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, September 29, 2009

Never Surrender (2009)

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As I'm sure many of you know from rockin' with me here at the DTVC, I'm a huge fan of the UFC. When I saw Never Surrender at the video store, and all the UFC stars it had on the cover, I was like "man, I need to review that!" But one thing after another came up, and it wasn't until I saw Confessions of a Pit Fighter with Hector Echavarria that I remembered that Never Surrender existed. I actually watched it a few weeks ago, but the review was pushed back after the passing of Patrick Swayze.

Never Surrender is about a fictitious MMA star, Hector Echavarria, who has just won the championship belt, but something inside him is burning for more. So he just happens to see a hot woman at a club that just happens to work for a guy who just happens to have an underground fighting circuit. The way it works, each fighter is paired with a hot prostitute, and when he loses, the guy who beats him gets his prostitute for the night. Anyone who watches the kinds of movies we watch knows that guys who run underground fighting rings can't be trusted, and it's only a matter of time before this one shows his true colors too, and our hero has to take him down.

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Not good. Big ol' pile o' blah. First off, the UFC guys all have cameos, they aren't featured like the cover says. None of them, except Rampage and Anderson Silva (because he doesn't talk), can act. Echavarria not only also has trouble acting, but he wrote and directed this, and it's bad on those levels too. That's an extreme disappointment, because Confessions of a Pit Fighter was actually pretty good. The plot is crummy, and the action doesn't make up for it. Having just seen a movie with a similar paradigm, To the Death, executed much better, Never Surrender was sloppy and irksome in comparison.

Confessions of a Pit Fighter was written and directed by Art Camacho, which might explain why it was so much better. Camacho's gone through his growing pains, believe me, and he has a few bad reviews on this site to attest to that. Just the same, I can't give Echavarria a free pass, especially when he has quite a few other movies coming down the pike that he wrote and directed. The biggest issue I had was how he didn't make his hero likable. Why am I rooting for this moron? In Confessions, his character was endearing and flawed, and nothing about him seemed contrived. This guy was just an ass. My favorite part was when his girl asks him "how do you know this will work?" to which he replies "because I'm always right", except the whole film is based on the idea that he was so wrong about this guy running this underground fighting circuit. He has a movie called Hell's Chain that was supposed to be released last August, and another called Duel of Legends that has Cary Tagawa that should be released in December. We'll see what happens with those two.

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I can't blame BJ Penn, Heath Herring, or George St. Pierre for not turning in inspired performances. The script was so atrocious, Sir Laurence Olivier would've been hard pressed to make it work. What sucked was how St. Pierre and Penn were featured on the cover, and they were barely in it. I love BJ Penn, but he was just ill at ease on the screen. And his fights weren't well choreographed. I think it would've been okay to showcase his jiu jitsu more. Have him fight a guy that was way bigger, take his back, and choke him out. How cool would that be? St. Pierre barely fought at all, and when he did it was poorly choreographed too. I think for both of them they'd have to be trained to fight in a way that works for an action film, unless all they're doing is a cameo where they get their ass kicked in a Seagal film.

Rampage, on the other hand, was great in his one scene. I wonder if he ad libbed his lines, because they sounded much better and much more natural than everyone else's. Word on the street is UFC president Dana White is less than stoked that Rampage is putting off a fight with Rashad Evans so he can act in the new A-Team movie. The unfortunate reality for White, and the UFC, is that Rampage actually can act, and he's entertaining. If the A-Team movie is successful, the offers will just keep pouring in, and being an action star is a much more lucrative occupation than a UFC fighter. Their loss is our gain.

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Anderson Silva, the UFC Middleweight champ, is in this for one fight scene with Echavarria. Out of everyone, his martial arts looked the best onscreen. I know he doesn't speak great English, but to be a bad guy's hatchet man, he doesn't have to. I could see him in something like a Transporter 4 slugging it out with Jason Statham. That would be a better use of his talents than fighting with Hector Echavarria. One small note, Silva was born on April 14, 1975, which makes him another Aries. I'm just saying.

Don't be fooled, this is a major bait and switch sack of asscrack. All it really did was get Corey Hart's "Never Surrender" in my head every time I saw the title. Echavarria has only proven with this film that he should stick to playing dark, brooding heroes, and leave the directing and screenwriting to someone better qualified. He's certainly no Orson Welles. When a movie's cover has to show all the famous guys that have cameos, instead of the main star, you know you're in for some pain.

For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1307989/

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Black Dog (1998)

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Initially I was going to end my week long tribute to Patrick Swayze with the post apocalyptic sci-fi goof fest Steel Dawn. I just figured it would be the most fitting for that to end a DTVC tribute. My plan was to then throw Black Dog in as a bonus for one of my readers, RepoGenetic, who requested it. Unfortunately, Netflix wasn't able to give me Steel Dawn, so Black Dog is stepping in as the fourth post. I look at it as Steel Dawn was our keynote speaker for our symposium on Swayze, but since he couldn't make it due to inclement weather, Black Dog, who was only supposed to give a small talk, now has to pinch hit and give the speech, and we'll just have Steel Dawn back to talk at another time.

Black Dog has Swayze as a former rig driver that's just been released from prison after serving time for vehicular manslaughter. His first job while on parole is as a truck mechanic, and his bad guy boss decides he might serve him better by driving a load from Georgia up to New Jersey, where they live. Swayze wants to say no, but when he finds out their house is in foreclosure, he knows he needs the money. That's when things go crazy. The guy he gets the load from in Georgia, Meat Loaf, wants to hijack the cargo, and the FBI is after it, but he can't give up, because if he does, his wife and daughter will be killed by his boss in New Jersey. The only thing to do: go Swayze on their asses.

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This is a great movie. If we couldn't have Steel Dawn, we definitely made out fine with Black Dog. The best way to describe it is that feeling a three-year-old has when he sees a big rig on the highway, and gets him to pull his horn. You know, like when we were all young, and we were so excited to see inside a big rig, because it was so cool and big. This movie is like that, but made for us adults. Just a bunch of big rigs crashing and exploding all over the place. And Swayze. Don't forget Swayze. Just an all around fun time.

