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!

Concert Review: Rick Springfield and Pat Benatar & Neil Geraldo

rick

Rick Springfield and Pat Benatar & Neil Geraldo
May 5th, 2017
Starlight Theater, Kansas City, MO

Our score: 5 out of 5 Stars

To me, it was the “First time and Familiar” Show.

This is the 15th time I’ve seen Rick Springfield. I’ve seen him at outdoor venues, arenas and, on July 15, 1993, got to sing with him at Max’s on Broadway in Baltimore. Ironically, 1100 miles west of me, my future wife was celebrating her birthday! And tonight I was seeing him at same place I saw him for the very first time.

Mr. Springthorpe (his real name for those of you that have a desire to stump others in trivia) kicked off the show with a rousing “I’ve Done Everything For You,” then filled the night with an amazing assortment of hits, newer songs and covers, including an amazing version of Katy Perry’s “Roar.” He did a fine medley of some of his biggest hits as well as two long, fan friendly versions of “Don’t Talk to Strangers” and “Human Touch.” And, of course, he brought down the house with “Jessie’s Girl!” In his book, Springfield talks about how another guitarist was brought in to play the lead on the recording of “Jessie’s Girl” as the record label didn’t think Springfield was playing it clean enough. Obviously this stuck with him as he has, in the past three decades, become a fine guitarist, even throwing in a little “Purple Haze” in this show to demonstrate his chops. All in all a very high-energy and entertaining set.

Next on the bill were Pat Benatar and Neil Geraldo. I had never seen these two live before and they were surely an act on my bucket list! Following a short video which explained how the two ended up together (both professionally and personally) the band took the stage. In the pre-show video we learned that Ms. Benatar had been trained to use her voice from a young age and that training obviously paid off. Unlike recent shows I attended of her musical contemporaries (Joan Jett, Ann Wilson from Heart), Ms. Benatar was in amazing voice, never missing a note, no matter how high or long. And I owe Mr. Geraldo an apology. In December 2000, writing for a friends web site, I listed him as the 8th greatest guitarist of all time. I may have sold him short. Seeing him live, watching him provide the backbone to some of the most popular songs of the 80s, certainly moved him up the list. Their on-stage stories about how some of the songs came along were just as entertaining. Oh, and as a follow-up to the story I told about Rick Springfield needed a better guitarist, the audience learned what I already knew…that guitarist was Neil Giraldo. Ironically, in the past Mr. Springfield had already lost a girlfriend (Linda Blair) and a new mixing machine to Mr. Giraldo so I can’t see his feelings being hurt too much more! The hits were many and the stories interesting. Ms. Benatar talked about the “Holy 14,” which are the songs they must play or they get blasted on social media for neglecting them. As far as I know, she did them all because I left the show more then satisfied.

Stage Review: “42nd Street” – Kansas City

“42nd Street”
Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts, Kansas City, MO
May 2, 2017

Our Score: 5 out of 5 Stars

In the summer of 1981, Uncle Sam decided to send me to Germany. I used a couple days before I left to visit New York City. I got there on a Sunday night and was amazed that, at three in the morning, I could get Kentucky Fried Chicken. I had planned on seeing “The Elephant Man” but sadly learned that it had actually closed the night I hit town. Wanting to say I had seen a Broadway show I remembered an article I had read on the plane about a show called “42nd Street.” I wasn’t intrigued by the plot, which is basically the story of a Broadway musical inside an actual Broadway musical, but by the story of how the show itself was a bit of theatrical folklore. It seems that the show’s director/choreographer, Gower Champion, had actually passed away just before the curtain went up on opening night. While the audience is giving the cast a rousing and much deserved standing ovation, the show’s producer comes out on stage and breaks the news. Now THAT’S theater.

“42nd Street” tells the story of director Julian Marsh (Matthew J. Taylor) preparing for his next Broadway hit. He is surrounded by many fresh-faced youngsters who want to get their big break alongside his “star,” Dorothy Brock (Kara Gibson Slocum). Also along to audition is Miss Peggy Sawyer (Clara Cox), a young lady from Allentown, Pennsylvania with stars in her eyes. Peggy is clearly talented but her exuberance becomes a pain in the rear for Brock. An accident with Brock leads to Peggy being fired. But, when Brock is injured, It’s discovered that the only way for the show to go on is to hire Peggy back. Will she go out on stage a youngster but come back as a star? What do you think?

I have many fine memories of the Broadway show, including the performances of the late and great Jerry Orbach and the amazingly talented Tammy Grimes. And while those two are revered as Broadway legends, the performances of Mr. Taylor and Ms. Slocum are equally strong. The entire cast kicks back and tap dances their butts off. This is what you might call an old fashioned musical, with classic songs and some of the greatest hoofing you will ever see on stage. So take my advice and “Come and meet those dancing feet, on the avenue I’m taking you to, 42nd Street!”

