DIRECT TO VIDEO (DTV) FILMS: THE GOOD AND THE BAD

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DTV FILMS: THE GOOD STUFF

Good DTV Genre Films Part 11 (continued): Do you like your action films down and dirty with very little exposition and lots of gunfights and hand-to-hand combat? Then you can do no better than I AM WRATH (2016), starring (believe it or not) John Travolta as the main character. I wanted to see this DTV film since I heard that Chuck Russell directed it, his first feature film since 2002's THE SCORPION KING. Other Russell films include A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET 3: DREAM WARRIORS (1987); the superior remake of THE BLOB (1988); the Jim Carrey comedy/fantasy THE MASK (1994) and the Arnold Schwarzenegger action flick ERASER (1996). So you can see how, after a 14 year absence, I wanted to see what he churned out. And I wasn't disappointed. When former Black Ops agent Stanley Hill (a fit Travolta, who is excellent if you can ignore his bad hairpiece) watches his wife Vivian (Rebecca De Mornay) being murdered, he tries legal means to find out why. It is apparent to Stanley that Detective Gibson (Sam Trammell of TRUE BLOOD) and his group of other detectives are corrupt and may be in on his wife's murder (Stanley beats up two detectives and forces them to give back all the money to an old oriental woman they shook down every month as "protection" for her restaurant. The next day, Stanley watches as the two injured detectives in casts and bandages carry a huge envelope of money into the restaurant and one of the detectives says, "I don't know what hurts worse, the beat-down or doing this."). Stanley and his best friend Dennis (Christopher Meloni of LAW & ORDER: SVU and very good, as well as funny), another former Black Ops agent, work together to get to the bottom of Stanley's wife's murder. From this moment on, the film is nothing but a series of well-staged shootouts, explosions and fisticuffs, where no blood is spared. This was the quickest 92 minutes I have sat through in a long time, as some of the set-pieces are nail-bitingly suspenseful and this film goes way past what we would regard as an R-Rating, as people are shot in the head, lose body parts and are blown apart in explosions. It also has a satisfying conclusion, which leaves the film open for more Travolta/Meloni films in the future (and I hope there are, as they make a great team). I am glad Chuck Russell is back and this is better than most action films I have seen in theaters, but it seems to me that a lot of John Travolta films are going straight to DTV simply because he is being punished for being a Scientologist. It can't be because of the value of the film. He makes a perfect action hero here and also has in some of the other films of his that have gone the DTV route. I only hope this is Chuck Russell's return to the directorial chair and we don't have to wait another 14 years for another film. This one has everything an action film fan could ask for and more. Highly recommended.; THE OTHER SIDE OF THE DOOR (2016) is one of those horror films you are either going to love or hate, there will be no middle ground. I happen to love it because of its exotic location (Mumbai, India) and some really terrifying scares. A husband and wife, Michael (Jeremy Sisto; LAW & ORDER - 2007-2010) and Maria (Sarah Wayne Callies; INTO THE STORM - 2014) are vacationing in India when Maria announces she is pregnant. They decide to live in India because Michaels's job was looking to create an office there. Six years pass and Maria is a wreck. It seems Maria and Michael had two children, Oliver (Logan Creran) and Lucy (Sofia Rosinsky), and Oliver drowned when the car Maria was driving went over a bridge into a raging river during a monsoon. Oliver was trapped, so Maria was only able to save Lucy. Maria is on a spiral of depression, until one day she decides to overdose on sleeping pills, but Michael is able to save her by getting her to the hospital on time. Michael and Maria's housekeeper, Piki (Suchitra Pillai), asks Maria if she would like to talk to her son for one last time and say the things she couldn't say to him before he dies. It involves a Hindu ritual where they dig up Oliver's grave and perform a supernatural spell, where they burn Oliver's body and then Maria goes into a temple and is only able to talk to Oliver through the door. But by no means must she open the door or bad things will happen. Maria agrees to do all this, but makes Piki swear never to tell Michael. They perform the ritual and Maria talks to Oliver through the door, but when Oliver says he must go, Maria thinks she didn't have enough time with him, so she opens the door. Big mistake. Something besides Oliver comes to our side and begins to make life hell for Maria and Lucy. Michael is