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Santa Hunters (2014)
Doesn't Know What It Wants To Be
Santa Hunters is the story of a boy who gets given a pipe that allegedly belonged to Santa and can't convince people the fat jolly man with the white beard is real. So he and his cousins and nieces go off to try and prove it.
The film starts off looking like it wants to be The Blair Witch Project with plenty of speeches to camera, then later suddenly decides it wants to be Spy Kids (with all the technological gadgets) meets Home Alone (when they glue the windows shut and set up various traps) meets Paranormal Activity (locked off cameras everywhere including for some reason in the fish tank). Every little knock, every little vibration sets off the lead kid to investigate them. They do get their hands on some "proof" but can they use it? As you'd probably expect for the film's target audience there are poo and fart jokes (including an extended scene in the bathroom that combines these two) and some OTT acting which seems to be compulsory for these sorts of films.
If the kids still believe in Santa, they'll be happy. If they don't, well they might get a kick out of Santa falling out the tree-house. Beyond that it's an obvious cheap and cheerful Christmas flick that won't be a classic by any stretch of the imagination but the film isn't particularly bad but not particularly good either.
Decent Little Family Adventure
Having had been a Cub Scout leader for four and a half years, I was "introduced" to the world of kids/family films, which for chilling out purposes at the end of stressful days can be a Godsend. Something to watch that I can follow fairly easily over my evening meal. On occasion films in this genre will do the head in of anybody over the age of 12, but Wild 2 isn't one of them.
I will admit I've only seen the trailer for the first Against the Wild film, but looking at that this second film appears to be broadly similar except set in Africa. I'm not sure really if it can be classed as a sequel because the first film's trailer gives me the impression that Against the Wild 2 appears to be a remake of the first film.
Anyway, Wild 2 is the story of two kids (John Paul Ruttan and Ella Ballentine) who have gone out and crash-landed in a plane somewhere in Africa and end up having to survive, as the title says, Against the Wild.
It may not be an original idea but the film is fairly likable, has lots of lovely scenic shots of South Africa and some natural looking scenes of the kids with the elephants. A quick Google will tell you whether the animals are real or not. The ending is pretty much as you'd expect really - the kids either get trampled by an elephant, starve to death or get found by their parents. I made two of these outcomes up. :)
While the two children are likable, the dog (which I understand is the same dog/character from the first film) seems pointless as he/she runs off, leaving the kids to fend for themselves for a large chunk of the movie. Also I suspect the kids (as their characters) are more clued up than they let on with regards to surviving in the wild - but all too often in real life a lot of kids are more knowledgeable about stuff than they let on - certainly the case with the Cubs I worked with a year or two ago, and I'm sure they'd have loved this.
A recommended film. I liked it. Not the greatest film in the world but a great example of a smaller independent film made on a limited budget.
Quite Enjoyable Ghostly Adventure
Must admit, I quite enjoyed Ghosthunters: On Icy Trails. Probably more than I was expecting to but there you go.
This is basically the story of a boy who meets a ghost and ends up part of some secret arm/offshoot of the government that basically plays at being Ghostbusters, with the underlying aim to banish the ghost from this world. Or dimension or whatever. The problem is the boy has befriended the ghost and pulls out all the stops to stop his new friend being banished.
Milo Parker plays Tom, the boy who meets and befriends the ghost. He's a brilliant young actor (and I'm not just saying that because he's British like me) and is one to look out for in the future. Here Parker provides a solid performance along his co-stars and the computer generated ghost.
This film, looking at other external links and reviews, doesn't seem to be liked. Seriously, it isn't that bad in my view - if I'm in the minority for this film then so be it. To reuse a phrase from another reviewer on another film I also reviewed: Leave your expectations at the door when watching, don't think too hard about what you're watching (this is often a key requirement if you're watching family/kids movies outside of their target audience) and you'll be fine.
Lost & Found (2016)
Lost And Not Quite Found
Lost & Found is the story of two brothers packed off to an island in the middle of nowhere for the summer, and en-route end up in embroiled in the middle of a treasure hunt for their grandfather's long-lost treasure after he suddenly disappeared one day. In the middle of this another character is attempting to buy the island out, and the two brothers befriend his daughter and go hunting for said treasure before he does.
I've written on IMDb before that I tend to gravitate towards the films that premier at Film Festivals, as opposed to at the cinema, and these sorts of films on the whole tend to be solid productions, built on low budgets with semi-decent scripts to match and a lot of the time can stand on their own with those pushed out by the big boys.
Lost & Found isn't the best film ever made on any level. The plot is too thinly stretched for a start and it feels like a standalone TV episode of something or other. Visual wise, the nature of the story requires it to be dark and moody, which it manages easily. Being a film festival movie, it cannot and would never attract big names.
