Film Review “Dunkirk”

Starring: Fionn Whitehead, Damien Bonnard and Mark Rylance
Directed by: Christopher Nolan
Rated: PG 13
Running time: 1 hr 46 mins
Warner Bros

Our Score: 3.5 out of 5 stars

Even though it was one of the most important events of World War II, the story has rarely been told. 400,000 soldiers trapped on a French beach in the early days of the war. That tale is now front and center in the latest film by Christopher Nolan, “Dunkirk.”

June 1940. As the battle in France intensifies we happen upon a group of English soldiers. They walk quietly through the deserted streets, trying to avoid detection. Suddenly a shot rings out. Then many. They run for cover but to no avail. One manages to escape and joins others on the beach.

In England, the British Navy is requisitioning civilian watercraft to travel across the channel to help evacuate the troops. One of the boat owners, Mr. Dawson (Rylance) is readying his yacht with his son, Peter (Tom Glynn-Carney) and Peter’s friend, George (Barry Keoghan). However, rather than turn his boat over, Mr. Dawson decides to push off and make the journey himself.

High above the Channel, a pilot (Tom Hardy) gathers with his squadron mates to begin a sortie to give cover to the evacuation. It’s a high risk game of distance, altitude and available fuel. The slightest miscalculation of any or all three can spell certain death.

Told as three separate stories (Mole, Sea and Air) in three different time narratives (from a week out to a day to an hour before) “Dunkirk” is more of a thriller than a full out war film. Director Nolan, who also wrote the script, weaves the three stories together seamlessly, giving each story ample time to develop. He also has filled the cast with young actors who do a good job in projecting the fear and anticipation that war can bring. Besides misters Whitehead, Bonnard, Glynn-Carney and Keoghan, I must add pop star Harry Styles to the list. Though not a large or showy role, it is an important one, and if he ever decides to give up music he has found another profession in which he can succeed. If I have one complaint about the acting it’s that Nolan has attracted such talents as Mark Rylance, Kenneth Branagh and Tom Hardy but has put them in roles that don’t require a lot of acting. Both Rylance and Branagh have been recognized alongside a small group of actors as the best Britain has EVER produced and Hardy is always a treat to watch on screen. Would have loved to have seen them seriously chew some scenery.

The film is beautifully shot, and the musical score by Hans Zimmer accompanies the on-screen action perfectly. That being said, I expected a lot more action in what was being sold in the trailers as a “war film.” Why have 400,000 troops, a couple destroyers and a few squadrons of airplanes if you’re only going to use them sparingly? Anyone?

Mourning the Loss of Two Legends

July 16th is an important date in my life. It’s the birthday of my daughter-in-law, Jessica. It’s also the date that one of my personal heroes, Harry Chapin, died in 1981. Sadly, the date will know be remembered for the loss of two of Hollywood’s legends as both Oscar winning actor Martin Landau and acclaimed filmmaker George A. Romero both passed away.

Born in Brooklyn in June 1928, Martin Landau began his employment career as a cartoonist for the New York “Daily News.” However, he had always dreamed of becoming an actor and, at age 23, made his off-Broadway debut in the play “First Love.” In 1955 he was one of 2000 aspiring actors to apply to the prestigious Lee Strasberg’s Actor’s Studio. He was one of only two admitted, alongside a young man named Steve McQueen.

For several years he worked steadily, both on-stage and on television, appearing in such popular programs as “Maverick,” “Rawhide,” “Playhouse 90” as well as films such as “North by Northwest” and “Cleopatra.” He even co-starred with his old acting mate McQueen in an episode of “Wanted: Dead of Alive.” After stand-out roles on such shows as “The Twilight Zone” and “The Outer Limits,” Gene Roddenberry asked him to audition for the role of Mr. Spock in “Star Trek.” The role went to Leonard Nimoy, but the same year saw Mr. Landau appear in the role that made him a star, Rollin Hand in “Mission: Impossible.” Ironically, when he left the show in 1969 he was replaced in the cast by Nimoy.

In 1975 he co-starred alongside wife Barbara Bain in the sci-fi program “Space: 1999,” a groundbreaking show that is still considered a classic. Following the show’s cancellation he continued doing episodic television along with the occasional film roles. He earned his first Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor in 1989’s “Tucker: The Man and his Dream.” The next year saw nomination number two, this time for his work in Woody Allen’s “Crime and Misdemeanors.” The third time proved the charm when he took home the Oscar for his portrayal of Bela Lugosi in Tim Burton’s “Ed Wood.” He continued to work steadily, appearing on television and in films up to his death. His last film, “Without Ward,” is scheduled to be released next month. Mr. Landau was 89-years-old and his cause of death is listed as “Complications” after a brief hospital stay.

If you are familiar with the term “Zombie” you have one man to thank: George A. Romero. The New York born writer/director also passed away today after a battle with lung cancer. He was 77-years-old.

After graduating from Carnegie-Mellon college in Pittsburgh he made the steel city his home, shooting many of his films in the area. In the mid-1960s he and some friends pitched in their money to create Image Ten Productions. After a series of short films, he co-wrote (with John Russo) and directed one of the most influential films of all time, the black and white horror classic “Night of the Living Dead.” To honor the film the National Film Registry of the Library of Congress inducted it into its ranks. After a few less commercial films he returned to the horror genre with the film “Martin.” But it was his next film that cemented him into the pantheon of horror film legend, 1978’s “Dawn of the Dead.” In an endeavor to release the film away from the Image Ten company the copyrights to “Night of the Living Dead” were lost, putting the film into the public domain, which meant that when home video came around Romero did not share in any of the proceeds.

