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

Friday, January 28, 2011

Strategic Command (1997)

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This is one of those ones that you know, based on the premise and who's making it and just the overall feel, that it's probably going to hurt; but then I see names like Michael Dudikoff and Richard Norton, and I think "okay, this might be sweet"... or I think "I'm the one who came up with the bright idea for me to do a blog on DTV movies, and have guys like Norton and Dudikoff in some kind of Hall of Fame, so now I need to take my medicine, get my whuppin', so to speak." There's no getting around a movie like Strategic Command, I just have to get through it quick, like I'm peeling off a Band-Aid.

Strategic Command rips off Executive Decision, only on a smaller scale, and with some minor tweaks. Michael Dudikoff is a scientist/former Marine special forces officer who designs some nasty shit called Bromax. It's the best industrial floor cleaner on the market-- er, rather, it's an agent used in chemical warfare that will kill people by violently inducing the same phenomenon in them as the kid in elementary school that we'd make laugh so he'd cough milk out of his nose. Anyway, Richard Norton steals it, then hijacks a plane chartered by the Vice President, threatening to blow it up over LA if his demands aren't met. Dudikoff wants to be a part of the rescue team, because his wife was a part of a news interview crew, lead by Bryan Cranston (yes that Bryan Cranston, Tim Whatley, Malcolm in the Middle, Breaking Bad...). Anyway, that's pretty much it.

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Wanna see something exciting? Watch this, I'm going to run some stock footage of a generic 747, then run some stock tension music over it. Exciting, huh? Beyond that, this was a sack of ass crack. The only potential good stuff came at the end, but they ruined the fights between Norton and Dudikoff by having them in too confined a space. I know what you're thinking, they're on a plane, it's supposed to be cramped. Yes, except they had enough space to have a more traditional fight between (this kind of movie mainstay) Larry Poindexter and Norton's girlfriend. Really, that's what you're going with? The rest was just crap about will they or won't they shoot someone, will the hostages or won't they try to take back the ship, will Dudikoff save the plane in time before the F-16s shoot, yadda yadda yadda. If I've said it once, I'll say it 100 times: planes, space ships, submarines, etc. do not make action films by themselves. Action must be pumped into them. Yes, I know I'm watching a mindless action film, but when you leave out the action part of it, I'm just left with mindless.

This is like five or six Dudikoff films that are all about the same. Crash Dive, Black Horizon, Black Thunder, Counter Measures, Ablaze, and now this all follow the same pattern. Disaster or hijacking. Call in Dudikoff. Michael Cavanaugh as a higher up. Larry Poindexter as not. May or may not contain Marcus Aurelius. The thing with these is, there's some better stuff of his sprinkled around them, like Bounty Hunters or Moving Target. It's like they're taunting us with good Dudikoff. Still, these wouldn't be so bad if they weren't so boring. Also, as I noticed in this, there can be some long moments without Dudikoff on-screen, which makes it even worse. Here's the thing, if you want to do Die Hard on a plane, do frickin' Die Hard on a plane, don't act like you're going to do it, then inundate us with the same old crap.

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Speaking of Die Hard on a plane, Richard Norton's character is named Carlos Gruber. Not as cool as Hans, and there was no great scene where Dudikoff is on the walkie talkie imploring him to "back off Carlos, you've made your point" while Norton looks on, stoned face, saying "hit 'em again." This definitely could've used more of that in it. I'd even have settled for Clarence Gilyard saying "the quarterback is toast!" Anyway, to get on the plane, Norton dons this disguise that makes him look like he'd be one of my dad's friends. Not in the Huey Lewis sense, where he could be anyone's dad's friend, but specifically one of my dad's. I could see someone that looks like him in 1997, when this film was made, pulling up to my parents' place in his Ford F-150, and ask my dad if he could borrow some tools or equipment to do some job.

A quick shout out here to the late Paul Winfield. He was in many films during his long career, but my personal fave of his was Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. Remember, he had bugs put in his ear with Checkov. That new Star Trek movie wasn't bad (I think I reviewed it at the end of another post somewhere), but I've yet to see anything that does it for me like part II.

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I'm not sure how many of my readers are also into the Golden Age of Hollywood (I hate saying "old movies" because it's so dismissive), but these movies and their usual suspects casts feels like those Warner Bros. pictures from the 30s and 40s, where after I've seen a few, I recognize a lot of the same faces in the supporting roles. Then I see them on TCM, and Robert Osbourne is telling me about this one or that one who did like 50 movies in the 30s as everything from a stable hand to a gang leader, and how this was his big break, and he was even nominated for an Oscar or something. The difference here is, all I get is a feeling, because there's no productions company, no producer, no director, nothing in common that ties all of these movies with their casts that include guys like Michael Cavanaugh and Larry Poindexter, among others, all the time. And it's always these Dudikoff disaster/political intrigue movies too.

I thought this was out of print, but it turns out it's in print, just that Netflix doesn't carry it. Still, with Amazon, the shipping alone will put this outside of what it's worth-- and to be honest, unless you're a Dudikoff completist, anything more than zero isn't worth it. For second opinions, you can check out our friends over at Explosive Action and Comeuppance Reviews (both links are to the post).

For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0120224/

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Cyborg Cop III aka Terminal Impact (1995)

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This came as a part of a one disc two-pack with Cyborg Cop II, also known as Cyborg Soldier. It's funny, because on the cover, neither film is listed by it's namesake, but instead as its aka; not only that, but they have Terminal Impact above Cyborg Soldier both on the cover, and in the DVD menu, where they go back to the Cyborg Cop titles, thus listing Cyborg Cop III above Cyborg Cop II. I guess it doesn't matter that much, considering neither film has anything to do with one another.

Cyborg Cop III-- aka Terminal Impact-- takes place in Iowa-- I guess the one similarity with part II-- where a local university is being funded by a local multi-national corporation to do experiments on students. What are these experiments? Turning dudes into deadly cyborgs, of course. Anyway, the shark expert from Shark Attack 3: Megalodon, playing a TV news reporter here, has been snooping, and she found out about this, and she's less than stoked, stealing some piece of hardware from a computer that makes the cyborgs go. Now the corporation wants it back, so they hire crack marshals/bounty hunters Bryan Genesse and Frank Zagarino to track her down. They put two-and-two together quick, and that's it, time to take down that evil corporation-- The Expendables dock style. (Though I guess that dock scene in The Expendables would've been Terminal Impact style, because it predated it.)

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I don't know where to go with this one. The first 35-40 minutes are a total snoozefest, but the final 50-55 are pretty sweet, with Zagarino and Genesse really bringing it, the action fully up to par, and me forgetting those first 35-40. But I didn't forget them that much, at least not enough to not mention it here. Here's my real take on this one, though: it comes on the same disc as Cyborg Cop II-- aka Cyborg Soldier-- and that one is definitely worth it, so all you're sacrificing with part III is time. I think if you're only paying a bad 35-40 minutes to get to a pretty solid final 50-55, then it's not such a bad investment. Oh yeah, no fanny packs.

