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.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Ambushed (2013)

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As always, when there's a new Dolph flick on Netflix Instant, we need to make it happen here at the DTVC.  Before we did it here though, we featured it on a podcast, hoping to build on the Dolph goodwill we created with Jamie when we looked at Puncture Wounds.  Also, as an action film, this was a great time to get Ty and Brett from Comeuppance Reviews on the pod, long time friends of the site and purveyors of a great site themselves.  Based on the trailers and synopses, this looked like a great DTV Dolph actioner, so based on the trailers and synopses, this couldn't fail, right?

Ambushed is about an extremely unlikable guy named Frank, who's a scam artist who thinks he's cooler and smarter and more interesting than he is.  He decides to steal a bunch of drugs from someone big, Vinnie Jones, and then sell them and make a big score.  Randy the Natural Couture is local detective who wants to lean of Frank to get some cash, and Dolph is a DEA agent who wants to figure out who Frank is and take him down.  They're on a collision course to shaky-cam and Timbaland-rip-off early-2000s double-beated wackiness.

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Wow.  We've seen Dolph bait-and-switches, and we've seen Netflix synopsis bait-and-switches, but never a trailer-synopsis-Dolph bait-and-switch all in one.  I mean, there was no indication anywhere that this would be following the uninteresting tale of an annoying all-American jackass who plays video games while saying things like "that's grimy dude."  Who thought this was a good idea?  Who thought this would be a good movie?  The trailer would have been a good movie.  The synopsis would have been a good movie.  This was bad.  First and foremost, plot gets in the way.  Also, action scenes filled with shaky-cam.  Again, Dolph bait-and-switch, by far the worst we've seen here.  Finally, unlikable hero-- I mean really unlikable.  The character would have been great as the local sleaze-fest that Dolph or Couture goes to for information or who tries to rip off Vinnie Jones and is killed for it, but not as your lead.  This film may have the distinction of being the worst Dolph film we've ever done.

This review comes at an interesting time in sports, because Derek Jeter is retiring and, though the hype surrounding it has been insufferable, it creates an apt comparison with Dolph's DTV career.  One of the many great stats Jeter had was that none of the teams he played on finished below .500.  Yes, a large part of that is due to the Yankees' enormous resources, but still, Jeter was always on a team that won more than it lost.  The same can be said for Dolph I think.  Even when his films were bad, they weren't Red Sox 2012 bad-- until now.  The thing is we can't blame Dolph for that, because he was great in the role he had-- which made this worse, because we wanted more Dolph and less jackass guy, and instead we got more of the latter.  This was a Dolph bait-and-switch in the truest sense of the word, because it is sold almost completely as a Dolph vehicle, and nothing could be further from the truth.

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Again, we've seen bait-and-switches before.  The term was coined originally for Rutger Hauer, because the early-to-mid 2000s were rife with Hauer bait-and-switches, where he would be splashed all over the cover, only to appear for 5 minutes of actual film time.  This wasn't so bad as far as Dolph screen time, but the fact that we also had a plot bait-and-switch from not only the Netflix synopsis but the trailer bait-and-switch, combined with the character they bait-and-switched for, and what we have is the most egregious bait-and-switch of all time.  I guess you can't do a trailer that says "follow jackass Frank as he reminds you of every douchebag jerk you've ever encountered in a casino or nightclub or Starbucks.  You will be astounded by how well this douchebaggery is captured on film, with every shaky cam and not-so-clever screenwipe.  Also, Dolph Lundgren, Randy Couture, and Vinnie Jones all have small parts."

To give you an idea of just how much of a douche this main character is, I made list of things his character either does, or you figure he'd do if given the chance.  I already mentioned when he said "that's grimy dude!"  In that same scene he also said "hey man, this isn't high school", yet proceeds to live his life as if he's still in the social construct of high school.  We all know that guy right, the "this isn't high school" guy who always acts like he's still in high school.  We can assume that he'd also be the "Facebook sucks and is full of losers" guy who uses Facebook all the time and always comments on people's stuff, and the only reason why he hates it is no one likes of comments on his vacuous 5-times-a-day status updates.  Other things he might do: say "I never eat that shit at McDonald's" when he always eats at McDonald's; smokes Parliaments, calls them "P-Funks", and doesn't inhale; calls women "grenades", and also quotes Wedding Crashers when describing his interactions with women; and finally, every decision in his life is a "big decision", and he needs to talk about it incessantly.  Does this sound like the kind of guy you want to base your film around?

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To make matters worse, we get this tool's self-indulgent narration throughout the film, which is like being cornered at a party with him when you go to the drink table to refill you and your wife's beverages and you're like "Jesus Christ I don't care about your fantasy football team and whether or not you should start this guy over that guy!", and really, all you're doing is exchanging this insipid conversation for insipid monologues about how he thinks he's getting over on everyone and has all these great plans. He doesn't, he's a douchebag who is going to start Robert Griffin III on Sunday, call him RGIII, and pound Miller Lites and boneless Buffalo wings while he feigns anger among his "boys" when Griffin throws three picks.  With each bad monologue, I tuned out and looked at the local ShopRite circular.  Deals that week included: pork roll for $1.88, La Yogurt probiotics 10 for $5, CrazyArt crayons 5 for $2, and my favorite, Elio's Pizza for $1.99. Also, I wanted to mention, the guy above is not the main character, he's this guy from an old Coke commercial who said "Yo, it's 'Deluxe' son!", and my buddy and I used to say that all the time as a joke, so I thought it was great to see him in here.  "It's deluxe son!"

