The Brotherhood II: Young Warlocks (2001)

Starring Forrest Cochran, Sean Faris, Stacey Scowley, Jennifer Capo, Justin Allen, C.J. Thomason, Noah Frank, Greg Lyczkowski, Julie Briggs, Ari Welkom, Holly Sampson

Directed by David DeCoteau

Expectations: Moderately high. The first was pretty good and I like David DeCoteau.

On the general scale:

On the B-movie scale:


I thoroughly enjoyed the first Brotherhood film, so my internal hype set me up to be somewhat disappointed with The Brotherhood II: Young Warlocks. Regardless of this, there’s no denying that the sequel is very entertaining. Anyone who enjoyed the first film is likely to enjoy this one as well. Both films follow similar structures, and I don’t know if the differences are distinct enough to build a sequel on, but both films are entertaining in their own ways and that’s what really matters, right?

The first Brotherhood is about vampires, so I honestly expected the whole series to be vampire-based. I don’t watch trailers or think too much about these movies before I watch them, but I guess I should have taken that Young Warlocks subtitle a little more seriously. The sequel’s mythology delves into witches and warlocks (but mostly just warlocks), and this is both brilliant and somewhat frustrating. I loved the secret society of the first film and I had hoped to go a little deeper into that. At the same time, the idea of a low-budget horror franchise based around a variety of college secret societies and their unique mythologies is wonderfully inspired and respectable.

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Shatter (1974)

shatter_1Shatter [奪命刺客] (1974)
AKA Call Him Mr. Shatter

Starring Stuart Whitman, Ti Lung, Lily Li Li-Li, Peter Cushing, Anton Diffring, Yemi Goodman Ajibade, Ko Hung, Keung Hon, James Ma Chim-Si, Lee Hoi-Sang, Lau Nga-Ying, Huang Pei-Chih, Lau Kar-Wing

Directed by Michael Carreras (who took over from Monte Hellman), with some help from Chang Cheh

Expectations: Low, but it has Ti Lung so…

onehalfstar


If you’ve ever wondered why the great Ti Lung never really made it big outside of Asia, look no further than the Shaw Brothers/Hammer Films co-production Shatter! I went into this movie assuming that Ti Lung played a character named Shatter, and that he was so named because his fists were so powerful they shattered the bones of his opponents. But no! Shatter is just some boring white dude (Stuart Whitman) who doesn’t really do anything to justify naming a movie after him. The filmmakers do their best in the editing to make Whitman look like Ti Lung’s equal in the fist fights, but the illusion was not convincing. The film flopped hard at the box office, as well, cutting the three-film contract between Shaw and Hammer short at two.

Shatter begins the film in East Africa, where he assassinates a top general with a gun concealed inside a camera (and fired by taking a picture). Shatter flees to Hong Kong to receive his payment for the job, but when he meets with his contact, Hans Leber (Anton Diffring), Hans gives him the runaround and refuses to pay him. This is where the plot kind of lost me. Chinese assassins are trying to kill Shatter, but I don’t know how they fit it exactly. Peter Cushing (in his final appearance for Hammer) and some goons show up to intimidate/beat up Shatter for some reason, and this is where Ti Lung and Lily Li enter the story. They take Shatter in to help him recuperate, and then magically Lily Li is deeply in love with him and Ti Lung is ready to risk his life for Shatter’s cause (which as far as I could tell was just to get paid). I don’t really understand why any of that happens, but it does.

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The Boy with the X-Ray Eyes (1999)

boywiththexrayeyes_1The Boy with the X-Ray Eyes (1999)
AKA X-treme Teens

Starring Bryan Neal, Dara Hollingsworth, Timothy Bottoms, Dennis Haskins, Eric Jungmann, Dan Zukovic, Andrew Prine

Directed by Jeff Burr

Expectations: Moderate.

On the general scale:
onehalfstar

On the B-movie scale:
twostar


You can’t argue that The Boy with the X-Ray Eyes isn’t a promising title for a B-movie. There’s something about it that screams B-movie fun in the classic ’50/’60s science fiction vein. X-ray vision is one of the staples of conversation on the schoolyard playground (or at least it was in the ’80s), so the subject will always make me fondly remember those days gone by. But when I look back, I don’t remember thinking too far beyond how “cool” x-ray vision would be, or the first couple of things I’d use it for. So to build a whole movie around it is to force me to think in this manner, and it’s not the kind of subject that holds up to scrutiny. And when the film in question is played fairly straight, without a wild sense of fun, x-ray vision becomes more of a hindrance than a benefit.

