nature

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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Salt and Fire (2017)

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2017, XLrator Media/Skellig Rock/Construction Film/Benaroya Pictures/Arte France Cinema/Canana Films

Director:
Werner Herzog
Producers:
Nina Maag
Michael Benaroya
Pablo Cruz
Werner Herzog
Writers:
Tom Bissell (short story “Aral”)
Werner Herzog (screenplay)
Cinematography:
Peter Zeitlinger
Editing:
Joe Bini

Cast:
Veronica Ferres (Laura Sommerfeld)
Michael Shannon (Matt Riley)
Gael Garcia Bernal (Dr. Fabio Cavani)
Volker Michalowski (Dr. Arnold Meier)
Lawrence Krauss (Aristidis/Krauss)
Anita Briem (Flight Attendant)
Danner Igancio Marquez Arancibla (Huancar)
Gabriel Marquez Arancibla (Atahualpa)

What starts out as a kidnapping thriller turns into a battle of wits involving ecology in this latest film from one of the great auteurs of cinema, Werner Herzog.

The United Nations send a delegation of scientists to Bolivia to investigate a potential threat to the ecology of the country after some strange formations have been found. The delegation consists of Laura, Dr. Cavani, and Dr. Meier. At the airport, they meet the wheelchair bound Aristidis, who takes them to the location via a small plane. However, when the group arrives at the location, the trio suddenly finds themselves kidnapped. To make matters worse, Aristidis is one of the kidnappers.

Taken to a location, Laura finds herself separated from both Dr. Cavani and Dr. Meier. She soon discovers the leader of the kidnappers is businessman Matt Riley, who has his own agenda with the recent discovery of the ecological threat. Laura and Matt slowly begin a game of wits until Matt sends Laura to the salt mines with Huancar and Atahualpa, two blind boys. Things come to a head when it is revealed the threat could lead to a deadly volcano eruption. Will Laura be able to go on her own to investigate the surroundings or will it be too late?

If you haven’t seen any of Werner Herzog’s films, then you will be quite interested in them. He is an auteur who takes an idea and somehow brings his vision to life while at times twisting the stories to make them more intriguing and watchable rather than just laying it straight on the line. For his latest film, he takes a Tom Bissell short story and still manages to make it his own film, having adapted the script himself and make it a true Herzog film with ecology as the basis.

What makes this film interesting aside from it being somewhat about the ecology is that it starts out as a kidnapping movie but soon veers off into a battle of wits between Veronica Ferres’ Laura and Michael Shannon’s Matt, two people with very different views on the investigation revolving around some formations near the salt mines of Bolivia. While Laura finds it a potential threat, Matt sees it as something that could be of perhaps some good use. These two are the core foundation of the film while Gael Garcia Bernal, despite having top billing in the marketing, is relegated to an extended cameo, also serving as one of the film’s executive producers alongside Rogue One’s Diego Luna.

Where the film really brings its message out is in the third act, where Laura is forced into the salt mines with two blind boys, played by newcomer brothers Danner Igancio Marquez Arancibla and Gabriel Marquez Arancibla. With its beautiful location as the backdrop for this act, as Laura awaits to see what will happen, she forms a bond with the two boys and a major twist is soon revealed and is in fact a bit shocking and a bit unpredictable, but ultimately brings a message to the film.

Salt and Fire, Werner Herzog’s latest, is an interesting film that melds kidnapping, battle of wits, and ecology with some good performances by both Veronica Ferres and Michael Shannon. If you are a fan of Herzog, check this one out. If you are interested in seeing his films, this may be in fact a starter film.

WFG RATING: B

XLrator Media will release this film on VOD and iTunes on April 4th and in theaters on April 7th.