Benjamin Stockham's character unfortunately falls into the "annoying little brother" and "smart arse kid" traps. That and his insistence of wearing water wings for the entire film even in the middle of the forest was irritating and it could have been interesting if the underground chamber flooded while he was wearing the wings...
Don't get me wrong, I liked Stockham in the movie as an actor but I had also seen him previously doing the "annoying little wannabe brother" thing in About A Boy as well, though in AAB it's a character trait, in L&F it's a "I wanna hang out with big bro come what may" thing which may grate.
I didn't hate the film, I would definitely watch again. Maybe a smidgen more dialogue work but only minor other work. Worth a watch.
Man of the House (1995)
Semi-Decent Disney Effort
Man of the House is marketed as a comedy film produced during the recess summer period when Home Improvement was between seasons. Jonathan Taylor-Thomas was a principle member of Home Improvement and this is one of the films he made when he wasn't with Tim Allen. As well as Thomas, the film also features Chevy Chase, Gegroe Wendt and the late Farrah Fawcett.
The film is basically boy loses father and (later) meets stepfather, boy hates stepfather, boy tries to drive stepfather away, boy bonds with stepfather and stepfather marries boy's mother with blessing of boy. Okay so it's been done many times before in many different ways in different flavours of sheeps clothing, in this particular case the bonding is done over the Indian Guides.
Throw in some ill-conceived plot involving "bad guys" who want to kill the step-dad, a near obligatory dance-off and the presence of a mute who acts as a throwback to the old days of variety, and there's a semi-decent set of characters and story here.
Thomas behaves throughout the film in practically the same way as he did as Randy Taylor in Home Improvement, the smart-arse know-it-all kid. As a result the film can easily be looked at as either a Home Improvement location transplant or a Randy Taylor spin-off.
Normally these sort of films tend to suffer from any of the following: poor or stereotypical characterisations, irritating kids, a half-baked script in need of a rewrite or any or all of the above. None of the above apply here, except maybe for the kid with the mute and wacky dad, so it's probably excusable in that case :)
The soundtrack is fantastic for this film, as opposed to using regular random pieces of library music, this features Richard Berry, CC Music Factory and the simply fantastic Enigma's Return to Innocence which I absolutely love, cherish and adore.
Not a perfect film by any stretch of the imagination, but as another reviewer says, leave your expectations at the door and you won't be disappointed.
Christmas in Wonderland (2007)
Passable Christmas Fodder
Having dug into the history of Christmas in Wonderful to find out who made it and where, it turns out to be an ABC Original Movie, a lot of which tend to be hit and miss at the best of times which is sadly a trend of TV movies in general.
Christmas in Wonderland is, as another reviewer stated, essentially Home Alone at the Mall. There is some potential here, but the presence of the late Patrick Swayze and the omni-present Tim Curry doesn't make up for a script full of clumsy dialogue, predictable setups/outcomes and stereotypically "thick" bad guys. There is a scene where a door is opened to reveal some really tacky CGI creation - it may shatter your suspension of disbelief.
Acting wise, pretty much up to TV movie standards really, even from the likes of Swayze and Curry. Cameron Bright also makes an appearance in Christmas in Wonderland but takes stereotypical moody 16 year old teenagers to an extreme. Matthew Knight, as the younger boy, does a wonderful job and is clearly steering this vehicle to the point where he was nominated for Best Performance in a DVD film - a nomination which says it all about the rest of the film.
Watchable, but needed more script work and is an example of something that could have benefited from a bigger budget.
Seen It All Before
Shelby follows the traditional model for these sort of films:
Boy can't have dog because, in this case, mum doesn't like them. Boy meets dog, or Dog meets boy in this instance. Boy gets emotionally attached to dog. Boy loses dog. Boy decides to get dog back, eventually leading to boy keeping dog.
Okay so the idea has been used many times over, best known example of this sort of film is the 2005 film Lassie and in the same vein as Shelby, is the 1991 film Bingo.
Shelby is the dog who flees from the dog pound and ends up in the basement of a family and is drawn to the attention of a boy called Jake who is (stereotypically in these sort of films) isolated and friendless. The dog pound owner wants him back to receive $1000 from some posh lady and her obnoxious offspring for him, so the (admittedly half-hearted) chase is on. Eventually, as the model dictates, posh lady talks herself out of the dog and Shelby ends up living with Jake and family.
Unfortunately the presence of Chevy Chase, Tom Arnold and the voice of Rob Schneider can't rescue this film. The script depends on fart jokes, the "witty" banter/thoughts of the dog is hit and miss, and the less said about the grandpa when he decides to blog, the better.
