Dragonworld (1994)

Starring Courtland Mead, Alastair Mackenzie, Brittney Powell, Lila Kaye, Andrew Keir, John Calvin, Jim Dunk, John Woodvine, Janet Henfrey

Directed by Ted Nicolaou

Expectations: Low.

On the general scale:

On the B-movie scale:


I’ve been watching the Full Moon films in a fairly random order, so I generally associate the Moonbeam films with a certain style that developed during Full Moon’s leaner years when everything was shot in Romania. I’m so accustomed to this “flavor” that I forgot entirely that the origins of Moonbeam go back to the years when Full Moon was partnered with Paramount, and as such they are much higher budgeted films. Dragonworld — the third Moonbeam film released — is one of these Paramount/Full Moon endeavors, and it’s decidedly more ambitious than pretty much every other Moonbeam film I’ve seen.

John McGowan (Courtland Mead) is a five-year-old American orphan traveling to Scotland to live with his paternal grandfather, Angus (Andrew Keir). John is scared and not entirely prepared to handle this kind of intense life change at his age. Living in a remote Scottish castle might sound like a great idea to get away from the current state of American politics for you or I, but to John it’s a bit isolating. His grandfather starts him on the path of learning the bagpipes — with the wonderful line, “Put your sadness into the music.” — and one day while practicing he wishes for a friend. Smoke billows, the earth shakes, and before you can say The Bonnie Banks o’ Loch Lomond a baby dragon emerges from this geological anomaly.

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Stephen reviews: New Dominion: Tank Police (1993/1994)

New Dominion: Tank Police [特捜戦車隊ドミニオン Tokusō Sensha-tai Dominion] (1993/1994)
AKA Crusher Police Dominion

Starring Rei Sakuma, Hiroyuki Shibamoto, Aya Hisakawa, Niina Kumagaya, Shigeru Chiba, Yūsaku Yara, Hiroyuki Shibamoto, Kousei Tomita, Ayako Udagawa, Kiyoyuki Yanada, Rihoko Yoshida

Directed by Noboru Furuse


I suppose this six-episode miniseries is a sequel to the first Dominion anime series, but it’s impossible to say for sure that it isn’t just a different adaptation of Masamune Shirow’s manga set further down the timeline. The style and artwork for this newer series is so different from the first one that it’s hard to consider them related. No one important remains on staff from the original series save for Yoichiro Yoshikawa, who was in charge of the music in both series. Not even the actors remain, which seems odd considering the mere six-year gap between the two series; you would think they could get at least one person to reprise their role. New Dominion never refers to or builds off of the earlier series either, so there’s not much connecting the two.

This newer series does expect you to be familiar with the characters, though, or at least the concept, as it does nothing to introduce the audience to the situation. It starts off with Leona and her custom-built tank already installed in the police force and jumps right into the story. Each episode has a new criminal to hunt down, each one with mysterious goals and resources. Eventually all the pieces get put together revealing a central criminal scheme behind it all that Leona must stop in the final episode.

Continue reading Stephen reviews: New Dominion: Tank Police (1993/1994) →

Arcade (1994)

arcade_1AKA Cyber World

Starring Megan Ward, Peter Billingsley, John de Lancie, Sharon Farrell, Seth Green, A.J. Langer, Bryan Dattilo, Brandon Rane, B.J. Barie, Humberto Ortiz, Jonathan Fuller

Directed by Albert Pyun

Expectations: Pretty high.

On the general scale:
onestar

On the B-movie scale:
twostar


Arcade is supposedly one of Full Moon’s most popular films, but after seeing it I have little understanding why that is. Video games were pretty popular in 1993, so maybe it’s just that an overwhelming amount of kids convinced their parents to rent this “video game movie” for them (wonder what they thought of the bloody suicide aftermath seen in the first couple of minutes!). But if Arcade actually did so well, Charles Band would’ve cranked out a sequel (or four). Hmmm, all I know is that people seem to harbor a nostalgic love for Arcade that is not in line with the film’s actual quality. That’s no crime, but it did come as a surprise.

Alex (Megan Ward) is having trouble coping with her mother’s recent suicide. She seeks solace with her group of friends: her boyfriend Greg (Bryan Dattilo), Nick (Peter Billingsley) and Stilts (Seth Green). Together they head down to their local arcade (Dante’s Inferno) where a new virtual reality game called Arcade is being test marketed. It’s no ordinary game, though, and after Greg tries it out he is nowhere to be found. Now it’s up to Alex and Nick to uncover the secrets of Arcade and find Greg!

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Beanstalk (1994)

beanstalk_8Starring J.D. Daniels, Amy Stoch, Margot Kidder, Patrick Renna, Richard Moll, Richard Paul, Stuart Pankin, Cathy McAuley, Cindy Sorenson, David Naughton, Dominique Adler

Directed by Michael Davis

Expectations: Moderate.

