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.

Announcement

Announcement

Hi everyone, it's been a while since I checked the page, and I wanted to make a few announcements.

First and foremost, it appears a dubious site has claimed the old url, meaning any link in any review that goes to the old mattmovieguy url is corrupt. I'm in the process of trying to remove them all, but it's a lot! It's best not to click on any link without hovering over it first to make sure it doesn't have mattmovieguy in the url.

Second, it appears since my last trip to the blog, Photobucket has decided to charge for third party hosting, meaning none of my images are appearing anymore. That's simply an aesthetic issue, but still annoying.

Thank you all for your patience, and again, hopefully this will all be fixed soon.

--Matt

Monday, November 29, 2010

Nemesis 2: Nebula (1995)

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I had been meaning to review this, and the other two Nemesis sequels, for sometime now, but one Albert Pyun movie or another always trumped it. The other thing it doesn't have in its favor is other Hall of Famers, which will immediately cause it to drop in priority. Then there was its lack of availability, but that was solved when I came across it recently.

Nemesis 2 starts in the year 2077, where the cyborgs have taken over and are enslaving the remaining humans. Some have rebelled, and a scientist has created a genetically superior human that can combat the cyborgs. As an infant, the cyborgs hunt her down, so her mom takes her into the past, the year 1980 to be precise, in war torn east Africa, where she's raised by local tribesmen after her mother dies. Back in the future, the cyborgs send Nebula, a Predator like tracker, to capture this superior human, and he meets up with the girl after she's grown into a buff young woman, and the two go toe to toe.

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So, this is something of a bait-and-switch, because the opening of the film has these great models and paintings of a future LA ruled by cyborgs, and it all looked awesome, and something I could really sink my teeth into. Then we're sent back to 1980 east Africa, in the desert, and all that futuristic coolness is gone. I get that it was probably more cost-effective to shoot in the Arizona desert than in elaborate futuristic sets, but it was still a disappointment when we were transported away from all that. As far as the rest of the film goes, it's mix of Star Wars, Predator, and Pyun's own Cyborg. It's very low-budget, so if you don't have a stomach for things written off as "cheesy", you'll be in trouble here. For me, it was a fun ride, but territory that was well-worn-- not at all like the inspired Sci-Fi Western Nemesis was.

We aren't even halfway through Albert Pyun's filmography-- though I have a feeling there are some of those ones from the past he'd rather we don't do. Maybe Nemesis 2 was one of those ones, I don't know. I think some of the last reviews I've done of his films, I've been of the opinion that I got what he was trying to do, but it didn't exactly work for me, because of A,B, and C. That's not the case here. I think the main issue with this one was probably the budget, because the idea wasn't a bad one. Maybe Nebula was too derivative of the Predator, or the setting was too much like Tatooine and the rebels too much like Sandpeople, but overall, I liked it as an out-of-the box sequel to Nemesis. The budgetary issues relegate it to that MST3K area, but if you dig bad action, there were plenty of explosions and gunfights.

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What this lacked that made Nemesis such a classic though, was that cool mix of genres. While this had elements that felt more derivative than re-imaginings, it's predecessor was really about bending conventions and blending things we hadn't really seen until that point. It felt like a futuristic Western, and with the enormous cast he had, he was able to sell that atmosphere even more. I guess this movie was trying to do the same, by looking at a civil war in east Africa as a brutal, modern Wild West, but with the low budget and relatively unknown cast, it felt more inhibited and less inspired.

The heroine was played by female bodybuilder Sue Price. She was excellent, and more than a bodybuilder, she was really athletic too. According to her imdb bio, the only three films she did were these three Nemesis sequels. I guess I can see that, because it really takes an outside-the-box film maker like Pyun to defy conventions and cast someone like her. It's like a given that a female tough chick would still have to be thin and feminine and less believable in her asskicking than in a skintight outfit. Here, though, we have one that's well-built and naturally athletic. The whole thing worked for me, but I think for most people, it would be a hard image to consume-- women are supposed to look one way, and men are supposed to look another.

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I mentioned above that I loved the models they used for the futuristic LA. Probably today those would've been done with computers, and I have to imagine with the kinds of shooting restrictions Pyun is frequently faced with, rendering those cities in CGIs would probably be preferable, and had he had that option in 1995, he would have gone for it. I understand that, but I think we lose something in these computer generated graphics. I like a city like the one in Metropolis, I like it when directors use something other than a computer to make things in their films life-like. I get that the computer can get things done faster and easier, and in some cases cheaper; and I get that sometimes more can be done with computers; but there's something more imaginative, yet more real, about making us believe a city is real without letting a computer do all the work.

In the final analysis, you have to ask yourself: do I like low-budget actioners? Do I like crazy plots that go from 2077 Cyborg LA to 1980 east Africa? Do I like explosions and gunfights, all in a self-contained desert location? What do I think of a derivative Predator villain? For me, I look at these questions and I'm like "fire it up, deepcheeks", but that's just me. Also, this is hard to get at, so I wouldn't go too far out of your way, but if you see it in a used VHS or DVD bin, why not go for it.

For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0113948/

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Hunt to Kill (2010)

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I write this blog for two types of readers: one, the people who follow on a regular basis and have been rockin' with me for a while now (and thank you to all of you), and then there's the cats who stumble upon us either through a search or another link on a site like imdb. For the former, you're reading this knowing without me telling you that I reviewed The Expendables the day before, and also already know that Hunt to Kill had a hard act to follow, and it's for you that I make the disclaimer that I accounted for that fact in how I dealt with this film, so don't think what you're about to read is influenced in any way by an Expendables review writing hangover. For the latter, first, however you got here, welcome, and thank you for checking us out, and second, again, the negative review you're about to read has nothing to do with how utterly awesome The Expendables was.

Hunt to Kill is a ABC Family Channel movie about a border patrol agent, Stone Cold Steve Austin, who relocates to the border in Montana after his partner, Eric Roberts, is killed in a meth lab raid on the US southern border. He wants to reconnect with his daughter, but she rejects these rural surroundings, wanting to return to the city. Luckily for them, Gil Bellows and his gang stroll into town and take them both hostage so Austin can guide them through the wilderness to track down a buddy in a bank heist who made off with the loot on them, and this allows Austin and his daughter a ready made bonding opportunity. After they get the loot, this ABC Family Original takes a left turn, as Austin survives multiple gun shot wounds, a 30 foot drop onto a ledge that suddenly turns into water, then stumbles across a bag hanging from a tree which contains an expensive crossbow. Austin takes them out ninja-style, and he and his daughter walk off into the sunset.

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I have trouble believing this was a serious film. Forget the "country boy will survive/those city folk don't have any real values" message-- I'll get to what I thought of that later-- the movie itself was a mess. First it's an action movie with an enormous explosion, which kills off Eric Roberts. Then it devolves into ABC Family territory, and I'm wondering what Austin is doing here at all. Then it becomes Rambo, and at this point, I'm literally laughing out loud at how silly it all is. I mean, we have Austin stalking his prey like a ninja, appearing in one place, then disappearing when the camera moves back there; or even funnier, popping up from under some bushes after the other characters leave a scene. I thought he might be acting out the end of Macbeth. It was just so goofy. To quote John McEnroe, "You cannot be serious!" Of the three Austin films I've looked at here, this was by far the worst and the most sautéed in wrong sauce.

There was a major bright spot though: Austin's fight scene with Gary Daniels. It was amazing. It was better than any fight in his previous films. I've been waiting for that kind of sustained awesome in my Stone Cold Steve Austin films, and, for me at least, it has yet to happen. Stallone used him perfectly in The Expendables, but I think it's equally possible to use him as well as the hero, not just the heel. The guy revolutionized professional wrestling, completely blurred the lines between heel and hero; but he was also electric in the ring. I just want a movie to capture that electricity. I don't want a good ol' boy country boy can survive Stone Cold. I don't want a confused amnesiac Stone Cold. I don't want an introspective ex-con Stone Cold. I want a badass driving through shit in a sick Harley, beating the crap out of multiple dudes, having beers thrown to him from off-screen, and giving the finger to all the extras watching him. How difficult is that? Fuck, remake Stone Cold for Christ's sake. How awesome would that be?

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As we mentioned above, our one Hall of Famer is Mr. Gary Daniels. I watched the behind the scenes featurette that came with the DVD, and found out one, that Daniels choreographed that too sweet fighting scene between he and Austin; but two, he was only in the film as a favor to Austin, whom he befriended on The Expendables set. That's why it's always good to get that perspective if I can, even if most of those featurettes are about the actors and director trying to sell us on the movie. (The best in this one was Gil Bellows telling us how his baddie character was "totally unpredictable, you never know what he'll do next", when if anyone has ever seen one action film, they could have foreseen everything he did before he did it.). I should probably review a Daniels feature soon, just because it's been a while.

