Film Review: “Beverly Hills Cop: Axel F.”


  • Starring:  Eddie Murphy, Taylour Paige and Kevin Bacon
  • Directed by:  Mark Molloy
  • Rated:  R
  • Running time:  1 hr 56 mins
  • Netflix


Forty years ago an unnamed studio executive convinced Sylvester Stallone to drop out of one film and do “Cobra” instead.  The film in question was “Beerly Hills Cop,” and the character of Axel Foley solidified Eddie Murphy as a true movie star.  Four decades later, we once again find the Detroit cop back in Beverly Hills, this time working on a case that he can’t help but take personal.


Bolstered by a fine story and strong leading performances, “Axel F.” works as both a continuation of the original film series or as a stand-alone crime drama.  We meet Axel (Murphy) back in Detroit, where he is still pissing off the residents of the Motor City.  When he learns his estranged daughter Jane (Paige), an attorney, is representing a suspected cop killer he returns to California to protect her.


Seeing Murphy back on screen in his Detroit Lions jacket and Adidas shoes, it’s like no time has passed since the first film.  Murphy and I are the same age (63) and if we stood next to each other you’d think I was his grandfather.  I think returning to a character he knows so well served as a fountain of youth for the actor, who is constantly moving on screen.  His scenes with Paige are among the film’s best, as Murphy shows an emotional range that may surprise some.  It’s his best performance since his Oscar-nominated work in “Dreamgirls’ – an award, in my opinion, he should have won!


In between the action we get to catch up with old friends like Billy Rosewood (Judge Reinehold), Taggert (John Ashton) and Serge (Bronson Pinchot), who slip back into their characters as easily as an old pair of shoes.  Throw in a bearded, and unrecognizable, Joseph Gordon-Levitt as a detective who has a past with Jane and Kevin Bacon as a no-nonsense cop and you have the makings of a well told story.


Not sure if Murphy will ever revisit Axel Foley again but if this film is any indication, it would be a most welcome return.


On a scale of zero to five, “Beverly Hills Cop: Axel F.” receives ★★

Film Review: “Despicable Me 4”


  • Starring:  Steve Carell, Will Ferrell and Kristen Wiig
  • Directed by:  Chris Renaud and Patrick Delage
  • Rated:  PG
  • Running time:  1 hr 35 mins
  • Universal


When the first “Despicable Me” film came out in July 2010, I loved it.  Not only was it funny, but it had heart.  It also had the best 3D I had ever seen with an animated film.  Since then, Gru, the Minions and company have had some amazing adventures.  That legacy carries on with “Despicable Me 4.”


We find Gru (Carell) enjoying his domestic life, spending his days with his wife, Lucy (Wiig), adopted daughters Agnes (Madison Skyy Polan), Margot (Miranda Cosgrove) and Edith (Dana Geier) and his infant son, Gru Jr., who, despite Gru’s many attempts, isn’t bonding with Dad as much as he’d like.  Enter a new villain and  tons of Minions and you have an adventure the entire family can enjoy.


Action packed, and very funny, “Despicable Me 4” benefits by the comfort the voice performers have with the characters.  They are strongly supported by Ferrell, as new nemesis Maxime, and Sophia Vergara as his femme fatale, Valentina.  A bonus is the creation of five Mega Minions, whose super powers are quite unusual.


With all of the mayhem taking place on screen, it’s nice to see that the storyline is equally devoted to Gru as he attempts to bond repeatedly with his son.  And when the family have to go into hiding from Maxime, the emotional vocal work of the cast pays off in spades.


Illumination Studios continues to equal, if not occasionally surpass, Pixar as the leader in animated films and “Despicable Me 4” is no exception.  Attention to detail is paramount, and the filmmakers manage to give each Minion it’s own personality, each one voiced by Pierre Coffin.  The screenplay, co-written by Mike White (“School of Rock,” “White Lotus” and Ken Daurio (“The Secret Life of Pets”) is both sharp and funny.  The film is well paced and will hold the attention of even the littlest audience member.

 On a scale of zero to five, “Despicable Me 4” receives ★★

Film Review: “Inside Out 2”


  • Starring:  Any Poehler and Maya Hawke
  • Directed by:  Kelsea Mann
  • Rated:  PG
  • Running time:  1 hr 36 mins
  • Disney


Emotions.  Whether or not we want to admit it, they rule us.  And every time we think we finally have them under control a new one comes along to stir things up.


Meet Riley (Kensington Tallman).  Living happily with her parents and playing hockey, she spends all of her time with her best friends, Grace and Bree.  Things are going well and the girls have been selected to attend an off-season hockey camp to prepare for next season.  To top the day off, Riley has turned thirteen.  Quite a lot going on but under the supervision of Joy IPoehler), the transition appears to be going smoothly.  Now say hello to Anxiety.


