Tech N9ne talks about his love for music and latest album “Therapy”

You may not be familiar with the name Aaron Donetz Yates, but if you’ve been a fan of rap and hip-hop for the past two decades you surely know the name Tech N9ne!

Born in Kansas City, he embraced rap early in life, even rapping the letters in his name to alert others as to how to spell it. In 1991 he began his professional career as a member of the group Black Mafia. In 1997, after appearing with several groups on different record labels, his solo song “Questions” appeared on the soundtrack album for the Tupac Shakur film “Gang Related.” In 1999 he had partner Travis O’Guinn founded the Strange Music record label.

His thirteenth studio album, “Something Else,” was released last summer and features guest collaborations with artists like Cee Lo Green, Krizz Kaliko and the three remaining members of the classic rock group The Doors (keyboardist Ray Manzarek passed away in May 2013 before the album was released). His current EP, “Therapy,” was released at the end of 2013.

While preparing for a recent concert in Grand Rapids, Iowa, the rapper and music label president took time out to talk with Media Mikes about his 2013 releases and what he has planned for the future.

Phillip Smith: How is “Therapy” different from your other past records?
Tech N9ne: “Therapy” is 7 songs that are just amazing to me. It is just what I was feeling at the time. I know there are some fans that won’t be down with the rock rap sound but that’s what I was feeling, it’s what I wanted to do. The beats were constructed in KC and we than flew out to Venice Beach to meet with Ross Robinson. We stayed at Ross Robinson’s house and Wes Borland (formerly of Limp Bizkit) was staying out there at the same time. He sat in on the album and played on nearly every track. It’s condensed but it’s full of energy. It’s totally different from anything Tech N9ne. It has elements of Tech N9ne because it’s me, it was fun. But it’s all new, a new sound, a new message.

PS: When you come back and play in the KC Metro Area, what is one of your favorite places to play?
T9: I have played everywhere from the Uptown Theater to Kemper Arena. I’m about to play at the Sprint Center here soon. But I’d have to say right now it has to be the Midland Theatre. I won’t know that answer when I play the Sprint Center. I was on stage there one time, Lil Wayne brought me on stage when he was here and it was crazy man. I felt that whole place roar, but this time I get to perform.

PS: Is there any other place that you circle on your tour or make sure that you play every tour?
T9: Denver, totally man. It’s incredible man, incredible. I don’t know how it happened over the years but it happened. It’s still going man, that’s why I have a song called “Colorado” on “Something Else”. I have to give to all the people who have been down with me for a long time. They were always down before KC and now KC is finally catching up! You know it’s crazy out there energy wise.

PS: And they let you get away with Chiefs colors in Denver?
T9: Yeah man (laughs) because they all wear the colors when I come to town. They wear the colors of the rival team for me man (laughs loudly).

PS: Do you ever envision yourself stopping the touring and just falling back on family or just writing?
T9: It’s funny you asked that man…I’ve been saying with this tour that If I stopped…. I would be letting everyone down. They are so with me you know what I’m saying? I feel like I’d leave them high and dry I don’t know if I’ll be able ever to stop man. It’s not like they stopped liking the music and said alright stop. Than it would be easy to stop you know. But I get doper as I get older. I just had my 42nd birthday but I feel like I’m still 19. I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to stop…I don’t know. It’s weird.

PS: That sounds like a lot of pressure to keep going.
T9: Man, it’s a wonderful thing to still be afloat after all this time, but to be still getting bigger. It’s wild. I can’t quit this!

PS: Now that you have become known nationally and internationally… you’re no longer just Kansas City’s secret. Is this what you expected? Not just the money and being famous, but that you still have people who want to hear what you have to say, than afterwards stand up and cheer?
T9: Well man I’ve been planning this for a long time, a real long time. I always knew I had something special. It just took longer for me to make it here because I’m different. I’m the black guy with the painted face. It’s like it’s always going to be… I don’t know man… I’m gonna push hard no matter what. I’m going to always stand out. I’m not going to perform for no amount of money and change. I am the way that I am. I always knew that I was going to do this. But this isn’t the end. This is a wonderful thing but it’s not Global Domination. I won’t stop till the world knows my story.

PS: Is there someone out there right now that you haven’t worked with that you would love to collaborate on a song or an album.
T9: I think Two Murders together would be great, I think people would like to hear that, I know I would like to hear that. I would like to hear myself next to one of the best rappers in my opinion. You know I have tried a couple times, and I just haven’t been able to get it done . If it happens it will and if it don’t it don’t. I’m still a fan of the man’s music. We will just see if we can make it happen.

Film Review “Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom”

Starring: Idris Elba, Naomie Harris
Directed by: Justin Chadwick
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Distributed by The Weinstein Company
Runtime: 146 Minutes

Our Score: 3.5 out of 5 stars

“Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom” is an inspiring, powerful and thought provoking film about the life of Nelson Mandela. Beginning with his boyhood in the fields in South Africa, to his rise as a lawyer in Johannesburg, his 27 years in prison on Robben Island and culminating in his release to become the first black president of South America.

