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.

Friday, December 30, 2011

In the Name of the King: Two Worlds (2011)

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Those who follow us on the DTVC Facebook page (which you can do by either clicking on that link or hitting the Like button to your left) already know the story of why I didn't get this movie at the beginning of the week when it first came out. I'd planned on pre-ordering it from Amazon, but lost track of time (as has happened with a lot of other things this holiday season), and ended up ordering it on the day it came out, meaning I had to wait a few days for it to get here. But it did, so better late than never on a new Dolph flick.

In the Name of the King: Two Worlds is an Uwe Boll film starring DTVC Hall of Famer Dolph Lundgren as a dude from the current who is brought back to the past to fulfill an ancient prophesy. That prophesy: kill a sorceress of the black arts that threatens Lochlyn Munro's kingdom. But is everyone whom they appear to be? Is everyone telling the truth? As always, we know we can count on Dolph to be the hero.

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I had a lot of fun with this. Dolph was great: funny, kick ass, larger than life. Uwe Boll got that and he played to that strength. He also didn't get carried away with too much backstory, and when he needed the plot exposition, it was quick and to the point, and buttressed by enough action on either end. Then you had Munro as the king, Natassia Malthe as the doctor/love interest, and a great CGI dragon. I'm not saying this is perfect, but it's a lot of fun and worth checking out.

Our last couple Dolph flicks haven't quite been to the level we expect from them. The Expendables was great, but then The Killing Machine was one that didn't work, and Universal Soldier: Regeneration was a major Dolph bait-and-switch. It was nice to just get back to Dolph kicking ass, cracking jokes, and taking names. He has a whole mess of new projects listed on imdb, so at 54 he shows no signs of slowing down yet, and based on this one, I can't wait to see what's next. Dolph Lundgren: we don't call him the Babe Ruth of DTV for nothing.

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This is our fifth Uwe Boll flick, and of the five, the last time I had as much fun as I did in this one was in the first In the Name of the King movie, which I reviewed back when I did Wild Card/Box Office Bomb posts. That one, though, was way too long (2 and 1/2 hours), while this one fit in nicely into a 90 minute package, with no wasted time. The guy gets a lot of stick (as do a lot of directors who feature in DTV films-- look at how some people discuss Albert Pyun too), and while it may or may not be deserved, I got a chance to listen to some of the commentary track that came on the DVD, and, if anything, the guy is sincere about movie making. Am I going to go easy on him if I don't enjoy the next one of his I check out? No, but he's earned himself some goodwill on this one here.

Natassia Malthe was great here too, showing that the material in Bloodrayne: Deliverance and Bloodrayne: The Third Reich let her down, and that with the right stuff she's plenty capable of doing well. More importantly, this film was big for Swedish/Norwegian relations, which I think is really important. It's time those feuding nations buried the hatchet, and it was nice that Boll cast Dolph and Malthe in his movie, and that they were able to set a positive example for their countrymen. If we can get the Swedish and the Norwegians back on speaking terms, all the other dominoes with follow: Pakistan and India, China and Taiwan, Israel and everyone else in the Middle East-- okay, maybe I'm getting carried away, Sweden and Norway is a good start.

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In the past we've looked at Uwe Boll and his use of a German tax shelter that allowed him to write off 100% of the costs of his movie, plus all of the money he borrowed to make it, meaning he could blow $60 million bucks to make In the Name of the King and recoup his losses. He no longer has that ability, but he still has the good ol' Canadian film and video tax credit. I'd never realized it before, but the good people of Canada, through the generosity of their tax dollars, have given me a ton of great movies. Hell, we wouldn't even have a site here if it wasn't for them. It's time I recognized you, the Canadian tax payer, for all you've done to make mine, and many other people's lives, that much better. Thank you.

I got this new on DVD from Amazon, but if you don't want to buy it, all the other avenues are available to you: Red Box, Netflix, etc. If you're a Dolph fan or an Uwe Boll fan or just a fun B movie fan, this is worth your time and money. I'd give it a look.

For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1767319/

Thursday, December 29, 2011

SWAT: Warhead One (2005)

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Though this has an imdb date of 2005, the fact that it has almost the exact same cast as 2002's Power Elite means this was probably shot at the same time as that one. I know what you're thinking: "hey Matt, isn't it just as likely that both movies were shot in 2005, and it's Power Elite that was released three years before it was made, as opposed to SWAT: Warhead One being released 3 years after?" Excellent point. As with its companion film, I got a Dutch DVD rip of this one from a buddy because, like it's companion, it wasn't released here in the States. And like it's companion, I have a feeling this one wasn't released over here for a reason too...

SWAT: Warhead One is about a prototypical nuclear warhead that's stolen by the Russian mob, but because it's so unstable, no one on the black market wants to touch it. Olivier Gruner, who was on the Navy SEAL team that failed in protecting the warhead, gets a job with LA SWAT, and 8 years later, some shady happenings pop up that may or may not include said nuclear device. Turns out the Chinese mob is looking to scam the Russians by buying the warhead with counterfeit money. Now it's up to Gruner and Mel Novak as an intrepid reporter to crack this case and save the day.

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Or something like that. The first fifteen minutes of the film are broken up with constant title screens, like we're watching a silent film, only it's not a silent film, it's a talkie, and people can talk and tell us the plot, they just don't. After the first 15 minutes though, we lose those titles, and without them, this thing is so all over the place that I'm not even sure the people writing it know who's who-- nor care. I'd be all right with that if something were happening, but until the last 30 minutes or so when we're treated to Die Hard in a hospital, we pretty much got nothing beyond the occasional silly passage of dialog, or random James Lew black and white fight scene. This is just bad, and it's no wonder Gruner looked like he was on the verge of tears in a few scenes.

Poor Gruner. I don't even know what's going on here, and I'm not so sure he does either. The worst thing you can do with a guy who doesn't speak English well is saddle him with bad dialog, and this is some of the worst. Then all of his fight scenes are butchered by bad slow-motion. The key to the fight scene is the slight of hand that comes with us thinking someone is getting hit when we know they aren't, and a big part of that is lost when we can see, frame-by-frame, the punch or kick missing a dude's face. I was thinking back on Gruner's filmography, and he started out with some really fantastic stuff: Angel Town, Savate, Automatic, Nemesis. Like someone like Gary Daniels, we can't blame him for some duds like this, it's just unfortunate that he's had a big string of them.

