Book Review: “Flickering Treasures: Rediscovering Baltimore’s Forgotten Movie Theaters”

Author: Amy Davis (Foreword by Barry Levinson)
Johns Hopkins University Press
Hardcover: 302 pages

I think to a certain group of people my age, the movie theatre was an important place in their lives. I often comment to younger people that in the 1970s and 80s, there wasn’t a movie theatre on every other corner and the ones that were there had, at the most six screens. If you were to ask me about a certain movie I saw between 1975-1985, I’m pretty sure I could also tell you what theatre I saw it in.

I should also admit here that I worked in movie theatres, in one job or another, from 1977 to 2003. 11 of those years were spent in Baltimore, where, as a young manager, I worked in theatres ranging from a 900 seat single screen auditorium to a nine-screen multiplex (the largest complex I managed, in Kansas City, had eighteen screens). I can still remember vividly every complex I’ve worked in. Hell, if you asked me today I could tell you exactly how to turn off the lights in each one still.

I highlight Baltimore theatres because this week a beautiful new book, one which takes a look at 72 different movie palaces from Charm City, will be released. Titled “Flickering Treasures: Rediscovering Baltimore’s Forgotten Movie Theaters,” the book is a true labor of love by author Amy Davis.

From the earliest nickle-show houses to the current multiplexes, the history of each theatre has been carefully researched. Davis has conducted interviews with the people that not only operated these theatres but frequented them. Two of my dearest friends, D. Edward Vogel and the late Dominic Wagner, share stories of their days working in the grindhouse era. Baltimore-born filmmakers like Barry Levinson and John Waters also comment on their adventures at their neighborhood movie houses. Each story brings another theatre back to life, if only momentarily.

The book also contains over 150 photographs, many in color, showing not only the theatres when they were open and vibrant but how they look today – providing they are still standing. I know for a fact that one of my old theatres is now a Walmart. Another a Kohls. Long gone but never forgotten.

“Flickering Treasures: Rediscovering Baltimore’s Forgotten Movie Theaters” is available at Amazon.com and Barnes and Noble. For more information, go here.

Win Passes to the Kansas City Premiere of “Kingsman: The Golden Circle”

Media Mikes has teamed up with their friends at 20th Century Fox to give 50 readers and their guest a chance to be among the first to see the upcoming film “Kingsman: The Golden Circle.” All you have to do is click here and download your passes.

Each pass will admit the winner and their guest into the upcoming screening on Monday, September 18th at the B&B Shawnee 18 Theatre in Shawnee, Kansas. The screening will begin at 7:00 pm.

This is a first-come, first-served contest. Once 50 passes have been claimed the giveaway has ended.

Good luck!

Bruce Campbell Talks About His New Book and His Traveling Game Show

If you’re not aware of Bruce Campbell you may have stumbled onto this web site in error.

A working actor for four decades, Campbell is probably best known for his role of Ash in the “Evil Dead” films and TV series, but has also turned in fine performances in such films as “Bubba Ho-Tep,” Congo” and the television series “Burn Notice.” Mr. Campbell is also an author, currently touring the country in support of his third and latest book “Hail to the Chin: Further Confessions of a B Movie Actor.”

He’s promoting his book and hosting his interactive game show, “The Last Fan Standing,” at the Kansas City Alamo Draft House. While traveling the country to promote his work, Mr. Campbell took a few moments out of his busy schedule to speak with Media Mikes!

Mike Smith: You note in your new book that you’re now at a time in your career where it’s easier to say no to a role. Was there ever a role in the past that you regret not accepting?

Bruce Campbell: Nope. Nope. Because if you don’t like the work that is on the page you’re not going to like the work that is on the stage, as they say. Which means if you didn’t like it on paper you’re not going to like the finished film. That’s the blueprint for the movie…the script. I mean I’ve never turned anything down and later went, “Wow, they made that piece of shit turn out pretty good!” (laughs) I always feel confident that when I turn material down it’s because it’s not strong material. That’s the best way to go, instead of thinking “you know, maybe that director can turn it around” or “that actor could be good in that crappy part.” So now I intuitively go to the script now and if the script isn’t good I’m not going to do it.

MS: You note in the book that, while working on “Spider-man 3,” Toby McGuire tongue-in-cheek commented that “we can’t make a Spider-man movie without Bruce Campbell!” Were you approached to appear in either of the re-boots?

BC:
No I wasn’t. And I wouldn’t have anyway because if Sam’s not doing it I’m not doing it. (NOTE: Mr. Campbell has collaborated no less then nine times with director Sam Raimi. He is also a favorite of the Coen Brothers).

MS: Can you tell us what fans can expect when the participate in your interactive game show “The Last Fan Standing?”

