Film Review: “IT”

Starring: Jaeden Lieberher, Sophia Lillis and Bill Skarsgard
Directed by: Andy Muschietti
Rated: R
Running time: 2 hrs 15 mins
New Line Cinema

Why do I hate clowns?

Could it be because one Saturday night, while eating dinner alone at a Pizza Hut, the evening entertainment was a clown? Asking if there was “anything else” she could do for me, I told the waitress to “keep the clown away from me.” She must have said something to Bozo because, before I could finish my salad, this red-nosed freak stood next to my table and announced, very loudly, “Hey everybody….this guy doesn’t like clowns.” He then led the kids in the restaurant in booing me. Hell, who am I kidding, he got the parents to boo me too. When I left I told the waitress that I had left her a nice tip but that I had seen the clown take it off the table!

Could it be that quiet afternoon in 1991 when I was visited at the theatre I managed by three clowns, all in full regalia, who warned me that if I played the movie “Shakes the Clown” there “could be trouble?” I told them I could handle trouble, I just didn’t want any “drive by pie-ings.” They stared blankly at me.

Or it’s possible it’s because a woman I dated and gave almost five years of my life to liked clowns immensely and then ripped my heart out. Works for me. This hatred (read “fear”) of clowns led me to completely ignore the 1990 television production of “IT.” However, I did watch it recently to prepare me for the movie, thinking if I know what’s going to happen I won’t react to the new film. Wrong!

As summer begins in the town of Derry, Maine school ends. The town is dotted with all kinds of kids, but not enough that no one notices when one turns up missing. We quickly meet Bill Denbrough (Lieberher) and his little brother, Georgie (Jackson Robert Scott). Bill has made Georgie a paper boat to sail in the rain-swollen gutters outside. In order to make sure the boat will not sink, Bill sends Georgie to the cellar to get some wax to seal it. The cellar is a dark, foreboding place and Georgie hurries down and back in a flash. Pleased with himself, he soon finds himself chasing the boat down along the curb and watching it slide down into a storm drain. The boat is lost. Or is it? Georgie is surprised to be stared at by a pair of blood-shot eyes, attached to the white face of a friendly clown. Well, more like a non-friendly clown. One that likes to eat children!

Based on the popular novel by the master of horror himself, Stephen King, “IT” is a terrifying journey through childhood, one that doesn’t let the occasional “lost kid” go by unnoticed! A group of kids that calls themselves the Losers Club notice a lot. They are led by Bill, a slight boy with a stutter. The other members include Ben (Jeremy Ray Taylor), the fat kid; Beverly Marsh (Lillis), the girl with the bad reputation; Richie (Finn Wolfhard), the smart aleck; Mike (Chosen Jacobs), whose only apparent malady in this town is that he is black; Stanley (Wyatt Oleff), the Jewish kid and Eddie (Jack Dylan Grazer), the sickly one. Together these youngsters battle their childhood fears, a couple of JD thugs and a horrifying clown named Pennywise (Skarsgard) as they investigate the morbid history of Derry.

Why is this movie so damn scary? The cast. The filmmakers have assembled an amazing cast of young actors that perfectly fit each role. Each is pitch-perfect in his/her portrayal and you can’t help but see the film (and the horror in if) through their eyes. And Skarsgard is a revelation! With minimal dialogue and eyes that dart wildly, his Pennywise is up there with Hannibal Lecter and Heath Ledger’s Joker in the movie villain Hall of Fame. A warning to those who only remember the television production: this is a violent film. Very dark for a King adaptation, though I’ve been warned that the novel, which I may or may not attempt to read, is even darker. And that’s no joke!

Film Review: “Goon: Last of the Enforcers”

Starring: Seann William Scott, Wyatt Russell and Liev Schreiber
Directed by: Jay Baruchel
Rated: R
Running time: 1 hr 41 mins
Momentum Pictures

In 2011, a small budget comedy written by actor Jay Baruchel and Seth Rogen’s long-tine partner, Evan Goldberg, called “Goon” attracted itself a small following. The story of Doug Glatt, a man whose IQ level is so low it leads him to become an enforcer in pro hockey, had its funny moments. Not sure if anyone was clamoring for a sequel but one has arrived. And it’s not too bad.

The NHL is on strike, which means more attention is being paid to the minor league teams, including Halifax Highlanders. Doug (Scott) is now the team’s captain, and each night he leads them onto the ice. He also leads the team in penalty minutes. It seems Doug is still a goon – picking a fight with anyone he sees. However this year things have changed. There’s a new black-hat in the league, Anders Cain (Russell) who is not only big and bad but is the son of the Highlander’s team owner. One night out on the ice Doug and Anders throw down, with Doug being seriously injured. With a new wife and a baby on the way, Doug decides to retire, thinking he can skate away from the game he loves. But it’s never easy to walk away.