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I want to get back to that dialog, because there were some hilarious moments, making me wonder if this was written by someone that's a native English speaker. First, at the very beginning of the film, Gruner preps his SEAL team about the warhead theft, and informs them that it has been "kidnapped". Nope, it hasn't, only people can be kidnapped. Inanimate objects are stolen. It's beside the point that the warhead hadn't actually been stolen yet when Gruner says this, that it was in the process of being stolen, and Gruner and his team get from NYC to the Bearing Strait in two hours, only to see it taken and a few helicopters explode, the main issue is the misunderstanding of what the word "kidnapped" means. The other one came later, when Gruner finds some evidence, and Novak tells him what he thinks it could mean. Gruner's response is "and why should I believe you?", as if Novak would be purposefully trying to deceive him. It would be like someone saying "the Chiefs haven't won a Super Bowl before, have they?", and someone else saying "oh yeah, they won Super Bowl IV", and then that person with the initial query, instead of saying "are you sure?" or "how do you know?", says "and why should I believe you?" Why would he lie about that Gruner?

Cine Excel mainstay Gerald Okamura plays the main villain in this, and, for my money, gets too little screen time. He's hilarious, the only one able to crack jokes and have them sound authentic, plus he had that sinister thing down to a T. This movie should have scrapped the whole investigation aspect, and gotten right to Okamura and co. taking the hospital hostage, and from there it should've just been Die Hard with Okamura lighting it up in the Hans Gruber role. Thirty more minutes of him, and this would've been a completely different review.

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I'm kind of scraping the bottom of the barrel for a seventh paragraph here, so I thought I'd draw your attention to the Cine Excel website (actually "Ciné"), in particular this page of covers from their film library. We've done some of these, but not even close to half. There are some I definitely want to get my teeth into, some I'd afraid of, and some that look intriguing but I just know will bite me in the ass if I fall for their sweet covers. I guess what I'm saying is, this won't be the last time we see Cine Excel here at the DTVC.

And I can't believe I'm saying that after this Gruner double-feature painfest I just endured at their hands. Same as Power Elite, Dutch DVD, totally in English, anyone in Region 2 should be able to get their hands on it, or if you can play any region here in the States. I'm saying unequivocally though that this not only isn't worth the effort, but that you should expend that effort staying away.

For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0340326/

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Balance of Power aka Hidden Tiger (1996)

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This one has been on Watch Instantly for a while, and with Billy Blanks, Mako, and James Lew in the cast, it was near the top of my queue. It was just a matter of finding the right spot for it, and this week worked out. Now let's see if it was what I expected. Also, our buddy Ty at Comeuppance Reviews did this one, about a year ago.

Balance of Power has Blanks as a guy in a poor urban neighborhood trying to keep kids off the streets and on the right path with his dojo in town. Problem is, James Lew, who is a fighter for a bad Japanese crime boss that sells the drugs that keeps Blanks's neighborhood in the dumps, expects Blanks to pay protection money to keep the dojo in business, and when Blanks refuses, he shoots and kills one of the neighborhood kids Blanks had been reforming. Enter Mako, Lew's sensei, and now Blanks's sensei, as he trains Blanks to fight in the Japanese crime boss's underground tournament, the idea being he beats Lew in the final fight after the boss bets all his money on Lew, and when he's bankrupt he's out of business. It's a crazy Grinchey idea that might just work.

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I think this is the kind of movie people think of when they think of the DTVC. A low-budget 90s actioner, maybe not-so-much a video store find as much as a late night cable find, but tons of fun just the same. It has some solid martial arts, a traditional plot-- though this one has the added layer of Blanks trying to make a difference in the inner city--, and as many funny moments as it does quality ones. I mean, what do you do with James Lew fighting in a diaper? Or James Lew fighting in a diaper and shoving a guy's face in some bubbling Funky Cold Medina, a moat of which is inexplicably surrounding their fighting area? Yet you can't deny the sincerity in Blanks wanting to use the honor, discipline, and humility of martial arts to give kids in the inner city an alternative to the drug gangs as a means to make something of themselves; and you can't deny the sincerity of Blanks's performance and fighting skills. This is a good low-budget actioner for people who love low-budget actioners.

Say what you want about Blanks's acting ability, his genuineness is beyond reproach. I think the biggest impediment in this film to his acting is the fact that he has a lot of social messages he wants to get out there, but he's unable to mitigate fitting into the context of a plot messages that would come off much more naturally if Billy had us one-on-one in conversation. But, do we come to a Billy Blanks action film for acting, or do we come for his relentless approach to fight scenes? The latter of course, and he gives us that. Outside of a couple early on, we get more training montages with Mako than we do fights, but they build up as they go, so that each one in the tournament is better than the next, culminating in a great one with Lew, followed by an even better one with his boss. Also, I couldn't help but notice that Blanks would make a great Sagat in a Street Fighter adaptation, don't you think?

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The main baddie's main henchman is played by what looks like a poor man's Nicholas Guest. He even has the English accent. I'd never seen him before, and figured, a poor man's Nicholas Guest, this must be his only credit. Not so fast, the guy's name is Adrian Hough, and he's been in like every syndicated and cable TV show since 1999. Wow, who'd a thunk there was that much call for a poor man's Nicholas Guest-- as I'm sure many of you are saying, "isn't the poor man's Nicholas Guest Nicholas Guest?" Apparently there's more than enough work out there for two of them.

Usually I talk about the film's nostalgia element in the next paragraph, but we saved that for something bigger-- much bigger. Anyway, as I mentioned above, Lew shoves a guy's face in what looks to be Funky Cold Medina. You better believe I looked up that video on YouTube. It may have been close to twenty years since the last time I'd seen it, and maybe ten since I'd last heard it. I was surprised at how well I remembered the lyrics, but I guess a lot of that stuff is like riding a bike, it's always there. Unfortunately, for the guy who had his face shoved in the Funky Cold Medina, he didn't get a lot of chicks, his face was just burned.

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And that leaves us with this. It happened. Someone outdid David Bradley and his fanny pack from Cyborg Cop. James Lew, as you can see in that picture above, is wearing a diaper. What is he, one of those guys that fetishizes being a baby? I'd have given you a close up, but I want to keep my all ages status for the blog. I know James Lew didn't get a lot of opportunities for bigger parts like the one he got here, and we at the DTVC love him and love seeing him in stuff, but you needed to put your foot down at the diaper.

Overall, this is plenty of good ol' fashioned 90s bad action fun. If anyone reading this is thinking "you had me at Billy Blanks", then you'll get what you paid for with him, because he delivers. I'd get it while you can on Watch Instantly here in the States, otherwise you're looking for a VHS. Hidden Tiger is the UK DVD title, so anyone in Region 2 should look for it under that, though according to imdb it's Balance of Power in Germany, and might be that in the UK on VHS too.

For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0115618/

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Tromeo and Juliet (1996)

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I had been meaning to watch this movie for a long time. I'm a huge Shakespeare fan, and a huge Troma fan, so this seemed like a perfect pairing. I remember seeing trailers for it on other Troma flicks I watched, with Motorhead's "Sacrifice" playing in the background, and thinking it looked pretty sweet, but for some reason or another I just never got around to it. Now Netflix, as they often do, are putting my feet to the fire and dumping this one from Watch Instantly, so I made it happen before they did.

