Friday, June 2, 2017

2017 Phoenix Comicon!


by Guest Reviewer Shaun "Pyrat Wesly" Barnette
June 2, 2017

Over the Memorial Day weekend the long anticipated 2017 Phoenix Comicon made national news, but it wasn’t good news. It did, however, manage to retain a lot of the fun for which the event is known.

Going in the first day was very pleasant. Entering the convention center, I noticed there was a strong police and security presence but there were no tables to look at items being carried in and no searching was being done.  I was able to walk in and pick up my pass at registration without delay.  The lines appeared long spanning most of the way across the large ballroom but moved quickly.   It was not crowded and there was an absolutely great turn out of cosplayers.  I
Cap'n Jack and Friends
spotted my personal favorite, Captain Jack Sparrow, within 5 minutes of arriving!  There were plenty of Disney Princesses, too!  All areas appeared to be well managed. 


 My first impression was that this may be the best Phoenix Comicon yet.  About ten minutes after I picked up my pass two of the staff left the registration area in a great hurry. One had a look of concern on his face.  I speculated someone may have gotten hurt, but soon after they left I was told by another guest the police just arrested a man who had real guns on him.  They had a friend that was close by and saw it happen and, of course, immediately texted his friends about the incident.  No worries.  Initial reports were no one was hurt.  Sweet!  Things are being handled well for security and safety.  Not even twenty minutes in the building and an incident is in check with no one harmed.  
Mickey Storm Trooper

Next, I venture off to visit the “Hall of Heroes”, where there were large displays and many of the cosplayers could be found the year before.  I was really looking forward to seeing bigger and better.  Nope!  The hall didn’t open until 4:00 PM.  This was possibly due to the area being used for additional vendor space.  The wait officially begins at this point.  So, I wait and people watch.  While admiring more and more fun and expertly made costumes, the excited energy level is slowly increasing as the halls become more crowded. Hoping to get a photo of the calm before the storm, I go to the Lower Level Exhibitor Hall.  Unfortunately for me, I’m turned away by security staff who are wholly unimpressed with my media pass.  They politely inform me only exhibitors are allowed in before opening.  Disappointing, but I’m still looking forward to a great convention.  A few minutes later a FOX 10 news crew tries to enter the Exhibitor Hall and to my surprise they were denied access as well.  I feel better about being denied and find myself a little bit impressed at the consistent enforcement of the rule.  So far so good.  There was good crowd control when the doors to the Exhibitor Hall opened and people were polite, congenial, and respectful of others as they made their way in. 
Nebula Cosplay


While I’m waiting I notice a con-goer favorite is completely missing.  The beloved free photo booth is nowhere to be found. For many this was a great attraction of the Phoenix Comicon and always had a line of guests eager to document their attendance with their friends.  Everyone could stop in, costumed or not, with or without friends or family, and get a high quality photo with a cool back drop that could be downloaded and shared from the Phoenix Comicon official flickr page. Here is a link to Fanfest album for those who haven’t seen it before.  Phoenix Comicon Flickr 
The first photo in this album features three of the official photographers in a test shot.  Unfortunately for the tens of thousands who went this year, no free photo! 
Star Lord and baby Groot Cosplay

Also, noticeably missing was live music.  There wasn’t a stage anywhere with live bands playing.  The lack of bands resulting in my not spending much time outside, which is a real shame.  I have to question again why cut something so cool from the event?  The car show is small but great.  I love seeing the TV and movie cars and they are really fun photo ops for everyone.  There was a big tent in the street that had a sign stating Mos Eisley Cantina, but looking in I didn’t see anything or anyone Star Wars-themed inside when I went by. 

There has been a lot of controversy over staffing the 2017 convention since Fanfest ended.  If you’d like to learn more about it just search for articles about the entire volunteer staff being fired.  It began with a surprise announcement from the official Phoenix Comicon fan club “BRA” (Blue Ribbon Army) that listed among the benefits of being a paid member the opportunity to work as an official staff member of Phoenix Comicon.  Keep in mind there was no information about this staffing change sent to the more than 1000 volunteers who were already working for the convention, some of them for many years.  Many of those volunteers were involved in building Comicon to what it has become today through labor, love and dedication to the community of fans that support the event.  You might imagine the shocked and many times emotional reaction from hundreds of volunteers.  A reoccurring allegation among them was it was a money grab by the owner of Phoenix Comicon.  It was viewed by some as a way to monetize the volunteer labor force that runs the convention.  Pay to volunteer?  Ultimately, after tons of hurt feelings and heartbreak, the company Square Egg, which owns Phoenix Comicon, made the decision to use all paid staff.  A little surprising and ambitious since the big show was only months away.  Not only that, it meant a cost that would only allow 300 to 400 paid staff to replace over 1000 volunteers.  I can only speculate this was done for legal and liability reasons since I do not have any inside information other than past press releases on the subject.