Nelson Mandela (Idris Elba) was born in 1918 and after growing up and reaching manhood, he left his village in South Africa and became educated and a lawyer. His job was to protect the citizens of Johannesburg. Because of the city and, really, the country’s huge racial boundaries, very similar to America’s at that time he felt a greater need not just to protect the citizens in court but before either of them ever made it to court. As one man he is little; he cannot accomplish anything. But, with a group of followers that started small but became many, he was strong. Along with his wife Winnie (Naomie Harris) they orchestrate demonstrations throughout the city, again similar to the ones brought about during the U.S racial wars. They refused to ride segregated buses and would ride the trains for whites only. Rather than use fire hoses, as their American counterparts, as a means to restrain the demonstrations the government-run police would use bullets, killing men, women and children at will. When the government became violent the demonstrations became violent, with bombings and looting.

Eventually Mandela and his men are caught and prosecuted as terrorists against the government and given the penalty of death. Mandela’s last words to the court were that racial equality was a dream he believed in — and one he would die for. To make a point the judge instead sentences Mandela and his compatriots to life in prison on Robben Island, South Africa’s version of Alcatraz. Even here, without a newspaper or television, he fights for the rights of the prisoners. He works to get the prisoners pants (they currently wear shorts). Mandela knows that little wins will earn you respect no matter where you are. He is completely oblivious to the outside world, which for the first 15-20 years of his imprisonment are filled with more race wars, bombings and killings. His wife Winnie, the leader of the ANC (African National Congress — this wasn’t really a political party it was more of a guerilla party for the rights of all men) has given up on trying to win the war for equality but is merely acting out in violence and hate.

Unaware of the changing climate in the outside world Mandela has no idea that a worldwide equal rights movement is happening… with him as the centerpiece for equality and freedom. When his daughter turns 16 it’s the first time he has ever met her. She comes to visit him in prison and brings him a “Free Mandela” button. She explains to him that though they never met and he never met the millions around the world he is still looked to as a leader.

The rest of the movie is pretty much what we all know from our history lessons. Mandela was given a pardon by the newly appointed president of South Africa, FW De Klerk; before this he was “imprisoned” in a house with his family while he worked with De Klerk on human rights. Upon his release he was elected president, the first black president of South Africa and the rest is all history.

Though the film seems to be a little on the long side I only found a few scenes where it dragged. The message is so inspirational that I didn’t really care that much that it dragged on. It’s a great story of hope and the performances are fantastic. I saw Elba in “Pacific Rim” this summer and this performance made me completely forget about that movie. He does such a great job from his tone of voice to capturing Mandela’s gait, nailing the performance.

Award voting season is coming upon us, and I expect Elba, Harris and the film to receive recognition for the great portrayal of the Mandela family and for educating the many people who see this as the behind the scenes story of Nelson Mandela and his walk to freedom.

Film Review “Homefront”

Starring: Jason Statham, James Franco, Kate Bosworth, Winona Ryder.
Directed by: Gary Fleder
Rated: R
Runtime: 1 hr 40 mins
Open Road

Our Score: 3 out of 5 stars

Plenty of action and an ending you see coming in the first 20 minutes doesn’t take away from the adrenaline packed thrill ride that Jason Statham’s new film, “Homefront,” takes you on.

Phil Broker (Statham) is a former undercover DEA agents who’s cover was blown. He is now in hiding with a false identity and raising a young daughter in Louisiana. They are living a peaceful and quiet life until his daughter sticks up for herself on the playground and bloodies the school bully’s nose. It is this act that straps you in for the rollercoaster ride to come. Her actions bring along a feud that grows between the bully’s strung out mother Cassie Bodine (Bosworth), her brother Gator (Franco) and Broker. Brother Gator is a big fish in a small pond, making his living as the town’s main meth manufacturer and dealer. He’s large and in charge and those in authority, even the local Sheriff (Clancy Brown), are in his corner. His only beef with Broker comes when his sister, upset her son got his butt whipped by a girl, asks him to “scare” Broker. In fact, it is the volatile relationship between Franco and Bosworth that is the underlying antagonist of the film. Wanting to keep his sister happy, Gator obliges, breaks in to Broker’s house and discovers his undercover police reports. His true identity uncovered, Broker and his daughter now find themselves on the run from a group that includes Gator, his girlfriend (Ryder) and the gang of bikers that originally blew Broker’s cover.

Written by Sylvester Stallone, this is the rare film that packs plenty of action around an actual story line. Before the film started, I wrote down the four things that I figured I, and the majority of the people who go see this film, should probably expect to see;

1. Trouble Finds Good Guy,
2. There will be shooting,
3. There will be multiple chase scenes; on foot, by car, by boat, etc..
4. Good guy gets last laugh.

After the film I glanced at the list and can happily say I wasn’t disappointed. If you want to see Jason Statham, a real action star, kick some real ass than this is the film for you.

CD Review: Tech N9ne “Something Else”

Tech N9ne
“Something Else”
Label: Strange Music, RBC Records
Various Producers
Length: 66 minutes

Our score: 5 out of 5 stars

Earlier this summer Tech N9ne released his 13th studio album, “Something Else.” It is a massive and brilliant collection of songs that show a maturation in the styles and messages delivered by the artist.