Tromeo and Juliet is a brutal-punk Troma take on the Bard's classic tale of love found and love lost under tragic circumstances. In this one, our hero, Tromeo, is the son of Monty Que, who was at one time in a partnership with the depraved Cappy Capulet, the two making high quality porno flicks. But Cappy betrayed Monty, and the two families have been feuding ever since. Now Cappy, who abuses his daughter Juliet and expects her to marry a billionaire meat packing company owner, is not too stoked to discover that she's in love with our hero. As things come to a head between the two families, can their love survive?

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This, maybe more than any Troma film I've seen, pushes that envelope into bad taste as often as possible. At no point do they let you off easy. It's as if Lloyd Kaufman has a bone to pick with, maybe not Shakespeare, but this idea that some forms of art and culture are placed above others, so from his standpoint he wants to say "I'll show you what low-quality entertainment is!" I think, because it's Lloyd Kaufman and it's Troma, it works, but I'm not so sure anyone else could pull this off, and I wouldn't want to see them try. And it's not just the blood and guts factor, there are jokes about priest molestation and parental abuse that will probably test your sensibilities more than seeing someone's fingers chopped off of eye gouged out. This isn't simply a Shakespeare/Troma mash-up, this is Lloyd Kaufman sinking his teeth into Shakespeare, biting off a chunk, and spitting it out. And I dug it.

This is, as far as I can remember, the second Romeo and Juliet based movie we've seen here, the other being Ring of Fire with Don "The Dragon" Wilson, which, as you may remember, wasn't as good as this. I love seeing Shakespeare adapted in modern art, especially in something like Tromeo and Juliet that really plays with the elements, twisting this or that, while keeping this or that intact. Do I put this up there with Ran or Throne of Blood as far as Shakespeare adaptations go? Personally yes, though obviously on an objective level it's hard to put Lloyd Kaufman and Kurosawa in the same sentence with a straight face.

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Right away, when you think music in Tromeo and Juliet, you think Lemmy (who was also the film's narrator) and Motorhead with "Sacrifice", which was pretty awesome. But this soundtrack also features songs by Sublime, Supernova, and my personal favorite, The Wesley Willis Fiasco. My buddy's sister saw Wesley Willis at our local small club, The Elvis Room, which was open in the 90s. She said he ordered a pizza from Dominoes while he played. Unfortunately, Willis is no longer with us, so here's to you Wesley Willis, rock over London, rock on Chicago, Pontiac, we are building excitement.

I don't know why, but people in animal suits are hilarious to me. In the famous masquerade ball scene, Tromeo went dressed like a cow, and had a dance with Juliet. I was in tears I was laughing so hard. If I ever date a girl that has a fetish for people in these suits, it could be a problem, especially the head portion. It's that blank stare with a goofy grin I think that gets me the most. About six or seven years ago the AHL all-star game was in Portland, ME, so my buddies and I went, and as you can imagine, that was mascot city, every team was represented. Anyway, this one T-Bone for the San Antonio team had an angry look on its face, and when my buddy was going up the stairs past him, he pantomimed like he was kicking my buddy in the ass, which was even funnier with the angry look on his face. Thinking about it now as I write it I'm laughing.

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Finally, to kill the silliness a bit, I figured I'd go all cultural anthropologist on you, because this movie deals with incest taboos, specifically brother-sister relations. Other than the Hawaiian royal family, there has never been a culture in human history that didn't have an incest taboo forbidding brothers and sisters from hooking up. You'd think that was a biological imperative-- we erroneously think all incest taboos have a biological imperative behind them-- but that's not the case. If it had a biological basis, long lost siblings would still have the same aversion to one-another that ones that grew up together did-- and adopted siblings that grew up together wouldn't still have that aversion. It's a familiarity thing, and Shakespeare understood our attraction to the unfamiliar and demonstrated it to us perfectly in Romeo and Juliet; whereas Kaufman didn't quite get it-- he still has the basic erroneous idea of what incest taboos are based on biology--, but I liked that he included the incest taboo as another way that children of the 90s were finding to rebel, making fun of our attempts to find more and more forms of taboo.

By the time most of you read this review, this movie will no longer be available on Watch Instantly, so you'll have to track it down on DVD, which isn't that hard. Also, you can get it on Blu-Ray, though I have no idea what the Blu-Ray entails. Either way, this is worth checking out, it's a gory, gross, over-the-top good time. Shakespeare would've been proud-- or maybe not.

For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0114733/

Friday, December 23, 2011

P.O.W.: The Escape aka Behind Enemy Lines aka Attack Force 'Nam (1986)

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It has been a while since I'd made it out to do some thrift shopping, but I went recently and dug through the VHS section to find some gems. It was a different world from the one I'd remembered, with many more mainstream films from local video stores after they'd closed, not the kind of stuff a guy who runs a blog about Direct to Video movies could use. But I did find this bad boy, and for .99, it was a good one. Let's see if it made the trip worth it.

P.O.W.: The Escape is a Golan-Globus production of a Cannon flick starring DTVC Hall of Famer David Carradine as an Army colonel sent to rescue some soldiers from a POW camp in the waning days of the Vietnam War. It's a setup, and Carradine finds himself a prisoner among the troops he intended to save, including DTVC favorite Steve James and Philippine 'Namsploitation mainstay Jim Gaines. The man running the prison camp, Mako, has family in Miami that he'd like to join, so he cuts a deal with Carradine: you get me to Saigon, and then to America, and I'll help you escape. Things go wrong though, and now Carradine and his troops need to navigate the dangerous countryside and make it to the coast to rendezvous with some choppers that will get them the hell out of there.

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Definitely worth the dollar, and probably worth a few more, this one delivered. Great Philippine 'Namsploitation from Cannon, plenty of exploding huts and other action, Carradine is great as the main hero, Mako as the baddie, and Steve James in a supporting role. Near the end there's a bit of dead spot on the way there, which could cause your buddies' ADD to act up, but if they can persevere, this is the kind of movie you came for. Just a lot of fun.

David Carradine was about fifty when this was made, and he did joke at one point "I'm getting too old for this shit", to which Steve James gave him a knowing smirk and head nod. He still carries the day with this "I get shit done" demeanor and screen presence, the kind of thing he took with him somewhat to Kung Fu: The Legend Continues, but was able to flourish much more in a role like this. By the end, when he's running around with a machine gun shooting up Filipino stuntmen, then he sees a tattered American flag flying on a pole that he takes down and drapes over his shoulder, we're all in and loving it. A great Carradine vehicle here.

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Steve James has a smaller supporting role, but unlike his other supporting roles where it feels like he should be the main star, his character works better here as a guy supporting Caradine. His character gets who Carradine is right away, and Carradine's gets him, and they know that each other will make a great asset in getting the whole crew out alive. I just love Steve James so much, and he's great here. Also love Mako as the baddie. Unfortunately all three of this film's main stars are no longer with us.

