PORTRAITS: Kel Mitchell- Homecoming

Kel Mitchell made his name in the 90s as a star of All That, Good Burger, and Kenan and Kel. Now, years later, Kel has returned to Nickelodeon in the show, Game Shakers.

With two generations of fans, Kel has met parents who introduced their kids to his old work, and kids who’ve introduced their parents to his new work. No matter their age, Kel simply appreciates that his fans follow his career with the love that they do.

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True Heroes- Why I’m a Filmmaker

Star Wars, Power Rangers, and Professional Wrestling. They’ve been loved and they’ve been mocked.

However, as Kevin shows in this video, inspiration for storytelling can be found anywhere. And in learning the stories of fictional heroes, he became intrigued by the stories of real ones.

PORTRAITS: Mike Sgrignoli- Dino Rhymer

Mike Sgrignoli; father, author, game show host. Mr. Mike has turned his love of dinosaurs into an entrepreneurial venture by writing children’s books, and used the venture to become closer to his son Ethan. Since age 6, Ethan has illustrated the dinosaurs in Mr. Mike’s books, inspiring other children with his work and relating to the audience on a new level.

Innovating his approach further, Sgrignoli visits schools, hosts events, and challenges children to compete in “Mr. Mike’s Name Game Show,” where he offers the name of a dinosaur and asks the kids to guess whether or not that dinosaur exists. All of this adheres to Mr. Mike’s philosophy that subliminally teaching, or making education fun, can go a long way towards a child’s intellectual development.

See his work or contact Mr. Mike at DinoRhymes.com.

OPINION: WrestleMania is a Pop Culture Phenom

70,000 screaming fans fill the arena. Children wearing brightly colored “Never Give Up” t-shirts cheer while their parents cheer. Beer is flowing, merchandise is selling, and human beings falling off of ladders, jumping through tables, and just generally hurting themselves and each other to win fictional championships.

There’s a trio calling themselves unicorns while gyrating their hips; two smack talking Jersey boys calling themselves Gs; a 50 year old man defending his world championship; a cult leader spouting poetry is defending his. And lest we forget, it may be the last match of an undead zombie with magical powers and martial arts skills.

Yes, WrestleMania is upon us. And while it’s a big deal to fans of “sports entertainment,” to outside observers, the spectacle is just plain stupid. But to dismiss the value of the show due to its crass nature is to miss the impact of WrestleMania entirely. It is, without a doubt, an entertainment juggernaut, the pinnacle of an art form, and this year’s show of shows will be building on a strong legacy.

WrestleMania has been compared to the Super Bowl, (er, Big Game,) and the World Series, but that’s unfair. WrestleMania is important in its own right.

To the uninitiated, WrestleMania is the annual wrestling supercard in which the WWE brings together its biggest stars, as well as stars from other media, to compete in the biggest matches that people — at least in theory — will want to pay to see.

WrestleMania was first broadcast in 1985 by WWE, then called the World Wrestling Federation (WWF), as part of the Rock ‘n’ Wrestling pop culture push of owner, Vince McMahon. The marketing scheme was designed to push the WWF into the mainstream. The first WrestleMania was a huge gamble that could have broken the bank for McMahon. The pompadour enthusiast paid big money to bring in some of the world’s biggest celebrities to transform WrestleMania into a mainstream entertainment attraction. Mr. T, Cyndi Lauper, Muhammad Ali, Billy Martin, Liberace, and the Rockettes all appeared in Madison Square Garden at that first 1985 show. The show was an unmitigated success, and McMahon’s WWF became a pop culture powerhouse.

Celebrity involvement has continued to have a huge impact on WrestleMania, keeping the supershow in the public consciousness year after year. Morton Downey Jr. was on the receiving end of a fire extinguisher, courtesy of Rowdy Roddy Piper. Mike Tyson marked down one more knockout when he threw a fist at Shawn Michaels. Floyd Mayweather defended his undefeated streak against the seven-foot-tall Big Show. And lest we forget that time the current President of the United States took a Stone Cold Stunner from the Baddest SOB on the Planet.

Image result for stone cold stunner donald trump

WrestleMania also creates its own moments within the context of professional wrestling that are remembered fondly. Hulk Hogan drew in the power of his Hulkamaniacs and gained the strength to body slam Andre the Giant.

