Halloweentown II: Kalabar’s Revenge (2001)

Mary Lambert once directed music videos — Janet Jackson’s “Control” and five videos for Madonna including “Borderline,” “Like a Virgin,” “Material Girl,” “La Isla Bonita” and “Like a Prayer” — before making Pet Sematary. And yes, she went on to make a Disney Channel movie, as well as Mega Python vs. Gatoroid.

It’s been two years since we last saw Marnie (Kimberly J. Brown), who has spent the time learning magic from her grandmother Aggie (Debbie Reynolds) in Halloweentown. While hosting a mortal neighborhood Halloween party in our universe, Marnie tries to impress new neighbor Kal (Daniel Kountz) by showing off Aggie’s magically-hidden room. Before you can say plot device, Aggie notices something wrong with the portal between our worlds, sending her back to Halloweentown.

It turns out that Kal is really the son of Kalabar — didn’t see that coming with that name, huh? — and he’s cast a Gray Spell over the entire realm, making the magically colorful world of Halloweentown boring. Meanwhile, he’s turning Earth into a monster-filled nightmare.

To save the day, the barriers between Halloweentown and our world must be destroyed. But at what cost? Oh, if there were only a third film. There is? And I’m going to write about it this week? Man, this magic has me flummoxed.

As for horror fans, Judith Hoag wears the Silver Shamrock witch mask from Halloween III: Season of the Witch. Here’s hoping she takes it off before the commercial plays.

Mind Rage (2001)

A serial killer’s trail of dead bodies leads to the haunting past of two brothers and one woman’s love for both of them. But you know what will make you watch this?

The cast! You’ve got Max Gail, Charles Hallahan, Tippi Hedren and Dennis Christopher, which is way better than you’d expect for a small budget film.

This movie was made at some point in the 90s and wouldn’t be released until 2001. That shouldn’t stop you from watching this, which feels kind of like an American giallo, which is not a bad thing. I mean, a serial killer is taunting a schoolteacher, who has a cop half-brother and a new lover who looks exactly like every one of the victims and his mother, who died mysteriously.

You can get this from Wild Eye Releasing or watch it on Tubi.

Electric Dragon 80.000 V (2001)

Gakuryū Ishii made Burst City and if that were not enough of an attack on the senses, he made this film, the story of Dragon Eye Morrison (Tadanobu Asano, the incredible Kakihara from Ichi the Killer), who was given electroshock therapy as a child which now gives him the ability to conduct electricity, which he sometimes uses in his job as a reptile investigator and guitar player. But now, another man — Thunderbolt Buddha (Masatoshi Nagase, Mystery Train) — also has those powers but uses them to go after gangsters. Inevitably, the two must meet and battle one another.

Most amazingly, this movie is narrated by Masakatsu Funaki, who was the best native star of Pancrase, an early MMA legend and still an active pro wrestler.

A black and white film bursting with attitude, noise and chaos, this is what a comic book film should look like. You know how some movies seem cool? This is what being cool is all about.

Iron Monkey (1993 HK/2001 U.S.)

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Jennifer Upton is an American (non-werewolf) writer/editor in London. She currently works as a ghostwriter of personal memoirs for Story Terrace London and writes for several blogs on topics as diverse as film history, punk rock, women’s issues, and international politics. For links to her work, please visit https://www.jennuptonwriter.com or send her a Tweet @Jennxldn

I saw Iron Monkey for the first time during its 2001 U.S. release.

Settling into my seat, I knew relatively nothing about it other than it was considered a modern classic Kung Fu film. When I realized it was about young Wong Fei Hung it was like opening a surprise gift. Being a big fan of Once Upon a Time in China with Jet Li and being familiar with the long, rich cinematic history of the character in HK movies made Iron Monkey even more enjoyable than it would have been otherwise.

I patiently waited for the Wong Fei Hung theme music to kick in. When it never did, I realized it was because the film had been re-scored for the American release. The cinematic equivalent of watching a James Bond film without the classic theme. That being said, the music in this version was actually pretty good when compared with some of the criminal hack jobs Miramax perpetrated on to other Asian films in the ‘90s. Quentin Tarantino’s name in the credits no doubt had something to do with the overall respect shown here. That it was given a wide release in North America with subtitles is a glorious thing.