Watching this, especially at the end with the American flag stuff, it had me thinking: what do people in other countries that watch these films think of that kind of thing? What about the 'Namsploitation genre in general. It has a certain connotation in the States, but 'Nam was our thing. Is it just that there's a universal language in exploding huts? Not only that, but a lot of them only exist today in the form of Japanese or Dutch VHS, so it's as if they're more popular abroad than they are here. It's fascinating, on top of the fact that movies themselves are often very fun. Any of my readers from outside the States, let me know what you think about this.

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Speaking of Philippine 'Namsploitation, check out the dude to the right, Jim Gaines (credited as James Gaines). I'm sure if you've seen any amount of these films that you recognize him. Unfortunately, at least as far as I could tell, there was no Vic Diaz too, so that was a disappointment. Gaines only had a very small role, appearing in a few scenes, never having a close-up, and playing a character listed in the credits as "POW #5", but it's always fun to see guys like this in a movie like this.

This is on DVD under the Attack Force 'Nam title, or it can be found on VHS under P.O.W.: The Escape. I'm not so sure you need to go out of your way unless you're a big time collector and want to add it on VHS, but definitely, if you're making your way through a VHS bargain bin and see it, don't hesitate to pull the trigger. This is a worthy find.

For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0091713/

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Power Elite (2002)

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I got hooked up with a Dutch DVD rip of both this and it's companion piece: SWAT: Warhead One. I was excited to get some more Olivier Gruner up, but not so excited to watch this, because I'd heard bad things and was a little leery. We have seen some great so-bad-it's-good efforts from Cine Excel before though, so there was a little hope.

Power Elite is not the great sociological work by C. Wright Mills, the eponymous term coined from which this film derives it's name (and a work and sociologist I was very familiar with in my undergrad days), but rather a cheap Cine Excel flick starring Olivier Gruner as... I don't know what, a Navy SEAL, an Air Force pilot, maybe a mix of both. Anyway, his old buddy, Cine Excel mainstay Mel Novak, becomes President, and is subsequently kidnapped by American separatists, and now it's up to Gruner to rescue him in time for him to sign an anti-chemical weapons treaty.

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This is unabashedly bad, and while it makes for a fun bad movie, I wouldn't suggest tackling it alone. Lots of bad file footage, lots of bad CGIs, lots of flashback padding, all to stretch a wafer thin plot out as long as they could to make 42 minutes of movie 80 minutes. There are some nice spots where Gruner gets after it, but those are ruined by the constant slo-mo-- I'm assuming another ploy to stretch the movie out-- and often he does more take downs and holds than he does kicks and punches. This movie also does the classic two endings maneuver, where we think we're home and dry, but look at the meter and find out we're only 60 minutes in, and know that we still have some pain to endure. I don't even know if I'd say so-bad-it's-good here, more like if you have a TV show where you and some robot puppets make fun of movies, this might be worth a go.

This has to be a low point for Gruner, and I wonder if he had something to do with it not being released in America. If you look around the time period of this film all the way to the present, he has many more films that either weren't released in the US, or not released yet period. How did that happen? Is it that once Van Damme got into the DTV game, there was less need for the poor man's Van Damme? I don't know, it's not like Van Damme is pumping out tons of films. Just a string of bad luck then? Probably, but it's a pretty bad string. Hopefully his supporting part in the new Albert Pyun flick Tales of an Ancient Empire will raise his stock here in the States.

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Mel Novak has a long, rich history in Cine Excel films. He's right up there with Gerald Okamura as far as that goes. Is casting him as the President a reward for all that loyalty? I don't know, he still has to be kidnapped, which can't be that fun. As far as Presidents we've seen go, poor Mel has some heavy duty competition. We're talking about guys like Roy Scheider, Rutger Hauer, Ronny Cox, and Jerry Springer.

One thing this movie didn't have was a lot of Power Elite. I won't get into C. Wright Mills and what his book was all about, in part because it'll probably bore you, and in part because it's been almost ten years since I was in undergrad, so I'm a little rusty on discussing that kind of thing anyway; but the basic idea is that you have some very powerful interests, major corporations and major military powers in particular, and they have the ability to manipulate the world to their benefit, with little regard to how that affects us little people. There were no people pulling the strings here, no intrigue, no behind the scenes decisions with grave implications. Why it was called Power Elite then is beyond me.

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Finally, we have another McDonald's sighting in this file footage of an NYC protest that was padding out the film. I want to say it's Times Square, but I've never been there so I don't know for sure. I gotta say, it couldn't have come in a better movie, because I was scraping the barrel here for stuff to talk about. I'd like to tag all the movies that have McDonald's sightings in them, but the problem is I don't remember them all, so it would be hard to back track.

For my Region 2 readers, this is available, and the Dutch DVD rip is in English. I'm just not so sure you need to make the effort; and for my Region 1 readers, you definitely aren't missing anything. Some movies aren't released in the States for a reason, and it's probably better that I let them stay unreleased.

For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0329508/

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Supreme Champion (2010)

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I had been waiting for this one to come to Netflix on DVD for a while, but it was stuck in the old "Saved" queue. Then it found its way on Watch Instantly, but I kept pushing it back for other things. Anyway, now we're here, finally making it happen. Let's see if it was worth the wait.

Supreme Champion has UFC fighter Stephan "American Psycho" Bonnar (though on the cover he looks like Nate "The Rock" Quarry) as a cage fighter/Iraq War hero whose ex-girlfriend comes to him for help. Turns out she's got a gambling addiction, she's into casino owner Daniel Bernhardt for a lot of dough, and he essentially owns her and she doesn't want to be owned by him anymore. Bernhardt has his own idea on how he'd like to settle her debt: he wants Bonnar to fight in his underground illegal cage fighting tournament. Bonnar agrees, only to find out Bernhardt isn't ready to play fair. Now he needs to use all of his fighting skills if he wants to get himself and his girlfriend out alive.

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Sounds formulaic, huh? Sounds like you've seen this one tons of times before, right? Maybe, but I don't know if you've seen it this bad. It's like a Skin-a-max flick in terms of quality, from the film stock and special effects, to the forced and un-proofread dialogue, to the failed attempts to salvage said dialogue with acting that didn't quite cut it. Problem here: unlike a Skin-a-max flick, there's no soft core porn; and unlike a great bad action flick, there isn't enough action, and what there is isn't always carried out effectively. I'm not saying you can't do paint-by-numbers-- and this was as paint-by-numbers as it gets, between the forced to fight paradigm to its devolution into a most dangerous game paradigm-- but it can't be paint-by-numbers with no substance too.

