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.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Quicksand (2002)

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This one took a fair amount of work to track down. Scratch that, it was really a matter of me finally taking the plunge and buying it used from Amazon-- for $0.01, $2.99 after shipping-- because Netflix, for some reason or another, doesn't offer it. Kenner at Movies in the Attic has looked at this one too, it's buried under a bunch of other reviews in his Avenging Force post. Also Kenner, I hyperlinked your cover photo for this post. Hopefully you're not upset.

Quicksand has absolutely nothing to do with the actual classic adventure movie trap. It's a modern Film Noir with Michael Dudikoff as a Marine psychiatrist called to another base to treat a general's (Dan Hedaya, playing Dean Stockwell, playing the general) daughter, Brooke Theiss. Things happen, dad's dead, and she's accused, but Dudkoff thinks there's more going on here than meets the eye.

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I was okay with this one. It had all the elements for a good Film Noir-- the handsome lead, the sexy, sultry female dealing with issues from her past, the more than meets the eye mystery-- hell, they even had the suspenseful phone call with only the bottom half of a man's face talking in cryptic threats. I think where it fails is that it sounds great on the surface, and the actors all handled their roles well, but I'm not so sure there was 90 minutes worth of material here. It seemed like it sounded better on paper, if that makes sense. Plus, there were some blah moments, like a silly chase scene that devolved into Dudikoff and his pursuers just doing doughnuts around each other. Still, to completely kill this thing doesn't exactly do it justice, because it wasn't horrible. The truth is, had this been made in 1940, instead of 2002, with Bogie and Bacall instead of Dudikoff and Theiss, I would've loved it, but it wasn't, so I didn't. Take that for what it is.

I think seeing the names Michael Dudikoff and director Sam Firstenberg, one would envision some awesome action, considering the two collaborated on American Ninja and American Ninja 2, plus, Firstenberg has a rich history of great to not-so-great action, including American Samurai, Cyborg Cop, and Cyborg Cop II. That's not what you're getting here, but Dudikoff still acquits himself very nicely in this Film Noir realm. Because Dudikoff is most famous for the American Ninjas, and because those films and his reputation in them are what has gotten him the DTV action work we're used to seeing him in, people have the erroneous idea that he's not an accomplished actor. This movie proves otherwise.

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Richard Kind was in this as the military detective-- that classic Film Noir detective role where we don't know if he'll help our hero our hinder him. He's easily one of the best comedic character actors working today, and his presence here provided a level of levity that was very unique and welcomed for the kind of role this was. It's always interesting to see an actor like this, who would go on to be much bigger, bringing his or her talents to a lesser DTV flick.

Brooke Theiss is known more for her TV work-- and TV work that has very little overlap with the kinds of films we cover here-- but like Dudikoff, she does really well, and I think it was harder for her, because her character was written all over the place-- and that's with the fact that she was supposed to be mentally unstable being taken into account. One interesting fact about Theiss: her husband is DTVC favorite Bryan Genesse.

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There are a lot things in a movie that tip off the fact that it wasn't filmed in the US, but I'm not sure I've seen one as blatant as the trapezoid lane on the basketball court here. Nothing spells international basketball like that-- it's like boysenberry syrup letting us know that we're at the International House of Pancakes, not some domestic one. The film was shot in India, but took place in Arizona, and before the trapezoid lane cinched it that this wasn't no Arizona, I think the palm trees tipped me off. Nice try on the cacti, though.

I can't recommend this, even on the $3 it cost me to buy it from Amazon. Unless you're a total Dudikoff completist, the novelty of him in a Film Noir wears off as the movie tries to flesh out what was barely 90 minutes worth of material. Great performances by Dudikoff and the rest of the cast, though, so kudos to that.

For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0282883/

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Hero Wanted (2008)

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It's been a while since we've done a Cuba Gooding Jr. film here at the DTVC, and Hero Wanted, because it also stars Ray Liotta, has been on my radar for some time. When it made it to Watch Instantly, I figured I had no more excuses. Besides, Cuba's DTV output is picking up, I need to stay caught up with him!

Hero Wanted is a convoluted tale about a man, CBJ, who is a shell of himself after his wife dies. Then he saves a girl's life from a burning car, and things change. After seeing an innocent woman shot in a bank robbery gone bad, he decides to avenge her shooting by taking out the robbers, one by one. The thing is, how does he know who they are? How is he connected with them?

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This is one of those that got too cute for its own good. It had a semi-decent story, but they decided to go the Lawrence Durrell wannabe route, and give it to us in a series of sections, taken from the beginning, middle, and end, mixed together, until it builds to the resolution. As I'm watching it, I'm thinking, this would've been a lot better without that storytelling gimmick, i.e., had they just started at the beginning and moved in a linear fashion to the denouement. Also, the mystery, the why Cuba Gooding Jr. knew the robbers, was clunky and contrived anyway; and the ending was really weird and drawn out, as if they just didn't know when to stop writing-- it felt like someone who has just put his foot in his mouth, but only makes it worse by not shutting up and instead trying to explain himself. There's nothing wrong with a film being more straightforward. I know with these DTV Film Noir pieces, it's tempting to get all cute with the order in which you deliver us the plot, but sometimes you hurt the final product that way. Beyond that, this was a pretty paint-by-numbers low-budget Noir, with some great actors who give some great performances, but in the end too dependent on a gimmick as opposed to a solid story for its foundation.

Look at Kim Coates trying to shove your head into the world of DTV Mr. Gooding Jr. That's not very nice, is it? At least here you had some great actors to share your space with, enough to make you think you were doing an actual Hollywood movie again, huh? Then we saw the credits, and all the last names in the crew that ended in the letter "V", and realized that there aren't that many Bulgarians in Los Angeles, are there? Kim Coates, you big meanie, leave our Cuba Gooding Jr. alone, and let him have his Oscar winning Hollywood career back!

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Ray Liotta was in this as a cop, not a gangster. I know, crazy, right? He's not in this much, which is kind of too bad. Jean Smart, of Designing Women fame, also starred in this, and it's too bad the two of them didn't have a love scene. I have to think Liotta and Gooding were reassuring each other that things weren't as bad as they seemed career wise, though if you look at their imdb bios, after this came out in 2008, Liotta's had a better go of it, especially with feature films like Date Night and Charlie St. Cloud. Cuba Gooding Jr., on the other hand, moved on from DTV films co-starring with Ray Liotta, to DTV films co-starring with Christian Slater.

The supporting cast after these two is pretty solid. I already mentioned Coates and Smart, plus you had Ben Cross, Tommy Flannigan, Norman Reedus, Christa Campbell, and Paul Sampson, who starred in a film with Carmen Electra, Whacked!, which I reviewed a long time ago. I don't know if the director or screenwriters or producers or whoever didn't trust these actors and actresses to do their jobs adequately, and that's why they chose to go at telling the story in that gimmicky way; but that was a mistake, because they should've trusted these people, and their performances were diminished by that gimmickry.

