Film Review: Justice League

Starring: Ben Affleck, Gal Gadot and Ezra Miller
Directed by: Zack Snyder
Rated: PG-13
Running time: 2 hr 1 min
Warner Brothers

Until this season, when the NFL allowed players to celebrate after touchdowns, many referred to the game as the No Fun League. That is also how many fans referred to the DC Comic film universe. Christopher Nolan’s ultra-dark Batman trilogy, not to mention Zack Snyder’s brooding “Man of Steel” and “Batman vs Superman” gave fans their favorite characters, usually having a bad day. While they were entertaining, they missed the one thing that has made the Marvel films so appreciated: humor. Earlier this year we got a brief breath of fresh air when Wonder Woman arrived in her own film. Things continue to look upward with the arrival of “Justice League.”

The film opens with a phone image of Superman (Henry Cavil), happily agreeing to answer some children’s questions. They bombard him with queries, which he smiles at. He is then asked, “What do you like best about Earth?”

Full of action and some much needed humor, “Justice League” is an entertaining two-hour roller coaster ride. With — SPOILER ALERT— Superman having died at the end of “Batman vs Superman,” the world in general, and Metropolis in particular, have became a haven for evil doers. Even Gotham City isn’t spared. One night, while on patrol, Batman (Affleck) comes across a mechanical monster that, when destroyed, leaves a pattern of marks, similar to marks found in Lex Luthor’s papers. As things go from worse to…whatever is worse than worse…Batman decides he needs to recruit other people to help save the world. Besides Wonder Woman (Gadot), he travels north to meet the strange Arthur Curry (Jason Momoa) and then hits the city to find the young and friendless Barry Allen (Miller). Finally he tracks down Victor Stone (Ray Fisher) a former athlete. Each of these people have a secret but also learn they have a common goal – to save the world.

It can’t be easy to run around on screen in your underwear, and part of the success of “Justice League” must be attributed to the actors who embody their roles completely. Affleck and Gadot have already built some chemistry with “Batman vs Superman,” and Momoa, Miller and Fisher blend easily with them as, respectively, Aquaman, the Flash and Cyborg. Miller steals every scene he’s in as the teenage Scarlett Speedster, making him as appealing here as Tom Holland was this past summer in “Spider-man: Homecoming.” As the junk food loving Barry (due to his very high metabolism, he must constantly eat), Miller gives the character a heart, a soul and a proclivity for one liners.

Director Snyder took some time off from the production of the film after his daughter passed away in March. He was replaced by Joss Whedon, the director who gave us “The Avengers” among other films. Whedon shares a screenwriting credit here, and it looks like he may have been the perfect piece to solve Snyder’s dark puzzles. If you’re looking for excitement and a few laughs this weekend, look into joining the FUN “League!”

Film Review: A Bad Moms Christmas

Starring: Mila Kunis, Kristen Bell and Kathryn Hahn
Directed by: Jon Lucas and Scott Moore
Rated: R
Running time: 1 hr 44 mins
STX Entertainment

Soon it will be the season for presents and mistletoe, Santa and his reindeer. And family. I always welcome the chance to see my mom over the holidays. Of course, my mother is nothing like Ruth (Christine Baranski), Sandy (Cheryl Hines) and Isis (Susan Sarandon). Thank God!

Just as funny and, even though I never thought it possible, raunchier then “Bad Moms,” “A Bad Moms Christmas” finds our heroines from the last film getting things in order in the last week before Christmas. Amy (Kunis) is now happily dating Jessie (Jay Hernandez) and is unprepared when her very wealthy and judgmental mother Ruth shows up a few days before she was expected. Same with Kiki (Bell) and her mom Sandy, a woman who has become more and more clingy since her husband died. And Carla (Hahn) never knows when to expect Isis (her mom, not the terrorist group). She only knows it’s when she needs to borrow money. ‘Tis the season!

Blame it on “Bridesmaids.” Ever since that movie came out and made almost $300 million world-wide, Hollywood has inundated moviegoers with all kinds of “women talking dirty” films. For every funny and successful film, like “Trainwreck” or “Girl’s Trip,” you also have to put up with “dirty talk for talk’s sake” in a movie like “Rough Night.” (I did give “Rough Night” a positive review but did note that a lot of it’s raunch was for shock value, not laughs).

“A Bad Moms Christmas” works mostly because of two things: the cast and the script. The film was written, and co-directed, by Jon Lucas and Scott Moore, who in the past have written, among other films, the first “Hangover.” They obviously know what works where funny is concerned. All six female leads, mothers and daughters, work great together and, on a personal note, a movie that features two of my three biggest Hollywood crushes, Baranski and Sarandon, has got to be enjoyable. If Judith Ivey had played Sandy I’d have given this movie five stars!