BC: It’s a really fun show. My buddy Steve Sellery had called me and wanted me to come host a game show for the troops. He works for the military. So I went to a base in San Antonio with this game. The format is that everyone in the audience has a clicker. Everybody plays. We don’t weed anybody out. We don’t hand select. We don’t vet anybody. They could be an idiot when they get up there. (laughs) We begin with some preliminary rounds. It’s a regular game show format but it’s different in that it’s a game show for geeks. We have questions like “How much does Thor’s hammer weigh?” Questions that only geeks would know. But after I thought of a trivia show for the troops I told Steve that this would translate perfectly into my world. We’ve done it dozens of times and now we’re taking it on the road to 17 or so cities. (NOTE: Thor’s hammer, Mjolnir, is said to have been forged from the inside of a star, which would make it pretty damn heavy. Some comics have it being made of Uru, a metal found only on Asgard. The Uru version is said to weigh 42.3 pounds)

MS: Your new books ends with the words END OF CHAPTER TWO. Are you gathering new stories now for CHAPTER THREE?

BC: Every day. Every day, my friend. Every day is a new adventure! I’m thinking that in 15 years I’ll publish my final confessions. That will be MY George Lucas trilogy.

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!

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

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.

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.

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.

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!

Concert Review: Garth Brooks

Garth Brooks
May 7, 2017
Sprint Center, Kansas City, MO

Our score: 5 out of 5 Stars

Before I begin let me say that I love the Sprint Center. At least once I’m inside. I’ve seen many shows there and have never had a bad seat. However, getting into the show is another story.

In November 2007 Garth Brooks played nine sold-out shows at the Sprint Center, a mere month after the building first opened. His return (for seven more) was met with great joy by the Kansas City faithful. Unfortunately those faithful had said faith put to the test with all of the problems involved. Tickets were only available through AXS, a company similar to Ticketmaster. When they went on sale I logged on to their site AND dialed their number, figuring to use whichever method got me my tickets first. Thankfully I stayed on hold as all 14 times I tried to purchase tickets on-line failed. I would get my seats picked out (a couple times I had nice floor seats), and receive a message that read “you know have two minutes and 30seconds to complete your transaction: CLICK HERE TO CONFIRM.” I would “click” and get an error message that read “your session has timed out.” 14 TIMES!

Luckily, after an hour and twenty-eight minutes on hold, an operator came on the line. I told her the problem and she told me “this always happens” whenever AXS has a large event. “Our servers can’t handle all of the traffic.” At least she was honest. The local news was told that it was a “software” error that was later fixed. NOT! Anyway, thanks to Garth playing seven shows I was able to get some nice seats. Now to get inside.

I love the layout of the Sprint Center. What I don’t love is the fact that, for a building that can hold almost 20,000 people, there are only TWO entrances: one in the front of the building and one in the rear. Most venues I’ve been too, and I’ve seen concerts literally all over the world, have multiple gates and entrances all around the building. Because of the way the Sprint Center is set up, we got in line about three blocks from the Sprint Center at 6:15 for the 7:30 show and got to out seats at 7:45! Ridiculous. And I couldn’t help but think, while I was waiting to get inside, what kind of horrible tragedy it would become should something happen while the building was packed and had to be evacuated immediately. I shudder to think of the casualties!

Now for the good stuff:

Even though he had played four shows since Friday night, Brooks was in fine form and full of energy. He kicked off the show with the song “Baby, Let’s Lay Down and Dance,” from his 10th studio LP, “Gunslinger.” He then promised the audience that he’d be doing all of the hits and kept that promise with songs like “Rodeo,” “Two of a Kind, Workin’ on a Full House” and then led the audience in a great sing-along with “The River.”

Several times during the show Brooks commented that his voice was going and that the audience may have to carry him through the night, which was apparently no problem for those in attendance as nearly 20,000 voices filled the Sprint Center, matching Brooks word for word. Like Mick Jagger, Brooks is a consummate showman, almost refusing to stand steady for more than a moment at a time.

Halfway through the show Brooks was joined on stage by his wife, singer Trisha Yearwood, who sang a mini-set of some of her hits (“She’s In Love With the Boy,” “How Do I Live?”) before once again relinquishing the stage to her husband. After more hits Brooks sent the band off stage, picked up his guitar and peered into the audience, where fans had brought posters emblazoned with the titles of songs they wanted to hear. He obliged several of them, both his voice and guitar sounding clean and clear. The band returned to close the show with “Much Too Young (To Feel This Damn Old),” in which he offered his heartfelt blessing to the late Chris LeDoux) and a rousing “Standing Outside the Fire,” which shook the rafters. It was almost 11:30 when the show ended. However, with as much fun and energy as he brought to Kansas City, I wouldn’t be surprised if the man is still on stage singing right now!