I want to start with Bryan Genesse, because, surprisingly enough, this is his first film up here that features him as a good guy. That's hard for me to believe, just because my initial look at him was as as good of a guy as you can get on Street Justice. His martial arts are pretty solid, but underused here in favor of more gunplay, which was a little disappointing, considering what he brings to the table. Also, he had a horrible Southern accent. Seriously? You're going to make a guy from Ontario affect a Southern accent? Not a good look.

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This is only our third Frank Zagarino flick, which sounds surprising as well, considering his very robust bio on imdb. I think the reason for that is, a lot of his films fall in that third or fourth tier of DTV movies, and we just haven't gotten that far down yet, except for some classics featuring Hall of Famers like Lorenzo Lamas, Wings Hauser, and Miles O'Keefe [O'Keeffe]. At this point, we've been including more and more of those films, though, because, at nearly 600 posts in, we've almost exhausted those top two tiers. Expect Zagarino to get more play then-- especially since I have a few of his in my instant queue. Also, one of my favorites is another where he co-stars with Bryan Genesse, Project Shadowchaser II, which I last saw over ten years ago on TNT.

This is Jenny McShane (actually, when she made Cyborg Cop III, she was Jenny Miller). You may remember her as the shark expert in Shark Attack 3 whom John Barrowman tells "why don't you let me take you home and eat your pussy?" Before Google added the stats feature to our blogs, I was under the impression that it was my action films that had the most views, but it's actually Titanic II-- by a wide margin-- that's first all time, and after that, Shark Attack 3. In fact, 9 times out of 10, it's either a bad sci-fi monster film, or a TapOut punchfighting film that gets more overall views than the Dolph Lundgren or Steven Seagal actioner, even though it's the latter that gets more attention on the site in the form of comments.

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This movie, and the one before it I guess, takes place in Iowa, a state I've never had occasion to visit. It wasn't filmed there, of course, it was filmed in South Africa. Unfortunately, the stats function I was just discussing in the above paragraph, doesn't allow me to see who is visiting the site by state, so I don't know if anyone is checking us out from Iowa. I wonder what goes on in Iowa. We all know Des Moines, or rather, of it, and I'm also familiar with their two Div-IA football programs, Iowa and Iowa State. Is there an Iowa tourism bureau? What, do you fly into O'Hare and rent a car, or can you fly into Des Moines? The whole concept is intriguing-- maybe that will be my next vacation.

See what happens when the movie has roughly 40 minutes of dead space? That's right, I go off on a tangent about Iowa. Anyway, the final verdict is as I mentioned above, that Cyborg Cop II is worth renting, and this comes on the same disc, so all you're investing here is your time, and in that sense, it's not a bad deal. Don't get it separately though.

For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0112766/

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Cyborg Cop II aka Cyborg Soldier (1994)

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I imagine, if you read my review of Cyborg Cop, that you know where I'm about to go with this one, so let's not delay and cut right to the chase.

In Cyborg Cop II, our man in the black fanny pack is back. That's right, David Bradley, not even on vacation now, is rocking a fanny pack while on the job as a DEA agent. After a dude that killed his partner and was sentenced to death is broken out of prison, Bradley is suspicious. So he loads up his fanny pack with snacks and ammunition, and seeks out the truth. What he finds is his boy is now a cyborg, aptly named Spartacus, because he leads his fellow enslaved cyborgs in a revolt. Does Bradley have enough tricks in his fanny pack to defeat them?

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The fanny pack thing had to be a joke, right? I mean, before he gets off his motorcycle in his first scene, I made a crack about it, only to see that he was actually wearing it! And it's not just there for show. Uh-uh, no way, he's packing heat underneath there-- whoa, hold your horses ladies (and some fellas), I'm not talking about that, I mean he's hiding a gun... well, you know what I mean... anyway, this thing is in every scene. When he's saving a kid in slow motion, there's the fanny pack. When he's having a conversation with the chief, there's the fanny pack. I imagine even his stunt doubles wore it for continuity. Overall, the action was pretty solid, so, in addition to the hilarity of the fanny pack, this is a lot of fun.

There's something about Bradley throughout this that's kind of dandy-ish, like he's Gene Kelly or something. The way he leaps around, does his roundhouse kicks, the faces he makes when he's waiting for someone to attack. On top of that, you have the fanny pack. Luckily, the film makers countered all of this by making his character kick lots of ass. I mean, in the build-up, we're told these cyborgs are pretty much indestructible, but they're no match for our be-fanny-packed hero.

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This how ridiculous the whole fanny pack thing got, other people were rocking them! Here is Bradley's dead partner's widow. Inside her fanny pack is her dead husband's Zippo, which she gives Bradley, and he promptly puts it in his fanny pack, until he needs it at the end of the film. It's like his fanny pack is his utility belt or something. They should've outfitted Bradley with a cape and cowl. "Brad-Man!" "Robin, get me the Shark Repellent Brad-Spray!" "But Brad-Man, you already have it in your fanny pack!"

It looks like even Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson is getting in on the act here with Bradley. I can't write a great Scottish accent, but you have to imagine this is hurting his sensibilities. "Noe David, tha' fanny pack doosen't soot ya. If yew were my player, I'd suspend ya er poot in a transfer request." (Speaking of Man U, as I write this, it's one day after Blackpool coughed up a two goal lead to them, extending their undefeated season. I'm hoping beyond hope they don't finish that thing off, because I'm a huge Arsenal fan.)

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The thing that gets me most about the fanny packs in this film, is that they're all made of leather. Now, I'm no vegetarian, and I have some leather hiking boots and sneakers, so I'm not about to preach to you. All I'm saying is, a cow or bull's life is worth more than that, isn't it? I get that leather is a by-product of slaughtering the animal for meat, so technically it wasn't killed to make a fanny pack, but just the same, to use the leather to make a fanny pack, is like buying a steak just to let it rot on your shelf-- or to make a meat helmet out of it. What a waste of that animal's life on something so gaudy.

I got this from Netflix in a one disc two-pack that included part III, Terminal Impact. For this one alone it's worth it. Great action, great fanny pack...age, I guess... I should probably end this now before we get anymore phallic.

For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0109518/

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Fast Getaway II (1994)

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I've been wanting to get to this one for a long time, at least since I reviewed Fast Getaway. The thing with a lot of these early 90s DTV movies is, if they haven't been transferred and distributed onto DVD, they're very tough to find, because they really weren't made to be bought at retail stores so much as to be sold to video rental stores throughout the country, meaning the copies of them available are from those video rental stores selling off their stock.

Fast Getaway II picks up about a year or so after part 1 leaves off. Corey Haim is no longer robbing banks, but rather, working with his business partner, Sarah Buxton, as a consultant to an insurance company, advising banks on how to make their security better. A scary pattern emerges in the wake of their consultations though-- suspicious robberies where nothing is stolen. Haim takes the info to his father, Leo Rossi, serving time in a minimum security facility, and Rossi determines that their old partner, Cynthia Rothrock, is back. But why, and what is she up to? Things only get worse when Haim's pocket knife is stolen and placed at the scene of one of their crimes, leading to him being wanted, and forcing Rossi out of jail and back into action.

