the top five buttons un-buttoned. It might be the best scene in movie history, it's that fantastic. I did realize that Brown and O'Neal carry this film though, especially in one scene where the guys are in a helicopter shooting at a few rebels below that are running away. It's drawn out and not much happens, but the constant cuts to Brown and O'Neal reacting are more than enough to keep me interested. Then you've got the exploding huts, which I'll get to below; the fantastic Reb Brown screaming; and plenty of Cannon/Golan-Globus everything-but-the-kitchen-sink action. It's the movie you want when you see it listed on YouTube.
This might not be the best Reb Brown, but it's still pretty solid. There's one scene near the end where he gets on the back of a jeep and fires off this big gun while giving his trademark scream and trademark Cannon explosions are going off behind him. He also has plenty of other good screams, including this great one near the beginning when he and O'Neal are riding on a bus, and a guy lands a plane on the roof and climbs in through the window. O'Neal is laughing, and Brown screams at him "You knew man!" It's such a great fist pumping moment. I already mentioned that fantastic shirtless scene with O'Neal, and I don't think it's hyperbole at all to call it one of the best in movie history. Maybe best part of all: his character is constantly referred to as "The Kid", even though he was about 40 when this was made.
The late Ron O'Neal is here again, with his great, classically trained acting pedigree used for a Cannon flick doing scenes opposite Brown. This January will mark 10 years since he left us, taken too soon by pancreatic cancer. He was so good in this though, and he and Brown had great chemistry-- or perhaps he was great at carrying Brown, either way it was great to see. This isn't the first time these two worked together either. They did a 70s TV movie adaptation of Aldus Huxley's Brave New World. (I've never seen it though.)
Among the other names, there was Peter Fonda who I already mentioned. He seemed like he was mailing it in, which, in a movie like this, isn't such a bad thing. All we care about is seeing Fonda with long hair looking like Thomas Ian Griffith's older brother, speaking in smooth, aging hippie tones. The country's military leader was played by Robert DoQui, who's been in all kinds of things, most notable RoboCop and the sequels. Finally, another Space Mutiny alum, this guy, who was Santa's Number One. I have no idea what his name is, and I don't think he was credited on imdb with being in the film, and of course he doesn't have an image for his imdb page, and of course I can't remember his character name either.
Okay, so this was not 'Namsploitation, but it had a lot of hut explosions. In fact, on a lot of levels it hit the same beats of the 'Namsploitation, even though it took place in Africa. On the other hand, this wasn't an Italian directed/produced shot in the Philippines deal, this was pure Cannon Golan-Globus, which made for an interesting mix of action subgenres. On that score, this film is very fascinating for the low-budget action fan. On the other score, it's Reb Brown screaming and exploding huts.
And what more do you really need after that? With it still available on YouTube, that's the best way to go. You can also buy it on DVD from Amazon. Again, not the best Reb Brown, not the best Cannon or Golan-Globus either, but for fans of those things, a fun time and worth checking out.
For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0093525/
Thursday, June 13, 2013
This is another of the films that Kevin at MTI Video gave me, and I was very curious to check it out after I saw the trailer. It looked like a cool, low-budget horror flick, which I love getting the word out about here at the DTVC. Also, it listed John de Lancie in the credits. How do you not love John de Lancie?
Cloned: The Recreator Chronicles follows three teens who go out to a small island in upstate New York to go camping. There's a nice house on the island too, and when a thunderstorm hits, the kids run to it for shelter. When the couple who live there come home, it's trouble; but even more trouble comes when three clones of the three kids appear on the scene. What do they want? How did they get here? Can they trust them?
This wasn't bad. It's a horror film, but not in a true slasher sense, or even in a horror comedy like Evil Dead sense either. It's more like a Stephen King short story turned into a movie kind of horror film, or an extended Tales from the Crypt episode. One thing I liked was that it managed to keep an element of tension and suspense, even when we didn't have any overt action going on. The device of the kids staying in the couple's house when they aren't there worked really well in that endeavor, as did the construct of the kids and their clones interacting in the house together, especially when the two that were a couple switched partners. Speaking of that, the film never overspent that mistaken identity nickel that would've been so easy for the writer to use as a crutch with a plot like this, which I found really refreshing. All in all, not a bad deal.