Back to the country living vs. city folk aspect of the film. As someone who grew up in small town Maine, but a small town Maine that is only an hour from Boston-- and southern coastal Maine tends to be more cosmopolitan than the inner more rural areas-- I have an appreciation for both sides of this coin, and the live and let live mentality. But there were a lot of messages that were pretty backward and ignorant. You have the one black character as a degenerate who couldn't wait to get his hands on Austin's daughter so he could rape her, the classic rural white fear of African American males wanting all their white women. There's also the city folk having no real values, nothing they believe in, except backstabbing and an honor-less devotion to money. Then you have the daughter wanting the city, and learning her dad is right about how great it is away from all that. It's all ridiculous, but if you want to believe the country is split like that, and that all those stereotypes about people in the city or suburbs are true, then I've got a message for you: we're coming for your women. That's right, your wives, daughters, sisters, cousins, we're coming for them. We've got a pair of True Religion jeans, a closet full of Manolo Blahniks, and a Juicy Couture T with a slit cut down the front from the collar to the cleavage so they can show off those fake boobs we gave them, on top of the collagen we pumped into their lips, and the Botox we injected into their foreheads. You think Paris Hilton is scary? Wait till your daughter comes back from New York with bleach blond hair, an outfit that costs more than your entire gun collection, and a boyfriend with so many ethnic backgrounds you won't be able to guess what he is. You can't stop the inevitable. Oh yeah, and I think Jimmie Johnson just won his fifth championship-- that's right, we don't even like NASCAR, we're just good at it!

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Okay, enough of that-- my Northeast Elitism reared it's ugly head I think-- Mr. Kenner mentioned that maybe I should put Eric Roberts in my Hall of Fame. Maybe I should. I wasn't able to tag him in The Expendables, because I went over my tag limit. I didn't even know there was such a thing. Anyway, we'll see about the Roberts thing, but as I write this, we're a year out from the next induction ceremony (held at the local Holiday Inn every October!), so a lot can happen between now and then.

I forgot to mention earlier that, according to the film's own plot, none of this should have happened. During the bank heist scene, we see one of the gang back at the base, using all this sophisticated technology to track them, mimic the voice of police dispatchers, and tell them where the cops are. You're going to tell me that a guy with that technical know-how wouldn't go online and read up on what the wilderness in that area was like? Or that they wouldn't by a guide in one of the local shops? Really, they needed to take Austin and his daughter hostage? If a film's own plot suggests that it's own events shouldn't have happened, is the film worth seeing? What do you think?

For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1563719/

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

The Expendables (2010)

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Had this film come out before we started the DTVC in May of 2007, it would have been saved for a milestone post, like 100 or 500 or something. Because it's a new release on DVD, I wanted to get the review in on the day it was out-- especially since we're far off from the next milestone number-- so even though this is post number 558, we're going to treat it like a milestone post, suspending our usual 8 paragraph 3 image format for a 10 paragraph 4 image special edition. Luckily, I don't sell issues of this like comic books, because you'd be paying ten bucks for the reverse hologram cover-- or not, and I'd be stuck with a stack of them collecting dust and not going up in value.

The Expendables stars Sly Stallone as the leader of the eponymous mercenary group, experts at taking care of business and selling their talents to the highest bidder. When Bruce Willis comes knocking, wanting a crew to go into a Latin American island to take out the general in control there, Arnold Schwarzenegger thinks the idea is madness, so his merc group won't take the job. Sly likes the idea of the $5 mill Willis is willing to pay them, so he agrees. On a reconnaissance mission, he and Jason Statham realize things are pretty rough, that there's not just a general, but an evil Eric Roberts and a lot of soldiers, so they initially decide they want no part. Then Stallone thinks about the girl they left behind, who wanted to stay and fight for her people, and he decides he wants to stand for something too, and go back in there. His crew agrees, leading to one of the greatest finales in action movie history.

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I considered using a metaphor to describe this, like how I said Righteous Kill was like the old timers game with Pacino and De Niro, I was thinking maybe The Expendables was the fantasy camp. But then I realized that that would be selling this film short. Selling short a film that punches you in the face with awesomeness. Selling short Sly Stallone, who said "hey, the shit we did back in the 80s and 90s, a lot of people really liked that shit. Fuck Matt Damon and Toby McGuire, let's get some motherfuckers that people really want to see kicking ass, and let's show them kicking ass!" He took the great films we love from the 80s and 90s, and he made one that was faster, louder, and more powerful, yet without losing what made those movies so awesome. This was Commando on steroids-- or HGH-- and a middle finger to everyone who thumbed their nose at the shit we grew up with.

We spend so much time on here ruing newer films for not getting it. Not getting what we want as an audience. Look at Jean-Claude Van Damme, who brags in JCVD about how he turned down a role in The Expendables because he didn't like what Stallone was offering him. Are you kidding? Your fans wanted your ass in this, kicking ass with all the rest of these bad asses. We don't care about what kind of role you get, or about how much Stallone didn't stroke your ego, we want to see you in this enormous pile of awesomeness. Stallone has come through, and he got everyone on board to understand his vision. He made this movie as much for us as he did for them, and I'm stoked about that. Thank you, we all appreciate it.

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As always, we need to look at the Hall of Famers, and out of all the names, we only have two: Dolph Lundgren and Gary Daniels. Lundgren, as he does in almost every big screen film, plays something of a baddie. He actually hits Gary Daniels in one scene, reminding us of what we didn't get in Retrograde. The best part was his fight with Jet Li, because he was able to let rip with his Olympic-class martial arts talent, probably one of the best scenes we've ever seen him in. Do you see him telling us, his fans "I didn't do the film because I didn't like the role Sly had for me"? Hell no! He delivers. Gary Daniels is interesting, because we'd been doing some of his early roles here recently, and this was reminiscent of those. Very small part as Eric Roberts' hachetman-- second in command to Stone Cold Steve Austin-- but yet, he also has a great fight, with Jet Li and Jason Statham at the same time.

I commonly have a gripe with a movie, especially an action movie, that suspends the action in order to get melodramatic on us, so you're probably wondering what I thought of Mickey Rourke's tear-filled tale of an incident in Bosnia he witnessed. That's one of the benefits to having such a large and diverse cast, you get guys like Mickey Rourke, who was an amazing Sean Penn performance in Milk away from a best actor Oscar. Mickey Rourke can make a scene like that compelling, and more importantly, make it work. Not every movie has the advantage of such a deep cast, which is why I'm often annoyed when they try to do what Mickey Rourke did here, because it seldom comes off.

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If I have any complaint with The Expendables-- and can I really have any complaint?-- it's that we don't have more Charisma Carpenter. Isn't any movie better for having more Charisma Carpenter? Exactly, she's awesome. She turned forty a few months ago, which is just crazy to me, because she doesn't look nearly that old. She plays Statham's ex-girlfriend, and when he finds out her new boyfriend hit her, he goes down to where the guy is playing basketball, and destroys him and all his buddies. Amazing scene, and one I think all these TapOut/punchfighting movie makers should look at that for how to make their fight scenes in their films. Anyway, I'm getting off track, this paragraph was meant to be about how much I like Charisma Carpenter. Hopefully, if Stallone makes a sequel to this, he'll put more of her in it.

Speaking of the abusive boyfriend, this movie adds an element that not every action films includes, and that's a strong statement about violence against women. In every case that a male character does something to physically attack a female character, that character is dealt with harshly, which is as it should be. People always focus on the violence in a film like this as a bad example for kids, but it's so extreme and so (almost) cartoonish to be taken seriously. On the other hand, how many action films or old gangster and Film Noir pictures show women being dominated or treated violently, without immediately denouncing such behavior. This movie does that, and does it in a very powerful way. Kudos for that.

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On top of the great action, all of the characters were in other great scenes where there was no action at all. All of this could have easily been about them, they could have used those scenes to revel in each other's stardom, but they didn't. They made those scenes about us, their fans, and as such, they were tons of fun to watch. It just gets back to what made this movie so great, that Stallone understood what he was doing and what we wanted, and he made it all happen.

Plain and simple, The Expendables delivered on what it promised. If you saw it in the theater, see it again. Put it on your Christmas list, or run out to the store to buy it because you can't wait. I'm curious to check it out on my buddy's Blu-ray player myself. This was the movie we were hoping for, and seldom do any films ever give us what we're hoping for.

(As an aside, for the first time ever I got an error message for having too many tags. I didn't even know there was a limit!)