Perfectly melding story and animation together, “Inside Out 2” is another feather in the cap that is Disney/Pixar.  Ever since “Toy Story” this company has turned out film after film that resonate with audiences all over the world.


If you’ve ever worried about anything in your life, you’ve dealt with anxiety.  Sometimes even the smallest thing makes you worry.  Here Riley is hit with a double shot of problems – Bree and Grace will be attending a different school next year so they will no longer be able to play hockey together combined with Riley’s desire to make the team no matter what.  Things get even more complicated when the team’s star player, Valentina (Lilimar), a player Riley admires, takes an interest in her making the team.  Suddenly rational decisions are thrown out the window as Anxiety muscles herself into taking control from Joy.


And while Anxiety plays a central role we still get humorous visits from earlier emotional favorites like Sadness, Anger, Fear and Disgust.  They must team up to protect Riley from Anxiety and their methods are rather fun.


The animation, as to be expected, is brilliantly rendered and the story smart and captivating.  While it doesn’t pack the emotional wallop of “IF,” it’s still a great film to take the fmily to.


On a scale of zero to five, “Inside Out 2” receives ★★

Film Review: “Bad Boys: Ride or Die”



  • Starring:  Will Smith and Martin Lawrence
  • Directed by:  Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah
  • Rated: R
  • Running time:  1 hr 55 mins
  • Columbia Pictures


Butch and Sundance.  Murtaugh and Riggs.  Carter and Lee.  Every era has a buddy team that transcend pop culture.  If I’m right, when you read the above names you immediately thought “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid,” as well as the “Lethal Weapon” and “Rush Hour” film series.  For the 21st Century I offer Mike Lowery and Marcus Burnett.  You can just call them Bad Boys.


We find ourselves back in beautiful Miami – the photography here is post card worthy – and find detectives Lowery (Smith) and Burnett (Lawrence) attending the wedding of the granddaughter of their late boss, Captain Howard.  Things go from celebratory to chaos when it is announced that there is corruption in the Miami P.D. and that it was encouraged by Howard.  Sensing a set up, the two partners soon find themselves on the run as they not only try to clear Howard’s name but discover the real culprits.


Packed with both the over the top action and well timed comedic moments, “Bad Boys: Ride of Die” is a marvel of action film making.  Directors Arbi and Fallah have found a way to put the audience into the middle of the action, very similar to the work Dev Patel did with “Monkey Man.  I did catch a short “making of” piece about the film and the technology used today is stunning.  It’s almost like being in the middle of a live action episode of “Grand Theft Auto!”


Both Smith and Lawrence have grown into their roles and their comfort with each other is evident in every scene.  You sense the chemistry the two have forged after nearly three decades.  And hats off to both actors for only doing four films in that time frame.  Most film series’ (I’m looking at you “Fast and the Furious”)  just put out cookie cutter imitations of the past and, while they make money – my friend Carl Gottlieb once said that the only sequel that loses money is the last one – they don’t give the characters the room and time to grow on screen.  I also must mention that Eric Dane makes a very impressive screen villain.  The man is downright scary. 


The production values are top notch, helped out, as noted in my first paragraph, by some beautiful photography created by Cinematographer Robrecht Heyvaert.  The film even gets a blessing from the series original director, Michael Bay, who makes a fun cameo appearance.


When you’re done doing what I’m doing – humming the “Bad Boys” song in your head – take a trip to the local cinema and say hello to Lowery and Burnett.  You won’t be disappointed.


On a scale of zero to five, “Bad Boys: Ride or Die” receives ★★

Film Review: “The Beach Boys”


  • Starring:  Brian Wilson, Mike Love, Al Jardine
  • Directed by:  Frank Marshall and Thom Zimny
  • Rated:  PG 13
  • Running time: 1 hr 51 mins
  • Disney

 The term genius is reserved for only the best of the best in a particular field.  In music that list includers Beethoven, Lennon and McCartney and a Southern California boy who wanted to be a baseball player, Brian Wilson.  Along with his brothers Carl and Dennis, cousin Mike Love and friend Al Jardine, Brian the Beach Boys created some of the greatest music ever recorded.  But the waves were not always smooth for the band.


Airing on Disney+, “The Beach Boys” is an in depth look into how a band that had to borrow money for it’s equipment from a member’s mother and endure a band name they hated achieved both the highs of fame and the lows of mental exhaustion.


Managed by the Wilson’s father, Maury, an aspiring musician himself, the group basically rode the popular wave of surfing music – which in the early 1960s was mostly instrumental -by capitalizing on the boy’s good lucks and Brian’s songwriting ability.  The band was riding high in the first half of the decade but when Brian decided to stop touring with the band and concentrate on the music, the band released some of their best work.  Not coincidentally, this was the same time period as the Beatles exploded onto the scene, causing Wilson and the team of Lennon and McCartney to create some of their greatest work, almost as in competition with each other.


