Magic in the Mirror (1996)

Starring Jamie Renée Smith, Kevin Wixted, Saxon Trainor, David Brooks, Godfrey James, Eileen T’Kaye, Eugen Cristian Motriuc, Ion Haiduc, Ileana Sandulescu, Daniela Marzavan, Mihai Niculescu

Directed by Ted Nicolaou

Expectations: Low.

On the general scale:

On the B-movie scale:


B-Movies are always subjectively entertaining, so when I say that I found Magic in the Mirror to be one of the best Moonbeam films, I do so knowing full well that there will be others who absolutely can’t stand it. This usually should go without saying for any review, but with this movie I feel it bears repeating. One real key to my enjoyment of this movie (and not immediate & complete rejection) is that I love Howard the Duck. Yes, the movie. So the mere idea that Full Moon made a movie with a race of giant ducks was enough to put a smile on my face. The ducks of Magic in the Mirror are definitely not as well-realized as Howard in his film, but I found their limitations to be part of the charm (especially the flying). Anyway, I just wanted to get this out of the way right at the beginning, because I think this is great little fantasy adventure for kids, but I think the ducks will turn a lot of people off.

Mary Margaret Dennis (Jamie Renée Smith) is the daughter of two considerable, scientific talents. Her father works in the field of botany, following in the footsteps of his grandmother. He’s a little lacking in common sense, but his heart is in the right place. Mary Margaret’s mother (Saxon Trainor) is a physicist who is on the brink of finalizing a laser gun that shoots a hole into an alternate dimension. I’m sure there’s a more scientific way to describe it, but I’m not a physicist so that’s all I got. 🙂 Anyway, these are very engrossing jobs for parents to have, and as a result they aren’t as attentive as they should be with Mary Margaret. So when her great-grandmother’s mirror is bestowed on Mary Margaret, of course her ambitious idle hands will find a way to use it as a portal into another world.

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Spellbreaker: Secret of the Leprechauns (1996)

AKA Leapin’ Leprechauns! 2

Starring Gregory Smith, Madeleine Potter, Godfrey James, John Bluthal, Tina Martin, James Ellis, Sylvester McCoy, Ion Haiduc, Mike Higgins

Directed by Ted Nicolaou

Expectations: Moderate. I liked the first one.

On the general scale:

On the B-movie scale:


Spellbreaker: Secret of the Leprechauns is a great, intriguing title, but to be honest it’s not the most fitting one for the film that bears it. There is some spell breaking to be had, but I can’t remember any great secret of the leprechauns that comes to light. Anyway, this shouldn’t get in the way of the fun, and who knows, maybe in the course of writing this review, I’ll somehow unlock the film and discover the secret of the leprechauns. 🙂

This film picks up a short time after the original. Michael Dennehy (John Bluthal) has returned to his home on Fairy Hill, where he lives in harmony with the leprechauns and the fairy folk. His grandson, Mikey Dennehy (Gregory Smith), is staying with Gramps (no sign of the other family members) and enjoying his time there. One day while fishing, a woman rides up on a horse and sparks a conversation. She introduces herself as Morgan (Madeleine Potter), explaining that she’s staying at a nearby castle. Michael thought the place was uninhabitable and haunted, but apparently it’s been recently cleaned up! Morgan does need a spot of help, though, so Michael volunteers Mikey to help the nice woman.

