Comedy

Woody Woodpecker (2017)

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The latest in a classic cartoon going to live-action form, the lovable but mischievous woodpecker’s adventure has its moments.

Lance Walters is a lawyer who just lost his job because of an interview he made going viral. He has learned that his grandfather left him a major piece of property among the Canadian border. He decides to build an estate and flip it for a profit. He takes his gold-digging fiancé Vanessa and his son Tommy, only after Lance’s ex-wife must visit her dad in the hospital. Lance and Tommy do not get along and Vanessa can’t stand Tommy as well.

When Lance begins his project, Woody Woodpecker learns of what has happened and decides to try to stop Lance at all costs. However, Woody also befriends Tommy, who feels like he doesn’t belong. That is, until he meets local teens Jill and Lyle and the trio decide to form a band. However, Lance is the least of Woody’s problems as two brothers, who have been poaching animals in the area, want Woody, who is the last of an endangered species.

The first announcement of this live-action adaptation of the classic Walter Lantz novel was a Brazilian trailer, due to the fact that the film was marketed to Brazil. The character, a mischievous woodpecker who has a distinct laugh (made famous by Lantz’s wife Grace Stafford, who voiced the character for a whopping 4 decades before her passing in 1992), is huge in the South American country. So how does the film fare out in terms of American family films? It’s what one would normally expect.

The film seems to have taken a page from the Furry Vengeance book of rules in terms of “don’t mess with mother nature”. Galavant star Timothy Omundson plays the former lawyer who still looks for a good deal and decides to make an estate on land left to him by his grandfather. Of course, he’s the one who “has to learn a lesson” and changes himself in the process. He goes from being quite overbearing to someone who learns the true relationship not just with nature, but especially with his son Tommy, played by Graham Verchere.

As mentioned the Brazilian market was key for this film so what better way than to bring a Brazilian actress to the mix. Thaila Ayala is that actress, who plays the gold-digging Vanessa, who goes to admit she never liked kids especially when she was one, this causing loads of friction between herself and Tommy. However, it is Vanessa who gets more of the hijinks caused by Woody not so much Lance. While Lance may get the occasional hit, it is Vanessa who truly gets the brunt of it. Scott McNeil, a respected voice actor, and Adrian Glynn McMorran play the hillbilly poachers who play the typical stereotypes and like Vanessa, get a brunt of Woody.

The major issue is that Woody’s voice, done by voice actor Eric Bauza, is not so much as high-pitched as Stafford’s. It is was one of those things one would have to get used to when it comes to going through the film. It’s not that Bauza is a good voice actor, because he is. It is just that he just didn’t seem to mesh when it came to voicing Woody Woodpecker at first and it does improve very little as the film runs.

Woody Woodpecker has its moments, and it is what you would expect in a family film based on a classic. Just try getting used to the new voice of Woody and you just may end up really enjoying it with the kids.

WFG RATING: C

A Universal 1440 Entertainment production. Director: Alex Zamm. Producer: Mike Elliott. Writers: William Robertson and Alex Zamm; story by Robertson, Zamm, Daniel Altiere, and Steven Altiere; based on the character created by Walter Lantz. Cinematography: Barry Donlevy. Editing: Heath Ryan.

Cast: Timothy Omundson, Thaila Ayala, Graham Verchere, Jordana Largy, Scott McNeil, Adrian Glynn McMorran, voice of Eric Bauza.

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The Watermelon Man (1970)

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What happens when a racist goes through a radical change and is forced to live life as the same type of person he is totally against? Melvin Van Peebles may just have the answer in this raucous comedy that tackles a very sensitive matter that still exists today.

Jeff Gerber is a Caucasian insurance agent who loves to spend his mornings working out and running past the local bus in order to make the bus stop that takes him to his job. His wife Althea watches the recent riots in the city while Jeff doesn’t care what happens to the rioters. He makes wisecracks towards anyone who is African-American much to the chagrin of his fellow co-workers, bus patrons, and even his wife. However, on this fateful day, Jeff’s life is about to change.

That night, he wakes up to go to the bathroom and when he sees himself, he inexplicably becomes African-American. Suddenly, his life takes a turn for the worse. He gets accused of stealing, virtually gets a promotion at work because of diversity, gets an admirer in co-worker Erica, and becomes the ridicule of the community. When Jeff’s attempts to change his skin color back to white fail on a consistent level, he soon learns the hard way that his old ways of being a racist has caught up to him and he must learn to adapt or face some dire consequences.

The tagline of this 1970 film is “A funny thing happened to Jeff Gerber. This won’t happen to you so you can laugh.” Screenwriter Herman Raucher intended this to be a comedy and while it is quite a funny film for its time, it can be considered sensitive due to the topic of the film: racism. In reality, racism is truly not a laughing matter, but director Melvin Van Peebles decided to make light of the situation with this film. Eventually becoming a pioneer in the “Blaxploitation” genre, Van Peebles does pretty well in terms of directing the film.

