Characterz (2016): Old Time Fuzzy Fun (Review)

The fuzzy characterz

Directed and co-written by Jon Binkowski  (Lisa Enos Smith was the other scribe on the project) Characterz is set in Florida theme park Old Time Fun Town and is an Indiegogo funded family comedy.  Set in the world of “fuzzy” park characters and summertime jobs, the film has a cast full of familiar faces and voices. 

Mitchel Musso (Monster House, Hannah Montana) stars as Tucker Ostrowski; recent junior college graduate and wannabe Disney theme park designer. Musso also narrates the film. Walt Willey (Tainted Dreams, All My Childrenis Benjamin Fletcher the theme park director. Newcomers Miles D and Ana Eligio play Tucker’s new friend’s and colleagues Jerry and Samantha. 

Veteran character actor Isaac C. Singleton Jr. plays Franklin Jefferson Washington (the new fuzzy whale and fellow character actor, the legendary, Felix Silla  has a cameo as the park’s designer.  Police Academy alumnus Michael Winslow plays a cop, of course,  and The Moody Blues drummer and songwriter Graeme Edge has cameo in the comedy. 

Another veteran performer makes an appearance; Leave It to Beaver regular Ken Osmond has a role as one of Samantha’s “children” Daniel.

Filmed at the Old Time Fun Town theme park this is funny family fare.  The movie follows Tucker’s adventures as he learns how to be a “fuzzy” and  his attempts to woo Samantha (Eligio).  The first thing he learns it that the fuzzy characters are the very bottom of the food chain. Along the way he meets the residents at Sam’s “home” and he becomes inspired.

Both director Binkowski and producer Smith are self confessed “Theme Park Brats” who grew up in the industry and Binkowski’s first job was as a walrus fuzzy. There is a lot of love in this film for the amusement industry and it shows in the characters, the dialogue and he storyline.

Characterz is not hysterically funny but it is quirky and fun.  The characters have been drawn so well that the audience fall in love with them all, even the villain.  While watching the film  do not be surprised to find yourself grinning throughout.

The plot has a satisfying twist to it and can be seen as a homage not just to the “fuzzy” characters but a nod to all those small theme parks that have disappeared from the landscape. (Parks like Dogpatch USA,  for example,  that briefly find a niche and then quietly close.)

Eligio is perfect as the “girl next door” that Tucker falls for and Miles D was brilliant as the ever optimistic Jerry.  (On a sidenote: It was brilliant to see Michael Winslow again. The fact that he can still imitate all those sounds is beyond impressive.)

For anyone who has ever donned the skin, the memories will come flooding back. Characterz shows all the sweat and discomfort that the performers endure to please the crowds and the kids.

At 102 minutes the film is long, but never feels that way. It is a little slow paced but not too much.  The characters and storyline  are interesting enough to keep the viewer watching.

Characterz is a solid 4 star film for the family.  It is cute, quirky fun and well worth watching when it comes out on 12 July via VoD. Smaller kids may find some of the jokes confusing but should find the fuzzy animals entertaining.  Check it out, this movie will make you smile.

Film poster for Characterz

Jessica Darling’s IT List (2016): Junior High Challenge (Review) [Update]

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[Update] It was helpfully pointed out that this review seemed to be missing a paragraph or two in regards to the cast. The omission was one of poor editing and has now been rectified. Mike’s Film Talk apologizes for any upset this may have caused. The problem has now been rectified. Thank you.

Based on Megan McCafferty‘s book, part of a series, Jessica Darling’s IT List  follows the journey of our heroine as she begins junior high school, aka middle school, and all the missteps along the way.  Jessica is a young lady who does not get overly excited about dating, finding the right friends or wearing fashionable clothes. Her new school is a huge challenge.

The new seventh grader is more concerned about being Jessica. Her older sister Bethany (Blair Fowler) comes home from college to give her little sister some tips about what not to do in junior high.  Jessica (Chloe East) tries the IT list and things do not go smoothly.