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First Strike (1996)

FirstStrike_1First Strike [警察故事4之簡單任務] (1996)
AKA Police Story 4: First Strike, Jackie Chan’s First Strike, Final Project

Starring Jackie Chan, Annie Wu Chen-Chun, Jackson Lau Hok-Yin, Ailen Sit Chun-Wai, Yuriy Petrov, Bill Tung, Nonna Grishaeva, John Eaves, Nathan Jones, Terry Woo, Kristopher Kazmarek

Directed by Stanley Tong

Expectations: Very high!

threestar


First Strike released in the US roughly 11 months after Rumble in the Bronx, and in that time I had gone from knowing absolutely nothing about Hong Kong films to a seasoned fan of Jackie, John Woo, Chow Yun-Fat, Jet Li, Sammo Hung, Yuen Biao, Wong Kar-Wai, etc. thanks to my friends and their knowledge of tape trading. In fact, I had already seen First Strike a few times, so seeing it on the big screen was merely a treat instead of a new experience. Well… I suppose it was something new, since 20-something minutes were chopped out for the US release, and the original English & Cantonese soundtrack had been completely re-dubbed into English only (just like Rumble in the Bronx). I haven’t seen First Strike in probably 15+ years, so re-visiting it was in part like reconnecting with an old friend, yet also like seeing it for the first time with a more robust knowledge of Hong Kong film in place.

Jackie’s films had been progressively leaning towards international appeal since Police Story III, and First Strike does that more than any previous film. There are James Bond elements in both Supercop and Rumble in the Bronx, but First Strike throws Jackie into the framework of a James Bond story and lets him loose. It’s a great concept, unfortunately it doesn’t translate to the heights of action movie gold that you might think. Don’t get me wrong, I love this movie, but whenever there’s only one legitimate fight in a martial arts film, I’m always going to be disappointed at some level.

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Quick Takes: Naked Lunch, M. Butterfly, Crash

nakedlunch_1Naked Lunch (1991)
threestar

Starring Peter Weller, Judy Davis, Ian Holm, Julian Sands, Roy Scheider, Monique Mercure, Nicholas Campbell, Michael Zelniker, Robert A. Silverman, Joseph Scoren
Directed by David Cronenberg

Naked Lunch is one of those movies that’s hard to classify. I’ve never read the source novel, but from what I understand it was always assumed to be unfilmable. Cronenberg definitely found a way around that, incorporating elements of William S. Burrough’s life into this wild, weird, paranoid tale. It’s something of a horror movie with its gross-out physical FX work, but it’s also nothing like a horror movie. I mean, does a living typewriter that looks like a bug automatically make this into a horror movie? No, I don’t think so, but this movie would be a hard sell to any “normal” audience, that’s for damn sure. If you are intrigued by the creative process or surrealism, Naked Lunch is a must. I don’t know if you’ll like it, but it’s definitely a movie that you won’t be able to shake easily.

MButterfly_1M. Butterfly (1993)
threestar

Starring Jeremy Irons, John Lone, Barbara Sukowa, Ian Richardson, Annabel Leventon, Shizuko Hoshi, Richard McMillan, Vernon Dobtcheff
Directed by David Cronenberg

On the surface M. Butterfly seems like an odd film for David Cronenberg to make, but its themes of sexual politics and identity fit right in with much of his other work. Both of the lead characters, René (Jeremy Irons) and Song Liling (John Lone), are compelling and very well acted, but together I don’t think their relationship is satisfactorily developed. It always felt a bit cold emotionally, but I suppose that’s part of the point of it all, isn’t it? In any case, because of this I didn’t connect with the film as I’d have liked to, but as Cronenberg clearly made the film he wanted to, I’m sure that’s more my fault than his. Shooting the film in China, on back alleys and grand vistas alike, with some truly exceptional lighting, M. Butterfly is one of Cronenberg’s most beautiful films, and that’s saying a lot within his filmography. My personal obsession with China and its culture probably helped, too. A good film that I appreciate and respect, but don’t especially like too much.

crash_1Crash (1996)
threestar

Starring James Spader, Holly Hunter, Elias Koteas, Deborah Kara Unger, Rosanna Arquette, Peter MacNeill
Directed by David Cronenberg

Speaking of films that I appreciate and respect, but don’t especially like too much: Crash. But in this case, I think Crash is a much better film than M. Butterfly. It’s incredibly bold, telling its story almost entirely through car crashes and sex scenes. Surprisingly then, there’s a ton to deconstruct and engage with intellectually while the actors writhe on-screen. This is Cronenberg exercising his visual storytelling abilities to the absolute max, creating a non-traditional, challenging film to stand the test of time. The cars and the taboo sexual desires associated with them in Crash are provocative and integral to the film, but it also feels like they could be replaced with non-offensive, traditional elements to craft a more mainstream pleasing film. But where’s the fun in that? I feel like if I saw Crash a few more times, I’d really come to understand and appreciate it more fully. I can’t say that I liked it, but Cronenberg definitely didn’t make a bad film. In fact, it’s probably one of his finest achievements.