What Van Peebles came up with can be considered ingenious. When producers first thought of the idea, they had planned to cast a Caucasian actor dressed in blackface. This has been done to death since the days of Amos and Andy and some of the early Hollywood films as well. What Van Peebles offered was to have the producers cast comic actor Godfrey Cambridge, an African-American, dress in whiteface for the first ten to fifteen minutes of the film before becoming Jeff Gerber, the African-American, by being himself. This would be one of only few lead roles for Cambridge, but he does a great job here. The comedy really comes from his attempts to become white again with at times, disastrous results and his racing against the bus in the opening of the film.

The supporting cast does quite well, especially Estelle Parsons (who later gained fame as playing Roseanne’s mother on her hit television series in the 80’s and 90’s) because we get her point of view on the matter involving her husband. It is apparent that while she knows her husband is white, the fact he becomes black begins to affect their marriage. However, it can be considered strange because she seems to watch the riots as if she supports African-Americans yet she doesn’t feel comfortable being married to one. There are some of the classic derogatory terms towards African-Americans as well as the attitudes at that time, just when equal rights have just become known.

If you are truly sensitive to racism, The Watermelon Man may not be your cup of tea. However, director Melvin Van Peebles truly gets his point across with this tale. The film would become influential on later films such as Soul Man and perhaps, Women from Mars, with what can happen when one must change and learn to somewhat adapt with the intention of learning a very hard lesson in life.

WFG RATING: B

A Columbia Pictures production. Director: Melvin Van Peebles. Producer: John B. Bennett. Writer: Herman Raucher. Cinematography: W. Wallace Kelley. Editing: Carl Kress.

Cast: Godfrey Cambridge, Estelle Parsons, Howard Caine, D’Urville Martin, Mantan Moreland, Kay Kimberly, Scott Garrett, Erin Moran.

Entanglement (2017)

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A young man searching for the meaning of his existence finds an unexpected source of happiness in this indie dramedy from director Jason James.

Ben Layten is on the brink of insanity. Having lost his wife and not getting along well with his parents, he seems to be done with himself. After a failed suicide attempt, Ben decides to create a timeline to his life. One day while at the pharmacy for his medicine, he comes across a mysterious young woman who steals some sunglasses and offers him her number. When Ben’s father has a heart attack, he learns that the day his mom was pregnant with him, they actually had adopted a baby girl but gave her back.

Learning he almost had a sister, Ben tracks her down and finds Hanna, the same woman who he met at the pharmacy. The soon forge a bond that goes beyond the brink of becoming more than “almost siblings”. This comes in conflict with Ben’s friend and neighbor Tabby, who has felt something for Ben but is afraid to tell him. As Ben and Hanna grow closer upon learning they are connected, Ben soon learns a dark truth about his new love that is sure to change his life forever.

A very interesting tale of how we are all connected as we search for the meaning of existence, this film really brings one man’s search for the meaning of not just life, but his life. The script by Jason Filiatrault really brings to mind a sense of both insanity, sorrow, and the use of an interesting timeline that veers off in different branches as many events happen in our central character’s life.

In the role of the embittered Ben is Thomas Middleditch, who kids will recognize as the voice of Harold in the very funny Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie. However, Middleditch is the driving force of the film as a man who thinks he lost it all and after failing to kill himself, decides to give himself a quest for the meaning of his life. He’s constantly finding himself challenged, especially with his divorced parents, who tell him about his “almost” sister. Ben’s parents are truly not going to win the Parents of the Year.

Jess Weixler is great as Hanna, Ben’s “almost” sister who helps Ben find the meaning of happiness. When Ben and Hanna get together, we see Ben in a world he has not faced either ever or even in a long time. While Diana Bang’s Tabby seems to be the best friend who has a crush on and is afraid to tell him, the film’s focus is more on the connection of quantum entanglement (hence the title) between Ben and Hanna. In what is even more interested to show their relationship, there are instances where the film will combine live action with animation. In one instance, Ben and Hanna are looking at animated deer in the park and in another, where they break into a pool, they find themselves swimming underwater with animated jellyfish. However, it is the film’s twist in the third act that is quite jaw-dropping and when all is revealed, it is sure to change everything, making this a great indie drama.

Entanglement is a delightful look at a miserable man, his search for the meaning of his life, and the unexpected happiness he finds that will change his life forever, all driven by great performances by Thomas Middleditch and Jess Weixler.

WFG RATING: B+

Dark Star Pictures present a Goodbye Productions Film. Director: Jason James. Producers: Jason James and Amber Ripley. Writer: Jason Filiatrault. Cinematography: James Liston. Editing: Jamie Alain, Gareth C. Scales, and Christopher Watson.