How did this impact the convention this year?  Lines.  Social media posts about celebrity photo ops and autographs were heavily critical of being well behind schedule and not being able to complete all of the pre-sold photos and autographs.  Of course, there is the disclaimers and refunds about the “opportunity” to meet your favorite celebrities, but that wasn’t the first thought on people’s minds when they paid a lot of money.  Frustration of waiting in lines and simply missing out after days or even months of anticipation of that precious few seconds with fame was most disappointing. It should also be noted some fellow con-goers were happy with their experience and were able to get the photos and autographs as expected.  This was most likely what most experienced.  Criticism was placed on scheduling and lack of staff managing line access.  Keep an eye out for the next survey from Phoenix Comicon.  One thing they do like is feedback that can be used to improve the experience. 

Phoenix Comicon announced a complete ban of ALL costume props to begin on Friday. Some people voiced support for the change, happy to forego the detail added to costumes for increased safety. 
Moana and Maui


I personally don’t understand how the absence of costume props will prevent someone from breaking the law such as what happened that fateful Thursday. Seriously, I don’t get it.  As far as I know, no one has ever been killed by a light up plastic light saber or a sonic screw driver. I didn’t even take the time to search for the statistics on the subject.  For the last several years I have always been comfortable in the policy and practice of inspecting weapons and marking them as such. Even San Diego Comic Con doesn’t ban weapon props, much less ALL props. And that is in California!  That state is famous for weapons bans and restrictions. The announcements claim the decision for the ban was based on the Phoenix Police and convention center recommendations. Personally, I don’t buy it. Especially given the event was never set up for airport style security screening. I don’t believe for a second there is a police officer anywhere that is concerned about light sabers. Sure, there are incidents involving replica firearms but let’s face it, the man was arrested for real firearms and threatening to kill people. I could understand if he had fake guns when he was arrested and they were banned as a result, but that wasn’t the case. Instead there was a gross overreaction. I hope the once great Phoenix Comicon will dial it back and gain understanding about such incidents and not give in to fear. We all know what fear leads to (listen to the Yoda speaking in your mind). Sorry, enough of that, from the bottom of my heart, I am so very grateful to the person who reported the threat and to the officers who were able to make the arrest, keeping everyone safe. Great work everyone! 

Part of the enhanced security policy was to restrict entrance to three locations. Already, this means longer lines. However, I arrived late on Friday at 2:30 p.m. entering on the North-East corner I was pleasantly surprised by the short line to get in that only took three minutes. Nice. But…the guard there didn’t use complete sentences to explain what he needed to do. He only said, “bag”. To which I replied, “What?” Then he said it again, “bag”. I said, “Yes, that’s a bag. What do you want me to do?” There was no table or any indication of how he would be searching the bag. Behind him were guards searching, you guessed it, bags. Finally, he said he needed to check it. So, I held it out, opened the top, and with a one second glance inside, waved me through. The next guard was also not wasting words, but most of us know what to do for a metal detector.  My bag was a messenger style camera bag. Not big, but with the check that he did it could have contained anything. Why a check at all?

If I am to be honest, overall there wasn’t much that seemed different this year, which is a good thing. The entire event was very familiar. The biggest change was the feel of it with little staff around. I only remember seeing two information booths. Last year you didn’t have to go far if you needed one. The info booths were a great service. Directions, lost and found, but more importantly, quick radio communication for emergencies from known locations to which first responders could go straight to. They served as a safe place for anyone to go to for any reason. Less staff, but less safety. In past years, volunteer staff were virtually available at any room or hallway you entered. This year the entire place seemed to function on the good will of the people attending.  Thank goodness for the people that make up this geek community. 

Somewhere on Facebook a question was asked about what was missed at the con this year. 

One reply was complimentary of the marketing team’s photographers that no longer exist. Becca McCullough wrote, “I miss having official PCC photogs. I could guarantee at least ONE good pic of my cosplays.” Another stated, “No photo booth and no team of photographers capturing all of the events, panels and all over fun.” To be fair, there was one official photographer contracted to shoot the event. This event is huge, so I’m sure he was on an overwhelming schedule to photograph the big celebrities over the four-day event. Look at the official flickr page from one or two years ago and the photographs posted of the major panels and events. It was a glorious time. This year most panels didn’t even have moderators. 

Back to the Hall of Heroes. The guard checking everyone for their “membership” badges was fantastic. Upbeat demeanor, great voice and well spoken and he was as professional as a Disney cast member. I should have got his name, but if you passed him as you entered the hall you know who I’m talking about. A stroll around the hall brings me to the huge Lego display. As I admired the setup, I was informed by a lady that the Lego ships on the water were at battle. Each day the battle would progress and on the last day the battle would conclude. Unfortunately, I didn’t return to the exhibit frequently enough to follow the story. Next time look for the changes in the Lego display! They do something every year and the careful observer might see a story play out. 
Lego Civil War!


There were celebrity spotlight panels today as well as countless fan and educational panels. Seriously, look at the programming on the official Phoenix Comicon website. It’s as impressive as always. 

Back at the Lower Level Exhibitor Hall, I visited a few booths. Conman (Alan Tudyk’s crowd funded series), Sweet Midnight, The Fyne Art of David Lozeau and RUSH!