I think the fatal flaw was in not allowing Bonnar's unique combination of great martial arts skills and naturally off-beat personality to flourish. First off, the script was so harsh that all the jokes lost any punch they might have had; and Bonnar's delivery sounded more like a guy who was over-thinking his lines than a guy who in real life could pull lines like that off with ease. Then they made his character more serious than off-beat and funny, which he had no ability to pull off. Finally, there weren't enough fight scenes, which is where Bonner could really show off what he can do, and the ones we got weren't always that great. For a first timer, his role and this movie had too much crap going on; he needed things simplified and streamlined. Give us the guy we enjoyed on the inaugural season of The Ultimate Fighter.

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Then we have Daniel Bernhardt as the villain. How did he end up here? Is the career really that bad? Was he wondering how he ended up here too? Was he mentally firing his agent as he recited this atrocious dialogue? I mean, this is a far cry away from one of his best, battling in Ben Franklin's Dark Kumite in Bloodsport 4-- it's closer to one of his worst, fighting dinosaurs and Robert Z'Dar in Future War--, but to be fair, he acquits himself well, even if this is pretty rough stuff. It's hard to see him like this, I want to reach through the screen and give him a hug. I have to assume Chuck Norris no longer returns his phone calls.

This movie had an opportunity to take a great detour from the run-of-the-mill forced to fight paradigm, and I was disappointed that it didn't go there. Essentially, they could've removed the "forced" part from it. Why not just have him there of his own volition to fight to pay off his ex's debt? The intrigue could be either in Bernhardt or the other competitors messing with him, or maybe the ex set him up and didn't want to be rescued, but just duped Bonnar so she could help out Bernhardt. For once I'd like to see someone try something new with these retreaded ideas.

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The man to blame here is right above, one Mr. Ted Fox. He was the writer, producer, director, and actor. This was his Citizen Kane. I don't know if this was a rush job, something that was his baby that he had to change a lot and sacrifice a lot of to get it on the shelves, whatever it is, it didn't have a professional look to it. The thing is, when you look at Fox's resume as a producer, he's got some bigger projects to his name, including the flick Setup with Bruce Willis. I have to think this is one he'd like to have back.

So even though this is available on Watch Instantly, I'm not sure it's worth it. You've seen it before, and you've seen it done better before. Even the Daniel Bernhardt or Stephan Bonnar factor isn't enough.

For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1283546/

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

S.W.A.T.: Fire Fight (2011)

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What we got here is a Stage 6 production of a S.W.A.T. DTV sequel set in Detroit, and it's on Watch Instantly. It's got everything I could need, right? Plus it's got Giancarlo Esposito and DTVC favorite Robert Patrick. Why then am I so apprehensive?...

S.W.A.T.: Fire Fight has Gabriel Macht as one of the best SWAT team leaders in the country, leading his team in the always violent LA. He's hired to go out to Detroit to get their team certified for some new anti-terrorist stuff or something, and, of course, when he gets out there, he ruffles some feathers. None more so than that of Robert Patrick, whom the Macht led Detroit SWAT team encounters holding his estranged girlfriend, Painkiller Jane, at gunpoint. She kills herself because they won't kill Patrick, and now Patrick wants his revenge. Poor Macht doesn't know what he's in for, but he's ready for it.

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This had some good things going for it. Macht, for starters, was pretty sweet as the lead. I'd like to see what he'd do with some better material. Patick and Esposito were equally solid, which is no surprise. Some of the action was pretty decent too. The problem was the story and the execution. First off, we have more training than we do actual action. You can only make training so good, and this didn't even do that, saddling us with first-person shooter cam. Who thinks that's a good idea? We like it in video games because we're the ones doing the shooting. In a movie it's just annoying. The execution of the Patrick revenge was also a little plodding, coming in fits and starts, and then ending in something that had potential, but ended up being all over the place. The whole movie should've been Macht and his new SWAT team going in and battling with Patrick and a bunch of stuntmen holed up in a building. Unfortunately, that didn't happen, and ultimately, neither did this movie.

I think in general, the idea of SWAT seems more exciting in movie form than it actually is. I watched the reality show based on the Dallas SWAT team, and while this had more compelling characters in people like Macht and Patrick, it needed to find a way to make it's stylized violence and it's fictional story more entertaining than watching real people rip down a door and toss some flash-bangs into a real drug dealer's house. That's where this movie missed the mark. What's compelling about training? What's compelling about first-person shooter cam? What's compelling about Patrick toying with Macht, when we all know where the story is going. Cut to the chase, amp up the action, and get us into a big building Die Hard style and kick some ass for 60 minutes. That's what we're here for.

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Robert Patrick has always made an excellent baddie, and this is no exception. Unfortunately he's forced to go through a lot of the classic baddie clichés: the creepy phone calls, the intel on the SWAT crew, finishing with the no-win situation for our hero to try to mitigate, which the film totally bungles and pretty much ignores after they set the parameters. He had the potential to be a Texas-style Hans Gruber, and it would've been nice if the film had let him. Also gotta say that they dropped the ball with Macht's character too. He had a lot of style and charm early in the film, but as the plot spirals out of control, so does his character, and he loses all of what made him compelling. Macht and Patrick should've been a great two sides of the same coin type of foes.

Maybe the worst injustice done to a character was Shannon Kane as the equal parts hot and deadly Iraq vet who is called in at Macht's request to help train the SWAT team. She goes from being totally kick ass to nothing more than a damsel in distress at the end of the film. The thing was, we already had the psychiatrist/love interest that's been kidnapped, so we didn't need Kane too, except for the fact that she's a woman in an action film, and as such needs to be tied to chair and anxiously awaiting our hero to rescue her. She should've been with our hero helping to save the day, not needing saving. Also, while we're on the subject, the character of the psychiatrist (played by Carly Pope), is wasted as a damsel in distress as well. She's a psychiatrist, there should've been some interplay between her and Patrick where she tries to manipulate him into letting her go or letting his guard down. Maybe she's even an agent in her own rescue. Anyway, like most of the film, it was a wasted opportunity.

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Finally, I wanted to look at the trend of DTV action flicks set in and shot in Detroit. It's like we're getting a new "Detroitsploitation", and I for one am excited about the possibilities. Can it have the same success as the great Cannuxploitation flicks of the 90s? So far not really so good, but I'm still holding out hope. Maybe with the success of The Expendables we can get some film makers in that aren't about camera gimmicks and silly MTV edits we don't need, and some writers with some straight ahead action plots that are more about the exploding cars and the sweet martial arts than they are about padding a wafer-thin story with more wafer-thin story. The possibilities of a new Detroitsploitation are endless, but as of right now we've barely scratched the surface.

And chalk this one up as one that's a missed Detroitsploitation opportunity, because, while it had some good qualities, overall it missed on a lot of the things it tried. The ultimate flaw was that we as an audience knew all along where they were going, but they still tried to keep us from getting there with stuff that we didn't necessarily need. Hopefully, if there's another S.W.A.T. DTV sequel, it'll get right down to the action.