Yes, The Boy with the X-Ray Eyes is less fun that I hoped it would be, but it’s also a more competent movie than I expected. Jeff Burr has proved himself to be a talented director of some fantastic B-movies (Puppet Master 4, Mil Mascaras vs. the Aztec Mummy, and one of the best Moonbeam films: Phantom Town), so it’s not that I didn’t expect something worthwhile from him, it’s more that Moonbeam films are usually treading the fine B-movie line between fun and boring. The Boy with the X-Ray Eyes has parts that are fun, and parts that are boring, but it never commits to either so it doesn’t leave much of an impression.

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Bleed (2002)

bleed_1Starring Debbie Rochon, Danny Wolske, Allen Nabors, Orly Tepper, Ronnie Gene Blevins, Laura Nativo, Julie Strain, Brinke Stevens, Lloyd Kaufman

Directed by Devin Hamilton & Dennis Petersen

Expectations: Hopefully it doesn’t make my eyes bleed.

On the general scale:
onestar

On the B-movie scale:
onehalfstar


I’m racking my brain for a way to best describe Bleed, but all I’m getting back is the EBS test tone, and that sure isn’t helping me think. Bleed is a poor excuse for a movie, but at the same time it’s an easy movie to get through. Not in a “so bad it’s good” way, it’s just paced well and it shows enough promise to assume it will get interesting. I didn’t like Bleed, but I definitely didn’t hate it either. I wouldn’t call it boring because I was genuinely engaged, but it’s ultimately vapid and not worth watching because it takes all that potential and blows it to oblivion in the final minutes. I’d almost rather be bored than disrespected like that!

Bleed opens with a couple of bros leaving a house party. One is dressed as a cheap streetwalker, the other a maid. They part ways, and soon after someone in all black wearing an expressionless white mask slices the hooker upwards from his balls to his collarbone. It’s surprisingly gory for a Full Moon film, with entrails spilling out of the wound, but don’t get too excited gorehounds. Besides this moment there isn’t much more, but it’s worth noting that what gore there is looks relatively good given the film’s probable very low budget.

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Groom Lake (2002)

groomlake_2AKA The Visitor

Starring Dan Gauthier, Amy Acker, Tom Towles, William Shatner, Dick Van Patten, John Prosky, Dan Martin, Rickey Medlocke, Duane Whitaker, Brenda Bakke, J.T. Colosa, Debra Mayer, Chuck Williams

Directed by William Shatner

Expectations: I’m a big Star Trek fan, so I’m oddly and probably misguidedly excited for this one because of Shatner.

On the general scale:
halfstar

On the B-movie scale:
onehalfstar


There’s no way around it: Groom Lake is not a good movie. It fails at nearly every turn, in spite of having many intriguing elements with potential. Even if you do manage to care about the characters and what happens to them, nothing really comes together well enough to form a cohesive experience. I remember having similar feelings the last time I watched the Shatner-directed Star Trek V: The Final Frontier, so I suppose the two films together form some kind of evidence that if you’re not suited to the task of directing and telling stories visually, it doesn’t really matter how much money you have.

The film opens with a tow truck making its way over desert roads towards a butte. Mystical lights, similar to the Aurora Borealis, shimmer in the sky over his destination, and the driver, Dietz (Tom Towles), is intent on seeing just what the hell is up with all that. When he arrives, he jumps onto the back of his truck and approximates Arnold’s “I’m here! C’mon! Do it!” speech from Predator, telling the presumed alien ship, “I’m here, you son of a bitch!” The son-of-a-bitch alien does not respond; the lights merely dissipate and leave some sparkly residue on the man’s hands.

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Magic Island (1995)

magicisland_1Starring Zachery Ty Bryan, Andrew Divoff, Edward Kerr, Lee Armstrong, French Stewart, Jessie-Ann Friend, Oscar Dillon, Abraham Benrubi, Sean O’Kane, Schae Harrison, Ja’net DuBois, Terry Sweeney, Martine Beswick, Isaac Hayes

Directed by Sam Irvin

Expectations: Magic on an island.

On the general scale:
onehalfstar

On the B-movie scale:
twostar


Going into a Moonbeam film, I’ve come to expect a few elements to almost always be present. Things like a trip back in time, a castle, and a kid with an absent or neglectful family, an obsession, and a desire to runaway. I didn’t actively think about these aspects when I started Magic Island, but they’re always hovering somewhere in mind whenever Moonbeam films come up. But get this… Magic Island breaks the mold! There isn’t a castle! It’s not even set in medieval times!