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One guy I didn't mention in that cast I decided to save for here, is Mr. Todd Jensen. Unlike these other actors-- other than maybe Paul Sampson-- who have made it happen on the big screen, Todd Jensen earned his chops in the DTV ranks, in gems like Cyborg Cop. To see him act opposite Ray Liotta as his police detective partner was great. Sure, Ray Liotta is no David Bradley wearing a fanny pack, but he's close, right?

This is available on Watch Instantly, but I don't know if it's entirely worth it. That's too bad, because a more straightforward telling of the story, plus a less weird and drawn-out ending, and we might have had a real Cuba Gooding Jr. home run here. It's okay, though, we have quite a few more of his DTV oeuvre to get through. I hope your stay at the Hotel DTV has been a good one, Mr. Gooding Jr. I'm afraid you'll be staying with us a little longer though...

For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0977214/

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Marked for Murder (1989)

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I noticed it had been a bit since we'd covered a Wings Hauser film here, so I caught wind of this and decided to make it happen. Why not, right, you can never have enough Wings Hauser in your life, that's what I always say.

Marked for Murder has DTVC Hall of Famer Wings Hauser as Emerson (Lake and Palmer), a TV exec who sends an assistant and an intern to some guy's place to get a big box VHS tape for their big box VHS movie club night. When they get there, a detective gives them a hard time, and they have to talk their way out of the place-- but they have the tapes. Then they get chased by that cop, and also find out that the guy whose place it is has been killed-- and the murder was pinned on them. Now they need to clear their names and get the tape to Hauser in time for their big box VHS movie night-- they're screening R.O.T.O.R.!

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Whoa! Hold the phone, son! I'm looking at Wings Hauser on the cover, but where is he in my movie? Did I sign on for a mush faced wannabe Arch Hall Jr. and Martin Sheen's lesser known daughter Renee? I think I signed on for Wings Hauser, didn't I? But then, after about 30 minutes off-screen, there he is again, at a strip club, trying to remember the name of the Singapore Sling so he can order one from the waitress. It might be one of Wings Hauser's best scenes ever. Now I'm faced with a dilemma: kill this for being a bait-and-switch, or love it for the great Wings that it does have. I don't know...

The thing with Wings Hauser is, there's a certain je ne sais quois, and really, if you get it, you know it's something I can't explain to those who don't. It's the seeing him in a members only jacket and tight tennis shorts assisting a woman at his house with her suntanning. And it's us, as the viewer, getting to say "why yes, this is a members only jacket I'm wearing." It's the scene at the strip club, where he's trying to remember the name of the Singapore Sling. Only Wings can make that kind of thing awesome, in a way that only Wings can. The issue is: does some of the best Wings you've ever seen make up for the fact that there isn't as much of him on-screen due to a bait-and-switch? Again, I don't know...

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One of the biggest misconceptions about this blog is that the word "connoisseur" in the name is meant to denote that I think I have a higher knowledge or more discerning taste when it comes to movies over other people. The name, "Direct to Video Connoisseur", is actually entirely tongue-in-cheek, meant to conjure up images of someone in a smoking jacket with a pipe, Alistair Cooke style, watching Dolph Lundgren movies. That said, I have to admit that seeing Ross Hagen and Wings Hauser share the same screen, even for only a short period at the end, made me feel like something of a literal connoisseur. It was like sitting on a music sharing site, and waiting weeks for a rare live version of a song from one of my favorite bands, featuring a guest vocal from another one of my favorite singers, and when Ross Hagen appears on screen for the first time, near the end of the film, and he and Wings share their first line, I had that same feeling I get when I play that song I'd waited to download for so long. I just needed my smoking jacket and my pipe. This extends my dilemma, because it has this gem at the end, but before that, I'm dealing with a Wings Hauser bait-and-switch. I just don't know...

Martin Sheen has a cameo in this. It's a cameo that is given away in the opening credits, but a cameo just the same. His daughter, Renee, is the assistant that Hauser sends out with the mush faced Arch Hall Jr. wannabe. The cameo is sweet, because he's just a man in the park, but after a couple close-ups, all he does is stand there like a bewildered old man, watching the action-- or lack thereof-- happening in front of him. It was pretty fantastic. It happens at the 50 minute mark, which is right after Wings comes back into the picture. The problem is, there's still that crap before it because this was a Wings Hauser bait-and-switch. Ugh, I don't know...

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It was this mush faced Arch Hall Jr. wannabe who replaced Wings Hauser for most of the film. That's right. You may recognize him from Vice Academy, or another Wings films I've done, Mind, Body, and Soul, where he had a sex scene with Ginger Lynn Allen. He currently works in the biz editing popular reality shows, including a couple of my favorites, The Jersey Shore, and Tool Academy.

So, I'm going to lay it all out here for you: first off, this is only available in the States on VHS, and it might cost you if you aren't lucky. Second, we're talking Wings Hauser bait-and-switch for a good chunk of the middle of the film, but when he comes back in, it's some of the best Wings ever. Third, Ross Hagen and Wings Hauser together on one screen, even if it's only for a brief period of time. Fourth and finally, Martin Sheen cameo as a befuddled old man in the park. As far as the rest of the nuts and bolts, bad dialog, not always the best acting, and not a lot of actual action. I guess, all in all, the film worked for me, but that's a tough call, and if you're not a huge Wings fan, you might want to stay off this one.

For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0097837/

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Death Race 2 (2010)

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I didn't know what to expect with this movie going in. It had some great names, including DTVC favorites Danny Trejo and Ving Rhames, but you just never know nowadays. A great idea for a film can be snatched from you, right before your very eyes, with a series of blinding jumpcuts, bad camera effects, and a droning cookie-cutter modern rock soundtrack. I'm just sayin'...

Death Race 2 is a prequel to the original. Ving Rhames runs a corporation that owns prisons and TV channels, and a woman working for the latter decides he can make money by combining the latter with the former in the form of Death Matches. They do all right to start, but not good enough, so the lady ups the ante to Death Races. Meanwhile, Luke Goss is a wheelman who kills a cop in a bank robbery, and is sent to Ving's prison. Sean Bean wants him killed for fear he'll testify against him, but the lady wants him to Death Race for her first. Quite the dilemma.