For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1621429/

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Expect to Die (1997)

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Because we currently have one more Jeff Wincott tag than we do David Bradley tags, we're doing this review of Expect to Die in order to even things up. It's directed and stars Jalal Merhi, and has DTVC favorite Evan Lurie, aka one of the coolest guys ever. Bradley and Lurie? Even Merhi can't screw this up, can he?

Expect to Die has Bradley as a genius computer programmer that has created the ultimate in virtual reality technology-- so ultimate it's deadly! It's a game called Expect to Die, and it can literally kill you! Merhi and Lurie are two NYPD by way of Toronto detectives that are investigating Bradley and his game after some 3 1/2 floppy game discs come up in an underground trade among gangsters and mobsters for some illegal weapons. Now Merhi and Lurie are in this twisted video game maker's sights. Can they make it out alive?

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This movie could've been pretty good, and it did have it's moments, but I couldn't help feeling that Merhi was making this to stroke his own ego. Exhibit A, love scene with him in his tighty whities. Exhibit B, virtual reality boot camp where he does knuckle push-ups and climbs a rope. Exhibit C, Evan Lurie only has one fight-- which he's awesome in, of course-- and then he's killed off; Bradley displays absolutely no martial arts, including in his one scene at the end with Merhi. I guess what I'm saying with the last example is that Merhi didn't want anyone's superior martial arts skills upstaging him. The ending was so silly, between Merhi playing in a game where his girlfriend, whom he's saving, constantly calls him "warlord", to the poorly done shootout between Bradley and Merhi, to the even more poorly choreographed fight scene. What started off as a great deal with some great action, devolved into a Merhi self-aggrandizement fest.

I like Bradley as a baddie though. I wish he had more meat he could sink his teeth into though. His dialogue was especially silly. "Gameplayer, expect to die." I do like the idea of him tranqing people and waking them up in his virtual reality game, yet they can't get out of it by just pulling off all the gear. Then he cuts their head off with an ax that has a number pad on it. Not sure what the number pad was for, maybe so he can calculate the tip? yeah, this movie was that all over the place. The only consistency was how much Merhi wanted us to know how cool he is.

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If you don't love Evan Lurie you don't love yourself, that's what I always say. Like Bradley who we never see as a bad guy, we often don't see Lurie as a good guy-- though he was a good guy in his best role ever, American Kickboxer 2. Here he's Merhi's partner, so assigned after Merhi's original partner is injured in a firefight. We get some hint though that Merhi and Lurie have a past too, because Lurie asks him multiple times if he's all right with them working together again. What this past is we can only guess. Anyway, Lurie gets one fight scene, and he absolutely kills it, before his character is killed himself. He needed to be here for the whole thing. He and Merhi needed to be fighting their way through Bradley's game together, not Merhi doing whatever silly crap he was doing at the end of that movie.

The mob boss in this is played by a guy that looks like a cross between Kelsey Grammer and a pork roast. He's just like a meatier beefier Frasier. He also has a meatier, beefier personality. According to imdb, he's had a bunch of small parts in other Merhi films, so this was his first look at the big time. And then that was it, his days as an actor playing the beefier Kelsey Grammer were over.

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Check out the Mad magazine. It was on the table while Merhi was dialing the phone at the police station aka strip mall office park. When I was younger I used to get Mad all the time. I was probably too young to get most of the jokes, but the ones I did get were funny enough. Then there was Cracked, the poor man's version of Mad. Remember that? Though I didn't watch Mad TV much, I remember a few great sketches: Terminator 3, where Arnold goes back in time to protect Jesus, and the OJ Interviews outakes were two of my favorites.

You can get this on DVD or VHS from Amazon (for some reason, they top bill Catherine Archer, who imdb lists in the credits as "woman in the bar"), but I wouldn't do it unless you're a total completist and you've added a lot better flicks to your collection. I only did it for this review, so I guess if you have a review site that might be another reason. It's got some names, it has some solid action and some silly moments, but overall it's Merhi showing us how he beds a woman in his tighty whities and how well he can do knuckle push-ups.

For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0193924/

Friday, December 9, 2011

Final Combination aka Dead Connection (1994)

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This was a suggestion on the Facebook page from one of the readers, and if you don't know, that's the place to go to make requests or suggestions for things you've checked out recently that you want to bring to my attention, or personal favorites that you'd like me to review. What made this suggestion even better was the fact that Netflix has it on Watch Instantly-- always a plus.

Final Combination is an early 90s Film Noir starring the great Michael Madsen as an LA detective and former hockey enforcer. He's out investigating a serial killer (Gary Stretch) that likes to beat women to death while listening to phone sex and renting hotel rooms under the real names of boxing legends. Enter Lisa Bonet, a freelance reporter who's been hot on the killer's trail. She and Madsen become uneasy allies and very easy lovers. But does she have ulterior motives? And can Madsen avoid getting too tangled up in her and catch the killer before he strikes again?

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Other than the ending, which was a little all over the place for me, I really enjoyed this movie. Madsen is the perfect choice for a 90s Film Noir lead. He gets it on a deeper level than most actors, and the director here got that he got it and leaned on him. He just exudes cool in everything he does. Then you add in Lisa Bonet, who is fantastic as the Film Noir femme fatale, and she and Madsen have great chemistry. This hits all the spots for me, from the cinematography to the music to the dialog. If you dig Michael Madsen, this is the kind of role he's made for, and worth your checking out.

There's something about Michael Madsen that's authentic, and I think that's why he's so good. Even in movies he's in that suck, he's great; but this movie is good, and as I said above, I think a big reason why is that this one is centered around Madsen's authenticity. Madsen has a way of channeling Noir icons of the 40s and 50s, but he never feels affected when he does it. He has a very deep DTV filmography that we've only scratched the surface of here, so who knows, maybe we're talking about a 2012 Hall of Fame inductee.

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If you're my age you grew up with The Cosby Show on Thursday nights, so you're familiar with Lisa Bonet and wouldn't surprised that she does well in a movie like this opposite Madsen. Another thing I like about her casting here is that she wouldn't have been cast in a Film Noir of the 40s and 50s, so she brings the movie into the 90s better than Madsen does; but she still has all the elements of the classic Noir femme fatale, from the femininity and seductiveness, to the assertiveness and ability to put the lead on his heels.

After Madsen and Bonet, there are a lot of other people in this worth mentioning. This was Gary Stretch's first feature length movie, and I believe he was still a boxer at the time. I think our only Gary Stretch movie other than this one was Mega Shark vs. Crocosaurus. Then there's U.S. Seals 2's Damian Chapa, as a detective working under Madsen. One of my personal favorites was a small cameo by Parker Posey as Stretch's first victim. This was one year before she broke out as the 90s indie it girl with Party Girl. Susan Byun from Sgt. Kabukiman and the Gary Daniels film Deadly Target plays another potential Stretch victim. Finally, Curt Smith of Tears for Fears has one scene as a desk clerk in a hotel. How awesome is that?