Cast: Thomas Middleditch, Jess Weixler, Diana Bang, Johannah Newmarch, Marilyn Norry, Randal Edwards, Jena Skodje, Shauna Johannesen, Nicole LaPlaca.

Dark Star Pictures will release this film in select theaters, VOD, and Digital HD on February 9, 2018.

Turbo: A Power Rangers Movie (1997)

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In 1997, the series Power Rangers Zeo was coming to an end. What better way to kick off the next Power Rangers series with a full-length feature film that has a very shocking twist and the return of an original Ranger without her powers.

Angel Grove has been the home of the Power Rangers, protectors of the Earth against the likes of Rita Repulsa, Lord Zedd, and even Ivan Ooze. Their latest challenge comes in the form of Divatox, an evil space pirate hellbent on releasing an ancient warrior known as Maligore from his imprisonment in a volcano on the island of Maranthias. In order to complete her mission, Divatox must kidnap the kind alien warrior Lerigot, who has the key to release Maligore. It is up to the Rangers, Red Zeo Ranger Tommy; Green Zeo Ranger Adam; Yellow Zeo Ranger Tanya; and Pink Zeo Ranger Katherine to protect Lerigot from Divatox and her minions.

During training for a martial arts competition, Blue Zeo Ranger Rocky injures himself and is deemed unable to assist the Rangers. The Rangers soon learn that in case Maligore is released, the Rangers’ Zeo powers will be useless. Therefore, they must now gain new powers and become the Turbo Power Rangers. Still wearing their Zeo colors, the Turbo Power Rangers have new vehicular Zords and now much head to Maranthias to stop Divatox. Meanwhile, Rocky’s replacement as the Blue Ranger has arrived in the form of pre-teen youngster Justin, which shocks everyone.

Divatox has kidnapped former Power Rangers Jason and Kimberly during a diving expedition along with resident airhead bullies Bulk and Skull in exchange for Lerigot. Duped into thinking the exchange will take place, Divatox has everyone under her grasp and she intends to release Maligore and weark havoc on the world.

This action packed sequel is a step up from the original in terms of mainly its action sequences. The plot is still pretty much child’s play, but this is a children’s action film we are talking about. The Ranger characters are derived from the 1996 Super Sentai series Gekisou Sentai Carranger.

While the original Power Rangers Zeo team appear in the film, one can’t help but be stunned at the injury sustained by Steve Cardenas’ Rocky character. As the original replacement for Austin St. John as the Red Ranger, Cardenas has superb martial arts skills, and his absence may have made the film somewhat inferior. However, 11-year old Blake Foster, a martial artist who was discovered while training, takes over suitably as the new Blue Ranger. He is obviously doubled when he is in Ranger form (a cue from the Kibaranger of 1993’s Gosei Sentai Dairanger, in which Kibaranger was actually a kid as well), but Foster gets to strut his martial arts skills in one fight scene.

This time around, replacing veteran Jeff Pruitt is Alpha Stunts co-founder Koichi Sakamoto heading the fight choreography this time around. Bringing his unique style of costumed combat that helped make the sequel Guyver 2: Dark Hero a more exciting sequel than its predecessor, Sakamoto and the Alpha Stunts team did a great job with the fights much like the way Pruitt unleashed his excellent choreography skills in the original film.

However, the kicker here as to why this may be seen as a more superior sequel is the finale, pitting the oversized Maligore against the new TurboMegazord. Where the first film had ridiculous looking computer effects to showcase the Megazord, in this film, the producers decided to do it in true Japanese tokukatsu form. It truly works here as it does with the Power Rangers universe and is far better to see than the cheesy computer graphics that could have potentially ruined the PR world.

In the end, Turbo: A Power Rangers Movie is a superior sequel over its predecessor, especially with the true form of tokukatsu replacing horrific CGI effects.

WFG RATINGB+

20th Century Fox presents a Saban Films production. Directors: Shuki Levy and David Winning. Producer: Jonathan Tzachor. Writers: Shuki Levy and Shell Danielson; based on the television series “Power Rangers” created by Haim Saban and Shuki Levy; based on “Gekisou Sentai Carranger” by Toei Co. Limited. Cinematography: Ilan Rosenberg. Editing: Henry Richardson and B.J. Sears.

Cast: Johnny Yong Bosch, Nakia Burrise, Steve Cardenas, Black Foster, Jason David Frank, Catherine Sutherland, Jon Simanton, Hilary Sheperd-Turner, Austin St. John, Amy Jo Johnson, Paul Schrier, Jason Narvy, Ed Neil, Carla Perez.

Mighty Morphin Power Rangers: The Movie (1995)

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In 1993, the world was introduced to the Power Rangers, an Americanized adaptation of the Japanese annual Super Sentai series. With the success of the television series, 20th Century Fox unleashed the first of two feature-length films that combined elements from three Super Sentai series.