A Kansas City native, and local music legend, Tech N9ne has been performing for the better part of 20 years. My experiences with Tech N9ne are definitely not limited. As a teenager I named our family dog Techanina: my family calls her Nina for short but they know her real name. In 2003 I traveled to Phoenix for a concert of his and remember being in awe that there were so many people who knew who he was and that had bought a ticket for his show. He wasn’t just KC’s secret anymore. That being said, there probably weren’t 250 people at the small venue he performed at. In the decade since Phoenix Tech N9ne has accomplished so much and it shows in his enormous fan base, his record sales and the list of collaborating artists he brings in on this CD.

“Something Else” is a journey broken down into three parts: fire, water and earth. The story and songs focus on a meteor that hits outside of Kansas City and the ripple effect the devastation has on the surrounding communities. There are people looking to the heavens for answers; there is looting and corruption. There are fighters of evil and heroes who are making a difference. The roller coaster effect the songs have are reflective of the collaborating artists brought in for their unique styles, thoughts and artistry. From the surviving Doors to CeeLo Green and an all-star collection including System of a Downs’ Serj Tankian, T-Pain, Kendrick Lamar, Game, Wiz Khalifa, B.O.B. and the Strange Music Artists, Krizz Kaliko, Kutt Calhoun and Big Scoob. Introducing the songs is KC news anchor Mark Alford.

“See Me” and “B.I.T.C.H.” were the first two singles off of the album and both were met with great response and radio play. Every song on the album is worthy of the air waves, and the DVD is an added bonus. It has a behind the scenes view not just on the making of the album but stories and life events detailed by Tech N9ne as to the importance of the songs, and collaborators. “Strange 2013” was the first song recorded for the album and it features all the remaining member of the Doors including keyboardist Ray Manzarek who passed away this past May. The Doors and their music were an enormous influence on Tech N9ne as a child. Their song “People are Strange” was an anthem for him when he was young because he was, well, strange. It’s no secret why his record label is named Strange Music. For him to end his album with this collaboration is a tribute to both the artists, then and now, and the music they have created.

Theatre Review “Wicked: The Untold Story of the Witches of Oz” Kansas City, Missouri

WICKED: The Untold Story of the Witches of Oz
October 10, 2013
Music Hall
Kansas City, Missouri

Our Score: 5 out of 5 stars

For those not familiar with the story, “Wicked” tells the story of the witches of Oz before they are visited by a certain little girl from Kansas. The two main characters are Glinda the Good Witch (Hayley Podschun) and Elphaba (Jennifer DiNoia) the “Wicked” Witch of the West. The story begins where the well known story of “The Wizard of Oz” ends, Dorothy has just gone back to Kansas and the Munchkins are singing and celebrating now that the Wicked Witch is finally dead. As the celebration and singing continues a question is put to Glinda as to the actual relationship she shared with Elphaba when they were growing up. We are than transported by way of Glinda’s memory to her school days and her first meeting with Elphaba.

As you can probably figure, Glinda and Elphaba were very different from the beginning. Glinda grew up in a higher class family, which made it quite simple to achieve any dream she had. She just had to ask and it was given to her. Even though Elphaba’s father is the Mayor she has a little tiny problem that keeps her from making friends… she is green! Her sole purpose in life is to take care of her beautiful and normal looking sister, Nessarose, who is confined to a wheelchair. We follow Elphaba and Glinda to “college,” where their disdain for each other grows. As time progresses we watch them deal with their differences, their disagreements, their shared following of sorcery and their shared love of the same boy, Fiyero.

What’s most enjoyable about “Wicked” is that the story continually works in the story of “The Wizard of Oz,” with some twists involved that make all to much sense to the story that we already know. We learn how the scarecrow, tin man and cowardly lion all come to be. We learn why there must be good to match evil or, in this case, where there must be evil to match good. What we are all lead to do is to accept the thought that we must unlearn what we already know. You will never watch “The Wizard of Oz” again and feel the same way about any of the characters.

Most impressive of “Wicked” was that the story was all new to me, I went in with only expectations of being entertained and satisfied with the production I saw. What I witnessed was something entirely different. It was an emotional experience that left me drained by the end. You’re not sure if you should choose sides; is there a good and evil in this story? Is it all evil? Is it all good? Do I root for just one character or do I just trust that sometimes there can be two right sides to every story? “Wicked” is a top notch production with great music and a fantastic crew currently running in Kansas City through October 27. It’s a story that you should experience at least once. My only regret about the show is that it has taken me ten years to see it!I

The entire cast of “Wicked” in KC was amazing, with special kudos going to DiNoia and Kansas City native Podschun. Many in the cast had played the same roles on Broadway. I could tell from the beginning that this performance would be like nothing I had seen recently at the theater. “Wicked” was nominated for ten Tony Awards, winning three, and boasts a Grammy winning soundtrack of such memorable tunes as the Act 1 finale “Defying Gravity.” If “Wicked” blows your way I suggest you go see it before a house drops on YOU!