Iron Monkey tells the story of a Dr. (Yu Rong Guang) who dons a mask during his off-time to steal riches from corrupt village officials and give the money to the poor. When a pre-teen Wong Fei Hung (played in the grand Cantonese tradition by a female – Angie Tsang) and his legendary father Wong Kai-Ying (Donnie Yen) come to town, it makes for one of the best Kung Fu movies I’ve ever seen. Each fight is better than the last and the final battle, which takes place mostly on top of wooden poles over a burning fire is truly a thing of beauty. Younger audiences will be familiar with Donnie’s amazing fighting techniques from Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. The equally talented Yen Shi-Kwan (Iron Robe Yim from OUATIC) plays the main baddie.

Every time I read a discussion centered on this film, everyone always goes on and on about Yuen Woo-Ping. He is indeed a brilliant artist. However, I feel just as much of the credit for the success of Iron Monkey should go to Producer/Writer Tsui Hark. I have viewed other films from roughly the same time period of both men and have to say that I have consistently enjoyed Tsui Hark’s body of work more than Yuen Woo-Ping’s. Iron Monkey is a great collaboration and should be viewed by all who are even the slightest bit curious about Kung Fu films.

Donnie Darko (2001)

Don’t ask me how, but I’ve somehow never seen Donnie Darko. Now, thanks to the 4K re-release from Arrow, I’ve really fixed that. I mean, we all know how I feel about Southland Tales, so it’s high time that I get this one crossed off the list.

Richard Kelly had graduated from film school and started writing his first scripts when he got the idea of a jet engine falling onto a house. Even though he was an unproven director, Kelly insisted that he make the film himself, struggling to get funding until Drew Barrymore’s Flower Films produced it.

The film came and went without much notice outside of critics, as a movie with part of a plane crashing into a house being released a month after 9/11 — not to mention Donnie shooting a gun so close after Colombine — didn’t seem like something audiences would want to see. Yet Kelly’s vision — he wanted an “ambitious, personal, and nostalgic” look back at the 80’s before everyone was doing that — finally found an audience as it was reissued.

It’s not an easy movie to wade through and that’s pretty much why it’s so beloved by the people who discovered it.

On October 2, 1988, the Middlesex, Virginia bedroom of Donald J. “Donnie” Darko (Jake Gyllenhaal) is destroyed by a jet engine. As for Donnie, he has been sleepwalking and speaking to a monstrous rabbit named Frank who informs him that the world will end in 28 days, 6 hours, 42 minutes and 12 seconds. He begins to follow Frank’s instructions, which often involve destruction and mayhem.

How else do you escape a small town where infomercial pitchmen’s words are taken as religion and teachers are either fired for being individuals or become wrapped up in their own power? There’s also a former nun turned author, once named Roberta Sparrow but now called Grandma Death, who whispers to Donnie that “Every living creature on Earth dies alone.”

Frank’s instructions grow darker, including setting the home of the inspirational speaker — Patrick Swayze! — ablaze, which reveals that the man is a child molester. And Donnie begins to fall for Gretchen Ross (Jena Malone), who is in town to escape from her brutal stepfather. But as a cycle of violence begins to continually spiral out of control, Donnie realizes that the only way to stop the end of the world is to change the flow of time.

But man, that’s just one of the many ways you can take this movie. In the foreword to The Donnie Darko Book, Jake Gyllenhaal wrote, “What is Donnie Darko about? I have no idea.” Even Kelly admits that the film needs Cliffs Notes.

According to Dan Kois’ Everything you were afraid to ask about Donnie Darko, the movie takes place in a parallel universe, which exists only during the 28 days — it also took 28 days to film the movie — of the film. The main idea is that Donnie must erase the Tangent Universe — and die as a result — in order to save reality.

Roberta Sparrow’s book The Philosophy of Time Travel exists, if not only in the world of the film, then also on the website that went with the movie and the director’s cut. In it, she writes, “If a Tangent Universe occurs, it will be highly unstable, sustaining itself for no longer than several weeks. Eventually it will collapse upon itself, forming a black hole within the Primary Universe capable of destroying all existence.”

Or is it about Donnie being a paranoid schizophrenic? That solution is up to you.

Or you could see it as the fact that Gretchen and Frank — the human being dressed as the rabbit  that Donnie shoots and not yet the rabbit — are dead as the result of knowing Donnie and they lead him into this situation to gain super powers and send the engine back in time, saving themselves at the cost of his life.

Also — the web site had information about the characters that perhaps belonged in the movie. After the events of the universe being righted, Jim Cunningham would kill himself, realizing what a horrible person he was. Roberta Sparrow would die in December of 1988. And although  Dr. Monnitoff would eventually marry Ms. Pomeroy, he would die under mysterious circumstances in 1999. She would send his copy of The Philosophy of Time Travel to the Library of Congress.