Well cast and smartly written, “Goon: Last of the Enforcers” is built on different relationships. Doug and his teammates. Doug and his wife. Anders and his father. They all play a part in the story. And the cast help pull these relationships off. Scott has always been able to play the dense guy who just doesn’t get it but here he give Doug (or, as he signs his name, “Dug”) a quiet sweetness that keeps you rooting for him. And as much as you want to hate him, you also quietly root for Anders. It’s obvious that he’s only playing the game the way he does to earn some recognition from his father, a one-time hockey star. The violence he dispenses is his way of asking for attention. I had the opportunity to meet Wyatt Russell last year and he is a pretty good sized guy. He was also a hockey player (he was a goalie) so I can imagine it was fun for him to be outside the pipes and facing off on the ice. Schreiber seems to be having fun with his role as former enforcer Ross Rhea who, like Doug, finds himself reliving the old days by participating in local “hockey nights.” It should be noted that no hockey is played at these events. It’s just fighting match-ups, with the winner moving on to the next guy.

First-time feature director Baruchel shows a keen eye for keeping the film moving and his cameras have managed to capture the best part of ice hockey – the speed in which the game flows.

If I have a problem with the film it’s with the amount of blood that is shed during the on-ice battles. Most hockey fights consist of one guy grabbing another guy’s sweater, pulling it up over his head and giving him a few shots to the head. Those pale in comparison to the violence here, where teeth are lost and gallons of blood are spilled. Oh, and also TJ. Miller has an unfunny, recurring gig as a “Sportcenter” style host. I wish I knew who in Hollywood he had naked pictures of because I’d steal them back and return them if it meant I never had to endure him again in a film.

Kansas City Theater Review: “Motown the Musical”

Starlight Theater, Kansas City, MO
August 22, 2017

It is truly part of the soundtrack of my life. In fact, I would bet cash money that if you’re over the age of 16 you’ve heard the sound of Motown. From Smokey Robinson to the Four Tops. Diana Ross to the Jackson 5. Rick James to Rockwell. For almost 60 years we have grooved to the music delivered to us by the great Berry Gordy. If you’ve seen “Dreamgirls” you kind of had an idea of what went on behind the scenes. With “Motown” you know the truth.

The show opens during the famed “Motown” 25 television special, which was put together to honor the label and it’s artists but it mostly remembered for being the show where Michael Jackson introduced the Moonwalk! While current and former Motown artists (the Temptations, Marvin Gaye, Junior Walker) perform for the audience, we see an assistant trying to persuade Motown founder Gordy (Chester Gregory) to attend the event. Gordy is upset, having lost many of his founding musicians to bigger record labels with bigger budgets. It wasn’t always like this, he notes.

A step back into one of the most important parts of musical history, “Motown” is an amazing homage to the music most of us grew up listening to. But it’s more then just a “greatest hits” variety show. It takes a look inside the famous walls of Hitsville U.S.A. and the struggles that were endured, both musically and personally. Among the main parts of the story line are the budding romance between the married Gordy and Diana Ross (Allison Semmes). Gordy has chosen to mentor Ross to be the best she can and this mentoring has slowly grown into love. In fighting among the groups, choices of songs and the rights of artists to do what they feel is important. Gaye fights to record an album of socially conscious songs and though Gordy resists at first, he relents and the world is given “What’s Going On,” followed by “Mercy, Mercy Me.” You needn’t wonder if the music is timeless, as both of those songs should be mandatory listening today.

As the story progresses into the 1970s, we meet the Jackson 5 (this group was easily the most anticipated of the evening, earning the loudest applause). The 70s slow down until the company faces the prospects of having to sell. But the late 70s and early 80s, with groups like the Commodores and singers like Rick James (btch) keep the company going. All in all you will hear a virtual jukebox of over 50 great songs, all performed by an amazing cast, led by Mr. Gregory, Ms. Semmes and Jarran Muse, who brings the soul and the spirit of the late Marvin Gaye to life. If you love music and the power it has over us, this is the show for you!