There are currently two touring companies of “Wicked” making their way around the United States. This cast can next be seen in Des Moines, Indianapolis and Cleveland. For more tour information http://www.wickedthemusical.com/broadway-tickets

Film Review “Captain Phillips”

Starring: Tom Hanks, Barkhad Abdi
Directed By: Paul Greengrass
Rated: PG 13
Running time: 2 hours 14 mins
Sony Pictures

Our Score: 4.5 out of 5 stars

From the director of “The Bourne Supremacy” and “The Bourne Ulitmatum” and the writer of “Flight Plan” and “The Hunger Games”; Tom Hanks stars as “Captain Phillips,” the true story about an American captain and his crew being hijacked by Somali Pirates off the coast of Africa in 2009.

While carrying supplies and food for poverty stricken villages in Somalia and Kenya, The Maersk Alabama became the first American ship in 200 years to be hijacked by pirates. The story follows Captain Richard Phillips (Tom Hanks) and the pirate captain, Muse (Barkhad Abdi), from the hijacking of the Alabama to the capture of the pirates and escape of captain and crew. We are introduced to the world of the Somali pirates, their planning (or lack there of) and their successful taking over of ships with just a small row boat with a motor. Because the Alabama was a freight carrier with a tall hull, the thinking on board was that there was little to no chance of the ship being hijacked. Which means the crew is less than prepared for the struggles they endure and are rendered helpless when their captain and leader is taken hostage by four pirates in a small covered life boat.

This story was broadcast all over the news in 2009 and captivated much of America at the time. Here we see the story that wasn’t presented on the news; the communication between Phillips and the pirates; the struggle of isolation and not knowing. The film also takes you into the chase by the US Navy and the attempted rescues that take place.

In my opinion the film ran a little too long. If you’re familiar with the story and the outcome before watching the movie you’ll find yourself sitting there for the last 30 mins just waiting for the end. However, if you have no recollection of the incident, as surprisingly some people around me in the theatre weren’t, it is a suspenseful ride throughout. This film is about courage, trust, and determination and you see it at both sides of the spectrum. Tom Hanks is, well, Tom Hanks; you know he is going to deliver in any role he takes on. But it’s the crew of pirates that really make the film and truly build the story. First time actors Barkhad Abdi, Barkhad Abdrahman, Faysal Ambed, and Mahat Ali all deliver performances that are so genuine, intimidating and sometimes frightening, it made me wonder if they were actors or the real deal!

I wouldn’t say this is a must see in the theaters but this film IS a must see. I have no doubts that Hanks, Paul Greengrass and the film itself will be recognized during award season.

Film Review “Don Jon”

Starring: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Scarlett Johansson, Julianne Moore
Directed by: Joseph Gordon-Levitt
Rated: R
Running time: 1 hour 30 mins
Relativity Media

Our Score: 4 out of 5 stars

Don Jon” is the story of a man in New Jersey who cares and believes solely and whole heartedly in his body, his bachelor pad, family, God, girls and porn. And not in any particular order because, if so, porn would be in between every thing he loves. Don Jon (Gordon-Levitt) is a bartender that loves the night life, and there isn’t a night that he goes out that he returns home alone. He has no problems getting girls and they are always an 8 or better. So what’s the problem? He loves porn! He watches it any time he has a spare moment. For this reason any encounter he has is never like the clips and videos he watches. He is always left feeling unfulfilled, disappointed, still looking for that great sex!

Enter Barbara Sugarman (Johansson) She’s a “dime” — a straight up 10. Jon is in love at first sight and unlike every other girl in New Jersey she makes him work for it. No first night hook up, no one dinner date hookup. It’s meet the families, meet the friends, spend quality time. He is in love and he’s sure nothing could ruin this feeling…she’s the girl he’s been looking for to change him. But, just like every other girl, she isn’t a pornstar or anyone that gets paid for sex. He realizes this after their first encounter. Back to the porn he goes only to have Barbara catch him in the act. Heart broken and realizing the overall problem he actually has, he finds help directly and indirectly from the people around him, including his parents, played by Tony Danza and Glenne Headly, and an older woman in Jon’s class played by Julianne Moore.

This film is a very impressive writing and directing debut by Joseph Gordon-Levitt. He captured a lifestyle of men that is becoming somewhat of a common problem in America and across the world. With easy access to the internet men are just a click away from beautiful, sexy, easy women. This gives men delusions of how woman act and that you can still find that one girl that will do anything but you can take home to your parents and, more importantly, to church. He details this struggle very well which makes me wonder…how much of this story is fact and how much is fiction.

The film not only shows the struggle of an addict and his consequences, it follows his story to the end. Deceit in a relationship comes with consequences. With consequences a great lesson is generally learned. Though you may have lost that love you had the lessons learned are much more important. You love and lose but you will love again.

“Don Jon” is well written with a great cast. It’s a great love story with numerous short, one second porn clips. In other words, it’s a love story that men will enjoy. Gordon-Levitt does a fine job on both sides of the camera and I will make sure to catch the next movie he decides to put his talents to.

Concert Review: The Steel Wheels – Kansas City, Missouri

The Steel Wheels
Record Bar
September 17, 2013
Kansas City, Missouri

The Steel Wheels rolled into Kansas City last week on their way to the Winfield, Kansas Blue Grass Festival. Earlier in the year they completed a leg of their tour by biking to all of their shows, carrying their clothes and their instruments on their bicycles from show to show, often riding upwards of 80 miles and than playing!