I was a teenager in Tampa when a friend of mine called me and said I had to get to the theatre he worked at by 7:30. They were holding a sneak preview and, even though he couldn’t tell me what it was, he said I would hate myself if I missed it. Gathering a few of my friends we made it to the theatre in time to be admitted to the auditorium. This was back in the days when a sneak preview was just that – the filmmakers just showed up at a theatre with a print and showed it to an unknowing audience. Well my friend was right. I would have been pissed to learn I had missed out on the first screening of “Dawn of the Dead.” Shot in color with incredible effects by make-up legend Tom Savini, the film gave me nightmares for weeks. Made for $1.5 million, “Dawn of the Dead” went on to gross over $40 million, making Romero a much sought after director. He followed the film in 1981 with “Knightriders,” starring Ed Harris and another horror classic, the 1982 anthology “Creepshow.”

In 1985 he delivered “Day of the Dead,” but it was not as well met by fans or critics as the previous two. He also directed “The Dark Half,” based on a Stephen King story and wrote the script for the Tom Savini-directed color remake of “Night of the Living Dead.” In 2005 he directed “Land of the Dead” and followed it up with two more films, “Diary of the Dead” (2007) and 2009’s “Survival of the Dead.”

The Hollywood Show is an Amazing Experience

Meeting Richard Dreyfuss. My lanyard reads “Celebrity” but we know the truth.

I’ve been attending fan conventions since I was 16-years-old. In those 40 years I’ve had the chance to meet so many of my favorite celebrities, from the cast of the original “Star Trek” series to such esteemed filmmakers as Martin Scorsese, John Avildsen, Ron Howard and Brian DePalma. This past weekend I had the experience of seeing a convention from “the other side of the table” when I was a celebrity guest of the Hollywood Show in Los Angeles.

Being a guest at a show like the Hollywood Show is a surreal moment. Instead of standing in line and talking to people about who you are going to meet (favorite roles, etc) there are people standing in line to talk to YOU. The show was very “Jaws”-centric, which means had I lived in LA I would have been the first one in line. Among the guests from my favorite film were Joe Alves, Carl Gottlieb, Roy Arbogast, Ted Grossman and the show’s headliner, Academy Award winner Richard Dreyfuss. As the co-author of the definitive book on “Jaws 2,” I was placed in the same row as a group of “Amity Kids” from the film: Donna Wilkes, Gigi Vorgan, Tom Dunlop, Ben Marley, Billy Van Zandt and Martha Swatek. Both Ann Dusenberry and Gary Springer were hoping to attend but cancelled, Gary having to work and Ann’s father, Bruce, having sadly passed away recently. Another “Jaws” highlight was the amazing sculpture of Robert Shaw as Quint in the fighting chair, which was created by Nick Marra. Mr. Marra also created the amazing sculpture of Roy Scheider, Robert Shaw and Richard Dreyfuss at the back of the ORCA that was featured at the 2012 JAWSFest.

Nick Marra’s amazing Quint sculpture.

But if you weren’t a “Jaws” fan there was someone there for everyone. Fans of classic television had the opportunity to meet Wally and the Beaver (Jerry Mathers and Tony Dow), Mary Ann (Dawn Wells), Barney Miller and Stan Wojciehowicz (Hal Linden and Max Gail) as well as several “Star Trek” stars, including Nichelle Nichols, Fred Williamson and Mariette Hartley. Besides Richard Dreyfuss, film fans got to spend time with such stars as Bruce Dern and Paul Sorvino. Current television was also represented, with many soap opera stars attending on Saturday. I was pleased to find that sitting directly behind me was the cast of “Mike and Molly,” with Billy Gardell’s back often ending up in the photos taken of me.

Not only were the celebrity guests friendly and generous with their time, they weren’t charging an arm and a leg. I’ve been to shows where celebrities charge a minimum of $50 just for an autograph. If you want a photo with them, it’s more. The highest priced signature here was Mr. Dreyfuss’, who was charging $40. But with that signature you could take a photo with him and, of course, chat for a few moments. Most of the guests were signing for $25 or less, meaning you had more celebrity opportunities for your dollar.

Me and the JAWS 2 kids (l-r): Ben Marley, Tom Dunlop, Martha Swatek, yours truly and Billy Van Zandt.

To me, the best part was when a representative of the show came to my table and escorted me to the “Celebrity Lounge,” where Goody Bags were prepared for the guests. I was taken around the room and offered everything from jewelry to bath salts, from wine glasses to hand painted chocolates. I was amused that a few of the gift representatives told me how much they enjoyed my last project and a couple even asked what I had coming up next. “Another book,” I’d reply. They would write down my name and ask to take a photo of me with their product, which I found to be an incredible boost for me ego. And I can’t help but think that somewhere is an advertisement featuring me holding up a bag of snack crackers reading, “Michael Smith LOVES ‘Rice Crisps'” (and I must admit, I did. Especially the pizza flavored ones). The next Hollywood Show in Los Angeles is coming up in October and it’s early guest list looks like it’s filled by the stars of “Hill Street Blues” and the film “The Warriors.” For information please go HERE.

All an all, the entire weekend was an amazing time for me, both as a fan and as a “celebrity.” I’ll be doing the Mid-Atlantic Nostalgia Convention in Baltimore in September. I hope the people with the Pizza Rice Crisps are there!