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This one definitely worked better than part 1, which was all over the place with Rossi having kidnapped Haim when he was young, and then finding his mother-- all kinds of mess. The only odd spot in part 2 came when the FBI agent hunting Haim sexually assaults Sarah Buxton, because it hurt a lot of the levity the rest of the film was going for, and that was really working. Haim was excellent-- one of his better works actually-- and Rothrock and Rossi were very solid as well. This was just a lot of fun.

It's an interesting call as far as Rothrock goes, because she's definitely only a supporting part, but, even more so than in part 1, I like the way her character is presented. Often, Rothrock is shown as undersized and underestimated, having to prove her way and kicking guys' asses who don't take her skills seriously. This was totally different. She's dangerous, not undersized or underestimated, and none of the guys want anything to do with her for fear of what she'll do. It's a very different kind of bad ass from what she is when she's the hero.

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Anyone who wants to make the argument in favor of Haim over Feldman in the two Coreys debate would have a strong case right here, because Haim brings it. He's funny, charming, quick, and always hits his mark. This is vintage stuff. According to imdb, he has a lot of out there in the DTV world that I have left to do, so we'll see if I can't get to some of those in the future. This movie has definitely made me hungry for more Haim.

I think I've said in a few other posts that I don't get Leo Rossi. Well, after Fast Getaway II, it looks like I finally do, because he makes plenty of sense here. It feels like, because this is a sequel, and hence the role was now written with him in mind, the part was tailor made for him, which allowed him to shine. I know Mr. Kenner at Movies in the Attic has wanted me to get to more of his Relentless movies, especially part 1, which features Judd Nelson. Hopefully sometime soon, but I know how I am with things like that-- two years from now I'll be doing another Leo Rossi film and saying the same thing. (As it stands, I've done Dead On: Relentless 2, which stars DTVC Hall of Famer Miles O'Keefe.)

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Fast Getaway II was shot entirely on location in Tucson, AZ, which isn't the same as Utah and Colorado, but still another Four Corners state. I've noticed that a lot of states lately have been pulling out the welcome wagons for movies to be shot there-- Louisiana, Michigan, and Massachusetts come to mind-- but back in the 90s when this was made, Canada was the ideal location, so to see one shot here in the States, and in a State like Arizona, or Utah and Colorado before it, is really cool. There is a lot more to the US than just New York and LA.

This is a tad expensive used from Amazon, but if you can find it for $5-- including shipping-- I'd pull the trigger. Other than that one weird moment with the FBI agent and Sarah Buxton, this is a great action comedy that really works with all of the actors delivering great performances.

For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0109773/

Friday, January 21, 2011

Storm Trooper (1998)

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I first got wind of this when I saw it reviewed over at Mr. Gable's Reality, which is a really great site if you haven't checked it out. Anyway, beyond the cast, that included Zach Galligan (the guy from Gremlins, not The Hangover), the bad guy from Revenge of the Ninja, Ross Hagen, Carol Alt, and Corey Feldman, it had one of the coolest dudes ever, Rick Hill, also known as The Deathstalker. When I found out Netflix had it, I knew I had to make it happen.

Storm Trooper isn't about dudes in white suits with cool white ski helmets who fight the rebels in Star Wars, it's about cyborg soldiers-- or cops, we're not, and I don't the film makers are sure which-- one of whom escapes, and the military wants him back. He avoids death at the hands of Kool Moe Dee and Ross Hagen, only to wind up in the home of the unstable Carol Alt, who has just murdered her husband in cold blood and is now taking a shower with his dead body in the tub with her. Anyway, Zach Galligan, charged by the bad guy from Revenge of the Ninja with bringing in the cyborg, realizes after Hagen and Cool Moe Dee's failures, that he needs to call in the big guns, i.e. Rick Hill. Now it's on.

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Let me use an analogy to explain how this movie works. Just bear with me, it'll be quick. Think of it as a party one your buddies/girlfriends drags you to, that you decide "hey, I ain't got anything else goin' on on a Saturday, why not?", only you get there, and you're thinking maybe you should've stayed in an caught up on your Dickens, because this thing ain't workin'. The chicks/dudes are either not that hot, or have significant others they can't stop talking about, the music sucks, and the company is almost worse. You go to the fridge, because you need a beer quick and fast, and it's as you start getting that bad boy in your system, that someone tells you "hey man, did you know Rick Hill is supposed to be coming?" Rick Hill? Oh man, that guy is awesome. Now this will be a party. And sure enough, he shows up, and kills it. We're talking things like leading the group in singing some Dokken, bowling with an empty half-gallon Bacardi bottle into the party-holder's cheap golfing trophies, prank calls, body shots with the previously unappealing members of the opposite sex-- whatever else you can think of. Then, like any other cool dude, he leaves early, because one should never be the first to get there or the last to leave, and that's it. But you've had a great night, with tons of stories, and you're glad you didn't stay in and catch up on your Dickens.

And that's it in a nutshell (or a rather large, paragraph-long analogy). The moment I see Rick Hill's name in the opening credits, I'm waiting, watching the front door, for him to get there. And when he does, he more than doesn't disappoint, he's pure gold. No one in this film was able to handle this awful DTV movie material like he was. Okay, Ross Hagen was good too, but he's in the movie for like five minutes, so that doesn't count. I realized that, like that life of the party guy I described, I had taken Rick Hill and what he does for granted all this time. Maybe because it's been too long since I've seen Deathstalker-- something I plan to remedy soon!-- but I found in Storm Trooper, as everyone else seemed so out of place, reciting the bad dialog filled with non sequiturs without a clue as to how bad it sounded, here's Rick Hill, completely comfortable and affable, reminding me why I go for movies like this. Here's to you Rick Hill, you're one of the great ones.

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That's Corey Feldman with an eye patch. I wish I could remember off hand the noise he made after Rick Hill kicked him in the stomach, it was like an air compressor or something, but even funnier. Even though his name is all over the cover, he's not in this much, a bit of a Feldman bait-and-switch. I will say, after Rick Hill and Ross Hagen, he was the next most comfortable in working with what this movie was giving, so that was a good thing. I think, even though he's barely in this, seeing him in it with an eye patch like this has to be worth it for Feldman fans. Maybe for Corey Haim fans too.

This is only our second Ross Hagen film, the other being Alienator, and that one had much more Hagen than this one did, because he's only in this one for like five minutes. Have you seen his imdb picture? He looks like Charlton Heston. You probably know him more for his MST3K movies, like Sidehackers and The Hellcats. He's actually still making movies and acting, his most recent work lending his voice for the too sweet video game Red Dead Redemption, as London Ricketts. Another of his more recent ones was in 1999, he played Det. Crank Gabovsky in a Skin-a-max flick directed by this film's director, Jim Wynorski, who's kind of in that Fred Olen Ray category of director who does everything from Skin-a-max to low-budget action. (In fact, Olen Ray did Alienator.) Anyway, I saw that on his imdb filmography, with that character name, Crank Gabovsky, and new I had to mention it.