But behind the scenes, things weren’t always as sunny.  Tired of Murray Wilson’s meddling, the band fired him as manager, allowing him to run their publishing company.  This same period  featured both highs (the classic albums “Pet Sounds” and “Smile”) and lows (Brian’s slowly crumbling mental state).  As the decade ended we learn that Dennis had been introduced to another aspiring musician, Charles Manson.  In 1968, the band released a song co-written by Dennis Wilson and Manson called “Cease to Exist” – later retitled “Never Learn Not to Love”) as a B-side to the singled “Bluebirds Over the Mountain.” It was Dennis who introduced Manson to record producer Terry Melcher, who had no interest in Manson’s songs.  It was to Melcher’s house that Manson dispatched his followers too on the night of August 9, 1969, unaware that Melcher no longer lived there but was renting the house to director Roman Polanski and his wife, Sharon Tate.


The film also chronicles how the band’s record company didn’t know how to market their greatest album, “Pet Sounds,” originally releasing it in England while launching a Greatest Hits album in the states.  It also details the difficulties the band had with Murray Wilson who, without talking to Brian Wilson, Mike Love and the others who wrote songs, sold the rights to the band’s catalog for $700,000, a steal when you consider that Bob Dylan recently sold his catalog for $200 million.


But despite the ups and downs, the music continues and it is the music that will endear us to the band for as long as we have music. 


On a scale of zero to five, I give “The Beach Boys’ ★★★

Film Review: “The Idea of You”


  • Starring:  Anne Hathaway and Nicholas Galitzine
  • Directed by:  Michael Showalter
  • Rated:  R
  • Running time:  1 hr 55 mins
  • Amazon Prime


Imagine you’re recently divorced and your ex, in an effort to secure your daughter’s affections, buys her tickets to not only see her favorite boy band from when she was a kid but also the chance to meet them.  Imagine that you have to go with her and meet the band.  Now imagine that, against all odds, you fall in love.  In a nutshell, this is the story of “The Idea of You.”


Romantic comedies are a dying breed, especially this time of year.  Most filmgoers are standing in line for action films and the occasional horror thriller.  Sandwiched in between these films this year is “The Idea of You,” a sweet comedy that doesn’t take itself too seriously.  When Solene (Hathaway) meets Chase (Galitzine) it’s not cute.  It’s embarrassing, as she mistakes his VIP trailer for a public porta-potty.  Chase is quite happy that Solene has no interest in him, the majority of his life having been spent fighting off women who are intrigued by his celebrity.  And when others tell them their relationship is wrong, it only makes them hold on tighter.  Of course, like every love story, there are high points and low points and “The Idea of You” contains both.


Director Showalter, who also co-wrote the script, paces the film smoothly, avoiding most of the tropes you normally find in a film like this, raising it above the level of the Hallmark Channel movie of the week.  Both leads embrace their roles and give strong performances.  The film is also helped by some wonderful photography, courtesy of Director of Photography Jim Frohna.  He uses the screen like a canvas, filling it with bright colors and sights encountered in Chase’s travels.


Overall, when you’re in the mood for a little romance, “The Idea of You” isn’t a bad way to spend a couple hours in the dark.


On a scale of zero to five, “The Idea of You” receives ★1/2.

Film Review #2: “Unfrosted”


  • Starring:  Jerry Seinfeld, Jim Gaffigan and Christian Slater
  • Directed by:  Jerry Seinfeld
  • Rated: PG 13
  • Running time: 1 hr 37 mins
  • Netflix


Ah, the 1960s.  What a great time it was to be a kid.  Breakfast was an important part of the day for kids because we all had our favorite cereals.  My favorite was Quisp, which was basically Cap’n Crunch without the danger of cutting the roof of your mouth.  Quisp had a partner named Quake but Quake soon faded into cereal obscurity.  Other cereal brands I used to eat which are sadly no longer with us include Crispy Critters (hawked by Linus the Lion), Ship Shake, which was basically a butterscotch flavored version of Cap’n Crunch that you put into a mug, filled it with milk, and drank (you had to drink it fast or you just ended up with a cup of soggy cereal), and OK’s, which were basically Kellogg’s version of Cheerios.  Also, for you younger people reading this, back in the 60s cereals that you know today as Frosted Flakes, Corn Pops and Golden Crisps used to have the word SUGAR at the beginning of their names.  To make parents think their kids were eating healthy, the removed the word from the box.  The word disappeared.  The sugar didn’t.  Apparently Jerry Seinfeld and I shared a similar childhood because his nostalgic film “Unfrosted” is a project I really enjoyed.