In the city of Angel Grove, a construction site becomes the home of an unearthed artifact. A claw with a huge purple egg is unleashed. That night, Lord Zedd and Rita Repulsa open the egg and a mysterious alien named Ivan Ooze appears with plans of world domination. He has learned that Zordon, his one-time nemesis, is still alive and that he will have to deal with the Power Rangers.

The Rangers are Red Ranger Rocky, Blue Ranger Billy, Yellow Ranger Aisha, Black Ranger Adam, Pink Ranger Kimberly and White Ranger Tommy. When they learn of Ivan Ooze’s appearance, they try to fight off Ooze’s goons but it proves to be too little too late. Ivan has destroyed the Rangers’ command center and has put Zordon on life support, causing the Rangers to lose their powers.

In a last ditch effort, the Rangers must travel to a distant planet where under the watchful eye of Dulcea, they must train in the art of Ninjetti and find “The Great Power”. Meanwhile, Ivan Ooze is planning to take over Angel Grove by turning the residents into zombies and digging up his master creation, a giant sized-robot monster.

In 1993, producer Haim Saban unleashed the phenomenon known as the Power Rangers to children everywhere…at least in the United States. Two years after its inception and a roster change on part of three actors, the feature film finally was released. Yes, it is a kids’ action film and yes it can be very cheesy…but this is cheesy in a very fun way.

Complete with the colorful costumes that the kids love (based off 1992’s Super Sentai series Kyoryu Sentai Zyuranger and 1993’s Gosei Sentai Dairanger) plus the rigorous action sequences choreographed by martial arts expert Jeff Pruitt, the comic relief lies in the all too sarcastic villain.

Veteran actor Paul Freeman hams it up as the sarcastic Ivan Ooze, an evil mutant whose plans on world domination even gets the best of series villains Rita Repulsa and Lord Zedd. The duo get ample screen time, but most of it is spent in a snowglobe. Meanwhile, Australian actress Gabrielle Fitzpatrick  plays Dulcea, the Rangers’ mentor in the art of Ninjetti, which takes a page from the 1994 Super Sentai series Ninja Sentai Kakuranger.

Of course, aside from the Rangers and Zordon, along with automated sidekick Alpha 5, school bullies Bulk and Skull return to the big screen as well. They are more throwaway roles for the most part, but they do try to help the Rangers out during the very bad CGI-filled finale. The finale is perhaps the worst part of the entire film due to its lack of good CGI effects to represent the Rangers’ Zords not to mention Ooze’s combining of himself and robot monster.

While this is considered a campy look at the Power Rangers, the sequel, Turbo: A Power Rangers Movie fares just a tad better, but give them credit. After all, this is a kid’s movie we’re talking about here.

WFG RATING: C+

20th Century Fox presents a Saban Films production. Director: Bryan Spicer. Producer: Suzanne Todd. Writers: Arne Olsen and John Kamps. Cinematography: Paul Murphy. Editing: Wayne Wahrman.

Cast: Karan Ashley, Johnny Yong Bosch, Steve Cardenas, Jason David Frank, Amy Jo Johnson, David Yost, Paul Freeman, Paul Schrier, Jason Narvy, Gabrielle Fitzpatrick, Nicholas Bell, Peta-Marie Rixon, Mark Ginther, Julia Cortez

Back to the Beach (1987)

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Get ready for a major retro trip. America’s favorite beach couple of the 1960’s, Frankie Avalon and Annette Funicello return for this fun time of a ride as they embark on a return to their old hangout, where things have changed 80’s style. However, as the saying goes, some things never die…and why should they?

The 1960’s were a fun time where Frankie and Annette were the most popular teenagers in America. Frankie, known as the Big Kahuna, was an expert surfer while Annette was a beauty queen known for her singing and well manner. After a surfing accident, the Big Kahuna retired and married Annette. They live in Ohio where he runs a car dealership and she is a stay at home mom to punk teenager Bobby.

After an overdose of stress, the family decides to take a vacation. En route to Hawaii, they decide to go to L.A. to see daughter Sandy. For the first time in twenty years, Frankie and Annette are going “back to the beach” (hence the title). They learn Sandy is engaged to local surfer Michael and despite his initial reaction, Frankie bonds with Michael. Meanwhile, Bobby gets into a local surf gang led by the crazy Zed. Annette’s envy begins to grow when Frankie is seen hanging out with old friend Connie. Can everyone get together just in time and what will happen when Zed challenges the Big Kahuna to a surf contest for control of the beach?

As a fan of the classic 60’s beach films like Beach Fever and Beach Blanket Bingo to name a few, this reviewer just loved seeing Frankie Avalon surf the waves and of course, the endless rivalry between Annette Funicello and some other girl for his affections. Flash forward to this 1980’s revival of the classic beach movie. The same themes are there, and surprisingly, it still works well. Frankie and Annette still have that chemistry that made them one of the most popular cinematic duos of the 1960’s.