It's hard to find the perfect four movies to really celebrate a career as big as Swayze's, but I think we did a pretty good job. There were some others that could've been included: Dirty Dancing, Ghost, Too Wong Foo..., and Waking up in Reno were all indicative of his range, but probably not appropriate for what the DTVC is all about. Next of Kin was another suggestion, and though I haven't seen that in forever, I think that fits in right behind Black Dog. I also think Steel Dawn and Next of Kin could have been reviewed on their own, outside of a Swayze tribute, because they pretty much are DTV, in the sense that an American Ninja is. There's also his great supporting role in Donnie Darko, but I felt to really do a Swayze week justice, they had to all be movies that he was on the cover of.

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So we started with Road House, probably his best work in the action genre, and maybe some of the best work of all time. From there we only took a step down one rung of the ladder to Point Break. Then we went to the classically bad Red Dawn. Anything after those three was going to be a drop off in terms of memorability and iconic status, but I think ending with Black Dog, we at least were able to showcase a role that's indicative of what we expect out of Swayze the action star. He has this larger than life quality packaged as a regular guy. Even Bodhi has a way of coming off as down-to-Earth while he's preaching to us his Zen philosophy that even he doesn't really believe in. We know the moment we hop in that rig with Swayze, that he's going to take care of business, no matter what.

Let's just talk about the movie itself quickly. Randy Travis was great. This is the second film of his we've done, and he's been great in both. Gotta love Charles S. Dutton as the FBI agent too. Meat Loaf is a different story. I don't understand why anyone would have him in a movie. He can't act. He always overdoes it, which I guess works when you're writing 11-minute songs with paragraph long titles, but in an action film, it's a little too much. I was kind of annoyed that he reinserted himself at the end of the film, because it would've been better if he'd just disappeared. I was more excited to see a Waffle House in one scene than I ever was to see the Loaf.

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Looking at Swayze's imdb resume, this is the last role he had as the lead in an action film, so maybe it is more fitting that this would be the last in the four films we covered this week. It's probably the simplest in scope, but no less fun. Sure, I loved the idea of doing Steel Dawn as the last one, just because it is a DTV movie, but as I was watching exploding rig after exploding rig in Black Dog, I understood that it all worked out. Black Dog was the perfect fourth film.

As I said above, this won't be the end of Swayze's time at the DTVC, because eventually I will review Steel Dawn, and there's also Next of Kin. Just the same, I had fun this week going outside the usual realm of DTV films into some more mainstream pictures (if you can consider Road House mainstream!), and I'm glad we could celebrate in this small way what made Patrick Swayze so great to all of us. It's hard to think that we won't have any new movies from him again, but at least we'll always have the great ones he already made for us.

For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0120610/

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Red Dawn (1984)

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This is probably, of the Swayze threesome, the hardest for me to stomach. Even when I was ten, and I first saw it on VHS, I was like "this is ridiculously stupid." Ten-year-olds shouldn't have a better a understanding of international relations theory, script and story writing, and the realities of surviving a brutal winter in the American Rockies than adults who have union cards to the screenwriters' and directors' guilds.

Red Dawn takes place in the early 80s. The USSR is strapped for resources, so they invade the United States with the help of Cuba and Nicaragua. Europe is run by liberal governments, so they want no part of coming to the US's aid, and for whatever reason NATO no longer exists. The Soviets, perhaps because they got an erroneously marked map, invaded a small town in the northern Rockies and take it over. Some high school kids escape and hide out in the woods. They stockpile arms and form an insurgent group that they name the Wolverines. They give the Soviet occupiers a hard time, much the way Hezbollah did to the Israelis. Eventually, the Soviets prevail, but the Wolverines' fight inspires all Americans to stand up to the Godless commies.

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Let's forget about the Right Wing propaganda and the silliness of some of the leaps of faith in IR theory and US military defense they want us to make. Someone on imdb tried to make the case that this was well made, and that we focus too much on the other two factors, and miss the quality of the cinema. The dude even had the audacity to evoke Arthur Koestler's amazing novel Darkness at Noon. Okay, give me a second to regain my bearings. This guy watched the Jennifer Grey death scene-- "I'm so cold... just give me a grenade... pull the pin... I'm so cold...", to which a sobbing Swayze hands her the grenade-- and he thought that was quality cinema? He brought up the imagery in the occupied small town. What, a paltry copy of Doctor Zhivago? What about all the dialog that sounded like a series of non sequiturs? Chronicles of Riddick had a better script. And how do you explain the month of October that was 230 days long? That's the only way to explain how these high school kids have the ability to dig four deep holes in the ground, four hatches to cover them seamlessly, and then plan an ambush on a Soviet convoy stopping at a roadside gas station. This was not well made or artistically done.

The fact that this was poorly made made it funny, though. It's funny to watch it with friends, and when someone says something that makes no sense given the context, to say "Um... I think you missed a line." Also funny were the leaps of faith in what is possible as far as an invasion of the US. No National Guard, no NATO, no nuclear capability ("we wouldn't use them on ourselves" Powers Boothe explains. No shit, Sherlock! We'd use them on the Soviets. Moscow would be a parking lot if they invaded us!). That's what it would take for us to have a small town in the northwest Rockies invaded and occupied, and they gave paltry explanations for why there's no NATO or nukes, and no explanation for why there's no National Guard. There's a reason why we aren't invaded: countries like the USSR are afraid of us. And the logistics based on out terrain and location are absurd. Our military is huge, are nukes are nasty, and our resources and terrain work in our favor. The fact that none of that was considered is insane.

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I promised some of my friends I wouldn't make this about the Right Wing Propaganda aspect, so I'm only devoting one paragraph to it. This movie is pretty much made for the people who go to Obama public appearances packing heat. There's a reason why we're invaded by Commies and Latinos. Fear of Godless Socialists and illegal immigrants. There's a reason why the people in town with guns are rounded up. Just look at the scene when Charlie Sheen asks Swayze what makes the Wolverines different from the Soviets, to which Swayze replies "Because we live here!" It sums up the sentiment of the film. Everything is being taken away by outsiders. Probably most indicative of the conservative sentiment is the idea that October is 230 days long. They would probably think if they extended the month, the weather they like at that time of year would be extended too. In the spirit of fairness, if liberals had control of the calendar, they'd make October 30 days instead of 31 so it wouldn't have more than any other month. I want to make clear that if this was a liberal propaganda fest, I'd feel the same way about it.