Film Review: “War for the Planet of the Apes”

Starring: Andy Serkis, Woody Harrelson and Steve Zahn
Directed by: Matt Reeves
Rated: PG-13
Running time: 2 hrs 20 mins
20th Century Fox

If you’re my age (let’s just say over 50) maybe you share one of my fondest movie memories, which was to get up early on a Saturday morning and head to the local movie theatre for the all-day APE-A-THON. That’s right. Large soda, large popcorn and the original five “Planet of the Apes” films, shown back to back. Ah to be 15-years-old again. I bring up this happy thought because I’m here to tell you about another film that made me very happy, “War for the Planet of the Apes.”

As the story begin, the Apes, led by Caesar (Serkis, who NEEDS to win an Oscar soon for his amazing motion-capture performances) and his group have retreated into the jungles. They are living peacefully when suddenly, without warning, they are attacked by a human army led by the ruthless Colonel (Harrelson), whose sole mission in life is to destroy the apes. His tribe decimated by the attack, Caesar comes to the realization that if you can’t join them, beat them. He readies the remainder of his group for the ultimate battle, one that will decide the fate of the world as we know it.

As you can tell by my opening paragraph, I’m a huge fan of all things “Ape.” One of my first celebrity interviews was with Linda Harrison, who played Nova opposite Charlton Heston’s Taylor in the original film. I liked the Tim Burton remake (though I’m still puzzled by the ending) and the previous films in this series have been consistently well made. And so is this one, purportedly the final film in the series. Like the others, it is the performances of the cast, both simian and human, that give the film its emotional power. Some people think that motion capture is just a person wearing electrodes and waving their arms. But here the actors also invest their souls, making their characters sympathetic and believable. Except for Harrelson, whose character is neither. Whether he’s shaving his head with a large knife or spouting some long lost mantra, his Colonel has many things in common with another Colonel named Kurtz, played by Marlon Brando in “Apocalypse Now!” In fact, as I’m sure an inside joke, inside the human compound is a patch of graffiti that reads “APE-pocalyps Now!” Steve Zahn is the latest addition to the simian cast, giving some much needed humor to the film. In 1991 I saw Zahn play Hugo in a touring production of “Bye Bye Birdie.” Nice to see he’s made something of himself.

The action, as in the previous films, is intense and the pacing is brisk, which isn’t usually the case for a film almost 2 ½ hours long. That being said, if this is the final film in the series it’s going out on top. Hail Caesar!

Kansas City Theater Review: “An American in Paris”

Starlight Theater
Kansas City, Missouri
July 11, 2017

It’s one of the most beloved film musicals of all time, winner of six Academy Awards, including Best Picture, and was often referred to by its star, the great Gene Kelly, as his favorite of his films. I’m talking, of course, about 1951’s “An American in Paris,” which introduced a new generation to the music of George and Ira Gershwin.

Paris. World War II has just ended and American G.I. Jerry Mulligan (McGee Maddox), an aspiring painter, has decided to stay in the City of Lights in hopes of gaining new inspirations to put brush to canvas. He meets fellow soldier Adam (Etai Benson), who delivers the story to the audience. He also meets Henri (Nick Spangler), an aspiring performer. The three men are anxious to remove all memories of the war and begin whatever great adventure life has planned for them. Things go well until they meet the beautiful Lise (Sara Esty), a young ballet dancer. While Adam’s relationship with LIse is professional, both Jerry and Henri fall in love with her, with complications aplenty.

First off my sincere thanks for the marvelous performance turned in by the entire cast on a night where, as the curtain rose, the temperature was near 90 degrees. Thankfully there was a nice breeze all night because the night went by swiftly. Director/choreographer Christopher Wheeldon has embraced the ballet aspect of the story, with much of the on-stage movement based on that form of dance. The graceful movements of those involved were perfect accompaniments with the musical score. No wonder Mr. Wheeldon was nominated for the Tony Award for both his directing and choreography, winning the award for the latter.

The four leads were in fine voice, breathing fresh life into such well known standards as “I Got Rhythm,” “The Man I Love” and “‘S Wonderful.” The costumes were bright and colorful and the set design, though a little dark, evoked Paris in the late 1940’s.

Again, the video screens were a little distracting but I will give Starlight credit for using mostly wide-shots of the stage (“Mamma Mia” utilized a lot of close-ups, meaning those watching on the screens were missing a lot of the dancing), giving the audience a complete view of the award-winning choreography.

Win Passes to the Kansas City Premiere of “Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets”

Media Mikes has teamed up with our friends at STX Entertainment to give 50 readers and a guest the chance to be among the first to see one of the most anticipated films of the summer, “Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets.”

All you have to do is click HERE and click on GET MY PASSES. The first 50 readers to do this will receive a pass for two to attend the advance screening on Wednesday, July 19th. The screening will be held at the B&B Shawnee 18 Theatre in Shawnee, Kansas and will begin at 7:00 p.m. This is a first come/first serve giveaway. After the allotted 50 passes have been claimed the giveaway is over. Good luck!

“Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets”
When: Wednesday, July 19th, 2017
Time: 7:00 p.m.
Where: B&B Shawnee 18 Theatre
16301 Midland Drive
Shawnee, Kansas

Film Review: “Spider-Man: Homecoming”

Starring: Tom Holland, Michael Keaton and Robert Downey Jr.
Directed by: Jon Watts
Rated: PG-13
Running time: 2 hrs 13 mins
Sony Pictures

Stop the presses…they got it right!