If I'm telling you what I read in a circular two months ago, I need to wrap this up.  It was a unanimous "no" across the board, and will go down as the most egregious bait-and-switch and worst Dolph film in the history of the DTVC.  Never seen anything like it.  I want to thank Ty and Brett again for being on the show, remember you can always check them out at Comeuppance Reviews, and you can always check Jamie and I out live every Wednesday from 8-9 EDT at www.mixlr.com/2nd-unit, and can download the podcasts after on Talkshoe at http://www.talkshoe.com/tc/134494 or on iTunes, just type in DTVC Podcast and subscribe.

For the Ambushed episode, right click here and click "save link as". (Beware, there were some technical difficulties with this episode.)

For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2497808/

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Ninja II aka Ninja: Shadow of a Tear (2013)

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This is a movie that I'd been looking to get to for some time, so when I started doing the DTVC podcast with Jamie, I saw this as a great opportunity to make it happen.  On this episode we also had long time friend of the site Karl Brezdin at Fist of the B-List, who has a great site and was a great contributor to the pod.  Speaking of friends of the site, our friend Mitch at The Video Vacuum also covered this, so you can go there to see what he thought of this flick.

Ninja II is a sequel to the first Ninja, where Isaac Florentine and Scott Adkins team up again to give us 90 minutes of pure awesome.  Adkins's wife, Mika Hijii, is killed by a bad person, and Adkins naturally wants revenge.  His revenge leads him to Thailand and the ninja dojo of friend Kane Kosugi.  Turns out these killers are linked to a drug ring operating out of Myanmar run by Shun Sugata, which is where our ninja is headed to take care of business so bad that Myanmar is knocked back to being called Burma.

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As I said, this is 90 minutes of pure awesome.  Jamie loved it so much she watched it twice and put that pic of Adkins from the film beheading the baddie as her Facebook banner.  All the complaints I made about the first one were erased.  We had no Adkins running away, we had all Adkins as a bad ass performing in great fight scene after great fight scene.  There is no shaky cam here, no special effects cheating, just good ol' fashioned well choreographed and well performed martial arts battles.  For my money, this is one of the few modern flicks that can take the Pepsi Challenge with any of the greats from the 80s and 90s.

Let's start with Mr. Adkins, because he was perfect in the lead, and perfect as all of our new celebrity crushes.  Jamie loved him, and you can see why.  He's someone who grew up in the 80s like the rest of us loving the films we love, and as such he brings that kind of commitment to the role, which comes out in the final project.  When talking about who might be the head of the next wave to take over after the old guard retires (or we get sick of them!), Scott Adkins needs to be at the top of the list with Michael Jai White.   The one thing I think we do need more of though: Adkins with his natural English accent.

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Isaac Florentine has been directing great martial arts actions films for some time now, and seeing this I was reminded of just how important he is in keeping DTV action films the way we want them: good fights, well-choreographed and well-shot, and not a pile of shaky cam where we can't see and which is covering up for substandard fight scenes.  Isaac Florentine, like Adkins, is a fan of martial arts films, in particular Hong Kong films from the 70s, and that shows in the way his films are done.  We need to show these studios that we need more legit directors like Isaac Florentine, Albert Pyun, and John Hyams making these films; that it's not good enough to just throw a stuntman or set designer in for his or her first ever directorial debut, nor good enough to go in after the director is finished and edit the hell out of it. We need to speak with our wallets and support more Ninja IIs.

I want to go back to the discussion on Adkins being the next guard, and really overall the future of the action genre, not only in the DTV world, but also on the big screen.  Since the Bourne Identity, where deft split screen edits were used to turn Matt Damon into an action lead, action films have been following suit, making action stars out of non-action folk, most notably now Liam Neeson; but also has allowed older action stars like Steven Seagal and Sylvester Stallone a longer action film shelf life.   How does a Scott Adkins break into the mainstream in this environment?  He gets a part as the baddie's number 1 henchman in Expendables 2, and that's about the extent of it.  Is DTV and Isaac Florentine flicks the best we can do?  And on some levels, is that maybe better?  I don't know, I think we need to get to a point where we're not just rumoring about Scott Adkins as Batman, but it's a reality.