Swayze isn't able to save this film. It lacks the fun factor of Road House and Point Break. He's swept under the current of ridiculosity (I know it's not a word, but what better way to describe the movie). What's ironic is if the makers of this film had the America they wanted, you'd get the small Missouri town run by Garrett that Swayze has to save. I don't know how to explain it, but in Road House and Point Break he transcends the silliness, while here, he's enveloped by it. Just the same, I included this because people in the bad action community (including myself) see it as a classically bad movie. When you think Swayze, you think Road House, Point Break, and Red Dawn. Despite the annoying Right Wing propaganda, I still have a fun time with my buddies watching this and making fun of it.

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Ron O'Neal turns in one of the few bright performances. It's a sad fact that this film boasts now two victims of pancreatic cancer, with O'Neal passing away from the horrible disease five years ago. I looked him up on imdb, because I've always wondered why he was associated with this sack of asscrack. Turns out he was never offered that many roles after Super Fly. That's too bad, because as an actor he had a solid pedigree, and he deserved better roles than a Nicaraguan officer in the ludicrously conceived invasion of the US.

This is a movie that, when I watch alone, I find myself at times laughing out loud, at others shaking my head, and at others being so bored I'm doing something else. With friends, it's transformed into a hilarious jokefest. There are moments when there's too much material, and my brain's overloaded with what to make fun of next. It's a little too pretentious and self-righteous to be as much fun as Road House and Point Break, but it's so silly that it's worth watching and mocking.

For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0087985/

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Point Break (1991)

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When thinking of what four films to post for a Patrick Swayze week, first Road House came to mind, and then Point Break. It's just another Swayze classic. Plus, this one has a DTVC Hall of Famer in Gary Busey. I also think, and I'll have to check on this, that this is first film I've featured with a woman director-- not only that, but a director who was on the jury of the Berlin and Venice film festivals.

Point Break has Keanu Reeves as a former college football player, Johnny Utah, who is an FBI agent just out of the academy. He pairs up with Gary Busey to investigate a series of bank robberies by some dudes in US President masks. At the same time, while going undercover to catch them, Reeves meets Swayze and his gang of surfers. They become friends. But things are going on with Swayze, and Reeves gets suspicious. As the evidence points to Swayze, Reeves has to figure out if he's too far gone to arrest him.

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All right, I'm going to come clean here. I don't just like this movie, I actually think it's good. Like good, good. I know, I know, Keanu Reeves goes to law school on a football scholarship. I know, I know, Vincent Klyn's character is named Warchild. I know, there's the overly dramatic scene when Reeves sees Swayze's eyes through the Reagan mask and discharges his gun in the air whilst yelling in pain. I know all this, and I'm not sure exactly what I can point to and say "that's quality"-- but for whatever reason, it just is to me. Maybe I'm just crazy.

Swayze's character is named Bodhi. He's pretty much full of shit, and you get the sense that if Swayze ever met Bodhi in real life, he'd see through his bullshit. So would legendary bouncer Dalton. I think it just speaks to Swayze's range. Bodi and Dalton are both Swayze, and he pulls them both off, but they're so different. Very few actors can be such convincing heroes and baddies, and I think the only reason why Swayze never received more credit for his ability to do so was that Road House and Point Break were considered such cheesefests.

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I've never reviewed a Keanu Reeves film on here, so this gives me a unique opportunity to discuss an actor whose films are usually outside my pay grade. In 1991, Reeves was two years removed from Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure, which made him one of the biggest things in Hollywood at that time. As the nineties moved on, he did more Johnny Mnemonics and Speeds and Chain Reactions, and that star faded. Now, ten years after the first Matrix, Reeves is again making big time box office blockbusters like The Day the Earth Stopped. I guess my question is, why was there ever an up and down? Do you see any difference in the Special Agent Johnny Utah now and then? I liked him in this, My Own Private Idaho, and Dangerous Liaisons. I didn't get him in the Matrix Trilogy. The whole Utah as Neo thing was weird. If anything, Paul Walker should be wondering why it didn't work as well for him.

Speaking of Walker, we all know The Fast and the Furious was a remake of Point Break. When I was in college in 2002, as a senior, some freshmen were watching The Fast and the Furious, and they didn't know what I was talking about when I told them it was a remake. "What's Point Break?" Amazing that in only ten years someone can repackage a basic paradigm and release it to a new group of kids who have no idea that it ripped off another movie that was made when they were 8. The one thing that The Fast and the Furious lacked that Point Break had (other than Swayze and Busey), was Kathryn Bigelow's artistic direction. The script of Point Break may have been cheesy, but it had the best foot chase in the history of film, among other great scenes. Also, I wonder if Bigelow, being a women, dialed down the tool factor considerably, which was a major sticking point in The Fast and the Furious.

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In 1991, I never considered the ramifications of having Tom Seizemore and Gary Busey in the same film. The volume of drug use must have been astounding. Swayze doesn't have any scenes with Seizemore, which is a disappointment. I'd love to have seen Swayze as Bodhi trying to make sense of Seizemore (in a moment that was probably art imitating life) pouring beer over his cereal. I actually tried that myself once. Disgusting. Busey is pure Busey as Reeves' partner. This role is what the Abusive scale was made from-- it is the control, the basis upon which every other Busey role is measured.

Any Swayze fest should include this classic. With Kathryn Bigelow's The Hurt Locker gaining buzz in theaters, Point Break is being recognized again for entirely different reasons. Whether you like it for Swayze, Bigelow, or both, this is a must for any collection.

For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0102685/

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Road House (1989)

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This is one of my all time favorite movies, and I was considering posting it for a milestone, like 500, but circumstances have changed. It's unfortunate that Patrick Swayze's death is the reason I'm reviewing his movies this week, but I'm glad we can at least celebrate what made him so awesome.

Road House has Swayze as a legendary bouncer named Dalton, called into action in Missouri by Kevin Tighe to run his bar, the Double Deuce. Little does Dalton know that the town is under the thumb of a corrupt businessman played by Ben Gazzara. Now it's up to this legendary bouncer to clean up the bar, fight the corruption, and find love in a small town.