So why does Donnie smile before lying down to seemingly die? In my opinion, he’s no longer dying alone. He has connected better with his parents, found a first love and finally become not a disaffected youth but the secret hero who saves everything at the cost of his own life. That’s not just the kind of story that gets remembered. It’s the kind that becomes a cult movie.

I’m glad I finally watched this.

The 4K UHD Arrow Video release of Donnie Darko is pretty much exactly as amazing as you’d expect a release from this label to be. The set includes new 4K restorations of both the Theatrical Cut and the Director’s Cut from the original camera negatives by Arrow Films, supervised and approved by director Richard Kelly and cinematographer Steven Poster, plus a 100-page hardcover book featuring writing by Nathan Rabin, Anton Bitel and Jamie Graham, an in-depth interview with Richard Kelly, an introduction by Jake Gyllenhaal and contemporary coverage, illustrated with original stills and promotional materials. As if that’s not enough, there’s also a double-sided poster with art by Luke Preece, six double-sided collector’s postcards and multiple audio commentary tracks and documentaries on the film. Still not enough? You also get The Goodbye Place, a Kelly short film, twenty deleted and alternate scenes, trailers, a music video and, well, beyond much more. You can get it directly from Arrow.

Despite the fact that we live in a world with less physical releases, the ones that do come out are made for film lovers like, well, you and me. If you love this film, you owe it to yourself to own this.

Antitrust (2001)

Also called Conspiracy.com and Startup — yes, these are the most nineties titles ever — Antitrust shows what I always expected from those way too cool-looking corporations. I once worked in an ad agency that had a sliding board and that thing was only used by guests. We’d all been hurt on it and knew better.

After creating a startup called Skullbocks, Stanford graduate Milo Hoffman (Ryan Phillipe) is recruited by NURV (Never Underestimate Radical Vision) CEO Gary Winston (Tim Robbins). The job comes with a ton of pay, an insane office and complete creative control. Before you can say dot com boom, Hoffman and his girlfriend Alice (Claire Forlani, who if born a few decades sooner could have been a giallo queen) move to Portland to start their future.

The funny thing is this company wanted Hoffman so bad, they invented this girlfriend just for him. Oh the 2000’s, when hackers were played by attractive people and had attractive problems! And when the company starts investigating Rachel Leigh Cook, well, our hero must make a choice over the big Bill Gates billions — we all know who Robbins is playing — or going back to hanging out in a sweatsock smelling room with his buddies.

You know how sexy this movie was? The film heavily features Linux and its community, even having Miguel de Icaza and Scott McNealy show up in the trailers. Man, this movie is all about open source! Are you panting and breathing hard yet, teenagers? How about if I tell you that actor’s names in the beginning are all HTML code from their IMDB profiles?

Why not live 2001 all over again and check out the Antitrust website?

Megiddo: The Omega Code 2 (2001)

Let me tell you what. One of my rules of films that no matter how little I want to watch a movie by its description, if Brian Trenchard-Smith directed it, chances are I’m going to love it.

A Christian end times movie based on the Left Behind series? I should despise this.

But there’s Trenchard-Smith’s name. And wait — Udo Keir playing a demon? Michael York having the absolute time of his life as the Antichrist? Michael Biehn as his heroic brother? Franco Nero as a general? R. Lee Ermey as the President? An appearance by Chad Michael Murray?

Yeah, I loved it.

This movie defines gigantic scope, but made on the budget of a TV episode and featuring CGI that looks Playstation 1 level in quality. It even has intros by various members of the Trinity Broadcasting Network giving testimony to its high quality. Dude, what kind of world do I live in where religious rich men give the maker of Turkey Shoot money to make movies about the end of the world?

There were so many moments during this film where I jumped around like a small child, throwing myself all over our movie room. This is the kind of film that I want more people to recognize, find and love.

To make it even better, Michael York wrote a journal while acting in this, Dispatches from Armageddon, and it became a book.

Also, imagine my glee realizing that this movie is basically a prequel and remake — I should have guessed because it had a number in the name — called The Omega Code. York also plays the Antichrist in a movie released by GoodTimes Entertainment.

That film has Casper Van Dien, Catherine Oxenberg, Michael Ironside and a soundtrack by Alan Howarth and Harry Manfredini, which, quite frankly, is blowing my mind right now. Even better, the original website has been saved by the Internet Archive and it is everything that a 1999 website should be.