Shawn Michaels and Bret Hart fought for an hour before Shawn was able to attain his boyhood dream of being WWF Champion. Steve Austin, refusing to quit, passed out from blood loss in his own epic battle with Hart. Hogan later remembered his days as a hero and Hulkamania came back to life with thousands of screaming Hulk fans cheering him on against the world’s current biggest movie star. The crowd fell dead silent after the Undertaker’s first WrestleMania loss after 21 victories, in a move that I still detest.

It was almost redeemed with the following match, when perennial underdog Daniel Bryan defeated two men in his second match of the night to capture the WWE World Heavyweight Championship.

And in my personal favorite moment, Ric Flair’s unbelievable career came to a sad but powerful and appropriate end when Shawn Michaels delivered his finishing blow after saying, “I’m sorry. I love you.”

These are incredible moments hardly achieved in movies, and they take on new meaning when put into the context of the semi-real environment of professional wrestling. Those screaming fans are real. I was one of them when John Cena gained his redemption by defeating The Rock at WrestleMania 29. It’s live theater that thrives on its audience and tells stories that are still somewhat real. Flair really was retiring. Hogan really was returning to his roots. Austin’s never-say-die attitude really was winning over fans across the country.

Anyone who doubts that professional wrestling is an art form needs only to watch any of Shawn Michaels’ 17 WrestleMania matches. They tell stories, cause your jaw to drop, and always leave you guessing. As a fan, Michaels’ matches allowed me to live vicariously through a young man trying to achieve his dream, an older man trying to prove he could still go with the best of them, and a loving man, wrestling with his idol and friend in a match played out better than any Rocky movie. Michaels’ career even ended in a most amazing story, with the Heartbreak Kid’s certitude in his abilities getting the better of him as he tried desperately to end professional wrestling’s greatest winning streak.

The Undertaker’s WrestleMania Streak was itself a storytelling device. The Undertaker is, on the surface, an anachronism of a very silly time in professional wrestling. When Mark Calaway first debuted as the western mortician character with zombie characteristics, the WWF was going through a living cartoon phase, with wrestlers taking on the personalities of clowns, tax collectors, repo men, and so much worse. Yet even after these characters faded into oblivion, the Undertaker remained, and he achieved legendary status.

The Undertaker has become such a fact of professional wrestling that even when he was preparing to enter the ring with legitimate UFC champion, no one bothered to question the realism of the character. The Undertaker has become an unbeatable superhero to fans of all ages, and his WrestleMania matches thrive off of the feeling of watching an epic blockbuster movie. It’s why there were so many crushed wrestling fans when the Undertaker finally lost to Brock Lesnar at the 30th WrestleMania.

Speaking of superheroes, Cena and Hogan are the epitome of the Superman character in professional wrestling. Starting at the first WrestleMania, the Hulkster was the ultimate hero to kids growing up in the 1980s and early 1990s. No matter how large the challenge, Hulkamania was able to overcome. For over a decade, John Cena has thrived off of the same type of fan support, defeating the best men in the business in WrestleMania main event after main event. Cena now has the added value of being a cross-media star, which has caused his annual ‘Mania encounter to be changed from a professional wrestling dream match to a reality show promotional effort with Al Roker announcing.

Whether we watch for our superheroes like Hogan, Cena, or the Undertaker, rock stars like Chris Jericho,  or for the working class heroes struggling to achieve greatness, like Dean Ambrose, Daniel Bryan, Steve Austin, CM Punk, or Mick Foley, we can all find something appealing about the WrestleMania experience. It is the most unique spectacle in sports and entertainment.

It is WrestleMania that draws in fans new and old. The spectacle is too large to ignore. The mainstream hype is too strong to miss. The iconic battles between legendary wrestlers makes the show worth the money, and the climax of feuds brings a sense of third-act closure to the year-long movie of professional wrestling.

It is a pop culture phenomenon, and every year, with a smile on my face and a beer in my hand, I happily bring together fans and non-fans to watch professional wrestling’s greatest spectacle. I hope you will too.

OPINION: Power Rangers Deserves More Respect

“I’m just warning you now, I’m a bit of a nerd,” I tell my date as we’re about to enter my apartment. Imagine she’s pretty, if it helps.

“I figured that out earlier when someone mentioned Star Wars. It’s OK.”

I open the door, and turn on the lights. She looks surprised, as though I didn’t just warn her.