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What else do I need to say? This movie has it all. Great one-liners: "Pain don't hurt." Well, by it's very definition, it has to, or it wouldn't be pain. Monster trucks crashing through used car dealerships. Notes pinned to dead people with knives. Office malls doubling as hospitals. Women with big hair showing us their breasts. Marshall Teague telling Swayze he fucked guys like him in prison, to which Swayze responds by ripping his throat out. Oh yeah, and Sam Elliott as yet another legendary bouncer.

I can't tell you enough how much I love this movie. I don't think I've ever watched it with people and not had everyone in the room entertained. It starts good, and it never lets up. As an action film, it's an icon in the industry. Mike Nelson describes the "Road House-ian standard" by which he compares all other action films in his book Movie Megacheese. He also does a great Rifftrax of it, which you should check out. MST3K, in Santa Claus Conquers the Martians, gave us the "Patrick Swayze Christmas" carol. GQ had it as the number one bad movie of all time, which I think is a compliment. There was even an off-Broadway musical made about it. Say Road House, and people know exactly what you're talking about.

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I'm not really sure what Swayze thought when he first received the script. "You'll be playing a legendary bouncer." Can you imagine anyone else in that role? The whole thing just seems to be sui generis: if you're going to make a movie about a legendary bouncer, Patrick Swayze should be it. Does he make the part believable? In a way, yes. I mean, let's get down to brass tacks, a legendary bouncer is about as realistic as a man born in 1840 in the anachronistically named Northwest Territory with the ability to heal himself, shoot claws from his knuckles, and smell really well, who then has his skeleton covered in an indestructible metal. We buy Hugh Jackman as Wolverine, and I think we buy Swayze as Dalton, the legendary bouncer with a PhD in Philosophy from NYU even more. This is what made Swayze great. Road House wouldn't be Road House with any other actor in the lead.

As a self-proclaimed connoisseur of these types of movies, I've noticed a trend in some to take a tongue-in-cheek approach to the material. I have a feeling if this was made today, that would've happened here too, and the result would've sucked ass. Swayze had to know how ridiculous this was, yet at the same time, if he did, he never let us know it. He acted the hell out of this silly material. As did everyone else. When Sam Elliott shows up, it makes complete sense to all involved that we have yet another legendary bouncer. The film exists in this liminal space where legendary bouncers are common place-- they have a sort of celebrity akin to a movie star or a House Minorty Whip. Had this world been treated as a joke by the cast, we as the audience wouldn't have enjoyed it as much.

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People ask me about Road House 2 all the time, and I feel like I taint this post just a bit by mentioning it. The truth is, that sack-of-asscrack was simply a cash grab trading on the good name of the original. You'll notice Swayze isn't involved in it. Now that Swayze is no longer with us, I feel like that's it for Road House. If there was ever going to be a sequel, a real one that is, it would've needed Swayze reprising his role as Dalton, the legendary bouncer. To be frank, though, I really don't think we ever needed a sequel. If ever a movie stood alone, this was it. The problem with Hollywood is they force a sequel out of a great storyline that was fine where it ended. How many great sequels can you think of? Godfather II, Empire Strikes Back, House Party 2, Back to the Future 2, and Last Crusade (Temple of Doom wasn't a good sequel) come to mind, but that's it. Maybe Terminator 2 as well. I think one Road House was plenty.

I can't imagine anyone reading this blog hasn't seen Road House. I would suggest getting together with a bunch of friends and viewing it again, though. You may or may not want to go the Mike Nelson Rifftrax route. It's really funny, and I think it only costs $1.99 to download, but I'm sure you and your friends already have your own set of jokes and comments associated with the movie, so you may not want someone else's commentary. Either way, Road House truly is the standard by which all other action films are compared.

For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0098206/

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Inglorious Bastards aka Quel maledetto treno blindato (1978)

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I was discussing movies with my buddy at Movies in the Attic, and I mentioned that I was going to see the new Tarentino film Inglourious Basterds. He asked if I'd seen the original. I didn't even know there was an original. Not only is there an original, but it stars Fred Williamson. I threw it right on my Netflix queue.

Inglorious Bastards is about a group of soldiers in WWII, stationed in Nazi occupied France at the end of the war. They've all been arrested for committing various crimes while in service, and they're being transported off to the brig, when their van is attacked. They escape, and try to make their way to Switzerland, fighting off the Nazis they encounter along the way. Eventually they find the French resistance, and in a twist of fate, they are pressed into service in exchange for the freedom. Their job, help carry out a bomb plot on a train carrying a rocket.

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This movie is great. I've always said Raiders of the Lost Ark was the first adventure film to have a roller coaster effect of continuous action, as opposed to large pockets of lull leading up to one big period of action at the end. Well, I take that back, because, if anything, Raiders borrowed that paradigm from this film, which predated it by three years. It was definitely a take off on The Dirty Dozen, and as an overall film, The Dirty Dozen was better; but taken on its own Inglorious Bastards is equally entertaining. It's just a fun action movie.

Enzo Castellari directed this. The other film of his I've reviewed here is 1990: Bronx Warriors, which was another great flick. His stuff is often a little before DTV, (this movie was made in 1978, for instance), so I've kind of bent the rules to include him here. That being said, a lot of what he's done influenced a lot of what we see in DTV and low-budget films now, and the late 70s early 80s is right on the cusp of the VCR age. Plus, his casting Fred Williamson, a DTVC Hall of Famer, only makes the inclusion of his films that much more appropriate.

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Speaking of the man, Fred Williamson, he's great here. He makes the film for me, even more than Bo Svenson, who was also good. I know he was a Castellari mainstay, but I think it's cool that he was cast in this, when Jim Brown was cast in The Dirty Dozen. Jim Brown was the better football player, but Fred Williamson is the better actor. While many posts of newer films I do with Fred Williamson in them only have him in small parts, he's in this movie quite a bit, and we're all better for it.

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I could've sworn I'd reviewed a Bo Svenson film on here, but I guess not. At least I couldn't find one on imdb. Also, according to imdb, he was in the Tarentino Inglourious Basterds as an American Colonel, and I didn't remember seeing him. Enzo Castellari was in it too, as himself, and I don't remember that. I guess I'm just getting old, huh? Regardless, Svenson was awesome here. Another Swedish acting great, he'll finally star alongside Dolph Lundgren in the forthcoming Icarus. I can't wait to see it.