For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1320253/

Monday, November 22, 2010

Cyber-Tracker 2 (1995)

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It was about a year-and-a-half ago that I reviewed CyberTracker, which I just found out, upon looking it up on imdb, that I had misspelled at the time (I had a space between "Cyber" and "tracker"). Anyway, for this go around, I went online for an image of the cover, as I always do, and whose should I come across, but our own Mr. Kenner's over at Movies in the Attic. He hit both films at the same time, which you can check out here. Hopefully you're not upset that I hotlinked your image. I can make it up to you if you need me to. Also, I should point out, I think he either saw a different movie, or was filling out his Christmas cards when he watched it, because his synopsis and the one I'm about to give are pretty different.

Cyber-Tracker 2 not only picks up a hyphen, but picks up a few years or so after part 1 left off. Don "The Dragon" Wilson is working as a CIA agent, undercover breaking up heavy-duty counterfeiting rings (that's really all the secret service do that's anything like police work), while his wife, Stacie Foster, the reporter/anti-CyberTracker activist from the first film, goes back to her life as just the former without the latter. Anyway, Donny's watching for her on TV, and sees her shoot and kill the governor. Turns out it wasn't her, but a new kind of CyberTracker made to look like her by sword fighter Anthony De Longis' company. He was hired by the lieutenant governor to commit the assassination, and now all he has to do is kill Foster before anyone finds out, and the public will think it's the terrorists from part 1 again. She escapes before they can get her, and now it's on. Donny's on a fight to clear her name and bring the baddies to justice, while his double wants to scowl and kill people-- with both sporting a well-feathered mullet.

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This is a tough call for me, because it's not very good, but it's not atrocious either. It has plenty of sick explosions, the gunfights are more excitement by repetition than excitement, and there isn't much in the way of solid Don "The Dragon" fight scenes. On the other hand, we've seen a lot worse, it is only 87 minutes long, and we're talking about PM Entertainment here-- it's not supposed to be the Criterion Collection. If you go in with low expectations, and just want a dumb bad actioner with a name you know like Wilson's, it's not a complete waste of time.

As we continue on our Don "The Dragon" Wilson completion project, we find ourselves on his 18th film, which ties him with Gary Daniels and Jean-Claude Van Damme for fifth all time (you'll notice Van Damme has 19 tags, and that's because he has the Van Damme Film Fest post), behind Dolph, Lorenzo Lamas, Michael Dudikoff, and Steven Seagal. There are two things to note about that. First, with 12 DTV films left, he doesn't have enough to catch Dolph, and based only on current filmographies, Dudikoff, Daniels, and Lamas will blow by him. And Second, at my current pace of one Wilson film every two weeks, it will be six months before we're done with this, which means I need to speed things up some. I don't know if I can, though, because there's a point where people have had too much Don "The Dragon" Wilson, and I need to stay within that saturation point. We'll just keep plugging along and see what happens.

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I was kind of disappointed that Anthony De Longis didn't get an opportunity to showcase his sword fighting skills, but he was, as always, an excellent baddie. Amazing last line too, "bloody hell", after being fatally shot in the chest. You may have remembered that he was such a great baddie, Highlander: The Series cast him twice to play two separate characters, three seasons apart. It kind of surprised me, seeing him here, that we don't see him more often, especially as the head baddie, because he is so good, plus he offers a great number of martial arts skills. I should point out, though, in trying to pronounce Zurich the German way, he pronounced it incorrectly. The way he said it would have been spelled like "surig", with the "-ig" on the end sounding like "ish". What he needed was the German "z". which is pronounced "tseh" (think of the "z" in "Nazi"; their "s" is what sounds like our "z")' followed by more umlaut on his "u", which makes it sound like someone trying to say "eee" with their lips pursed to say "ooh"; and then finished with an "r" into something like an "eesh" sound. Of course, there might be a Swiss German way of saying it that he was closer too, which would mean I'm all off.

I didn't catch when in the future this is supposed to take place, but I think we may have already gone past it, so it's always good to see how we did compared to what they thought we'd do. First, our TVs and cell phones are much better-- well, not my cell phone, because people looked like they were using Razrs, and my phone is a generation behind that. TV technology is way behind, though, because not only do they have tubes in this, but they don't even have DVRs or DVDs. Second, we're still getting around to interactive virtual maids, so Cyber-Tracker 2 got us there. Of course third, the human looking robots and the ability to make their faces look like anyone, we may never get there on that one. Finally, they totally missed potential changes to Pizza Hut's box design, not even making an attempt to guess what they'd look like in the future. What a waste that was.

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This guy above is from General Hospital-- at least he was at the time he made Cyber-Tracker 2. How do I know that? My neighbor used to watch it back when I was in 8th grade/high school (I don't think she does anymore). How do I know she watched it? I have two younger siblings, and my parents decided they'd rather have her watch them after school before they got home instead of me; and before I'd leave to go do whatever with my friends, she'd have General Hospital on in the living room. Why did my parents decide that? Because I shattered their trust one afternoon when they were out and I had the house to myself, and in the process of making Ramen noodles, spilled some of them into the burner, starting a small fire. It was so small my buddy actually put it out with a whiffle ball bat, but the smell gave me away when they got home, and they decided to err on the side of caution. So, as a result of a minute Ramen noodle fire, I now recognize people who starred on General Hospital between 1992-95.

That was probably more than you needed to know, so I'll wrap it up here. I'm going to go back to my early days for a recommendation I haven't given in a while: if you see it on TV at 3AM, and you're procrastinating while trying to write a paper, this is a great option. Beyond that I don't know. Spending more than a couple bucks, even if you're a PM Entertainment collector, could be more than what's worth it, so I'd be careful-- make sure it's two bucks you won't feel bad you didn't spend at Taco Bell.

For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0112762/

Friday, November 19, 2010

Martial Law II: Undercover (1992)

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A while back, I mentioned something to Kenner at Movies in the Attic about a potential Top 10 DTV Movies of the 90s post, which would definitely be a large undertaking, considering what a huge decade for DTV the 90s was. Anyway, I gave him something of a preliminary proposal of what I was thinking about, and he gave me a counter proposal, so-to-speak, of the films that he thought I missed, and Martial Law II was one of those films. I vaguely remembered it, and my vague memories tell me that all of these 1990s DTV actioners are awesome, so I didn't think much of it, but knew it was worth going over again if Kenner felt it deserved a mention like that. Anyway, I thought it would be necessary to do Martial Law before I reviewed its sequel, which I did a few weeks ago, and now, here we are with this one.

Martial Law II is something of a sequel, only instead of Chad McQueen, we have a too sweet Jeff Wincott and an equally awesome DTVC Hall of Famer Cynthia Rothrock. When Wincott's buddy dies of an apparent drunk driving accident, Wincott is suspicious, and his suspicions land him at a night club run by one of the greatest heels of all time, John Sears from 90210, making the step up to full-on baddie. They don't like Wincott snooping around and asking questions, and Sears' hatchetman, DTVC fave Evan Lurie, has it out with him, blowing Wincott's cover. That's why he has Rothrock, a kickass cop with a background in tending bar, infiltrate Sears' club and see what's up. At the same time, Wincott snoops at his police precinct, thinking some of his fellow cops are dirty, including his chief, Billy Drago. Can Wincott and Rothrock kick enough ass to prevail and get their dead buddy justice?

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Not only can they, but they can do it with ten kinds of awesome on top. This is just non-stop sweetness. This is what I'm talking about right here. Every fight was great, every actor turned in great performances, nothing was wasted, nothing was left on the table, and I left totally fulfilled. Wincott kills it, Rothrock is solid, you gotta love John Sears and Evan Lurie as your baddies, plus you have Billy Drago as a cleancut police chief, meaning his creepiness is a little more subtle; and Sherrie Rose, Leo Lee, and James Lew all play members of Sears' gang. As far as what made it awesome, I don't know where to begin. Each fight scene built on the one before it. They became progressively better. Plot exposition, when it was there, was short, well performed, and bled seamlessly into the action. There were other things I loved too, like the smooth jazz in the montages and other bumpers, some of which featured pretty rockin' sax solos; and perhaps one of the best uses of a shotgun ever in the denouement. This is as good as it gets.

We start where we always start, with the film's Hall of Famer(s), and for Martial Law II, that would be Cynthia Rothrock. You'd think with her being the one holdover from the original, she'd be the lead this time, but the film actually does work better with Wincott in that role, so I'm fine with it. They do do a better job giving her more and nicer looking fight scenes, so I liked that. Whereas in part one she was more like Chad McQueen's moral support, here she was a very capable and contributing partner, and provided the sensibility and levelheadedness in contrast to Wincott's fire and brash demeanor. I'm not sure where we'll go next with her, because we have so many options, being not even halfway through her 40+ film DTV oeuvre, but for right now, we'll bask in her awesomeness in Martial Law II.