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So, what I could see of the film, I thought wasn't bad. Yes, it had the inane modern rock soundtrack-- they couldn't even use the Ram Jam's version of "Black Betty", they had to modern rock cover that too-- but Ving Rhames was great, and Danny Trejo, though playing kind of a cornball character, wasn't bad either. I even didn't mind Luke Goss. What killed me, and ruined the film, was the camera effects. I think Lee over at Straight-to-DVD-Heaven coined the term "avid farts", and this movie did it to death. One millisecond I'm seeing a guy go to throw a punch, then I see his back, then I see a chainlink fence, then I see stock footage of a guy being shot in the stomach with a cannon ball, then I see Max Headroom. Dude, seriously, lay off the Red Bull. Then there were the 360 crane shots. Who are you, Ernest Haller, trying to win an Oscar for cinematography? Cut the shit, you're making me dizzy. Then there was the constant slo-mo, acting as if this was the first movie to ever have a car chase, or the first movie to ever blow up a car. It was beyond excessive, it was almost insulting, as if we viewers are so dumb that we can only appreciate an exploding car if it's done in super slo-mo.

The director, Roel Reiné, has directed two films that I've seen, one, Pistol Whipped, which I enjoyed, and another, The Marine 2, which I didn't like. In neither case, though, did he go the MTV/avid farts route. Pistol Whipped was an especially great film, so to see this one turn out like Death Race 2: The Punchfighting was a disappointment. This was such a bad punchfighting film, in fact, that I was wondering where Tony Schiena and Hector Echevarria were. I don't know what this movie was, but had it been a little more straightforward and less gimmicky, I think I would've enjoyed it. I couldn't help thinking, while watching it, about a PM Entertainment film called The Sweeper with C. Thomas Howell, which I reviewed about 18 months ago. Just a good bad action movie. The people making this have a lot to learn from something like that. Stop thinking you're cooler than the 90s, because you're not-- not even close.

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Luke Goss always has this squinty scowl on his face, like he's smelling something funny. The way the film handled his character finally getting scarred was interesting for a few reasons. First, he's badly burned while trapped in a flaming car. Before that, every car exploded on impact, but this one, for some reason (plot convenience theater), slowly immolated. Second, I thought in the previous film, his face was scarred from so many accidents, and I almost think it would've been cooler that way, say if he ends the film and has a big gash on his cheek, like it's just the start of things to come; though I do like doing it the way they did it too, especially so they could bring the mask into it. Finally, I don't know why they showed his face at all. By showing his face all burned and scarred, it ruined the impact of his putting the mask on. I know us Americans have to see everything, but sometimes less is more. What's the point of putting the mask on if you already have us used to seeing his burned face? That'd be like deciding three movies in to give Freddy a mask in Nightmare on Elm Street. Give us some mystery, leave something to our imagination.

I did like Ving Rhames, as I mentioned above. He has a great line, when he's telling Luke Goss that this his prison is like Ancient Rome. Goss asks him "then who are you?" "I'm Caesar." Yes you are. His character was betrayed by the bad script in something I'll be getting into next, when the woman who sets up Death Race is killed by Goss, he sees it on TV and says "That's a dumb bitch." It was crass and ignorant and totally not what Rhames's character had been throughout the movie. I guess it just showed that the people involved with this movie didn't have the capacity to understand how cool Rhames is.

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This was supposed to be an applause scene, where Goss runs over the woman who started the Death Race, but it was a very dangerous message. Violence against women is never a good look, and I know she wasn't a nice person, but really all she did was jump in with the corporate sharks and become one of them too. No one else had a problem with using the prisoners for these twisted games, yet it's only the "dumb bitch", as Rhames so eloquently put it, who gets it? There were also messages about her using her body and having sex with powerful men to get by in life, as if the only way a woman can make it in the business world is on her back. The whole thing was just really chauvinistic, ignorant, and in poor taste. I know I shouldn't expect women's lib from a DTV action film, but maybe something a little less irresponsible. More 2010, and less 1950, is that too much to ask?

This had some potential, and there was some good action, it's just more often than not, that action was overly edited into something that was hard to focus on. I'm worried that this is the future of the action film, that I'll be doomed to gimmicky camera affects and cinematography that makes me sea sick, all set to a soundtrack of a bunch of Disturbed and Linkin Park wannabes. Lord help me!

For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1500491/

Friday, February 18, 2011

Game of Death (2010)

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I've been waiting for this one to come out for a while now. Wesley Snipes and DTVC Hall of Famer Gary Daniels, plus Robert Davi and Ernie Hudson? Sounds great to me. I knew, though, that I couldn't get my hopes up too high, because we've seen how these things that sound so great to start with, can be total duds. Let's cross our fingers.

Game of Death has Wesley Snipes as a CIA Agent sent to infiltrate Robert Davi's mercenary organization and, after getting as much incriminating evidence as possible, assassinate him. Fast forward six months, and Snipes is knee deep, driving Davi to a meeting with an unscrupulous businessman who's about to give Davi $100 million in order to bump off some dictator in Africa who's not playing ball. Gary Daniels and company are a part of Snipes's team, and they've decided they don't get paid enough to be CIA agents, so they want Davi's cash. That's when things go crazy, and Davi has a heart attack to boot. Snipes's goal is easy: take Daniels and the rest of his old team down.

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Man, this is a tough one. Had some great action, and Simon Rhee choreographed some of the best fight scenes we've seen in recent DTV films; but there were those MTV film effects-- though not too many near the end, there were there quite a bit before that, and they were tawdry and unnecessary, as always-- and then there was an element of the plot that I couldn't get past. Daniels's character has a chance to kill Snipes about midway through. He's knocked out on the floor in front of him, but Daniels passes it up. It was pure plot convenience theater, writing oneself into a corner with nothing beyond the magic wand to escape it, and woosh, with one wave of the magic wand, Daniels magically decides he won't kill Snipes, his most dangerous adversary and the only one who could bring down his plan, but he'll kill everyone else he sees, because he's the kind of guy that doesn't like to leave loose ends. The great action and fight scenes save this somewhat, but not quite enough for a full-out, knock your socks off recommendation.

One thing we've brought up before is how lately Daniels has been taking lesser roles in films with bigger names in them, and when I saw that he was second to last listed in the opening credits, I was nervous. Fear not, he's the main baddie, and as such, gets plenty of screen time, and a great fight scene at the end with Snipes. According to imdb, he also did a film in 2010 called The Lazarus Papers, and he's second billed on that, after DTVC favorite Danny Trejo, so whenever that comes out, that should have a good deal of Daniels in it too. The guy is definitely keeping himself busy.

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This is the first Wesley Snipes DTV film to come out in a while, the previous one being Art of War II: Betrayal, and in between he did the major Hollywood film Brooklyn's Finest. One thing I liked about this one, was fight choreographer Simon Rhee really let Snipes do his thing, and director Giorgio Serafini didn't fast edit it to death. (I did have some issues with the camera angles in the final fight between Snipes and Daniels, though, but I'm digressing...) A lot of the Snipes DTV efforts ignore or barely utilize that element in his arsenal, his martial arts skills, so that's one bonus in Game of Death. Next up is probably Gallowwalker, whenever that finally comes out, but I guess for right now, we should be happy that this one made it, and it was half-way decent.