Now, this movie isn't perfect, but it does do one thing well that so many movies don't do, and that's keep things interesting. Whether it's adding tension in the right places or using cinematographic elements to add suspenseful and foreboding tones, and then hitting us with some action before those things get stale. It seems simple, but so few films pull it off well. And what happens then, when I'm not bored by a long stretch of blah, is that any warts the film might have are less egregious, because the overall film is entertaining. Yes, all movies have a story in it that needs telling, but tell us in a way that keeps us on the edge of our seats because we think anything might happen. We spend all day at work or whatever listening to boring stories, the last thing we need is the same thing from our movies, and I'm glad this movie isn't like that.
I mentioned to my friend that John de Lancie was in this, and he asked if I did a fist pump when I saw his name in the credits. You know it! Frickin' Q man. For my money, one of the best characters in TV history-- at least in syndicated TV history. In that sense, seeing him in anything is fantastic. He doesn't have a big role, playing the husband in the couple that owns the house, but when he's there he's great. His character is also not doing too bad for himself either, both owning a great house on the lake, and married to a beautiful woman 25 years his junior. Maybe he's more omnipotent than we thought.
The three kids all had an interesting task each playing two different characters that were technically the same people, but not. Again, the movie never used that mistaken identity nickel, at least not until the very end, and not in the way you'd expect, so there was no pretending to be the other character for these actors, they had to be distinct, often in the same scene. I think the toughest might have been Stella Maeve's, because her two were the most similar, so the most subtly different. I don't know how old she is-- or Alexander Nifong and J. Mallory McCree, the other two actors, either--, because it's not listed on their imdb bios, but I can't imagine she's that old, meaning she probably didn't have kids in school yelling "Stella! Stella!" to her.
This film was shot in the Adirondacks, an area of the country that isn't too far away from me, but one I haven't had the opportunity to hike in. It looks great though. It's funny, when I'm out hiking, you'd think all these horror movies would come to mind, but I'm usually so tired I only think of getting back to the car. I think if I camped more I'd probably have more opportunity to think about all the horror movies I saw set in the woods-- think about Jason taking me in my sleeping bag and smashing me against a tree. I know with some of our car camping/bivouacking out in Colorado, there were some sketchy situations where I couldn't get to sleep. The question is: are we scared because we've seen so many horror movies set in remote, wooded locations, or are so many horror moves set in remote, wooded locations because they're scary places?
I'll leave you to ponder that while I wrap this up. This is available on Netflix and RedBox for DVD rental. I'd like it better for a recommendation if it were available on Netflix Instant, but still, it's not bad for a RedBox rental or something to dump in your Netflix queue. It's a little different from your usual horror fare, but if you like things like the old Tales from the Crypt episodes, you might like this. Plus, it has John de Lancie.
For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1540005/
Wednesday, June 12, 2013
This is another in the group of films Kevin at MTI Video sent me, and was probably the one I was most excited to look at. It stars DTVC favorite Kevin Sorbo, personal favorite Danielle Harris, and a couple of other familiar faces in main star Jason London and the ubiquitous Lochlyn Munro. Let's see if it lived up to that excitement.
Fatal Call has London as a guy with a past from rural Illinois who moves to St. Louis to start a new life after a buddy gets him a job at a law firm. Things are looking even better when he meets Danielle Harris at a bar, and she gives him her number. Problem is: she has a husband, and he's abusive and controlling. Now she wants London to help her out, but when he goes to her place to pick her up, he finds her husband dead and he looks like the one who did it. Will he make it out of this mess alive?
I liked this. It was a pretty fun Noir-ish suspense flick, with a good cast and a decent story. My one main complaint was that London's character vacillated between aw-shucks-schmuck and quick-thinking-resourceful-you-picked-the-wrong-guy patsy, which made the plot move unevenly. For the most part though it hit the spots you'd want in this kind of film. Harris was great as the Black Widow type; we had fun detectives in Munro and his partner Srikant Chellapa; Sorbo was deviously sinister; and the plot maintained a good balance between tension and action. In fact, I loved the device of jumping us forward and back in the story, because it kept things from getting too gummed up with the plot exposition. All in all, it's not a bad deal.