Magic Island is the story of Jack Carlisle (Zachery Ty Bryan of Home Improvement fame), a kid who loves video games, pirates and hard rock. His mother is a professional businesswoman up for a big promotion and all the money that goes with it. Jack isn’t impressed, because even though he’s 13 and he acts like he doesn’t care, it’s pretty plain that he’s lonely and in need of some parental attention and affection. Jack decides he’s had enough, so in preparation for running away he packs a bag with little more than some Rhino Bucket CDs and a Super Soaker. Only the essentials! His Haitian nanny (Ja’net DuBois) persuades him to stay home and have some of her jambalaya instead, also gifting him with a book called Magic Island that quickly sucks him inside its world of pirates and buried treasure.

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Quick Takes: Eastern Promises, A Dangerous Method, Cosmopolis

1Sheet_Master.qxdEastern Promises (2007)
threehalfstar

Starring Viggo Mortensen, Naomi Watts, Vincent Cassel, Armin Mueller-Stahl, Sinéad Cusack, Mina E. Mina, Jerzy Skolimowski, Donald Sumpter
Directed by David Cronenberg

Eastern Promises is one of the few Cronenberg films I had seen before starting this current run through his filmography. I liked well enough back then, but I remember also wondering why everyone loved it so much. Seeing it within Cronenberg’s catalog of films definitely gives it a new context, and understanding his style and proclivities also added considerably to the experience. Like A History of Violence before it, Eastern Promises is a near-perfect, darkly engaging film. Its story beats are somewhat familiar if you’ve seen a few gangster movies, but the way they are approached is different. Cronenberg’s signature graphic violence is also incorporated, here becoming something like “body violence” instead of body horror. It creates the same squirms and winces that his horror films do, but to a greater degree than any of his previous non-horror films. Eastern Promises really goes for it, and to great effect, with the stand-out moment being the intense, raw bathhouse fight between two knife-wielding assassins and a naked Viggo Mortensen. Once again, Cronenberg elicits incredible performances from the entire cast, crafting yet another phenomenal film. If you haven’t seen it, and you have the stomach for it, definitely check it out.

dangerous_methodA Dangerous Method (2011)
threestar

Starring Michael Fassbender, Keira Knightley, Viggo Mortensen, Vincent Cassel, Sarah Gadon, André Hennicke, Arndt Schwering-Sohnrey
Directed by David Cronenberg

It was bound to happen. After so many Cronenberg films surprising me and winning me over, I knew they couldn’t all be like that. A Dangerous Method is this film for me. In general, I prefer a character’s action or forward movement to propel a story, instead of the more dialogue-based approach here. I wouldn’t say that I disliked the film, but more that it didn’t seem quite as solid and confident as Cronenberg’s other works. The timeline seemed to shift at random, oftentimes for reasons I was unable to comprehend. Repeat viewings might clear up some of these issues, but I don’t know that I really care to see this one again. I trust Cronenberg as an artist, though, especially by this point in his career, and his ability to craft exactly the movie he wishes to. In this case, A Dangerous Method is a film that I’ll have to reckon with in order to understand. There’s nothing wrong with that, but I guess I’m just used to having a more viscerally positive reaction to his films on a first viewing.

cosmopolisCosmopolis (2012)
onehalfstar

Starring Robert Pattinson, Sarah Gadon, Paul Giamatti, Kevin Durand, Abdul Ayoola, Juliette Binoche, Emily Hampshire, Bob Bainborough, Samantha Morton, Zeljko Kecojevic, Jay Baruchel, Philip Nozuka, Mathieu Amalric, Patricia McKenzie
Directed by David Cronenberg

Well, if A Dangerous Method was the inevitable Cronenberg film that didn’t win me over, then Cosmopolis is the natural progression as the first Cronenberg film I outright didn’t like at all. It’s nearly impenetrable and hard to follow. Like Cronenberg’s previous film, this one is propelled almost entirely by dialogue, but this time it also primarily takes place in a singular location: a limousine. Cronenberg’s camerawork is impeccable and impressive — it never seems like the confines of this space limited his camera placements in any way — but when all it captures is talking heads with monotone voices, it’s just not all that engaging. There are elements and themes that intrigue me, and the third act does imply that a re-watch might be in order, but I think it’s too boring for me to ever truly enjoy. I’m sure Cronenberg made the film he wanted to, without compromise, but unfortunately Cosmopolis didn’t move me in the slightest. A true disappointment.

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