Planet Comicon remains the best in the Midwest

Rough weather in the Midwest didn’t stop tens of thousands of people from packing into Bartle Hall in Kansas City over the weekend for Planet Comicon. For three days, folks braved monsoon-like rains to meet their favorite stars, socialize and geek out. Nearly every inch of the convention center was brimming with fans, excited to see, meet and hear from celebrities, creators and cosplayers.

Like previous years, the 2017 edition of Planet Comicon featured all-stars across the entertainment spectrum. Everyone from Ron Perlman (“Sons of Anarchy” and “Hellboy) and Felicia Day (“The Guild” and “Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog”) to Jason Aaron (Writer for “Doctor Strange and “Thor”) and Kevin Eastman (Co-creator of “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles”) brightened the otherwise gloomy days. Our very own Mike Smith even hosted an informative panel on “Jaws 2” and Hollywood sequels. You’d be hard pressed to find anyone who was disappointed by this year’s line-up and activities.

Saturday, one of the busiest days of the three-day extravaganza, could have been disastrous if it wasn’t for the quick work and social media tools at the disposal of Planet Comicon organizers. A backdrop collapse during John Barrowman, early on in the day, could have thrown a wrench in the organizer’s plans. But a quick reshuffling, along with constant updates on Facebook, Twitter, and Planet Comicon’s new phone app, notified fans about the up-to-the-minute changes. It’s just one of many signs that Planet Comicon is always evolving to become bigger and better. It’s truly a leader of cons in the Midwest and shows the perseverance to become one of the best cons in the U.S.

MediaMikes would be remiss if we didn’t thank Planet Comicon organizers for not only their hard work, but for the opportunity for some of our readers to win three-day passes to the event. We’re already planning to attend and cover next year’s Planet Comicon.

Photo by Dan Lybarger

“Hellboy” himself, Ron Perlman Pikachu on the dance floor at an after party Felicia Day with balloon versions of the “MST3K” robots No-Face from “Spirited Away”

 

Emma Caulfield and Clare Kramer reflect on their roles on “Buffy” Batman’s true weakness Jason Isaacs talks Harry Potter and DC A near-perfect Bob and Linda Belcher The one-man show, John Barrowman No shortage of creativity Tara Reid talks about how she wound up in the “Sharknado” series Ariel delighting children Shannon Elizabeth has been busy since “American Pie” An unlikely duo, the Mad Hatter and Jack Frost

Film Review: “Sorcerer” – 40th Anniversary Restored Version

Starring: Roy Scheider, Bruno Cramer, Francisco Rabal and Amidou
Directed by: William Friedkin
Rated: PG
Running time: 2 hrs 1 min
Paramount/Universal

Our score: 5 out of 5 Stars

Pop quiz: In 1977, 20th Century Fox announced plans to release one of the most anticipated films of the past few years. What was it?

Four men. Each of them running from something that will consume them. There’s Jackie Scanlon (Scheider). A small time gangster, he and some of his pals have just made the mistake of robbing a New Jersey church whose priest happens to be the brother of a BIG time gangster. Victor (Cramer) is a Frenchman running away from a certain prison sentence in his native country. Kassem (Amidou) is running from his past as a wanted terrorist in Jerusalem, whlle Nilo (Rabal) is a mystery man. They find themselves deep in the South American jungles where they are recruited to drive trucks loaded down with highly volatile explosives. Their reward: freedom at best. At worse: BOOM!

William Friedkin’s follow-up to “The Exorcist,” “Sorcerer” is a loose remake of the French film “The Wages of Fear.” For various reasons, none that I couldn’t understand as a 16 year old boy, it was not greeted well by the public or film critics. Was it the symbolism? The fact that the first 15 minutes of the film are mostly in a foreign language? Heck, was it the “Exorcist” curse? I have no idea but I can tell you today what I thought 40 years ago: “Sorcerer” is a masterpiece of filmmaking.

Friedkin took his cameras on-location to various locales across the world and captured the colors and emotions of each one brilliantly. In the South American jungles, the beauty of the trees and wildlife contrasts against the dreary, constantly rain-filled skies. As the trucks begin on their journey, you are white knuckled with the drivers, as each roadside cliff, rock-strewn road and badly dis-repaired bridge constantly puts the men one bad bump away from death. As the road gets more treacherous, the men learn that, if they can’t trust each other, there will be no one left to complete their mission.

The cast is top notch, with Scheider coming across as a modern day Fred C. Dobbs. The rest of the cast are equally strong. Even when there are no words being spoken, the four men communicate plenty. Visually the film is stunning. The restoration makes the film look brand new. And the score, by German band Tangerine Dream, is outstanding. If I have one quibble, it is that I remember seeing the film opening night with a short four-minute overture while the screen stayed black. The creepy music and black screen really helped prepare you for what you were about to see.