Along the way she makes new friends and finds middle school a challenge. All the rules have changed and she has problems.  Anyone who has changed schools as they have moved up  the academic ladder will recognize  the issues that Jessica faces.

From being put in the wrong class (woodwork) to the challenges of finding new friends while trying to hold on to old ones, the move to a new school can be  minefield.

Directed by Ali Sher (her first feature length film) from a screenplay written by Julie Sherman Wolfe this tween comedy  hits all the right notes. With a superb supporting cast the film moves smoothly from one disaster to another. 

Abraham Benrubi plays Mr. Pudel the bigger than life woodwork teacher and Myrna Velasco is Miss Garcia the teacher who manages the cheerleaders in the school. Both these actors bring much to their roles and Velasco is funny as the overly enthusiastic faculty member. 

Chloe East does an excellent job as the “fish out of water” girl who tries to take her sister’s advice. Jacob Melton is spot on as Aleck/Marcus and all the young cast do a fine job telling the story. 

Emma Rayne Lyle does a bang up job as Bridget, Jessica’s “Bestie,” who also finds the move to middle school difficult.  From being upstaged by the school mascot “stupid chicken,” to having her new boyfriend move in on her best friend, Bridget has her own issues. 

The interaction between East and Lyle works very well. The two have a splendid chemistry together. East also is a perfect fit with Melton  and these young actors all  sold that awkward feeling between existing and potential when something is amiss.

There are moments at the start of the film where it feels like all these tweens are focussing on the wrong things. However the message at the end of the movie is a reassuring one.

The feel of Jessica Darling’s IT List is reminiscent of old time live action Disney.  For those who grew up on The Wonderful World of Disney and those Annette Funicello serials on Sunday evenings, or even their older films like the original The Parent Trap, will notice a similarity.

(It also has a touch of Nickelodeon mixed in there.)

Although in this film the Jessica sorts her problems out with a minimum of help from the adults.  They are there to help when needed,  for instance Mrs. Darling (Jane Sibbett) comes to Jessica’s aid when there is a wardrobe problem and the school nurse helps out as well. 

This is a comedy though so any problems are quite light hearted and not life threatening.  In terms of violence, bad language and sexual situations; there are none. Jessica Darling’s IT List is a family film and it is one that the entire clan can sit down and watch together. Even grandma can see this one and not be offended.

Younger kids will like the movie as it shows the mysteries of junior high school (middle school) and the adults will get the relevance of how the microcosm of school never really changes.

This is a 4 star film where  the storyline is funny and not too mature for the age group of the characters.  Jessica Darling’s IT List premiered on 20 June and is available on  VoD. Check this one out, it is an enjoyable romp through the seventh grade that will bring back memories for some.  For others  it is just a good giggle at the journey of our heroine.

Keep an eye out for the Mighty Eagle…

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Terrordactyl (2016): Tremors in the Air (Review)

Poster Image courtesy MarVista

Two handy men who want better things out of life get caught up in a world changing invasion of space born pterodactyl’s that are hatching at an alarming rate. This MarVista movie could be called “Tremors” in the air except that the threat is to a much larger area; Los Angeles, and the creatures are not unknown.

Written and co-directed by Don Bitters III (Geoff Reisner was the other director on the feature) “Terrordactyl” is a bit of horror and science fiction hokum dressed up as an action comedy. It is not incredibly violent, there are not buckets of gore and the language may just be the roughest thing in the film.

Starring Christopher John Jennings as Lars, the “smarter” of the two gardening men, Jason Tobias, who plays the Kevin Bacon role in the film, Candice Nunes is Candice, the love interest and kick-arse female lead and character actor Jack E. Curenton channels his inner Rip Torn (think “Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story” here) to good comic effect.