Being a rock guy, the Rush booth was a cool surprise for me. First thing I had to do was flip through the crate of LP vinyl records with, you guessed it, all Rush. There was no way I was walking away from there without the 200gram remastered 2112 with the hologram. I also bought a t-shirt and a set of Rush themed cereal boxes. If that sounds funny, it’s because it is. David Calcano was manning the booth and was kind enough to autograph the boxes, complete with a quick doodle of each band member’s face! As with many of the wonderful exhibitors at Phoenix Comicon, there is often an engaging story of the creative people at the booth. The Rush booth has its own talented artist as well. The booth is actually Fantoons LLC ( fantoons.tv ) and Rush is one of the bands endorsing it. The connection to Rush is a comic/toon book that is inspired by the band and their works. It is seriously creative and funny. If you’re not familiar with Rush, probably less so. The writer sent the book to the band and they liked it so much it was endorsed by them and led to an animation being produced that opened a Rush tour! The writer, artist and animator is David Calcano. A very pleasant man originally from Venezuela, now living and working in California. Among his many accomplishments, he once created a short series of cartoons for the Disney Channel. 


Artist David Lozeau
I enjoyed a few minutes of watching an artist work on a painting commissioned by the big mouse company of a well-known attraction (vague due to a future, official unveiling).  
David Lozeau, with his wonderful works on display around him, was super cool and engaging. In the middle of his fantastic creation he was happy to chat and answer questions. 

Over at Sweet Midnight there is a fun shop full of mostly handmade creations on the “darker side of cute” by local artists based out of our very own Bisbee Arizona. The owner, “Nay”, has a bright beautiful style all her own. Don’t let her coffin at the booth scare you away. She’s a delight. Missed her at Phoenix Comicon? Fear not, she has a store online. Want a chance to meet her? She is a Ghost Hostess and can be found showing the way through the dark at the Old Bisbee Ghost Tours. 

These are just a few examples out of hundreds of the amazing people you could meet (some local and some from afar) and obtain their great art directly as you cruise through the huge Exhibition Hall. I had a great time there. 

Saturday morning, I arrived at 10:30 a.m. It’s the busiest day of the event and I expected to be in line a long time; however, that assumption was wrong. I was in a long line that stretched approximately halfway down the block on Jefferson. There was a staff member holding a “End of Line” sign (insert TRON reference here). Something I thought to be very helpful given the problems with the lines reported on social media Friday morning. With the line moving as fast as it was, I expected to breeze through a poorly performed search by speechless guards again. Nope! The team at the North-East Corner of 3rd Street and Jefferson was giving clear directions, performed a good search of my camera bag placed on a table, and then there was metal detector wand at a final stop. The lady actually moved the wand near my body on both sides and checked my belt buckle when the wand sounded. A decent and speedy security check.  It took about ten minutes to gain entrance. Finding myself surprisingly impressed, I headed straight for the Dick Van Dyke panel! 

Getting there early meant a very short wait in line for wrist bands to enter the panel. I’m so glad I get notifications from Phoenix Comicon because the hall they used was not nearly big enough for Dick Van Dyke. The panel had seating near
Dick Van Dyke
the front that was $50 per seat!  Those instantly sold out online. I was online ready to buy seats at the time they went on sale. They sold out the $50 seats so quickly I didn’t even see it as an option. Cheap seats it was. The entire room ended up being sold out. For some reason Phoenix Comicon held an email lottery and gave away some of the seats at the Dick Van Dyke panel. Countless people were showing up expecting to get in to see Dick Van Dyke. 



Burt aka Dick Van Dyke
I highly recommend monitoring Phoenix Comicon by email or social media so you know what is sold out or cancelled, and for any last-minute announcements. I had other people meeting me in the panel but I had all the passes. For some unknown reason, they weren’t being allowed to come up to the 3rd floor of the west building!  Security was not letting them leave the first floor without a pass in their hand for the panel. This is one more example of poorly planned scheduling and line access. That was such a mess that if Mr. Van Dyke had come out on time they would’ve missed the beginning (we also heard afterwards that many people did not get their pre-paid photo ops or autographs, as time had run out, and were told they’d get refunds).

Dick Van Dyke was greeted to the stage with a standing ovation and cheers that went on for quite some time. Although the segment began about fifteen minutes late, it was well worth wait. He walked out with a huge smile and looked happy and healthy. His first remark was that the crowd was bigger than Trump had received. He answered approximately twenty questions posed to him by the audience. He was charming, open and receptive. He shared that he started out in radio and when he got an acting job he was asked if he could sing and dance. His reply? SURE! He knew nothing about either. He spoke of the Dick Van Dyke TV show and his costars, Rose Marie, Morey Amsterdam, and, of course, Marry Tyler Moore. The audience became very quiet when he spoke of Ms. Moore, obviously out of respect for her talent and the void the loss of her had left behind. He spoke of how some of the taping of the show had to be cut because sometimes the laughter from the live audience went on for so long. Mr. Van Dyke sang the words to the show’s theme song, which I had never heard before. He spoke of Walt Disney and how he called him Uncle Walt and they got along wonderfully. He shared that they had said they were children looking for their inner adult, which seemed more than an appropriate assessment of both gentlemen. One of his favorite songs was “You Two” from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, which he has sung to his children and grandchildren. He laughingly told the audience that now they put makeup on him to make an old man look like an old man. I hope this 91 year “child” is around for a long time to come.