“Unfrosted” is a fictional and tongue in cheek film about the rivalry between Kelloggs (of Battle Creek, Michigan as the commercials used to tell me) and Post (surprisingly also based in Battle Creek, Michigan, which I learned is known as Cereal City).  The rivalry stems from both companies trying to jazz up the morning meal with something you could pop in the toaster.  Possibly a tart.  Hmmmm.


I true trip down memory lane for people of my generation, “Unfrosted” gives Seinfeld his first opportunity to work behind the camera and he paces the film beautifully.  Seinfeld and his two co-writers, Spike Feresen and Andy Robins, have given life to such popular icons as Snap, Crackle and Pop.  They also have fun with Thurl Ravenscroft, played deliciously by Hugh Grant, a serious actor who is best known for his voice (besides being the “voice” of Tony the Tiger, Ravenscroft appeared in many of the animated Disney shorts and features, beginning in 1950 and continuing through the late 1970s.


Even if you weren’t a kid in the 1960s I think you’ll find “Unfrosted” to be as good as a bowl of Quisp!


On a scale of zero to five, “Unfrosted” receives ★★

Film Review: “IF”


Version 1.0.0
  • IF
  • Starring:  Ryan Reynolds, Cailey Fleming and Steve Carell
  • Directed by:  John Krasinski
  • Rated:  PG
  • Running time:  1 hr 44 mins
  • Paramount


I’m going to admit something here that you may find hard to believe.  Except for the few episodes of “The Office” I have not seen anything directed by John Krasinski.  WHAT?  YOU NEVER SAW “A QUIET PLACE???”  No.  I heard great things but never got around to seeing it.  However, I did see Krasinski’s latest effort from behind the camera and I highly recommend it.


Bea (Fleming) is a young girl with a lot on her mind.  Still mourning the passing of her mother she is sent to live with her grandmother (Fiona Shaw) while her father (played by writer/director Krasinski) is in the hospital undergoing tests.  Heartbroken and lonely she stumbles onto someone who shares her emotions.  Well, not exactly some “one.”


A rare family themed film that will actually appeal to the entire family, “IF” – which stands for “imaginary friend” is a tale that anyone who had an imagination as a child can enjoy.


While spying him out of the corner of her eye, Bea follows Blue (voiced by Carell), back to her apartment building and to an apartment on the top floor.  Intrigued she knocks and is introduced  to Cal (Reynolds), a man whose job is to reunite other IF’s with their now grown childhood friends who, for whatever reason, have forgotten them.

Armed with a script that is both funny and touching, the cast deliver strong performances.  Reynolds has always come off as a naturally friendly guy and he brings that quality to Cal.  Fleming is equally good.  Bea is a young girl with young girl feelings and she is allowed to explore and expose all of the emotions a child in her position can face.  As Blue, Carell adds another great animated vocal performance to his resume.  He is joined by an A-list cast of vocal talents including Bradley Cooper, George Clooney, Matt Damon, Emily Blunt and Keegan-Michael Key.


Overall, the film is a sweet story that will make you laugh and, happily, cry.  With the summer blockbuster season about to begin, “IF” is a true family film that I hope doesn’t get lost at the multiplex.


On a scale of zero to five I give “IF” ★★

Remembering Susan Backlinie


Susan Backlinie getting into the harness that would pull her across the water in “Jaws”

Fifty years ago this month the film JAWS began filming on Martha’s Vineyard.  The first scene shot consisted of members of the cast finding the remains of a young girl who had gone for a midnight swim and been attacked by a shark.  The young woman’s name was Christine Watkins, and she was played by Susan Backlinie.  Ms. Backlinie passed away today (May 11th) at the age of 77.


A skilled swimmer, Susan easily found work as a “Mermaid” at the Weeki Wachie attraction in Florida in the mid-1960s.  I remember my grandparents taking me there but it was after Susan had moved on to become an animal trainer.  Her work, and beauty, was later profiled in the January 1973 issue of “Penthouse” magazine.

Susan performing as a “Mermid” at Weeki Wachee


Her first film role was as Chrissie Watkins, the first victim of the shark in JAWS.  Swimming naked in the Atlantic Ocean she is attacked and violently killed, her body thrashing across the water as her screams go unheard.  Clinging to a buoy as her life slowly flows out of her, she recites the Lord’s Prayer, to no avail.  The scene set the tone for the film and was not easily forgotten by filmgoers.





 Photo by Moviestore/REX Shutterstock (1597310a)  Used by permission.
Her work in JAWS got her noticed and soon she was working as a stuntwoman, appearing in such films as Grizzly, Day of the Animals, and Two-Minute Warning and on such television programs as “The Incredible Hulk” and, naturally, “The Fall Guy.”  She also recreated her midnight swim to comic effect when Steven Spielberg cast her as the Polar Bear swimmer who finds herself “attacked” by a submarine in 1941.    Filming the opening scene for “1941.”