still oblivious to it all because he spends so much time at the office. At first, Maria believes that the ghost of Oliver has followed her home, because the piano starts playing Oliver's favorite tune. But things turn nasty mighty quick. Lucy starts ending up with bruises on her body. The fish in their pond all die and so do the plants. Chairs slide across the floor and pin Maria into one, where she is forced to sit and read Oliver's favorite story. Scary looking Hindu people begin to appear wherever Maria goes and scare the shit out of her and Lucy. And then we find out the spirit is of a violent girl named Myrtu (played by male actor Javier Botet, and this is not the first time he has portrayed a female ghost or demon. He played a female in [REC] - 2007 and MAMA - 2012), the Gatekeeper of the Underworld. I'll leave the rest for you to discover. What surprised me most is that this film was directed and written by Johannes Roberts, who gave us one of the worst money-making horror films of all time STORAGE 24 (2012; look for a review in the bad DTV section), so I was surprised I would like this film so much. It may remind people of all those American-made versions of Japanese horror films (which I mostly hate), but this one has very unusual location work and some truly scary scenes (it starts nearly in the beginning with a small girl on the beach who points at Maria, screams and her face begins to change into something horrible). See if you agree with me and watch it when you get the chance.; I have to say that I wasn't expecting much from director/producer/co-writer Stephen Chow's MERMAID (2016), since I found most of his previous films overlong visual effects festivals with a minimal of story. Boy was I surprised here. The film starts off in a slapstick comical way (which almost made me turn it off), but there was something about it that told me to stay with the film. The basic plot of the film is about a self-absorbed land developer named Liu Xuan (Chao Deng) and his partner, Li Ruolan (Yuqi Zhang), who plans on developing a gulf with a shipwreck on it into an vacation hotspot. Unfortunately, the area is also the home for the last of a horde of mermaids and other creatures, including their leader, The Octopus (Zhixiang Luo) and an elderly mermaid Queen, with the biggest flippers you ever saw. The Octopus assigns female mermaid Shan (the beautiful Jelly Lin, a.k.a. Yun Lin) to disguise herself as a human hooker (the way it is done is quite ingenius) and kill Liu Xuan. She tries using many undersea weapons, but is comically defeated every time and never noticed by Liu Xuan. An American scientist (Ivan Kotik, who speaks perfect Mandarin), has developed a sonic weapon that will kill all dolphins from returning to the gulf (they try the weapon out in a goldfish bowl and the poor goldfish explodes), but that also means it will kill all the mermaids and other creatures in the gulf. Unfortunately, Shan falls in love with Liu and things become very complicated until it develops into Liu being betrayed by Li Ruolan, who wants a live mermaid to become extremely rich and that mermaid happens to be Shan. You'll have to watch the film to see how it turns out. One thing I loved about this film is how it starts out as a slapstick comedy and within its short 94 minutes (for Stephen Chow films, anyway) slowly becomes more violent and violent until there is an all-out war between the mermaids and Li Ruolan's automatic weapon-carrying soldiers. It turns out to be a bloodbath until Liu Xuan and The Queen intervenes and the tacked-on finale gives it a happy ending, the only thing that seemed to be unoriginal, but kind of touching anyway. Besides some dodgy CGI, the film is a spectacle for the eyes, as the colorful underwater scenery seems to pop-out of the screen (it was shot in 3D). This is the most finacially successful Chinese film ever made, bringing in nearly $500 million in China in 2016 alone. There is a reason for that. It is very entertaining, full of action and some good comedy (watching two police officer trying to draw a mermaid from Liu Xuan's description is a howl) and a really good all-out bloody brawl during the finale (as well as an ecological message like in the 2009 documentary THE COVE). Even though it was certified hit in China, it only got a limited theatrical/VOD release in the United States before being dumped on disc and cable TV. At least we get to see it as it was originally intended, language in Mandarin with English subtitles. Look for Chinese legend Tsui Hark as Uncle Rich (he uses the pseudonym "Ke Xu" here). Hark said he only took the part because he wanted to see how Stephen Chow works, since all his films have been certified hits in China. This is also the only Stephen Chow directed film without Stephen Chow as the star. My highest recommendation.