Eraser (1996)

eraser_10Starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, James Caan, Vanessa Williams, James Coburn, Robert Pastorelli, James Cromwell, Danny Nucci, Andy Romano, Nick Chinlund, Michael Papajohn, Joe Viterelli, Mark Rolston, Tony Longo, Olek Krupa

Directed by Chuck Russell

Expectations: Moderate, but I’m very excited to revisit.

threestar


I’ll never forget the first time I saw Eraser. I was 14 when the film came out and I was staying with my grandparents. They asked me what movie I wanted to see, so of course I picked the latest Arnold explode-a-rama! (Side note: the next summer we went and saw John Woo’s Face/Off!) I was beside myself afterwards because I felt Arnold had been in something of a slump at the time, and Eraser was a great antidote to that in my eyes. My grandparents weren’t especially thrilled, though, and I specifically remember my ex-Navy pilot grandfather laughing at how ridiculous the entire plane sequence was. I remember this because at the time I didn’t quite understand why it seemed so absurd to him.

As I’ve documented in many of my previous Arnold reviews, I idolized Arnold like no one else on-screen. He was the ultimate movie hero to me in my youth, so when confronted with the CG-aided plane shenanigans in Eraser it never seemed implausible to me; it made perfect sense. He’s Arnold, of course he can open the plane’s door at 10,000 feet and rip a seat off the wall to throw into the engine so he doesn’t get sucked in when he jumps out of the plane to catch the parachute that just flew out the door. Duh.

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Quick Takes: The Dentist, The Dentist 2: Brace Yourself, Rise of the Legend

dentist_1The Dentist (1996)
threestar

Starring Corbin Bernsen, Linda Hoffman, Michael Stadvec, Ken Foree, Tony Noakes, Molly Hagan, Patty Toy, Jan Hoag, Virginya Keehne, Earl Boen, Christa Sauls, Mark Ruffalo, Lise Colleen Simms
Directed by Brian Yuzna

If there’s one thing that the majority of people hate, it’s going to the dentist. Now imagine visiting a dentist who just found out his wife is cheating on him, yanking away the last straw holding together his sanity. Sounds fun, right? Dr. Alan Feinstone has had a busy morning, so by the time he arrives at his office it’s a few hours late and the waiting room is full of eager patients. But he’s a professional, he can pull it together and get the job done. Or not. Feinstone’s lapse in sanity makes him kind of wig out when he’s looking at people’s teeth, seeing their mouths as festering maws of disease and decay in need of major restorative work. Corbin Bernsen is wonderfully deranged as Dr. Feingold, and the FX work induces so much intense mouth trauma that I felt like I was actually in the dentist’s chair myself. Especially effective are the large-scale models for the mouth interior closeups, allowing us to see every bursting root and tooth drilling in stunning detail. It’s not a perfect movie by any means, but it’s well worth a horror fan’s time.

dentist_2The Dentist 2: Brace Yourself (1998)
AKA The Dentist 2: You Know the Drill

twohalfstar

Starring Corbin Bernsen, Jillian McWhirter, Jeff Doucette, Susanne Wright, Jim Antonio, Lee Dawson, Wendy Robie, Ralph P. Martin, Clint Howard, Linda Hoffman
Directed by Brian Yuzna

The Dentist 2: Brace Yourself has what is perhaps the greatest, most pun-tastic sequel title of all time. The film doesn’t quite live up to expectations this brings, but it’s still a great sequel to the original film. While it continues to present a similar “festering mouths of bad hygiene must be punished” structure, the sequel actually goes off in a different direction that changes the tone. In the original film, Dr. Feinstone was progressively more and more batshit crazy, but in the sequel he has moments where we can sense the man underneath the madness. There are shreds of regret and thoughtfulness that endear the character, making you actually kind of root for him in this one. It’s not as effective a horror movie, but it is a great sequel that explores what makes the character tick.