This film will truly attract fans of the classic films as well as perhaps bring in a new generation of fans. There are cameos galore in the film that pleasantly drive the film. Legendary guitar player Dick Dale, who appeared in a few of the original films, makes a welcome return complete with 80’s metal hair. He even gets in on joining the late Stevie Ray Vaughan on stage. Playing the bartender at the local club is none other than Bob Denver, who is credited as the Bartender, but seeing him, you know he’s playing his classic character of Gilligan. Don Adams, known for playing Maxwell Smart in the original Get Smart, plays the Harbormaster and even dishes his trademark line, “Missed it by that much”.

The story is pretty simplistic but it is still fun to see that some things don’t really have to change. The musical numbers are a delight from Annette’s Jamaica Ska with band Fishbone to Pee Wee Herman’s take on’ Surfin Bird. This all leads to the cast culminating in the finale musical number, which is quite a delight.

So what if the Big Kahuna has a “hair helmet”? So what if Annette is cheery practically all the time? Despite its campy flavor, Back to the Beach is an enjoyable retro trip from the 1960’s to the 1980’s in full beach movie fashion.

WFG RATING: B+

A Paramount Pictures production. Director: Lyndall Hobbs. Producer: Frank Mancuso, Jr. Writers: Peter Krikes, Steve Meerson, and Chris Thompson; story by James Komack, B.W.L. Norton, and Bruce Kirschbaum; based on the characters created by Lou Rusoff. Cinematography: Bruce Surtees. Editing: David Finfer.

Cast: Frankie Avalon, Annette Funicello, Lori Loughlin, Tommy Hinkley, Demian Slade, Connie Stevens, Joe Holland, John Calvin, David Bowe, Laura Urstein, Linda Carol, Don Adams, Bob Denver, Alan Hale Jr.

Midnight Madness (1980)

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Five teams are in for the night of their lives in this Disney film that would mark the debut of two familiar faces today.

Leon, a college student, has come up with an idea for an all-night scavenger hunt which he calls “The Great All-Nighter”. He has picked five of his classmates to play the team leaders of this game. They are debate club leader Wesley, sorority leader Donna, football team captain Levitas, lazy rich boy Harold, and student counselor Adam. At first, the five laugh off Leon’s idea for the game. However, Leon is convinced that they will end up playing the game and his premonition proves correct when a series of events cause the five to become the leaders.

Harold looks to get even with Adam because Harold’s father is tired of his lazy son being upstaged by him. Wesley and Donna find a common enemy in Levitas, whose football team has caused ire with both of them. Adam is unconvinced until his fellow counselor and crush Laura thinks it would be a good idea for Adam to play the game. As the game begins, Leon finds himself in hot water with his landlord, who despises him because of his being a student and vows to evict him if there is one more complaint. However, soon enough Leon’s determination leads his neighbors to join him and root for the teams as this is one night nobody will ever forget.

Who would have ever thought Disney would have released a film about an all-night scavenger hunt between college students? Well, take the notion that for some of their live action films, the use of college students would have adventures in the form of the Dexter Riley trilogy starring Kurt Russell in the seventies, it was time to update to the eighties, where Disney began making PG-rated films such as The Black Hole and the live action Popeye movie. Written and directed by the duo of David Wechter and Michael Nankin, the film is actually a fun adventure that will make you root for basically one team while the story does focus on all five teams.

The title not only refers to the madness the five teams endure as they play the game, but in a bold move, the film also shows the craziness and support from game master Leon. At first, it looks like Leon may have had his number up when his neighbors start to complain about the noise from his apartment. However, once they learn what he is doing, they are not only supportive, but it gets to a point where the neighbors all go to Leon’s apartment and get involved in the game, which incurs the wrath of the building landlord. It gets to a point where even the police find themselves involved with what Leon is involved with in a positive manner.

Before his breakout role as the titular American Werewolf in London, David Naughton plays the good-natured Adam, leader of the Yellow team. He serves as a mentor to teammate Flynch, a nerdy freshman played by Joel Kenney. However, Adam shows while he has good intentions, he does have a bit of a dark side when it comes to his relationship with little brother Scott, played by Michael J. Fox in his film debut. Meanwhile, Stephen Furst’s blue team leader Harold has every intention of getting the best of Adam and also incurring the wrath of his girlfriend when he hides food to break his diet. A special kudos goes to future director Andy Tennant, who is hilarious to watch as Harold’s best friend and comic relief Melio.