DTV FILMS: THE BAD STUFF

Bad DTV Genre Films Part 13 (continued):I'm going to keep this review short and sweet because of the bad taste topic, which happens to be suicide. The name of the film is THE FOREST (2015) and not only is it a bad film full of false scares and tepid dialogue, the theme of suicide just makes my blood boil, especially since this was being made at the time of Robin Williams' suicide and I knew people who committed such an act. Anything for a buck. A woman named Sarah gets a call from the Japanese police saying her twin sister Jess, since she was seen entering the Aokigahara Forest, also known as "The Suicide Forest" and "Sea Of Trees" (since it is a real place, the Japanese would not let the crew film there out of respect to the families of the victims, so they had to settle for the Tara National Forest in Serbia), may have committed suicide. Sarah travels to Japan and hires a guide and a newsman joins her, as they find bodies of suicide victims on their travels and something else may be in the woods following them. Since suicide should not be a topic for a horror film. especially a PG-13 piece of shit like this, I am going to stop here and never watch another film ever directed by Jason Zada (this being his freshman feature directorial debut). A film about a subject so serious should be a documentary or fictional film that traces the causes of suicide, not a $10,000,000 horror film that will make more than its budget in one week and then disappear (It made $26,500,000). The worst part of all of this is that the grotesque posters for the film are actually recreations of some of the real-life suicide victims that were found in The Suicide Forest, some after years of being lost in the forest. Way to pay respect to the families of the victims assholes!; BODY (2015) is a short 75-minute hipster horror drama, only this time the hipsters are three young women. They banter endlessly on Christmas Eve until one of the girls suggests they go to her Uncle's mansion because he always goes away for Christmas. The only thing is the girl is lying. The mansion belongs to a couple she once babysitted for and she knows they always travel on Christmas. What they don't count on is the couple have hired Arthur (screen legend Larry Fessenden) to look after the mansion and when two of the girls spot him at the top of the stairs, one of them pushes him down the stairs and think they have killed him. His back is broken, but he is still alive and he begs the girls to call for an ambulance. The leader of the girls doesn't want to get in trouble for breaking and entering, even though Arthur promises he won't say a thing, so they leave Arthur in another room and hope that he dies during the night. When he doesn't, the leader goes into the room and suffocates Arthur. They are now all responsible for murder, so the other two girls come up with a plan that will kill their leader and make it look like Arthur did it. And they get away with it. That is the entire film in a nutshell, so you don't have to watch this slowly-moving short feature film. Again, it takes two directors, Dan Berk & Robert Olsen (who both also wrote the screenplay), this being their first barely feature-length film, to come up with a film that has plenty of cursing, but no nudity and barely any blood or gore. Even as a straight thriller, this film doesn't pass muster (Why doesn't a huge mansion have a camera security system?) and I would advise anyone wanting to see this film to change their minds. The acting and technical aspects of the film are fine. It is just the movie that stinks.; The crime film MOMENTUM (2015) starts out exciting enough, as four thieves in high-tech body suits that hide their identities and distort their voices steal a load of money and some diamonds from the bank's even more high-tech safe. The person that hired them to pull off the heist, a U.S. Senator (Morgan Freemen, in a five-minute cameo) doesn't want the money or diamonds, but a USB drive with top secret blueprints on it that is in the diamond's pouch that will bring governments to their knees. One of the thieves, Alexis Farraday (Olga Kurylenko; HITMAN - 2007), who is a martial arts ass-kicker, finds the USB drive, while the Senator has his men (led by Mr. Washington, played by James Purefoy, the best asset of this film) kill the thieves and try to kill Alexis, but she manages to get herself out of all types of situations, including gunfights, hand-to-hand combat and car chases. While all the fights and chases are terrific, we are cheated out of a proper ending, when the Senator is told that Alexis is going to be a martyr by releasing the contents of the USB drive on the internet and the Senator says, "Do you know what makes a martyr? You have to be dead.", as we watch Alexis fly away in a plane. THE END. Huh? Then I learned that this film was supposed to be the first part of a franchise, yet when this movie (filmed mainly in South Africa) was released in the United Kingdom, it just earned a paltry $69.00 on ten screens on its opening weekend, so I can guarantee you that there will be no second film in this series. We never learn what is on the USB drive (except for a quick look at the end of the film) or who Alexis really works for. Olga Kurylenko is great on the eyes and can fight really well (as well as kill without emotion using a gun), but an action film needs a plot that audiences can understand and leaving everyone hanging at the end is a major no-no. Freeman's short film time was shot in two days in Los Angeles as a favor for  director Stephen S. Campanelli because he was the Camera & Steadicam operator for Clint Eastwood's MILLION DOLLAR BABY (2004), in which Freemen had a major role. The film is not a bad time-waster as long as you don't mind non-endings. I do.; THE CONDEMNED 2 (2015) is not really a sequel to the Steve Austin-starrer THE CONDEMNED (2007), but more like a retelling of the first film, since it was directed by the man of many DTV sequels Roel Reiné, who also gave us THE MARINE 2 (2009), DEATH RACE 2 (2010), DEATH RACE 3: INFERNO (2012), THE SCORPION KING 3: BATTLE FOR REDEMPTION (2012) and THE MAN WITH THE IRON FISTS 2 (2015) and many others. Since this is a WWE Productions film, it stars wrestler Randy Orton as bounty hunter Will Tanner who, with his team, try to arrest Cyrus Merrick (Wes Studi; DEEP RISING [1998], in a cameo), who runs an operation where two bums are strapped and attached to a chemical suicide machine and people bet on who dies first of the lethal injection. Will tells his crew to shoot anyone in the legs who shoots at them, because he doesn't want anyone dead. but when Will ends up fighting Cyrus, he accidentally kills him (by impalement). The only person to escape is Raul Baccaro (Steven Michael Quezada; BREAKING BAD [2008-2013]) when the police arrive. Will is arrested and charged with involuntary manslaughter and the judge imposes a two year suspended sentence, with five years probation after the two years are up. Will drives to his father Frank's (Eric Roberts, in a much bigger role than usual in these kind of films and the best thing about this film) house and tells him he is giving up the bounty hunting business he inherited from his father, who has retired. Frank is none too happy that Will has given up a business that he gave him and makes it known in no uncertain terms. Almost as soon as he comes home, he is greeted by one of his old bounty hunting team, who tries to kill Will in a bar. Turns out that Raul has turned all the bounty hunting team against each other (using relatives' lives as a way of making them do it) without Will's participation and he runs a very lucrative high-stakes internet business, where helicopter drones (the kind with four spinning blades on each four corner) equipped with cameras keep an eye on the action, while the rich elite place bets in an abandoned warehouse on who lives and who dies during each battle. While there are plenty of gunfights, hand-to-hand combat (which is particularly weak since Orton is a good wrestler) and big explosions, the film fails for one big reason: We have seen this all done before and done much better.  There is plenty of blood (the female cop's death is memorable) and bloody bullet squibs and a fiery explosion-filled finale, where Will takes on Raul, who decided to put himself in the game because two of Will's ex-team join with Will (as does Frank) and refuse to kill each other, although the sniper on his team tries his hardest to kill them all in his dune buggy at the most inopportune times. Basically this film is HARD TARGET (1993; which Roel Reiné directed a sequel of in 2016, starring new action icon Scott Adkins!) without enough talent to make it believable (and Randy Orton has some big ears!). Only Eric Roberts registers here as a disappointed father who slowly realizes that son Will is being set up. Otherwise, this is ordinary at best. Director Roel Reiné used the pseudonyn "John Rebel" to direct two non-sequels, BEAR and WOLF TOWN (both 2010) which get shown a lot on the Chiller channel. They are also pretty bad horror flicks.: OK, now will someone tell me who wanted practically a word for word remake (or as they rather call it, a "reboot") of director Eli Roth's 2002 horror flick CABIN FEVER? Well it seems like director Travis Zariwny (who uses the name "Travis Z" here) and screenwriter Randy Pearlstein (who used most of Eli Roth's script verbatim) filmed their own version of CABIN FEVER in 2015, with Eli Roth's blessing (he is one of this film's Executive Producers and puts in an uncredited cameo) and made this idiotic piece of deja vu, only with worse actors and some comedy that falls flatter than a ten year-old girl's chest. The only real difference between the two films is the opening of the new one, where a guy camping out in the