Ho-Sung Pak has a small part in this. Is that name familiar? Did you ever play Mortal Kombat? Liu Kang baby. He also played Shang Tsung in part 1. I don't mean in the movies, I mean he was the guy they motion captured for the video games. I think we've discussed on here before that I love Mortal Kombat, at least as far as Ultimate Mortal Kombat 3. I wonder if some of the other characters have made it in anything. Looks like they were in a film Pak made called Book of Swords, and then one called Press Start that didn't have Pak, but the Pesina brothers. None of them have had the career Pak has had, though, including one I've been meaning to get to, called Fist of the Warrior, which has some other big names, including one of my faves, Michael Dorn.

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This film was not only shot on location in Detroit, but actually takes place there, which I think was a cool decision. In the featurette, the actors and crew talked about how it was like one big studio lot, with all the abandoned buildings, and even entire abandoned blocks. The economic downturn in this country has hit that area hardest, and if more films can be shot there, and the area businesses can provide services for these productions, and generate more revenue, that's a positive, and hopefully more films will be shot there, instead of places like Romania and Bulgaria-- we're looking at you Steven Seagal, Michigan native. Hey, if Snipes can do it, so can you. You and another Michigan native, Michael Moore, should get together and collaborate on something, like maybe you ride around and beat the crap out of health insurance company CEOs and various white collar criminals. I like it.

This is worth a rental from Netflix, but I'd wait to watch it before you consider buying it. Daniels and Snipes are good, but it does have its flat spots, it does have it's bad music video moments, and there's a rough moment of plot convenience theater, so it's a bit of a mixed bag that might work for some, and not for others. At least it's got plenty of Daniels in it, so that's a plus over his recent work.

For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1446072/

Thursday, February 17, 2011

River of Death (1989)

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I came across this really cheap on VHS, like a few bucks or so, and decided to just pull the trigger. I hadn't seen it in years, but I figured, even if it sucked, it would be cool to own a movie with Michael Dudikoff, Donald Pleasence, and Robert Vaughn. Wouldn't it?

River of Death is based on a book I haven't read, but it takes place in 1965, 20 years after a Nazi doctor, played by Robert Vaughn, who performed horrible experiments on people has escaped to the Amazon. Michael Dudikoff is a guide/adventurer down there, who takes another doctor and his daughter into the jungle for the source of a disease that is ravaging the tribes. The doctor is shot, and the daughter captured, and Dudikoff barely escapes with his life. Back at a nearby town, he's itching to recover and get back in the jungle to find her, and he discovers that other people, including millionaire/former Nazi that was kneecapped by Vaughn played by Donald Pleasence, want to go in with him. Who can Dudikoff trust? And will he escape the jungle alive?

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This was a take off the Indiana Jones movies, but as Lucas himself discovered with the lackluster parts 2 and 4 of his own series, this isn't a paradigm that always works. It can go from fun and awesome to dull and drawn out in a heartbeat, and despite the great Cannon infused action quotient, and our man Dudikoff chewing up tons of scenery, its 107-minute runtime was its own downfall. It had plenty of great moments, where, as you'd expect from a quality Cannon picture, almost out of nowhere our characters are in a gunfight and using all the explosive ordinance at their disposal; but as we hit the 75-minute mark, it became excitement by repetition, and I was feeling like the wrap-it-up guy at the Oscar's, wanting to start the bumper music to cut to commercial. In the end, a fun time that stretched its luck just a little too long.

When we think DTV leading man, I'm not sure any have the range Dudikoff does. He goes effortlessly from highly trained ninja warrior, to Indian Jones style adventurer, to greenhorn Army Lieutenant in Vietnam. The movies around him don't always work, but it's not because of him if they don't. With this post, he becomes only the second actor, after Dolph Lundgren, with 30 tags here at the DTVC, which is no small feat. I loved him in River of Death as the adventurer. He was a little bit darker and angrier than Harrison Ford's iconic character, but you could tell he was still having fun with it. How can you not, though, when you have all that explosive ordinance at your disposal?

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Two great villains, Donald Pleasence and Robert Vaughn. Pleasence did a better job affecting the bad German accent, i.e. Vaughn didn't really try, but they both worked as baddies. They were pitted against each other, because Vaughn kneecapped Pleasence earlier in the movie, which Donald wasn't too pleased about. In Maine, we have ads for a lawyer named Joe Bournstein, and Vaughn is his pitchman. I don't know if that guy does law in other states too, but it never gets old to see Vaughn in the ads, so hopefully people who live outside of Maine have seen them too.

You gotta love Cannon. One minute you're watching a group of people riding in a helicopter, the next they're in an enormous firefight on the ground, and the next after that someone's got a grenade launcher. The thing is, like every film that uses the Indiana Jones paradigm, it's just a series of mishaps, one after the other, and if it's not done well, it becomes excitement by repetition. That's why these kinds of things worked much better as serials, and to try and cram a bunch of episodes into one can be trickier than you'd think. This one would've had it, but they pushed their luck and went about 20-30 minutes too long.

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I know there's a lot of nostalgia for VHS, a certain charm in finding one of these bad boys cheap, and popping it in the VCR and firing it up. Then there's this added nostalgia if it's a big box VHS, right? Damn, this one was just the cardboard box. As I was watching River of Death, and I was capturing images and fast forwarding around, I thought, nostalgia is great, but give me some DVDs. This isn't like vinyl records over CDs, where the vinyl actually sounds better; unless you get a bad transfer, these movies look worse on VHS, they don't have the special features, like interviews and commentary, and it's harder to skip through them to find certain moments. Hey, I'm all for nostalgia too, but let's not get carried away with nostalgia just for nostalgia's sake. What's next, people start using dial-up and AOL again because they're nostalgic for the sound of their modem?

This movie, oddly enough, can be bought new at Amazon on VHS. I'm not talking about from one of their sellers, I mean from them. It is on DVD, but not on Netflix, and to get it on DVD at Amazon will set you back in the neighborhood of $30, so VHS is the best you can hope for. If you're feeling nostalgic, you can always go to the local flea market, hope it's there, then try to haggle the price down with the guy behind the stand rocking the ponytail and wolf T-shirt. That'll be the next big thing-- it has to be a big box VHS bought, at a flea market off an old dude with a ponytail and wolf T-shirt, and you have to haggle him below $3.

For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0098205/

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Zhi fa xian feng aka Righting Wrongs aka Above the Law (1986)

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I thought it was high time I did one of Cynthia Rothrock's Hong Kong films-- it was just a matter of finding one! Righting Wrongs was one I'd been meaning to do for a long time, and as it happened, a buddy got the Dragon Dynasty DVD, and let me borrow it. Mr. Kenner at Movies in the Attic also reviewed this as part of his Cynthia Rothrock Binge, but his copy was entitled Above the Law.