If you haven't seen this, you need to rent it. As I'll point out below, it has very little in common with the new Tarentino film, so you don't need to see it to compare the two. It's on Netflix, and well worth a spot in your queue.

For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0076584/

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I finally got around to seeing the new Tarantino film, Inglourious Basterds, this week, and I think it was really good. It wasn't really anything like the Castellari film of the similar name, except that they were both set in Nazi occupied France. It was a little gruesome in parts, but I'm sure Tarentino will tell you he was going for that. Unlike the Castellari film I reviewed above, this isn't nonstop action. It has more of that Hitchcockian element of inevitable action. In every scene, I felt like there was a time bomb underneath the table, that we could see, but some or all of the characters couldn't. Unlike Hitchcock, though, who wouldn't let the bomb go off, Tarentino often did, and because he's Tarentino, we knew he would, and it made it all the more tense. I still think I like Pulp Fiction better, but this is right up there. The sets were great, Brad Pitt was spot on as a Southern Army Lieutenant, and Nazi Colonel Christoph Waltz was a perfect combination of evil cunning and sophistication. If you can handle the gore-- and on the other end of the spectrum, the frequent subtitles-- you're in for a good time.

For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0361748/

To the Death (1993)

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My friend at Movies in the Attic suggested this title. I like John Barrett, even if American Kickboxer sucked, and I always like to see Michel Qissi. As I've reviewed more and more films, I've come to realize that films from the early nineties tend be less of a crap shoot than their modern counterparts. Sometimes it's good to take one of these in to cleanse the pallet after a bunch of films made in 2009.

To the Death has martial arts star John Barrett as, what else, a champion kickboxer. He retires at the top, much to the chagrin of Michel Qissi, the top contender, who wants a look at Barrett so he can hush all the critics who say he isn't as good. At the same time, this dude who runs an illegal fighting ring wants Barrett, and he's less than stoked when Barrett turns him down. It's not long after that that Barrett's wife dies when a bomb blows up her car while she's driving it. Barrett blames Qissi, and his life spirals out of control through alcoholism. The illegal fight guy entices Barrett to join him, and Barrett takes him up on it. Bad move. Those illegal fight guys are always bad news, and this one's no different. Now Barrett has to find a way out, and he may have to rely on his old nemesis, Qissi, for help.

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This was pretty sweet. It had some dry spells of no action, but for a 90 minute movie, they came and went quickly. John Barrett is probably a better actor than he is a fighter. If you compare him to someone like a Jerry Trimble or Don "The Dragon" Wilson, he comes across much better when he delivers his lines, but the action isn't always there in his fight scenes. I think, though, this film is better than American Kickboxer, because the fight scenes that are there don't expose Barrett as much. Plus, Michel Qissi gives the film some much needed credibility. And then, in those scenes without action, Barrett just sounds cooler when he talks than say, Wilson, which makes those scenes easier to take than usual.

This is the third John Barrett film we've done here, the other two being the aforementioned American Kickboxer, and the classic Gymkata. He doesn't have that many roles to his credit, which is somewhat puzzling. Maybe his martial arts skills aren't as spectacular on-screen as some of the stars I mentioned above, but his voice is very smooth and comes off as very realistic and he delivers his lines well, which is a major departure from most action stars, who let their skills do the talking. It amazes me that a guy who can fight, and can act, didn't get more work. Maybe he didn't want it.

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It's always odd to see Michel Qissi in a film when he doesn't have his Tong Po make-up on. One thing that's interesting to note: in Kickboxer 4, someone else plays Tong Po. I never knew that. Isn't that horrible that I reviewed that film and didn't do my due diligence? I need to get my act together. Anyway, Qissi is good here as a bad guy. He has even fewer acting credits than Barrett, but I think in his case it's because he isn't a great actor, and his English leaves a bit to be desired. I'm sure it didn't help too that his most famous role, Tong Po, requires him to wear make-up that makes him unrecognizable when you see him as anyone else.

The female lead in this is a woman named Michelle Bestbier. It got me thinking, what exactly is the best beer? It's a tough question, and I think beer is one of those things where you can't compare them all equally, you know? PBR is one of my favorites, because it's really inexpensive, and I'm not inundated with horrible commercials telling me to drink it. A hidden gem high-end microbrew you may not know about is Southampton IPA. It may be hard to get outside of the East Coast. As far as other regional beers go, I liked Lone Star when I was in Texas, and Rainier was I was in Seattle. Bud Light is my favorite Beer Pong beer. And Newcastle is my favorite when I'm watching soccer. And you can't forget Guiness, just because. As I write this, I keep thinking of others, like Sam Adams Light to go with Indian food, or Tsing Tao with Chinese food. I guess I just love beer, and tons of it.

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A man named Ted Le Plat reprises his role from American Kickboxer as Willard, the beat reporter covering the world of kickboxing. He kind of looks like Owen Wilson, which I think I mentioned in the American Kickboxer post. Barrett almost reprises his role from the previous film too, only he's Rick Quinn, not BJ Quinn. As far as I can tell, there's no relation to the two characters either.

If you see this in a bargain bin somewhere, go for it. Don't spend more than a couple bucks, though. It's plenty funny and what you'd expect from a 1993 kickboxing film. It's only available on VHS, so you'll only find it in some used bin somewhere, but if you're looking, and you see it, go for it.

For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0108349/

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Scorpio One (1997)

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I was looking for more Jeff Speakman, and found this in a Robert Carradine double feature on Netflix. I already made my joke about what a Robert Carradine double feature is in the last post, but really, I was wondering what kind of Speakman output I'd be in for. We'd been working our way up to Speakman in a starring role in the previous the posts of his, so hopefully, this was the big one.

Scorpio One is about a space station that is the victim of a terrorist attack. On board is a 3 1/2 floppy with the formula for cold fusion on it. The CIA sends a group of Rangers up there, on a NASA spaceship, led by Speakman. Naturally, the shuttle crew is a little put off by this, but when they find out there's a saboteur on board, they find Speakman is their only hope. At the same time, on Earth, a congressman that heads a committee on NASA is in cahoots with a corporation that is infiltrating NASA and hoping to steal the cold fusion plans. It's a mess, and only Speakman can untangle it.