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Your guess is as good as mine as far as Carol Alt went in this. The character made no sense, and she made it make even less sense the way she played it, maybe because as a not so experienced actress, she didn't know what to do with what they gave her. Anyway, it was fitting then, the way they decided to end it, because it's almost as if they gave up too, and just threw the baby out with the bathwater. In a way, it worked, because, if you go with the party analogy, the life of it, Rick Hill, had already exited, so why not have a reminder that it's probably time for you to call it a night too, before things get any weirder-- that chick/dude you've latched onto, don't ignore the red flags, he/she is that unstable! Cut your losses and be happy with the Rick Hill.

And that's the crux of it. Rick Hill or bust, but it's definitely not bust with Rick Hill this time around. Considering you can get this on Netflix, it's not a bad deal. All the other names range from all right to not that great, but only one name matters, and he delivers. Also, if you haven't already, go check out Mr. Gable's Reality.

For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0145495/

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Mega Shark vs. Crocosaurus (2010)

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I'd been waiting for this one for a little bit. After the original, Mega Shark vs. Giant Cocktopus, I needed to find out... what?... oh, it's "octopus", not "cocktopus"? Mega Shark vs. Giant Octopus, that makes much more sense. Anyway, Mr. Gable's Reality had been keeping us up-to-date on it's goings on (link is to the posts), how far along it was in the production process, etc., but also keeping it fresh in my mind so I wouldn't forget it, and I didn't.

Mega Shark vs. Crocosaurus takes place sometime after the original. Everyone, except Jaleel White, thinks the large shark is dead, but he knows better, and he accidentally signals it to eat the Navy ship he's stationed on, killing everyone but him. At the same time, a Crocodile Dundee type (though English instead of Australian) in Africa comes across an enormous Crocodile, which he tranquilizes and tries to ship to the US. Thing is, it's having babies, i.e., laying eggs, and the large shark wants to eat them. Now the crocodile and shark are getting after it, and blowing up tons of shit in their wake. Will Jaleel White and the Poor Man's Crocodile Dundee be able to stop them?

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This one wasn't so bad, in fact it was pretty fun, which I guess is all you want. It did lose steam near the end, which again is a constant issue with Asylum films, even if they are only 90 minutes long. 70 is a better number for them. But, compared to a lot of their other efforts, this one worked much better. It managed to combine the hilarious footage of CG animals launching themselves into city buildings and causing explosions, with some funny moments in the down times, especially with Jaleel White, Gary Stretch (the Crocodile Dundee guy), and veteran character actor Robert Picardo. Definitely a group movie, and though I wouldn't put it up there with Shark Attack 3, it's not horrible either.

Anyone whose been rockin' with us for a little while knows we have something of a love/hate relationship with The Asylum. Sometimes (okay, not very often), they hit it out of the park, while others feel like they should be so great, and don't quite pan out. This one had that potential to be one of the bad ones, and had it not been for the actors I mentioned above getting us through the lean moments with no sharks or crocodiles, it would have been. I don't really get it, but The Asylum has this affinity for being annoying. One clear example came with this white dude with dreds, who worked with some guy that was going to transport the crocodile for Gary Stretch. He keeps repeating over and over how he needs his 10 percent cut. "I get my ten percent, right?" "Don't forget my ten percent." Why? Why would you do that? Why annoy us? Don't you want us to like your movies, Asylum? At the very least, like them and tell people we liked them? Though Mega Shark vs. Crocosaurus was able to overcome annoying us, others-- Mega Piranha comes to mind-- weren't so lucky.

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When last we saw Jaleel White, he was in Beach Kings (aka Green Flash), a volleyball movie where he played a sporting goods store manager. This was definitely a better deal for him here. He had a few weird moments, not his fault, but because the script was bad, but he went with it very well, which in a sense made it even funnier. Though I love seeing former pop stars, or actors that I've only seen in other Asylum pictures, getting real professionals like White, who are used to working as an actor and have done it for a while, does make a difference. Of course, as we've seen in the past with The Asylum, it doesn't always make all the difference. Either way, I'd love to see White again in another one of their movies-- or another DTV flick.

One thing that surprised me about Mega Shark vs. Crocosaurus was the actual landmarks it used in the film-- commercial landmarks at that. First they had The Orange Bowl in Miami, into which a helicopter crashed and exploded, and then they had Sea World, where the shark swooped in and ate Shamu and all the other killer whales as they did their routine for everyone-- or maybe it was the crocodile. Usually, Asylum films take place in these liminal spaces, a cinematic purgatory, if you will, so to see Sea World was very exciting. It was almost as if The Asylum had made it.

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How do you not love this guy, veteran character actor Robert Picardo? I don't see how you can't, right? When they showed him in the making of featurette and the blooper reel, he looked like a ton of fun to work with too. Maybe the best casting decision The Asylum has ever made, and that includes a couple they did with Lorenzo Lamas in them. We need more Robert Picardo in anything.

I think this one will satisfy the fun quotient, which is all you want with The Asylum, I guess. Still, it did have small pockets of annoyance and probably went on for about 20-30 minutes too long. I think we forget that those horrible 1950s sci-fi movies that MST3K made fun of were probably painfests to get through too if Joel or Mike and the 'Bots hadn't been there. Maybe The Asylum forgets it as well, hence what we're hoping will be awesome ends up not being such. Anyway, this isn't a bad deal for a Red Box with some friends.

For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1705773/

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Ablaze (2001)

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Being that we're making a final push to get the rest of Michael Dudikoff's DTV oeuvre up at the DTVC, I knew I'd have to do this bad boy sooner or later. Let's get through it together, like we're peeling off a Band-Aid, all at once.

Ablaze is a convoluted mess of a plot about a fireman who does police work with Ice-T and works in a fire station with Michael Dudikoff. Either that, or it's about Tom Arnold, who owns both an oil refinery and a hospital that makes patients pay for play (this film might have been ten years before its time in that aspect!). In a stroke of what would've been irony had it not been in a contrived movie, Arnold's refinery has a massive explosion, causing an enormous disaster in the city, and his hospital is the nearest source of emergency care, causing altruistic doctor Amanda Pays to dump Arnold's bottom line based health care in favor of humanitarian medicine. Then something called a firestorm threatens the hospital, and Dudikoff has to bring the firemen in to save them.

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On the sleeve the disc came in from Netflix, the synopsis read like this:
A by-the-book investigation into a hotel fire generates quickly into a mad rush to find a deadly arsonist as killer infernos begin raging all over the city. The cops soon discover that someone is creating deliberate death traps -- picture-perfect fires for a serial arsonist turned serial killer! Heading up the investigation is none other than Tom Arnold. (That's like tossing gasoline on a smoking ember, isn't it?)
Had that been the actual movie, it might have been great, and in the first ten minutes, where there's this too sweet chase with Ice-T and our fireman hero going after some serial arsonist, it looked like that's what we were getting. But that wasn't the movie, and instead we got a convoluted disaster pic with no identity, manufactured tension that often made no sense, and a great cast that was essentially wasted-- and when I say wasted, I mean they weren't in the movie nearly enough. Dudikoff, Ice-T, Tom Arnold, and William Zabka were all wasted, receiving little to less screen time. Amanda Pays had a little more to do, but it wasn't enough to save this from leaving me thinking "what's the point?"