If you like to laugh, and if you like your humor extremely “R” rated, then there’s an early Christmas present waiting for you at the multiplex!

Film Review: “78/52”

Starring: Jamie Lee Curtis, Peter Bogdanovich and Guillermo del Toro
Directed by: Alexandre O. Phillipe
Not Rated
Running time: 1 hr 31 mins
IFC Midnight

It is one of the greatest scenes in movie history. Like the crane shot showing the carnage of the Civil War in “Gone with the Wind” or the Odessa Steps sequence in “The Battleship Potemkin” (later copied by Brian De Palma in “The Untouchables”), whenever you think about Alfred Hitchcock’s classic film “Psycho” the first thing you think of is the shower scene. The new film “78/52,” which references the number of pieces of film (78) and edits (52) that comprise the scene, takes a look at the creation of the scene as well as its impact on Hollywood and world cinema.

Despite the use of plenty of footage from “Psycho,” the film begins with a recreation of a scene featuring Marion Crane’s car driving thought the rain. What is disconcerting about this footage is that the woman featured bears a very close resemblance to Adrien Brody in a blonde wig. Thankfully we soon return to the film being discussed and take a painstaking journey of 90 minutes to dissect a scene that only lasts three.

General fans of the film will be impressed with all of the “behind the scenes” interviews with everyone from Mali Renfro, who played Janet Leigh’s double during the shoot to Jamie Lee Curtis, Leigh’s daughter. Also included are fans like Elijah Wood, Danny Elfman and Bret Easton Ellis. Film buffs will also enjoy the comments of filmmakers great (Guillermo del Toro, Martin Scorcese) and, well, not so great (Eli Roth) as they explain how the film helped shape some of their own work.

A seemingly unending number of industry insiders (editors, writers, etc) offer their own takes on the meaning of the scene, going so far as to dissect it nearly frame by frame. In between the comments are some great moments, including the actual storyboards Hitchcock had Saul Bass design for the scene as well as the still-to-this-day argument about whether or not we actually ever see the knife penetrate the body.

If you’re a fan of “Psycho” and want a good “behind the scenes” look at the film, I’d recommend the brilliant documentary put together by the great Laurent Bouzereau that can be found on the DVD release of “Psycho.” But if you’re REALLY keen to learn the in-depth story, you should give “78/52” a look.

Film Review: “Suburbicon”

Starring: Matt Damon, Julianne Moore and Oscar Isaac
Directed by: George Clooney
Rated: R
Running time: 1 hr 44 mins
Paramount

1959. In the quick-growing town of Suburbicon things are about to get a little dicey. It seems a black family has moved into the snow-white city and the townspeople aren’t happy, even when the town leaders offer to pay for fencing to separate their houses from the new arrivals. But this isn’t the only thing going on in town. A house has been invaded and a woman killed. What the hell is going on here?

Cleverly written by the Coen Brothers (in “Blood Simple” mode), George Clooney and his writing/producing partner Grant Heslov and directed with a keen eye by Clooney, “Suburbicon” is a black comedy with a message attached. It’s also a story about infidelity, greed and murder, not necessarily in that order.

The film opens like one of the old educational films they used to show in high school. It chronicles the very beginning of Suburbicon, boasting how in a dozen years the town has grown a population of 50,000 people. Among the residents is Gardner Lodge (Damon), who lives there with his invalid wife, Rose (Moore) and young son Nicolas (an outstanding Noah Jupe). When the new neighbors move in to the house behind them, Rose urges Nicolas to go over and play catch with the young boy (Tony Espinosa) in the family. However, it seems only the Lodge’s are accepting of the newbies, as night after night, mobs begin to gather outside their house, loudly urging them to move.

On one such night Nicolas is woken up by his father who tells him “there are men in the house.” Downstairs, he finds his mother and his aunt Margaret (also Moore) in the kitchen along with two bad guys. The robbers assure them they won’t be hurt but soon tie them up and chloroform them. When Nicolas awakes he learns his mother is dead. He now spends his days playing with his new friend and his nights worrying that the bad men will be back. Even if he could sleep it would be hard with the mobs screaming on the next block.

I’ll say up front that I pretty much figured out the plot twist about 10 minutes into the film, but that didn’t stop me from enjoying “Suburbicon.” The performances are solid, with Damon also shining next to your Mr. Jupe. Another standout is Gary Basaraba who plays Nicolas’ fun-loving uncle Mitch. Also funny is Oscar Isaac, an insurance claims adjuster investigating Rose’s death.