I first met Susan at the 1st JAWSFest in 2005.She was very nice, answered questions and signed autographs for anyone that asked.  It wasn’t until the next JAWSFest, in 2012, that our paths would cross again.  My wife and I were in Menemsha visiting a small shop when I noticed both Susan and Jeff Kramer standing around outside.  I said hello and Kramer commented that they had been waiting for sometime for someone from the Fest to come pick them up and take them back to Edgartown.  However, they couldn’t get ahold of anyone.  We quickly volunteered to take them back to town but, as they both were quite hungry – they had been at the shop for several hours – we offered to take them to lunch.  Jeff recommended a small shack at the end of the harbor and we headed there.  I was shocked to see that it was situated right next to the (still) vacant lot where quint’s shack had been built.  If you stood in the lot and looked towards the water you got the same view seen through the shark jaws when the ORCA pulls out of the harbor in JAWS.  We had a great lunch as both Susan and Jeff told some amazing stories.  I would see her occasionally over the years, usually at fan conventions.  She was always friendly.  I last saw her the past October when she was a guest at ScareFest in Lexington, Kentucky.  We said “hello” and I presented her with a t-shirt highlighting our JAWS 50 group.  She loved it.  As we said our goodbyes, I noted that, among the items she was signing was a Star Wars movie poster.  I was curious and I asked her why.  Had she possibly been a Stormtrooper in the film?  No.  As I mentioned earlier, Susan was an animal trainer and had, among her animals, a bear cub.  Her cub’s growl was recorded and was used for the growls of Chewbacca the Wookie! 


Susan is survived by her husband of nearly three decades, Harvey Swindall. 

Film Review: “The Fall Guy”


  • Starring:  Ryan Gosling and Emily Blunt
  • Directed by:  David Leitch
  • Rated:  PG 13
  • Running time:  2 hrs 6 mins
  • Universal


The 1980s were full of some fun and amazing television shows.  “The A-team,” “The Dukes of Hazzard,” “Police Squad.”  Not only were these some of the most entertaining shows around, they also went on to find life as full length films.  This week another show makes the jump to the big screen.  Meet “The Fall Guy.”


It’s just another day on the set for Colt Seavers (Gosling).  As the stunt double for action star Tom Ryder (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), he’s up for everything.  Literally.  When he’s not jumping cars or running through fire, he’s crushing on cameraperson Jody (Blunt), who one day dreams of being a director.  As the day’s filming comes to an end Colt is asked to repeat a stunt.  No problem, right?


Directed by former stunt man Leitch, who also directed the frantic “Bullet Train,” “The Fall Guy” is almost a movie inside a movie.  Lured back into the business to help Jody, Colt finds himself beaten and battered both on screen and off as he does his best to keep both the film, and himself, alive.


When you go see a movie called “The Fall Guy” you expect to see action.  And director Leitch delivers it with both barrels.  Stuntmen have never gotten their due.  Early in the film someone remarks “can you even name a stuntman?”  Off the top of my head:  Yakima Canutt, Dar Robinson, Ted Grossman and Jean Coulter.  That’s four.  You may not know their names but you certainly know their work.  And the sadly nameless stuntmen in this film do their legacy justice.  This is a film that should advertise “we’ll sell you a seat but you’ll just need the edge!”

In between the action is a fun rekindled romance between Colt and Jody, as well as some humorous moments with a dizzy producer (Hannah Waddingham), who’s much craftier then she lets on.  The film is well cast with Gosling as likable as ever.  Blunt is excellent as the tough on the outside/soft on the inside Jody while Taylor-Johnson plays the vapid leading man well.


Action packed and full of fun, “The Fall Guy” joins “Hooper” and “The Stunt Man” as a film that highlights the unsung heroes of the cinema.


On a scale of zero to five, “The Fall Guy” receives ★★★★

Concert Review: “Croce Plays Croce”


  • A.J. CROCE
  • The Kauffman Center, Kansas City, MO
  • April 13, 2024


“And I carry it with me like my daddy did.”

“I Got a Name” – Jim Croce


I remember when Michael Douglas won his Oscar for “Wall Street” he thanked his dad for allowing him to “step out of a shadow.”  In the history of singer/songwriters, very few people left a shadow as large as that of Jim Croce.  In a tragically shortened career that lasted less than two years, Croce wrote and performed some of the most popular songs of the 20th Century.  His son, A.J., following in his father’s footsteps, has become an influential singer/songwriter of this century.  This past Saturday night, the two centuries converged on the Kauffman Center as, to paraphrase the name of the tour, Croce played Croce.


The show opened with a film clip of Jim Croce talking about his young son, Adrian James, asking his wife, Ingrid, to “bring him out.”  With that introduction, A.J. took the stage and, for the next two and a half hours, kept the audience grooving with a combination of songs by himself, his father and some of his musical heroes.


