Witchouse (1999)

Starring Matt Raftery, Monica Serene Garnich, Brooke Mueller, Ashley McKinney Taylor, Dave Oren Ward, Ryan Scott Greene, Marissa Tait, Dane Northcutt, Kimberly Pullis, Jason Faunt, Ariauna Albright

Directed by David DeCoteau

Expectations: I feel like this is going to be rough.

On the general scale:

On the B-movie scale:


Witchouse is just like any number of Full Moon movies. It’s directed by David DeCoteau, it’s relatively short, and it carries a lighter tone than your average horror film. Where the conflict arises is that DeCoteau’s style has really settled into my heart over the course of writing about all these Full Moon films. Witchouse isn’t a great example of a DeCoteau film — it actually feels like his heart wasn’t in this one (even if his trademark “heartbeat on the soundtrack” is 🙂 — but regardless, I had a very fun time watching it.

Elizabeth (Ashley McKinney Taylor) lives in the Gothic mansion her family has inhabited for hundreds of years, and she’s throwing a party for her old school friends. The first couple to arrive, Bob & Margaret, find the mansion deserted, though. Like all good horror movie characters, they decide to check out the basement and fornicate, and wouldn’t you know it, they’re savagely murdered by a shadowy figure. And now, the party can begin…

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Stephen reviews: Samurai X: Trust and Betrayal (1999)

Samurai X: Trust and Betrayal [るろうに剣心 追憶編] (1999)
AKA Rurouni Kenshin: Reminiscence, Rurouni Kenshin: Tsuioku-hen

Starring Mayo Suzukaze, Junko Iwao, Nozomu Sasaki, Masami Suzuki, Shuichi Ikeda, Hirotaka Suzuoki

Directed by Kazuhiro Furuhashi


The Rurouni Kenshin series has never been one of my favorites. In fact, I rather disliked the TV series when I gave it a try many years ago. But I’ve heard great things about the film version, which was renamed to Samurai X because that made it sound cooler. The TV series was a misguided slapstick comedy that really didn’t hit very well with its humor. I only watched a few episodes before writing it off as bland and unappealing. This film on the other hand (which is actually a re-edit of a direct-to-video mini-series) is an intense historical drama about a man gone numb from killing, and his growth towards becoming the character portrayed in the TV series.

As an origin story, you don’t need to have any knowledge of the series. It makes just as much sense either way. It starts with a boy nearly getting killed by bandits who massacre the slave caravan he had been trapped in. But a kindly wandering samurai wipes out the brigands and takes the boy under his wing, naming him Kenshin. Kenshin grows up to be a master swordsman with a burning desire to fight for justice. In so doing, he abandons his master’s seclusion and joins a rebellion against the shogun.

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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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