Even though I’ve enjoyed the past film adventures of everybody’s favorite web-slinger (both the Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield versions) there was always something missing. This week I discovered that the missing ingredient was one Mr. Tom Holland. Like Sean Connery is to James Bond, Mr. Holland is the BEST Spider-man EVER!

We begin with a brief prologue, showing the aftermath of the destruction of STARK Tower. Handling the demolition and scrapping of the material is Adrian Toomes (Keaton), who has liquidated his savings to handle the job. Things get bad quickly when a mysterious government official (always great to see Tyne Daly) takes over the project, leaving Toomes and his men out of work. As they leave, the workers help themselves to some sure to be top-secret materials. More on this later.

Jump ahead eight years and we find ourselves in the middle of a video diary being kept by one Peter Parker, who has spent the summer “interning” for Tony Stark (Downey,Jr.) And by interning I mean he has been training to join Stark’s force of Avengers. We see footage from the last film, “Captain America: Civil War”. Remember “Hey, Underoos?”

The summer ends and Peter is back living with his Aunt May (Marisa Tomei) and dealing with high school bullies. Which is funny because Peter attends a school for gifted students. Yes, in a school of Nerds he is the nerdiest. And, best of all, he’s a KID!

Yes, the one thing that always detracted me from the other films is that Peter Parker was always too mature…even if he was supposed to be in his late teens. Here he is a fumbling 14-year-old dealing with changes…his own and with those around him. He’s got the wit, certainly a defense mechanism, and a cool suit, courtesy of Stark. And while Peter wants to branch out to big things, he is counseled to just play things slow…instead of tacking the big things just be “your friendly neighborhood Spider-man.”

The film rides on Holland’s slender shoulders and, to use an often-dropped cliché’, this is the role he was born to play. He gets help from Keaton, who shows up here as a different kind of Birdman. And Downey, Jr. is pure smirk as Tony Stark. And extra credit to young Jacob Batalon, who plays Peter’s seemingly only friend, Ned. When Ned learns Peter’s secret, he promises to keep it, in the hopes that one day he will be Peter’s “guy in the chair,” the person you always see in movies whispering into the hero’s earpiece.

A fine addition to the Marvel Movie Universe, “Spider-man: Homecoming” is one of the best in the series.

Theater Review: “Jersey Boys” – Kansas City

Jersey Boys
Starlight Theatre, Kansas City MO
June 27, 2017

Review By: J.R. Deeter

If you are of a certain age, you certainly know the musical history of Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons. From the early 1960’s with breakthrough hits like “Sherry,” “Big Girls Don’t Cry,” and “Walk Like a Man,” the hits just kept coming…..few bands consistently gave their fans hit after hit on the Billboard Pop Chart.

What most people may not have known, and do not realize, is the story of how four boys from Jersey came together, from lowly beginnings and backgrounds while dealing with constant band name changes (they finally settled on The Four Seasons, borrowed from a local bowling alley) to struggle and then soar to the highest levels of success, before falling completely apart. One member removed, one member walked away, with two left to try again….and succeed again. It really is a great American rags to riches story and two and a half hours of pure entertainment.

Starlight Theater is a beautiful outdoor venue in Kansas City and the theater can be a very enjoyable experience, when the weather is nice. For our performance it was “Oh What A Night”!

The cast did a fantastic job, both musically and in portraying their respective roles, picking up after what seemed like a few stumbled moments during the opening scenes. Aaron De Jesus shines as Frankie Castelluccio, soon to become Frankie Valli, with an “i”. His voice was the best part of the show by far leading and hitting the high falsetto notes Valli is most famous for.

Matthew Dailey as Tommy DeVito, Keith Hines as Nick Massi, and Cory Jeacoma as Bob Gaudio were also very entertaining, as each member gets to tell his version of the story. As the show moves through the hit songs and the personal experiences of the guys, you can get a feel for what it was like for them, although I do think there is just enough embellishment for entertainment value. The supporting cast held their own, the female members handling many different roles and pulling it off easily. The Jersey Boys Orchestra was top notch and the music was fresh and crisp.

Note to Starlight: While I can appreciate the offer of the large screens installed this season about mid level up on the left and right side of the stage for the benefit of the folks in the back, I did find myself drawn to keep looking away from the performance on the stage. I feel it is more appropriate for a concert event….let’s keep theater events theater.

Film Review: “Despicable Me 3”

Starring the voices of: Steve Carell, Kristen Wiig and Trey Parker
Directed by: Kyle Balda, Pierre Coffin and Eric Guillion
Rated: PG
Running time: 1 hr 30 mins
Universal

When we last saw our familiar cast of characters, Gru (Carell) had given up villainy, married Lucy (Wiig) and settled down to raise the bookish Margo, Tom-boyish Edith and adorable Agnes, surrounded, of course, by the Minions. When we meet them, everything is pretty much the same. Gru and Lucy are now agents for the Anti-Villain League and their current assignment is trying to stop a diamond heist being planned by the notorious Balthazar Bratt (Parker), a one-time child-star turned TMZ-style bad guy. When Gru fails at the assignment he is summarily fired by the new boss. Down on his luck, Gru learns that he has a twin brother, Dru (also Carell) who not only has a beautiful head of blonde hair but has longed to be a villain. He and Gru team up to steal the diamond from Bratt, with Dru thinking he is part of a villainous operation not knowing that Gru intends to return the diamond to its rightful owner and get his job back. Oh, and the Minions are back as well!