Musically, the show was flawless.  Mr. Croce is an accomplished musician and, along with his backup band made up of some amazing session players, he rocked the house.  But even better then the music were the stories Mr. Croce shared with the audience.  Stores about his father.  Stories about his own musical journey.  A highlight was when he opened the show up to the audience, encouraging them to shout out titles of songs they wanted to hear, Mr. Croce and the band obliging them.  The songs were presented with a variety of videos, featuring everything from family films of his father to an animated cartoon of “Bad, Bad, Leroy Brown,” which I can remember watching as a kid on “The Sonny and Cher Show.”


While I could not grab a set list, both Croce’s catalogues were well represented.  A great story about Rod Stewart evolved into a kick-ass version of “Stay with Me.”  Another musical highlight was “Name of the Game,” a song Jim Croce was working on before he passed that A.J. finished.


All in all, it was an amazing night filled with amazing music.  One I highly recommend.  On a scale of zero to five, “Croce Plays Croce” receives ★★★★


“Croce plays Croce’ continues though the end of the year.  For tickets, please click HERE.   

Theater Review: “ROCKY”


  • Musical Theatre Kansas City, Shawnee, Kansas
  • April 14, 2024


It’s my second favorite film of all time.  The story of a boxer and his million to one shot.  So, when I first heard a few years ago that ROCKY was coming to Broadway, I was ecstatic.  I never made it to NYC to see it, but a friend of mine sent me the Original Cast CD and I liked what I heard.  So I was happy to see that the talented people at MTKC was staging the show locally.


November 1975.  Club fighter Rocky Balboa (a well-cast Drew Starlin) is making his living as a “debt collector” by day and a club fighter by night.  As he tells his manager, Mickey (Rick Averill), “it’s a living.”  But he wants more.  More includes Adrian (Jasmine Hall,” the shy sister of Rocky’s best friend, Paulie (Chris Clements).  When the forementioned “million to one shot” lands in his lap, Rocky finds himself in the biggest fight of his career.


Based on the film script by Sylvester Stallone, with a book by Stallone and Thomas Meehan (the Broadway shows “Annie,” “The Producers,” “Hairspray”), ROCKY is a very faithful adaptation of the film, The actors on stage are accompanied by a pretty impressive multi-media background, giving even the simplest set a larger feel.  This is most evident during the final fight between Rocky and Apollo Creed (Shane St. James).


The songs, by Stephen Flaherty (“Seussical” and Lyn Ahrens (“My Favorite Year,” “Ragtime”) capture the emotion of the situations unfolding onstage.  The cast is strong, especially Mr. Starlin and Ms. Hall, who, rather then doing an impression of the original film’s actors, give the characters a sweetness and vulnerability that extends throughout the show.  And a special shout-out to Mr. Clements, who truly captures the mixed emotions felt by Paulie.


A few technical glitches aside, the presentation was smooth and the audience I was in cheered at all the right places.


On a scale of zero to five, I give ROCKY ★★


ROCKY continues at MTKC on Friday, Saturday and Sundays through April 28th.  For tickets and more information, click HERE.

Film Review: “Monkey Man”


  • Starring:  Dev Patel and Sharlto Copely
  • Directed by: Dev Patel
  • Rated:  R
  • Running time:  2 hrs, 1 min
  • Universal


Here are four words I thought I’d never see together:
“Dev Patel – Action Star.”  Yet, in the new film “Monkey Man,” Patel proves he can kick ass both on screen and, as the film’s director, behind it.


Meet Kid (Patel), a man trying hard to forget his past, no matter the nightmares.  To earn money, he participates in unsanctioned UFC-style battles with very few rules.  And he fights wearing the mask of a monkey.  Meet the Monkey Man.


Basically a young-man-seeking-revenge thriller, “Monkey Man” is far superior to many films of that type thanks to Patel’s work both as actor and director.  I’ve always been a fan of Patel on screen.  From “Slumdog Millionaire” to his Oscar nominated (and BAFTA winning) performance in “Lion,” he has been an actor whose work I admire and actually look forward to seeing.  This film is no different, as he gives another fine performance.


But it is Patel the director who is the real star here.  The film is full of non-stop action, with each encounter more thrilling then the last.  Patel allows his cameras to become part of the on-screen ballet, capturing the fury of every punch.  With the use of Go-Pros, the viewer is put directly into the action with such realism that you may find yourself ducking in the audience.


I will note that the film is quite brutal in some of it’s depictions of violence so be prepared to squirm in your seat a little.  But squirm away because I can guarantee you this isn’t the last time you’ll see Patel behind the camera.


