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

Goosebumps (2015): The Revenge of Slappy – Review

Jack Black is R L Stine in Goosebumps

With music by Danny Elfman, directed by Rob Letterman  (from a screenplay by Daniel Lemke based on a story by Scott Alexander and  Larry Kraszewski  influenced by  R L Stine’s books) ‘Goosebumps’ is great fun and a lovely homage to the man who has spellbound kids for years.  It is interesting to note that Tim Burton was originally slated to direct the film and one wonders how different his ode to Stine would have been. Darker most definitely and more black comedy along with a few legitimate scares.

It could have been nice.

This version, starring Jack BlackDylan MinnetteOdeya RushRyan LeeAmy Ryan and Jillian Bell is played strictly for laughs, self-referential gags and has been aimed at a younger audience. All these things together do not ruin the film’s amusement factor but the lack of any uneasiness or scares leaves out the impact of  even the television series. 

Released in the 1990s (The show ran from 1995 through 1998 and was a favorite of my daughter and me “back in the day.”) The series was based upon the stories of Stine and he was the creator.  There were episodes that were terrifying, funny, odd, and one was a grim black comedy that left the viewer uneasy for days after. (These were done so well that even adults – as I can attest – were instantly hooked.)

This 2015 film is more a funny, and loving, homage to the prolific author. Black is Stine a recluse who shuns his neighbors in Madison, Delaware and lives with his daughter Hannah (Rush) who is homeschooled. Zach (Minnette) and his mother Gale (Ryan) move in next door and Stine’s daughter is immediately attracted to the new guy in the neighborhood.

Stine warns Zach off and threatens dire things will happen if the boy does not leave them alone. Things escalate when Zach hears Hannah scream and calls the police. Stine convinces them everything is fine and later Zach talks Champ (Lee) into breaking into the house.

Once inside they inadvertently release a monster who creates havoc on the entire town. The kids decide they have to stop it. Unfortunately, even though they are successful another monster, Slappy the ventriloquist dummy,  is out and he wants revenge for being locked up.

The film follows Stine and the kids as they team up to defeat Slappy and his legion of monsters that he keeps releasing. (Black does the voice of the dummy.)

‘Goosebumps’ entertains and there are splendid moments. The scene with the garden gnomes in the kitchen is a brilliant nod to Black’s 2010 film ‘Gulliver’s Travels.’ Lee’s character can scream like a pre-teen girl and it is truly hysterical.   The ferris wheel stunt was a nod to the 1979 film ‘1941’, or not but that was where I first saw the gag.

Unfortunately there are things that clang.

The two police officers felt as though they had walked onto the wrong filmset.  A far too juvenile piece of comedy that felt flat and damned annoying. (Perhaps they were put in for the younger audience members?)

There were no scares at all, everything was set up for the laugh or the giggle. While Stine must have loved it, he did, after all, begin by writing jokes, it was a major disappointment that they did not put at least one uneasy moment in the film.

A final note of complaint is this (without giving anything away) Hannah was not a monster. (Watch the film and this will make sense. If you still do not get it email the site we will explain it to you.)

Overall, despite the small disappointment factors, ‘Goosebumps’ was a fun film to watch.  All that was missing was the popcorn and the fizzy. Slappy does come close to making the viewer uneasy but never quite makes it, he is villain and not a monster.

‘Goosebumps’ is a 4.5 out of 5 stars. This would have gotten a full five if it had just one good scare.  It is on Netflix at the moment and well worth the 103 minutes spent watching it.

Pain & Gain Mark Wahlberg and Dwayne Johnson Kidnapping Are Not Us


Despite the fact that this “based on a true story” movie did not do well at the box office, “Pain & Gain” show that Mark Wahlberg and Dwayne Johnson make a good team and the dark comedic film could have been called “Kidnapping Are Not Us.” Directed by Michael Bay, who obviously enjoyed working with Marky Mark so much that he brought him in to replace the disgraced Shia LaBeouf in “Transformers: Age of Extinction” this action and black comedy allows all the main players to impress.

Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson shows that he can still do comedy, after this is the man who proved his comedic timing and ability in “The Rundown,” aka “Welcome to the Jungle.” His sensitive weight lifting body builder, who bonds with the kidnap victim too well, played by “Monk” star Tony Shalhoub, is funny without become a cartoon character, although it was close.

The story of three weight lifting wannabes who kidnap a wealthy client and torture him to sign over all his assets was not overly funny, especially to the real life victim played by Shalhoub. In the film, Marc Schiller (Shalhoub) is run over with a car twice after the inept athletes attempt to blow the businessman up in the same vehicle and fail.

“Pain & Gain” features the more charismatic Mark Wahlberg and Dwayne Johnson as two of the three criminals in this “Kidnapping Are Not Us” tale of dumb luck and dumb weight lifters who were destined to be caught from day one. One person who does not find the film or its version of events amusing is Marc Schiller. Presumably there were quite a number who did not find the film overly funny, but at least the estimated $26 million film made enough money world wide to classify as a success by Hollywood standards.

Ed Harris has a cameo as the cop turned private eye who helps Kershaw, Schiller in the film, track down his kidnappers who also attempted to kill him. Another cameo feature Peter Stormare as Dr, Bjornson and not one of the villains in a deviation from type for the actor.

This film has Michael Bay’s stamp all over it and it is this reason more than any other that the film is so entertaining. Combined with Dwayne Johnson’s humorous and simple villain and Mark Wahlberg’s egotistical and driven ring leader, “Pain & Gain” is not overly clever but it does tell the story, after a fashion, of the trio kidnapping a wealthy man and then trying to kill him after draining his money dry. These men are not “nice guys” as pointed out by Schiller who, unlike us the viewing audience, has first hand knowledge of what they are really like.

By Michael Smith



Santa Con: Lifetime and Melissa Joan Hart a Winning Combo

Santa Con: Lifetime and Melissa Joan Hart a Winning Combo

Directed by Melissa Joan Hart, who also co-stars, and written by David Breckman (Saturday Night Live, Monk) and starring Barry Watson (Boogeyman, Hart of Dixie), Melissa Sagemiller (Soul Survivors, Get Over It) and Scott Grimes (American Dad!, Robin Hood) the Lifetime film Santa Con features the winning combo of con man with a heart and a newly single mom whose son asks Father Christmas to get his parents back together for the holidays. Not the most original plot to be sure, but all the actors come together to put on a show which will leave the viewer a little teary eyed by the end.

‘Two Days, One Night’ Marion Cotillard in Belgian Drama (Review/Trailer)

‘Two Days, One Night’ Marion Cotillard in Belgian Drama (Review/Trailer)

Written and directed by the Dardenne brothers, Jean-Pierre and Luc, Two Days, One Night is a Belgian drama that stars Marion Cotillard (Inception, The Dark Knight Rises) as a worker in a solar panel factory in a French speaking town in Belgium. In the film, Cotillard’s character Sandra, is a young mother and wife who has missed a lot of work due to illness. While she is off recuperating the company she works for realises that they can meet their production quotas with one less worker.

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