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Among the other stars in the film, as I mentioned above Mika Hijii returns to reprise her role from part 1.  It's a very small part, and she gets most of her screen time in flashbacks.  I have a hunch that if there's a third one, she'll be back, having used some kind of ninja magic to fake her death.  You can't keep Mika Hijii away that long.  As we mentioned above, Kane Kosugi plays Adkins's buddy.  He's fantastic as well, and like many actions fans, we've been rockin' with him for a long time, since he (and we) were very young in the early 80s and he was in his father's, Sho Kosugi's, films.  When talking about Adkins potentially heading the next class of action stars to take over from the old guard, you need to put Kane Kosugi in there as well.  His final scene with Adkins was spectacular.  Finally, the great Shun Sugata plays the main baddie, and he's fantastic as well.  Among the 100-plus films to his credit, the only other one we've done here is Bunraku, but I'm sure readers will know him for a variety of other things, from The Last Samurai to Kill Bill and Ichi the Killer.

Is there any question about where I'm going on this one?  It's a must, especially now while it's on Instant.  This is one of the best action films, DTV or otherwise, in the past ten years or so.  Go check it out, or if you're like Jamie, you can go see it again, it's that good.  I want to thank Karl again for coming on the podcast.  Remember, you can check him out at Fist of the B-List.  And as far as Jamie and I, you can check us out as always live on the DTVC Podcast from 8-9pm Eastern every Wednesday at www.mixlr.com/2nd-unit, and download the podcasts not only from our Talkshoe page at http://www.talkshoe.com/tc/134494, but now we're also on iTunes!  Just type in "DTVC Podcast" into the search, and subscribe.

For the Ninja II episode, right click here and select "save link as".

For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2458106/

Monday, August 11, 2014

We Are What We Are (2013)

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After Jamie and I did Puncture Wounds, which I didn't see as the best thing ever, and considering on top of that our first film was Mega Shark vs. Mecha Shark, I wanted to give Jamie the opportunity to pick the film for our podcast (I know, how magnanimous of me!), and after a false start with a film that Jamie chose and decided to pull the plug on, she chose this one.  Also on the podcast episode we had long-time friend of the blog Mitch from The Video Vacuum, who not only discussed the film with us, but also discussed the new book he has out about his blog, The Best and Worst of the Video Vacuum, which you can go here to buy. You can get it through Amazon in both papaerback and Kindle.  Definitely worth checking out.

We Are What We Are is about a family in rural Ohio who own a trailer park and are having trouble making ends meet.  When the mother dies in a tragic accident, it's up to the two teen daughters in the family to become the women in the family, and that includes making the family meals.  At the same time, there has been a series of missing women in the area, one of whom is medical examiner Michael Parks's daughter.  After a huge rain storm floods the area and washes away some of the soil, Parks discovers a human bone, and gets suspicious.  Could it be linked to the family and their family meals?

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This is an interesting one.  From a horror standpoint, it's not goofy, it's not overly gory, yet it has some punch too, it's not just all suspense and leaving things to the imagination.  I don't want to throw around cliche terms like "Hitchcockian", but there are a lot of great elements like that in here, great shots, great scenes that build the suspense, and even though we know what's going to happen before it happens, there's still enough "what's going to happen next?" to make this work well.  Also, compared to a Mega Shark vs. Mecha Shark, this is no afterthought, no rush job either, this is competently and earnestly made, which I think has to count for something.  The key for me is two things: first, it's about 15-20 minutes too long, which doesn't sound like a lot, but in a movie can be a big drain; and second, this is not a horror film for everyone, in fact, I don't think it's a horror film for all horror fans.  I think if you read this review, and you listen to the pod, and this sounds like the kind of film you would enjoy, go check it out; otherwise, you may want to skip it.

Jamie loves this film, and I can totally see why.  It does a great job of not hitting you over the head with horror, but at the same time having some crazy, horror scenes that makes this more than just all subtlety.  For me what I loved was how it combined the elements from the great Hitchcock films of the 50s and 60s, while at the same time had those 80s horror elements that I look for when I see "horror" listed as the genre.  Also, this is story driven, yet at the same time, other than being 15 minutes long, it doesn't get bogged down in the story.  Most of the scenes add to the tension, and there are very few moments where we're like "why aren't you killing someone? I'm watching a horror film for God's sake!", which I think is important when a horror director asks us to put our faith in him or her to go with them in a film like this.  Again, the key is, do you want to go with the film maker on this trip?  Do you want a change of pace in your horror flicks?

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Michael Parks is as good as ever in this.  His role is not a leading part, though he is the driving force in discovering how our family is involved in all the area killings.  Whether Parks is doing bad material, like in Wicked, or working with something more earnest like he is here, he delivers the same great, professional performance.  What I love about him in a film like this is that he adds that level of legitimacy that it needs simply by being him.  Maybe another character actor would mail it in in the same position, but he doesn't, and that means a lot in a lower-budget indie movie.

Among the other actors in the film, we had Kelly McGillis of Top Gun fame.  I think it's great to see her here after all the these years, and I know she's been doing other stuff recently too, so that's great too.  The family were all great actors as well, between the daughters, Ambyr Childers and Julia Garner, and the father, our villain, played by Bill Sage.  All of them were nominated for Chainsaw Awards for their performances, and Julia won at the Austin Fantastic Filmfest.