On a scale of zero to five, I give “Monkey Man” ★★



Interview with Singer/Songwriter A.J. Croce

Thursday, September 20, 1973 found me in 8th grade at Chardon Middle School in Chardon, Ohio.  Walking home my group of friends would often sing the songs we heard on the radio at the top of our voices.  A favorite was “Bad, Bad Leroy Brown.”  The next day the word was all over school.  The night before the man who wrote and sung the song, Jim Croce, had been killed in a plane crash.  18-months after he had burst onto the scene, he was gone.  But in that time he gave the world some of the most memorable songs of all time.  Jim Croce is gone, but thankfully another talented songwriter is keeping his work alive.  His son, A.J.


With ten albums of his own to his credit, A.J. Croce (Adrian James for the curious) didn’t need to sing his father’s songs to establish his long career.  Feeling the time is right, he has recently embarked on a tour called, simply, “Croce Sings Croce.”  In preparation for his upcoming appearance at the Kauffman Center in Kansas City on Saturday, April 13th, Mr. Croce took the time so speak with me about the tour, his career and the continued legacy of his fater.


MIKE SMITH:  I’m going to get weird here for a second and I apologize.  I’m aa63 years old.  I had two musical heroes growing up…people whose music not only inspired me but their passion for others.  One was Harry Chapin.  The other was your dad.  I interviewed Harry’s son, Jason, a couple of years ago and it is a true honor and privilege to speak with you.   


A.J. CROCE:  Wow.  Thank you.


MS:  You were reluctant to perform your father’s music early in your career.  Why are you highlighting it now?


AJC:  There were a lot of reasons.  One was that I had had success in my own right.  I had done well as a songwriter and sideman and musician.  I felt a sense of accomplishment.  The other part was that I didn’t feel there was any integrity in just jumping in and performing my father’s music.  I was a piano player, so I was playing the guitar parts on piano long before I picked up a guitar twenty years ago.  It was a challenge.  I played jazz and old blues and rock and roll New Orleans music so I was trying to find and conquer the most challenging music out there.  That’s what I was looking for.  That being said, I love my father’s music.  There was never a time when I didn’t respect what he had done.  I loved his song writing nd guitar playing.  I have always been working behind the scenes to try and preserve and promote his legacy of music.  I felt that the integrity of my music needed to be intact.  I felt it was a little cheap and a little cheesy just to make a few bucks off of playing my dad’s music when I was young.  As I got older and picked up the guitar, I found there were times and places in my show where I could throw in a song of his as a surprise.  As soon as no one expected me to perform my father’s music it became a lot easier and more fun to throw something in.  Having worked with Ray Charles and Aretha Franklin and James Brown…all those iconic R&B artists…I wanted to make a name for myself.  It was really important that there be integrity in it.


MS:  When you first started out, was the last name “Croce” a blessing or a hinderance?


AJC:  Both.  It was both.  The blessing was, in some ways, smaller then the hinderance at times.  It’s hard to have your own identity when you have a name that’s recognizable.  You don’t really have the privilege of being heard for yourself.  You are heard as the relative of someone who is well-known, maybe for something completely different from what you do.  Having the identity of someone else is a challenge.  Most people get to succeed and fail on their own merits.  I was only able to succeed from the outside perspective on the merits of my father and I was only able to fail on my own merit.  I was not concerned with fame and celebrity.  I was determined to be the best piano player and songwriter and entertainer that I could possibly be.  That was my goal.  I probably shot myself in the foot more than a few times because I was more interested in the music than I was in the fame that music brought.  I probably turned down many opportunities early in my career that would have been really helpful.  I think early on, in the first twenty, twenty-five years of my touring and recording career…of course I wanted people to hear my music.  I think I was a little uncompromising.  I was a little afraid of what fame might do.  I saw what it did to my father.  I saw the remnants of it because of his success.  There’s a certain part of life you no longer get to experience once you’re no longer anonymous.


MS:  Talking about fame, a lot of people can tell you that Jim Croce died in a plane crash but they don’t know why he was on that plane.  He was keeping a promise that he really didn’t have to.  He didn’t have to go and do that show, but he did.  And that is one of the things I’ve always admired about him.


AJC:  Yes.  I mean, every artist has that happen.  When you sign a deal to do a concert and miss it, you do your best to make it up.  I got snowed out of a concert in Connecticut in February and will go back and play at the end of April.  That’s the nature of this business.  There are circumstances sometimes that keep you from being where you want to be.  Or play where you want to play.


MS:  Certainly.  My comparison is that between the time he missed the concert and when he went down to do it he became JIM CROCE.


(QUICK NOTE:  Before he became a household name, Jim Croce had to cancel a concert he had scheduled at Northwestern State University in Louisiana due to illness.  He promised the promoters that he would make up the show as soon as possible.  A year later, now a big star, he had an open date on his current tour, called the school and said he’d be there.  Even with two successful albums and a fistful of hit songs, Croce did the show for his originally agreed on fee, $750.  Remember when I talked about having passion for others?  Jim Croce is a true example. )


AJC:  Absolutely.  Absolutely.  His career was so brief.  His career was eighteen months.  I mean he had played semi-professionally for a period of time but his professional career was eighteen months.  All of the songs you know were written, finished and recorded and toured in that eighteen-month period of time.  It’s kind of an astounding thing that so much was accomplished in such a short amount of time. 

