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.

Island of Fire (1991)

IslandofFire_1Island of Fire [火燒島] (1991)
AKA Island On Fire, The Prisoner, The Burning Island

Starring Tony Leung Ka-Fai, Sammo Hung, Jackie Chan, Tou Chung-Hua, Andy Lau, Jimmy Wang Yu, Yeung Hung, Jack Kao, Tu Fu-Ping, Chang Kuo-Chu, O Chun-Hung, Elsie Yeh Chuan-Chen, Chan Yin-Yu

Directed by Chu Yen-Ping

Expectations: Low.

onehalfstar


Island of Fire is such an oddly structured movie. It boasts a fantastic, all-star cast, but the way the story is crafted the characters never really come together to form a cohesive movie. Each character’s story could have been its own movie, but since this was a low-budget production hoping to capitalize on its cast, they just threw everything they had into it and hoped for the best. And by “everything they had,” I mean a bunch of recycled prison movie stuff, mostly from Cool Hand Luke.

The film begins with Wang Wei (Tony Leung Ka-Fai), a cop who witnesses the murder of his father-in-law. The culprit tries to drive away in his getaway car, but it explodes as soon as he turns the key. While investigating the crime and who this mysterious assassin was, the detectives discover that the man was a prisoner declared dead a little while back. So how does a dead inmate get out of jail to murder someone? Well, that’s what Wang Wei sets out to uncover by getting himself thrown into the prison.

Continue reading Island of Fire (1991) →

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.

Continue reading Ragdoll (1999) →

Evil Bong: High-5! (2016)

evilbong5Starring John Patrick Jordan, Sonny Carl Davis, Robin Sydney, Amy Paffrath, Mindy Robinson, Jacob Witkin, Chance A. Rearden, Rorie Moon, Circus-Szalewski, K. Harrison Sweeney, Noelle Ann Mabry, David DeCoteau, David Del Valle, Luke Hutchie, Skin Diamond, Adriana Sephora

Directed by Charles Band

Expectations: Zero. I hope to enjoy myself, though.

On the general scale:
onehalfstar

On the B-movie scale:
twohalfstar


Reviewing the Evil Bong films seems kind of pointless; if you don’t know on your own whether you want to watch the sixth movie in this franchise, you’re probably too high to operate any kind of machinery, heavy or otherwise. Yes, this latest Charles Band joint is another one that will only appeal to their most ardent fans, although I’m sure more than a few bros and doods will stumble upon it on Hulu (where it is available for free!), while looking for a movie to go with their 420 festivities.

Starting my review with, “Hey, this review is pointless!” probably isn’t one of my better decisions, but in the case of Evil Bong: High 5, it’s kind of representative of the experience. I’ll assume you’ve seen all the previous incarnations of this franchise, and therefore will be aware that multiple films in the series have used the “We’re selling stuff in a shop” script formula. Even if you haven’t seen the films, you’ve been to a store and you know the drill. Customer comes in, converses with the clerk and leaves. Repeat. I didn’t like it in Evil Bong 3: The Wrath of Bong, I put up with it in Gingerdead Man vs. Evil Bong, I grinned and bore it in Evil Bong 420, but with Evil Bong: High 5 I’m drawing the line. What’s even more annoying is that many of the same customers from the other movies come in and have slight variations on their previous encounters. Sigh. I just hope Band doesn’t make the “Evil Bong Retail Quartet” into a quintet, but honestly, I’m pretty sure that’s exactly what Evil Bong: 666 is going to be. I gotta be honest, these movies are so similar to one another that they all kinda run together for me. If not for my reviews to refer back to, this review would seem a lot less informed! Thanks, former self!

Continue reading Evil Bong: High-5! (2016) →

Cut Throat (2002)

cutthroat_1Cut Throat (2002)
AKA Scared

Starring Luciano Saber, Kate Norby, Cory Almeida, Raquel Baldwin Horton, Doug Cole, J. Robin Miller, Paityn James, Brad Lockerman

Directed by Keith Walley

Expectations: Zero after Speck.

On the general scale:
onestar

On the B-movie scale:
onehalfstar


If it wasn’t for my dedication to finishing this completionist review series of the Full moon catalog, I would have never watched Cut Throat after seeing Keith Walley’s previous film, Speck. I consider myself open-minded when it comes to movies, but there are few films that left me with such distaste as Speck. Thankfully for my sanity, Cut Throat is a far superior film. I’m not saying that it’s good, or even that it’s worth watching, but at least I didn’t want to huddle in the corner of the shower after Cut Throat. This is also why I’ll probably forget this movie relatively quickly, while I think Speck will stick in my mind like a festering wound for a good while to come. It’s funny how that is.

Cut Throat is something of a slasher in the Scream style, but it owes a greater debt to Wes Craven’s New Nightmare. Like that film, Cut Throat is about a film production beset by tragedy and murder. The masked killer of the film-within-a-film is actually killing the actors and crew members, oh no! Our hero is the film’s new lead actress, Samantha (Kate Norby), who replaces the murdered previous star about an hour after her death. You’d think they’d at least stop production for the day, but I guess when you’re already out of money and the whole thing might be called off at any moment, you’ve gotta keep it rolling no matter what.

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Johnny Mysto: Boy Wizard (1997)

johnnymysto_1Starring Lane Toran, Russ Tamblyn, Michael Ansara, Amber Tamblyn, Ian Abercrombie, Patrick Renna, Pat Crawford Brown, Jack Donner, Magda Catone

Directed by Jeff Burr

Expectations: Magic!

On the general scale:
onehalfstar

On the B-movie scale:
twohalfstar


Like many of the Moonbeam films, Johnny Mysto: Boy Wizard features a teen that time travels back to medieval times and saves the day. At this point, I guess I should assume that’s going to be the plot until I see otherwise. Anyway, Johnny Mysto: Boy Wizard differentiates itself by its main character’s magical aspirations and its complete lack of logical sense. It’s a good thing I don’t necessarily care about logic in B-Movies, otherwise this review would be a lot of complaining about how the villain’s motivations were unclear and nonsensical. So let me get this straight — they’re stealing peasants from the countryside to make doll-faced automatons out of them? Huh? Clearly, the important point here is “doll-faced automatons,” and that the henchmen soldiers ride around on horses wearing skeleton suits (and yes, that’s the horses wearing the skeleton suits).

The film begins in medieval times, as a girl is chased through the woods by the aforementioned soldiers. She manages to escape for long enough to slip into a hidden hole in the ground. Turns out that inside this seemingly nondescript hole in the ground is the one and only wizard Merlin! The girl has brought Merlin a mirror and through the magic of flexible movie logic, Merlin is able to transfer power through the mirror to an unborn child a thousand years in the future. And wouldn’t ya know, that kid turns out to be Johnny Mysto (Lane Toran)!

Continue reading Johnny Mysto: Boy Wizard (1997) →

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