Righting Wrongs is a Corey Yuen directed feature that has Biao Yuen as a prosecutor who is fed up with criminals getting off on technicalities (that sounds bad, doesn't it?), so he takes the law into his own hands. Cynthia Rothrock is a police detective called in to investigate the murder of a criminal that Biao killed. When they bump into each other at another criminal's death-- one Biao didn't do-- they find they are at cross purposes, though they have similar goals. What will they do when it's revealed that Rothrock's superior is that criminal's killer?

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This is excellent stuff. It's pure Hong Kong, directed by Hong Kong master Corey Yuen, so we're talking fight scenes with the volume turned up to 11, and the knob ripped off and tossed into an exploding microwave. Also, this had some humor in it, and then did a weird thing, where it suddenly wasn't funny anymore. To be honest, I don't even know if it worked or not as a plot device, because the action was so great, it didn't matter. I guess it was a little weird, but not too weird. No, this one got it right, totally.

For strictly US fans of Rothrock's work, her Hong Kong films are very different. I personally like both the late 80s/early 90s Hong Kong action, and the DTV action from the same time period, but I can see why people would watch something like this, and think none of Rothrock's US efforts matched it in quality. She really brings it in some great fight scenes, especially one at the end with Karen Sheperd, who has a cameo just so she can do that fight. If all you've seen of Rothrock is her US DTV work, then you haven't really seen her.

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The bad guy in this had something of a Clark Gable in Gone With the Wind quality. Maybe it was the 'stash, or the hair, or the way he carried himself. When he had that enormous corkscrew against Rothrock's neck, he should've been like "frankly my dear, I don't give a damn." I wonder what Clark Gable would've thought of this film. Would he have liked the soundtrack that sounded like an instrumental version of Bonnie Tyler's "I Need a Hero"? That brings up another issue though, about whether or not he'd have liked Footloose. My favorite scene in Righting Wrongs came when Biao tried to throw the cops staking him out off the trail, so he stuffs an apple on the tailpipe, then dumps paint or something on their windshield. That was hilarious! Imagine me laughing hysterically at that, and Clark Gable sitting next to me on the couch.

Biao Yuen is awesome. That he's not better known over here is our fault, not his. This guy is as balls to the wall as any other Hong Kong action leads you can name. In Righting Wrongs, he is all over the place, repelling down buildings, hanging off of planes, jumping over cars, and getting involved in tons of too sweet fight scenes. All in a day's work. Biao Yuen: man.

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I decided to go out of my element a bit here, and watch this one dubbed, the way I used to watch Hong Kong films 15-20 years ago. It brought back lots of memories, and I think ultimately was the better way to go, just because it added an extra level of fun. In the end, no matter how serious one of these movies might get, it's all about how much fun we have watching them, and anything that adds to that is a bonus.

You can buy this on Amazon, but it's a little steep, so you make the call. I don't think you'd be disappointed, especially with the Dragon Dynasty transfer. I have no idea why it's out of print, but it is, so it's something we have to deal with. Hopefully that'll change eventually.

For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0094374/

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Hong Kong 97 (1994)

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This one was placed on my radar after Albert Pyun himself commented on my Spitfire post that he shot that, this, and Heatseeker all at the same time, which was why there was some overlap in the actors. I liked the Robert Patrick and Ming Na on the cover, and couldn't wait to see what Brion James and Tim Thomserson were like. If anything, it would be a fun ride with that kind of cast.

Hong Kong 97 takes place as control of Hong Kong was being transferred back to China. With that expectation and potential upheaval as the backdrop, we have Robert Patrick, a hired assassin for a major corporation based in the city. After he kills or upsets the wrong person, a large bounty is put on his head. Co-workers Thomerson and James try to help him, while he seeks refuge at the home of former flame Ming Na, who needs to get out of dodge herself with her grandfather, because he's wanted for defecting from China, and could be arrested by the army if he's not out before the transfer. Now Patrick is trying to figure out who's after him, how he can get Ming Na and her grandfather out of the city, and clear his debts, all at once.

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I liked this one. It might either be too light on the action and too heavy on the Noir for some people, or too heavy on the action and too light on the Noir for others, but it worked for me. The down times, where we either had Brion James talking in his British accent with Thomerson or Patrick, or the catching up with one another/sexual tension scenes between Ming Na and Patrick, didn't feel boring or like padding. The best element was the use of Hong Kong's transfer to add to the tension. I think the move Pyun made by setting a scene in Ming Na's place while she's packing her things to move out really added that tension the best, because maybe we can't all relate to Hong Kong moving from British to Chinese hands, but we can relate to the feeling of moving, and the time when the move is almost there, that feeling of inevitability and impending change. It pervaded every other element of the movie, and for me, tied it all together.

As I mentioned in the first paragraph, this was shot at the same time as Spitfire and Heatseeker. I think out of all three, Hong Kong 97 worked the best. The biggest cast overlap was Tim Thomerson, who appeared in all three films. Then you have Brion James, who was in the beginning of Spitfire, then had a major role in this, and Tina Cote, who had a major role in Heatseeker, then appeared in the opening credits to Spitfire. I thought I remembered Robert Patrick being in Spitfire for a second too, but I can't find any proof of that. What would've been cool is more Thom Mathews and < ahref="http://www.mattmovieguy.com/search/label/Norbert%20Weisser">Norbert Weisser, even Vincent Klyn. There should be some kind of Albert Pyun mainstay battle royale with all of these guys together-- maybe that could be the Mean Guns remake...

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You're probably wondering why I included an image of Robert Patrick nude, crouching down, and shooting a gun. I just wanted to say I was impressed with Pyun's excellent Skin-a-max style directing in this scene. He displayed a great ability to avoid showing Patrick's junk without making it look like he was purposefully obscuring that area. I wonder what Patrick thought when he saw that in the script: "sweet, I'm having sex with a hot chick, and then... I run around the hotel room buck naked, dodging bullets and firing at gunmen crashing through my window? I need to talk to my agent..."

I know a lot of the readers are big Tim Thomerson fans, so I should warn you now that he gets killed off about midway through. He's great while he's there, especially talking with Brion James, and Brion James survives, so at least you have him to make up for anything you're missing with Thomerson. Seeing Thomerson reminds me yet again that I need to get those Trancer films up, so hopefully I'll do that soon.

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You gotta love Ming Na. She was also great as Chun Li in Street Fighter, which came out the same year as this. You could see here, though, playing off Robert Patrick in their non-action scenes, where she would start the ball rolling into her better acting gigs, like ER. As far as Van Damme leading ladies go, I'd say she's in a tie with Mia Sara for best of all time.

This is only available on VHS. Amazon has it pretty cheap used, so that's a great avenue to go. I personally liked it, and it has a great cast to boot. Definitely worth giving a look.