“Motown: The Musical” continues in Kansas City through August 27th. Here is the show’s touring schedule through the end of October:

Chicago, IL: Oct. 3 – Oct. 8, 2017 at the Cadillac Palace Theatre
Huntsville, AL: Oct. 10 – Oct. 15, 2017 at the Broadway Theatre League
Peoria, IL: Oct. 17 – Oct. 19, 2017 at the Peoria Civic Center
Lincoln, NE: Oct. 21 – Oct. 22, 2017 at the Lied Center for Performing Arts
Mason City, IA: Oct. 25 – Oct. 26, 2017 at the North Iowa Community Auditorium
Sioux Falls, SD: Oct. 27 – Oct. 29, 2017 at the Washington Pavilion

Remembering Jerry Lewis

I can’t remember a time in my life when I didn’t know who Jerry Lewis was. As a kid in the 60s, I loved his films. As someone who liked music, I loved his son’s group, Gary Lewis and the Playboys. And, as I got older and was allowed to stay up late, I loved watching him every Labor Day on the Muscular Dystrophy Telethon he hosted every year. Monday is a sad day because Mr. Lewis won’t be a part of it. He died August 20th at the age of 91.

Born Jerome Levitch in Newark, New Jersey in March 1926, he was 20 years old when he was teamed up with singer Dean Martin and the duo became the most popular nightclub comedy act of the time. Capitalizing on their stage personas (Dean was the good looking singer, Jerry the spastic goof) they made a successful number of films for Paramount. The duo broke up in 1956 and the next year found Jerry starring by himself in the comedy “The Delicate Delinquent.” After success in a series of films created by others (“The Sad Sack,” “The Geisha Boy”) he decided to write and direct himself, beginning with 1960’s “The Bell Boy.” He worte and/or directed 10 films in 10 years including “The Ladies Man,” “The Errand Boy” and the film he was most closely associated with, “The Nutty Professor.”

Critics dismissed Lewis’ films but other cultures, notably the French, hailed him as a comic genius. Lewis was also technically brilliant as a filmmaker, developing the “video assist” system employed by most directors today, giving them the chance to see what they have just shot instead of waiting for the film to be developed. In 1972 he took on a personal project dealing with the Holocaust, writing, directing and starring in “The Day the Clown Cried.” The story of a former clown who is used to escort young children to the gas chambers, the film has rarely been seen. For many years Lewis kept the only print of the film locked up in a vault. However, in 2015 he donated it to the Library of Congress with the stipulation that it not be shown until 2025.

As his film career slowed down Lewis turned his attention more and more to finding the cure for Muscular Dystrophy, raising almost $2.5 BILLION when he stopped hosting in 2010. One of the highlights of the show came in 1976, when Frank Sinatra reunited Lewis with Dean Martin on air. To me it is one of the greatest live moments caught on television. Everything from Jerry muttering “you son of a bitch” to Sinatra to him wiping the tears from his eyes is genuine.

After a decade away from films, Lewis returned with a flourish, playing late-night talk show host Jerry Langdon in Martin Scorsese’s brilliant film “The King of Comedy.” Starring opposite Robert De Niro, Lewis received the best reviews of his life. He continued to work in film, television and theater through 2015. In 2009 he was given the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Scientists for his 50 years of work with Muscular Dystrophy.

Snag Tickets to the Kansas City Premiere of “Patti Cake$”

Media Mikes has teamed up with our friends at Fox Searchlight to give it’s Kansas City-area readers the chance to be among the first to see the highly anticipated film “Patti Cake$.” Called “an instant classic” by TIME magazine, the film tells the story of aspiring rapper Patricia Dombrowski, a.k.a. Killa P, a.k.a. Patti Cake$, who is fighting an unlikely quest for glory in her downtrodden hometown in New Jersey.

The film also earned raves at this year’s Sundance and Cannes Film Festivals. The screening will be held on Wednesday, August 23rd at the Cinemark Palace on the Plaza in Kansas City and will start at 7:00 pm.

To obtain tickets to the screening, just go to here and click on the “GET MY PASS” tab. Passes are first come/first serve. Good luck!

“Patti Cake$” opens nationally on Wednesday, August 30th.

Film Review: “The Hitman’s Bodyguard”

Starring: Ryan Reynolds, Samuel L. Jackson and Salma Hayek
Directed by: Patrick Hughes
Rated: R
Running time: 1 hr 58 mins
Lionsgate

Michael Bryce (Reynolds) is a Triple-A rated bodyguard who is proud of the fact the he hasn’t lost a client since….BANG! Oops.

A film that only works in small doses, “The Hitman’s Bodyguard” is several films in one. First you have an action comedy full of dirty words and exploding heads. Next is a political thriller as the leader of Belarus (Gary Oldman) is put on trial, at the Hague in the Netherlands no less! Finally you have the “bro-mance,” featuring Bryce and hired killer Darius Kincaid (Jackson), a duo that yells and bickers with each other like an old married couple. Taken separately, you have a surprisingly entertaining (sometimes) film. Put it all together, and you have a mess.