woods returns with a dead rabbit and tells his dog that they now have dinner. He turns the dog over and it sprays him in the face with blood. The dog's name? PanCakes (a take off on a certain scene in the original). The rest of the film is basically an exact retread of the original, only with two differences: 1.) Instead of the partying cop Detective Winston (Giuseppe Andrews), this films does a gender reversal and Detective Winston is now a female partying cop, played by Louise Linton (and she gets much less time than Giuseppe) and 2.) instead of the group having a single-shot rifle, they now have a fully automatic rifle (Now where does an older teenager gets his hands on a full auto?). This film also ups the gore factor than the 2002 film, but the original was much better acted and we never knew what was going to happen (and it was gory enough), only here, 13 years later, we know EXACTLY what is going to happen. No surprises, nothing new. Oh, and it completely omits the old man in the backwoods store and his iconic line to the three black people who walk into his store at the finale (We have to be politically correct now and it pisses me off!). Instead, they substitute a scene that leaves this film wide open for a sequel that I hope never happens. It makes me wonder why this film was greenlit so soon after the original. It is Rated R, so anyone born in 2002 would still not be legally able to see it without a parent or guardian, Sometimes it boggles the mind that people would remake a film that already had two sequels and do it so soon (one sequel was made a year before this film!). Doesn't anyone have an original idea in their heads? If you feel you must see this film, remember one thing: It went the basic limited theater/VOD route in 2016 before being dumped on Home Video and Cable TV. If you haven't seen the original film, I would recommend that you watch that one instead because it was a quasi-hit back in 2002 and for a reason. It was somewhat original in its ideas and was acted so much better than this one. This new reboot is for masochists only. Especially if you have seen the original. This reminds me so much as when director Gus Van Sant tried to remake Alfred Hitchcock's PSYCHO (1960) word-for-word, scene-for-scene in 1998. Just like this film, it stank, it bombed and all because the directors and actors didn't have the talent to pull it off.

Bad DTV Genre Films Part 14 (continued): THE REMAINS (2016) is just another one of those supernatural horror films where a family moves into a haunted house, strange stuff happens, they all die and another new family moves in at the finale. That's basically the whole storyline to this hackneyed film. The film opens up in the 1800's, where a couple go to a strange looking house to meet a medium, Madame Addison (Maria Olsen; THE LORDS OF SALEM - 2012), to find out if their daughter, who has been missing for three weeks, is dead or alive. The medium asks the couple to give her something that is important to them and the husband (who is a non-believer) gives her his pocket watch. During the seance, where Madame Addison tells the couple not to break the circle (Guess what happens?), the medium becomes possessed by an evil spirit, slit's the wife's throat with a knife (probably the most bloody scene in the film) and then kills the father. Cut to present times, where recent widower John (Todd Lowe; "Terry Bellefleur" on TRUE BLOOD from 2008 to 2014), teenage daughter Izzy (Brooke Butler; THE SAND - 2015), and young son and daughter Aiden (Dash Williams) and Victoria (Hannah Nordberg) are driving to look for a new house to live in, when they run across the same house where the couple were murdered 100 years before and it is so cheap, John can hardly believe it, so he buys it from real estate agent Claire (Ashley Crow), who knows the history of the house, but dances around John's questions. It is not long before the usual haunted house crap happens: Doors close by themselves; the library has all the books strewn over the floor; people see ghosts for a split second; an old Victrola keeps playing buy itself; and John gets a warning from a ghost girl named Melissa (Lisa Brenner), who suddenly appears in the attic and tells him to burn everything because "She" is coming. Aiden and Victoria find a chest full of stuff and show it to their father. It has the pocket watch in it, a creepy doll that Victoria wants to keep, Tarot cards, and "ghost photos", which were usually fake photos double exposed to make it look like ghosts were present. John asks Claire about why all this stuff is in the attic and she tells him about Madame Addison and the murders of the couple. John does some research (Seems that there have been more murders in this house over the years) and becomes highly concerned, because Aiden and Victoria are changing their attitudes, talking in monotone and disobeying him and he believes Claire is not telling him