Alan Tudyk and PJ Haarsma
Next up was the Con Man panel with PJ Haarsma and Alan Tudyk. They talk about the comedy series they created called Con Man. The series was made possible by fans through crowd funding. The audience was treated to clips from the show that featured many guest star roles including Alan’s Serenity co-star Nathan Fillion! I hadn’t seen Con Man before and attended the panel because I’m a fan of everything I’ve seen Alan Tudyk in or as a voice actor. This series I have to see; it looks hilarious, especially to those familiar with works the cast was in before. Now comes the coolest part of the panel; the fans that lined up to ask questions each received something signed by Alan! If it wasn’t something cool like a series related poster it was something hilarious. Among the impromptu autographed items were plastic ware wrapped in a paper napkin or even a plastic cup taken off the table and filled with water and presented to the fan by Alan himself with his recommendation he drink it before the condensation washes off the signature. 
Alan Tudyk 


After the Con Man panel, I enjoyed wandering the convention, shopping and photographing cosplayers for the remainder of the day. Later in the evening I met with friends and family for dinner at the Hard Rock Café. Sadly, the Hard Rock did not have a new special edition pin for this year’s Comicon.

Sunday morning, the last day of the con, came too quickly. There was still so many exhibitors to see and time had all but run out. There were still three panels I had to see: Alan Tudyk, Karen Gillan and last but not least Q himself, John De Lancie! 

Twenty minutes before Alan Tudyk’s panel, the room was nearly full. This again made me wonder why the larger Ball Room wasn’t used for this appearance. Alan Tudyk’s most recent huge hit movie had him playing the role of K-2SO in Star Wars Rogue One. He also played the part of the beloved character Wash in Serenity. 

His credited works are too numerous to list here but it’s worth looking at and being pleasantly surprised to see so many tv shows and movies you already loved but didn’t realize he was a part of. Alan may just have been the funniest and most entertaining panel of the weekend. The very first question asked of him was creepy (especially given the murder plot that just happened on opening day). Alan was asked since he has played parts of characters that are killed off, what would he write as his perfect death scene? In response, Alan stared silently for a moment and slowly slid his chair away from the table and cautiously walked over to the moderator, without looking away from the man who asked the question, and hid behind her, peering over her shoulder as if afraid to give any ideas as to how he would like to die. It was a fantastically funny start to a great panel! Again, he continued his antics of signing whatever he could find for fans that waited in line and asked a question. Today, however, one item he autographed and gave to a young fan was his Star Wars Celebration event badge! Another was a paper torn from a script he is using in a new production which of course was missing the dialog since it has yet to be released. 

Karen Gillan seemed like a genuinely sweet person who was
Karen Gillan Panel
very kind to her fans. I got the impression she wasn’t entirely comfortable with the love and praise her fans would show her. She answered questions in a way that showed her thoughtfulness as a person sharing who she would “fan girl” over. Gillian Anderson, who she’s been a fan of since X-Files. Ms. Gillan even treated us to her surprisingly cool impersonation of Britney Spears (seriously, it’s awesome; look up the videos on YouTube). The actress who played the intense and dangerous Nebula is someone you would like to be around all the time. She shared moments of her career by way of answering fans questions. One interesting fact she revealed was when she was developing her portrayal of Nebula in Guardians of the Galaxy, the director suggested she perform the dialog like Marilyn Monroe. The suggestion seemed strange at first but she developed it into the character she described as a “breathy” style of speaking, which we all know became a great performance in the hit movies. Besides starring in a Marvel movies, here is one more little Disney tie in: she would want to play Merida in Brave. 



John DeLancie
John De Lancie was as you would expect if you are familiar with his best known roles (as Q on Star Trek The Next Generation or Discord on My Little Pony), although less exaggerated. He seemed to be someone who wants to share his knowledge and point of view, but can sometimes seem a little bit condescending, which I loved. We learned he was called to audition for the role of Discord because the writers wanted Discord to be like Q from Star Trek; they went straight to the man himself, and the rest is Brony history. He was not an easy person to pose questions to and often didn’t answer the questions at all. He would steer around the “What is was you most….?”, questions entirely. Mr. De Lancie is most certainly his own man in character and thoughts. 
John DeLancie


The 2017 Phoenix Comicon was a success (in my opinion as a con-goer), despite the incident on Thursday. The event lacked some things fans had come to expect, like the photo booth, zombie walk, light saber walk, photographers, panel moderators and live music performances. 

The number of exhibitors increased a lot and the exhibitors had more space in the rows, but they skipped on the carpeting leaving almost the entire floor bare concrete. The convention seemed to cut a lot of corners compared to past years, but thankfully, it still brought a lot of fun and great talent.
Voice Actor Kevin Conroy - a.k.a. Batman!


I believe the fandoms, creatives and geeks that come together are the main reason the convention is still fun. If you’re interested in going next year, I recommend joining the email list and following on social media so you know the moment the “memberships” go on sale; buy them early to save money. Taking advantage of the early sales prices means committing before guest announcements, but there are always fun things to do and people to see. 