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One of the things we discussed in the pod, is the role the DTV market will play in our future as film fans.  Not only that, but Netflix Instant and the ability to stream these films on our computers or TVs relatively easily.  Other than the Riff Trax Sharknado, I haven't been to the theater in a long time, but can I see any of the modern major release horror films delivering what this film delivered?-- and I didn't even consider this to be a total home run.  Growing up, the video store played a very important role in my movie fandom, and especially my horror movie fandom; but the movie theater can't be discounted either.  Whether we were getting signed in by our parents, or later when I was old enough to see them on my own, there was something about the horror film in the theater that you can't replicate on a computer or TV as much as you try.  But if all I get is Paranormal 33 and 1/3 or Saw XVI, I don't really have much choice.  I don't know if this is the kind of movie that gets me back in the theater, but the fact that what's out there now is markedly worse than this, is troubling.

For me this is one to see, but, again, just know it's not your average horror film, and if what you read here isn't piquing your interest, I would skip it.  On the other hand, if you're looking for something different, and you have some time to kill, you could do a lot worse this one on Netflix Instant.  I want to thank Mitch again for being on the show, and remember, you check out his book, the Best and Worst of the Video Vacuum, on Amazon now.  As far as us, you can listen to Jamie and I do the DTVC Podcast every Wednesday live from 8-9pm EDT at www.mixlr.com/2nd-unit, and you can download our five most recent episodes from the RSS feed on the site, or our archives at http://www.talkshoe.com/tc/134494.

For part one of the episode, right click here and select "save link as", and for part two (the last 15 minutes) right click here.

For more info:  http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2309021/

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Re-Animator (1985)

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This is one I'd been meaning to do for a long time, and after I asked Jamie if she'd like to be my full-time co-host at the DTVC Podcast, I thought I'd offer this one up as our first one to do, because she's more of a horror person, and to make up for the woefully painful Mega Shark vs. Mecha Shark that she had to endure for our first episode together.  Also on the episode of the podcast was longtime friend of the blog Fred the Wolf from Full Moon Reviews.  You may remember that I lost a bet to him when my Pats lost to his Giants in the Super Bowl, and as a result had to review Do You Wanna Know a Secret? with Joey "Joseph" Lawrence and Teen Star Chad Allen.  This was a much better collaborative effort between he and I here I think.

Re-Animator stars the legend, Jeffrey Combs, as Herbert West, a med student who has just transferred from Switzerland after his professor dies in a horrible accident.  Turns out the prof bit it after he and West tried a reincarnating serum that didn't work so well.  West thinks he's perfected it though, so he moves back to the States and in with Bruce Abbott, who himself is looking to finish med school and marry his sweetheart, Barbara Crampton.  At the same time, their professor, one David Gale, is also an expert in the field of brain surgery and keeping brains alive.  He's a creepfest and doesn't get along with West.  One thing leads to another, and we find ourselves in a showdown between David Gale's reanimated head and his army of reanimated corpses versus West and Abbott.  It's a bloodbath carnival.

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This is a classic for good reason, and I think a very necessary recovering flick after Mega Shark vs. Mecha Shark.  This has everything you want in a good horror flick: silliness, creepiness, great characters, gore everywhere, and a nice runtime (of course I had to mention the runtime!).  Combs and Gale are perfect as, I don't know, two villains, hero and villain?  Both exude charisma, something we take for granted when making movies, but something that's very important.  We also had a story that worked well from start to finish, didn't have too many moving parts, yet kept things interesting throughout with few dull moments.  For what should be a silly 80s horror flick, we also have a surprising amount of nuance, which is always great to see.  The other thing I loved was the ending.  It was like a fireworks finale on the 4th of July.  The film did a great job with that, building up the gore, the tension, everything, so that when we get to that moment we're looking for a big payoff, and it more than delivered.  This was a unanimous hit among all three of us, and for good reason.

Combs is the perfect place to start here.  What more can we say about him that hasn't already been said?  And this is his signature role, the one that most people know him for.  At this point he's a veteran character actor with over 120 credits to his name, and he's always great in whatever he does, even if the film itself isn't.  Here though we have the perfect marriage of good material and Combs's skill-set.  He's does both creepy and sympathetic well.  He commands every scene he's in-- except the ones with David Gale, where they both command them together and are great to see.  We're more likely now to see him in a low-budget DTV horror flick bait-and-switch with his name all over the cover for only ten minutes of screen time, but it's how he was in this that keeps us renting and watching, looking forward to even those scant ten minutes to see him do his thing.

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Whereas Combs's Herbert West character is possibly either baddie or hero, David Gale's Dr. Carl Hill is out-and-out villain, and he's fantastic.  He channels that 60s creeper villain perfectly, in that Vincent Price mold, and it's there in everything he does.  It's like ghoulish-ness, like he might talk about the "Monster Mash", but at the same time it's not silly at all, purely horror villain, and it works so well.  What's great too is that we have the dark humor element of him with his animated head in a metal pan while he instructs his headless body to do things, so we're laughing about how great that is, while at the same time he's that scary villain we hate and want to see vanquished.  It's things like that that make a movie like this such a classic.