Danielle Harris was a standout for me, and I was disappointed that she wasn't used more in the film. She seemed to understand what her character was supposed to be about, but unlike some Film Noir greats, like Mary Astor in The Maltese Falcon or Lauren Bacall in The Big Sleep, where we had this Black Widow character that we knew we couldn't trust, but also knew why our hero would take a chance on her and get himself in trouble, Harris's character, who's in their tradition, is woefully underutilized. She shows up, sleeps with London, then he's in trouble and she's out. We needed more intrigue here, with her seducing him and slowly pulling him into her web, and I know from what she did with her limited role, she could've pulled it off. Either way, it was definitely cool to see her get a non-Scream Queen part and hit it out of the park.
We all love Sorbo here at the DTVC, in particular his two films with Saint James St. James, Poolboy and FDR American Badass, so anytime we can get him back here is a good thing. He's the baddie, which is a great change of pace for the usual hero he plays. I've never really thought about it, but he's a pretty big guy, and can be pretty imposing. He's also the kind of actor that can have a lot of fun as the baddie, so it was good to see him get that chance. Like Harris, it's good to see him in anything, but also like Harris, it's good to see him try something beyond the norm and excel at it.
With these two paragraphs focusing on Harris and Sorbo, I don't want to take anything away from London as the star, because as an actor, he was good playing both the schmuck and the quick thinker that his character called for, it just felt off for me to be going from one to the other with no real reason for the transition. To be honest, it felt more fun to see him in the aw shucks role, and I could see myself falling for Harris's character if I were in the same circumstance, what with her batting her eyelashes and quoting Dostoevsky at him. Unlike his character though, I'd call the cops the moment her husband showed up and assaulted me, and would've avoided all the trouble he got into.
Finally, this is London's work buddy, played by Joel Lewis. Is this guy not the next veteran character actor Kevin Dunn? He even plays a part that had Kevin Dunn written all over it. Dunn has roughly 100 more imdb credits than Lewis, so Lewis has a long way to go, but if he can get to that Dunn level, I gotta say he'll have had a pretty successful career, including work with three Oscar winning directors. Here's to you Kevin Dunn, you're one of the great ones, and hopefully you'll get there someday too Joel Lewis.
All right, enough of that. As of this posting, Fatal Call won't be out on DVD in US markets for about a month (July 23rd). If you see it on Netflix or RedBox, I'd give it a look, especially if you're interested in some of the actors. A nice little Noirish suspense flick that doesn't overdo the plot, and keeps a good action and tension quotient.
For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2059193/
Tuesday, June 11, 2013
John Cusack is one of my favorite actors. I mean, he has that iconic scene in Say Anything...; was great in one of my favorite Woody Allen movies, Bullets Over Broadway; and has tons of great roles beyond those, from Con Air to High Fidelity. Now we have an opportunity to get him on the DTVC with this film, one of two DTV flicks he's done in the past year or so. It's strange times in Hollywood.
The Numbers Game has Cusack as a CIA assassin who has a bad moment out in the field when he's forced to kill the young daughter of a mark. The CIA thinks he needs a break, so they have him work at an out-of-the-way station in the UK that transmits code via shortwave radio. His job is to protect Malin Akerman, who is the one charged with transmitting these codes to the operatives in the field. Something goes wrong though, and now Akerman and Cusack are trapped inside while someone else outside is trying to get in and get them.
This was pretty good. A large part of why it was pretty good had to do with Cusack. He sells everything as well as he did almost 30 years ago when he first started out. But it still moved at a decent pace, kept things tense and interesting in the non-action scenes, and was exciting when there was action. It wasn't perfect, but for a DTV suspense-actioner, you can't ask for much more. And, again, we had John Cusack, which made it even better. This is probably pretty nondescript without him, but with him, it's a pretty good time.
As we often do with these big Hollywood stars in DTV flicks, we look to see where the bottom fell out, or try to figure out why he or she is in a DTV flick. With Cusack, we can see that as recently as 2012 he was in the Hollywood flick The Raven, though it didn't make its budget back in US tickets, and Cusack was second choice for the main role after Ewan McGregor (as an aside, Ethan Hawke was originally cast for Cusack's role in this). He was also in The Paperboy, a major indie flick with some other big names in it that same year. I think we're seeing an age now where big names do DTV, indie, and big budget Hollywood work at the same time, that it's no longer just "oh my God, what happened to his career? He's doing DTV stuff now!" We'll see with Cusack which way it goes, but whatever he's in, I'll be curious to check it out.