To see all of Shaun's 2017 Phoenix Comicon photos, visit his Flickr page at: Pyrat Wesly


Reviewer/Photographer Pyrat Wesley 

Shaun, more famously known as Pyrat Wesly, 46, is a lifelong fan of just about anything Disney and former Phoenix Comicon photographer from 2013 to 2016. 

Monday, November 7, 2016

Alice Through The Looking Glass...Review




by Al Kessel

They're BAACK!! Lewis Carroll's enchanting Alice's Adventures in Wonderland continues with Disney Alice Through The Looking Glass, the spectacular follow-up to the hit 2010 Disney film, Alice In Wonderland, bringing back all your favorites from the original, plus a few more characters sure to grab a place in your heart. 

In “Alice Through the Looking Glass,” the all-star cast from the 2010 blockbuster is back with Johnny Depp as the Mad Hatter who’s desperately searching for his family; Anne Hathaway as Mirana, the kind, mild-mannered White Queen; Helena Bonham Carter as Iracebeth, the short-tempered, big-headed Red Queen; and Mia Wasikowska as Alice, the heroine at the heart of the story. Sacha Baron Cohen (Borat, Talledaga Nights)  joins the ensemble as Time, a magical being that is part human, part clock, and the late Alan Rickman—to whom the film is dedicated—returns as the voice of Absolem, the blue Monarch butterfly who metamorphosed from the blue caterpillar “Alice in Wonderland.”
Sacha Baron Cohen as Time


This time around, all is not well with Alice in the 'real' world, so she once again escapes to Underland, only to find things aren't so hot there either! The Mad Hatter has stumbled upon something that sends his life, and his very mental being, topsy turvy and only Alice can save him...and Underland. In her new adventures, Alice encounters Time itself...err, HIMSELF, and off she goes on another wondrous action packed adventure through time. 

Now, we're HUGE Disney fans, and honestly love just about everything they put their stamp on, and Alice Through The Looking Glass is no different. Though not quite as good as the first installment, this adventure is still extremely enjoyable. More focused on Alice this time around, we don't see as much of the Hatter and company as before, but the story works. In fact, being the video gamer I am, Alice Through The Looking Glass plays out much like a good video game (Hint Disney Interactive!!). With spectacular visuals, a wonderful musical score and the introduction of Sacha Baron Cohen as Time, Alice Through The Looking Glass is a must see for any true fan of Lewis Carroll's work, or Disney.













Bonus Features include:
    * A Stitch in Time: Costuming Wonderland - three time Oscar winning costume designer Colleen Atwood explains how costuming helps shape the curios characters of Underland and reveals hidden Easter Eggs within the cast's ornate outfits

    * Music Video Just Like Fire by Pink

    * Behind the music video

    * Behind The Looking Glass - Jump back and forth through time during this in-depth look into the making of Alice Through The Looking Glass, hosted by director James Bobin

    * Time On - Delight in this discussion with the unpredictable Sacha Baron Cohen who plays Time, the keeper of the Chronosphere, a metallic sphere that powers ALL TIME

    * Alice Goes Through The Looking Glass: A Scene Peeler - View a side-by-side comparison of raw production footage and final scenes, as Alice enters Underland through a magical looking glass.

   * Characters of Underland - – Get to know the quirky and colorful supporting characters in Underland, such as the tubby twins known as the Tweedles (Matt Lucas) and Absolem (Alan Rickman), the blue caterpillar turned blue Monarch butterfly

    * Alice Goes Through Time's Castle: A Scene Peeler - View raw production footage alongside final scenes, as Alice enters Time’s castle of eternity.

    * Deleted Scenes

    * Gag Reel

All in all, Disney Alice Through The Looking Glass is a great family film, bringing back all your favorites from Underland, and presenting an interesting and heartfelt look into characters that have won a place in our hearts. We give this film 4 out of 5 Hidden Mickey's!

Disney Alice Through The Looking Glass is now available on Digital HD/SD and Blu-Ray, and DVD

















Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Disney The Lion Guard Unleash The Power





by Joyce Kessel

Disney Junior rarely disappoints when it comes to the animated series, and The Lion Guard: Unleash the Power is no different. Simba and Nala’s son Kion and his four best buds form The Lion Guard.  The Lion Guard is on a mission to defend and protect the Pride Land.

While Kion is the main character, the other members of the guard have dedicated episodes, so everyone has a moment in the spotlight. Kion ’s friends are Bunga the honey badger, Beshte the hippo, Fuli the cheetah and Ono the egret 

The Lion Guard: Unleash the Power includes six episodes from the first season.

1 Fuli's New Family
2 Bunga the Wise
3 Eye of the Beholder
4 Follow That Hippo!
5 The Search for Utamu
6 Never Judge a Hyena by Its Spots



The cast includes :
Rob Lowe (The Grinder) as Simba; Gabrielle Union (Being Mary Jane) as Nala; Max Charles (The Amazing Spider-Man 2) as Kion; Joshua Rush (The Adventures of Puss in Boots) as Bunga; Dusan Brown (Blaze and the Monster Machines) as Beshte; Diamond White (Sofia the First) as Fuli; and Atticus Shaffer (The Middle) as Ono. Ernie Sabella (The Lion King) reprises his role as Pumbaa. Executive Producer: Ford Riley (Special Agent Oso). Director: Howy Parkins (Jake and the Never Land Pirates).