RiseOfTheLegendRise of the Legend [黃飛鴻之英雄有夢] (2014)
threehalfstar

Starring Eddie Peng Yu-Yan, Sammo Hung, Wang Luo-Dan, Boran Jing Bo-Ran, AngelaBaby, Tony Leung Ka-Fai, Feng Jia-Yi, Byron Mann, Wong Cho-Lam, John Zhang Jin, Julius Brian Siswojo
Directed by Roy Chow Hin-Yeung

There’s a lot of modern filmmaking techniques (such as quite a bit of CG, some Matrix bullet time, etc.) that should make me not like Rise of the Legend, but damn if I didn’t enjoy the hell out of this movie. This is the first Wong Fei-Hung feature film since 1997’s Once Upon a Time in China and America, but you should really do your best to put Jet Li’s interpretation of the character out of your mind before beginning this film. This is not your standard Wong Fei-Hung, instead it’s like a prequel of sorts (in a different way than Iron Monkey), and this version of Wong Fei-Hung bears little resemblance to the folk hero we’ve come to know and love. Has Wong Fei-Hung ever decapitated a guy on-screen? Well… he does in Rise of the Legend (and it’s quite a stunning decap, too). The more recognizable character does eventually emerge in the third act, and with it my big goofy grin also came to the party. Even the Wong Fei-Hung song made an appearance! The action is fun to watch, with great choreography by Corey Yuen and some really incredible wirework in spots. It’s a very visually modern film, and parts of the fights are awkward because of this, but the choreography shines through to entertain handily. Eddie Peng is great as a young Wong Fei-Hung, and Sammo Hung is his stalwart, badass self as the villain. Tony Leung Ka-Fai (AKA Big Tony) also plays a wonderful Wong Kei-ying amidst a superbly well-cast film. If you dig Wong Fei-Hung, I say check it out!

Stephen reviews: Kimera (1996)

kimera_1Kimera (1996)
AKA Ki*Me*Ra

Starring Yasunori Matsumoto, Mugito, Jurota Kosugi, Tatsuo Tobita, Daisuke Gori, Yoshitaka Arimoto

Directed by Kazu Kokota


Kimera throws a bit of a curveball at you by blending horror with gay romance. I wasn’t quite aware of that particular sub-genre, but I doubt it’s a very large one. What makes it really odd, though, is that the title character is, despite all appearances, actually a woman, and one of the most confusingly gendered characters I’ve ever seen. The film clearly states that she has ovaries and a menstrual cycle, but it makes no mention of male reproductive organs. Kimera, the character, nevertheless looks exactly like a dude. I’m still not sure whether to consider it a cop-out for guys who are insecure about their sexuality so they can say it’s not gay, or whether it was just a forced plot device because the story needed to have a reproductive aspect to work. Either way, it is this gender-bending confusion that becomes the defining aspect of the movie.

This is not the only convoluted thing about this film either. The film’s biggest problem is that its paltry 45-minute run time just isn’t enough time to explain all the ideas that it tackles. I mean, look how long it took me to explain Kimera’s gender, and that’s not even what the film is about. The movie feels very rushed and incomplete, and that really drags it down. If the plot had more room to deal with its ideas it could have been a pretty decent film. As it is, however, it comes across cluttered and incoherent. Other than that, Kimera is a pretty mediocre anime, anyway. If it weren’t for its bizarre gender confusion, it would be a pretty forgettable film.

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