OK, do you know the answer to my question? If you said “Star Wars” you are…WRONG! No, the big movie from Fox that year was supposed to be “The Other Side of Midnight,” based on the steamy novel by Sidney Sheldon. Very few theatre owners had even heard of “Star Wars.” That film’s prospects were so low that Fox mandated that any theatre that wanted to play “The Other Side of Midnight” had to agree to play “Star Wars,” which was bad news for “Sorcerer,” which opened in many cities the week after “Star Wars.” Mann’s Chinese Theatre, which had played “Star Wars,” dropped it after a week to play “Sorcerer.” This was May 1977. Soon, “Star Wars” returned, where it played through June 1978. Not bad for a movie nobody wanted.

“Sorcerer” is now back on the big screen at many Alamo Drafthouse Theatres. To see if it’s playing in your city, head here.

Film Review: “Gifted”

Starring: Chris Evans, McKenna Grace and Jenny Slate
Directed by: Marc Webb
Rated: PG-13
Running time: 1 hr 41 mins
Fox Searchlight

Our Score: 4 out of 5 Stars

Here’s one for you: What do you get when you pair up the star of the Captain America films with the director of a couple Spider-man movies? I have no idea what your answer is but mine is you get one hell of a fine film.

Frank Adler (Evans) seems like your normal single dad. He lives with his daughter, Mary (Grace) outside St. Petersburg and repairs boats. But this is not your typical family and, as the formerly home-schooled Mary prepares to head off to public school, you can sense the fear, and anticipation, in both of them. You begin to understand the worry when, after challenging her teacher (Slate) after being asked to add one plus two, Mary herself is challenged, dropping jaws all around when, using only her brain, she quickly computes 53 x 127. Now do you see why the film is called “Gifted?”

A perfect gift just in time for Easter, “Gifted” could have easily been a two-hankie made-for-television Lifetime movie. However it rises thanks to the work of the cast, especially soon to be 11-year-old McKenna Grace. You may recognize her as the President’s daughter on television’s “Designated Survivor,” but her limited work on the series will not prepare you for the tour-de-force performance she delivers her. Whether interacting with Frank (who we soon learn is actually her uncle), her kindly neighbor Roberta (Octavia Spencer) or her overbearing Grandmother (Lindsay Duncan), Mary is the emotional heart and soul of the film. Evans is equally strong here. If the only time you’ve seen him is when he’s wearing Spandex, you may be surprised by the emotional depths he reaches here. As the film progresses, and we learn more about the lives on-screen, the deeper our own emotional depths are reached. You find yourself struggling to understand the decisions made, sensing how each one will affect the other.

If you have no desire to watch Vin Diesel drive a car this weekend (guilty!), I recommend you give “Gifted” a try. You won’t be disappointed.

Film Review: “Going in Style”

Starring: Alan Arkin, Michael Caine and Morgan Freeman
Directed by: Zach Braff
Rated: PG-13
Running time: 1 hr 36 mins
New Line Cinema

Our Score: 3.5 out of 5 Stars

It’s funny how things come back around in Hollywood. I’ve heard it said that there are only five original ideas at any one time in Tinsel Town, which is why there seem to be so many remakes. I’m curious how many people remember the original “Going in Style,” which came out in 1979 and starred two Oscar winners (Art Carney and George Burns) and Al Pacino’s acting teacher, the great Lee Strasberg. I certainly do. Almost four decades later, three Oscar winners (and a couple of nominees) bring the story to the 21st Century.

Al (Arkin), Joe (Caine) and Willie (Freeman) are three elderly gentlemen living quietly on their pensions. Or so they think. After another company buys their old employer, they move the work out of the country, thereby legally defunding the pension accounts of the three men and hundreds others. As if that’s not bad enough, each is going through their own crisis. Al is getting cranky and set in his ways while Willie is in need of a kidney. Joe finds himself facing the fact that he may lose his house when his finance rate triples overnight. While protesting this to the bank manager Joe finds himself caught in the middle of a bank robbery. Amazed at the skill and precision of the robbers – and the fact that they made off with $1.2 million, Joe gets an idea…

An entertaining comedy that leans on the talent of its stars, “Going in Style” is a fun way to kill 90 minutes in a darkened theatre. With a total of 15 Academy Award nominations – and four Oscars – between them, Arkin, Caine and Freeman blend perfectly as three friends who have known each other for decades. Their comfort with each other is obvious, and you can’t help but believe that they are fine friends off camera as well. Throw in a few more nominations with co-stars Ann-Margaret as Arkin’s possible love interest and Matt Dillon as the FBI man in charge of the investigation. They laughs aren’t outrageous, but they’re there, which is always a plus. Another plus is that Ann-Margaret looks the same today at 75 then she did at 25!

If you’re looking for a few laughs this weekend, may I suggest you go in style to see “Going in Style.”