This is our second Malin Akerman film, the other being Catch .44, which starred Bruce Willis and Forest Whitaker. Unlike Cusack, who was almost as big as it gets in Hollywood-- and still is pretty big--, Akerman has always straddled that line between small parts in big Hollywood flicks and big parts on TV or DTV movies. I don't know where she puts this film with Couples Retreat, where she played Vince Vaughn's wife. Is DTV a step down for her, or is working with John Cusack a step up? This definitely felt like a step up from Catch .44, and I can't imagine a woman her age didn't dream of being carried by a hunk like Cusack in a movie, so that's something.
One trend we've noticed with big Hollywood names in DTV flicks, is that they're often used as a bait and switch. This was definitely not the case here. This movie is all Cusack all the time. In fact, I saw some reviews suggest that it's too Cusack centered, to the detriment of Akerman's character. I don't know, the movie is about Cusack's character. We see inside his head, and almost the entire thing is told from his perspective. Anyway, if I had to choose, I'd rather the film be too heavy on the star, than be a bait and switch.
The other big name in this is Liam Cunningham. He's not in it as much as Cusack or Akerman, but he's there, and worth mentioning, especially for all you Game of Thrones fans out there. I never remember to watch it, so unfortunately I'm not a fan. Cunningham too has a pretty prodigious imdb bio, though his small role in this is more like the big movie star bait-and-switch, and fortunately he's not splashed all over the cover, meaning the people distributing this didn't fall victim to the lure of pandering to Game of Thrones fans. Good for you guys.
And good for you for putting out a decent movie. Cusack carries it, but Akerman is good, and the story and action hold up well too. I think this is what we want out of a DTV flick starring John Cusack, and it's a sad commentary on the current state of this kind of movie that I'm breathing a sigh of relief that it turned out okay, because we've seen so many turn out poorly. Please DTV film makers, make more like The Numbers Station.
For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1659338/
Thursday, June 6, 2013
Our friend director Jason Horton (Twitter @jhorton2003) came to me to review the new film he directed, Deceitful. We've done two of his other films before: Monsters in the Woods, which I was a little hard on, and Trap, which I really enjoyed; but with those films, Horton also wrote them. This will be a little different, because he wasn't one of the four listed writing credits, so we'll see how that goes. I know what you're thinking: "Four people on the writing credits? That's never a good sign." Open mind, open mind, open mind.
Deceitful is about Robert, played by Terry Savage, the co-owner of a lucrative company that programs apps, which are designed by Isaac (played by Fredro Starr). He's also cheating on his wife with his sister-in-law, and is selling the company behind Isaac's back. When a mysterious yet beautiful woman comes to work as his maid, will all his transgressions come to a fatal end?
Unfortunately, this looked like it was written by four people. Things were a little all over the place, characters were unevenly developed, and the action and conflict would disappear in a maze of dialog that often repeated the same information multiple times in the same conversation. Ultimately this had maybe enough material for a Silk Stalkings episode, and I think if some of the characters and moving parts were trimmed from it, it would have been a really good Silk Stalkings episode. For instance, the plot twist at the end is very predictable, which made it not work in this case, but if we're looking at two detectives investigating the aftermath and piecing together the story as we go, it would've been more compelling. A cohesive, consistent story is difficult to achieve though when so many people have their hands in writing it.
I think Jason did a great job mitigating these issues through his directing and Steve Snyder's cinematography (Mr. Snyder was also one of the four writers). Yes, there were moments where we had a series of single-face shots that might have been better with a wide shot and both parties speaking-- I don't know if he was going for an Ozu effect, or maybe the actors' agents wanted more shots of their faces on-screen, or maybe they were just added in after--, but much more often we had really great frames that upped the tension or made the scenes more stylized and sexy. There were also a lot of great establishing shots-- or to go back to Ozu again, "pillow shots"-- that added more of that Noirish atmosphere I think the writers of the film were ultimately going for. I feel like Trap was more consistent because it was both Horton's vision in the writing and the directing, but I thought he acquitted himself really well here.
This scene right here was absolutely electric. The acting, writing, and cinematography all came together in a way that created a fantastic scene. We had Nancy Gomez, who played the new maid, turning on Kalilah Harris, who played Savage's wife, after Harris slapped her. This is everything I want in a movie like this, but unfortunately the script didn't offer too many opportunities for scenes like this to happen. Tension, intrigue, just enough violence, these are the kinds of things that underpin a great suspense thriller. Whoever wrote this scene should've been the one to write the whole script. And again, cinematography, great job cutting to a close-up, cutting to a wider shot, then finishing overhead, all made it look great; and Horton as a director leaned on both actresses and allowed them to carry the scene, which they did well.