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Now for Mr. Wincott. Everything you love about him is in full effect here, from the mean mug and the Bogie-esque snarl, to the Toronto/New York accent, to the great one-liners that are more sick attitude than toolishly clever, to the most important aspect, the great fighting. I mean, when you see the name "Jeff Wincott" in the opening credits, or on the box, this is what you're looking for, and when a film can deliver on it's top billed star like that, it just makes the whole movie watching experience so worth it. On a side note, I know I'm the Direct to Video connoisseur, but Mr. Wincott is currently in theaters in the new Denzel film, Unstoppable. Haven't seen it, so I don't know how big of a part he has.

We all love Evan Lurie here at the DTVC, and I was glad that he had a pretty sizable role. You just never know with him, because some film makers don't understand the awesomeness they have at their disposal when they cast him. We know, of course. Ever since I saw him in American Kickboxer 2, I've been hooked, and though he's never matched that stunning performance, in Martial Law II, at least he's solid. There's one Lurie film I've been trying to get for a while, called Guns and Lipstick, which also has DTVC Hall of Famer Wings Hauser, and another DTVC fave Joe Estevez. I found a copy of it at the local record store-- for $8 used! Are you serious? Amazon has it for $5, but when you throw in shipping, that ends up being $8 too. It's a shame.

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Okay, if you haven't guessed it, I'm a big Beverly Hills 90210 dude. I don't know why, but I've always gotten a kick out of it. Anyway, the major heel of the early college years, Keg House Frat leader John Sears, played by Paul Johansson, is the main baddie in Martial Law II. I was visiting a friend about a year ago, and she was watching One Tree Hill, and I saw him on there too, and was pretty excited. She told me he killed his brother or something. Once a heel, always a heel. In Martial Law, he moves up the ladder this one time to head baddie, and he does a great job. I guess if you're so good at playing the heel, it's probably not hard to turn the volume up a little more, right? It was cool though for me, to be able to meld my 90210 fandom and my DTV action fandom.

I think outside the US, this was released on DVD, but here I'm pretty sure it's strictly VHS. I'd go VHS if I were you anyway, simply for the nostalgia factor. I should point out, though, this isn't just a fun time, it's a total kickass time, and if you're not ready for this much awesome, you may want to pass and watch something more pedestrian-- say a crummy TapOut film. Otherwise, this what you came here for, get after it.

For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0104823/

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Lost Boys: The Thirst (2010)

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I went back to the archive, to over two years ago, to read my review of Lost Boys: The Tribe. I liked it, but not too much, and I was stuck with a feeling of "why was this made?", similar to the feeling I had after seeing Star Wars Episode I. Anyway, I had forgotten all about that review when I saw Lost Boys: The Thirst pop up on my Netflix queue, and was just excited to see what Feldman had in store for us this time.

Lost boys: The Thirst had Corey Feldman as Edgar Frog, living in a trailer that's being foreclosed on, and he needs some cash. When a hot stranger with a British accent comes to him hoping she can save her brother from vampires, at first he declines, but then he thinks about it, and decides it might be worth a go. Word on the street is, he can get a shot at the head vampire, the Alpha, the oldest of all time. He wants his brother Alan's help, but Alan's a vampire, so he can't count on that. He turns to a coquettish comic book store owner who has a thing for him instead. Can they take down this ultimate baddie?

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Wow, this was the bomb. Totally got it right. As good as we can expect. Tongue-in-cheek in the right parts, bloody in the right parts, and awesomely Feldman in the right parts. This just got it, and because it got it, I loved it. There were great jokes about the Twilight series, reality TV, bloggers, and comic book buyers. The story and acting did a great service to the original, and I think fans of the original will like this one much more than Lost Boys: The Tribe. It also hits a perfect 81 minutes long. This was just a lot of fun, what you're looking for from a DTV Lost Boys movie.

This is one of those hybrid action/horror/comedy films, so I'm not sure I can classify it as strictly horror for the sake of this paragraph, but I'll try anyway. When I first started this site, I was drawing from a much larger scope of films than simply 1980s-90s bad action. My friends and I growing up loved all genres of low-budget DTV movies, from Sci-Fi like Cyberjack, to action like Showdown in Little Tokyo, to comedy like Ski School, to horror like Bad Taste and Street Trash. In fact, the horror was perhaps a bigger part of the picture than action films were. What happened along the way, though, as the blog grew in popularity, a lot of the energy in the comment threads came for the action films, and it was on the basis of that momentum that I started picking movies. Particularly big are those comments I get where someone comes in and is like "I loved this or that part, this is one of my all time faves, I love this or that actor", which is great, and I just don't get those in the horror films. I do know that I have a lot of horror followers, only they're not as vocal, and that's fine; it's just hard to ignore that energy, and because it mostly comes from the action films, that's why a huge percentage of my reviews are of action movies.

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Corey Feldman really brings it here. He doesn't take himself too seriously, but he knows when to be funny, and when to play it straight and let the atmosphere do the humor for him. This is a huge change from his early days in comedic films like Busted and National Lampoon's Last Resort. There's still a lot he did in the 90s that I could go to for future posts, but I'm not sure how much I should, considering the odds are good it won't be as good as this. I think we're all rooting for Feldman and dig that he's made good now, and I can't wait to see what's next.

This film introduces an interesting dichotomy between two types of woman: the absolute hottie that's probably unattainable, and when she comes calling, a guy like Edgar Frog should be suspicious; and the cute comic book chick, who may not be as gorgeous as the hottie, but doesn't do so bad in the looks department herself, and also happens to know tons about comic books and other nerdy stuff. The idea, of course, is that the hottie is dangerous, while the cute comic book chick is innocuous, and the safer bet. This film follows that logic up until the end, when they show that even the comic book chick has an edge-- that she may not be that innocuous after all. I like that, when DTV movies do a decent job depicting their female characters in more rounded ways. It's an easy way to add depth that takes very little time, yet is seldom done.

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Finally, we all watch this film with a heavy heart, knowing Corey Haim no longer with us. He actually turned down a role in this with a plan to appear in a fourth installment. We see him in flashback shots from the very first film, and it's eerie to think Feldman as Edgar Frog is mourning the loss of his friend, when soon after the real Feldman would be mourning the loss of his real friend. This film, for as much fun as it is, does bring home the fact that Haim didn't make it with us, and didn't get to enjoy this too.

This is an excellent movie. I'm upset that I had to wait over a month for Netflix to get it, but they have it now, so if you have Netflix, have at it. It's been since Titanic II that I've seen a new movie that got it as much as this one did, and I'm glad I had an opportunity to review it and tell everyone about it.

For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1400526/

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

The Killing Machine (2010)

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This was something of a long time coming. As far as I knew, it wasn't out here in the States, because Netflix had it buried in my "saved" queue. Then Mr. Kenner at Movies in the Attic commented that we had "slowed down" here at the DTVC, because we hadn't gotten to the new Dolph film, and I found out then that Amazon had it, but I didn't have the money to buy it. He said it was on RedBox, but their website didn't list it, and the one nearest me didn't have it. Anyway, a few weeks ago its status changed to "Available November 16, 2010", which is different from the usual "Released" on such and such date. (Hunt to Kill had a similar status). I guess we're saying better late than never, but it did suck that I had to wait because Netflix didn't have it the moment it came out for whatever reason.

The Killing Machine has the DTVC's greatest Hall of Famer, Dolph Lundgren, as Icarus, a former KGB hitman that comes to America for a new start, gets a wife and daughter, then finds out the Russian mob finds out who he is, and they make him do some hit jobs for them. This causes a strain on his marriage, so he shacks up with a total hottie. One thing leads to another-- as they always do when one is a hitman for the mob-- Dolph ends up on the mob's bad side, and needs to protect his family from their wrath.

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Man, as much as it pains me to say this, The Killing Machine didn't work for me. It had plenty of great points. Dolph turns in one of his best performances, I loved the Noir-ish feel of it, there were some other great characters, loved Bo Svenson, and the action, when it was there (and we could see it) was pretty stellar. The whole thing with the family, though, didn't fit. It felt like a Lifetime movie was crammed into a Le Samourai French Noir thriller/action flick. In the making of featurette, Dolph said he was intrigued by the idea of an assassin who is also a family man, and his attempt to marry the two lives. I like that he tried it, but in the end, I would've been better with his character having no family, a solitary assassin who runs afoul of his masters.

Dolph said in that same featurette that he wanted to go for a Noir theme, but then wanted to advance the genre somehow. I saw Noir in the storytelling, but not in the directing. Overly rapid jumpcuts, though not as bad as in some of those UFC actioners, was bad enough, but then the LSD cam with the trails on the screen, or the scratched DVD cam where the picture moved in fits and starts, was as far from Noir as I can imagine. When I think Noir, I think of long takes, wide takes, close takes, frames with curious or ironic elements combined. When I think of what Dolph said he was going for, I think of a Steven Seagal flick, The Foreigner, which really married Film Noir and DTV action perfectly. Plus you also had the Lifetime movie aspect with his wife and daughter. The wife was a great actress, but when I think Noir, I think Lauren Bacall in The Big Sleep, Rita Hayworth in Gilda, or Barbara Stanwyck in Double Indemnity. I'm not saying the actress who played Dolph's wife wasn't capable of that kind of role, I'm saying her role as written was too Lifetime movie to fit a Noir-ish theme.