She sees Watto and Jar-Jar and Yoda. She sees the lightsabers and posters. But she expected all of that. Star Wars is the most popular movie series of all time. It’s the other memorabilia she sees that turns her stomach.

Staring down at us from my living room wall are two signed photographs of some of my colorful childhood heroes. One, that of Steve Cardenas, the second Red Power Ranger. Chilling alongside Rocky is Jason David Frank; Dr. Tommy Oliver; the Black Dino, Red Zeo, Red Turbo, original White, and most famously, original Green Power Ranger.

GREEN RANGER AUTOGRAPH

“This is… pretty nerdy,” she says with an eye toward the door.

“If you think this is bad, you should see my bedroom,” I say, not making things better, and as if I’ve planned some sort of move.

A look of disgust washes over her face. Looming above my bed like castle gargoyles are Tommy Oliver’s Zords; the Red Battlezord, the White Tigerzord, and the Green Dragonzord. They look prepared to battle the machines across the room — the other Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers’ Megazords.

She looks ready to leave. She’d never get involved with a man so childish. I don’t care. She said she’d come over and watch Power Rangers with me. She thought it was a ploy to get her into bed. I wanted to watch Power Rangers.

I’m twenty-seven years old.

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OK, this never quite happened, but it’s not far off the mark. Friends have told me to remove the toys, shelf the autographs, and at least stop bragging about my fandom. But that’s not me. That’s never been me, and it likely never will be me. I love the Power Rangers. They’ve shaped me into the person I am, and I find no shame in that. Pretty girls be damned.

I know that I’m unique among Power Rangers fans. Most people grew out of it by age seven. But I often believe that the show gets a bad rap for simply being what it was: a campy kids’ show. More importantly however, Power Rangers is a triumph of the creative process, almost as much as it is a triumph of marketing. As someone who prides himself on creativity, and has a drive to become a better videographer, graphic designer, and writer, I still find inspiration in a show that has long been maligned as terrible television. This is why.

 

Origins

From the beginning, everyone needs to understand that Power Rangers is not a standalone American show. Especially noticeable in the show’s maiden season, there’s very obvious differences in the show from shot to shot. It’s as if half of it was shot in one country, and half was shot in an other. It was.

When Rita Repulsa groans about her headache and those pesky Power Brats, her lips never seem to line up quite right. Obviously, this is because her words are being translated from an ancient alien language. She is from space, after all. That, or it’s dubbing over Japanese.

It’s dubbing over Japanese.

It seems obvious in retrospect, right? There’s no way any American would come up with something so hokey. Even Stan Lee’s craziest ideas usually involved a strong individual coming up from nothing like a Horatio Alger character. The Power Rangers are all about teamwork and the strength of the group. In an earlier era, the Rangers would be considered downright communist. Not to mention the zaniness associated with the show that hadn’t been seen in America since Speed Racer.

The idea of a brightly colored team working for the common good originates in Japan with a series called Himitsu Sentai Gorenger, internationally known as Five Rangers, in 1975. And it’s very 1970s.

Himitsu-Sentai-Goranger

Look. At. Those. Suits.

They look like they’re preparing for a nuclear fallout, not getting ready to fight an evil space witch in a dumpster. But then again, how does one dress for such an occasion?

The show was a hit due to its bold colors, craziness, and several other factors that this blogger has no expertise to elaborate upon. As a result, the series ran for a few years before Toei Company set it aside to work on an adaptation of a Marvel comic hero you might have heard of: Spider-Man.

Full disclosure. This commentator has never seen Toei’s 1978 Spider-Man show, but it was probably just marvelous. Why? Spider-Man piloted a giant freakin’ robot. I don’t recall seeing Tobey Maguire do that.

In a real shocker in the land of Godzilla vs MechaGodzilla, Toei found that giant robots were pretty popular, and with the reintroduction of Sentai in the form of Battle Fever J (the best name for any show, ever,) the show incorporated this popular element, rebranding the overarching series, Super Sentai.

The show continues as Super Sentai to this day, constantly creating fresh content while also paying homage to its 40 year history. However, the show is wildly Japanese, and a direct translation is impossible to follow. I definitely didn’t buy a season of Super Sentai and find out personally, by the way.