Rounding out the cast, we had Barbara Crampton, who is great in this and who everyone loves.  She's often the lone voice of reason, and also she's really put through the ringer in the finale.  Bruce Abbott we've seen here at the DTVC in a flick called Interzone, in which he plays the hero in some post-Apocalyptic wasteland.  He was great in that, and great here, though I was wondering here if he wasn't originally supposed to be the hero and sympathetic character and West more of a baddie.  Jamie and Fred were of the opinion that no, West was definitely the hero of the film, however misguided he may be.  It was just another one of those nuances the film had that added unexpected depth.

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I saved Robert Sampson, who played Dean Halsey, Barbara Crampton's father, for this paragraph, because I wanted to discuss something here about killing off characters.  Sampson's character is a total dick, and a total dick to Abbott especially.  Also he's in bed with the evil Gale because Gale brings money to the university he's the president of.  Usually when a character is a dick, we can't wait to see him bite it, but the way Sampson bites it is a bit harsh.  First he's killed when one of West's reanimated corpses crushes him with a metal door in the morgue.  Then he's reanimated by West.  Then Gale lobotomizes him so he can control him and keep him in a straight jacket in a padded room.  Finally, as he's watching Gale's disarticulated head violate his daughter, he snaps out of it and goes crazy.  Jamie and Fred were on the fence about this, but I felt like it was a tough ride for anyone, even if the guy was a total dick.

You don't need me to tell you this is a total yes.  Forget the fact that it's currently on Netflix, you should own a Blu-Ray of it or a special edition DVD-- I know I need to too.  But the fact that it is on Netflix is good, and if you haven't seen this before, or haven't seen it in a long time, you need to check it out.  As far as checking us out, we're on live every Wednesday from 8-9PM EDT at www.mixlr.com/2nd-unit, and if you miss an episode you can get the most recent 5 on the RSS feed here on the site, and for the archives of all the past episodes, you can go here: http://www.talkshoe.com/tc/134494.  Also thank you again to Fred the Wolf for joining us, he did a great job, and was very patient with how long it took me to get the archives of the episodes up.  Remember to check him out at Full Moon Reviews, and I want to thank him also for putting our episode up on his site as well.

For the episode where we discuss this film, right click here and select "save link as".

For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0089885/

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Puncture Wounds aka A Certain Justice (2014)

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I'd seen that this was out for a bit, but when it became available on Netflix it was really on my radar.  I mean, anyone who's been rockin' with the DTVC for any amount of time knows that anything with Dolph Lundgren will automatically be on my radar, and Netflix Instant makes it even better.  We covered this one on the pod as well.  This marked Jamie's second episode as full-time co-host, and her first dip in the Dolph Lundgren pool-- always exciting!; also we had long-time friend of the site Richard Pierce on, to talk not only about the film, but to let us know about his new film, Sector 4: Extraction, which he wrote, and which stars DTVC Hall of Famer Olivier Gruner.  We'll definitely be doing that one in the near future.  But for now, it's Dolph time.

Puncture Wounds stars Dolph as a nasty baddie who's into white slavery, meth cooking, and looking like Danny Trejo.  Cung Le is an Iraq War vet with PTSD who happens to see woman of the night Briana Evigan getting roughed up by her pimps out in the parking lot of his dive hotel.  He comes to her defense and kills the pimps, which was a mistake because those pimps were just low-level guys working for Dolph.  So Dolph has Le's family burned alive in a van for revenge, and Cung Le takes out Dolph's whole operation in response.  A simple tit for tat.

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This movie is dark, and more dark than action flick.  It has some good action, for sure, but it seems to be more focused on being dark.  Rich and I were discussing that, because we both prefer our action PM Entertainment style: simple, fun, and full of explosions.  What this movie did have that worked was a cohesive plot without too many angles that tried to keep things moving.  Dolph was great as the baddie, Cung Le was Cung Le as the hero, and our supporting cast of Vinnie Jones and Gianni Capaldi were solid too.  Jamie, coming from a horror background, appreciated the darker aspects of the film more than we did, so perhaps that's the best way to look at this one: an action flick for people who like their movies a little darker.  A spray tanned action film, if you will.

Speaking of "if you will", what I certain "will" is Dolph.  Great baddie.  Between his work as a pimp/white slaver and the fact that he orders Le's family to be burned alive, this film manages to avoid the Destro Effect, which is not always easy when you cast Dolph as a baddie, especially opposite someone like Cung Le.  Even as despicable as that character was, there was still a part of me that rooted for Dolph to beat Cung Le at the end of the film.  They also tried hard by making him look like Danny Trejo.  Danny Trejo is in so many things though now that you can't really make a character look like him and expect us to say "oh, definitely baddie."  I thought maybe he was going to kill zombies, or do commercials for pre-packaged tacos.  Can you see Dolph doing that?  "What're you makin' your kids for dinner tonight?  Try our new stand-n'-stuff hard tacos and unleash the fun..."