The Steel Wheels are a 4-piece string band from Virginia. Their sound could be described as a little bluegrass, a little gospel and very soulful. Their new album, “No More Rain,” is slower with a little gospel feel which is a contrast to their live show, which featured a ton of breakdowns and was very up tempo.

With a stand up bass, fiddle, guitar, mandolin and the occasional banjo, they group has a very old time feel. Using no drums and only one microphone, many of the songs involve the group’s members gathering around the single microphone singing and breaking it down.

These guys were very impressive and extremely talented. Its bands like this that make this job so rewarding. The Steel Wheels aren’t famous; they’re not on the radio and they’re certainly not millionaires. But their music will lift your souls and make you tap your foot and try to sing along with a song you have never heard before.

The current leg of the Steel Wheels’ tour runs through December 2013. If you can catch them live you’ll be glad that you did. If you can’t, check them out on line and spread the word!

Concert Review “Unity Tour 2013” with 311, Cypress Hill and G.Love & Special Sauce – Kansas City, Missouri

The Unity Tour
311
Cypress Hill
G.Love & Special Sauce
Starlight Theater
Kansas City, Missouri
July 2, 2013

Our Score: 5 out of 5 stars

I have seen 311 more times than I can count on my fingers (unless I had Bill Cosby’s hands) and as always the only thing I can say after seeing them is AMAZING!!

The 2013 Unity Tour kicked off with G.Love & Special Sauce performing their smooth mix of bluesy, hip hop, and R& B stylings. They played a great set and started the night off perfectly. It was about 80 degrees and sunny and the crowd was in it from the start. Playing “Cold Beverages” had everyone in the audience holding there beers up, resulting in more spilling going on than drinking at that time. G.Love has been a staple in my music collection since college and they did not disappoint in my first time seeing them live.

As more people started filling in the seats I began seeing and smelling many different groups forming. I could only think “what an appropriate welcoming for Cypress Hill.” If you are not familiar with the name Cypress Hill you will be familiar with their largest hit, “Insane in the Brain.” You couldn’t go anywhere in the mid to late 90’s it seemed without hearing that song or
a reference to that song. They lived up to their billing and, after all these years, they still brought a fresh set and energized performance to KC.

As good as the opening performances were I noticed I could hear the sound of people rushing into Starlight as 311 prepared to come on stage. I thought I had seen Starlight packed before.. but not like this! They must have been at capacity by this time of the night and for good reason. 311 has and always will put on one of the best live performances you will ever see! During their annual 3/11 day concerts they’ve been known to play up to 84 song over a two day period. They put together a tight play list for this concert. From the opening “Omaha Stylee” to their encore of “Creatures (For a While),” they had the crowed riled up, jumping yelling, singing. I’d bet the majority of the crowd knew every word to every song… every word.

What separates 311 from other acts I have seen is they know what the fans want to hear. They have consistently put out records since 1993. They still have current singles on the radio but they don’t push all of their new material. Their set list spawns 20 years now and they hit every album, playing not only songs considered their greatest hits but songs that only the most die hard fans would know. There isn’t a new song they are trying out. It is just straight hits: “Down,” “All Mixed Up,” “Amber,” “Don’t Tread on Me,” “Logo,” and “Behind the Gray Sky.” While they can’t play every song (remember they’ve been known to do 80-plus songs at a concert) I never thought ” aw man they didn’t play that song.” I was as pleased with this concert as the others I’d attended.

This group of acts is something you shouldn’t sit on, They are hitting tons of cities and great venues, GO AND GET YOUR TICKETS! They will sell out everywhere and you will hear your friends just rant about the concert. Especially 7/21(West Palm Beach), 7/23,(Tampa) 7/27(Houston) and 8/3 (Chula Vista) when they pickup Penny Wise and Sublime w/Rome on those dates. Extremely jealous that I will not be around those cities on those dates.

You can check out all the tour dates at http://www.311.com/shows

They will have a different set list at all the cities so if you get to see them I would love to see your comments and their set list.

311 Set list:
1. Omaha Stylee
2. Sunset In July
3. Freak Out
4. Misdirected Hostility
5. Beautiful Disaster
6. Wild Nights
7. Random
8. My Stoney Baby
9. Come Original, Loco
10. Time Bomb
11. Applied Science
12. Amber
13. All Mixed Up
14. Wake Your Mind Up
15. Taiyed Hey You
16. Beyond The Gray Sky
17. Freeze Time
18. Visit
19. Down
20. Jackpot
21. Creatures

Film Review “Pacific Rim”

Warner Brothers Pictures and Legendary Pictures Pacific Rim
Starring: Charlie Hunnam, Rinko Kikuchi, Charlie Day and Ron Perlman
Directed by. Guillermo del Toro
Run time: 2 hours 11 minutes
Rated: PG-13
Warner Brothers

Our Score: 4 out of 5 stars

Beginning in the present day and running through the year 2025, “Pacific Rim” delivers a futuristic lesson about coming together; not as a nation or as a race, but as humans joining together to keep Earth safe from destruction.