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This wasn't bad. It had some good action in parts, and we got to see Speakman flex his martial arts skills. On the other hand, there's only so much that can be done in space to make it awesome. I'm still kind of of the opinion that this, when paired with Firestorm, make for a pretty good bad movie double feature... if you're looking for a bad movie double feature.

This is definitely an upgrade from the previous three Speakman entries, but we're still not all the way there. He's in it more, but we only get great fight scenes at the beginning and at the end. I'm going for Running Red next, and I think that will be the one. Cross your fingers.

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I liked Robert Carradine in this movie better than Firestorm. Here, he got to be more off-beat and witty, which is more his style. I tried to find the the cop movie he did that I saw a while back, but I got nowhere scanning imdb. I'm sure I'll figure it out eventually, if it matters.

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The NASA pilot was played by Steve Kanaly. He's one of those smooth, close-cropped, salt and pepper haired cats that always looks good drinking a cup of coffee, especially when shot from his profile. These guys show up everywhere, from DTV films, to TV crime dramas, to Lifetime Pictures Originals. They tend to be neutral in tone, so you never know if you can trust them, which adds to their over all allure. The addition of Steve Kanaly in this film gave it a little more depth than the average slow-moving bad action flick.

This is definitely not a movie to go to if you want your Speakman fix. His being in it is more of a cute addition than anything else. Carradine's the same. Together with Firestorm, this works as a bad double feature, so if you've got your buddies together and they want to make fun of something, there's plenty to work with between these two.

For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0120080/

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I missed X-Men Origins: Wolverine when it was in the theater, so I got it this week on Netflix. I didn't really know what to think of it. It didn't work for me. I was a huge comic guy back in the early 90s, and Deadpool and Gambit were two of my favorites, so I was excited to see this. Deadpool was a mess, because he was really different from his comic book self. Instead of being a human assassin with cancer who was given Wolverine's healing power to survive, he was a mix of 10 mutants, Wolverine and Cyclops included. Yes, that means he shot laser beams out of his eyes. Gambit wasn't bad, but he wasn't in it much. There were some other issues. Wolverine was Sabretooth's brother, not son, and they were born in the Northwest Territory of Canada before it existed in 1840. Then they inexplicably travel to the US and fight in all our wars. And for some reason they aged to middle adulthood and stopped. Why? Then there were a lot of action sequences that went nowhere, complete with a "Cool guys never look at explosions" scene.

I was never a big Wolverine fan, but that's not really the problem. I read some reviews from some of my more prestigious colleagues, like Roger Ebert and AO Scott. I agreed with them for calling this lame, but I also see where their not knowing comics means they don't get all of it. Ebert wanted to know where Wolverine got his powers, when we all know mutants get them at birth. That being said, his not knowing comics means the Deadpool character isn't a disappointment, he's just crap. It sucked for fans of the comics, and it sucked for people who didn't read them. I guess in the end, all we're left with is a sub-par big budget action film.

For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0458525/

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Firestorm (1995)

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I was looking for more Jeff Speakman films, and found this movie packaged with Scorpio One in some kind of Robert Carradine double feature. Call me cynical, but I always thought a Robert Carradine double feature was Revenge of the Nerds and Revenge of the Nerds II.

Firestorm is not the movie about firefighters starring Howie Long. Instead, it's a futuristic actioner where a mining planet controlled by a corrupt corporation is using cyborgs as slaves. Robert Carradine is leading the resistance, and a guy who works for the corporation helps him out. That guy is chased to Earth by the corporation, and killed in front of his twin brother. Turns out the twin brother is a former cop, and he wants revenge.

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This was pretty fun. Don't get me wrong, it was atrocious, but atrocious in a funny way. The lead hero guy was kind of doughy, and very silly. He gets his neck shot early on, which forces him to speak in breathy tones. It's so ridiculous, in a C. Thomas Howell trying to be tough kind of way. Everyone else was in like mid-nineties goth club clothes, especially the women in vinyl pants and skirts and boots. The sets were great too. Pretty much what made them futuristic were the automatic doors. In one scene there was a desk lamp that was almost identical to one I used to have. What I loved the most was how bad most actors delivered their lines. They all sounded like non sequiturs, like they were missing lines somewhere in between.

Robert Carradine wasn't in this too much. He had more of a supporting role. I'm not sure it matters. The movie was so bad, his being in it was just an added novelty. Just another thing to make fun of. I looked at him on imdb, and he's actually been in one other we reviewed, Time Cop: The Berlin Decision. I don't really remember him in it though. He has quite a few DTV films to his credit, though, including Scorpio One, which we'll be reviewing next. I remember him in a couple action films, but I don't remember the names now. Maybe I should look into it.

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The main hero was played by a dude named Bentley Mitchum. I'd never heard of the guy, but this is the third film of his we've reviewed here, the other two being Walking Tall: The Payback and Meatballs 4. I seriously don't remember him in either. He was pretty silly in this movie, though. He was probably at his best at the beginning when he was the off-beat jazz trumpeter. After that, when he was supposed to be dark and brooding and talking in breathy tones, it was just ten kinds of silly. On the one hand, I wonder how the people making the movie didn't see that; but on the other, it made the movie much more enjoyable for me, so I'm glad they did it.

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Joseph Culp played the main baddie's hatchet man. He was in a movie that I had been considering posting for a while called Assault on Dome 4. It was a TV movie that was pretty much Die Hard on a space ship, but it's one bright spot was Bruce Campbell as bad guy. I read in his biography, If Chins Could Kill, that he was offered the role of the hero, but he liked the role of the bad guy more, and asked if he could do that. What happened was the Destro Effect, where the bad guy was cooler than the good guy, because Joseph Culp was no Bruce Campbell. Well, in this movie, he wasn't much better as the bad guy either.

I think this film, when paired with Scorpio One, is a great double feature of bad movies. The question is, are you looking for a double feature of bad movies? If you are, then by all means, throw it on your Netflix queue.