When the film works it’s when Reynolds and Jackson act as you expect them too. Reynolds is all smarm, his character seemingly trying to be the smartest man in the room while Jackson finds new and entertaining ways to use the words “mother” and, well, you know.

Somehow Kincaid is the only witness that can put Oldman’s character away forever, though it’s never really understood how until the end of the film. Throw in Bryce’s old lover, who just happens to be an INTERPOL agent, and you can see how jumbled the film is. Thankfully, the chemistry (and improvisational skills) of Reynolds and Jackson keep the film moving. The action is frenetic, moving across Europe like a Zagat video gone wild, so much so that you appreciate it when Mr. Jackson gets to utter his favorite phrase. “You know you’ve totally ruined “mother fu**er) for me, Bryce tells Kincaid. Hardly. The words flow out of Kincaid like the paint off of an artist’s brush. If only the rest of the film were as much of a masterpiece.

Jerry Pearce Talks About the Great American Songbook

 

When I first heard Jerry Pearce sing I couldn’t believe my ears. Neither could my wife, who asked me if I was listening to the Sinatra channel on my Sirius/XM radio. It wasn’t the “Chairman of the Board” we were listening to, but a talented young man about to make his New York City debut August 18th. Mr. Pearce took some time out of his day to talk to me about the music he has loved since he was a child.

Mike Smith:
You’re awfully young to have such an appreciation for these songs. How did you get interested in this musical genre’?

Jerry Pearce: My grandfather was a truck driver for 30 years. When he retired he took a job “under the table” and delivered stuff with his own truck. I would ride in the truck with him and he would play the same Sinatra CD over and over and over. Somehow it got stuck in my head.

MS: This gig you have coming up…how did it come about?

JP: I had performed in two concerts. One last December and one in May which were put on by a non-profit organization to promote music education for children. I then took part in a Frank Sinatra contest that was held in Hoboken, New Jersey (Sinatra’s home town) in June and won 1st Prize. A friend of mine named Gary Wilner, who is a singer and ventriloquist, sent a clip of my performance to the owner of the Metropolitan Room in New York City. The owner called me and within a week we had set up a date.

MS: Hoboken? That’s pretty bold, singing Sinatra in his hometown. That’s like going to Freehold, New Jersey and singing Springsteen!

JP: (laughing) I know, right.

MS: When you sing are you intentionally trying to sound like Sinatra or is that your normal voice?

JP: That’s my voice. I really don’t try to imitate anyone. I have been told often that I sound like Sinatra but I’ve also been told a couple of times that I sound like Perry Como, which is very flattering.

MS: All you need is a sweater.

JP: (laughs) Right. (NOTE: Besides an amazing voice, Perry Como was known for almost always wearing a Cardigan sweater).

MS: Tell me about your gig this Friday night.

JP: It’s basically a tribute to THE GREAT AMERICAN SONGBOOK. It will be held at the Metropolitan Room on West 22nd Street in New York City. Of course I’ll be honoring Sinatra, who is my favorite singer, but I will also be paying tribute to the great songwriters of the era. What they wrote was poetry. And I’m hoping to keep their music and their personalities in the spotlight.

Kansas City Theater Review: “The Bodyguard – The Musical”

Starlight Theater
Kansas City, Missouri
August 8, 2017

Bang! The sound of a gunshot fills the theater while, behind the curtain, a voice cautions, “You know what I do!” Whether the other person does or doesn’t is irrelevant. With another shot, he is dead.

The above transpires in the first few minutes of “The Bodyguard: The Musical.” Based on the popular Lawrence Kasdan film, which starred Kevin Costner and Whitney Houston, the show is hoping to recreate it’s huge London success on a tour of the states.

To those familiar with the film, you know that the story involves pop superstar and budding film star Rachel Marron (an outstanding Deborah Cox) and her hate/hate more relationship with Secret Service agent turned personal bodyguard Frank Farmer (Judson Mills), who has been hired by Rachel’s manager to look after the singer after a series of threatening notes are found. Frank is a no-nonsense kind of guy and this rubs Rachel the wrong way. Not only is she worried about her privacy but that of her young son, Fletcher. As the show progresses we are treated to some nice choreography and some amazing Whitney Houston songs. In fact, this show is so full of Houston’s hits that it should have been called “WHITNEY! – The Musical.”