Additional cast members include: Eden Riegel (All My Children) as Kiara; Sarah Hyland (Modern Family) as Tiifu; Madison Pettis (Jake and the Never Land Pirates) as Zuri; Gary Anthony Williams (Doc McStuffins) as Mufasa; Khary Payton (Teen Titans) as Rafiki; Jeff Bennett (Jake and the Never Land Pirates) as Zazu; Andrew Kishino (Star Wars: The Clone Wars) as Janja; Vargus Mason (Sofia the First) as Cheezi; Jonny Rees (Star Wars Rebels) as Mzingo; and Kevin Schon (The Lion King 1 1/2) as Chungu and Timon.

We recommend the DVD as it is suitable for all ages and guarantees to keep you entertained for up to 2 hours.  The music was one of my favorite part of the DVDs.




Monday, August 29, 2016

Jungle Book...The Review

by Al Kessel

Look for the bear necessities, the simple bear necessities, forget about your worries and your strife....admit it, you were singing along! 

In 1967, Walt Disney Productions presented the timeless classic tale of Mowgli, a 'man cub' raised in the jungle by wolves, and several other endearing characters. The animated tale was pretty ground breaking for it's time, and was received pretty well. In fact, growing up, The Jungle Book was one of my all time favorite animated movies. So, a couple years ago when we heard Disney was 'reimagining' this classic as a live action motion picture, with the director of IRON MAN no less, I was a bit skeptical to say the least. I mean, we've seen attempts at making live action films out of animated classics before (anyone see Speed Racer???). 

But, I have to say, (as I so often seem to these days) that I am most pleasantly surprised. We received the 2016 Disney's The Jungle Book for review, and though Joyce and I were both kind of excited to watch, we both were hesitant because...well, Speed Racer! But within seconds, we were both blown away. Disney did such a WONDERFUL job with the new Jungle Book, that I dare say, this has replaced the original as my new favorite version. Everything about this movie is a hit. Casting (both onscreen and voice actors), CGI, sets, music, the story...everything, is Disney at it's finest. 



For those familiar with the original 1967 classic, for the most part, the 2016 live action version of The Jungle Book is very similar, with a few changes (we'll let you figure those out for your self), but honestly, the new version is quite flawless. Of course, this version isn't a musical like the animated version was, but that's ok...though, there are TWO notable inclusions of songs: Bare Necessities and I Wanna Be Like You. And funny thing is, you'd think that plopping two songs in the movie would seem out of place, but nope. They fit in perfectly. Of course, King Louie's musical masterpiece was altered a bit to fit this version, but it's equally as toe tapping!
Mowgli and Baloo

With a superb cast, including Bill Murray (Ghostbusters, Caddy Shack) as the voice of Baloo (perfect choice), Ben Kingsley (Ghandi, Iron Man 3) as the voice of Bagheera (perfect choice), Lupita Nyong'o (Star Wars The Force Awakens) as the voice Raksha (perfect choice), Giancarlo Esposito (Breaking Bad) as the voice of Akela (perfect choice)
Scarlett Johansson (Marvel Avengers) as the voice of Kaa (odd, but still good choice) and Idris Elba (Thor, Zootopia) as the voice of Shere Khan (yep, PERFECT choice), and probably the best casting choice - Christopher Walken (The Deer Hunter, Click) as the voice of King Louie (PERFECT AS IT GETS!) And introducing Neel Sethi as Mowgli. All the cast does a superb job, but some performances stand out. Neel does a great job considering the bulk of his performances are with props, Bill Murray is probably THE quintessential Baloo (what a great life he brings to that classic character) and Idris Elba is, I dare say, better as Shere Khan than George Sanders (the original). He brings a definite menace to the voice that really sends the hair on your neck on end. 
King Louie and Kaa


All in all, Disney's The Jungle Book (2016) brings an excellent heart to this beloved classic. All the charm, beauty, humor and heartwarming moments (not to mention some heart breaking ones too) are here to make this film an instant classic. If you love Disney, this is without a doubt a movie you'll NEED to have in your collection. 

There are some terrific bonus features included as well:

     * The Jungle Book Reimagined - Director Favreau sits down with producer Brigham Taylor and visual effects supervisor Robert Legato to discuss “The Jungle Book” and reflect on the years they devoted to the reimagining of this timeless tale. Discover how Rudyard Kipling’s original stories and the classic animated film influenced their unique approach, witness the technical wizardry that enabled the team to create a believable and thrilling movie-going experience, and learn how they borrowed a page from Walt Disney’s innovation playbook to make it all happen. Lastly, meet the all-star voice cast who help bring the film’s colorful characters to life, as well as the musicians who accent the adventure with a majestic music score.