On the general scale:
twohalfstar

On the B-movie scale:
threestar


As you might have figured out by the title, Beanstalk is Moonbeam’s attempt at adapting the classic fairy tale Jack and the Beanstalk. The story is one that just about everyone is familiar with, but Beanstalk does a great job of keeping the basics and updating the story in a lot of fun and entertaining ways. Beanstalk does away with the antiquated setup of Jack trading his cow for a handful of magic beans, replacing it with a cross between Back to the Future‘s Doc Brown and the mega-hit from the year before: Jurassic Park. A cryptozoologist (played with reckless glee by Margot Kidder!) runs a dig site somewhere in the desert, and she unearths a bunch of huge beans and a giant skull. This might be the site of Jack’s original beanstalk, but other minor details later in the film suggest that Jack’s tale was merely one of a few beanstalk scalings over the years.

Anyway, Jack (J.D. Daniels) is helping his mother (Missy from Bill & Ted, Amy Stoch!) pay the overdue rent payment by taking a load of antiques to sell. A bully (Patrick Renna) starts screwing with his box of treasures, throwing one into the street. The money these antiques will bring is very important to Jack and his mother, so he runs out into the street to catch the porcelain dog before it smashes on the asphalt. He catches it, but the cryptozoologist happens to be driving by and almost hits him with her motor home. A crate full of the giant beans flies off in the ruckus, and because Jack is a scheming whiz kid always looking for his next big idea, he decides to take the crate home in hopes that it contains something valuable or useful.

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Drunken Master II (1994)

drunkenmaster2_12Drunken Master II [醉拳II] (1994)
AKA The Legend of Drunken Master

Starring Jackie Chan, Anita Mui, Ti Lung, Felix Wong Yat-Wah, Lau Kar-Leung, Cheung Chi-Gwong, Ken Lo, Ho Sung-Pak, Hon Yee-Sang, Hoh Wing-Fong, Andy Lau, Bill Tung, Chin Ka-Lok

Directed by Lau Kar-Leung

Expectations: C’mon, it’s Drunken Master 2! I know it’s awesome!

fourstar


I can confirm that love at first sight exists, because from the moment I first laid eyes on Drunken Master II, nearly 20 years ago, I was completely and utterly smitten. Time has changed many things in my life, but time has not diminished the power of Drunken Master II even a smidgen. It is every bit the amazing film it always was, and re-watching for the first time in many years brought back every enthusiastic feeling I ever had about the film. Heaven is indeed real, and it is watching Drunken Master II! Hyperbole aside, Drunken Master II is great and if you love martial arts films, I don’t think there’s any way for you not to love this one.

The film begins with Wong Kei-Ying (Ti Lung), his son Wong Fei-Hung (Jackie Chan) and their assistant Tso (Cheung Chi-Gwong) waiting to board a train home to Canton. Fei-Hung doesn’t think they should be forced to pay taxes on the ginseng root they are bringing back for a patient. Tso tells him that British consulate members don’t need to pay the duties, so when a group of them go past, Fei-Hung swaps the ginseng box with an identical box of theirs.

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Arnold Quick Takes: Happy Anniversary and Goodbye, Dave, Beretta’s Island

happyanniversaryandgoodbye_3Happy Anniversary and Goodbye (1974)
twohalfstar

Starring Lucille Ball, Art Carney, Nanette Fabray, Peter Marshall, Don Porter, Patricia Blair, Doria Cook-Nelson, Arnold Schwarzenegger
Directed by Jack Donohue

I’ve been a Lucille Ball fan for pretty much my whole life, but I’d never seen anything other than I Love Lucy and The Long, Long Trailer. Judging on Happy Anniversary and Goodbye, I don’t know that I was missing much. The hour-long TV special presents the story of Norma and Malcolm Michaels, a married couple who have exhausted about every shred of love their relationship once had. After the first scene, composed almost solely of yelling, name-calling and snide remarks, the couple has decided to divorce. The special punctuates this real-life drama with levity, but it often feels odd to laugh when this couple is at such a low point. I have a hard time imagining a similar special being made today. Their personal journeys while separated are much more successful, though, with some classic-styled Lucy antics and a cameo from Arnold Schwarzenegger at nearly the start of his career. I doubt anyone involved thought his acting career would amount to much, as his usual spark is missing completely. It’s still fun to see him at his rippling, bodybuilding peak. This one can surely be skipped, but as a fan of Lucy, Art Carney and Arnold, I did enjoy it overall.