The show’s plot consists of every way possible to introduce another classic Whitney Houston to the audience. The songs are classics, but the plot is a dud. It didn’t really work as a film but translated to the stage, especially in musical form, is a gamble that doesn’t quite pay off. On the plus side, both leads are committed to their roles and Ms. Cox’s voice is loud and clear. The choreography is top notch and the direction keeps the show moving. If you’re a fan of the film you may want to skip “The Bodyguard.” If you’re into the music of Whitney Houston, then by all means take it in.

Win Passes to the Kansas City Premiere of “Step”

Media Mikes has teamed with Fox Searchlight Films to give 50 readers and a guest the chance to be among the first to see the acclaimed documentary “Step” in Kansas City.

The screening will be held on Monday, August 7th at the Glenwood Arts Theatre in Mission, Kansas and will begin at 7:00 p.m.

All you have to do is go here and download your passes. The first 50 readers to do so will receive a pass for two to attend the screening. This is a first come/first serve contest and once the passes are exhausted the giveaway is over.

Winner of several documentary film awards, including at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, “Step” opens in Kansas City on August 11, 2017

Win Passes to the Kansas City Premiere of “The Hitman’s Bodyguard”

Media Mikes has teamed with Lionsgate Films to give 50 readers and a guest the chance to be among the first to see the new film “The Hitman’s Bodyguard” in Kansas City.

The screening will be held on Tuesday, August 15th at the B&B Shawnee 18 Theatre in Shawnee, Kansas and will begin at 7:00 p.m.

All you have to do is go here and download your passes. The first 50 readers to do so will receive a pass for two to attend the screening. This is a first come/first serve contest and once the passes are exhausted the giveaway is over.

“The Hitman’s Bodyguard,” starring Ryan Reynolds, Samuel L. Jackson and Gary Oldman, opens nationally on August 18, 2017

Win Passes to the Kansas City Premiere of “The Glass Castle”

Media Mikes has teamed with Lionsgate Films to give 50 readers and a guest the chance to be among the first to see the new film “The Glass Castle” in Kansas City.

The screening will be held on Tuesday, August 8th at the Cinemark Palace at the Plaza in Kansas City, Missouri and will begin at 7:00 p.m.

All you have to do is go here and download your passes.The first 50 readers to do so will receive a pass for two to attend the screening. This is a first come/first serve contest and once the passes are exhausted the giveaway is over.

“The Glass Castle,” starring Oscar winner Brie Larson as well as Oscar nominees Naomi Watts and Woody Harrelson, opens nationally on August 11, 2017

Bruce Campbell Heading to Kansas City in September

“Evil Dead” and “Army of Darkness” star and all-around screen legend Bruce Campbell will help the Kansas City Alamo Drafthouse celebrate their 5th anniversary by bringing his interactive game show, “Last Fan Standing,” to town on September 9th.

In conjunction with Rainy Day Books, those that attend the event will not only get a meet and greet with Mr. Campbell but will receive a copy of his latest book, “Hail to the Chin: Further Confessions of a “B” Movie Actor.” Tickets to the event are $65.00 and available here. 

About “Hail to the Chin: Further Confessions of a B Movie Actor”

It’s been 15 years since his first memoir but Bruce is still living the dream as a “B” movie king in an “A” movie world. Bruce Campbell makes his triumphant return from where he left off in “If Chins Could Kill” with further hilarious, gut-wrenchingly honest confessions. Bruce brings us through his life in the decade since his first memoir and his roles as varied as they are numerous- from his roles in the “Spiderman” movies to his self-referential “My Name is Bruce” to his role on #1 show “Burn Notice” and his new STARZ hit series “Ash vs Evil Dead.”

Over the last 15 years, Bruce has become a regular on the Wizard World convention circuit, has created his @GroovyBruce twitter account with over 400,000 followers and a Facebook page with almost 250,000 likes. His profile and reach is lightyears beyond where it was for Chins. “Hail to the Chin” will be bursting with pictures and the signature humor that Bruce brought to “If Chins Could Kill” and will be devoured by his legions of fans across the country.

About Last Fan Standing

Last Fan Standing gives the entire audience the chance to play along and qualify to be on stage—and attempt to be the Last Fan Standing. Through provided “audience response devices” (Clickers if you insist on getting technical), each audience member participates in a series of multiple choice questions, where the players with the fastest-correct answers advance to the Podium Rounds. The Podium Rounds bring the top four (4) players from the audience to a winner-take-all battle of Sci-Fi, Fantasy, Superheroes, and Horror based trivia. After each round the player with the lowest score is eliminated, until there is only one….Last Fan Standing!

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.”