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Anyone who watches the NBA knows what I mean when I say the "Star Rule". In short, it means that star players get preferential treatment from the refs. It was originally known as the Jordan Rules. It definitely could be inferred that Dolph benefits from these star rules here at the DTVC, because I forgive things-- like the constant jumpcuts-- that I'd kill other films for. Let's understand this, Dolph is the Babe Ruth of DTV action. Without him there'd be no Direct to Video Connoisseur. Just his presence on-screen is awesome enough to make up for any poorly lit jumpcut laden action scene that I can't make heads or tails of. That being said, at the beginning and very end (actually the same scene shown twice), we get some amazing vintage Dolph action out of him, as he takes out Bo Svenson's thugs. And I admit freely that he turns in an excellent acting performance, to the point that even in the Lifetime movie scenes, I wasn't thinking about how little action there was, I was actually digging it. Still, I'd rather see him as the stoic Noir-ish assassin-- he looks great in a tailored suit-- than I would the Lifetime movie leading man.

Dolph gets a little introspective on us in The Killing Machine, at least it seems so. He sits with his character's daughter, who tells him how he's never around and how she wishes he didn't always have to go away for work. I think this is Dolph working out on-screen what it's been like to miss his family as he goes off to make these films, and maybe he's even sending a message to us fans that there is a human Dolph Lundgren who doesn't take out five guys at once and come out of ten-on-one gun fights with only a wound to his left shoulder. Usually, I'd dump on a film that cut out a potential action scene for something like this, but as I've said above, Dolph has earned this credit with us as an audience with all the great work he's done in the past, so I'm okay with it-- in fact, I liked it.

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Finally, Samantha Ferris played a great character, among many great characters in this film. She was a woman who commandeered some very masculine traits-- and even rocked suits-- but also really retained her femininity in the process. In the featurette, we found out her character was originally supposed to be a man, and some of that is retained in the dialog. But to say she was androgynous, or a butch lesbian, wouldn't really capture what she brought to the table. Unlike the character of Dolph's wife, that didn't fit the Noir aesthetic, this character not only embodied it, but she advanced it in exactly the way Dolph said he wanted to with the whole film.

So I don't know what to tell you. It's not horrible, it just suffers from a bit of an identity crisis. Dolph's Film Noir mixed with Lifetime movie goes together like chocolate and Doritos: they're both good, but together they don't work as well. Also, I should point out, this is a pretty macabre Dolph. Early on, we see a guy get fish hooked pretty brutally, with his tongue hanging halfway down his face. It was a little ridiculous. Some of the other stuff was better, like when he sends a dude eye-first into the bar holding his weights on his bench press, but expect a a little more gore than you're used to with Dolph, maybe along the lines of Missionary Man. Anyway, I guess my final analysis is fun, but not that fun.

For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1261862/

Monday, November 15, 2010

Locked Down (2010)

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This film fell to me after a few above it on my Netflix queue weren't available. I was skeptical, because my previous experience with UFC movies hasn't been great; but Vinnie Jones and Bai Ling (Ling Bai?) gave me some hope. Let's see if I was right.

Locked Down is half Death Warrant half Undisputed II, as Tony Schiena plays our framed cop hero sent to prison and forced to fight in a prison fighting circuit run by a crime lord he put away a while back, played by Vinnie Jones. After your classic prison film cliche scenarios are out of the way-- from the chief guard beating our hero with a billy club, to the old prisoner that our hero is lucky enough to have as his cell mate that shows him the ropes (and suddenly becomes his trainer), to the near shanking in the laundry room-- we get our final showdown between Schiena and his man, while an internal affairs hottie investigates his case so she can clear his name. That's pretty much it.

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A big warning here to anyone with epilepsy. I'm not being facetious, this is a legitimate concern. There are so many half-a-second jumpcuts that it could cause a serious issue. I grew up with a girl who had epilepsy, and she said she wasn't supposed to play the Nintendo because it might induce an epileptic fit. Well, if the Nintendo could do it, this film could really do it. Also, if you're prone to seasickness, you might have trouble with this film too, because in the few spots we get a shot for more than a half-a-second, the camera is moving all over the place. I could go on about the non sequitur theater in the dialog, or the fight scenes that were good but not that good, or the fact that Bai Ling was almost wasted, and Vinnie Jones didn't have as much license to be cool either, but none of that matters as much because I just couldn't see anything! All right, maybe it matters, because this was your new classic get a bunch of buff tatted dudes in a room, slow down the footage for a second, crank up a Disturbed derivative song, then just watch the tatted dudes punch each other in 80 cuts; but I think this was even worse than that.

Igniame if tihs psot was wtitern eleirtny lkie tihs? How mcuh wluod taht scuk? Taht's waht it's lkie wnithcag tihs mvioe. If my bolg lkoeod lkie tihs, no one wloud raed it. It's fnitsrrutag, huh? The wlohe pniot of wniacthg a mvoie is to see it, rhgit?

I'll stop that, but you get the point. I listened to some of the commentary, and I got the sense that there was a genuine effort here to deliver a decent product, that they didn't think the audience was stupid, that they weren't using this constant cutting to prevent us from seeing their shortcomings as directors or fight choreographers, which makes the end result perhaps more puzzling. In another element they had in the fights, our view would be obstructed by other spectators, which I guess was meant to give us more of a feel of immediacy. In the commentary, they rued the fact that they couldn't find more extras for those scenes. Are you kidding? The whole reason we watch a movie, especially at home, is so we have an unobstructed view. I'm not watching Locked Down to see pieces of a fight around the head of some dude in front of me, and you're saying you wanted more heads in my way? Come on man. And at another point, they talked about the two tatted bad asses they had for a fight, and how cool that was. Sure, it would've been, if all the fights weren't two tatted bad asses, or if we had even been able to see it! If we had more traditional martial arts one-on-one battles-- that we could actually see too-- this change of pace with two huge tatted beasts would have been great. By that point though, we'd seen too much of it, and it came off as old hat.

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Films like this are notorious for non sequitur theater. Between the scripts that are rushed to completion, the dialog that ends up looking better on a quick read-through than it does when acted out, the actors that don't exactly have the pedigree to understand when this stuff sounds silly or doesn't fit and try to act through it anyway, to the quick shooting schedules that mandate keeping takes that really don't work just to make sure they had something. I get all of that, and so when some non sequitur theater rears its ugly head, I try not to be too harsh on it... but (there's always a but, huh?), there was one scene we were put through at the very beginning that was too much. Our hero has sex with his girl after a long time away undercover. The sex seems great, but after, she, apropos of nothing, turns on him and says he's never around and he doesn't care about her. Schiena, instead of saying "um, honey, did you take your medication?", he's like "what do you want me to do, it's my job..." and the whole thing becomes weirder and weirder as the acting and dialog becomes worse and worse. The thing is, none of it was necessary. He had no other love interest until the very last scene, so it's not like they needed to get her out of the way; plus, they had no need for the internal affairs character anyway, so she could have played his girlfriend from the start. Why did he need to be framed at all, if he's already an undercover cop, why not just send him in to take down the fighting ring? That one little wrinkle, that he was framed instead of sent in, was not enough to keep it from being a Death Warrant rip-off, so why not go all the way? The thing is, all of these issues would be forgivable if we just had some great action that we could actually see.

The music isn't bad, but I think maybe it's used too often as a crutch, and the director himself admits that he wanted the music to get the film through certain scenes. That's not the way to think about music in movies, though. You want there to be some conflict, that the two are bringing something that the other isn't to the table, in order to create one whole experience. What we got here, because the music was filling in too many gaps in the movie, was a series of glorified music videos. Imagine if Vinnie Jones smashing a guy's head in the car door in Snatch was done in the style of this film: Jones would toss the guy into the open car in slow motion, at the same time, we'd hear a driving guitar rift, followed by a rest, like da-duh, rest, da-duh, rest, da-duh; then Jones goes to the car door, the high-hat kicks in, and we see the top half of the door's window, moving to shut; then some guy kicks in with a noise like "bro!", and the music begins in earnest. From there, we're getting bombarded by images of Jones' face, the bottom half of the body hanging out of the car quivering with each impact, the hood of the car with blood splashing in it, a shaking air freshener (probably something ironic) hanging from the rear view mirror-- all in quick succession, all to a driving Disturbed derivative. I get that you want to showcase these bands and get them some exposure, but either you're making a movie, or you're making a music showcase, and if it's the latter just let us know, and we'll go somewhere else for our action movie.

