Magic in the Mirror: Fowl Play (1997)

Starring Jamie Renée Smith, Kevin Wixted, Saxon Trainor, David Brooks, Godfrey James, Eileen T’Kaye, Gerrit Graham, Bryan J. Terrill, Eugen Cristian Motriuc, Ion Haiduc, Brent Morris, Iulia Gavril, Ileana Sandulescu, Daniela Marzavan, Stelian Nistor, Mihai Niculescu

Directed by Ted Nicolaou

Expectations: Moderate. I liked the first one.

On the general scale:

On the B-movie scale:


The first Magic in the Mirror film was a great blend of weird B-Movie thrills and kids’ movie charm, so I was hopeful that the sequel could deliver more of the same. It turns out that the sequel does just that, but upon receiving it I’m not sure that I actually needed any more. Magic in the Mirror: Fowl Play tries its best to move the adventure in a different direction, but even with this shift the story still boils down to the same beats as the original. For kids who enjoyed the first film, this will likely be a good thing, as the sequel scratches the same itch, but do kids who enjoy these movies still exist? If you’re looking for a bit more, you should probably look elsewhere, although if you’re reading this I’m not sure this applies to you. You’re a special type of person if you’re reading reviews of low-budget kids’ movies from the late ’90s. 🙂

After returning home from her adventure in the mirror world, Mary Margaret (Jamie Renée Smith) is helping her parents prepare for her mother Sylvia’s upcoming party. I honestly don’t remember why they were having a party, but I know it wasn’t a birthday, and I’m pretty sure it was something to do with Sylvia’s work in the field of making lasers that rip holes into other dimensions. Meanwhile, her partner in this work, Dr. Lazlo Tuttle (Mihai Niculescu), has decided to go rogue and use the machine for his own purposes. In doing so he lasers himself directly into Dragora’s palace, and if you forgot who Dragora is, she’s the Drake queen who enjoys nothing more than a good cup of “people tea.” This allows Dragora to enter our world unchecked, bringing with her a couple of Drake underlings and a serious grudge against Mary Margaret.

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The Midas Touch (1997)

Starring Trever O’Brien, Ashley Tesoro, Joey Simmrin, David Jeremiah, Marla Cotovsky, Danna Hansen, Shannon Welles

Directed by Peter Manoogian

Expectations: Low.

On the general scale:

On the B-movie scale:


Like Train Quest, The Midas Touch isn’t listed on Full Moon’s official filmography. Regardless, IMDB lists it as being originally distributed on VHS by the company, and the film bears most of the significant hallmarks of a Moonbeam film (notably missing are any kind of references or posters from other Full Moon films). Directed by longtime Full Moon collaborator Peter Manoogian, The Midas Touch is one of the more respectable Moonbeam films. I don’t have kids so I don’t really pay attention to these things, but I don’t remember anything here that would anger touchy parents. It’s not the most exciting film in their ranks, but just the fact that it can actually work as a family film gives it a rare distinction among its Moonbeam brethren.

Billy (Trever O’Brien) is your typical weakling kid, lacking in confidence and easily susceptible to bullying. His parents tragically died, leaving him in the care of his grandmother (Danna Hansen). She’s not doing great, either, as her heart condition has forced her to step away from her job. These stressful factors all contribute to Billy’s anxiety about life, but his grandmother does her best to instill in him the courage and confidence necessary to persevere and make it through the day. Billy’s dream, though, is not just to get through the day, but to be rich enough to provide a better life (and a pacemaker) for his grandma. Lucky for Billy, circumstances lead him to the creepy mansion of Madame Latimer (Shannon Welles), a woman with an ability that might be able to make his dreams reality.

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Mr. Nice Guy (1997)

mrniceguy_2Mr. Nice Guy [一個好人] (1997)
AKA No More Mr. Nice Guy, Mister Cool, Nice Guy, SuperChef

Starring Jackie Chan, Richard Norton, Gabrielle Fitzpatrick, Miki Lee Ting-Yee, Karen McLymont, Vince Poletto, Barry Otto, Peter Houghton, David No, Judy Green, Jonathan Isgar, Sammo Hung, Emil Chow Wah-Kin

Directed by Sammo Hung

Expectations: Interested to revisit it.

threestar


Mr. Nice Guy was the first brand new Jackie Chan film to be released while I was a fan. I often find that films (or albums) with this distinction hold a special place in my heart, as they struck me right at the genesis of my fandom and I was in a prime mindset to receive them. Mr. Nice Guy never did much for me, though, outside of a couple of the action scenes. Regardless, I was eager to revisit the film, both as a Jackie Chan vehicle and as one of Sammo Hung’s last films before his 19-year directing hiatus (which ended with this year’s The Bodyguard). Mr. Nice Guy is a fairly weak film when judged on traditional merits, but as an internationally appealing Hong Kong production, it’s an overwhelmingly fun, unsung gem.