For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0110052/

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Xia dao Gao Fei aka Full Contact (1992)

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I was originally going to do this during my series of Hong Kong films last year, but the copy I have didn't play right, so I scrapped it. Mr. Kenner over at Movies in the Attic has this as one of his favorites, and he wasn't going to let me off that easy, so he sent me a copy. Now, with no more excuses, here we go.

Full Contact has Chow Yun-Fat as something of a drifter, living in Thailand, making ends meet off various black market projects. When he and his girl need money fast, he agrees to go in on a big heist set up by his buddy with another group of thugs. It's a set up though, and CYF barely escapes with his life. Now, hellbent on revenge, he needs to find a balance between redemption for his own misdeeds and retribution for the ones committed against him.

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This one had it all, everything you'd want from a great Hong Kong actioner: the fights, the shootouts, the explosions, all expertly shot-- a great mix of art and violence. Chow Yun-Fat was sweet, but I think if I had a choice, I'd prefer him in a finely tailored suit over biker gang gear. He's a very mature looking star, and maturity always looks better better dressed. Overall, this was pretty decent.

All this being said though, I had a major qualm with Full Contact: the innocent chick who's badly burned. During the double-cross, the fight between CYF and the gang ends up in an innocent family's house, and everyone is killed except a girl, who is badly burned, and we have to see her throughout the rest of the picture. Why would you do that? It was just weird, and put a weirdness on the film that discolored everything for me. This wasn't like The Killer, where Chow Yun-Fat blinds a woman at the beginning, because in that case it wasn't weird, it made sense with the rest of the film. Here it was gratuitous, and not in a good way.

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Chow Yun-Fat is probably best known to American audiences for Crouching Tiger, which was great, but that barely touches the surface of what he brings to the table. For about 15 years, from the mid-80s up to Crouching Tiger, he amassed a dizzying amount of credits-- like somewhere around 40 or 50, I lost count after a while! Imagine someone of his stature in the US working at that pace? Here he's very different from what we're used to in his John Woo roles, playing a more down-and-out guy looking to make ends meet however he can. It was cool seeing him on the motorcycle, trying to channel Marlon Brando in The Wild Ones, but as I said above, I prefer the suit. Still good for a change.

Ringo Lam directed this, which if you're not familiar with him, he's also done three Jean-Claude Van Damme films, Replicant, In Hell, and Maximum Risk. I haven't seen Maximum Risk in a long time, but the other two I didn't really care for. This had a great action quotient, and might have been one I really enjoyed if it hadn't gotten all weird on me. I think that's why you can look at someone like John Woo and see a whole other class of director. Ringo Lam is good, but doesn't quite do it for me.

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This film takes place in Thailand, which I think I brought up in Bangkok Dangerous, I like aesthetically for an action film. It takes on something of a modern Wild West feel. What I like about Full Contact though is the theme of Chinese diaspora, that Thailand isn't these characters' true home, though it's the home they're currently stuck with. On top of that, there's the impact of these Chinese immigrants on their adopted home. In that sense, I get Ringo Lam using the badly burned girl as a metaphor for that impact, but it was still a little weird for me.

Netflix doesn't have this for rent on DVD, but they have added it to their Watch Instantly feature. It's the dubbed version, so if you like subtitles, like I do, that might not work. Also, Amazon has it for sale, and you can even buy it new, plus it's available on their On Demand system. For me, it's a little too weird for my tastes, but you might be less put off by that. I'd screen it on Netflix or something before buying, just in case.

For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0105851/

Friday, February 11, 2011

Full Contact (1993)

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I came across this when I was looking for more Jerry Trimble films to review. You can never have enough Trimble, right? Plus, imdb lists DTVC favorite Michael Jai White in the cast too. Sounds like a winner.

Full Contact is almost a scene by scene remake of Bloodfist, with Trimble in the lead role as the kid traveling to, this time LA, to see his brother, only to find out he's dead. Inexplicably, Marcus Aurelius is in the role of the master who trains Trimble to fight in the underground tournament so he can find out who killed his brother. Michael Jai White doesn't fight at all, but plays some kind of cantankerous MC for the fights.

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This was a painfest. Where do I begin? How about using Marcus Aurelius to play the sensei. I don't know that I've seen an idea more sautéed in wrong sauce. The whole point of the sensei character is that he's supposed to be old and wise, and Aurelius looks younger than Trimble, and doesn't come off as too wise. Then you have Trimble almost totally wasted. He barely fights in the first hour beyond a couple run-ins with hoods on the street. Seriously? The whole point of having Jerry Trimble is to display his relentless fighting style. Look at Live by the Fist. That's a good use of Trimble's talents. This isn't. Beyond that, a lot of the fights don't look that great-- a lot of I'll punch you, then you punch me, and we'll both spit out our cherry Starburst kind of deals. You're better off just watching Bloodfist.

Jerry Trimble doesn't work in the "I need to be trained" role. He needs to just come from nowhere and start kicking ass. Plunk him down in the middle of a bunch of stuntmen, cue the electric guitar, and let 'er rip. The thing is, he was 30 when he made this, and he looked it, meaning he couldn't pull off the young kid coming from out of town and needing guidance. He's too sure of himself in real life to fake it. Why waste that then? In order to reuse a script that's already been made? Well, hope that worked out for ya', because this was 10 kinds of wrong. How hard would it have been to write something new? It's not like these DTV actioners are that difficult to craft.

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This does have Michael Jai White, playing an MC or something. No clue why he doesn't fight, but he doesn't. I wonder if he looks back on this film and thinks "I've directed better stuff than this. I've been a leading man in better stuff than this." If he doesn't, I do. According to imdb, he has a couple films coming down the pike in 2011, so we'll have to look out for those, including one with Steve Austin, and an MMA flick that he directed himself.

The problem with remakes is two-fold. First, there's the idea of "why would you bother?" i.e. why wouldn't we just watch the original? That was big for instance with Gus Van Sant's scene by scene Psycho remake. I don't think that applies here, because all the money in the DTV market comes from covers and trailers that don't disclose how much of it is a remake. In that sense, the remake is an easy way to make cash, because people won't know it's a remake. The second issue is trying to fit everything into the remake that was in the original, and to do it in a way that's at least somewhat natural. That definitely applies with Full Contact, and it failed horribly. The attempt to recreate the run up the mountain from Bloodfist? Having Trimble race a bus down the street. That makes plenty of sense. A lot of the other scenes that worked well with the old sensei in Bloodfist looked silly with Aurelius's foul-mouthed character. One thing they were smart in not cramming into this one was that silliness where Don "The Dragon" Wilson gets arrested. One of only a few good moves made by the film makers.

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The other one was Aurelius's death scene, where Trimble stabs him with pipe, and blood drips out of it. Really great moment. That was the problem, this film had its moments, but too few of them to matter. When I looked back at the Bloodfist post, I said the same thing, only that one was an 80 minute running time, as opposed to this at 96-- meaning 16 more minutes of nothing happening. The other thing is, I don't know where those extra 16 minutes came from, because this really felt like a scene by scene remake-- but believe me, you'll feel them in there, those 16 minutes feel like 30.