What’s better than one Eddie Deezen? What about four near-lookalikes of the nerdy-like actor, who make up the debate team, who sport white while future Simpsons voice actress Maggie Roswell’s red team leader Donna finds herself at times in trouble with her twin teammates but find support with martial arts fighting Beryl, played by Robyn Petty. As for the green team, who dub themselves “The Meat Machine”, Brad Wilkin does well as team leader, but the highlight comes in Dirk Blocker’s Blaylack, who is at his funniest when the teams go to the Pabst Blue Ribbon factory as part of the game.

Aside from Michael J. Fox, the other familiar face making his film debut is Paul Reubens, who gained fame in the 80’s as the childlike Pee Wee Herman. Reubens has a small role as the cowboy-sporting proprietor of a local video game arcade. The film would go on to become an influence on various cities as to this day, people actually have their own “all-night” scavenger hunts.

Midnight Madness is truly a fun adventure that not only shows the players in the game, but even the people who come in full support of their neighbor, the game master. A wonderful young cast drives the film and makes this one Disney film worth checking out.

WFG RATING: B+

A Walt Disney Pictures presentation. Directors: David Wechter and Michael Nankin. Producer: Ron Miller. Writers: David Wechter and Michael Nankin. Cinematography: Frank Phillips. Editing: Norman R. Palmer and Jack Sekely.

Cast: David Naughton, Debra Clinger, David Damas, Michael J. Fox, Joel Kenney, Stephen Furst, Andy Tennant, Patrice Alice Albright, Brian Frishman, Sal Lopez, Maggie Roswell, Robyn Petty, Betsy Lynn Thompson, Carol Gwynn Thompson, Eddie Deezen, Marvin Katzoff, Christopher Sands, Michael Gitomer, Brad Wilkin, Dirk Blocker, Curt Ayers, Trevor Henley, Keny Long, Alan Solomon, Irene Tedrow, Deborah Richter, Kirsten Baker, Paul Reubens.

Gintama (2017)

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The hit manga by Hideaki Sorachi has a live action adaptation and it caters to both fans of the source material as well as newcomers to the title, thanks in part to some over the top antics that work quite well.

Twenty years ago, Edo was invaded by aliens and the government, calling them Amanto, ended up in war with the aliens. However, when the war was over, the Sword Prohibition Act was passed, forbidden all samurai to unleash their swords. As a result, the aliens and humans are now living in peace. One known as the White Demon, former samurai Gintoki Sakata has resorted to being more a lazy bum who does odd jobs with Shinpachi, a one-time budding samurai and heir to a martial arts dojo; and Kagura, an alien girl who has both a strong will and appetite.

Gintoki’s now peaceful life is soon shattered with childhood friend Katsura is killed by a mysterious stranger Nizou Okada, who has possession of a mysterious sword known as the Benizakura. To make matters worse, he learns that Okada is working with Shinsuke Takasugi, who had fought alongside Gintoki and Katsura in the Joui War that led to the Sword Prohibition Act. Now deemed a traitor, Takasugi intends to make his intentions known by unleashing his sword and destroying Edo. With help from the siblings whose dad created the deadly blade, Gintoki, Shinpachi, and Kagura must stop Takasugi, Okada, and their allies to save Edo and make it peaceful again.

Having only recently begun watching the anime based on the hit Shonen Jump manga, this reviewer kind of knows what to expect. Yuichi Fukuda wrote and directed this live-action adaptation that may or may not make fans of the original source material, depending on their taste, but will surely be a delight for newcomers who are curious about Sorachi’s story of a lazy samurai and his friends in an alternate Edo where aliens and humans are apparently living in peace despite the normalcy of crime and everyday life.

The cast of the film are great to watch. Shun Oguri brings the character of Gintoki Sakata to life and does so with some hilarious antics. This especially is prevalent in a hilarious “opening credit” sequence where only his name appears and it appears he is singing from a karaoke song only to be interrupted by a cartoon version of Shinpachi and Kagura. While Oguri handles the action quite well, he proves with his role here that he has a flair for comedy and brings it full speed ahead in the role.

When it comes to live-action manga and anime, no one has recently done it like Masaki Suda. The former one-half of Kamen Rider W had been known for his role as Karma Akabane in the Assassination Classroom series but goes a full 180 with his role of the very timid yet determined Shinpachi. Suda has that comical flair necessary to make a role such as Shinpachi work. From his surprised expressions to getting knocked in the face in super slow motion by ally Kagura and with an emotional range, Suda is truly stands out in the film while his Assassination Classroom cohort Kanna Hashimoto, who played the automated Ritsu in the two films, here plays the alien Kagura and from what was seen so far in the anime, pretty well and faithful.