It would take creative slight of hand to make Sentai work in a western market. Enter Haim Saban. Saban, an Israeli-American man born to a Jewish family in Egypt, and recent recipient of a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, saw potential in the Japanese property and formulated a unique way to create a nearly new show using existing footage. By using Japanese video of the heroes in action, fighting monsters, and piloting robots, known as mecha, and splicing it with American footage of teenagers living out their daily lives, Saban could save money on production costs while still creating a money-making children’s show packed with strong morality tales. As you might have guessed, it worked out pretty well, and made Haim Saban a billionaire.

 

Writing and Editing

In implementing Saban’s plan, a lot of creative people had to find a lot of creative ways to tell stories. It is in this way that Power Rangers deserves a lot more respect.

See, creating coherent kids’ content to complement culturally distinct canned footage comes with a cornucopia of conundrums. Writers had to create an entire story around footage that’s already been shot, comes from a completely different culture, and was once part of an already established narrative. The writers of Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers were tasked with this mighty venture, and expected to do it for over 50 episodes a year.

As a result, it can be easy to look back at the show as a hodgepodge mess of kicks, camp, and craziness, but it doesn’t do justice to the incredible work that had to be put into it. And keep in mind, this was always intended to be a kids’ show. It ultimately didn’t matter if there was continuity — kids just wanted to see the heroes overcome evil and head on back to the juice bar.

This led to a simplification of the Sentai into a pretty basic formula. One which was best explained when Uproot interviewed the voice of Alpha 5, Richard Steven Horvitz.

This simple formula was perfect for kids like me. Every episode would begin with a reasonable status quo. Young people hanging out with friends, worrying about homework and the upcoming talent show — before all hell would break loose and giant golden monkeys would attack the city.

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Today’s cynical writers would have a difficult time squaring the constant destruction of the city and the almost lax attitude held by soldiers in a war about their life/superheroics balance. But for children, it’s perfect.

Kids could easily imagine themselves being those superheroes. They weren’t born on planet Krypton or traumatized as wealthy children. Their origin stories were similar to those of Spider-Man. This power fell into their laps and they were expected to use it for the greater good. Children like me saw this and wanted to be like the Power Rangers.

As a result, kids not only wanted to be the Red Ranger, but they wanted to be like Jason, a strong, wise, honest guy, who gave his time to others and never expected payment or praise in return. Sure, we can dismiss it today as shallow characterization, but for kids looking for a hero, there was no one better.

Then there are the real heroes. The editors who had to create coherent narratives from several unmatched sources. Splicing together a show from American and Japanese footage had to be a difficult task. But the show ultimately works, even if it was never in line for an Emmy Award.

This task became even more difficult with the second and third seasons of the show, as the Zord footage started coming from a new season of the Sentai, Gosei Sentai Dairanger, which featured different heroes in very different costumes. The editors were then asked to cut Zord video from one season with Ranger video from the previous season, except for the White Ranger, who came from the second season also, all with the human video from the American footage. And again, this all had to make some sort of sense.

The result is narrative visual storytelling — using a tight shot of a fist followed by a wide shot of a monster falling. With all of this in mind, the show is undoubtedly not perfect from a writing or editing perspective, but is one that is still a marvel that can be studied and learned from.

 

Impact since the 90s

In 2017, despite a new movie now in theaters, Power Rangers just isn’t as popular as it used to be, but the Rangers have never actually gone away.

After the Mighty Morphin’ years, some of the original cast continued on with the show, with the lovable bully duo of Bulk and Skull lasting until 1999’s Power Rangers Lost Galaxy. Even without original cast members, the show has continued on to this day, with the exception of one year under the ownership of Disney when the powers-that-be decided it would be cheaper to simply recut old Power Rangers episodes.

It’s still campy, it’s still shallow and messy, and it’s still about multicolored costumes, teamwork, and giant fighting robots. It’s still Power Rangers, and it’s still fun.

As a result, kids today still harbor the same type of love for the teenagers with attitude that we adult millennials once did. It’s a fad that may never reach its original peaks, but, like the Japanese source material, doesn’t appear to be going away any time soon — something the original Power Rangers have been happy to see, as they told Uproot last year.

As for me, I still enjoy catching up on the team, even though they’re now younger than me and the show will never have the same magic it once did when I was wide-eyed and idealistic. Sometimes when things just get too heavy and you want to stay away from alcohol to try and ease your troubles, the best thing to do is go to Netflix and watch Green with Evil, or Day of the Dumpster. Our heroes are still there to inspire us. Bad dates be damned.