I think Soldier Boyz thinks this was the dumbest movie Michael Dudikoff has ever done. A former special forces soldier recruiting kids from a juvenile prison to rescue a girl from Vietnam thinks Ablaze was ludicrous. Usually I applaud Dudikoff for playing it straight and lending bad films like these credibility, but in the case of Ablaze, it ended up being a bad look for him. This was not a movie that needed credibility, it didn't need humoring, it needed someone on the other side sharing in every moment that left us nonplussed, not pretending that we shouldn't be stunned or not knowing how to respond. Tom Arnold, for instance, did do that for us. In every scene he was in, you could see him mailing it in with fourth class postage, and that's what this film was worthy of.

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I shouldn't be so harsh on Ablaze, because in watching it again yesterday for the blog, I could see where it went wrong. It was this constant adding of pieces, tacking things on, trying to fix things, but only making them worse. It was someone thinking he or she had a concept for a disaster movie, but not seeing that it was an idea sautéed in wrong sauce. The thing that I think was unforgivable, though, was gathering this huge cast and pretty much having them there for their names on the box.

I was joking with a buddy the other day about how growing up, we all feared that going into high school, we would get picked on by kids who were like William Zabka. Of course, we grew into teenagers, actually went to high school, and learned there were no William Zabkas, and the only fears we had were of the teachers catching us making a dime-sack transaction in the bathroom. Still, Zabka to this day resonates as one of the ultimate 80s baddies. I mean, we almost expected to see his face during the big Darth Vader reveal at the end of Return of the Jedi. In Ablaze, he does play a bad guy, Tom Arnold's right-hand man, but he's as wasted as everyone else, getting killed off early on.

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As much as this movie was bad, it was also weird, but weird in a bad way. One of the weirdest was the running story of an aging starlet in purple, snake skin print leather pants, who was acting as a nurse or something. She helps out a kid, talks to our hero, then, inexplicably, disguises herself as a patient and walks out into the inferno between the hospital and the waiting firefighters, and gets herself burned to death. None of it made any sense, and just added to my disdain for the film-- though ladies, you shouldn't let this paragraph deter you from wearing purple leather pants if you're ever so inclined.

This is available on DVD through Netflix, or to buy in a lot of bargain bins (I found it at Big Lots, though of course I passed on it). Seeing all the names will probably be enticing. Don't let them fool you, this is a 90 minute painfest with little to redeem it. If you're a major chase scene connoisseur, you may want it for the opening scene, which was legitimately good, otherwise, stay away.

For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0217979/

Monday, January 17, 2011

Talons of the Eagle (1992)

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This is one I've been looking to do for a long time, and was planning to do it before I went on hiatus, but when I came back, it was lost in the shuffle. Then in relatively quick succession, both Ty at Comeuppance Reviews and Karl at Fist of the B-List reviewed it (links are to their posts), and reminded me that I had neglected it for too long. It was time to make it happen.

Talons of the Eagle has DTVC favorite Billy Blanks as a New York DEA Agent who is sent to Toronto to nip the drug supply chain in the bud, along with Jalal Merhi. Both guys are what we in the biz call "mavericks" or "loose cannons", so they get along great. They have to learn some Eagle Talon style Kung Fu though, before they can infiltrate the evil James Hong's gang through his tournament. After a few montages they're set to go, and they impress Hong enough that he lets them in. There are two problems though: first, Hong's righthand man, Matthias Hues is suspicious of them, and second, the chick who took over for Suzanne Somers on Three's Company is an agent that was sent in prior to our heroes, and they don't know if she's "crossed over".

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This definitely cooks. Billy Blanks is the standout, but Merhi is solid, and Hues and Hong make great baddies. Plus you have some other excellent performances rounding out the cast, including Priscilla Barnes, Eric Lee, and Qingfu Pan. There were some weak points, like in the tournament, our heroes take way too many hits from their opponents to make us believe they learned anything from all those montages. I mean, Merhi had a lot of trouble with the "Pepperidge Farms Remembers" guy, and Blanks was less than convincing against an Iron Sheik wannabe. There's also as many laughs as there are great fights and action, foremost among them, Merhi in his tighty blackies, or the fact that the only thing to drink in Toronto was Canada Dry. A great combination of silly and hot makes for a winner in my book.

Billy Blanks is a star, but unlike the two he did with Roddy Piper, Tough and Deadly and Back in Action, in this he plays second fiddle to Merhi, which is a little off-putting. He does get the end fight with Hues, though, so in that sense he was used well. There's just so much electricity in his performances, it's really too bad he didn't do more work. I'm not sure if that's because the early 90s weren't ready for an African American DTV action lead, or if he didn't want as much work, or maybe a combination of both, but seeing him here just makes me want more. I should also point out that this was a rare pre-Rush Hour pairing of two heroes that weren't Caucasian. This film was very much ahead of its time.

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This will be the eighth of fifteen acting credits for Jalal Merhi here at the DTVC. It feels like he had a bigger impact on the DTV industry, but when you factor in the large amount of overlap between his acting credits and his director, producer, and writer credits, 15 is about it. He's kind of in that David Bradley territory, only he does more than just act. Maybe he's a Lebanese cross between Orson Welles and David Bradley, only instead of the fanny pack, he has the tighty blackies. Don't know what he was going for there, but I spared you a pic of it on the image page. Mr. Merhi, if you ever decide to make any more movies and cast yourself in them, I'd go boxers over briefs.

Does anyone remember how the whole replacing Suzanne Somers on Three's Company went down? She had some contract dispute, and so for a season, instead of being with the rest of the cast, she would go into a box and shoot scenes to make it look like she was communicating with them over the phone from some far-off place. I was too young to remember the whole thing when it originally aired, but do remember when it was on Nick-at-Nite, and thought how odd it was. Almost as weird as when Gabe Kaplan had issues with Welcome Back Kotter, and they had his wife teach the Sweathogs. Anyway, Priscilla Barnes, Somers's eventual replacement, plays Merhi's love interest/undercover agent, so that's why I brought all that up.

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Had to snag another McDonald's shot. This comes in some New York file footage at the beginning of the film. I wonder if that McDonald's is still open. I've realized that perhaps with all my McDonald's talk I'm giving the wrong impression of my eating habits. Don't get me wrong, I love McDonald's, but I also love Doritos and chocolate (not together, of course), but I don't eat them all the time. I wonder if I lived on the West Coast if that would be a different story though, with In-and-Out burger and Del Taco. Or Chic-Fil-A, which we don't have up here either, but I get when I go down south. Temperance would be much more difficult to practice then.

Talons of the Eagle is available on Netflix, making it an easy get for anyone looking to make it happen. This is a well-rounded film that offers solid fights and low-budget silliness in a great package that's hard to not like. Definitely worth it.

For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0105530/

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Equalizer 2000 (1986)

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I'm not sure why this is called Equalizer 2000. Richard Norton with an enormous fucking gun that he uses to blow tons of people away with in the post-apocalyptic Philippines is more like it. I had had this one on my radar for a little while, and then I saw it reviewed over at Cool Target: Action Reviews and knew I had to have it. Both the film and the site are worth checking out.