While the trio of Gintoki, Shinpachi, and Kagura make up the driving force of the film, the supporting cast is quite fun to watch. Notably the introduction of the bumbling police Chief Isao Kondo, played hilariously by Kankuro Nakamura, who appears in just his underwear covered in honey. Kondo has a major crush on Shinpachi’s sister and gets his comeuppances on a few occasions when she shows no interest in him. This includes hitting him with a baseball bat and it becomes a home run. The duo of Ryo Yoshizawa and Yuya Yagira play Okita and Hijikata, members of the Shinseigumi, a police force, who seem to dislike Gintoki but when they are faced with the common enemy, find themselves teaming up with him. And yet, these two are not exactly the smartest duo either. They are almost but not quote on Kondo’s level. Ken Yasuda also brings some comic relief with his overpowering performance (and that’s voice-wise) as Tetsuya Murata, whose father created the Benizakura blade with Akari Hayami complementing Tetsuya’s shouting as the more reserved Tetsuko Murata.

Hirofumi Arai brings the character of Nizo Okada as a deadly warrior who is fused with the very deadly blade that Gintoki must track down. Arai emulates a sort of Zatoichi-like performance with assistance from Jiro Sato’s self-proclaimed “feminist” Henpeita Takeuchi and Nanao’s gun-slinging Matako Kijima. However, the real villain is that of Takasuki Shinsuke, played by Tsuyoshi Domoto, which brings the sometimes clichéd “best friend turned enemy” portion of the action genre but Domoto gives such a harrowing performance that it stands out quite well here.

There are plenty of comic gags, from slow motion hits to the “kabuto beetle chase” scene and even references to other popular anime and manga that stand out in the film and for some reason, it works. The swordfighting action is quite fun to watch as well as Oguri’s opening scene where he resorts to using unarmed martial arts against two annoying cat-human hybrid aliens who purposely harass Shinpachi in a “prologue” sequence. For the most part, the CGI is quite good, that is until when we see Okada in true fusion form as this is where the CGI looks a bit sub-par. It does reach borderline ridiculous, but the fact that this is an action-comedy of this element, it can be somewhat forgiven.

With room left for a sequel, apparently due this coming summer, whether or not you’ve seen the anime or read the manga, if you want a good fun Japanese action-comedy, then Gintama is recommended. The cast is great, taking elements from two arcs, and some mostly good CGI and some good action in the mix of the comic elements.

WFG RATING: A-

Warner Bros. Japan presents a Plus D production. Director: Yuichi Fukuda. Producers: Shinzo Matsuhashi and Susumu Hida. Writer: Yuichi Fukuda; based on the Weekly Shonen Jump manga by Hideaki Sorachi. Cinematography: Tetsuya Kudo and Yasuyuki Suzuki. Editing: Jun Kuriyagawa.

Cast: Shun Oguri, Masaki Suda, Kanna Hashimoto, Masaki Okada, Yuya Yagira, Ryo Yoshizawa, Ken Yasuda, Akari Hayami, Masami Nagasawa, Hirofumi Arai, Jiro Sato, Nanao, Tsuyoshi Muro, Kankuro Nakamura, Tsuyoshi Domoto, Seika Furuhata, Seiji Rokkaku.

Mom and Dad (2017)

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Have you grown tired of getting disrespected by your kids and want to do something about it? The insane version of that answer lies in the solo directorial debut of Crank director Brian Taylor.

Carly Ryan is about to have the worst day of her life…literally. She learns that her parents are not letting her see her boyfriend Damon and instead stay home to see their grandparents. When Carly heads to school, things are about to get worse. Meanwhile, a series of attacks have been unleashed on children. When parents arrive at the school, the students wonder why the parents would all of a sudden show up. That is, until the parents begin to launch an attack on their own kids, killing or maiming them.

Carly soon finds herself running home and worried about her little brother Josh. Meanwhile, Carly’s father Brent and mother Kendall slowly begin to go through life’s stresses in a way that soon becomes unimaginable. When they return home, they too fall for the epidemic that has plagued children and begin to go after Carly and Josh. Having no other choice but to defend themselves, Carly and Josh must find a way to make sure they survive the night before their parents turn them into victims.

Brian Taylor, one half of the Neveldine/Taylor team behind Crank and its high-powered sequel, appropriately titled Crank 2: High Voltage, has crafted one of the craziest dark comedies with this Purge-like tale where for 24 hours, parents go postal and violent against their own kids. Perhaps the intention is to live out parents’ dark fantasies about what they would want to do about their kids when they show blatant disrespect and things go crazy from there. Even the opening titular sequence has a sense of the madness Taylor brings as it purveys a 70’s grindhouse effect.

The titular Mom and Dad couldn’t have been played better than by Selma Blair and Nicolas Cage. If you thought Cage has done some insane performances before, then Taylor lets Cage goes completely bats**t crazy in his role. Even in flashback sequences, Cage is truly as his craziest. There are times when you may question why Taylor would certain scenes include out of nowhere, but if you know Taylor’s repertoire, then that’s what expected. As for Blair, the usually level headed character actress gets a chance to break against type and is wonderful when she goes into savage mode.