For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0113067/

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I was planning on reviewing Crank 2: High Voltage the week it came out on DVD, but I was in Connecticut and I missed it, so here I am, a week late. I've said multiple times that Jason Statham could be one of those ones to carry the torch for that next generation of action stars. His performance here definitely backs that up, because he was awesome. As far as the rest of the film goes, at times it seemed completely amazing, and at others I found myself literally saying out loud "are they fucking serious?" (By the way, I know what literally means, so I was saying it out loud.) In one scene, a guy gets the tip of his elbow chopped off. Why? In another, a guy was forced to saw off his nipples. I'm not kidding, and I literally looked at a sudoku in the paper as it was happening, because I couldn't look at the screen. That's just gross. On the other hand, you've got Corey Haim in a mullet, a car chase that ends when it runs into a porn star strike demanding better wages, and David Carradine as a 100-year-old horny Triad gangleader. I guess the only way I can describe it is it was utterly ridiculous, and sometimes the ridiculousness worked for me, and at others it didn't.

For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1121931/

Monday, September 14, 2009

China O'Brien (1990)

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It's taken me forever to get a copy of this. First Netflix said they had it, but then it went from Very Long Wait to Unavailable. So I went to Amazon, but it was too expensive both on DVD and VHS. Finally, after months of waiting, someone put it up for sale used on Amazon at a price I could handle, and I snatched it up. The whole process has been slightly disconcerting, because I have a DTV movie blog, and I have Cynthia Rothrock in the Hall of Fame, but I didn't have a review for her seminal film.

China O'Brien is a Walking Tall remake with Cynthia Rothrock as a big city cop who goes back to her small home town and finds it taken over by a gang of criminals that own the judges and fire department. They also have a guy in the sheriff's department, and when the sheriff, Rothrock's dad, dies, this guy wants his job. Rothrock runs against him in order to take the town back in the name of law and order.

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This movie's amazing. I don't know where to begin. Spectacular martial arts. Cynthia Rothrock and Richard Norton at their best. Amazing music. Action almost non-stop. In places where you can't imagine a fight scene, a fight scene happens. They just don't make movies like this anymore. Why remake Fame when you can remake this? This is what the art of film is all about.

We finally did it. This is the film that, more than any other, got Cynthia Rothrock into the Hall of Fame. She's just utterly fantastic. She's also pretty hot. In one scene, she beats the crap out of a guy who grabs her ass. I wonder how many times that's happened to her in real life. I'd love to see some guy grab her butt, and watch her kick the crap out of him. I have no time for random butt grabbers. Do those guys think women enjoy that? Do they somehow think they aren't the biggest losers ever when they do that? Anyway, I'm getting off topic. Pretty much everything else I do from Rothrock will be a step down from China O'Brien, but that's okay. She still has many more films to look at, and I'm just glad we finally got her best one up here.

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Richard Norton stars with her again. I think this might be one of his best roles too. What I loved was the movie cast him, despite his Australian accent, in the role of a guy who grew up in the same small town Rothrock did. They didn't try to explain it, they didn't try to hide it, they just did it. More movies need to do that. Jean Claude Van Damme does not always have to be from New Orleans to explain his accent. Just have him grow up in a small country town too. Norton is looking to join Rothrock in the Hall of Fame this October.

The Walking Tall paradigm pops up often in DTV films. I would say this version of it, then Gary Busey's Eye of the Tiger, are the two best. Road House is close, but it lacks two elements: one, Swayze comes from out of town, he's not a native come home; and two, he never becomes sheriff, he remains a legendary bouncer. Personally, I prefer the Road House paradigm more, even if it's never been used by another movie (Road House 2, I guess). China O'Brien would've been better had Rothrock returned home after making her name as a famous bouncer in the big city. My only qualm with the film, if you can call it that.

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Now that I have software that captures images from both DVD and VHS, I only have to search the Internet for images of the cover. Usually I find them from sites selling them or from fellow reviewers. This time, though, I found a site that had covers from a whole slew of Imperial Entertainment VHS's. It was really cool, and it brought be back to my earlier days of watching DTV films. Check it out:
http://www.critcononline.com/imperial_entertainment_vhs_covers.htm

This is a must for any action film fan. It doesn't get any better. I didn't tag it as VHS only, because it was available at one time on DVD. I have no idea why it's out of print, or if there are any plans to rerelease it, but it's a travesty that this movie's not at places like Netflix. Considering some of the films available on DVD, a classic like this one should be a no brainer.

For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0099260/

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Bad Blood aka Viper (1994)

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I saw this on Netflix's Watch Instantly. The Lamas on the cover was all I needed. Mid-nineties Lamas is a sweet thing, especially when the director uses it the right way. A poor usage of mid-nineties Lamas breaks my heart.

Viper has Lamas as a truck driver slash disgraced cop whose brother is into the mob for five mill, and they want it back. They make the mistake of asking Lamas for it, and he gives them a Renegade style beatdown. Now he's got to protect his brother, father, and brother's girlfriend (who used to be his girlfriend) from the mob, while he tries to procure the missing cash. Also, Lamas flips over a moving car.

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This isn't a bad deal. It has some slow parts, and it's more guns than hand-to-hand stuff, but it's a good bad action movie. I've seen better from Lamas in this genre from this time period, but that didn't mean it wasn't watchable. There was plenty to goof on. Lamas playing piano, Lamas coaching Little League, and Lamas flipping over a moving car. All great stuff.

Sometimes people look at the list of Hall of Famers and ask why Lamas is there when some other notables aren't. I think it's the cheese factor. No one exudes it better. Whether he's traveling cross country with Bobby Sixkiller, or sharing scenes with Jack Wagner on Bold and the Beautiful, or judging people on Are You Hot?, it's all cheesy, but it's all a fun cheesy. What's great for us is he tends to ply his cheese trade more often than not in DTV movies. After Mega Shark vs. Giant Octopus, I felt like I needed to go back to my Lamas roots for this post, and I got my fill. I think I might go here for my next Lamas flick: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0ybvFa_yV0Y&feature=related. It was suggested by my friend at Movies in the Attic.