You can watch this on Tubi.

KAIJU DAY MARATHON: Godzilla, Mothra, King Ghidorah: Giant Monsters All-Out Out Monsters Attack (2001) a.k.a: GMK

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Jennifer Upton is an American (non-werewolf) writer/editor in London. She currently works as a ghostwriter of personal memoirs for Story Terrace London and writes for several blogs on topics as diverse as film history, punk rock, women’s issues, and international politics. For links to her work, please visit https://www.jennuptonwriter.com or send her a Tweet @Jennxldn

GMK wipes the slate clean (again) and starts yet another entirely new time line in the “G” universe. Here, Godzilla has not been seen since 1954 when the oxygen destroyer killed him. General Tachibana (Ryudo Uzaki ) of the Japanese Self-Defense Force is starting to suspect that Godzilla is back and responsible for the destruction of a submarine off the coast of Guam.

Tachibana’s daughter Yuri (Chiharu Nîyama), with whom the general has a strained relationship, works for a reality TV show called Digital Q. The show specializes in stories on Blair Witch and Bigfoot type legends which contain a lot of made up details to get ratings. That is, until Yuri and her crew stumble upon the real thing. They meet a mysterious old man (played by Toho Kaiju veteran Eisei Amamoto) who explains that the Guardian Monsters of Japan – Mothra, Baragon, and King Ghidorah – are re-awakening to defend the homeland from Godzilla. Yuri’s goal becomes to report the story as accurately as possible at any cost. Simultaneously, her father is trying to destroy Godzilla. 

Expectations were very high for GMK as is was the first Godzillafilm to be directed by Shusuke Kaneko, who redfined the genre with his Heisei Gamera trilogy. Unfortunately, it does not live up to expectations in some areas  

In the Gamera series, Kaneko was often criticized for having too much story and not enough monsters. Sadly, GMK suffers from the exact opposite ailment. Does story really matter in a giant monster movie? Perhaps not. The fights are staged very well with lots of nods and winks to great Kaiju battles of the past 50 years. The special effects and suit designs are some of the best ever with the final battle between Mothra, Godzilla and King Ghidorah being particularly ambitious. The daylight stand-off between Baragon and Godzilla was pleasantly reminiscent of the work of Ishiro Honda in such ‘60s films as Monster Zero and Destroy All Monsters. 

The biggest disappointment is the musical score by Kaneko regular Ko Otani. There are a few good cues (such as the theme when Mothra breaks forth from her cocoon) but most of it strays a little too deep into John Barry territory for it to maintain its own identity. The classic theme by Akira Ifukube is only used once at the very end of the film to great effect.

Is GMK better than its predecessors Godzilla 2000 and Godzilla vs. Megaguirus? You bet it is. The American re-boot with Bryan Cranston owes a lot to this film.

Hackers: The History of Hacking (2001)

When I was a kid, before this whole internet, we all had dial-up modems and called into BBS systems. I remember the first time I went to a meet-up and everyone just had their code names on professionally made name tags. I might have been the youngest kid there, as everyone I had been talking to online ended up being old guys obsessed with making their own computers and getting inside the phone system. They taught me how to call people without paying for it and how to make the phone ring inside my own house and call my family.

So the adventures of these guys will always blow my mind.

John Draper, Steve Wozniak and Kevin Mitnick are the main characters in this, but it hits nearly everyone. The computer that I am typing on right now is the result of the work these guys did. Mitnick’s story is pretty astounding and a lot of it ended up inspiring Ed Piskor’s genius comic Wizzywig.

You can watch this on YouTube.

Tomie: Re-birth (2001)

An artist named Hideo is painting his girlfriend. Just by reading the title of this film, you know that it’s Tomie. He flips out when she tells him that his art isn’t good, so he kills her and two of his friends help him bury the body. And if we know anything else about these movies, you know that this can’t end well.

Everything Tomie can be reborn, from her head, which grows limbs, to even the paint used to make her portrait and outright possession. Even suicide can’t stop Tomie, as one of the girls possessed by her tries to jump off some cliffs and she survives. Basically, Tomie is the mistake that you should have never made, but you can’t stop her once it all begins.

This version of her story was directed by Takashi Shimizu, who would go on to make Ju-on: The Grudge and — rare for American remakes — even get the chance to helm his own Western version with 2004’s Sarah Michelle Gellar-starring movie.

There is one great part in this one: a mother and a son bond while slicing a young girl to bits and hiding her body. Family togetherness. Get it wherever you can.