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Actually, that's not finally, because there's one more I need to mention. That's right, Tuvok is back, this time as another detective working under Madsen. We last saw Tuvok as a drug dealer in Death Wish 4. This may become our thing, a little novelty. It's not about seeking out Tuvok movies, but seeing how many times he'll pop up in something coincidentally-- like the McDonald's thing I've done in the past. Again, I've never really even seen Star Trek: Voyager, but maybe if we keep seeing Tuvok in our movies I'll have to start.

Considering this is on Watch Instantly here in the States, I think it's worth checking out; but even if you don't have Watch Instantly or live outside the US, if you can track this down I'd say go for it, especially if you're a Michael Madsen fan. You'll enjoy it.

For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0107417/

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Return of the Kickfighter aka Mission Terminate (1987)

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A friend hooked me up with this from a rip off of a Czech VHS. How sweet is that? Always on the lookout for more Richard Norton and more AIP flicks, I was looking forward to making this bad boy happen. Let's see how it went.

Return of the Kickfighter is something of a 'Namsploitation about a group of soldiers that bury some gold at the end of the war, and 15 years later a Viet Cong soldier who had it initially wants it back, and he plans to get it by killing all the members of that old troop. Initially his work looks like the work of terrorists, so the Army calls in it's best guy, Richard Norton, who, though he may have long hair and a beard, and may have been born in Australia, grew up in the States and is American through and through. Thank God, because they'll need him if they want their gold and they want to get out of this alive.

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At least I think that's the plot. I may have missed something. Does it matter? I'm watching this for the exploding huts, and I got those. I'm watching this for the Richard Norton, and I got that too. Also, we had Bruce Le as a guy that had a score to settle with the Viet Cong soldier or something, and he was pretty sweet. This is a tough find, and I'm not so sure you should be going too far out of your way to get it, but if you see it in a bargain bin or on eBay or Amazon for a reasonable price, it might be a good one to to have in your collection.

What's interesting about this, is Richard Norton made a movie called Kick Fighter in 1990 with the same director as this one, so if you see that one kicking around, this movie isn't a sequel to it. Anyway, what can I say about how great Norton is here? He seems to have the attitude that shirts should only be worn if they have some additional utilitarian function. For most of us, that utilitarian function would be to cover our upper body, but for Norton, that would mean covering those too sweet pecs. No can do. For him, it's either no shirt, or a vest that holds ammunition and grenades. Otherwise, that T shirt he wears the rest of the time is too cumbersome for him. He also gets some great fights in and blows up some huts, which is cool too.

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Mr. Kenner at Movies in the Attic had mentioned how he wanted me to do more Bruce Le on here, way back when I did Future Hunters over two years ago. I guess that didn't work out so well. He has a bigger part here than he had in that other flick, but it's still only a supporting role, and he even doesn't get to win his one big fight against his main rival, Norton has to come in out of the bullpen and put the fire out. Still, a little Le goes a long way.

Maybe I should've paid more attention in the credits, because I have no idea who this guy below is, but he looks like a poor man's Charles Napier. I mean, had this been made in the States Napier would've been playing this part, it's like it was made for him. As far as poor man's versions go, this guy wasn't bad-- Charles Napier would've been proud.

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I could't tell for sure, but it looked like Norton had a rat tail. Remember the rat tail? Those were huge in the 80s. I started one, but then just cut it off. I didn't get haircuts often enough for the rat tail effect to become prominent. I remember some kids in school had some enormous ones though. Then, in the early 90s, when I was in 8th grade, our science teacher sported one. We were all like "dude, those went out almost 10 years ago, what are you doing?"

I couldn't find this on Amazon or eBay. In a way that's too bad, because this is a lot of fun; but it's not like it's one that you can't live without. I'd say just keep your eye out. I imagine my readers in Europe will have an easier time, especially if there's a Czech version floating around. No matter what, though, VHS is what you'll find it on.

For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0093549/

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Crisis (1997)

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Anyone who's been rocking with us for a little while knows that I try to keep the amount of tags for Jeff Wincott and David Bradley roughly the same, just because I do, and last week we did two Wincott flicks in the two Universal Soldier sequels, so now it's time to balance out the scale with a Bradley flick. Even though Wincott wasn't a star in either film, that's not how tags work, two supporting roles don't equal one starring role, a tag is a tag no matter how much someone is involved with a movie, so expect another Bradley one soon after this one.

Crisis has Bradley as a hitman who visits his environmental activist brother and finds out the guy is planning a home invasion of a famous scientist that is also a major polluter. Bradley tags along to try and keep his brother out of trouble, but when things go pear-shaped, instead of helping, he finds himself tied to a weight bench. Looks like some pesky German terrorists have infiltrated the environmental activist group with a plan to get their hands on some missiles the scientist was commissioned with disposing of, and then pin the blame on the activists. Can Bradley get himself free in time to save the day?

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Wow, great beginning, great ending, horrible middle. Jalal Merhi let us down here as director-- though he didn't write it, so maybe we can't blame him too much. I get that Die Hard in a mansion can be difficult to pull off for 90 minutes due to the small space in which the action takes place-- skyscrapers and industrial plants work so much better-- but to mitigate that issue by having our hero spend a chunk of the film tied to a weight bench making Romantic Comedy banter with a love interest in a Jennifer Aniston haircut, that's a bad play. The whole idea is that Bradley is supposed to be a snake in the grass, but when he shows his hand so early in, we're stuck. And this is after an amazing beginning where he offs a bunch of dudes, rides a Harley, and rocks some too sweet shades; and an end confrontation with the head baddie that ends hilariously with the baddie looking to run Bradley down in a stolen car, and Bradley countering by throwing a fireman's ax at the windshield. Can I recommend a movie for roughly 15 minutes of quality footage? Of course I can't. (Though I guess I did for even less in Out for a Kill.)

How is it that Bradley is the one who ends up in a Romantic Comedy scenario tied to a weight bench with another hostage tied up next to him whom he doesn't get along with, but eventually hooks up with? Do we see Wincott doing that? Dolph maybe, but for as long a segment of the movie as Bradley was here? It just seems like tied to a weight bench is part of a bigger pattern of fanny pack behavior. Maybe this is why Bradley got out of acting, because he was tired of crap like this. The thing to do with this would've been to keep Bradley's cover, maybe even have the baddie suspect something's up with him, so he sends him down to the weight room to guard the woman, and the challenge for Bradley then is to keep his cover, convince this girl he's just tied up that he's not really one of the hostage takers, and keep his ear to the door to keep himself abreast of the goings on upstairs. It would've been better than what we got.