A.J. Croce (Photo credit: Jim Shea)

MS:  You’ve endured a lot of tragedy in your life. (NOTE:  Jim Croce died when A.J. was two.  When he was four, his mother’s boyfriend beat him so badly he lost sight in both eyes.  He regained the sight in his left eye at age 10).  Have you ever drawn on that, even subconsciously, for your own music? 


AJC:  Oh, of course.  If I don’t draw on life experience, I’m not doing my job.  If I’m not using it in my music then I’m not paying attention or growing.  It can’t be a superficial exploration when it comes to writing.  There needs to be depth and you need to draw from those things and hopefully gain wisdom and a sense of humor.  If you can’t gain a sense of humor from the tragedies of life then you’re missing out on half of what a tragedy can give you. 


MS:   Do you have a favorite song of your fathers?


AJC:  No.  I love a lot of his songs.   Just like all music I have no favorite artist…no favorite song.  Music is dso much about mood and emotion.  One morning you wake up and you want to hear Edith Piaf.  The next morning you wake up and you want to hear Zepplin.  Or you want to hear Ray Charles or Fats Waller or Little Richard.  Music is about emotion and mood and that’s such a beautiful thing. 


MS:  That’s a great answer.


AJC: (laughing) Thanks! 


A.J. Croce is currently on tour.  For more information, please visit his WEBSITE.

Interview with “Clue” actor Teddy Trice

We first introduced you to actor Teddy Trice five years ago when the Kansas City area native was back in his home town and appearing in “The Book of Mormon.”  This week he’s back, appearing in the new comedy “Clue.”  Mr. trice took time out of his day to fill us in on the new challenges he’s taken on on stage.


Mike Smith:  Good morning! 


Teddy Trice:  Good morning.  We’ve chatted before, do you remember?


MS:  Yes sir, for “The Book of Mormon.”


TT:  Well, it’s good to talk with you again.


MS:  How was the show last night?


TT:  It was great…it was great.  Full house.  The audience was having a blast. 


MS:  Tell me about the show.  How did it come to be?


TT:  This is the play adaptation of the classic movie.  And if you’re a fan of the board game you’ll see a lot of connections there.  The show follows the six suspects of Boddy Manor.  It’s a classic who-dun-it, with lots of slapstick comedy.  It has a lot of twists and turns that will keep people guessing. 


MS:  Since you mentioned the movie, when the film was released, it was released with three different endings.  Depending on what version you saw, that was the murderer.  The hope was that if you paid to see the film, you’d pay two more times to see the alternate killers.  Is the show similar to that?  Do you have a different killer every night?


TT:  It’s the same ending every night. But there are a few little twists that are different from what the film was


MS:  What is the audience reaction when the culprit is revealed?  I’m sure many of them have spent the show trying to figure things out for themselves.  Are there gasps of surprise or can you hear someone whisper “I knew it was them?”


TT:  There have been moments when the audience thinks they have it figured out and when the story switches you definitely hear the reaction.  But it happens so fast.  The show is 90-minutes and everyone is trying to piece it together in real time.  Everyone is along for the ride.  And when they do, or don’t, figure it out, it definitely takes them by surprise.


MS:  It’s definitely a show that you have to pay attention too.


TT:  There are quite a few characters and you have to piece together their motivations so you have to be CLUED in (laughs) to figure it out.


MS:  Last we talked, you were appearing in one of the most popular musicals of the 20th Century.  What led you to “Clue?”


TT:  This is my first time touring in a play.  After “Book of Mormon” I did “Come From Away” (NOTE:  “Come From Away” currently touring).  So I did two pretty big musicals so I thought stepping into a play would be a really big challenge.  Especially now when you have people who are massive fans of the movie.  A built-in audience.  It was a joy to work with the playwright and the director from the beginning.  I thought it was a unique opportunity to bring this show across the country. 

Mr. Trice recently released an EP of songs reflecting his life and upbringing.

MS:  is this your first time at the Kaufman Center?


TT:  Yes.  I appeared at the Music Hall but this is my first time at Kauffman.


MS:  What is it like playing in front of the home town audience?


TT:  It’s amazing.  I can remember when I was younger and a show would come to Kauffman.  I would take my parents  and just be in awe of the space and the performers.  It’s definitely a bucket list item for me.  It’s a dream for me.  To be able to work in a place that inspired me is really special.  I can only imagine that aspiring young artists are thinking the same thing.  I want to be able to be a light for the City and help in that way.


To read my 2019 interview with Mr. Trice, click HERE