2013 brings the first attack. It comes from the bottoms of the sea as opposed to space, where we look for our aliens to come from. A monstrous being called Kaiju rises from the depths and wreaks havoc before it can be brought down with tanks and air support. Soon another one rises and again, with some effort, it is destroyed. The world realizes that protection will be needed and humanity develops a brand of robots called Jaegers that will be able to take on the 3,000 ton monsters. Each Jaeger is operated by 2 humans in a process called “drifting.” With two brains responsible for one wave length, every movement is perfected and synched in able to control something so big. Brothers, cousins, fathers and sons; all are used to drift as they will operate better together rather than two strangers. Over time the Kaiju develop and adapt, becoming stronger, larger and quicker. In time there are only four Jaeger teams left: retired pilot Raleigh Becket (Hunnam) and rookie up an coming pilot Mako Mori (Kikuchi), are among those called upon to rescue the world and block the intruders from the Kaiju’s world.

This is a film where the acting is secondary but, then again, this is an action movie with some underlying themes and not a movie looking to earn nominations for best actor or actress. I don’t think that is what director del Toro was trying to accomplish anyway. The story is great and it flows well. There were some predictable parts I had worked out before they happened, but the battle scenes and special effects ore than made up for that.

“Pacific Rim” is action packed and visually brilliant. I had the luxury of seeing this in IMAX and 3D and it is truly the only film that I have ever seen in 3D where I felt some scenes put me a little to close to the action for comfort. Director del Toro has a great reputation when making movies for American audiences and this one is no different. This easily could have been a film thrown together with loud noises, poor 3D and horrible special effects but del Toro delivers another success. If you plan to see this film I urge you to see it on the big screen

Theater Review “Catch Me If You Can” Starlight Theatre – Kansas City, MO

Catch Me If You Can
Starlight Theatre
Kansas City, MO

Our Score: 2 out of 5 stars

“Catch Me If You Can” is a true story based on Frank Abagnale Jr (Stephen Anthony), a quick talking fast learning teenager who, in the 1960’s, was an airline pilot, doctor, and a lawyer, all before the age of 21! Frank spends the majority of the story being tailed by FBI Agent Carl Hanratty (Merritt David Janes), a devoted and stubborn man who has made catching Abegnale his number one priority.

Following the divorce of his parents and the loss of his father, Frank Sr. (Dominic Fortuna), Frank Jr, decided being on his own is better than living in a broken home. He starts out by faking a Pan Am Pilots badge. He flies to over 26 different countries and helps copilot over 250 flights. He cashes his fake Pan Am checks all over the world under different aliases to stay a step ahead of the feds. This catches the attention of Agent Hanratty who is the only agent in his department who really feels this “shadow” pilot is trouble. He doesn’t realize that his cat and mouse game will one day land one of the most notable imposters of the 20th Century. While on the run from Hanratty, Frank decides to drop the pilot job and starts practicing medicine as an overnight ER physician. Here he meets Brenda Strong (Aubrey Mae Davis) who not only steals his heart but makes him think about dropping the whole charade he has been living and be an honest husband. Well that doesn’t go just as planned when, while meeting Brenda’s parents, he decides to announce that he will be practicing law thus starting another career as lawyer.

Frank will eventually be caught but the relationship that Abagnale and Hanratty have developed over the years does not let the story end with Frank’s capture. Abagnale was arguably the greatest ever at forgery and impersonation so, after a short stint in prison, he ishired on by the FBI and today is still very good friends with Agent Hanratty.

If you have read the book or seen the movie you know that “Catch Me If You Can” is nothing short of a brilliant story. Unfortunately the stage performance I witnessed was far from brilliant. I felt that Frank’s cracking voice was just unnecessary. I understand that he was a teen but short of a having a deep baritone voice the performance would have been much more believable if he (Anthony) would have just used his real voice. The jokes were corny, the songs sub par, and only a couple actors were not guilty over completely over acting.

That being said Hanratty (Janes) and Frank Sr. (Fortuna) kept me in my seat while watching this play. They give great performances and are really the only good performers I saw on stage. Both actors have experience on Broadway and it showed. Their actions matched their characters and emotions and their performances were effortless in a good way.

“Catch Me if You Can” is truly is great story and Starlight is a great venue to experience musical theater but if you would like to know the story of Frank Abagnale Jr. I would advise you rent the movie or read his book.

Film Review “This Is The End”

Starring: Jay Baruchel, Seth Rogan and James Franco
Directed By Evan Goldberg & Seth Rogan
Rated: R
Running time: 1 hour 47 mins
Columbia

Our Score: 4 out of 5 stars

The directorial debut of Evan Goldberg and Seth Rogan gives us a clever and interesting combination of a comedy and action movie. With so many movies made every year, very rarely does an original one come along that isn’t a sequel or based off of a book or comic strip. This film, in my opinion, is a truly original and well made comedy.

When old friends Jay and Seth get together to take a long needed vacation from their normal Hollywood lives they experience something neither of them ever expected. After a day comprised of “stoner” activities, Seth invites Jay along with him to a party at James Franco’s house. Though Jay is at first reluctant to attend he gives in a tags along.