     * I Am Mowgli - Follow the extraordinary journey of 12-year-old Neel Sethi, who was selected from thousands of hopefuls worldwide to play Mowgli “alongside” some of today’s biggest movie stars. Get a glimpse of Neel’s life before Hollywood came calling, check out his audition that sealed the deal, and see how a close-working relationship with Favreau brought out his best. Plus, Neel shares how filming “The Jungle Book” was one wild ride, from working alongside imaginary animals to performing some super-fun stunts. 

     * King Louie's Temple: Layer By Layer - So, exactly how do you create a musical number featuring one man-cub, a massive, legendary ape and an army of wild and wily monkeys in the Seeonee jungle? Viewers are granted rare and unique access to the development of the “I Wan’na Be Like You” sequence in which King Louie attempts to coerce Mowgli into giving up Man’s deadly “red flower” (fire). A fast-moving musical progression reel showcases storyboards, animatics, Christopher Walken’s recording session and visual effects layers, which ultimately merge to form one of the film’s most memorable scenes.

Disney is planning to release the 3D version of The Jungle Book later in 2016.











Thursday, June 2, 2016

The Finest Hours...Review




by Al Kessel


The Finest Hours is a heroic action thriller based on the true story of a 1952 U.S. Coast Guard rescue based on the acclaimed non-fiction book of the same name written by Casey Sherman and Michael J. Tougias. In February of 1952, one of the worst storms ever to hit the East Coast of the United States struck New England, severely damaging two oil tankers (literally tearing them both in half) off the coast of Cape Cod. Four members members of the Coast Guard set off into the dangerously cold waters and 70 foot waves, on a 36 foot lifeboat in search of survivors. 

Lead by a sailor with a troubled past Bernie Webber (played by Star Trek's Chris Pine), four rescuers, including three volunteers (played by Ben Foster, Kyle Gallner and John Magaro), set out to find and rescue any survivors. To all the local observers of this mission, it's a one destined to fail, however, Bernie amazingly manages to find the survivors, rescue them and get everyone back home... Ok, it's not exactly THAT simple, but remember, we don't like to give away any spoilers! Rest assured there's a LOT of action and suspense. And even though historically we know the outcome of the mission, it's still a pretty fun and harrowing ride.

As with so many movies, the beginning is a bit slow as they set up the situations. But in all honesty, most of the prelude scenes contribute to the overall arc of the story, and it really does lend to the emotional 'tug' of the movie. Personally, I think this movie was well crafted, well directed and pretty well acted. Chris Pine (though I must admit, I was half expecting Captain Kirk) delivers probably his best performance ever. Casey Affleck (you know, Batman's little brother?) does a great job as the loner engineer/survivor on one of the troubled tankers, who finds himself with the lives of his fellow sailors in his hands. In fact, I think this may be one of my favorite roles for Affleck. 

Like many action/adventure type movies, The Finest Hours isn't 100% awesome. There are some ify parts that can be sort of, well, cringeworthy. But all in all, it's a pretty good movie. And definitely an underrated movie. I'll be honest, when we saw that this movie was coming to theaters, I thought 'nope. Not interested'. But I was wrong. In fact, I probably would have liked to see this on the 'big screen'. 

Coming in at just under two hours, The Finest Hours earns a wave riding 4 stars out of 5.

Now available on Blu-Ray Combo Pack, Digital HD, Digital SD and Disney Movies Anywhere. 

Bonus Features Include:
 * Against All Odds: The Bernie Webber Story - Visit the quaint and close knit town of Chatham and experience the events surrounding the most heroic Coast Guard rescue ever through the eyes of the people who witnessed them.

 * Brotherhood  - Cast members reflect on the bonds they forged during shooting.

 * Two Crews - Chris Pine and Casey Affleck share insights into Bernie Webber and Ray Sybert (portrayed by Affleck), men who led their respective crews against all odds.

 * Deleted Scenes


Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Kindergarten Cop 2...Review

by Al Kessel


When I heard Kindergarten Cop 2 was being made, my first thought was WHY? My second thought was, oh brother, this WON'T be good. Well, I just finished watching the review copy given to us and you know what? I'm not ashamed to admit when I'm wrong. BUT...this is NOT one of those times. Although not a completely TERRIBLE movie, I wouldn't say that Kindergarten Cop 2 is a must see, or even easily recommended, movie to see. 

Instead of creating an entirely new scenario for this go around, they opted to regurgitate many of the gags and plots from the original Kindergarten Cop, but with much less success. 


This time around, instead of a local cop, the 'hero' is Zack Reed (played by veteran action star Dolph Lundgren), a gruff, hard as nails, VERY LARGE FBI agent who'd rather break the rules than play by them (sound familiar?). Agent Reed is assigned to recover very sensitive data stolen by some very bad men...duh duh duh! So, of course, where else would this sensitive data be hidden? Why, on a flash drive in a prestigious private school! And, Agent Reed must go undercover as a...yeah, you guessed it, a kindergarten teacher! That's all you're getting in the way of plot details, cuz, well, you know we don't spoil movies. Even stinkers. Anyway...