Dave_1Dave (1993)
twostar

Starring Kevin Kline, Sigourney Weaver, Frank Langella, Kevin Dunn, Ving Rhames, Ben Kingsley, Charles Grodin, Faith Prince, Laura Linney
Directed by Ivan Reitman

Ivan Reitman made Dave in-between two Arnold vehicles (Kindergarten Cop and Junior), and Dave is every bit as unbelievable and outlandish an idea as Arnold teaching five-year-old kids or carrying a baby to term. Dave is a regular guy who gets to be the President of the United States after the real guy has a stroke. At first he’s just a simple stand-in, but as Dave’s personality shows through, the people love him. He cuts budget items as quickly and easily as you’d make a grocery list, he does magic tricks to cheer up a homeless kid, he uses giant robotic arms to tell fishing jokes; Dave does it all. Except the film itself is not nearly as charming as they make Dave out to be; it’s actually fairly slow and plodding, existing in a middle-ground between unfunny comedy and ineffectual drama. Arnold’s cameo as himself is ultra-minor, but it reminded me of going through the Presidential Fitness Tests at school. At the time, I thought they were super cool because they were affiliated with Arnold, and that if I did good, maybe I could meet Arnold. Alas, I wasn’t good enough (nor did I look enough like an actual winner to impersonate them, Dave-style).

BerettasIsland_1Beretta’s Island (1994)
On the general scale:
onestar

On the B-movie scale:
threestar

Starring Franco Columbu, Ken Kercheval, Elizabeth Kaitan, Van Quattro, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jo Champa, Tammara Souza
Directed by Michael Preece

If you’ve seen Pumping Iron you probably remember Franco Columbu as Arnold’s workout buddy and co-competitor. Their friendship continues to this day, and in a lot of early Arnold movies Franco is somewhere in the background in a small role. So it only makes sense that when Franco finally had his own starring vehicle that Arnold would cameo in it! The buddies pump some iron together in an early scene, spurring each other on in much the same way I imagine they do in real life. It’s nothing special, but it’s one of the most honest and believable moments in the film. The rest of the film is some of the most ridiculous, dumb-action-movie stuff ever crammed into a low-budget movie. Franco plays Franco, a retired Interpol agent now living the high life in LA… so basically riding his motorcycle, pumping iron and making wine. But he gets a special assignment to go back to his beloved Sardinia, now plagued with drugs and the associated villainy, and because this is a dumb action movie, the drug lord lives right next door to Franco’s best friend.

Beretta’s Island has so much to offer the B-Movie aficionado who harbors a special love of Arnold and the general ridiculousness of the ’80s drug lord action film. Things like: a couple of lengthy workout scenes, an ’80s-style score, and Franco shirtless at every opportunity and then some. In addition to being a vanity project for Franco, Beretta’s Island is also a cultural love letter to his Sardinian homeland with its multiple sequences of folk music, traditional festivals and dancing, horse racing, soccer, boxing, making out on the beach, etc. Beretta’s Island is the kind of movie you can’t recommend because virtually no one will like it, but I had a total blast with it and I know some like-minded soul out there would too. So get in the right mindset and give it a shot! You’ve never lived until you’ve seen a shirtless bodybuilder jump onto a motorcycle to chase the drug lords he recognized in the crowd of the boxing match he was coaching and then started fighting himself because the opponent was on cocaine. 🙂

Dark Angel: The Ascent (1994)

darkangel_6Starring Angela Featherstone, Daniel Markel, Nicholas Worth, Charlotte Stewart, Mike Genovese, Michael C. Mahon, Milton James, Constantin Draganescu, Cristina Stoica, Kehli O’Byrne

Directed by Linda Hassani

Expectations: I don’t know. Hopeful.

On the general scale:
twostar

On the B-movie scale:
threestar


Dark Angel: The Ascent tells the classic tale of a sheltered adolescent yearning to break free from their parent’s grasp and explore the world at large. The big difference between this film and all the others that share this storyline is that Veronica (Angela Featherstone) is a denizen of Hell. There have been tons of movies with demons breaking loose from Hell to wreak havoc on Earth, but have any of them had to deal with overly protective parents? But despite how this all sounds, Dark Angel: The Ascent is played fairly straight, and where it really sets itself apart is how it portrays the relationship between God and the citizens of Hell.

Traditionally we understand that God is up in Heaven doing his godly thing, while Satan rules below, torturing souls to his heart’s content. But the entirely of Dark Angel: The Ascent is built upon the premise that everyone in Hell is actually doing the job assigned to them by God; instead of two extremes on opposite sides of a war for souls, they are needed parts of a cohesive whole. This creates moments that are unique and incredibly interesting, such as Veronica’s demon family praying to God as any devoutly religious family would before a meal. I expect a lot of things from Full Moon films, but smart, unique takes on Christian mythology is not one of them! Even if the rest of the movie was awful, this alone would highlight Dark Angel: The Ascent as an interesting Full Moon film.

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