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As we've discussed on here before, fellas like Dolph are not getting any younger, and we need a next generation to step in and fill the void.  We've looked at great guys like Michael Jai White and Scott Adkins in the past, but it seems here that Cung Le is also being tapped for that purpose.  I think the main problem with this film is that his character has no personality whatsoever.  He was good and a lot of fun in Dragon Eyes, which, as a film, was more of a mess than this one was, but at the very least shows us that Le is capable of more if the character is right.  What I'd like to see from him is a straight ahead PM Entertainment style DTV actioner that really shows us what he can or can't do.  And less UFC-esque martial arts too. I don't need my martial arts in a movie to be realistic, I need them to look good.  More kicks, fewer rear naked choke holds.

Among the others in the film, we had the incomparable Vinnie Jones.  He's a bad guy in this, but maybe not as much of a baddie?  He also has a fun scene being tortured by Cung Le.  Gianni Capaldi was something of a revelation.  We saw him in Blood of Redemption, and his character was all over the place and we were wondering why he was there.  Here he was great, got to use his native Scottish accent, had fun with the role, and also added some depth to it when it was required.  Rich mentioned that he's also in Ambushed, so I'll have to check that out too-- obviously it's a Dolph flick, so we'll definitely be checking it out.  Finally, Briana Evigan played the prostitute in need of redemption... or not, I don't really know.  Her character was more of an afterthought but it was one of those afterthoughts that's sold to us as not an afterthought, so when we get to the end the film makers are like "of course you care about what happens to her, right?"  It was kind of a disappointment, because she was fairly solid in Stash House.

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Finally, I often talk about a film being "faux dark", or that their darkness is grafted on, like an otherwise goofy actionfest suddenly becomes "dark" by cutting a finger or ear off with a pair of garden shears.  This film had none of that, no extremities cut off, but was legitimately dark.  I can get behind dark as an identity, what I don't like is this faux dark thing that many modern DTV flicks do, and I think this movie is a good break from that.  One place though where I couldn't go with them though was in killing off Le's friend.  It's one of the worst action film tropes anyway: person who helps hero meets tragic demise for his or her trouble; but I thought here they had mitigated it properly: the friend, an old war buddy, suffering from the fact that he lost his leg, is given a chance at a warrior's death in helping his friend carry out his revenge.  Instead, he's captured by the baddies and dies on his knees when a tool bag henchman character with a gross douchebag haircut stabs him through the neck.  Really?  I expected more out of you movie, and you really let me down there.

Overall though this movie wasn't much of a let down.  It wasn't the greatest thing ever, but it wasn't horrible either.  Dolph was sweet as the baddie, and the darker feel worked.  At least while it's on Netflix it might be worth checking out.  Also worth checking out is the new film that our buddy Rich wrote, Sector 4: Extraction, starring Olivier Gruner.  It's out now on Amazon on DVD and streaming.  As far us, you can check us out live on the podcast every Wednesday from 8-9pm at www.mixlr.com/2nd-unit, and if you miss an episode, the RSS feed on the blog has the five most recent episodes, and all the archives are at http://www.talkshoe.com/tc/134494.

For the episode where we discuss this film, right click here and click "save link as".

For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2909476/

Monday, July 21, 2014

Mega Shark vs. Mecha Shark (2014)

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After doing the Drunk on VHS podcast a second time with Moe and Jon from the After Movie Diner, where we discussed the Rutger Hauer flick The Blood of Heroes-- among other things-- Moe offered me my own podcast slot in the 8-9pm hour on Wednesday nights.  I was excited for the opportunity, but for that first show, I didn't have much time to prepare or get a guest.  Fortunately, Moe connected me with Jamie Jenkins, of the podcasts Lycan In!, Devour the Podcast, Evil Episodes, and the Skeleton Crew, and she was willing to sit in with me for my inaugural episode-- a podcasting midwife, as she called it!  Anyway, because we had a short time to prepare, I figured we'd do a quickie Asylum flick on Netflix, and I chose this one because it starred one of my Asylum faves, Debbie "Deborah" Gibson.  Let's see how it turned out.

Mega Shark vs. Mecha Shark stars Elizabeth Rohm of Law and Order fame and Christopher Judge of House Party 2 fame as two experts of some sort called into action when another prehistoric mega shark has been thawed and is threatening our seas.  Their solution: a submarine that's shaped like a shark and has a computer that sounds like KITT from Knight Rider.  Now the angry mega shark is in heat, looking get a piece worse than The Situation in an early episode of The Jersey Shore, but instead of being a dick to his roommates, he's destroying aircraft carriers.  Can our heroes and their shark shaped submarine save the day?

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My girlfriend (soon to be wife) wanted to watch this one with me, thinking it was going to be a fun time, and about 7 minutes in she was browsing Tumblr on her phone.  That just about sums up Mega Shark vs. Mecha Shark right there.  Of course, as your faithful DTV Connoisseur, I sat through the following 78 minutes of pain and ennui, trying to make sense of things.  One thing Jamie mentioned right away was that this should have been, and we both thought we were getting, a Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla shark extravaganza.  As Fred Willard said in Best in Show: "No-brainer right?  Turns out, not so."  Instead we got a shark-shaped submarine that made the penguin-shaped sub in the Batman movie look serious, and did nothing more than self-destruct at the end of the film and take the shark with it.  That's all ya got?  A series of perfunctory CGI sharks jumping out of the water and smashing things, a few overdone shark jokes (whoa, Christopher Judge just jumped the shark! wacka wacka wacka!), some slightly funnier Titanic jokes, and then all you do is self-destruct the submarine shark?  Why didn't you do that in minute 15 and save us the other 70 minutes!  This is a definite pass for me, as it was for Jamie.