One of the most entertaining animated film series ever, “Despicable Me 3” continues the Illumination Entertainment tradition of turning out top-notch films that the whole family can enjoy. The new characters breathe life into the series and it’s always a pleasure to hear the vocal skills of “South Park” co-creator Trey Parker, who even goes a little bit “Cartman” here. The level of comedy for the adults is high while the Minions are plenty to keep the kids entertained. While the popular Kevin, Stuart and Bob are missing, presumably off on whatever adventures will make up “Minions 2,” “Despicable Me 3” introduces us to Mel, soon to be, I’m sure, the next big Minion star, an honor well deserved.

Film Review: “47 Meters Down”

Starring: Mandy Moore, Claire Holt and Matthew Modine
Directed by: Johannes Roberts
Rated: PG-13
Running time: 1 hr 29 mins
Entertainment Studios

Our Score: 3.5 out of 5 Stars

If you’ve EVER read any of my work over a short period of time you probably know that my favorite film of all time, bar none, is “Jaws.” A great film with so many different layers that people often look past everything but the shark. So when I see in a television commercial that a film critic has called “47 Meters Down” “…the best shark movie since JAWS,” I have to shake my head. First off, if all “Jaws” is to you is a SHARK movie…you shouldn’t be reviewing films. The shark is only part of the film. That would be like me calling the last “Pirates of the Caribbean” film, “…the best movie about people on a boat since JAWS.” That being said, “47 Meters Down” is not too bad.

We meet Lisa (Moore) and her sister, Kate (Holt) as they arrive in beautiful, sunny Mexico for a planned vacation. While Kate is bubbly and ready for adventure, Lisa is just the opposite. She finally confesses that her boyfriend has left her and she’s unsure how to handle the rejection. Unfazed, Kate convinces Lisa to head out to the clubs, where they meet two young men. Soon the foursome agree to meet up at the local dock to go out in the ocean and observe sharks while protected by a steel cage. Though she has never scuba dived before, Lisa fakes her way past the boat’s captain (Modine) and soon the two find themselves dangling over the side. As they are lowered into the water they find themselves surrounded by a couple of good sized Great White Sharks. Luckily the cable holding the cage has been checked and inspected for quality and strength. Right?

A Nyctophobian Thriller (let’s see them use THAT in an ad…it means “fear of the dark”), “47 Meters Down is blessed with mostly solid performances and very impressive CGI effects that gives the viewer a pretty good idea what it must be like to be 150 feet underwater surrounded by sharks. Big ones, though, sadly, not the 21 to 28 footers that Skipper Modine swears he constantly sees on his adventures. Which is pretty damn good, considering the largest one ever on record has been right along 20 feet long. By comparison, the shark in JAWS was 25 feet long.

The performances are pretty strong, especially from the two actresses. They help build the tension long after the audience should have been bored. One complaint is with New England-born actor Chris Johnson, who plays Modine’s assistant, Javier. Mr. Johnson must have watched a lot of “Chico and the Man” growing up because, like the late, great Freddie Prinze, he pronounces certain words with a hard CH sound, i.e. “Here comes a CHark!”

Shark wise the film is well done. The computer sharks move smoothly and there is no “super-shark” that shows up like in last summer’s disappointing “The Shallows.” Credit director Roberts for keeping the action going, making up for an almost disappointing ending.

Tim Thomerson talks about his new film “Asylum of Darkness” and some of old favorites

Even if you don’t recognize the name, believe me when I say you know Tim Thomerson. From the hilarious television show “Quark” to supporting roles in such films as “Iron Eagle,” “Rhinestone,” “Near Dark” and “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas” to his starring performance as Jack Deth in the highly popular “Trancers” series, he has made good movies better and bad movies watchable.

While promoting his latest film, “Asylum of Darkness,” Mr. Thomerson took the time to talk about his long career and even indulged me in talking about some of my favorite films/performances of his.

Mike Smith: Can you give our readers a short introduction to your character in “Asylum of Darkness?”

Tim Thomerson: I play a detective named Kesler, which is a name director Jay Woelfel uses in many of his films (this is not the first time Mr. Thomerson has played a character with that name).

MS: Are those the roles you tend to gravitate too? Cop or soldier or someone else in authority?

TT: It’s really the paycheck that gravitates me to a role, you understand? (laughs) Any kind of money that they will give me that allows me to do what I like to do will count. No, no. I’ve known Jay for a long time and he’s a good guy to work with. Very easy to work with. I know his cameraman and I’ve done three movies with him. He knows my work and it was a pretty easy character to play for me. I just threw another trench coat on and parted my hair on the other side and wore glasses. I’m pretty sure in some scenes I’m wearing glasses. Probably because I’m reading my script off-camera. Like Brando. (laughs)

MS: It worked for him.

TT: It sure did, didn’t it!

MS: “Asylum of Darkness” features one of Richard Hatch’s last performances. How was he to work with?

TT: Richard was a good guy. I knew him for a long time. We had done a film together called “Unseen Evil,” which Jay had also directed. That was the first time I had met Richard. I knew who he was from “The Streets of San Francisco” and “Battlestar Galactica.” We’re both from California and he was an old-time surfer. I surf so we struck up a friendship. He was a real cool guy to be around. I would see him all the times at conventions and we would talk. He was a very mellow guy. The quintessential California person. The “Jeff Bridges” guy. Not from “The Big Lebowski” but Jeff in real life.

MS: I’ve got what I consider five of your best roles in films that fans may have missed but are definitely worth seeing. But before we talk about them, do you have a favorite role or performance of yours that you’re most proud of?