There are plenty of laughs and some great sight gags but I did find it a little hard to chuckle during the mob scenes, which get progressively larger, louder and more violent. I understand the message, but I didn’t need to get hit over the head with it. I will say it was nice to see the Mayers (Karimah Westbrook and Leith M. Burke) portrayed as a strong black family unit. They refuse to let the hate envelop them and it is their bravery in the face of adversity that is an important part of the story.

Film Review: “Mark Felt: The Man Who Brought Down the White House”

Starring: Liam Neeson, Diane Lane and Tom Sizemore
Directed by: Peter Landesman
Rated: PG-13
Running time: 1 hr 43 mins
Sony Pictures Classic

Many years ago, when he was first working on bringing the story of Abraham Lincoln to the screen, the word was that director Steven Spielberg’s first choice to play our 16th President was Liam Neeson. When I heard that I was curious if Neeson, a very fine actor, had the necessary gravitas to play the Great Emancipator. Based on his performance in “Mark Felt: The Man Who Brought Down the White House,” I think he would have been well cast.

April 1972. With the upcoming U.S. Presidential election coming up in November, the FBI’s Deputy Director, Mark Felt (Neeson) is summoned to the White House. There he meets with John Dean (Michael C. Hall), President Nixon’s White House Counsel, and Attorney General John Mitchell (Stephen Michael Ayers). The conversation turns to the possibility of the President “encouraging” the current FBI director, J. Edgar Hoover, to resign. What are Felt’s thoughts? Felt keeps his thoughts to himself, though he is quick to remind the men that the director has amassed his own set of secret files. A month later, Hoover dies. Felt does what he thinks is best so that, when the White House sends a courier to pick up Hoover’s files his answer is “What files?”

So begins the story that ushered in one of the most embarrassing political episodes in America’s history. One hand not only knows what the other hand is doing, it’s not even sure of its own fingers! As the election gets closer, things get crazier in the bureau. In what is obviously a vote of non-support, instead of promoting Felt to the top job, Nixon appoints L. Patrick Gray (Martin Csokas, who could pass quite easily for Russell Crowe’s younger brother) as “acting” director until a permanent successor for Hoover is found. This makes Felt take a long look at his life, and the bureau, and his displeasure with both. But things begin to go downhill for everyone concerned when a break-in is reported at a Washington D.C. area hotel known as the Watergate.

A nice look at the inner workings of government, the film is based on Felt’s book of the same name. Instead of F.B.I. the name of the game is C.Y.A. with an unlimited number of people on the sidelines ready to pounce on the slightest mistake. Unhappy with Nixon’s interference in the bureau’s investigation of Watergate, Felt begins speaking to Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward (Julian Morris). Unwilling to go on the record Felt gives himself the name “Deep Throat,” hiding in the shadows as the government he loves unravels. Led by Neeson’s performance, the film features great work from everyone involved, including Lane, Sizemore, Noah Wylie and Bruce Greenwood. The film is well paced and, even if you’re familiar with the story, holds enough surprises to keep your attention and helps begin the upcoming film awards season.

Film Review: “The Foreigner”

Starring: Jackie Chan, Rufus Jones and Pierce Brosnan
Directed by: Martin Campbell
Rated: R
Running time: 1 hr 54 mins
STX Entertainment

A man picks his young teenage daughter up from school. He notices her sharing a glance with a boy and asks when he will get to meet him. She blushes. He drives her to a popular London dress shop to pick out a prom gown and urges her to be careful as she crosses the street. Sadly, all of his love can’t prevent the bomb that is about to kill her from going off.

An edge-of-the-seat thriller full of twist and turns, “The Foreigner” is a welcome return to the screen for the great Jackie Chan, whose grieving father Quan will not stop until he discovers who planted the deadly explosive. The bombing is claimed by a group associating itself with the IRA, which causes much tension between the British and Irish governments. It is left to Liam Hennessy (Brosnan, given that rare occasion to use his real-life brogue), an influential Irish politician, to get to the bottom of what is going on before things get bloodier. Unfortunately for him, and the police, Quan is a man with a past full of surprises.

Not counting voice work in animated features, it’s been almost a decade since I’ve seen Jackie Chan on the big screen and I’m happy to report that, even at age 63, the man can still kick some serious ass! He also shows a much larger range as an actor here, portraying a father who has basically lost his entire family violently. This is not the clowning man from the “Rush Hour” films. This is a man whose grief and need for revenge seem, at times, to be all that is keeping him alive.

The action here, both with and without Chan, is outstandingly staged, with much credit needing to go to director Campbell, who also helmed Brosnan’s debut as James Bond in “Goldeneye” as well as Daniel Craig’s amazing Bond reboot “Casino Royale.” The film is also driven along by an amazing musical score by Cliff Martinez. The music not only helps deliver the story on-screen but is very reminiscent of the great film scores (“Sorcerer,” “Thief”) by the German band Tangerine Dream.

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.