Equalizer 2000 takes place in post-apocalyptic Alaska, which has been turned into a barren desert wasteland with very little water or oil. One dictatorship has tried to consolidate their power, while some outlying villages look to unite or stay out of the fray. Enter Mr. Norton, who used to be with the big boys, but now he has a score to settle, and he finds himself in one of the other tribes, after rescuing Ken Wahl's (then) wife from Robert Patrick and his gang of thugs. She's working on some big gun, but with Norton's know how, it becomes something more, something totally kickass!

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This is a great one. Directed by DTVC Hall of Famer Cirio H. Santiago, it's pretty vintage stuff from him. Plenty of junky cars with spikes and shit on them, dudes in crazy black outfits with eye patches or goggles and silly hats or bandannas. Then you have Norton and his too sweet pecs blasting the place apart with the greatest gun ever. How amazing is that? The key is, either you like movies like this or you don't, but for those who do, this has what you want.

This is one of Norton's best, maybe after some of his great stuff with Cynthia Rothrock. The gun is just beyond hyperbole, and Norton wears it (and very little else) very well. For most of Equalizer 2000 he's pretty much brooding with revenge on his mind, but even that works with that awesome gun. You may have noticed, with all the things I plan on discussing with this film, I've chosen to only embed images of Norton toting that fantastic firearm. Enjoy.

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Cirio Santiago does a great job here of keeping things low budget, and in that sense kind of silly, but adding in a lot recognizable cinematic conventions that add a level of nuance, like the way his future felt more like a Western, with Patrick's gang working as the bandits, the powerful warlord more like the Mexican general, and then the village Norton falls in with with the local townsfolk trying to stay out of everything. Not to mention you had Philippine movie industry mainstays Vic Diaz and Ramon D'Salva leading what looked like a tribe of Native Americans. It was very Spaghetti Western-ish, which made it more fun. Oh yeah, and there was Norton's gun.

Speaking of Vic Diaz and Ramon D'Salva, anyone who has seen a fair amount of Philippine low budget movies between the 70s-90s will recognize them. Usually they play Vietnamese generals, essentially bad guys, in Philippine Vietnam War films. If you're into those kinds of movies (and I am because of the carryover into what we do at the DTVC), you might want to check out Jack over at When the Vietnam War Raged... in the Philippines.

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The female lead was played by Corinne Wahl, Ken Walh's wife at the time. She was a Penthouse Pet as well-- probably how Wahl met her. Anyway, she's really hot in this, and rocks this tank top with no bra, and thigh high leather boots. Hey, it's the future, after the apocalypse, in Alaska, I'd think you'd want to go for something a little more functional than that, but who am I to say, I get to sit here on my computer and make snarky jokes about the nuclear holocaust, I don't know what it's like out there, in Alaska/Philippines, dealing with bandits and Vic Diaz the Medicine Man. Then there was that gun Norton had... simply the best!

This is VHS or bust, and Amazon is selling it for a pretty steep price, so I'd keep it in mind say if you're digging through a bargain bin or something. It's really great Richard Norton directed by Cirio H. Santiago. This is what you wanted, this is what you came for, get after it. Also, if you haven't already, go check out Cool Target: Action Reviews.

For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0091012/

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Mission of Justice aka Martial Law III (1992)

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I knew I wanted to look at some more Jeff Wincott movies, and I was trying to think of something to do after Martial Law II, and I saw Mission of Justice over at Straight-to-DVD-Heaven, a great site run by Lee Nicholson from Middlesbrough in the UK (if you remember, that's where The Tournament, starring Ving Rhames, took place). As an aside, a few years back, when I was living in Portland, ME, our cable man was from Middlesbrough. He saw me in my Arsenal jersey and was like "whoa, you watch the EPL? I'm from Middlesbrough" and I'm thinking "my cable man is from Middlesbrough?"

Mission of Justice was originally conceived as a sequel to Martial Law II, until Cynthia Rothrock pulled out and they went with Karen Sheperd instead. She and Wincott play beat cops, when a guy who they arrested for beating his girlfriend is released by their shit-heel sergeant because the guy was a good snitch, and the snitch proceeds to go home and beat said girlfriend to death. Wincott quits the force, and joins up with shady politician Brigitte Nielsen's Mission of Justice cult/vigilante group. He does this because he suspects they had something to do with his ex-boxing champ buddy's murder. Now he's killing two birds with one stone, by bringing down his friend's killer, and sticking it to his asshole former superior.

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Wincott does it again. Great, great stuff here. In one scene, he's being initiated into Nielsen's Mission of Justice, and he has to survive this gauntlet of 20 guys wielding batons. He takes the batons they give him, and throws them into the middle, turning away like he wants nothing to do with it. Matthias Hues and James Lew, Nielsen's main henchmen, look on in disdain, thinking, "we knew this dude was a total tool." Then he charges back to the gauntlet, does a few flips into the middle, picks up his sticks, and delivers a major hurting on everyone. I don't know who came up with that, but that person is near the top of my all time awesome book. And the film just gets better from there, culminating in a too sweet knock down, drag 'em out final brawl between Wincott and Hues. Not as good as it's intended predecessor, Martial II, but still pretty great.

Wincott is often lost in the shuffle here at the DTVC, in part because he's not in the Hall of Fame, and so his films drop some in priority. I know that shouldn't be the case, because I can't remember the last Wincott film that wasn't awesome, can you? The next question is, if he has so many wins like this, why is he not in the Hall of Fame? Well, we just have to get more of his films up, and it will happen in time. His DTV filmography is somewhat diluted by a lot of TV roles and bit parts in feature films, so he might not have enough movies to get in too. We'll see what happens. In the meantime, enjoy how sweet he is in this one.

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I was surprised to find out this will only be the seventh Matthias Hues we've done on here. Maybe it's because he's so large that I thought we'd done more. He's excellent in this as Nielsen's brother/hatchetman, especially in that end fight with Wincott. It's one of those ones too where it's being sold to us from the beginning, from the first time we learn that Hues is in the movie, we know what we're getting at the end, and Mission of Justice doesn't fail to deliver. I wonder, though, with Hues playing a baddie all the time, does he ever wonder how many of these dudes he can actually take in a fight? A guy with his size and speed probably has no question-- maybe only Dolph Lundgren would have that same unique combination, and in I Come in Peace, Hues was playing a super-strong alien, so they never had a man-to-man style fight.

Karen Sheperd is solid in her part as Wincott's partner, but it's not a huge role, so in that sense it's something of a disappointment. I wonder if the role was always supposed to be small, and that's why Rothrock turned it down. She gets a few good fights against some dudes, but it's in the final one with Nielsen's number one female fighter that she really gets after it. Great stuff, just too bad there wasn't more of it.

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Finally, Brigitte Nielsen played the head baddie, the classic corrupt politician, only this time it wasn't a white male in the part. In the Circle of Death post, I mentioned how Bai Ling said her part, also as the main baddie, would have been an old white man character, and how forward thinking it was that she was cast in that role instead. Same thing here with Nielsen, only she's been a baddie before, in some much bigger films, like Rocky IV and Beverly Hills Cop II. One thing I noticed in this, that I'd never noticed before with her, is how skinny her legs are-- at least in 1992. Wow, they'd rival Bai Ling's.