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I love Vinnie Jones and Bai Ling. I also loved a lot of the UFC fighters in this, and Tony Schiena was kind of cool too. The thing is, none of the people on the cover, Vinnie Jones, Bai Ling, Rashad Evans, or Kimobo Slice, are in the film much at all. I get the thinking behind why Tony Schiena isn't on the cover, because he's not as well known, but why not make him known? At least put him on the cover with these guys. And as far as Bai Ling, she was a prison guard, and only had one hot scene with Vinnie Jones, and that was it. Anyone who saw Crank: High Voltage, knows how great Ling can be, and for this film not to even try beyond that one scene was a real disappointment. Jones was a little better, but it was really more the idea of Jones we were seeing, as opposed to him being Jones, if that makes sense? We accepted him as his character in the film, because of all we'd seen him in. Essentially, after Snatch or Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels, movies like this cast Jones knowing they don't need to build his character much-- he's like ready made Contadina crushed tomatoes, the question is, can you add the right ingredients and cook the dish properly to make the most of those crushed tomatoes?

And the answer is no, a resounding no. But that's not to say the film makers didn't have good intentions, or that they can't bring it the next time around. I think we'd all agree, no matter how postmodern our philosophies, that the one trait every movie needs to have, whether it's Ran, Koyaanisqatsi, Pulp Fiction, or One Man Force, is it needs to be visible. We need to be able to see it. I think that's kind of a big deal, and that's where this movie missed the mark. Hopefully next time around, they'll rectify that, and we'll be able to (literally) see what they can do.

For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1597033/

Friday, November 12, 2010

Black Thunder (1998)

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When last we saw Michael Dudikoff, he was making out with Julie Brown in the cult horror classic Bloody Birthday. When last we saw Richard Norton, he too only had a bit part, in the Rowdy Roddy Piper/Billy Blanks classic Tough and Deadly. Now, Norton isn't exactly the star in this on a par with Dudikoff, so it's not exactly a "Norton film", but he's in it more than just a bit part-- oops, did I give something away?

Black Thunder is about an Air Force plane that can cloak itself, similar to the Romulan cloaking device. Anyway, the test pilot flies off with it-- at least we think he does, even though it looks like his twin brother killed him in the previous scene, so the twin ran off with it. Anyway, Norton is the best pilot the Air Force has, but he's dead, so they call in the second and third best, Dudikoff and Gary Hudson, to go out and retrieve it. After some scenes of Dudikoff gritting his teeth and firing automatic weapons, and some stunt men either doing the shimmy and falling over, or looking like they slipped on a wet floor, Dudikoff re-appropriates the secret stealth plane, and everyone goes home happy.

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This is pretty rough. Plenty of stock footage of fighter jets, which, no matter how much you cut in shots of people pushing buttons and flipping switches, or screens showing animations of missiles being armed, or people in flight helmets gritting their teeth, or people in officer uniforms on the ground giving status reports in tense tones of voice-- no matter how much you do any of that, you can't make that any more exciting than what it is: stock footage of fighter jets. Top Gun pulled it off somewhat, but they had a much bigger budget, much better actors, and much greater resources at their disposal. Stock orchestral music, often inappropriately placed, does not substitute Kenny Loggins. And when I say inappropriately placed, I mean like wondering if it's actually a part of the soundtrack inappropriate. By the time we get to the final dogfight between Dudikoff and the baddie, we're wondering why the two didn't just show us their stuff with a little hand-to-hand action. It would've been nicer, except all the action on the ground was as I mentioned above excitement by repetition comprised of teeth-gritting gunfire and dancing stuntmen falling over, so maybe it wouldn't have been any better than what we ended up with.

See, therein lies the rub with airplane movies, the action seldom translates. Think of a car chase. We know where in relation the two parties are to each other, we can tell from landmarks how fast it is (even if it's just an illusion of trick photography), and the crashes at the end are real. With planes, you're limited to so much, especially in terms of stock footage. I imagine it's much cheaper to use stock footage than it is to map out a car chase and make it happen, but if you go the cheap way out, expect lackluster results.

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Speaking of lackluster results, somehow I neglected to mention in my Flight of Fury post that that film was a remake-- or near copy, rather-- of Black Thunder. I read it on imdb, and knew I wanted to mention it, and somehow I forgot. Sutekh over at Explosive Action (he was just Sutekh at that time) brought it to my attention when he made a comment on the Steven Seagal film, and when I read his comment in the e-mail notification, I was like "didn't I say that in the post?" Apparently I didn't, so a thank you to Sutekh for bailing me out on that one. I think what they thought they could do with the remake was replace some of the stock footage with newer computer generated images. The problem was the same problem I mentioned above, airplane movies are hard to pull off, especially when done on the cheap like that. The remake was equally as boring as the original.

Though this is post number 22 for Dudikoff, it's technically only his 21st film reviewed, because we did American Ninja 2 twice. If you throw in that he was barely in Bloody Birthday, it means he's closer to 20 films, which is right in the Lorenzo Lamas zone (though Lamas has a few Bloody Birthday sized roles himself). I was looking at the numbers, and we're only about ten films away from getting his entire DTV oeuvre on the site, which is actually closer than Don "The Dragon" Wilson. The difference between the two is, I'm having a little more trouble getting those ten than I am the 13 or so of Wilson's. What I do know is In Her Defense will be the last one we do, no matter what. As far as Mr. Norton, another DTVC Hall of Famer, this is only his twelfth film up. As he was only inducted last year, we can make that up eventually-- there is another film with Dudikoff he did that we can go to too... One film he did do that won't be reviewed on here though, is that Road House cash-grab disguised as a sequel that came out a while ago. I swore when I started this site that I'd never cover that one, even to give it a bad review.

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Any excuse to get Catherine Bell up here I'll take. She's in the film-- technically. Some of her scenes from Crash Dive were edited into Black Thunder, but I'm not complaining. In addition to Bell, there was also the aforementioned Hudson, Michael Cavanaugh (who's currently in a Progressive car insurance ad), and hottie Nancy Valen. All were great, but all were fighting an uphill battle against the boringness of fighter jet stock footage, a fight they ultimately lost (or in Bell's case, she didn't even know she was fighting.)

If you're a Dudikoff completist, you may enjoy Black Thunder, but if you're new to him, I'd go to the American Ninja well first and work your way down to this, way, way down to this. Netflix no longer has it on offer, as it's out-of-print here in the States. People abroad might have better luck, or you can just snag it on VHS. I would say, don't go too far out of your way for it though, because it's really not worth it.

For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0118732/

Thursday, November 11, 2010

One Man Force (1989)

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I saw Mr. Sutekh's review of this on his blog, Explosive Action, and I knew I needed to get me some. Then the light bulb went off in my head, and I realized I could post this film and showcase our man from downunder's site at the same time. Go check him out-- after you finish reading this post, of course. Cheers myte!

One Man Force is about this big bear of a man, Jake, played by John Matsuzak (Sloth from The Goonies). He doesn't do things by the book, and has a penchant for using large appliances to attack people (I was going to say "penchant for attacking people with large appliances", but the dangling participle made it sound like he attacks people who have large appliances...). This reckless style gets his partner dead, and in order to make amends and bring his partner's killers to justice, he goes out on his own. But what does the kidnapping of pop star Stacy Q have to do with his partner's killing and Latin drug cartels? Does it matter?

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Nope, it certainly doesn't. In the very beginning, when Jake's partner expresses his misgivings about the raid they're about to make on a drug deal, I got nervous. I was wondering how I'm supposed to like this when the hero is such an enormous tool that he gets his friend killed. Then this hilarious music plays while the friend takes a few deadly slugs to the torso, then Jake proceeds to lift up a refrigerator and charge another shooter. From there I was hooked. It was like watching a great physical comedian with Matsuzak. How can you not laugh when Ronny Cox tells him he's suspended, and he freaks out, violently clears off Cox's desk, and yells "fuck you!" Somewhere around the 35 minute mark, my attention started to wane, but out of nowhere, Jake's in a car chase, and he sends the people chasing him into a Pepsi sign and an exploding boat, and the next day, in the crash aftermath, he's drinking a 2 liter bottle of Slice. I could go on, but I don't want to give too much away, like the brawl in the S&M bar, or the poor stunt double that was taken through the ringer as Jake hangs from the window of a speeding truck, trying to choke out the driver. There was so much to love.

Matsuzak passed away earlier in the same year this was released. That's too bad, because it looked like maybe he was making a shift from bit parts in various TV crime dramas and action shows, into the DTV world. Based on what we saw here, the potential was enormous. He was just this big force, yelling out these hilarious obscenities and throwing his weight around. I don't know if it was all intentionally funny, but it all worked. It's a shame that he's no longer with us, but it looks like we also missed out on a lot of great work that never was.