A meteor shower hits LA and Candice, the bartender that Jonas has a crush on, tells him of how valuable these rocks from space are. He talks Lars into finding one and they do, somewhere in the Hollywood Hills. After taking the thing to Candice to look at, they realize a pterodactyl is following them everywhere. Soon the group learn that there are a lot more than one.

The action is not over the top and sometimes the comedy feels a little flat. However, the infection enthusiasm of Tobias as Jonas is compelling and the chemistry between the actors is spot on. Not a film to be taken seriously, this is a nod and wink to all those “it came from outer space” horror and science fiction films.

While the filmmakers could be seen as taking a leaf from The Asylum production team, the FX are more acceptable and work well in the context. Apart from the swearing, this is a film that could be enjoyed by the entire family.

The flying and attacking pterodactyls look an excellent cross between practical and CG effects and help deliver on the comedy front quite well. All the actors really sell their reactions to the menacing creatures and this alone helps make the movie that little bit more believable.

The storyline works and the locations, the film was shot around LA, also feed into the plot line very well. This could have been a SyFy film with its low budget and quirky menace but it plays a little bit better than the average creature feature on the channel.

Available on Demand and via HD streaming this is an amusing little gem that will make you chuckle. A solid 3 out of 5 stars for entertainment value alone and the enthusiasm of Nunes and Tobias. At a running time of just over an hour and a half, the pacing is good and there are no lags in the storyline.

“Terrordactyl” will be available to view on June 14. Give this one a go and see what you think.

Accidentally Engaged (2016): Old Fashioned Romantic Fun (Review)

 

Accidentally Engaged

Directed by Letia Clouston from a screenplay by Jake Helgren (based on a story by Elizabeth Snoderly) “Accidentally Engaged” stars Brant Daugherty (Pretty Little Liars, Relationship Status), Lexi Giovagnoli and guest stars Maureen McCormick (better known to fans as Marsha from The Brady Bunch) in an old fashioned sort of romantic film where the fun quotient outweighs the drama. 

Clarissa Byers (Giovagnoli) is a struggling actress in Hollywood who has finally gotten a big scene, eight whole lines, in a film with former child star Chas Hunter (Daugherty). A prop causes an accident with hot coffee and the set is shut down for two hours and Clarissa is fired. Her agent, Jeanette (McCormick) commiserates and gives her favorite client a pep talk.

The actress is scheduled to be at her best friends wedding, as Co-Maid of Honor and is excited to go. At the coffee shop where she works, Chas shows up and spotting Clarissa leaves without ordering anything. Byers’ boss points out a picture on the internet of Hunter with a girl who looks like Clarissa.

Clarissa (Rissa to her friends) approaches Chas and the two talk briefly about the scene where she got fired and his being a childhood star. She returns home for the wedding preparation and when asked by her chums does deny that she and Hunter were together. The end result has  Veronica and Kelly plastering  the information that the star and Rissa are an item  all over the Internet.

Rissa returns to LA and Chas asks her a favor, could she pretend to be in a relationship with him to keep the identity of the girl in the photograph secret? She agrees and the fun begins.

There are some truly funny bits in this romantic  “Chick Flick;” the accidental proposal itself is amusing and Hunter’s real girlfriend Suzie (Meredith May) is quite funny as the shallow and money obsessed publicist that Chas has a relationship with. 

Daugherty (who played Noel Kahn on PLL from 2010 to 2014) is engaging, charming and has a Corey Haim  grin that is endearing.Giovagnoli has that cornfed girl next door look and a relaxed approach to her role as Rissa that works well with Daugherty’s equally laid back performance. The two mesh well and provide that old fashioned sort of romantic spark that is genuinely fun to watch.

There is a little drama, it is after all, a romance and these scenes are not overdone. A comedy of errors, or error,  that results in a film that says a little about Hollywood, actors, small towns and coming home, “Accidentally  Engaged” is a feel good film aimed at a general audience. There is no swearing, nudity or violence so  the entire family can watch this one.