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The bad guy in this is Joe Son, famous martial artist and trainer of Kimo. You may remember Son in UFC 4 getting punched repeatedly in the balls until he submitted. They don't let you do that anymore. Anyway, according to imdb and Wikipedia, he was charged in October 2008 for his alleged participation in a gang rape. Not good Joe. Also, imdb says he was born on November 22nd, 1970, but Wikipedia says he was born April 1st, 1971. If the latter is true, he's the third April Fool's Baby we've had here in a month or so. If the former's true, then I couldn't give a shit, because I was born on April 1st, not November 22nd. I wonder, though, if he has two birthdays. I'd like two birthdays too. I'd go for October 1st, so I could have them spaced out six months apart.

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I'm not sure if I mentioned this before, but Lamas flips over a moving car. It's hilarious. I wish I hadn't watched it on Watch Instantly, because on DVD I could've ripped the scene and linked it on here from YouTube. I have a picture, but it doesn't do it justice. He gets some air too. This isn't Kobe Bryant jumping a car. This is quality. If you watch this movie for anything, watch it for this.

This is a good time. If you need something to make fun of with your buddies, by all means. There's just so much there to work with. Two things I should mention, Joe Son shoots and kills a little girl after he gives her doll (I think it's a doll, but I can't remember. Might be an ice cream, or another toy. A balloon maybe. Does it matter?). That's kind of bad. Also, the bad guys torture Lamas' brother for information. That's not as bad as it could be. He gets a hot poker to the hand off-screen, but later has no ill effects from it. So, those things aside, it's more silly than sick.

For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0108495/

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I know I'm a little late on this, because it was released on DVD like 6 weeks ago, but better late than never. Fast and Furious is the fourth in the franchise, but the first one to reunite Vin Diesel and Paul Walker. It's really silly, and it was so bad in the first fifteen minutes, when Diesel and his crew were robbing a truck shipping oil in the same manner as the first film, that I almost turned it off. I was glad I didn't, because it slid back into something I could laugh at, which was what I wanted. Diesel didn't do it for me too much: he was essentially omnipotent, which is good in Chronicles of Riddick, but here just manifests itself in him slamming people around and through windows. I never thought I'd say this, but Paul Walker was actually pretty cool. I know what you're thinking, am I high? I was actually rooting for him over Diesel. I think what it is is at the beginning he didn't have a lot of lines, and was just running around beating people up in a smartly tailored black suit. It's when he has to deliver lines that he loses me. If you give him close-cropped hair, a slick suit, and more action than dialog, he's actually entertaining. I know, who'd've thunk it. There was a definite lack of great one-liners, which is the real reason why I watch Diesel, so it failed on that account. Not as much fun as part one, and bad in the Diesel department, but still worth a gander if you need to laugh at a movie.

For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1013752/

Friday, September 4, 2009

Cover Up (1991)

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Well, this is it. Until Command Performance comes out in November, we will have exhausted the supply of Dolph Lundgren DTV movies. That's it, the DTVC is now the place to come to to find out about any Dolph Lundgren DTV film. We are the source, and I'm very proud of that fact. Also, this is our 350th post here at the DTVC. Again, I just want to thank all the readers, subscribers, followers, and commenters for all the support they have shown. It is much appreciated, and we wouldn't have made it to 50, let alone 350, without you.

Cover Up has Dolph as a reporter in Israel investigating an attack on a Marine barracks. Louis Gossett jr. plays a government man trying to cover up the loss of a potent nerve gas that was stolen in the attack. Now people want Dolph dead, and he wants to know why, and he's in over his head-- wait a second, he's Dolph; the people messing with him are over their heads.

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This is pretty funny. Not much action, dull plot, but Dolph carries it. This is one of his first acting gigs, and he still doesn't know what he's doing, especially when he's not playing a Russian thug. To make up for his lack of acting chops, he gives us tons of hilarious facial expressions. They're priceless. There's plenty of other funny stuff. In the lame-ass car chase, after the great faces Dolph makes when he down-shifts, you also have a guy screaming as his car runs off the road. The bad guy's death is pretty sweet. Though it may be boring, there's plenty of good material to make fun of, so watched in a group, it's a good deal.

Dolph Lundgren really is our Babe Ruth. Sure, we've spent the summer reviewing Olivier Gruner and Gary Daniels films; Steven Seagal and Michael Dudikoff have quite a formidable resumes; and we've been looking at guys like Michael Pare, Jeff Wincott, and Jeff Speakman recently; but no one compares to Dolph Lundgren. No one does DTV the way he does it. No one gets what it's about-- epitomizes what we as viewers look for when we pick a DTV actioner up off the shelves.

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Sure, this movie isn't his best stuff, and I can pick a film from any of those actors I mentioned up there that's better than this one, but nobody makes the duds as enjoyable as he does. Even Retrograde, which I said was crap, upon further viewing with my friends, was a lot of fun. What makes Dolph better than Seagal or Van Damme is he doesn't take himself too seriously; but what makes him better than Dudikoff is he still has an element of being larger than life. He's Brock Chestnut, Tank Concrete; he's Dolph Lundgren. He's my hero.

One positive to having all of Dolph's films up is we can spotlight other DTV stars. We've been doing this for a while now, as I've slowed down on my Dolph reviews, and coupled with us being only one Seagal film away from having all of his up (Shadow Man), we'll really be able to look at the Jeff Speakmans and Jeff Wincotts of the DTV world. There are also actors like Val Kilmer, who had great Hollywood careers, that are turning to the DTV market, and it will be good to see what they're doing.

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This movie was made in 1991, when Dolph was just 33 going on 34 years old. Now he's almost 52, and he's not alone. Seagal just turned 58. Lambert, Dudikoff, and Van Damme are all up there too. That begs the question: who will carry the torch for these great men. Vin Diesel, Jason Statham, and The Rock are probably a little ways from the DTV world, but if they keep putting out the stinkers they have, it might come sooner than we think. Snipes looked good for it, but his jail time hurts, and his first few DTV films were a little too self-indulgent to be as enjoyable. Bernhardt and Mark Dacascos will probably only be at a Daniels and Gruner level of second tier stars, if they ever get that far. We still have some time to figure it out, though, because Dolph has one film coming out in November, and three more in post-production.

This is worth it if you see it really cheap at a used video store. I'd probably wait until you've seen a bunch of other Dolph films first before you go to this one, because Dolph really is the main selling point. Get to know Dolph first, then you'll be able to appreciate him more.

For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0099312/