Tag Archives: C

SAMSAM

Producers: Didier Brunner, Damien Brunner, Gaëtan David and André Logie   Director: Tanguy de Kermel   Screenplay: Jean Regnaud, Valérie Magis and Nigel Palmer   Cast: Tucker Chandler, Lily Sanfelippo, Dino Andrade, Michael Yurchak, Connor Elias Andrade, Faith Graham, Michelle Deco, Evan Smith, Cam Clarke, Karen Strassman, Kellen Goff and Addie Chandler   Distributor: Blue Fox Entertainment

Grade: C-

For a movie that celebrates laughter as the key to happiness, “SamSam” provides very little of it.  A feature based on a popular series of French children’s books by Serge Bloch, which previously spawned a successful television series, the picture’s colorful animation will probably keep very young viewers engaged, and their parents will appreciate its benign messages, but it’s very bland kiddie fodder.

In what seems an origins episode, little Sam (voiced in this English version by Tucker Chandler), who lives on the planet Sam and so is called SamSam, spends his days flying around in his petite saucer, accompanied by his dour Teddy Bear (Michael Yurchak).  He also plays with the other kids, but there’s a problem: Sam is a planet of folks with superpowers, and though the other kids his age have already gotten theirs, Sam hasn’t.  That makes him the odd kid out.

On the nearby planet of Marchel, another child has a problem.  It’s Mega (Lily Sanfelippo), the daughter of the tyrannical King Marthy (Dino Andrade), a despot who aims, with the help of a mad scientist (Cam Clarke), to expunge laughter from Sam.  She’s unhappy because both her parents have unwelcome plans for her.  Marthy wants her to go to dictator school, while her mother Lady Fathola (Michelle Deco) insists that she become an opera singer. 

Deeply unhappy, Mega drives her speedy spaceship past her father’s ring of planetary defenses into the outer world, where she meets SamSam and the two become friends.  He’ll help her win acceptance into the Sam bunch of kids—by teaching her to dance, for example—and she’ll help him find his superpower.  In fact, she’ll pull a fast one on him, using a gizmo from her father’s lab that allows monsters to be turned to confetti, but that will come in handy when the mad scientist does in fact invent a Gloomyglob Monster that threatens to fulfill King Marthy’s evil plan. 

There are complications, of course.  At one point SamSam is captured and made to cry—providing the child’s tear needed to rev up his monster.  At another Mega is affected by the monster and turned into a gloomy girl.  And, of course, we’ll find out why Marthy is such a meanie, the explanation reaching back into his childhood.  But not to worry, everything turns out well, with friendship being recognized as SamSam’s superpower and laughter serving as the tool that saves Sam from becoming an unhappy place.

“SamSam” is inoffensive but never especially energetic or fun.  The computer-generated animation is reasonably good if unexceptional, but the characters don’t have an awful lot of personality, and the voice work is just average.  Even King Marthy, who should possess a real spark, isn’t especially distinctive either in design or delivery.  And the lumbering monster that chases everyone around in the last half-hour gets to be rather a drag, with his single-word vocabulary (it’s “Confetti!”).  As for SamSam himself, he’s sort of a genial bore. Nowadays there are a few exceptional animated movies, and a vast army of mediocre ones.  “SamSam” belongs among the latter.

LAKE MICHIGAN MONSTER

Producers: Ryland Tews, Mike Cheslik and Sebastian Johnson   Director: Ryland Brickson Cole Tews   Screenplay: Ryland Brickson Cole Tews   Cast: Ryland Tews, Beulah Peters, Erick West, Daniel Long, Steve Hoelter, Wayne Tews, Lucille Tews and Aylah Hutchison   Distributor: Arrow Video

Grade: C-

There are two ways to judge this nutty homemade movie.   On the one hand, as a narrative it’s just a chaotic assemblage of goofball episodes and bad jokes, all played by actors of amateur-night quality.  You might enjoy it if you were high in a crowd of people in a similar condition; in such a crowd, even the frequent groaners might be amusingly awful.  Without that sort of surrounding buzz, on the other hand, the fun dissipates, and you might find it pretty irritating.

Nonetheless you have to admire the visual ingenuity that has gone into this micro-budget effort, made by a group of family and friends in Milwaukee and Michigan.  The sparkplug was obvious Ryland Tews, who takes the lead role as well as writing what passes for a script and directing.  But equally important—if not more so—were Mike Cheslik and Sebastian Jackson, who in addition to sharing the producer credit with Tews, devised and executed the effects.  (Cheslik also edited, and Jackson did the cinematography.) 

What’s the picture about?  Well, the overall arc focuses on a pseudo-captain named Seafield (Tews), who assembles a squad of helpers in order to locate and destroy a monster living in Lake Michigan that he claims killed his father: Nedge Pepsi (Beulah Peters), Sean Shaughnessy (Erick West) and Dick Flynn (Daniel Long).  They all have special skills, supposedly, but all the schemes planned by Seafield—strategies with titles like “Naughty Lady” and “Master Baited” (har, har)—fail, and after several mishaps and a failure to get paid, Seafield’s left alone.

That takes him on a long expedition beneath the waters of Lake Michigan, where he battles the monster, which turns out to be his sister. 

That plot is just an excuse for a series of increasingly absurd sketches, dominated by Tews, a sort of Zach Galifianakis on steroids, who rants his way through the first two-thirds of the brief (78-minute) picture and then does lots of slapsticky stuff in the final underwater third.  The others are more laid back, though Wayne Tews, as a one-eyed old sea dog called Ashcroft, is almost as over-the-top.  (He also gets to sing a song over the final credits as a disembodied head—shades of “Re-Animator.”)

The real reason to watch “Lake Michigan Monster” at all isn’t the wit in the script (there are occasional clever lines, but they’re sparse), but the imagination behind the visuals, especially in the underwater segment.  True, that drags on too long, but the bizarre images—of the monster, and of a congregation of robed, masked ghouls that Seafield enlists in his efforts (there’s a spoof of Bergman when Seafield plays a game of checkers with one of them)—have a sporadically captivating quality, which would be enhanced still further if the viewer were under the influence. 

Overall “Lake Michigan Monster” is pretty terrible—a cheekily self-aware “Mystery Science Theater”-ready bit of madness that’s nevertheless interesting for its ingenious low-budget pictorial pizzazz.