It was brilliant to see Maureen McCormick as Clarissa’s agent.  The actress looks great and was excellent as the agent with a heart.

Rather interestingly, the director, and two writers have both worked with Giovagnoli on several other projects while romantic lead Daugherty is definitely the new kid on the block.  Regardless of familiarity the story is a cute one that moves well and despite a somewhat predictable ending is entertaining and amusing.

“Accidentally Engaged” is a 3.5 star film. Nothing to get wildly excited about but it does offer up a decent storyline with likable characters and we enjoy seeing their journey.

Most Likely to Die (2015): Slasher Nostalgia on Friday the 13th (Review)

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Written by Laura Brennan and directed by Anthony DiBlasi (Last Shift, Dread) ‘Most Likely to Die’  could be seen as a “#FlashbackFriday” slasher film. A nostalgic look at a genre that has sliced and diced countless teens and 20 somethings since the 1980s. The film will be released on Friday the 13th in a limited theatrical release and on demand. 

The cast includes: former ‘Glee’ regular Heather Morris as Gaby, the world class professional poker player, celebrity blogger/columnist Perez Hilton as filmmaker wannabe Freddie (who spoke with Mike’s Film Talk about being in the film) Jake Busey as Tarkin, the caretaker (in a blink and you will definitely miss him cameo).

‘Most Likely to Die’ also has  Chad Addison, Tess Christiansen, Tatum Miranda,  Ryan Doom,  Johnny Ramey, Marci Miller,  and Jason Tobias as the rest of the former classmates who face the wrath of a former student bent on deadly revenge.

The plot deals with a group of friends who get together for a “pre-party” just prior to their 10 year reunion. As they start bonding, while wondering where two of the group are, they remember a classmate they bullied who is not there.

All are in danger as a madman, or woman, hunts each reunion guest down and kills them in the manner of their senior yearbook predictions, “most likely to…” and Gaby teams up with her  friends to fight the killer.

‘Most Likely to Die’ is a fond look back at the slasher format. It is reminiscent of ‘I Know What You Did Last Summer,’ ‘Friday the 13th’ and so on.  There are a number of deaths which are impressive in their execution and at least one is pretty unique (it involves a head-butt with a hat).

Busey’s presence is possibly a nod to his status on the El Rey! network horror series From Dusk Till Dawn: The Series, and most likely the reason his character is on screen such a short time,  it would have been brilliant to have a bit more Busey though.

Morris proves that she does not need Ryan Murphy or ‘Glee’ to perform. The actress has got chops to spare and shines in this interesting little walk  down memory lane.  All of the cast do well and the big surprise is Perez as Freddie.

As Hilton pointed out in his interview, he started out with plans to work as an actor and now is getting back to it.  Watching him in this film it is apparent that the man has the ability and believability to continue.

Not only does the man have some impressive chops in the film, but, he manages to do a great “Tom and Jerry” type scream of horror not once, but twice.  Ripping out these screams is not easy and Mr. Hilton does so almost effortlessly.

There is not an overabundance of gore in the film, although the FX are impressive and pretty realistic in most cases. (There is one boo-boo with a broken hockey stick though…) Timothy A. Burton does a cracking job on the cinematography and DiBlasi also does a brilliant job eating the film.

By the end of the film, the killer has worked busily through the group and there is room for a sequel, or two, if the film does well.  ‘Most Likely to Die’ has a message, “Do not bully children because one day a bad man/woman will come back for revenge.”

There is a rumor that the filmmakers wanted a YouTube personality in the film, something quite popular at the moment (See Bad Night for an example of the type film that features YouTube stars in leading roles.)

The film premieres via a limited theatrical release and on VoD on May, Friday the 13th.  Until then have a look at the trailer and see what you think, whether it is worth a look at the cinema or watch on VoD. either way, give it a look. Perez and Morris kill it. A 3.5 star film out of 5, just for those Tom and Jerry screams alone.