TT: Typically I never watch my work. If I happen to catch something, or if there is something I want to see to make sure I pulled it off…was I good in it or was I shitty in it? Did I do it how I was trained? (NOTE: Mr. Thomerson studied with the great Stella Adler for four years. Among her other students: Marlon Brando, Robert De Niro, Elaine Stritch and Harvey Keitel). I guess one of my favorite roles was a character I did on “Hill Street Blues,” where I played a slum-lord named Nat Rikers. The role was the farthest I’d ever gotten from myself. I worked really hard to become this character. That’s one of my favorite guys. Then there was a little movie I did that Bryan Cranston directed called “Last Chance,” where I played an alcoholic writer, kind of an Ernest Hemingway-type guy. He gets writer’s block and gets back on the booze. He goes to A A and becomes a truck driver. Bryan and his wife produced it and we shot it out in the desert outside Palm Springs in a place known as “Methadonia” because there are so many meth labs out there. It’s a good little movie about a guy who’s involved with a girl who’s stuck in a bad marriage. But working for Bryan, and the direction that he gave me, like I said I usually don’t sit and watch my stuff, but the best direction I got from him…I was kind of stuck because I usually play bad guys or comedy guys. But this was a real person and I had to drop all of the “tough guy” snarls and just BE this guy. So Bryan told me, ‘just say the words. Just talk.’ And I thought, “Wow!” Nobody had ever told me that before. Bryan took the time to say that and that’s all he had to say. So that is also one of my favorites. Those are two of the things that I actually saw and I said to myself, “I believe that guy is real.”

MM: OK, I’m going to give you the title of a television show or film that you appeared in and just give me the first memory that comes to mind.

TT: I’m ready.

MM: “Quark.”

TT: Oh man, that was fun. That was a lot of fun. It was really one of my first jobs. I mean a legit job. I had been doing stand-up for awhile and I think I had just done “Car Wash” before that. It was so much fun. We only did eight episodes. It was great to work with Richard Benjamin. Buck Henry created the show and wrote some of them. It was the first time I got to work with Geoffrey Lewis, the great character actor, and Henry Silva. And I got to work with Ross Martin, who was great. It was a fun show to do and it was fun to play that silly character. And it was pretty hip stuff. And it was funny. I mean, even doing it was funny. Richard Benjamin was such a funny person. And we had great directors. Directors who had been doing television comedy since the beginning. We had Hy Averback, who had done “Sgt Bilko” and “The Dick Van Dyke Show.” It was the 1970s but we had guys that had been working since the 50s and 60s. Everybody laughed on the show. The crew and the cast. It was fun. Really fun.

MM: “Carny”

TT: “Carny??” Nobody knows that movie. Any time you get to work with Gary Busey it’s going to be a trip. There were a lot of really fine actors in that film. Robbie Robertson wasn’t too bad for his first film, but we had Jodie Foster and Ken McMillian and Craig Wasson. We filmed it in Savannah, Georgia at a real carnival. We worked nights. For two months. And two months of night work – in Savannah, Georgia in the deep South – can make you crazy. Working on that movie was fun. I had known Gary so to work with him was fun. He was a real good guy. It’s so funny you picked that one. Nobody knows that movie, which is a shame because it’s a well shot movie. Jodie was still a youngster so, when we were filming at night, they’d shoot her stuff then shoo her off the set. Get her away from the insanity! Because when you work until 4 or 5 in the morning, that’s when the party started. Bunch of stunt guys and crazy electricians. It was pretty nuts. I had a lot of fun on that movie.

MM: “Honkytonk Man”

TT: Well, of course, I got to work with Clint (Eastwood). That was a mind blower for me because I’d always been a fan. And, of course, he was so cool. We shot it on the east side of the Sierras in the oldest city in California called Genoa. Working with Eastwood….I mean it goes by so fast. (Does a pretty good Clint Eastwood impression) “All right Tim, we’re going to shoot your close-up. Step on in here. Are you ready?” I said, ‘yes sir, I am” and we did one take. That was it man. We were gone. He flew me in and flew me out. What was fun about working on that movie was that Clint’s son, Kyle, was also in it. Years later I was skiing on a mountain one day when a guy ski’d up to me and said (gruff voice), “Hey, how you doing?” And of course, it was Clint and his son. I didn’t recognize him at first because he had a buzz haircut because he was working on “Heartbreak Ridge.” He had the G.I. Joe cut, you know? And I kept standing there thinking, ‘what is this big guy looking at me?” Then I recognized Kyle. The guy I was skiing with said, “You know Clint Eastwood?” And I just said, “Yeah.” It was just a great experience. I also worked on a movie he produced called “Ratboy” that Sondra Locke directed. It was just fun being around him, no matter how little the time was. And talk about a quiet set. No bullshit…everybody doing their job. That really impressed me.

MM: Finally, one of my guilty pleasures. I don’t know WHY I love this movie so much. “Rhinestone.”

TT: (bursts out laughing for quite a long time) Did you just say “Rhinestone?” You’re not from Kansas City. You must be from Dixie.

MM: I grew up in Tampa so maybe that helps.

