Dragonworld: The Legend Continues (1999)

AKA Shadow of the Knight

Starring Drake Bell, Tina Martin, Andrew Keir, James Ellis, Judith Paris, Constantin Barbulescu, Richard Trask

Directed by Ted Nicolaou

Expectations: Low.

On the general scale:

On the B-movie scale:


Dragonworld: The Legend Continues might sound like a sequel to Full Moon’s Dragonworld, but no, it’s actually a prequel! The legend continues… in the past! In this particular case, though, the title seems to refer to the story line used to craft the film, continuing the legend from Dragonworld that explained how a baby dragon was suddenly in 1990s Scotland after all the dragons died out hundreds of years ago. This was one of my favorite parts of the original, so it was a great surprise to see it continued. This makes Dragonworld: The Legend Continues a more-than-worthy follow-up to Dragonworld, and in a lot of ways I actually like this one better.

John McGowan is roughly around age 11 or 12 in Dragonworld: The Legend Continues, and his grandfather Angus (Andrew Keir) is teaching him about the magical properties of their land. Angus attempts to show John the power of the ley lines intersecting underneath a circular grouping of stones, but this causes lightning to strike and crack the center stone. Unfortunately for the McGowans and their dragon Yowler, this stone was the prison of the evil knight MacClain (Constantin Barbulescu), AKA the guy who killed all the dragons. Immediately after being released, he sets out to finish what he started and kill Yowler.

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Jackie Chan: My Stunts (1999)

Starring Jackie Chan, Ken Lo, Bradley James Allan, Anthony Carpio, Mars, Nicky Li Chung-Chi, Rocky Lai Keung-Kun, Johnny Cheung Wa, Go Shut-Fung, Louis Geung Gwok-Wa, Sam Wong Ming-Sing, Chan Man-Ching, Alex Yip Choi-Naam, Jack Wong Wai-Leung, Huang Kai-Sen, Rocky Cheung, Andy Cheng, Ron Smoorenburg

Directed by Jackie Chan

Expectations: High.


It’s no secret that I hold the work of Jackie Chan in very high regard. A good portion of this respect and admiration directly stems from his style of action and his stunt team’s willingness to put aside their personal safety for the exhilaration of the audience. Watching an action movie is entertaining, but witnessing something real and dangerous takes the action film to a whole new level. Whenever I love something as much as this, I’m hesitant to dispel the myth and mystery surrounding it in any way. Jackie Chan: My Stunts actually made me appreciate the skill and dedication of Jackie and his team more than I ever could have before, something I didn’t even think was possible!

Jackie Chan: My Stunts is exactly what it sounds like: 90 minutes of light documentary focusing on the stunt/fight work of Jackie. How he trains, how he devises scenes, his tricks of the trade… it’s all here. And it’s all fascinating. Unlike a lot of “fluffy” behind-the-scenes docs on American films (whether that’s DVD featurettes or legit docs), Jackie Chan: My Stunts is almost like a handbook for anyone looking to make low-budget action films. I wouldn’t recommend piling up boxes on top of an old mattress and jumping out a second-story window onto them, but it does make these kinds of feats seem doable and attainable through perseverance and practice. The team’s accomplishments in the stunt field are absolutely incredible, but Jackie Chan: My Stunts reminds us that the members are but trained professionals, not superhumans.

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Gorgeous (1999)

gorgeous_1Gorgeous [玻璃樽] (1999)
AKA Under Control, High Risk

Starring Jackie Chan, Shu Qi, Tony Leung Chiu-Wai, Emil Chow Wah-Kin, Bradley James Allan, Richie Ren Xian-Qi, Chan Chung-Yung, Elaine Kam Yin-Ling, Tats Lau Yi-Tat

Directed by Vincent Kok

Expectations: Hopeful, but it doesn’t look great.

threestar


When it comes to Jackie Chan, the late ’90s were the height of my obsessive period. I rarely watched anything else, and my friends and I would scour the budding Internet for info on old film and news of upcoming films. So imagine my surprise when I was putting together the chronological list for this Jackie Chan series and I discovered a Hong Kong movie called Gorgeous that was released just five months after Rush Hour. I had been under the impression that once Jackie came to Hollywood, he was basically just over here making movies, but no! He actually jumped around quite a bit between continents, continuing to make Hong Kong films while his American career flourished. I guess my excuse was that Star Wars: Episode I was dropping about that same time, so my attention was sufficiently diverted.

In any case, Gorgeous is a very different type of movie for Jackie Chan, trading in the typical action movie plot for romantic comedy. There’s still has a good amount of action, though it does feel more shoehorned in than it would in a more distinct good vs. bad storyline. But that’s a fairly good problem to have, as problems go; the end result is that the audience is treated to some really stellar examples of Jackie Chan action! But I do think it’s important to know before jumping into this one that it’s not really an action movie, and that even the romantic element is somewhat underdeveloped.

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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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The Excalibur Kid (1999)

excaliburkid_1Starring Jason McSkimming, François Klanfer, Mac Fyfe, Francesca Scorsone, Natalie Ester, Serban Celea

Directed by James Head

Expectations: Not much.

onestar


Many Moonbeam films transport their heroes to a distant point in time with lords and castles and knights on horses, but The Excalibur Kid goes right for the most famous story in all the land: the story of Excalibur, the sword in the stone, and the young King-to-be Arthur who is destined to wield it. But before you get to thinking that this is going to be some wild, inappropriate, Full Moon version of the classic tale, I’d like to nip those expectations in the bud. Against the odds, The Excalibur Kid is actually really tame and straightforward.