One of the problems I had with the unevenness was that we never had the right character development. Right away, we have a great sex scene between Jenn Pinto's Gabrielle and Terry Savage's Robert, which really pulls us into the film. Right after, we're focusing on Jenn Pinto in the bath tub, looking at a pregnancy test. The feeling then is that the film will be centered on her. This is only reinforced with her conversation with Savage, which hints at some intrigue between the two, and maybe a devious plan. This disappears though, and we only see Pinto once more before she comes in at the very end. Why is she so central to the beginning then? And then we're sure Savage's Robert will be the main character, only to see him disappear too as we focus on the tension between Gomez and Harris. By the time we get to the end, it's just a swingers party with the couples switching partners. Fine, whatever, but what is that doing for us? And what do we care about these characters?
We have two rappers in this, the already mentioned Fredro Starr from Onyx, and Layzie Bone from Bone Thuggs N' Harmony. Fredro had a much bigger part, and I think he was trying to go outside what's expected of him with this role, playing a software developer and not a thug. I think it would've worked, except his first scene is dialog with Savage about Savage selling the company that was mostly "But dude, you can't do this!" "But I am doing it." "But dude, we grew up together!" "I don't care, I'm selling the company." "But dude, you can't! We came up together!" "So, I'm selling the company." I was like "Oh my God, we get it! End scene!" So that's Fredro Starr as a software developer. Layzie Bone was a detective, and if you look at the cover, you get the sense that he's a detective trying to crack a case. There is no case to crack though, he just shows up at the end, and doesn't really sell the whole "I'm a detective" thing at all. Let's just say he's not Ice-T in SVU. On the other hand, I'm cool with that. If he's going to have a one-scene cameo, let it just be Layzie Bone being Layzie Bone.
Below is the pool boy. This scene he had with Savage was very Skin-a-max non-sex scene, and there was something about it that had me hoping these two would be having an affair. Instead, of course, they went paint-by-numbers pool boy hooking up with Savage's disillusioned wife. I would've loved that relationship between Savage and the pool boy though. They both have these imdb bios about how "He's always been a self-starter" or "He was this and that when the acting bug hit him", like they're these real practitioners of the craft of acting. Good, try some method acting and make out with each other. What, you don't want to do that? Why, I thought you were a professional. Seriously though, the issues this movie had with the writing wouldn't have been so bad had this been a Skin-a-max flick. Maybe if they had something like the need for a love scene every twenty minutes, it would've given the writers more focus and kept the script from the meandering dialog and back-to-back scenes where relatively nothing happens.
Finally, Dorian Gregory has a one-scene cameo at the very end, where he plays the head of the company trying to buy out Savage's. I would have thought that he'd have more imdb credits than all of the rest of the cast combined, and I'd be wrong about that, because Fredro Starr actually has 13 more than him by himself. Fredro Starr is also only 3 months younger than Gregory. Wow, who'd'a thunk it. I'm assuming Gregory was paid for one day of shooting, and they probably got him in and out as quickly as possible. Most of the shots are just of his face delivering his lines, so I wonder if they just shot him, had him read, then shipped him off. Either way, it was great seeing him, if only for a second.
Okay, so while I think Jason Horton did a solid job directing this, it couldn't overcome the fact that it was written by four people. I know with these low-budget films things happen, but that doesn't make it any easier to follow when characters that seem like they're going to be the focus of the film disappear, or when the plot becomes uneven. These are issues that can be mitigated if there's any amount of tension and intrigue, which some scenes had, but ultimately not enough to make this work. I couldn't find this on Netflix or RedBox, but it is available to buy on Amazon.
For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2706120/
Wednesday, June 5, 2013
Kevin at MTI Video approached me about screening and reviewing some of their movies, many of which are Direct to Video. I was definitely up for it, and he wanted me to start with this film. It looked like a great horror comedy, and some of my all time favorite movies, like Bad Taste and The Evil Dead, are horror comedies, so I was excited to check this one out. Let's see how it did.