At the party is Jason Segal, Emma Watson, Rhianna, and a cocaine snorting Michael Cera. We’re also introduced to pretty much everyone who appeared in “Superbad,” “Pineapple Express” and “Knocked Up.” As with most gatherings of friends, soon the time comes to cut on each other and there are some great one liners through out the whole party. Still feeling a little out of place Jay asks Seth to run with him to the gas station to get a drink. What they witness on their journey will change their lives. After feeling what they think is an earthquake, they are surprised by blue lights that come from the sky. They are genuinely frightened when the witness people being sucked up into Heaven. The Rapture has begun. Freaked out they run back to the party to explain what they have seen and to see who has been “taken” at the party. They are surprised to see that the party is going on and no one knows what they are talking about. It’s Hollywood, so of course there aren’t any pure souls at the party. Soon an actual earthquake opens up a hole into hell where all perish except our group of main characters.

Now barricaded in Franco’s house tensions are high and survival is the mine set. With the end of the world upon them they reason that things can’t get any worse. Enter Danny McBride. His on-screen appearance is one of the funniest scenes I have witnessed in recent memory. We learn alot about the characters here from a quick rundown of what Danny thought happened the night before. Being the badass he is, McBride relates that he was in a drunk and stoned oblivion and is completely ignorant of the previous night’s events. Now with the full crew here we get a lot of “Funny or Die” scenes based on booze, foul language, sex jokes and getting high. One would think after a disaster like this you would want to find help and get rescued. But, for this group of guys, it becomes a reason to make their own drug induced sequel to “Pineapple Express.”

This film is all comedy, some action, a little faith and a lot of laughs. The relationships we see through out the film are part of the laughs. James Franco has a weird bro love for Seth Rogan, where Rogan wants to be the best he can be for Franco because, well, he IS James Franco. Jay is a small town actor who likeed Seth the way he was while Jonah Hill and Jay, the two most likeable people in the group’s circle, absolutely hate each other. With a passion I might add.

Film Review “The Hangover III”

Directed by: Todd Phillips
Starring: Bradley Cooper, Ed Helms, Zach Galifianakis
Rated: R
Running Time: 1 hour 40 mins
Warner Brothers

Our Score: 4 out of 5 stars

In this third and mostly likely last “Hangover” installment, the Wolfpack brings back the brilliant, priceless and overwhelming hilarity that made the first film such a success!

After the death of Alan’s (Galifianakis) father (Jeffrey Tambor) and following 4 years of the Wolfpack befriending Alan and seeing his crazy, crazy ways, Alan’s friends and family stage an intervention, hoping to help Alan cease being a 42 year old child. He agrees, but on one condition… Phil (Cooper), Stew (Helms) and Doug (Justin Bartha) must take him on the short 2 hour drive to his new treatment facility. It’s only a 2 hour drive…what could go wrong?

A short while into their drive they are ambushed by a gangster (John Goodman) who tells them that their friend Mr. Leslie Chow (Ken Jeong) has stolen $21 Million worth of his gold and he is taking Doug hostage until they find their “friend” and his gold.

There are no black out hangovers or bachelor parties in this movie. There are no tigers or face tattoos either. This movie is a comparable film to the first “Hangover” but not in the same way as #2. They do not use any of the same jokes; it is not the same film set in a different country. The jokes are fresh, the timing perfect and I found myself being completely surprised and caught off guard just like the original “Hangover.”

Since this movie ends the trilogy, the many unsolved problems from the original are all wrapped up in this film. You didn’t think you could actually black out, end up in a hospital, steal money from a Chinese gangster, marry a hooker, steal a tiger and in the next 48 hours have the whole thing blow over did you?

“Hangover 3” uses the same recipe for success as many Todd Phillips films have done before. He allows the comedians to use comedy. They are not just speaking lines they are acting as comedians. Back from the first film are Mike Epps, Heather Graham and baby Carlos. New to the series are Melissa McCarthy (Bridesmaids) and new antagonist John Goodman (who I think should be in every movie). Those two plus an abundance of Ken Jeong scenes makes this movie a must see! I usually reserve my $10+ for a movie ticket for something that I can’t get at my own house: lots of 3D action or an overwhelmingly visual film, but I would pay to see this movie again and I advise you to do the same.

The original “Hangover” was something that audiences hadn’t been subjected too in a comedy for quite some time, causing outbursts of laughing fits in the theater to where you couldn’t always here the next line being spoken. There were times I just couldn’t believe what I just saw or what just took place. This movie has THAT. This is an original movie that could have been called “Hangover 2” and we could have just skipped the 2nd one all together.

This is a movie that you need to enjoy with many people. Friends or strangers, the more the merrier. I shared many a good laugh and exchanged looks with a man that looked like Santa Claus sitting next to me. I even had to give him a drink of my Coke after he started choking while laughing.

Theater Review: “Mary Poppins” The Music Hall – Kansas City, Missouri

MARY POPPINS
The Music Hall
Kansas City, Missouri
April 9th, 2013

Our Score: 5 out of 5 stars

The wind picked up on the mid-west plains last week, and that magical, singing, cleaning nanny we all learned to love growing up was blown right into Kansas City. Mary Poppins delivered one of the most colorful and musically brilliant shows I can ever remember seeing. Led by the outstanding performances of Madeline Trumble as Mary Poppins and Con O’shea-Creal as Burt, the jack of all trades famously played by Dick Van Dyke on the big screen. This Broadway worthy performance had me captivated and taken right into early 1900’s London. Fantastic acting by all players, great use of accents when speaking and singing and phenomenal dance numbers are among the highlights of this production.