TT: I’ve got to tell you, I once was told that “Rhinestone” and another film I was in, were called the worst movies of the 1980s. (NOTE: I’m thinking the other film was “Metalstorm,” a 3D extravaganza that is pretty much on every “Worst Films” list. But I got to work with Dick Farnsworth. Dolly Parton. Stallone gave me the job. I never knew that until years later when his brother, Frank, told me that. I’d known Frank for a while and one night he said to me, “you know, my brother gave you that job in “Rhinestone.” And I was like, “are you shitting me?” And he said, “uh uh.” Then one time, later, Sly walked up to me and said (Mr. Thomerson also does a fine Sylvester Stallone impression) “I really like what you did in that ‘Trancers” movie. It was a great set. Not complicated. No drama. We knew each other’s beats and rehearsed if. And then Dolly…you just don’t get any better than her, she’s such a neat lady. That was a lot of fun. And the fact that I got to work with Richard Farnsworth. Such a great man to work with.

Theater Review: Disney’s “The Little Mermaid” – Kansas City, MO

Starlight Theater
Kansas City, MO
June 3, 2017

Our Score: 3 out of 5 Stars

Under the Sea. That is where the new production of Disney’s “The Little Mermaid,” which made it’s debut performance this past Saturday – the show will be leaving KC to embark on an 18-city tour – intends to take theatre-goers. And it largely delivers on that promise, though not without a few questions.

If you are familiar with the animated film, and judging from a full-house which was easily 60% children, you know the story concerns young mermaid Ariel, the youngest daughter of Triton, falling in love with the very human Eric. Also along are the evil Ursula, the over-protective Sebastian and the goofy best pal Flounder. Young love, evil squids and great songs usually make for a fun night at the theater. However, there were a few things that distracted not only me during the performance but, if the fidgety children all around me were any indication, others as well. The problem with going to a show based on something familiar (book, movie, etc) is that any changes – and there are several plot/character changes here) or, in the case of a musical, new songs, have a tendency to throw viewers off, especially the little ones. If you’re hoping to see Max the dog or are hoping to see a cool shark chase on stage, you may be a little disappointed.

The production was directed by Glenn Casale, who also directed the original Broadway production. It is full of bright lights, bubbly performances and (mostly) familiar songs. Yet it didn’t really hold my full attention. I attribute this, in part, to the fact that this year Starlight has decided to utilize it’s large video screens above the stage, usually reserved for concerts, to “broadcast” the show to the audience. Meant to give the people in the rear of the theater a better, close-up view of the action on stage, if you are in the plaza seat area, watching the stage, you can’t help but have your attention drawn to the flickering images above the stage, which totally draws you out of the show. Also, for the first time in my years of attending shows here, the performance didn’t start on time. It was almost 8:30 before the curtain went up on the scheduled 8:00 show. Which means that the fidgety children were extra fidgety by the time it started. I do understand that this was, literally, the first show of this tour and that there may have been technical issues that needed to be worked out. A quick announcement to the audience would have been nice, especially with a show that runs almost two and a half hours.

Now on to the good stuff. The cast was first rate, with Diana Huey bright and energetic as Ariel. Eric Kunze was in fine voice as Prince Eric while Melvin Abston was truly the crowd favorite as Sebastian the Crab. Connor Russell earned some laughs as Flounder while Jennifer Allen oozed evil while belting out “Poor Unfortunate Souls” as Ursula. The production design was well conceived, and a scene where the creatures of the deep, including some impressive jelly fish, go by was a treat for the eyes. The one question I had, and maybe it’s because I’m an adult, was why, when everyone is in the water, why is Ariel the only one that has to move around CONSTANTLY while Flounder and other creatures just get to stay in place? Poor Ms. Huey’s arms must be dead tired after a show!

Disney’s “The Little Mermaid” runs in Kansas City through Sunday, June 11. For tickets head here.

Film Review: “Wonder Woman”

Starring: Gal Gadot, Chris Pine and Robin Wright
Directed by: Patty Jenkins
Rated: PG-13
Running time: 2 hrs 21 min’s
Warner Bros.

Our Score: 3 out of 5 Stars

Superman. Batman. Out of the literally hundreds of super heroes in the DC Comics Universe (and please, let’s not get into the “Batman isn’t a Superhero” discussion), these two are the only ones that have sustained success on the silver screen. This week, a third hero rises to give Warner Bro’s a trifocal of enjoyable and, for the studio, hopefully profitable film subjects. Say hello to “Wonder Woman.”

Present day. A package is delivered to Diana Prince (Gadot) at Wayne Enterprises. Inside she finds a photo, taken almost a century ago, with a very familiar face starting back at her. Her own.

Journey back now to the time of World War I. On the fog-hidden island of Hems, young Diana (Lilly Aspell) watches with wonder as the woman around here constantly train for a battle they pray to the gods will never come. Diana’s mother, Rhyolite (Connie Nielsen) allows her sister, Antiope (Wright) to train Diana. Cue nice montage scenes of Diana, gradually getting older and soon being able to fight off her attackers. Which reminds me…they always show a knife or sword barely missing its target. Surely there must be some unfortunate people who do NOT narrowly miss death. One day Diana observes a plane crash into the ocean. She finds the wreckage and saves the pilot, Steve Trevor, who luckily looks like Chris Pine. Something tells me if Josh Gad had been playing Trevor the film would have ended much earlier. Steve informs Diana and her friends that there’s a war going on out in the real world and soon they two find themselves in the middle of it.

A little over-padded at an almost two and a half-hour running time, “Wonder Woman” may finally be the Warner Bro’s/DC Comics film that is both fun to watch and full of some exciting action. Gadot, who almost stole last years “Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice,” is outstanding here as the Amazon goddess who not only learns about her destiny but that of her people. Pine is equally strong as a true “man’s man” who must learn to not only trust women but finally recognize them as equal. The battle scenes are exciting, though, again, there is a lot of “talking sounds,” scenes that almost seem to be there to ensure a longer running time,– that sometimes takes you out of the moment. But when the moments are right, “Wonder Woman” truly delivers.