Anne Winters holds herself well as a potential scream queen as Carly, Cage and Blair’s characters’ daughter who is seen as the typical teen female when it comes to having a sense of wanting to do as she pleases and gets all frustrated when she doesn’t get her way but then fears and fights for her life against her parents. In a way, some may feel the actions of the parents is a result of her blatant disrespectful ways but she does care about protecting her little brother, played by Zackary Arthur. Sure, little brothers can be annoying and he starts that way with Chloe, but ultimately he needs Chloe. Another shocking twist is the mindblowing cameo appearance from legendary actor Lance Henriksen, who right from the beginning of his scene, makes a heck of an impact.

Mom and Dad is basically a maddening family version of The Purge that truly is fun to watch as we get see Nicolas Cage at his craziest and Selma Blair against type in the insane titular roles and a potential scream queen in Anne Winters.

WFG RATING: A-

Momentum Pictures present an Armory Films production in association with Zeal Media. Director: Brian Taylor. Producers: Christopher Lemole and Tim Zajaros. Writer: Brian Taylor. Cinematography: Daniel Pearl. Editing: Rose Corr and Fernando Villena.

Cast: Nicolas Cage, Selma Blair, Anne Winters, Zackary Arthur, Robert D. Cunningham, Lance Henriksen, Samantha Lemole, Olivia Crocicchia, Rachel Melvin.

Momentum Pictures will release this film in select theaters, VOD, and Digital HD on January 19, 2018.

Dance Baby Dance (2018)

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A former dancer sets to live his dream and overcome the odds in this fun dancing film from filmmaker Stephen Kogon, who also stars in the lead role.

Jimmy Percer has had a dream to become a professional tap dancer. However, a knee injury took him out of the competition and despite all efforts, his knee never has fully healed. He eventually married fellow dancer Tess and got a regular job. However, he spends his free time at the studio where his wife works to continue his dream. He learns of an upcoming dance showcase and he is determined to be a part of a touring company, whose members will be chosen through the showcase.

However, despite his determination, Jimmy finds himself having some obstacles. Hector, the owner of the dance studio, won’t sponsor Jimmy because of his age and knee injury. Tess is worried Jimmy will seriously injure himself. However, that all changes when Tess’ sister Lanie and niece Kit arrive after Lanie and husband split up and Lanie falls on hard times. Kit learns about Jimmy’s talents and the two forge a bond. With the showcase coming up, will Jimmy be able to overcome the odds and get the chance to live his dream?

Shall We Dance? Dance of a Dream. These are examples of feel good films that revolve around the world of dancing and this film, from Stephen Kogon, is a terrifically made film about overcoming the odds and living your dream through hard work. The story of a man who in his prime nearly lost the chance to become a professional only to get a second chance years later barely has a tone of anger and sorrow but instead is a film that helps bring about feeling good about what one wants to do and even helping those close to you feel good in the process.

That is truly in the case of our protagonist Jimmy, played by director Kogon. Throughout the film, Jimmy’s determination constantly makes him happy. He is perhaps the ultimate likable fellow whose aspirations and determination keeps him smiling. Kogon even does all of his tap dance scenes and his chemistry with 7th Heaven star Beverly Mitchell as his wife is great but the fun piece involves his bonding scene with Hayley Shukiar as Tess’ niece Kit. The scene plays out in a tap dance battle that soon becomes perhaps a tribute to classic Hollywood tap dancing on screen.

While there are sparse comical moments from Kogon, the real comic relief comes in the form of Hector, the owner of the dance studio, played by the hilarious Carlos Alazraqui. The well-known voice actor plays it off pretty funnily as the constantly complaining owner, who doesn’t seem to have a liking for Jimmy and does everything in his power to convince him not to get in the showcase. However, Jimmy finds support not just within his family, but his boss and even two fellow dancers, Ravon and Dex.

Dance Baby Dance truly stands out as a feel good film about facing the odds and living the dream. A likable Stephen Kogon and the tap dancing sequences are fun to watch. If you want a film that just makes you feel good without expecting something mindblowing as well as enjoy some fun dancing scenes, then this is your film.

WFG RATING: B+

Indie Rights Movies presents a Wings of Hope production. Director: Stephen Kogon. Producers: Roy Bodner, Stephen Kogon, John Kaiser, and Travis Huff. Writer: Stephen Kogon. Cinematography: Shanele Alvarez. Editing: Jason Horton.

Cast: Beverly Mitchell, Stephen Kogon, Carlos Alazraqui, Lisa Brenner, Hayley Shukiar, Clare Grant, Isaiah Lucas, Jim Nowakowski, Jim O’Heir, Ellen Kim.

The film will make its debut at the Arena Cinelounge, Hollywood on January 19, 2018.