Traditionally speaking, the main strike against Mr. Nice Guy is its story. It’s so thin that it’s something of a miracle that the whole thing doesn’t crumble into an incoherent mess. It’s more of a set-up than a true story, but as much as this hinders the film, it also allows the action to flourish. There are lots of fun chases, fight scenes, and athletic Jackie Chan stunts… perhaps more than in any Jackie film since Rumble in the Bronx. It feels like Jackie was finally back to full strength after his broken-ankle setback on Rumble, and the amount of classic Jackie action in Mr. Nice Guy benefits greatly from this. So in a way, the thin story is actually one of the film’s biggest strengths that lays the groundwork for the action to build on top of.

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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)!

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Little Ghost (1997)

littleghost_1Starring Jameson Baltes, Kristina Wayborn, Jim Fitzpatrick, Trishalee Hardy, Luc Leestemaker, Laura Bruneau, Rudy Rosenfeld

Directed by Linda Shayne

Expectations: I don’t know. Not much.

On the general scale:
onehalfstar

On the B-movie scale:
twostar


Of all the Moonbeam films I’ve seen, Little Ghost is one of the most boring. It’s not a bad movie — it’s actually quite charming and sweet — but not that much of interest happens. I’m used to the Moonbeam films being chock full of weirdness and material that most parents would find questionable in a kids movie. Little Ghost doesn’t really have either, so if nothing else it’s different! But in actuality Little Ghost is super predictable, which is ironic given the line of narration that closes the film, “Things never turn out the way you think they will and that’s the fun of it.” B-B-B-But this was a super predictable movie and that was definitely not fun! Hahahaha, whatever, despite these clear issues, Little Ghost is still pretty watchable. Now that’s a resounding endorsement! Feel free to put that on the DVD cover if you ever release it, Full Moon!

Kevin (Jameson Baltes) and his mom Christine (Kristina Wayborn) used to be close, but now Christine’s got a new boyfriend, Tony (Jim Fitzpatrick), who’s manipulating her into opening a resort spa in a Slovenian castle. Yeah, really! But it’s not such an oddity, is it? I know when I’m picking out a spa to visit, I always consider the quality of its medieval masonry. 🙂 Parallel to this story, Kevin explores the castle and makes friends with the ghost of young Sophia (Trishalee Hardy). She once lived in the castle with her mother, who’s left her there to guard it from evil outsiders who would seek to desecrate it. But she’s just a little ghost, and for some unexplained reason (hint: because it’s a movie) she’s unable to do much more that simple parlor tricks like possessing the lawnmower or throwing tomatoes at Tony.

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Skeletons (1997)

skeletons_5Starring Ron Silver, Christopher Plummer, Dee Wallace, Kyle Howard, James Coburn, Arlene Golonka, D. Paul Thomas, Paul Bartel, David Graf, Patrick Thomas, Clive Rosengren, Raymond O’Connor, Kathleen Noone

Directed by David DeCoteau

Expectations: Moderate.

On the general scale:
twohalfstar

On the B-movie scale:
threestar


If you know the name David DeCoteau, it’s probably because you watch B-Movies. Trashy B-Movies. Skeletons, though, is easily the most respectable and “normal people” friendly DeCoteau film I’ve seen, while also still feeling like he was the guy calling the shots. It’s impressive how his style is still able to filter through, and I wonder what might have been if someone had been gung-ho enough to throw a huge studio picture his way. I doubt we’ll ever find out what that would be like, but thankfully if you dig his style he’s incredibly prolific — for instance, he directed eight films in 2014!

Skeletons centers around a Pulitzer-prize winning journalist, Peter Crane (Ron Silver), who suffers a heart attack. He takes the advice of his wife, Heather (Dee Wallace), and they pull up stakes to get the family out of the rough-and-tumble big city. They land in Saugatuck, Maine, a small town with a population of 850. It is the quintessential small town: everyone is super friendly, they all know each other, and they all worship at the same church run by Rev. Carlyle (Christopher Plummer).

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Stephen reviews: Hermes: Winds of Love (1997)

hermes_1Hermes: Winds of Love [Hermes – Ai Wa Kaze No Gotoku ヘルメス 愛は風の如く] (1997)

Starring Takehito Koyasu, Miki Ito, Kenji Utsumi, Chie Koujiro, Satomi Koorogi, Osamu Hosoi, Kikuko Inoue

Directed by Tetsuo Imazawa


A very loose interpretation of Greek mythology, the title character of Hermes: Winds of Love is here imagined as the king of all ancient Greece. He’s not a god in this film, except for sometimes when he is. The same can be said for his wife Aphrodite. And yet there are actual gods roaming around as well, such as the unnamed goddess of love and the father of all the gods, who is not Zeus but someone named Ophelius (I’m sure that’s not the way it was spelled in the subtitles, but I no longer have the DVD available to check on it).

This lead to a rather bizarre film that was hard to interpret. It’s obviously neither an attempt at historical accuracy, nor at mythological accuracy. I wasn’t sure if the creators were just playing with mythology that they didn’t know much about, or if they were deliberately altering things to work for their story. After a little digging, though, it turns out that the film was produced by a group called Happy Science, which appears to be Japan’s equivalent of Scientology. Suddenly it started making sense that the film made no sense. It might also explain the random spaceship orbiting Earth that appears for about five seconds and is never seen or heard of again.

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