All right, before I get way off track, let's wrap this up. Not the level of Martial II, but definitely up there. Wincott brings it, Sheperd is good when she's there, and Hues and Nielsen as baddies were great. As far as I can tell, here in the States, the movie is only available on VHS, but if you're in the Region 2 zone, you can get it on DVD. If you come across it, I'd go for it. Also, if you haven't already, go check out Straight-to-DVD-Heaven.

For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0104888/

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Terminator Woman (1993)

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I first saw this during the movie block after WCW's Monday Night Nitro on TNT. That would've been about 12 years ago, and over time, I remembered the story, but who was in it was all jumbled up in my mind. I believe there was a Rowdy Roddy Piper film on that same night-- probably Immortal Combat-- and I ended up confusing the two, and after I tracked down that latter film, realized it wasn't this. Anyway, fast forward to now, when I find this great action movie site, Fist of the B-List, run by Karl Brezdin, and he's reviewing it. It was so great. I couldn't believe it had Jerry Trimble and Karen Sheperd in it and I'd forgotten that, but it didn't matter, it was mine now.

Terminator Woman has Trimble and Sheperd as two cops escorting a prisoner to Africa for extradition. He knows where $100 million in gold is stashed and his old boss, Michel Qissi (who also co-wrote and directed) wants it. What he does is kidnaps Sheperd, using a woman who does some white slavery work for him, thinking Trimble'll trade Sheperd for the guy. What he doesn't know is Sheperd is no damsel in distress, and his goons get more than they bargained for.

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This is pretty sweet. Even the awkward dialog between Trimble and Sheperd about some mixed-gender karate competition kind of worked. Then you had the excellent martial arts scenes, which really delivered on all the talent, some various explosions and jump kicks to guys on dirt bikes, and Qissi as a fun baddie. My one qualm was a very out-of-place scene where Qissi kills the kid who's helping Trimnble's sister-- after he had already taken out her eye some time in the past. Though nothing is shown, it was an element of brutality in an otherwise very fun and offbeat movie. Had the rest of it not been so enjoyable, I would've had more of a problem, but in the end it was only a small issue.

This is pretty sweet Jerry Trimble. I'd go with Live by the Fist over this one, but maybe not anything else after. This just plays to a lot of Trimble's strengths: a frenetic fighting pace with little let up, clean-cut Southern looks, and a slick-talking sense of humor. According to imdb, most of his recent work, including the upcoming Green Hornet, is in bit parts as members of gangs-- essentially James Lew in most 1990s DTV actioners. I wonder if he looks at starring in lower-budget features today and thinks "been there, done that." Too bad, because it might be nice to see him in something new.

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Terminator Woman is the second Karen Sheperd film we've done here, the first being Cyborg 2. This was a much bigger role, and a much better role. She doesn't have any where near as extensive the filmography that Cynthia Rothrock does, which is a shame, because she's about as good. What I really liked about this part was how she was using the classic damsel in distress device that pigeonholes women in action films to a limited participation in the film's outcome, and she bursts out of it. She's not playing a man's part though, not by any stretch, she's using this part to redefine what a woman is capable of contributing. She's kidnapped, and her captors think she's their damsel in distress, but she breaks out and lets them know that they picked up the wrong chick. The movie made a point of her getting away on her own, not being rescued by Trimble, which I thought was great. I have no problem with the damsel in distress device, I'm just saying for women like Rothrock and Sheperd, they're above it, they should be doing the rescuing.

Michel Qissi, as a first time director, did a pretty solid job. His fight choreography was on point as well. I didn't know this-- I don't know why I never bothered to look-- but he's not Tong Po in Kickboxer 4, except for in some of his archival footage. What could he have been doing in 1994 to have been too busy to reprise his role as Tong Po? Or did Albert Pyun not want him? Maybe Qissi was like "I want to direct it" and Pyun was like "um, no, that's what I do." Also, Terminator Woman reunites Qissi with his To the Death co-star Ted Le Plat.

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By far, one of the best DTV action blocks on television was after WCW Monday Night Nitro on TNT, especially after the Mortal Kombat series with Daniel Bernhardt was canceled. I was in college then, and I remember us getting some beers in us and laughing at Hollywood Hulk Hogan and Diamond Dallas Page, and then that seamless transition into a great early 90s Dudikoff or Piper classic. I'm not surprised that TNT got rid of that kind of programming, because they found more money in "New Classics", but I am surprised that the proliferation of "men's channels" like Spike and G4 hasn't provided a late-night market for movies like this. I mean, I've never seen Attack of the Show, but is a rerun of it at 1AM better than American Ninja 4? (I do like Ninja Warrior though. Go Brian Orosco!)

This is a cheaper find on VHS than it is on DVD, but both are out there. I don't know if it's a must have, but it's a lot of fun, and if it ever were to be shown on TV again, it would be plenty worth your viewing. I'd say keep an eye out for it cheap, and then pull the trigger. Also, if you haven't checked out Fist of the B-List, you definitely should.

For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0108313/

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Pocket Ninjas (1997)

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I was completely shocked to find that this was available from Netflix. We're talking #9 on the imdb Bottom 100, and the film is still in print? On the one hand that sounds really cool, but on the other, I think of all the great Gary Daniels films that aren't in print or available on Netflix, and it irks me that this one is.

Pocket Ninjas has Gary Daniels as a sensei teaching his students how to be vigilante fighters in order to defeat the evil power of Cobra Khan, now embodied in a little kid named Cubby Khan, but originally embodied in DTVC favorite Robert Z'Dar, whose enormous face alone was bigger than that kid. Anyway, the kids go out and fight Cubby Khan's goons, then have some kind of showdown with virtual reality video games.

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This lives up to it's Bottom 100 billing, but that's not exactly a good thing. First off, it's trying to be a parody of martial arts movies, but it's so not funny that it falls flat on its face. The number one rule to a good parody: be better than the material one is mocking, and Pocket Ninjas couldn't deliver on that. Second, it tortures us with these drawn out training sequences with the kid and the baddies that have no point other than hurting our sensibilities and hammering this repetitious synth music into our skulls. Third, we get a healthy dose of annoying kid actors, especially this one with a high pitched voice that was supposed to be our comedic lead, but just made me wish the girl in his group would kick him in the nuts-- over and over. Finally I don't know what was going on with Robert Z'Dar. They were going for some kind of Three Stooges thing, but I found myself with my mouth agape, totally stunned and baffled-- nonplussed, so to speak, not knowing how I was supposed to react. Had the people involved let off the schlock a little bit, and trimmed about five minutes off a lot of their scenes-- which is saying a lot for a film with a 76-minute running time-- this could've been a fun bad movie in MST3K terms. Instead, it was just 76 minutes of extreme tediousness annoying the hell out of me.