Let's start with Debbie Gibson.  She's reprising her role from the Lorenzo Lamas Asylum flick Mega Shark vs. Giant Octopus, which, if I'm not mistaken, was one of the first of these Asylum large animal disaster flicks.  The problem here is that she's barley in two scenes.  What?  This movie should be all Debbie Gibson.  Piloting a submarine, saving stranded children, performing her songs in a musical interlude-- all of the things we needed and never got.  The 8-year-old me who thought Debbie Gibson was just "girl music" never could have imagined the 35-year-old him on a blog in 2014 saying a film needed more Gibson, and needed her performing those "girl songs", but he's doing it.  That's right 8-year-old me, I wasn't as cool as you thought I'd be-- we also didn't get flying cars.  (I let 8-year-old me down!)

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As far as shark movies go, this is very low on the totem pole.  As far as I can tell, we've done about eight shark movies on here (this would be the ninth), though I haven't always been good at tagging shark movies, so I may be off.  Of those eight, this isn't exactly the worst, but it may be the most unremarkable.  It just seemed like such an afterthought, which I think is the most frustrating.  It's like they took all the second-unit footage from another movie to make this one.  I get that these are supposed to be silly and low-budget, and that's what I want from them, but I also want something from someone who tries.  It's like going to a restaurant and getting burnt food or under-cooked food.  I'm not looking for Bergman or Bocuse with every movie or meal, I just want a good effort, both from the food and the film.  Is that too much to ask?

Christopher Judge is only in this slightly more than Debbie Gibson, and while he looks cool, he also has this quality in his characters that is almost like "I'm going to go play D & D after we shoot this."  His best scene was of him almost lighting a thin cigar while wearing sunglasses.  For Judge, in my mind anyway, his pinnacle as an actor was in House Party 2, when he said "If you're not giving up the rhythm, you got to go."  That's movie gold right there.  If this movie just had that, or even a Pajama Jammy Jam, I would've been happier than what I got here.  Ain't gonna hurt nobody...

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As I said above, this film had many Titanic references.  First off, Judge and Rohm, who play a married couple, are "Jack" and "Rosie".  Then, one of the carriers is split in half by the shark, and as it sinks we're treated to people sliding off the deck as they did in Titanic when the ship was sinking.  My experience with Titanic came in college.  We had a campus movie channel that would show four movies a week, each once a day, on a rotating basis, and Titanic came up a few times during my five years in school.  One of the times my neighbor came by at 12:30 to ask me if I wanted to get baked and watch the ship break apart, as Titanic was showing in the midnight slot.  I agreed.  He had this massive glass bong, one that sat on the floor and came up to my chin as I sat on the couch.  There were about five of us, and we got pretty stoned, and then the scene came, and I was in awe, mouth agape, watching the faux destruction happen on his 19" tube TV.  Eat your heart out Joe Friday, weed is good!

So the movie is a pass, but the podcast isn't, and you can check us out from 8-9pm EST, live, every Wednesday at www.mixlr.com/2nd-unit.  You can also check out the RSS feed here on the blog to download if you miss it live, or our archives at: http://www.talkshoe.com/tc/134494. I say "we" and "our", because Jamie has since agreed to join me every week as my cohost, which has been great and the show's been a lot of fun.  So while the movie itself was a bust, the podcast worked out.

To download the episode for this movie, right click here and select "save link as".

For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt3152098/

Monday, January 27, 2014

Hard to Die (1990)

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A few weeks ago I was lucky enough to be invited onto the Drunk on VHS podcast with Moe Porne and Jon of the After Movie Diner.  The subject was this Jim Wynorski joint (where he's credited as Arch Stanton).  The discussion moved from Wynorski's Ozu-esque establishing shots, to his Hitchcockian use of shadows and lighting to create tension in his audience.  Okay no, we actually spent very little time talking about the film, instead doing 80 minutes discussing Hobo Butt Flutes and a crime series starring Peter Spellos only his name is Pedro Spellos, with the "e" a long "a" sound and the "ll" pronounced the way it is in Spanish.  It was a great time, they're both really cool guys, and you should definitely go to their sites and check out what they have going on.  Also, if you want to hear what my voice sounds like, you can check out the podcast here. (On the page, right click on the download link and click "save link as".)