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What you're looking at right there is Word 97 (at least I think it is). You're probably thinking "great, why would you cap that?" Because that my friends is what passed for the company interface through which the sleazy scientist accessed his company in order to get the release for the missiles. Yep, no cute graphics, no animation that looks nothing like a computer program, but still looks like something. Nope, a Word file, and they just had the guy type into it. At one point he's contacting 911. Yep, just type it in anywhere in the Word document, that will be fine.

Speaking of the sleazy scientist, he was played by Cameron Mitchell's son. You may remember the son from Space Mutiny as the guard that tells Calgon that "the information is scanty" at the moment. Scanty. Most of his credits are under the name "Channing Mitchell", including this one, but now he goes by the name Cameron Mitchell Jr. He was good here as the sleazy scientist, but no where near what his dad brought to the table in all those AIP flicks.

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We've started something of a trend here where I use the last paragraph to talk about some outdated cultural phenomena or nostalgia that comes to mind when watching the movie, and I couldn't pass up the Jennifer Aniston hairdo. Was it called the Aniston or the Rachel? It was big in the mid to late 90s, and while this one isn't a perfect example, is Aniston-y enough. I think they went with it here to give the impression that this woman was a modern spitfire of sorts, that she wouldn't take any crap. Like Bradley though, she spends a good chunk of the film tied to a weight bench, though she isn't as well secured, so she gets to hop around a lot. Very modern spitfire.

Though you can check this out on Watch Instantly, I don't recommend it unless you're a Bradley completist. I am by virtue of having this blog, which means I hurt so you don't have to-- and if you don't have to, I wouldn't. Also, it was shot in Saskatoon, so if that does anything for you, by all means.

For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0136774/

Monday, December 5, 2011

Setup (2011)

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This has been on my radar for some time, back as far as when I still had the DVD service from Netflix. They never sent it to me, keeping it relegated in Very Long Wait limbo-- which was a big reason why I dumped their DVD service, everything I wanted was in some kind of wait limbo, so my one DVD at a time plan was essentially a weekly spin at the roulette wheel. Long story short, it's now on Instant, so I'm now reviewing it.

Setup is a Lions Gate DTV suspense yarn featuring 50 Cent as a dude from Detroit who, with his buddy Ryan Phillippe and some other dude from the neighborhood, live a life of crime. It's their most recent crime, a big diamond heist, that has 50 and Phillippe at odds with one another, because Phillippe double-crossed them, killed the friend, and almost got 50 too. Now 50's out for revenge, but he's not the only one: the people who originally owned the diamonds have someone on their trail, and Bruce Willis, a local mob boss, has some beef with 50 about something else, but he wouldn't mind the diamonds either. Can 50 get out of all of this alive, and finally get his revenge on his old pal?

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I can't believe I'm going to say this, but Setup wasn't that bad-- in fact, it was pretty good in spots. It had some bad spots too, and we'll get into that later, but there was a lot of good. First off, 50 Cent was a pretty decent lead. The voice-overs were silly, and the fact that he'd even hang out with Phillippe's character didn't jive with who 50 is, but otherwise, he worked. Even better was Bruce Willis as the mob boss. Most of the Lion's Gate DTV flicks with big names in them just use the names as window dressing, but this one leans on Willis and let's him carry his scenes, allowing the other actors to follow him, instead of forcing them to take a lead that ultimately doesn't work. I liked the dark humor in the film too. It drew from some classic violent sources, like Pulp Fiction and The Exterminator, plus you had 50 Cent and Bruce Willis with their own wit that worked well too. Overall, this was a pretty good deal.

That isn't to say though that it didn't have some major problems. First and foremost, while this didn't have the egregious high blink rate MTV jumpcuts, it did have some weird editing, and this shoddy zoom effect that looked like someone making a home movie and wanting a close-up of their grandkid crying on Santa's lap. Why do directors do this stuff? Even worse were the freeze frame and title introducing characters, only it introduced their roles, not their names, like "Hitman" for the guy who worked as a hitman. Really, we couldn't tell from the context what he was? And later in the film, we get some random dude introduced in a random location out in the mountains, and suddenly these freeze frame titles are conspicuously absent. My biggest issues though was the dynamic between 50 Cent and Ryan Phillipe's character. Phillippe played his role like a dude on a paternity episode of Maury. All the guy was missing was the whisper thin mustache. 50 wouldn't hang around a dude like that, and a dude like that wouldn't be the mastermind of a big heist. That undercuts a lot of what the movie was trying to do, but because Phillippe isn't in it as much as Willis and 50 Cent, it doesn't hurt it was much as it could've.

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I want to go back to those freeze frame titles. Why are those ever in movies? In my mind they say two things: our screenwriters aren't good enough for you as the viewer to figure out from the context who these people are; and our actors don't perform well enough for you to figure out who they're portraying. There's even one for Bruce Willis that says "Mob Boss". Really? And like I said above, we get some random scene in an airplane hangar out in the mountains with some dude we don't know, and there's no freeze frame title there, the one place we actually needed it! I get that a Lion's Gate DTV suspense yarn is supposed to be low-quality and I'm not supposed to take it seriously, but do you need to make it so obvious? Especially when this one wasn't so low quality and could've been taken it seriously.

Bruce Willis was fantastic, and as I said above, I really liked that this movie leaned on him a lot. It's common for movies like this to take a star like Willis and splash his name all over the cover, then use him for a scene or two, as a character that's totally disposable and unremarkable. Another common thing is to see someone like 50 Cent forced into carrying a scene with someone like Willis, something that doesn't work for anyone involved. They didn't do that here. They let Willis determine how these scenes should go, trusted his experience, and it paid off. One of the best was a limo scene with Willis and 50, where the two were headed to some confrontation, and Willis was talking about the difference between older men and younger men. This was no Willis bait-and-switch, he's a solid supporting cast member, and the film benefits for that.

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I want to finish by discussing 50 Cent, because he was really good here. He had a few lines that made me laugh out loud, plus his role as the protagonist was one I could really root for. The only thing of course was that they made his character work, and Phillipe's didn't, and that hurt 50's somewhat because we had to remind ourselves that he was supposed to be on Phillippe's level, or that his character would've willingly hung out with Phillipe's. I think it'll be interesting to see going forward what kinds of roles 50 gets. I've usually not been a fan of rappers turned actors, because they often take parts from better qualified African Americans like Michael Jai White; but this isn't a role I'd want to see White in. I think these suspense crime dramas work for 50, and White can keep the DTV actioners-- and the comedies.

While this is on Watch Instantly here in the States, I think it's worth checking out because it's very little investment beyond time. In addition to Willis and 50 Cent, I forgot to mention that James Remar has a great small role as Phillipe's father, and Randy Couture is solid as Willis's hatchet man. This is one of those rare occasions that the Lions Gate DTV flick got it right.

For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1748197/