The Excalibur Kid begins in the modern day where we meet our hero, Zack (Jason McSkimming). He’s an angsty teenager with a passion for fencing. His family is going to move, forcing him to switch schools, and Zack is simply not having it. After calling his parents “Total fascists,” Zack grabs his rapier and heads into the nearby woods wishing for the good ol’ days of chivalry. Unbeknownst to him, he is being watched by a sorceress, Morgause (Francesca Scorsone), who is about to make his dream come true.

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Quick Takes: eXistenZ, Spider, A History of Violence

existenz_1eXistenZ (1999)
fourstar

Starring Jennifer Jason Leigh, Jude Law, Ian Holm, Willem Dafoe, Don McKellar, Callum Keith Rennie, Christopher Eccleston, Sarah Polley, Robert A. Silverman, Oscar Hsu
Directed by David Cronenberg

From what I understand, eXistenZ is Cronenberg’s last hurrah in the body horror genre. While I’m sad to know that there’s no more gross-out delights coming my way, you couldn’t ask for a better film to go out on. I literally loved everything about eXistenZ, start to finish. I’m a huge fan of Philip K. Dick, and while his influence is apparent in other Cronenberg films, eXistenZ is like the best Philip K. Dick movie that’s not actually based on a PKD story. Cronenberg expertly explores the world of video games and the inner workings of our minds, leaving you with much to consider and contemplate. When this came out in 1999, I immediately wrote it off because of its title’s seemingly dumb capitalization, but now I know you should never judge a movie by its title treatment! Super gooey, super fun, I loved it. There are times when a movie feels like it was made just for you, and eXistenZ is one such movie for me.

SpiderSpider (2002)
threehalfstar

Starring Ralph Fiennes, Miranda Richardson, Gabriel Byrne, Lynn Redgrave, John Neville, Bradley Hall, Gary Reineke, Philip Craig
Directed by David Cronenberg

Spider is about as opposite a movie from eXistenZ as Cronenberg could have made as a follow-up. Where eXistenZ is loud and grotesque, Spider is extremely subtle and disturbing. It’s a fantastic film, but probably one that would turn a lot of people off. It’s interminably quiet, with Ralph Fiennes mumbling all his dialogue (to great effect). Cronenberg never holds the audience’s hand and explains much of anything, either. We are an active part of the process, so decoding Spider and getting to know the character hinges completely on your engagement with the film. It’s the kind of film that takes a master craftsman to create, and with it Cronenberg one again proves how wonderful and unique a filmmaker he is.

historyofviolenceA History of Violence (2005)
threehalfstar

Starring Viggo Mortensen, Maria Bello, Ed Harris, William Hurt, Ashton Holmes, Peter MacNeill, Stephen McHattie, Heidi Hayes
Directed by David Cronenberg

Even though I’d never seen A History of Violence before, I went into it pretty much knowing exactly what it was about. A few years ago I saw Wu Xia, the fantastic Peter Chan film starring Donnie Yen that is sort of a remake of this film. But while I knew the central conceit, thankfully A History of Violence and Wu Xia are very different films that happen to share a few key plot points. A History of Violence initially doesn’t seem to have much in common with Cronenberg’s other films, but by the end I thought it was one of his best and most accessible works to non-horror fans. Cronenberg masterfully pulls together the threads to create a tense thriller that’s also surprisingly got a lot of humor, too. Definitely check it out! And Maria Bello is spectacular as Viggo’s wife; I can’t believe she’s not a more well-known actress!

Ragdoll (1999)

ragdoll_1Starring Russell Richardson, Jennia Fredrique, Tarnell Poindexter, William Stanford Davis, Danny Wooten, William L. Johnson, Troy Medley, Frederic Tucker, Freda Payne

Directed by Ted Nicolaou

Expectations: I don’t expect much, but I hope it’s fun.

On the general scale:
onehalfstar

On the B-movie scale:
twohalfstar


Ragdoll is a pretty fun, voodoo/black magic themed horror movie, but I wouldn’t hold it against you if you didn’t make it past the first couple of minutes. The film’s lead character is Kwame (Russell Richardson), but Ragdoll starts with a flashback intro, showing us a moment in the childhood of Kwame’s grandma. Her mother — Kwame’s great grandmother — was a practitioner of the black arts, and apparently she made a bad deal with the Shadow Man. Due to this, Kwame’s grandmother witnessed her mother’s murder by an agent of the Shadow Man, in this case, a haunted dress. It’s as scary and convincing as it sounds; it looks like someone is just off-screen with a fishing pole waving the dress around.

I thought this traumatic moment might cause Kwame’s grandmother to live a life free of the dark arts, but no! When we flash-forward to the present day, we learn that dear ol’ Gran is indeed a dabbler in the occult, she just does so with a supreme respect and knowledge of what might happen if she isn’t careful with how she conducts her dealings with the other side. Kwame, though, has had no such trauma in his life, so when his up-and-coming rap group (called KT Bounce) is forced into a managerial contract with a ruthless gangster, Big Pere (William Stanford Davis), he seeks the help of the Shadow Man to fight his battles.

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