“Mary Poppins” was a film that most everyone has seen and hopefully remembers quite well. I was relieved that the play did not run word for word, scene for scene as the movie; for if it did it would have been a bit boring, as anything would be if you knew what to expect the whole time. There are some familiar songs featured in the film but not included in the production such as ” I Love to Laugh.” But the addition of some originally cut songs such as “Practically Perfect” made me completely forget all about that. You can’t top the great Dick Van Dyke’s performance in the film, but in this production Con O’shea-Creal was dead on in character. He had such a great presence on the stage that he actually stood out to me more than the title character. He had the audience laughing, clapping along and received great ovations after most of his numbers.

This play had one thing that I have never made notice of before at a live theatre event. The scene changes that happened the whole night and the colors! The brilliance of the lights and the colors made me wish I would have brought my sunglasses into the theater especially during the carnival with the ever so popular and classic song “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious.” The staging made me drop my jaw and say WOW!! Something I would never expect, or have experienced, at live theater. Every scene change happened flawlessly and so quick you didn’t even notice. Trust me I think that is as weird as you do reading this to make note of something like that. That was just another reason that I felt that this show was outstanding in every way. You could say it was “Practically Perfect”.

I would advise anyone that lives near a city that this show is coming too to get out and find a seat in the theatre. If you have kids great. If not, “Mary Poppins” is still a show that you will not regret seeing.

The tour continues in the following cities:
May 1 – 5 – Denver, Colorado
May 8 – 12 – San Francisco, California
May 21 – June 2 – Anchorage, Alaska

For more information on upcoming shows: http://www.marypoppins.com/

Theater Review "Hair" Kauffman Center For the Performing Arts – Kansas City, Missouri

Hair
Kauffman Center For the Performing Arts, Kansas City, Missouri
February 5, 2013

Our Score: 5 out of 5 stars

Welcome to the 1960’s, the decade of free love, flower power, psychedelics, the Vietnam War, and long flowing hair! Even though it was written in 1967 and debuted on Broadway in 1968 the story and underlying symbolism of the musical “Hair” holds true even in this decade and for my own generation.

“Hair” is an ensemble/audience interaction event and an experience all in its own. Credited with being the first “Rock Opera,” “Hair” is the story of a group of young adults who are living the life of freedom, drugs, love and no responsibilities or, as they were better known at that time, hippies. Their only job is to live their life and protest the ideas of the conformist government and their conservative parents. Their retaliations range from protesting and draft card burning to something as simple as growing their hair long… the longer the better.

The main characters of the story are two young men: Claude (Noah Plomgren) and Berger (Brian Crawford Scott). They both find themselves attracted to young socialite Sheila (Mary Kate Morrissey). The struggles in conflict arises when Claude is drafted by the U.S. Army to serve his country in Vietnam. He struggles with the life he has led vs the life and path ahead of him.

The cast in this production of “Hair” was downright amazing, with every cast member in stunning form vocally. Unlike some touring productions, this cast is much more than just decent actors with good voices, Plomgren and Scott also show a fantastic gift for comedic timing as well as captivating emotion. Sheila and Woof (Jason Moody) were the two performers who really stood out to me. While many of the songs in the show are so familiar as to encourage the audience to sing along, when those two sang the audience sat silently and took their voices in.

What I enjoyed more than anything else at this performance was watching the audience. You could see the majority of the crowd were the same age as the cast during the”age of Aquarius” Being 28 I really got a kick watching the sixty-somethings with their gray hair and tied ties, now seemingly professional and clean cut, as they filled the auditorium. You could see them having literal flashbacks as the show progressed. A good laugh here at free love, a snicker there at a reference to “getting stoned” and even a whispered conversation between husband and wife during the song “Hashish” (the only lyrics being the various drugs popular in the 1960s) ending with an audible laugh. By the end of the show the audience was captivated by the story, the music and the cast. The show ends with a grand performance of “Let the Sun Shine In” with the cast inviting the audience to join in the fun and dance with them on stage.

The audience consisted of people of all ages, proving that after all these years “Hair” has stayed relevant from generation to generation…passed on from parents to their children (although as a child I never believed my parents were as cool as they said they were). This show offers an opportunity for any parent or grandparent whose kids always doubted their cool stories to introduce them to the life and times that now can only being read about in history books.

This show definitely earned 5 out 5 stars in my opinion, especially taking in the whole experience of the cast, the music, the performances, the venue and the people I shared this show with. It is an experience that I won’t forget and I’m sure in 40 more years the story of “Hair” and its ideals will still hold strong. “Hair” continues in Kansas City through Sunday, February 10. Below is a list of cities the show will visit soon.

For more information or to purchase tickets go to www.hairontour.com

February 19 – Opelika, Alabama
February 20 – Montgomery, Alabama
February 24 – Columbia, Missouri
February 26-27 – Kalamazoo, Michigan
February 28 – Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
March 1 – Toledo, Ohio
March 2-3 – Detroit, Michigan