VHS is the only way I can see to get this, and if I were you, I wouldn't. Hey, if this is a remake of Bloodfist, instead of watching it, watch Live by the Fist again-- it'll feel like you're watching you're own remake, and a good one.

For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0106979/

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Platoon Leader (1988)

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This is an old Michael Dudikoff Cannon classic based on a novel that I haven't read. I saw it a long time ago, I want to say on TNT, but I may have rented it too. An interesting note on it before I dig in: though it has the feel of a Vietnam War flick shot in the Philippines, it was actually made in South Africa. Also, it had a short box office release, earning a little over $1 million, which isn't bad for 1988. (Okay, that was two notes...) The Lost Video Archive reviewed this as well, and upped some great VHS box shots you should check out.

Platoon Leader has Michael Dudikoff as a green horn lieutenant fresh out of West Point who has been assigned a small platoon guarding a small outpost from the Viet Cong. He's initiated quickly into the war, lessons he'd never get at the academy, but he toughens up just as quickly and earns the respect of his men. How much longer can they hold out though, before the Viet Cong overrun them?

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Part of me wants to say this is just for Dudikoff completists, because it does have a bit of a blah plot that meanders along for the better part of an hour before it gets totally Cannon on us and blows tons of shit up, but I don't know if maybe I'm being too hard on it. I mean, it would have been better if it was more like a Missing in Action style, where Dudikoff is the lone hero kicking ass and taking names, especially because he'd have been able to use his martial arts skills then; but this was a lot of fun for what it was: a bad Cannon Vietnam War flick with Michael Dudikoff. Plenty of violence and massive explosions, plus plenty of overly dramatic death scenes and soldiers carrying children from burning huts. If that sounds like a good time, then I'd go for it.

With this film, we have only three left before we have Michael Dudikoff's entire DTV filmography up here. If there's anyone who should have a complete filmography covered, it's him. That being said, my recommendation that this might be best for Dudikoff completists doesn't go for all of his films. There are plenty that are pretty atrocious, even of you are a huge Dudikoff fan, as I am, so just having Dudikoff doesn't exactly make it worth the watch. This is a rare one in his early Cannon days that isn't totally kickass though, and I know that's usually a sure bet to see the names Dudikoff and Cannon on the same film.

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Speaking of Cannon, this is also a rare film of theirs from the late 1980s that wasn't produced by Golan-Globus. It definitely had that Cannon feel though, especially in some of the later battle scenes, where you had their classic everything-but-the-kitchen-sink mentality, which is a huge reason why we love them in the first place. We probably could've used some ninjas though.

You'll notice either if you're watching the opening credits or look this up on imdb, that it's directed by one Aaron Norris. That's right, he's the younger brother of Chuck Norris, and he's actually directed him in a some films and Walker TV episodes. He also served in Vietnam. Just thought I'd throw that out there since we're talking about a Vietnam War film he directed.

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One thing he missed was this boom mike here. Didn't have those in Vietnam, did they? You can see it peeking out from the upper right corner. I have to say, out of our 600+ posts at the DTVC, boom mike sightings are actually not as frequent as one might think. To get one here was good though.

I got this on VHS, and that seems to be the best bet. It's also on YouTube as of my writing this, but I won't put the link, just because those things change frequently. Just type the title into the search bar and see if you still find it. If you don't spend too much money on it, you'll probably have a fun time, especially if you watch in a group.

For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0095877/

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Lone Tiger (1999)

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This was one of those sneaky ones that I had in my queue, not at the top but near it, and then, when all the ones above it were deemed unavailable, it was sent to me. Will it have been a nice surprise or worse than a Daffy Duck themed tie for Christmas. Also, Ty at Comeuppance Reviews took the plunge on this bad boy as well.

Lone Tiger is about a dude from Japan who comes to Las Vegas with a very furry tiger mask-- it looks like a furrier skinned it off a real tiger's face!-- and an eye for revenge. His dad used to wear the mask as a wrestler, and our man needs to know who murdered him. Also, he has his dad's score to settle with wrestler The Dark Tiger, played by Mattias Hues, the guy his dad was supposed to wrestle before he was killed. Anyway, when shady underworld dude Richard Lynch offers him some cash and a shot at joining Timothy Bottoms's wrestling league-- and as a result a shot at Dark Tiger-- he takes it, even though he and his trainer, Robert Z'Dar, are total douchebags. Oh yeah, and our hero befriends some street urchins too.

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The only thing that made sense about this film was that it wasn't very good. First off, it has a running time of around 105 minutes, and we know if you're moving past the 88 minute mark, your film better be damn good, and this one wasn't even close. Second, was I supposed to take it seriously? I mean, between the mask, and the wrestling that was I guess guys fighting for real or something, and Timothy Bottoms's well-feathered hair, the whole thing seemed like a joke. The fights were extremely clunky too-- I wonder why, oh wait, I think I got it, the fights were clunky because the main hero was doing all his scenes with his vision obstructed by a ridiculous looking tiger mask! And the thing is, usually you can take something like this for the so bad it's good ride, and it would have been, except now we're brought back to that extended running time. By the time we hit the awesome stuff at the end with Robert Z'Dar coughing up his cherry Starburst (TM), any fun energy this film might have had had been exhausted.

One element of this film that looked intriguing going in was that we had three of the best DTV baddies, Richard Lynch, Robert Z'Dar, and Matthias Hues, all in one film. I had a feeling one of the three would end up being a good guy, and that was Hues, which was actually a really cool turn for him, because he works well as a good guy. I don't know that I'd like to see him as a good guy all the time, because he makes a better bad guy, but it's nice for a change. The other thing is, he had a really fun scene where he got to do some pro wrestling. This is where this film went wrong though, because they didn't give us more of that and less of our hero eating fried chicken or telling Richard Lynch he wouldn't kill for him.

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Something tells me Robert Z'Dar was sold on this film when his agent told him he'd only have to wear sweatpants and act like a douche the whole time, only exerting himself for one scene at the end. Where do I sign up, right? Still, as long as that meaty face is featured prominently, I think we're all all right. I do think it wasn't very fair of the director to continue shooting while Z'Dar was coughing up his cherry Starburst at the end. Someone should've performed the Heimlich or at least kicked him over a dining room chair so he could perform it on himself.

We're much more used to the Timothy Bottoms that looks like our former President, G.W. Bush, so this extremely hair-feathered version is a bit of a trip. He and Richard Lynch-- whose hair is also fairly well-feathered, but we're used to that with him-- are like former adversaries or something, and they have a score to settle or something, I don't really know, by that point I was like 75 minutes in, and had really stopped trying. One could've double-crossed the other in an amateur bowling tournament for all I knew.