Film Review: “Chuck”

Starring: Liev Schreiber, Elisabeth Moss and Jim Gaffigan
Directed by: Philippe Falardeau
Rated: R
Running time: 1 hr 36 mins
IFC Films

Our Score: 3.5 out of 5 Stars

A couple of weeks ago I came across a scrapbook I put together when I was 14 and living in Cleveland. The big news, apparently, was the opening of the Coliseum in Richfield, Ohio. Elton John was there. Many windows were broken when a riot broke out during Led Zeppelin. And, on March 24, 1975, little-known club fighter Chuck Wepner fought the great Muhammad Ali for the Heavyweight Championship of the World.

“Who cared about me a month ago? Nobody!”

This quote, from the film “Rocky,” opens the new film about Chuck Wepner (Schreiber, absolutely losing himself in the role). Known as the “Bayonne Bleeder,” a nickname the New Jersey native dislikes, Wepner is popular in the ring because he can take a punch. He is so popular that he has been told her will receive a shot at the title once Champion George Foreman defeats Ali in Zaire at the famed “Rumble in the Jungle.” Ali won his belt back in Africa but he decides to give a “white” guy a shot at the title. And that white guy is Chuck Wepner.

If you’ve ever seen Chuck Wepner on a talk show, you know the man is always “on.” Here he is no different. Schreiber plays him with a confidence that’s off the charts. Yet he still manages to exude the sadness inside, which Wepner feels whenever his wife (Moss) or others are disappointed by him. Things begin to look up after the film “Rocky” is released, with Wepner being hailed by the press as “the real Rocky.” He begins to associate himself so much with the film that, the night after “Rocky” took home the Academy Award for Best Picture, he is telling people that “We” won the Oscar. However, things begin to slowly unravel, both in his marriage and his life, giving Wepner one more fight to win.

As mentioned above, Schreiber is outstanding as the title character, but he also has a great supporting cast, including Ron Perlman as trainer Al Braverman, Michael Rappaport as his brother, John, and Pooch Hall as Ali. Wepner even has some interaction with Sylvester Stallone himself, played by Morgan Spector, auditioning for a role in “Rocky II.”

As a final note, I’ll add that Stallone has never said he based Rocky on Wepner. He has said that he saw the Ali/Wepner fight and alluded to it when “Rocky” was released. However, as he continued to make more Rocky films, he distanced himself from the Wepner-inspired story. In 2003, Wepner sued Stallone for basically using his story for financial gain. The case was settled in 2006.

Film Review: “Baywatch”

Starring: Dwayne Johnson, Zac Efron and Alexandra Daddario
Directed by: Seth Gordon
Rated: R
Running time: 1 hr 56 mins
Paramount

Our Score: 3.5 out of 5 Stars

Before I begin I want to tell you a story. I’ve only seen one episode of the “Baywatch” television show. It was at my friend Marty Kircher’s house and I couldn’t believe how someone of his age (late 30’s) could find the show interesting. The part I remember most was a scene with David Hasselhoff climbing on board a boat which had a man tied up in the middle of it. “What the hell is he doing,” I asked, “he’s a damn LIFEGUARD!” As if on cue, the Hoff looks into the camera and says, “I haven’t seen this much C-4 since my time in the Navy Seals.” Marty turns to me and says, “See! He was a NAVY SEAL!” Thankfully the makers of the new “Baywatch” film don’t take their movie as seriously as Marty would.

Mitch Buchannon (Johnson) is the main man on the beach. With summer starting it’s time for Mitch and his fellow lifeguards to pick three young wannabes to learn the ropes. He is surprised when former Olympic swimmer Matt Brody (Efron) shows up and announces he’s now a “part of the team.” Stuck with Matt, Mitch also chooses Summer Quinn (Daddario) and Ronnie Greenbaum (Jon Bass) to complete his trio of newbies. Summer seems to have the skills necessary to save lives. Ronnie…well, Ronnie has heart! And that’s all you need to be a part of “Baywatch!”

Consistently funny with a few slow spots, “Baywatch” thankfully follows the formula that other television-shows-to-movies like “21 Jump Street” have in that it doesn’t take itself TOO seriously. Leading this charge is Johnson, who seems to want to let us know that it’s OK to laugh at things we find funny. And Johnson has fun as well, making fun of the new guard. Brody, who is surely inspired by American Olympian Ryan Locte, has rubbed Mitch wrong and Mitch confirms this by calling Brody pretty much everything BUT his name. One Direction. Bieber. High School Musical. Brody answers to all three and more. Completing the team are Kelly Rohrbach as C.J. and Ilfenish Hadera as Stephanie. Together they must investigate the recent growing of a new drug kingpin without attracting the wrath of the local police, who look upon the lifesaving gang with spite.

Both Johnson and Efron are well cast. I don’t know why but every time Johnson came on screen I began thinking about his character, Maui, from “Moana.” Efron, who reportedly exercised himself down to 5% body fat, plays up the “swimming Bad Boy” character for laughs, though as the film progresses you do begin to feel a little affinity for him. The supporting cast is also funny but I would be remiss if I didn’t give a special shout out to Jon Bass, who steals the film as Ronnie. And if you fans of the television series keep your eyes peeled, you may spot a familiar face or two.

All in all, a fun film you should wait 15 minutes after eating to see!