Hard to Die is billed as Die Hard with lingerie workers or something, or maybe it's billed as a slasher film crossed with Die Hard, or a spoof of Die Hard, I have no idea, but it really has nothing whatsoever to do with Die Hard.  It's about four women who work at the main office of a lingerie company, among them the great Gail Harris (credited as Robyn Harris), Debra Dutch (credited as Debra Dare), and Melissa Moore (credited as Melissa Moore, and she meets a far better fate than the Bacon Grease Foo of Samurai Cop).  These poor ladies are burning the midnight oil for their be-ponytailed jackass boss who I'm assuming Wynorski's casting director pulled from the nearest Chess King.  Anyway, after the sprinkler system goes off and the ladies need to have their nude shower scenes to clean up, someone starts bumping them off.  Early money's on the gross creepy Orville Ketchum (Pedro Spellos), but we B-movie watchers and former fans of Murder, She Wrote know the obvious choice is seldom the correct one.

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I think this movie will work on you in two opposing ways.  First, it'll hit you with that nostalgia factor.  This is USA Up All Night kind of fare for sure, only if you find it on VHS you can get it uncut, which is even better. Second though, it's pretty unremarkable and not a lot happens for the first 45 minutes or so.  I think with those two factors, because I'm writing this review in 2014 and not 1994, the nostalgia factor wins out, at least it did for me.  If this were made today with the modern state of DTV, I'd be killing it; but it's Wynorski and he made it in 1990, so it works.

This is where we usually talk about the film's main star, but other than Pedro Spellos, the star would be the director, Wynorski, so I guess we'll start there.  That's him below in his director's cameo.  He put himself in the film but not his name in the credits, as he went by Arch Stanton, which I think is fantastic (according to imdb it's the name on a grave in The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly).  If I ever had a son or a male cat, I'd name him Arch Stanton.  When I first started this blog almost seven years ago, I expected to have tons of Wynorski flicks reviewed, but this is only his sixth.  It shows you the degree to which the DTV world has changed in that time, with new DTV films starring major Hollywood actors coming out more often and companies like The Asylum making huge noise with schlock fare like Sharknado, Wynorski's great 90s flicks have been lost in the shuffle-- not to mention the submissions from independent film makers and distributors looking for me to review their films, which is something I love to do but something I never expected when I started either. With the state of the modern schlock flick and B-movie goof fest, in particular The Asylum and their imitators, we either forget about guys like Wynorski or Fred Olen Ray who really did it right, or we elevate their work to a higher level because we're just craving that kind of thing after being denied it for so long.  If anything, it's a reason for me to keep going into the past as much I'm trying to keep up with everything new that's coming out, because it's the 90s flicks that got me and a lot of other people into this kind of stuff in the first place.

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Pedro Spellos.  We last saw him here in the Ray/Wynorski collaboration Dinosaur Island, where he played a doughy virginal man whose grossness didn't turn off the Amazon woman on the island that he was betrothed too.  Just when you thought he couldn't be any grosser, he reprises his role of Orville Ketchum from Sorority House Massacre II, making him something of a Wynorski mainstay.  As gross as his character was and as much as I wanted him to be killed off quickly, I understood that he probably worked for a warm meal and was willing to schlep gear, so Wynorski had to keep him in the film as long as he could to keep the budget down.

Other stars in the film were Melissa Moore, who we've seen a few times in classics like Samurai Cop.  She seems like the Audrina from The Hills of the 90s B-movie (ouch, did I just admit I watched The Hills, or maybe I admitted that on here way before...).  Gail Harris (listed as Robyn Harris) played the lead.  She was in the three Circuit films with Olivier Gruner that we reviewed sometime back.  Jon loved her Northern accent, and we enjoyed imagining her as a butty in a Northern mine.  One of my favorites was Debra Dutch (credited as Debra Dare) as another of the girls.  She made these great exaggerated facial expressions, like she used to do silent film work or something.  In any slasher film you need someone like her that you root for, even though you know she's at impossible odds to be the Final Girl, and Dare/Dutch was that for me.

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Finally, take a look at that guy's hat.  Boston Red Sox baby, getting some shine in 1990.  In 1990 the Red Sox would be swept again in the ALCS by the Oakland A's, getting swept before in 1988.  With how good the Sox have been the last ten years, we forget what they were between 1986-1990: three trips to the ALCS, with one trip to the World Series in 1986 that ended in disaster.  Now the Red Sox don't lose those games, and the 11-year-old me in 1990 could not have fathomed the 34-year-old me watching them win a third World Series in 10 years this past fall.  Nor could he have imagined the dump that was Fenway then turned into the amusement park it is now.  I don't know which is worse: drunk belligerent assholes and peeing in troughs back then; or that God awful "Sweet Caroline" thing they do in the middle of every 8th inning now.  Ugh!

Okay, I'm getting way off track here-- much like our podcast did-- so let me reel it in and wrap this up.  Used VHS is the way to go, and it's a little pricey.  If you were to find it in a VHS bin consider it a great score and even at $5-$10 it's worth it.  I know more of these are popping up on Instant too, so hopefully it'll be on there soon as well.  Also, I want to thank Moe at Drunk on VHS again for having me on his podcast and he and Jon at the After Movie Diner for the great time recording it.  Again, check out what those guys are doing if you haven't already.

For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0103111/