Lead boy here is John Paul Ruttan, who won an award for his role in the remade Robocop film and appears to be building up a nice portfolio of work. Unfortunately an actor is only as good as his script, which isn't particularly polished and often comes across as having been made up as you go along.
A watchable film which doesn't bring any new ideas to the table and may have benefited from some extra script work. Ah well, better luck next time.
Rocket's Island (2012)
Every once in a while the children's arm of the BBC comes up with a show that really should stretch across from being on its children's channels and up it to a family drama.
Rocket's Island is the story of a family who work and live in a fairly rural area that's officially described as an island. Over the course of the series they take in various foster kids, each with their own quirks, tendencies and issues. It is suggested in the story-line that they've fostered more kids than you reading this have had hot dinners, for each foster kid gets a memento to their name in the family's Wish Cave.
Screen wise, the idea of fostering is pretty much without doubt a plot device used to hire and fire the foster characters based on the quirks, tendencies and issues they've been given by the writers, and how they deal with them. Sometimes the kids are replaced, or just get shipped off in the back of the social worker's car.
So we have a normal character staple set - a set of parents who conveniently, only pay attention to anything their kids and foster kids get up to when the activity comes back to bite them on the arse, and the main character Rocket, a young boy who can't be any older than about 12 who pretty much believes anything mystical. There's also Rocket's best friend, who he falls out with in pretty much every episode before making up with him later and also the weird granddad who claims to be 997 years old and has all these kids eating out of the palm of his hand with his stories.
For a show that is driven the way it is, the child characters are not annoying, not one of them, and even when they are it's down to a character trait or immaturity on their part. Most of the acting is pretty good, but even then there's plenty to look at past that, lots of shots of open green areas, rocks in the sea, the under cave areas, the exteriors you can see through windows - this is all a visual treat.
The writing of the show is methodical and only slightly formulaic; there are themes and thoughts that run through each series but the various methodical beliefs tend to be self contained. One episode focused on mermaids; they were never seen or mentioned again for the rest of the show. That aside, it's straight down to earth writing, stays on track and where it does drift is purely for story reasons. You believe in the characters; their back-stories, their wants, their notions; their decisions. All from the writing. I believe a key writer on this production used to write for Brookside in its dying years; you'd never have guessed.
This is a very good drama that's now entered (and subsequently finished) its third series. Very well recommended. Ignore the fact its aimed at children; it's quite watchable by anybody.
Passable Family Fodder
Straight to video films like this are more often than not lacklustre in terms of their plot, cast, writing and general likability.
Dennis The Menace Strikes Again isn't particularly bad, but has a more pleasant plot than the first film did, as the first Dennis film from 1993 was far more gritty than anything you'll find here. The cast, because of its direct to film status and subsequent budget, is limited in terms of big names.
With regards to the writing, there are some good ideas here that wouldn't have looked too far out of place in the first film but all of Dennis's friends (and Margaret) fall into the all too familiar "annoying kid" trap, with the exception of Alexa Vegas, who would later go on to Spy Kids, and Dennis himself.
Justin Cooper plays Dennis and brings a spirited and energetic performance as Dennis to our screens, and after seeing him in Liar Liar I think he would have been good in the first film. Don Rickles plays Mr Wilson and the presence of George Kennedy is pretty much the biggest name in the film.
As to the likability - some interesting camera-work in places, but the film is fairly likable on its own regardless of whether you've seen the 1993 film or not. Kids will love some of the slapstick comedy but at the end of the day its a bit of pleasant easy watching fun.
This film with the overlong title came presented to me on Sky Demand. I have yet to find out why.
The film's basic premise is: Kid has bad days, wishes for everybody else in the family to have a bad day instead. So they do. Kid then realises how stupid he was to request such a thing (or has a guilt trip, whichever floats your boat) and tries to make it up. He ends up having a birthday party, the same one he had to cancel earlier because it clashed with somebody else's.
This is the sort of film you'd expect to see straight to air on the Disney Channel. Surprised to learn it had a budget of $28million overall, as it clearly wasn't spent on the writing or the cast.
The jokes are predictable, you can see them coming (especially the one with the cough syrup) and while there are a handful of good ideas here, they are far and between and underdeveloped when they do appear.
Pleasant as it was to see Dick Van Dyke, and the presence of old school music (primarily 4 Non Blondes and INXS) on the soundtrack, it wasn't enough to make up for a typical Disney fodder pushing PG-13 standards crying out for a better script.
It's not the worst movie ever made. I've seen far far worse and far far better.