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This film brought together three classic That Guys in Charles Napier, Ronny Cox, and Richard Lynch. One of these guys in a film would be fantastic, two, amazing, but all three? Oh snap! On top of that, you had Stacy Q-- who did "Two of Hearts" for of my readers born after 1980, or who aren't 1980s music aficionados-- and Sharon Farrell, who, among her many roles, was in one of my all time faves, Can't Buy Me Love-- I have to give a mention to fellow Mainer Patrick Dempsey whenever possible.

I have no clue why, but this stance of Matsuzak's below cracks me up. Am I crazy, or am I right? I mean, what is he doing there, stretching out his hamstrings? Getting ready to run? No, he's making small talk with the cop manning the evidence room. There was so much that Matsuzak did that was either intentionally or unintentionally funny, but for some reason this stood out as absolutely hilarious.

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Finally, this movie showcased a lot of product placement. Matsuzak only wore Adidas, while his partner's son wore Quicksilver. Then there were the Pepsi, Slice, and 7-Up appearances. There was even a Discover card sighting. The one that stuck out the most was the Miller Lite though, because I'd forgotten the old "Tastes Great, Less Filling" days. Back then I was young, and didn't understand that Miller Lite was only cool for kids in college playing beer pong (I didn't even know what that was), or what a person throwing a barbecue serves to avoid giving out anything really good that might cost more. Only a tool actually orders Miller Lite at a bar, at least if it's not on a special or something. Now their ads tell us "Man up and drink Miller Lite". Is it possible for commercial products to jump the shark? They do know they're Miller Lite, right? While they're suggesting that certain members of the male population are tools, they have to know that their product is the number one contributor to male tooldom in America. Either man up and order some straight bourbon, bitch, or don't start calling us out for not being manly enough-- especially because we don't drink watered down beer.

That rant went on way too long. I think it's because I watch too much ESPN, and those dumb beer commercials are ubiquitous. Anyway, we got off track, which is too bad, because One Man Force is awesome, and if you haven't seen it, you need to make it happen. It is available on DVD, but it's out of print and can be expensive. VHS is the better route, and if you're a collector of of bad DTV action, this is a must. Fantastic. And take a look at Explosive Action while you're at it.

For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0098026/

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Mean Guns (1997) (Revisited)

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My original Mean Guns post came on May 15, 2007, about ten days after post number 1. At that time, I didn't really know who Albert Pyun was. This thing was still meant to celebrate all the B movies my buddies and I enjoyed, so I focused more on actors like Christopher Lambert. I happened to catch Mean Guns on TV, because it had Lambert, was less than impressed, and there's the review I wrote. This was before I had software on my computer to capture images, so the original two I got from somewhere-- I can't remember now. If you're out there and you're pissed I hotlinked your images, well, chill out, and remember, they're not yours either. Anyway, Mr. Pyun asked me recently to give his film another chance, so that's what we're doing with by revisiting it here.

Mean Guns is about a group of killers, snitches, etc. that have been gathered in a prison for what they think is a party. It's not. A major crime organization, aptly titled The Syndicate, has brought everyone that's ever wronged them together, and the last three standing get a share of a $10 million prize. The rest-- well, I'm sure you can figure that out. What follows is a deadly free-for-all followed by an equally deadly game of cat and mouse, as the remaining players form alliances, betray each other, and ultimately, kill each other off.

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Okay, let me start with what I liked about Mean Guns. A lot of the characters were great. Michael Halsey was great, Lambert was great, Ice-T was great, all the way down to Pyun mainstays Yuji Okumoto, Thom Mathews, and Tina Coté. The action was solid and the film's premise was intriguing. I believe I said in my initial review that after the first 45 minutes, it's much better, and upon a second viewing, I'd amend that slightly, because there are pockets of action before that, but then it kind of grinds to a halt, and when it picks up again, it never quite regains that frenetic pace it had when Ice-T's men first dump the guns out to the 100 or so gangsters. Also, Mean Guns had some great Western and Hong Kong cinema elements, and I liked the off-beat nature of the violence (other than when the kid was involved, which I'm about to get to). So there was a lot here I dug.

All right, here's what didn't work for me. First and foremost, having the kid there was really weird, especially when she witnesses Tina Coté's death, which would've been played for laughs otherwise. I mentioned in the first post the sped up film in spots, especially with Ice-T staring at Lambert, didn't look right. The dynamic between Okumoto and Mathews felt forced and too derivative, like it was trying too hard to be Travolta and Jackson in Pulp Fiction. On top of that, the conflict between the two when Coté arrives seems really inorganic. Okumoto barely has a chance to get to know her before he's ready to forsake his friendship with Mathews for her. Had she been paired with them from the start, and that scene where she fights a guy in the kitchen been removed (which didn't work for me), the conflict would've looked a lot better. Finally, the almost 2 hour runtime may have been the biggest issue I had. In part, we had elements like Lambert's past that I felt were superfluous-- why not just have Lambert be a crazy guy, and leave it at that, especially if that means getting rid of the kid aspect. Then we also fell into a trap of excitement by repetition. Gunfight after gunfight with no distinguishing qualities. Don't get me wrong, a lot of them were great, they just lost their punch after a while.

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That leaves me I guess with the what do I think might have improved it. As I said above, the idea is perfect. A deadly game conducted inside of a prison before it's opened is great. I almost think more could've been done with that. There were some gunfights in the kitchen, but that was it. Also, we never really had a sense of the space. We'd see a character in one place, and the immediate scene after they'd appear in a totally different location. When I think of a prison, I think of a virtual island, but also an environment that can be completely controlled by an individual or a group of individuals, almost in the way that the island in The Tempest was controlled by Prospero's magic. All we had, though, was a lot of what looked like a high school, only with armed guards outside, and with Ice-T watching everything on security cameras. It would've been interesting to see Ice-T, or someone else in the film, play with the space some, open and close cells, sound alarms, set off sprinklers, find some riot gear, hose someone down with a fire extinguisher, anything like that-- in that Hong Kong cinema vein, where the set is a dynamic part of the action.

Another thing I thought about as I watched it, is why didn't a character hide out while everyone killed each other? Like a grizzled vet, a Lance Henriksen type who we see from time to time in thirty second shots, playing solitaire or reading Nietzsche in a janitor's closet or something, while the sounds of gunshots and violence rang out around him. Then, after enough of the players have killed themselves off, he pops in and gums up the works for the other characters who think they're close to the prize.

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When I wrote the initial review, three years ago, I made a few jokes, as I often do, one of which said something to the effect of "the sped up film looked like a car commercial, which was probably what this director did before this." I would say Mr. Pyun would have been within his rights to hit me with a "you're a fat kid living in his parent's basement" crack, or even to not even waste his time with my little review blog. He didn't do that though; he instead commented in another post about how he liked being in the Hall of Fame, and joked about how I made it through some of his films like Cyborg and Omega Doom. It's possible in the Mean Guns review he knew I was kidding about the car commercial crack, but in a later post, someone commented that they "didn't like Pyun's work", and he didn't respond at all to it, instead posting a comment telling us what happened with Urban Menace. As a result of all of this, I now make it a priority to look at his work and get the word out there about him. It's an age old saying, you catch more flies with honey, but for smaller production companies and lesser named directors, you could learn something from Pyun's use of blogs like this. Instead of wanting to shout down every negative review and pick a fight with every "fat kid in his parents' basement", use us to your benefit, get us excited about your future projects. I can say he's also taught me a bit about catching more flies with honey...

All right, time to wrap up this second Mean Guns review. Albert Pyun announced on his Facebook page that he's looking to remake this film, setting it on the BP Deep Water Horizon oil rig. I think that could be really great. As far as this Mean Guns' availability, I got it on Netflix Watch Instantly, but Hulu has it as well. The problem with both is it's pan-and-scan. I believe the version I saw on TV was too, but I could be wrong about that. Netflix no longer has it available on DVD to rent though. There's a lot to recommend here, especially with Lambert and Ice-T (though I still don't like Ice-T's fight scenes), but it is 110 minutes long. As I said above, that's my main issue with it, because early on as I was watching it again, I was like "geez Poirier, what movie were you watching, this is pretty sweet", but it loses some steam, and never quite gets it back-- at least in my opinion. By all means, get in and comment on this and say what you think too.

For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0119642/And for news on Albert Pyun's upcoming projects: http://www.pyun.com/, or you can check him out on Facebook at Albert Pyun Movies.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Bloodfist (1989)

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Here we are, post number 549, and somehow Bloodfist has slipped through the cracks up until this point. I could have sworn I'd reviewed both this and part 2 already, and as I was watching this again for this review, I had a sense of deja vu as I saw certain images, thinking, "I could've sworn I grabbed that scene." Anyway, it was all my imagination, but here we are now, rectifying the issue.