Attack of the Herbals is about a Nazi experiment to make super soldiers by putting a special serum in an herbal tea. They abandoned the project when they couldn't control their subjects, and dumped a crate full of the stuff into the sea, where 70 years later it landed on the coast of Scotland. Enter Jackson MacGregor, who's kind of a stuck-up jerk, and who's forced to return to the small Scottish lobstering town of his grandparents after his wife leaves him for another woman. Things aren't well in the town, and he's not helping, which is bad, because his grandparents own the local post office, and a money-hungry land developer is trying to make them sell it because they're losing money. That's when his buddy Russell comes to him with some herbal tea he found washed up on the coast. This can't be a good idea.
Man, I wanted so bad to like this movie. It felt like a very earnest low-budget film, and it also felt like it was influenced by a lot of the older horror-comedy film makers I love. The first five minutes in the old Nazi compound were fantastic, and I had great expectations. Then the movie proceeds to grind to a halt for the next hour or so. Ugh, it was such a disappointment! I kept thinking something was going to happen, and all we got was Jackson MacGregor's pretentious scowl. Here and there there was a moment of humor, but no horror. By the time we get to the horror, on some levels it's too late, and on others, it was needed to prop up so much that wasn't happening for the hour before it, that without it being the greatest horror comedy of all time, it was doomed to fall short. I looked at director David Ryan Keith's imdb bio, and this is his first feature length film, so I think that's where the problem lies here, going from a short to 90 minutes, and trying to fill that added time. Unfortunately it didn't work for me here.
One thing I did enjoy was the great cinematography, which was also Keith, and on that score this didn't feel like a no-budget film. The problem was, with that long stretch of nothing really happening, that cinematography was wasted on things like Russell and MacGregor carrying on a banal conversation. We needed that cinematography making its money on some sweet kills, some rising tension, and some comedic horror punchlines. That's the thing, from a technical standpoint a movie can be great, but the story is everything, and in either a comedy or a horror film, the story needs to play out like a musical, with a kill or comedic bit happening every fifteen minutes or so.
One of the weird things about that hour where nothing much was happening, was that we had a lot of plot exposition that didn't really add anything to the plot. For instance, MacGregor and Jenny's relationship was never explored, just hinted at, then suddenly they're thrown together at the end. We also don't know exactly why MacGregor is such a douche. I'm not sure these things would've been so bad though if we'd had some kills sprinkled throughout, but because we didn't, this dialog needed carry the film. You'd have to be an Oscar winning script writer like Woody Allen if you hoped to pull that off. Why put that on yourself, when you can just kill some people.
I should point out as an American, that there is a rule regarding various native speaking English language accents that allows more leeway for this kind of talking over action approach to movie making. Scottish ranks high on that list, probably after English/Welsh and Australian/New Zealand, meaning a five-minute stretch in American or Canadian English that has nothing going on in it, can be a ten or fifteen minute stretch in Scottish English. And I definitely started to feel it at the 20 to 25-minute mark that the film was losing me, as the novelty wore off. That's the thing, with us Americans, you can get away with so much more with your Scottish accents and we'll still love it, and you still lost me.
I want to finish with how this movie is being marketed. I keep hearing "zombie" film, and while these people go insane, they aren't exactly zombies. I feel like people are trying to cash in on the zombie craze, and they're sucking in everything that could possibly fit, so something like this is mislabeled. Hey, if this gets a no-budget movie like this into more hands, especially hands like mine from across the pond, more power to you. You gotta do everything you can.
And that makes it all the harder that I can't recommend this. It's not available at RedBox or Netflix, but you can buy it from Amazon. There's potential here, and it had its moments, but overall I'm staring at an hour with no horror and only a few comedic bits, which just isn't enough to carry a film like this for me.
For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1948521/
Tuesday, June 4, 2013
This is one I've been looking to do for a long time, and now that it's on Netflix Instant, it was a no-brainer. It's always good to make our way through more of Cuba Gooding Jr.'s DTV oeuvre, and he seems to be getting better with his stay at the DTV Hotel, even rubbing shoulders with long time residents like Dolph Lundgren. Let's see how this one turned out. Also, our friends at The Video Vacuum and Explosive Action have looked at this one too, so you can go there to check those out.