 

OPINION: Jason David Frank lives life like a Power Ranger would

He’s the best one ever. He’s worn Green, White, Red, and Black. He’s Tommy Oliver, the original Green Ranger. His real name is Jason David Frank, and he’s as good of a person as his starring role would make you believe.

All of us who have seen Power Rangers have questioned the characterization of the Rangers. There’s no real conflict among them. They’re all perfect, wonderful human beings, who always do the right thing in the end, while still living an incredibly eventful, action-packed life even when they aren’t fighting evil space aliens. They are, in a word, unbelievable.

But in 2014, at New York Comic Con, I was fortunate enough to meet Frank, who has been a personal hero for most of my life. Frank proved himself to be just as good as the character he made famous, albeit much funnier. The Tommy Oliver character could always be relied on to use his fighting prowess to save the day, even when the other Rangers were down. And Frank’s incredible martial arts skills were often on full display, inspiring me and many others to take lessons. My years in martial arts — learning not only how to defend myself, but how to live — shaped who I am today. Frank himself teaches martial arts at his Rising Sun Karate school and helps to shape hundreds of young martial artists.

But Frank understands he isn’t known for being a martial arts black belt. He gets that Power Rangers is what made him famous, and he counts it as a blessing.

There is no resentment from Frank about his career being defined by the Power Rangers. In fact, he embraces it, wearing a white tiger power coin as a necklace and often putting a green streak in his hair to symbolize his character’s most famous incarnation. Frank has even returned to the show several times, including an anniversary episode, “Forever Red,” on Power Rangers Wild Force, and in a regular turn as a mentor on Power Rangers Dino Thunder, where he gained new powers as the Black Dino Ranger. Frank also returned in the finale of a recent season, Super Megaforce, this time as the “OG,” (Original Green) Green Ranger. The actor is well aware of his status as the face of the franchise, and he loves the responsibility. Frank has even been pushing to be more involved in Saban’s Golden Goose going forward.

Frank has hinted in the past that he and Saban were working together on a series exclusively following the Green Ranger. In his NYCC panel in 2014, Frank announced that these talks were on hold until Lionsgate determined how to handle the cinematic reboot of the series. No updates have been made available since the film’s release. Frank also admitted that discussions were ongoing about further involvement in Power Rangers projects.

The man known as Tommy has also utilized his fame as a Power Ranger to run a show on YouTube, hosted by Bat in the Sun, that follows his everyday life. My Morphin Life takes fans into the day-to-day activities of everybody’s favorite Ranger as he teaches his martial arts classes, sets world records, and travels the world to attend conventions.

Like we would expect from Tommy Oliver, Frank lives his life fearlessly, fighting in mixed martial arts matches and skydiving regularly. In My Morphin Life, Frank admits he fears two things: clowns and, believe it or not, hot air balloons. And as if the episode were written by the good people at Saban, Frank confronted his fears in an incredible way: by diving out of a hot air balloon, dressed as a clown.

Everywhere he goes, Frank is greeted as a hero, and he treats his fans with complete respect. In his YouTube show, Frank travels to Brazil and attends a convention, where he is blown away by the love he receives. It’s not just an act for a show either; at New York Comic Con, Tommy Oliver’s kind personality was hard to miss.

The Green Ranger’s autograph line appeared to be the longest in the room, despite hefty competition from William Shatner, Patrick Stewart, and the voice of Batman himself, Kevin Conroy. The wait was worth it. Meeting my hero for the first time, I was profusely thankful to the man and told him how much his simple role in a kids’ show influenced by life. He was incredibly respectful and thankful in return, which is to be expected, but he rose above and beyond soon after.

I was on my way out of the convention center when I heard my name being shouted. It was Frank, who followed me to give me the autographs I had forgotten on my way out. It was an incredible moment that felt like it came straight out of an episode of Mighty Morphin Power Rangers.

Frank explained during his panel the next day his philosophy on life. Simply put: treat everyone equally, and treat them all well. As a celebrity, he thinks every interview has value, whether it’s on CNN or with an upstart website like Uproot. Frank doesn’t expect appearance fees and isn’t looking for a big studio to produce My Morphin Life. He simply wants to have fun and keep his fans updated.

Jason David Frank is a man who loves his fans, loves his craft, and enjoys sharing it all. His autograph lines were long and the audience for his panel was huge, but he made sure that everybody got his or her money’s worth. He is thankful for his fame and will continue to give his heart and soul in everything he does. I know this fan looks forward to seeing him on television again.