everything about the house. He throws away everything that was found in the chest into the garbage outside, but he discovers that all of it is back in the house (He catches next door neighbor Melissa [Lisa Brenner] reading Aiden and Victoria's future with the Tarot cards when he comes home and John throws her out of the house. She comes back that night to apologize and tells him that ever since her father entered that house, he had a near-fatal heart attack and now she looks after him next door). John tries a do-it-yourself home exorcism kit, but it fails and John once again finds the pocket watch on the floor. It all ends with the entire family either dead or joining "She" in the depth of the Underworld and ends with another couple with kids moving into the house, meeting Claire at the front door. I can honestly say there is not one genuine scare in this film. This is director/screenwriter Thomas Della Bella's first stab at a horror film (he is usually a Production Assistant on TV Series and Theatrical Films) and he has to learn if you are making a haunted house film, put some scares in the damn thing. I can't complain about the acting and technical aspects of the film because they are all first-rate, but as a horror film, it stinks. Don't waste your time unless you have to see every haunted house film ever made (and this is no THE LEGEND OF HELL HOUSE [1973] by a long shot).; THE CARETAKER (2016) starts out creepy enough, when a male caretaker digs up a box outside and gives it to sick old lady Birdie (Sondra Kerr Blake; HELTER SKELTER - 1976), the owner of the creepy house, who is listening to 78 rpm records on her Victrola while sitting in her favorite chair. Inside the box is a ragdoll named Scarlett and a pair of scissors. Birdy takes the pair of scissors and cuts her right hand deeply, causing blood to drip to the floor. The caretaker hears her cries and enters her bedroom, where he finds her standing and she says to him, "Get out of my house!" Birdie's granddaughter Mallorie (Meegan Warner; SCARE CAMPAIGN - 2016), gets a call from Birdie's doctor and he tells her that Birdie needs a new caretaker. Little does Mallorie realize is that the caretaker will be her. She was raised by Birdie when she was a child after Mallorie's mother disappeared when she was four and just four months ago, she moved in with fiance August (Sean Martini), so he goes along with Mallorie to take care of Birdie, but the old lady takes an instant dislike to August (She says to him, "I wonder who is going to die first, you or me?") and warns him not to have any type of sexual activity in her house (she makes him sleep on the couch). Mallorie remembers Scarlett and Birdie gives it to her, but whenever she holds it at night, she sleepwalks calling August's name and August has to put her back to bed. Mallorie and August put an ad in the newspaper for a new caretaker (Sebastian, played the late Irwin Keyes, in one of his last films, shows up and fills in the hole left by the last caretaker, but August thinks he is too weird to take care of Birdie), but they can't seem to find anyone who hasn't worked for Birdie before and has been fired by the old bat. Birdy becomes more and more unhinged and so does Mallorie in her own way, which worries August, who goes sees a psychiatrist to see what she thinks about Mallorie's sleepwalking. The psychiatrist gives August signs about Mallorie to look for. Mallorie and August find a red folder full of documents which fill in the blanks and the question now is: Can they ever leave this house? A search of the attic gives them the answer (It is full of old VHS tapes and a creepy room that awakens something in Mallorie). You have all the clues you need to figure out how director/producer Jeff Prugh (his first horror film) and screenwriter/producer Jeremy Robinson's (also his first horror movie) film is going turn out (The only new caretaker to show up is a Spanish woman, who takes one look at Birdie and calles her a "Bruja", Spanish for "witch", and quickly leaves the house.). While not a bad film, it is merely a regular one (There's even a music video of Birdie and August dancing!), as Sondra Kerr Blake (who was once married to accused murderer/actor Robert Blake for 22 years) is simply terrifying as Birdie and Sean Martini is awful as August (it was his first acting gig and it shows). Those looking for lots of blood and gore and going to be very disappointed, because this is more of a supernatural gothic thriller. Believe it or not, Irwin Keyes, who is in this film for not more than two minutes, won a Best Supporting Actor award in a Feature Film from the FANtastic Horror Film Festival in San Diego. Maybe it was their way of paying tribute to a recently passed actor, one that I always loved, too. Otherwise, this is nothing but standard DTV pablum. Watch out for the scissors (and lipstick)!


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