Ok, first off, the original Kindergarten Cop was released in 1990 and was a great, fun, and funny film. Why anyone felt the need to make a sequel nearly 30 years later is anyones guess. Well, ok, they probably ran out of original ideas and thought playing off a hit film from 30 years ago was a good idea. Which is why it went straight to DVD, right? Anywho, I have a pet peeve when it comes to weapons fire in movies and TV shows. When a bullet hits something, it typically leaves a hole, or if fired at glass...it BREAKS the glass. But in one scene, the bad guys are shooting up the Seattle FBI offer, Reed and his partner (played rather absurdly by Bill Bellamy), use a candy vending machine as cover as they push it out into a hallway, and overtake the bad guys. And we see the bullets BOUNCING OFF THE GLASS? There's also a plethora of continuity issues: for some odd reason, Dolph's hair keeps parting on the left, then on the right, then back on the left throughout the first part of the movie; Dolph's tie changes a few times within the same scenes; in one scene, the kindergarten kids smear blue paint all over Dolph's shirt. Yet, when he goes home for the day, there is very little blue paint and a lot of yellow. And the FBI director (played by Danny Wattley) is a joke. Not sure why, but they chose to portray him as a bit of a overly scripted cliche, shouting inches from Agent Reeds face, constantly acting as if he was on some sort of drug. I liked him less than most of the bad guys in the movie. All in all, most of the supporting actors, including the children, were annoying. 


I really wanted to like Kindergarten Cop 2. I loved the original, and though I had much, much lower expectations for a sequel, this movie sank WAY below what I'd hoped for. I like Dolph Lundgren. He's no Oscar winning actor by any stretch, but he's earned his place in the B action movie genre. However, this spectacle may have damaged his rep! 

On a scale of 1-5 'IT'S NOT A TOOMAH's, Kindergarten Cop 2 earns a 1. Sorry Dolph. 

Kindergarten Cop 2 is now available on DVD, NetFlix, YouTube, Amazon Video, Google Play Movies and Vimeo.

**We were given a copy of Kindergarten Cop 2 on DVD in exchange for an honest review. 










Monday, May 23, 2016

When You Wish...




by Al Kessel

Joyce and I, as so many of you know, are HUGE Disney fans. We love the Resorts, the movies, the merchandise, and of course, Walt Disney. For us, he epitomized fun and success. He stared adversity in the eyes and succeeded, when most said he'd fail. He did things his way, despite the naysayers, and when his way didn't work, he'd reinvent and go again. These are the things that catapulted Walt Disney to the level of LEGEND. And you can see this all for yourself. Well, sort of. In the new musical play, When You Wish: The Story of Walt Disney (playing at the Phoenix Theater May 18 - June 12, 2016, you can witness for yourself, Walt's trials, tribulations, triumphs and victories, all set to some very fun, toe-tapping musical numbers!

When You Wish is the story of Walt Disney, from his early days as a young animator at his company Laugh O Gram Studios, all the way to the opening of Walt's beloved Disneyland. 

The show is presented in a very appealing way. It's narrated by Walt's brother and business partner Roy Disney. It all starts with Walt trying to sell Roy on the concept of Disneyland, then, we flash back to 1908 with a six year old Walt drawing his cartoons on the family home, barn, and toilet paper! 


The show progresses through the major milestones throughout Walt's life, such as Laugh O Gram Studios, Oswald the Lucky Rabbit, Walt's famous move to California, Disney Brothers Studios, meeting and marrying his soul mate Lillian, the creation of Mickey Mouse and ultimately the opening of Disneyland (with Walt reciting the now famous "To All Who Come To This Happy Place, Welcome..." speech). 

Eighteen original (and very well done) musical numbers and dances, help to present Walt's story in a very fun and enjoyable way. I don't usually enjoy musicals, but When You Wish is just one of those you can't help but love! 

Veteran Broadway actor Joey Sorge plays Walt, and although at
Joey Sorge as Walt Disney
first I thought "hey, he doesn't look like Walt at all!", he quickly won me (and Joyce) over with his command of the role. Joey's performance makes When You Wish so special. Sydney Marie Hawes portrayed Lillian and Andy Umberger (another veteran of Broadway) portrays Roy Disney. I must add that Andy Umberger does a wonderful job as Roy, and he and Joey are very convincing. In fact, we quickly got lost in their performance and the ease in which they played off of one another. The total cast consists of 20 actors/actresses and they all make this show a pleasure to watch. 
Walt and Roy 

When You Wish was created by Dean McClure, who wrote the play as well as all the musical numbers. Mr. McClure's journey to bring When You Wish to life is quite interesting. Born out of a desire to see Walt's story on Broadway, Dean conducted intensive research and began writing his play. 

When You Wish is directed by Larry Raben, the musical director is Alan Ruch and the choreographer is Lee Martino. The show is broken into two acts, with act one running one hours 20 minutes, and act two running one hour. Although coming in at two hours 20 minutes, it sure didn't seem like it! Time VERY well spent. When You Wish: The Story of Walt Disney is playing at the Phoenix Theater (in Phoenix, Arizona) from May 18 - June 12, 2016, with multiple show times, including matinees. For tickets visit The Phoenix Theater

All in all, When You Wish: The Story of Walt Disney is a fabulous musical, and in our opinion, a must see event. Well acted, well choreographed and well presented, we give this show 5 stars out of 5! 

**Joyce and I were given tickets in exchange for an honest review.