The opening credits tell us that this is a "special appearance" by Gary Daniels, but he's in it a fair amount, though some of those are clips from other movies, most prominent, Capital Punishment. He was trying his best here, so you gotta give him an A for effort, but this was a hardcore painfest. It's funny to watch, though, just to see Daniels giving it his best, not betraying the silly dialog, or the outfit, or the scene where he's covered in water (I guess sweating). In the review for Across the Line, we discussed Daniels's trend of doing smaller parts in films with bigger actors so he can rub shoulders with them. I wonder if this film is on his mind every time he takes one of these small roles. I wonder if, during the wrap party, he's deathly afraid someone will bring it up, maybe a practical joke where the scene of him covered in water is plastered across someone's 58" plasma.

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Robert Z'Dar. Yep, showing us his comedic acting skills. Oh, I know, he's a comedic actor when he's playing it straight, what's it like when he's trying to evoke the Three Stooges? In a word, shocking. He's like the guy at the frat party who's like a friend of a friend, and gets really drunk and acts a fool, and you're there trying to not to make eye contact with him, for fear he'll bring his routine to you, and latch onto you, preventing you from making a connection with the girl you've struck up a conversation with. It was uncouth, and perhaps more frightening than any of the baddies he's ever played.

All of the scenes of Tadashi Yamashita are from Capital Punishment, and I guess for that reason he's uncredited. You also have a quick shot of Ian Jacklin-- the guy from Kickboxer 3-- probably also from another movie. How does one do that, make a 76-minute long movie, and use footage from another film? And then, half the scenes they did shoot originally went on too long. I mean, this entire thing is high school kids on YouTube quality, and I know if they had the rights to movies like Capital Punishment that they could splice in, they'd probably make a much better movie.

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This was shot in 1994, but not released until 1997. With that in mind, I'm assuming the female lead, played by Sondi (just the one name, and just the one role according to imdb) is about my age, or maybe a year or two older. Her character, the way she looked, the way she dressed, the way she wore her hair, it reminded me of the girls I grew up with in middle school into high school. People my age probably remember what I'm talking about. Girls back then seldom wore skirts or dresses, usually dressed in slightly unflattering jeans and baggy shirts and sweaters with sneakers. It sounds like a Tom Boy, but these were feminine outfits, all these clothes came from the girls' of the department store section. There was something about those days when a girl that I was so used to wearing jeans and a sweater would come into to school with a skirt on, and though the girl in this movie never wore a skirt, there was something about her clothes that reminded me of those days, where a girl that I always thought was cute would be transformed into something more, just because, for whatever reason, today was a skirt day. It's so weird, because skirts are common on women today, and we really don't think anything of it, but back then, if a girl wore a skirt, it was a big deal.

Okay, so I'm way off track here reminiscing about the early 90s. Pocket Ninjas is enticing, believe me. imdb Bottom 100, Gary Daniels, Robert Z'Dar, and easily available on Netflix. Just be very careful, because you're entering into a 76-minute long painfest, something that will harm your sensibilities, and leave you for hours after with this atrocious, repetitive synth track buried deep in your dome.

For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0107838/

Across the Line:The Exodus of Charlie Wright (2010)

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I put this in my queue, first and foremost, because it lists DTVC Hall of Famer Gary Daniels in its cast, a cast which is very star-studded, including Mario Van Peebles, Bokeem Woodbine, Corbin Bernsen, Andy Garcia, Gena Gershon, and Aiden Quinn. I had a feeling Daniels wouldn't be in it much, but I figured I'd give it a look anyway.

Across the Line has Aiden Quinn as very successful investment broker whose enterprise has been revealed to be a Ponzi scheme, ripping off investors to the tune of $11 billion give or take. Before FBI agent Van Peebles can get a warrant, Quinn escapes, meaning he could be anywhere. Turns out anywhere is Tijuana, where a lot of people want him and his money. Andy Garcia runs a crime family on the border that is into some scary characters in Mexico City for some big cash, and he sees Quinn as his gift from God. Back in LA, a couple retired Russian mob bosses that Quinn ripped off for $100 million want their pound of flesh, and they hire Luke Goss to hire Gary Daniels's mercenary team to get him. As all of this is going on, Quinn is looking to make amends for a major regret in his past, which is the reason he's in TJ to begin with.

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This looked like it was going to be a pretty decent film. It was moving along pretty well with few dead spots, and I actually cared enough about Quinn's character to see what happened. But then it just ends with nothing really happening, and I'm like "what's the point?" I mean, you gather all this talent, give them pretty solid characters, and that's it, the movie just kind of gives us "as you were". Seldom do I go in for the whole temporal refund deal-- you know, that's 90 minutes of my life I'll never get back-- but I'm feeling it here. Why waste my time?

Daniels had a rather small part, as leader of a three-man mercenary team that included him and Bokeem Woodbine. I'll get into later how confused I was that he wasn't playing Luke Goss's character, or something a little better. Of the three films Daniels did this year, this one, The Expendables, and Hunt to Kill, he only had a small supporting part in each of them. Is this a disturbing trend in Daniels's career? Is he foregoing smaller budget actioners that cast him in the lead, for these smaller roles in slightly bigger movies where he gets to rub shoulders with bigger names? It's a tad disconcerting to say the least, though if he's doing it to make a better name for himself so he can get back to those leading roles, only on a level with guys like Dolph and Seagal, it could be a great move. I guess it's a reality check that a guy that we dig so much isn't as big a deal to everyone else. Hopefully he will be.

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Can someone explain this to me? I'm talking about this guy, Luke Goss. Does he make any sense to you? Does he make any sense as somehow above or better than Daniels to you? What, he's bald? Is that it? He looks like a grown up Ben Seaver. Just because you're selling him to me as cooler or better than Daniels or Bokeem Woodbine, doesn't mean I have to buy it. According to imdb, he was in a boy band in the UK called Bros, which sold out Wembley Stadium. I guess they also played at MSG here in the States. That's hot. He should've been Mario Van Peeble's FBI partner, and Daniels should've been given a bigger part, representing his own mercenary team to the Russian mobsters.

At first blush, the idea of casting Andy Garcia as a sophisticated Mexican mob boss sounds good, right? It doesn't work though. Garcia is too good for a part like that, he's too good for the cheesy, poorly written philosophy that these characters spout out, the dime-store novel existentialism, it's all somehow beneath him. The other thing is, he's very American, and didn't work as a native Mexican. In reality, he would've been perfect for Aiden Quinn's part. One side note about Andy Garcia: I loved his work in The Godfather III, a movie that I otherwise thought was a total disappointment.

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One of my regrets in life was, on a visit with a friend to San Diego to see his mother, I didn't make it across the border to Tijuana, and this film was a constant reminder of that regret. It's funny, growing up in Maine, four hours or so from Montreal, I've never been to Canada either. I know, that's crazy. My only foray outside the country was to England and Scotland in 1997-- a trip I remember very little of, spending most of the time either drunk or hungover-- I was 18. I actually was going to go to Montreal two years ago, while in Burlington, VT to see some friends, but we didn't make it because there was a huge snowstorm.

Way more information about me than you probably needed, so let's wrap this up. It wasn't a bad movie to begin with, but at the end I was left with this "what's the point?" feeling, and that's never a good thing. Also, there isn't much Gary Daniels here, which seems to be a trend with his new work. Overall, a lot of great talent chewing up scenery, but that's all they're doing.

For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1663193/