The Hit List has Gooding as a government hit man suffering from a terminal illness he got from his contact with depleted uranium. He decides to go out with a bang, starting with the murder of a popular right wing TV pundit. He then bumps into Cole Hauser at a bar, right after Hauser gets passed over for a promotion at his job because a rival stole his idea, and he catches his wife in bed with his best friend. After a few pops, Gooding suggests he make a list of five people he wants dead, and Hauser, thinking this a joke, obliges. Problem is, Gooding wasn't kidding, and now Hauser has to stop him before he kills all the people on the list.
This is a tough one. On the one hand, you had this great Hitchcockian Strangers on a Train dynamic, which was made all the better with Gooding's amazing, chilling performance. On the other, we had this bad action element that, at best came off silly, and at worst-- especially at the end-- completely derailed the film. This needed to be reeled in, stripped down, and instead of silly bad action, focused on the performances of Gooding, Hauser, and Jonathan LaPaglia, who played the police detective. Now I realize in saying that that I usually applaud bad action, and this is exactly the kind of thing PM Entertainment would've done with a movie like this, probably with Wings Hauser in Gooding's role, and probably with tons of bad, unabashed action goodness. I think what would've made the PM Entertainment one better though, is it would've hinted at the Hitchcockian thriller aspect, but gone right for the everything-but-the-kitchen-sink action aspect. This movie went more for the Hitchcockian aspect, and devolved into the bad action, which for me is why it ultimately doesn't work. But it's a close call.
And it's a close call primarily on the strength of Cuba Gooding Jr. This is your Oscar winner right here. I think too that, because of how he was typecast in Hollywood, this is the kind of role he wouldn't have gotten in a big budget picture, but that he's allowed to do here in the world of DTV-- which is probably why he does DTV flicks. The other thing is that this is one of the few DTV flicks that had enough meat on it that he could really take this role and flex his acting muscle-- though even then the bad action devolution hurt him too. The key is, he knows how to make crazy scary, not silly, and the result is something downright chilling. This is easily his best DTV performance.
I couldn't help thinking that Cole Hauser's father would've been great in Gooding's role. How many psychos has Wings played? And he's always great as one too, isn't he? I had no idea that Cole is as young as he is. He's only like four years older than me. I think his part was hurt even more by the bad action than Gooding's. I would've preferred a real suspense thriller ratcheting up of the tension in his life due to Gooding killing everyone, as opposed to this silly bad action construct where everything devolves out of control. It essentially lets Hauser's character off the hook, which I think was an easy way out.
Let's look at the devolution, because I'm not sure the film makers knew what they were doing here. First off, 18-20 police officers are killed off. How are Hauser and his wife's characters' lives more important than theirs? Just because they're the stars? It got a little ridiculous. Second, the news report after the denouement calls the massacre a "hostage situation", again acting like the only bad thing that happened was the trouble Hauser and his wife went through. 20 innocent police officers were massacred, that's the story. 24 hours of death and destruction carried out by Gooding's character, not Hauser and his hit list. And when we think about the way mass shootings are covered, it would be called the Tragedy in Spokane, and sporting events would commemorate it and honor the victims with patches on their shirts, along with concerts held to raise money for the victim's families and rebuilding the police station. I'm not poking fun at how we deal with tragedy, I'm making the point that this film devolved to such a degree, that what happened to our main characters became secondary by a wide margin.
There are two other actors I want to mention in this before I wrap this up. First, Jonathan LaPaglia, brother Anthony, played the detective investigating the case. In a Hitchcockian thriller, he would've been a great character, piecing together the evidence, a real Film Noirish type hero. Here, because things moved so fast, he's really solving everything right away, and never gets to be what he should've been, despite the fact that before the bad action aspect takes over, he really was that detective we wanted. The second is Ginny Weirick, who played Hauser's wife. I thought she looked familiar, and found out she was in the George Takei flick Ninja Cheerleaders, as one of the cheerleaders. Even her character starts out great, and then as the film goes on the writing lets her down, especially through a plot twist that I felt removed a lot of the nuance from her character.
All right, enough of this, let's wrap things up. Cuba Gooding Jr. is great here, and the film starts out in a really solid way. For me, the bad action element was enough to derail it, but might not be for some. I think the availability on Netflix Instant, combined with a nice 90-minute running time, make it worth a look just to see how good Gooding can be, and what a true bonus it is for us that Hollywood can't give him the roles he wants, so he's forced to do DTV movies.
For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1575694/