Bloodfist has DTVC Hall of Famer Don "The Dragon" Wilson as Jake, a fighter in California, whose brother, a fighter in Manila, is killed. He goes over there to get to the bottom of things, and finds all roads lead to an underground fighting tournament, which he enters, hot on the trail of the murderer. The problem is, his trainer, a local who got him into the tournament, isn't too enthused with Donny figuring things out before he fights in the final. Who can Donny trust when the chips are down?

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I don't really know where to go with this one. I guess, because it's a classic, it's worth looking at. Some of the fights are good, some are lackluster. The one big thing it has going for it is the running time, because you're in and out in 80 minutes, which isn't bad. On the other hand, the training montage is silly, and worse than that perfunctory and a bit superfluous, which hurts because that's more fighting or other action we could have had in its place. It is what it is, a derivative tournament film with the distinction of being Don "The Dragon" Wilson's first starring role.

And with this review, we're down to 13 films left in out Dragon completion project. This is an interesting case on why he became a DTV action star, because I think you can see what Roger Corman and whoever else saw in him. He wasn't a great actor, and the tapered pants didn't do anything to make him look any better on-screen, but when he squared up for the fight scenes, there was that look in his eyes, that elite athlete look, like "you won't beat me" or "if you're going to beat me, it's going to hurt a lot. Are you ready for that?" That translates well to the audience, giving him instant credibility. The problem always is, while he's good in those fight scenes, the rest of the time, we don't know what to make of him. Elite athlete does not always translate into solid actor.

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Billy Blanks is sweet for his few scenes. His fighting actually looked the best out of everyone, including Wilson. I'm still not sure why it never happened for him, like it did for guys like Wilson. I know before I've speculated that his race might have been an issue, and on some levels, one could still make that case. I'm trying to think, after Wesley Snipes, how many African American action stars there are. And then, if you eliminate all the converted former rappers, how many do you have? And it's not like there's no one with potential out there. Look at Michael Jai White. He's great period, with no qualifiers, as was Blanks in the late 80s early 90s, great period, not just great African American. People must have looked at him and said "no one will buy a black action hero". That's our loss, unfortunately, because whenever we see him, he's great.

On the image page, you'll notice a kid with a rat tail. I figured I needed to snag that. I remember in 8th grade, my science teacher had one, and we were telling him how out of date they were. I want to say they were cool in like 4th grade, which would have been around when this was made. That kid's probably my age in the picture. If you're wondering, yes, I tried to grow a rat tail, went to the beauty school with my mom to get my haircut, and the stylist there started the process for me. It was pretty weak, compared to some of the other kids, so I gave up. Not that I had any better hairdos than that, I just didn't have the rat tail.

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I like this mention of Chinatown in Manila. I was trying to think of other films we've had that have featured Chinatowns in them. Obviously, anything taking place in San Francisco, New York, or LA that had anything to do with martial arts showcased those Chinatowns. Into the Sun has the Tokyo Chinatown, which was cool. If you ever make it up to Boston, we have a pretty cool Chinatown here (the oldest in the country, actually). It's right down the road from South Station.

If you haven't seen this one, I think it's good to get it out of the way, just to be able to say you've seen all the Bloodfists-- kind of the same way I need to be able to say I've reviewed all the Bloodfists, right? Anyway, the DVD is currently out of print, meaning Netflix won't rent it. If you keep an eye out though, you'll probably catch it on TV.

For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0096952/

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Angel Town (1991)

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This is DTVC Hall of Famer Olivier Gruner's first film. I've been looking for it for a while now, and I know Kenner at Movies in the Attic has wanted me to get it up. Well, we made it, we finally made it.

Angel Town has Gruner as a French dude who comes to LA to get his masters in engineering, and train the US Olympic martial arts team. Problem is, he gets here late, and the only housing he can find is in a gang controlled barrio. Too bad for him, huh? No, too bad for them, because he's pissed that the nice mother, grandmother, and son that gave him a place to stay have to live in fear of these punks, and he's going to do something about it.

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This was pretty stellar. A little long (105 minutes, when it really had about 80 minutes worth of material), but Gruner was solid, especially in his fighting skills-- his English and acting, maybe notsomuch. The plot did a good job of depicting the plight of the neighborhood in terms of residents that have given up fighting the gangs, and just accepted their terror as a way of life, and as Gruner giving them that sense of fight back. Sure, he's the hero, but he can't be the hero without the people being heroic and standing up with him. Instead of making it look like a bunch of savages that can't take care of themselves and need a white man to step in and sort them out, it was more like people who are victimized by a system that has neglected them and allowed the gangs to reign uncontested, and Gruner is the agency through which they reclaim their lives.

And boy, is Gruner that agency. Total badass. Again, the feeling is that it's not he who we should pity for moving into a bad neighborhood, but the people who terrorize that neighborhood who should be afraid that they're picking a fight with him. It's like a Steven Seagal level of badass, only much cooler. Last August he celebrated his 50th birthday. I feel like such a dork that I missed that. Well, for what it's worth, happy belated birthday.

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I don't want to give away too much of the film, but there were a few elements that this handled really well that most movies screw up. First, Gruner's friend puts his life in danger to help out against the gangs. Usually, that friend would be killed off by the gang, leaving Gruner with a revenge motive. That always pisses me off, because it makes the hero less heroic in my eyes. He needs to rely on people who end up dying for him. What Angel Town does is it has the friend be a defeatist who thinks Gruner is wasting his time fighting the gangs. When the gang attacks his dojo, no one is killed, but he realizes that he shouldn't live in fear of them, that he needs to fight back too. Excellent use of the friend character. The other one was the end battle. They don't insult our intelligence by having us believe that a Gruner who could take out five gang members at once would have trouble dealing with their leader, just because he's their leader. What they do is have Gruner soften the leader up, so the son of the woman he was staying with can fight the guy and get some satisfaction. Again, great way to rework the classic ending paradigm. There are ways to make bad action movies better, but they don't involve techno music, bad jump cuts and camera angles, or atrociously dragged on plots. Just look at Angel Town.

There was one moment where the racial issue-- I'm not saying was handled poorly, but rather, maybe needed more of an explanation if they were going to go there, even though that explanation would have gummed up the film, meaning maybe they probably shouldn't have gone there. Gruner is called a "frog" by a classmate, who is an Arab. Gruner grabs him by the collar and calls him a "rag head". Now, the thing is, Gruner's character, growing up a street urchin in Paris, would have been in direct conflict with impoverished Algerians, and it's not inconceivable that that animosity would have been divided on racial lines. The problem is, either way, it paints our hero as a racist-- I mean, I'm of French descent, and I know from experience that being called a "frog" should not be equated to any bigoted term meant to dehumanize a race, gender, creed, or sexuality. It was just a bad look in a semi-applause scene that shouldn't have been, even if it was meant to fill out Gruner's character's back-story. Come on Angel Town, you're better than that.

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Mark Dacascos is in this for like two short scenes, just long enough to get his ass kicked by Gruner. There aren't really any close-ups on him, but I suspected it was him from his voice: Hawaiian American English is not East LA Chicano American English. Anyway, in the credits, he's listed as "Mark Dacuscos". As far as what he's been up to, his last four films after I Am Omega have not been released on DVD yet, but according to imdb, they could be some good ones. It's always a tough decision when it comes to whether or not to tag with a short bit part like that, because, on the one hand, we want people to know an actor is in the film, while on the other, I don't want people thinking the actor is in it a bunch. Our most recent example of this was with Michael Dudikoff in the 1981 cult horror classic Bloody Birthday, where he was in it for two funeral scenes and one make-out session with Julie Brown (the red head, not the Downtown one). But you want to know there's a horror movie out there with Dudikoff in it, right? (It's actually pretty good beyond him too.) Then you have Gary Daniels in Submerged, Deadly Bet, and perhaps most disappointingly, Retrograde. I think with those three films, it's more of a warning, because you see him listed and think "wow, Daniels with Seagal, or Daniels with Jeff Wincott, or Daniels with Dolph Lundgren, where do I sign up?" I think that's the big thing with Angel Town, because Dacascos is on the first page of imdb's cast listing, which can be very misleading. He's essentially a glorified extra with lines and a misspelled name in the credits.

As per usual, I'm getting off on a rant on that seventh paragraph, so let's wrap it up. Angel Town is not only a great first film for Olivier Gruner, it's a great DTV actioner as well. Solid fights, explosions, etc., plus a decent plot that doesn't have all the "ugh!" elements that most bad action films resort to. A bit of a hidden gem. Unfortunately, not available on Netflix, but it is on DVD if you want it.

For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0099039/