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There was one plus, another McDonald's made an appearance. I'm wondering if I should start tagging them. If anything, it made my mind wander all the more as the film dragged on. I was like "man, that McDonald's sounds good right now, I bet I could run over there and back without missing anything..." It was cold out that day, though, and my tiger mask was at the cleaner's, and I couldn't risk the frostbite on my face.

You can get this from Netflix on DVD. How bad does that taste, huh? Almost none of the Bloodfist films are available, but hey, we got Lone Tiger. I don't know why I'm complaining, I was the moron who put it in his queue...

For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0285680/

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Machete (2010)

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I know everyone's been waiting for me to review this one for a while now, so I won't waste any time with a story about why it took so long or about how much that whole "Netflix has to wait a month for a movie" thing sucks. We'll just cut right to the chase. Also, three other blogs I follow made this one happen: Francisco at The Film Connoisseur (no relation to us, but a great site in it's own right), Mr. Kenner at Movies in the Attic, and our man from Down Under, Sutekh over at Explosive Action. All good reads in my opinion.

Machete has veteran character actor and DTVC favorite Danny Trejo as a Federale that has been set up by baddie drug lord Torrez, played by the film's one DTVC Hall of Famer Steven Seagal. He survives and escapes to a small Texas border town, hiding out as a day laborer. Jeff Fahey suspects his dissimulation, and hires him to assassinate Robert De Niro, a Texas politician whose raison d'etre is an abhorrent xenophobia bent on expelling Mexican immigrants from the state, to the point that he's joined Don Johnson and his good ol' boy gang of evil hunters who kill people trying to sneak over the border. That's when all hell breaks loose, because it's a set-up to use Trejo as a patsy to get De Niro re-elected after the assassination attempt, and Trejo realizes that the plot may go deeper, all the way to his old nemesis Torrez. The only people he can rely on are Michelle Rodriguez, a woman who runs The Network, which helps immigrants gain a foothold in the country; Jessica Alba, an immigration enforcement officer; and his brother, Cheech Marin, who is now a priest. Can Trejo defeat these bastards?

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Oh, yes he can. This movie is nothing short of pure awesome. Great nonstop action, a perfect mix of blood, humor, and explosions. I know Rodriguez was going for a 70s Grindhouse feel, but he did a great job modernizing it without losing too much of what makes that kind of film great. He also incorporated the political elements he wanted expertly, something a Bill Maher would have been proud of. No, this movie isn't meant for Sean Hannity or Rush Limbaugh, but that's what makes it so kickass: we get to laugh at them with everyone else. This hits all the spots you wanted it to when you saw the commercial, plus some you weren't expecting. There's so much awesome shit crammed into this film, I actually forgot to grab an image of one of my favorite actors, Tom Savini. It really doesn't get much better than this.

Usually we start with the Hall of Famers, but I think we'll wait on that to discuss one Mr. Danny Trejo. How do you not love that? As Kenner put it in his post, he channeled Charles Bronson, and that's not hyperbole. We're so used to seeing him as a character actor, taking on supporting roles, but to see him here in the lead felt so natural-- and that includes him swinging by a man's intestines Bruce Willis Die Hard-style out of a hospital window. He's paid his dues giving Jean-Claude Van Damme foot massages, so it's good to see him get a chance to kick ass like this.

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Now to Steven Seagal. While the rest of his action star brethren were appearing in The Expendables, Seagal was in his own ensemble piece, and I think it worked out for the best. I don't know what kind of role he would've had in Stallone's film, but here he got to not only play a baddie, but got to have fun with it too. You may remember that he and Trejo linked up previously in Urban Justice, with Seagal as the main hero, and Trejo as a rival gangster to Eddie Griffin. That's usually the natural order of things, but Machete turns all of that on its ear, and it wouldn't have been possible if Seagal wasn't on board. Really great work, and better than a lot of his poorly-written omnipotent protagonists in some of his DTV films.

We know that one of my main rules about good action films is to avoid political subjects, but this film broke that rule and, in so doing, actually enhanced the end product. The thing is, few DTV productions have the skill or know how to pull this off, so I'd say Machete is more the exception than the rule. The key is that at no point are they preaching. This is very Bill Maher or Jon Stewart style-- only much bloodier and explosive, of course-- where they paint their opponent's viewpoint in such a way that you can't help but laugh at them and see them for how asinine they are. If you're a Tea Bagger and you watch Machete and don't think you're a complete douchebag and ignoramus afterwards, you're actually a bigger douchebag and ignoramus than you thought.

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Unlike The Expendables, which had very little in the way of female supporting characters-- very unfortunate that Charisma Carpenter didn't get a bigger part, but I digress-- Machete had two in major heroic roles: Jessica Alba and Michelle Rodriguez. We all know that Jessica Alba is one of the hottest movies stars alive, and there's nothing in here that will make anyone change their mind about that; but Michelle Rodriguez is no slouch either. So often she's depicted as just the tough chick, while the Jessica Albas of the picture are celebrated for being the hotties, but Robert Rodriguez does a great job of splitting the difference, and celebrating Michelle Rodriguez for being both tough and physically attractive. Then, when she has her eye shot out by Don Johnson, she can rock that eye patch, and Robert Rodriguez can make the whole thing sexy-- not just tough.

With all of this positive stuff about the film being said, I did have one issue with it, and that was when Jeff Fahey killed off Cheech Marin after he helped Danny Trejo. This was a bad action movie rule that they broke and couldn't turn into a positive. No matter what, whenever someone is asked by the hero for his or her help, and is killed for doing that, it always makes the hero look less heroic. That was especially true here, where Marin was being crucified while Trejo was lying in bed with Jessica Alba. I've just never understood the concept of that. "Hi, I'm the hero, I need you to help me. I know I'm getting you involved in something you want no part of, but it's okay, believe me. It's better for the film if you die instead of me."

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You may remember a long time a go I put up a poll seeing what people thought of me possibly reviewing a Lindsay Lohan film for the DTVC. Well, now we can actually do it. Yep, that's her in the nun costume aiming a pistol at Robert De Niro. There's something symbolic in that, isn't there? This was the role that did for her what that sack of asscrack I Know Who Killed Me was supposed to and failed miserably at. This is the "fuck The Parent Trap, fuck Herbie Fully Loaded" movie she's always wanted, and she fucking killed it. All I can say is, good for her, man, good for her.

This is the movie you wanted, and it's finally available on Netflix. If I had to choose... I'd have to say I couldn't choose between this and The Expendables. They're both good for what they were trying to do, which was actually two very different things. The Expendables was taking the late 80s/early 90s action blockbuster and making it modern, while Machete was taking the 70s Grindhouse feature and making it modern, and both were very successful. 2010 was a great year for action in the theaters.

For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0985694/