Fountain City Mini-Con a Welcome Addition to the Midwest

As summer heads into it’s last month, comic fans in Kansas City were treated to an event that was designed for THEM. And they found it this past Saturday at the Fountain City Mini-Con, held at the Lenexa Community Center in Lenexa, Kansas.

Packed wall to wall with dealers and guest artists, a non-stop throng of fans stopped by to talk comics with some of the genre’s best. Non-comic fans were impressed with the variety of dealers represented, providing the opportunity to pick up anything from t-shirts and games to the new NECA JAWS “Quint” figure (guilty).

Artist Aaron Lopresti does a sketch for a fan. You gotta love the shirt!

What I loved seeing the most, and I love seeing this at every show I attend, were the youngsters under 12, many in costumes, that walked the aisles with their folks, hopefully making memories that will last a lifetime. Think I’m kidding. I’m 60 years old and my first con was “Alien Encounters” in Tampa, Florida in 1978. Yes, I was a late bloomer but I’ve more than made up for it!

The Flash took time out from his busy schedule to tour the dealer’s room.

If you’re kicking yourself and thinking, “damn, I missed it,” you’ll be happy to know that there will be another show on Saturday, October 23. If you’re interested in attending, please click HERE.

Mr. Macabre

Film Review: “Jungle Cruise”

  • JUNGLE CRUISE
  • Starring:  Dwayne Johnson, Emily Blunt and Paul Giamatti
  • Directed by:  Jaume Collet-Serra
  • Rated:  PG 13
  • Running time:  2 hrs 7 mins
  • Disney

The tale is told of the Conquistadors that sailed down the vast and dangerous river in search of the petals of a certain plant.  The petals, called “The Tears of the Moon” were said to cure any ailment and reverse any curse.  But of course, it’s just an old tale.  Right?

Full of fun, with another winning performance by Dwayne Johnson – I think if he met me he and I would be best pals immediately – “Jungle Cruise” is the latest Disney attraction to become a feature film and, I must say, it’s pretty darn entertaining.

We are introduced to the Houghton siblings – brother MacGregor (Jack Whitehall) is every bit the prim and proper Brit he seems to be while his sister, Lily (Blunt) is the adventurer in the family, having spent a good portion of her adult life searching for the mystical petals.  While looking for a boat to take them down river they meet Frank (Johnson) who is currently doing his best to avoid Nilo (Giamatti), the local bad guy.  If you’ve seen “Roadhouse” think of him as the jungle version of Brad Wesley.  A deal is made and the threesome head into the great unknown.

On the plus side, “Jungle Cruise” makes great use of CGI, creating a jungle, and all of its inhabitants, with amazing realism.  Tigers. Spiders. Monkeys.  You name it, they’re there and they look amazingly real.  The cast is in great form, with Johnson happily spouting puns (we call them “dad jokes” today) whenever he gets the chance.  Also well cast is Jesse Plemons, whose character, a former German army officer, is as obsessed with the petals as Lily is.  He’s a little over the top, but in a good way. 

My only major problem with the film is that it seemed about 30 minutes too long.  You can only battle zombie pirates so long before it gets boring.  If I wanted a three hour tour I’d wait for “Gilligan’s Island – the Movie,” which I’m sure will be in theatres soon!

Remembering Harry – A Conversation with Jason Chapin

We all, at one time or another, have heroes. Most boys have sports heroes. For the record mine are, in order, Ron Santo, Fred Lynn and Cal Ripken, Jr. I also have personal heroes…people who have inspired me by their words and deeds and have influenced my life. I have three: Robert F. Kennedy, Paralympic Gold Medal winner Nick Springer and Harry Chapin.

October 1974. My parents have split up and I’ve been sent to live with my Aunt Mildred and her family in Ohio so I can go to school without all of the emotional baggage. I rarely see my father, who is still in Chicago. Even though we were just outside of Cleveland, the radio station of choice is CKLW, broadcasting out of Detroit.

One night, listening to the radio as I went to sleep, I heard a song that resonated with me like no other song had. It was a song about a father and his relationship with his son. Dad is always gone, missing many of the young boy’s adventures as he grows up. Before he knows it, the boy is grown and now, when the father has the time, the son is too busy for him. The song was “Cats in the Cradle” by Harry Chapin and, after I went out and bought the 45, I played it over and over and over. “That’s me,” I thought to myself. “I’m the boy.”

As I got older I learned much more about Harry Chapin. Not only was he an amazing singer and songwriter, he used the pulpit his celebrity provided him to speak out on issues that concerned him, chief among them world hunger. This was a time when others, including John Lennon, were being criticized for voicing their opinions on serious issues.

June 16, 1981. I’m in the Army and have only just arrived in Germany a few days prior. I’ve been to the PX and purchased a cassette of Harry’s new album, “Sequel,” and I listen to it daily in my room. That day I was listening to Armed Forces Radio when I heard the tragic news that Harry Chapin had been killed in a car accident. Returning to my room, I did what I had done seven months earlier after the murder of John Lennon. I wept.

In the forty years since his passing, Harry Chapin has been recognized not only for his music but for his charitable work. He was also the subject of an outstanding documentary released last year entitled “Harry Chapin: When in Doubt…Do Something,” co-produced by his son, Jason. Over the years, thanks to Facebook, I’ve been able to chat with Jason occasionally, letting him know how much his father meant to me. As the anniversary of Harry Chapin’s passing approached, Jason very graciously sat down with me for a conversation about his father.

MIKE SMITH:  Hello.  How are you?

JASON CHAPIN:  Great.   How’s the Midwest?

MS:  Rainy!

JC:  It’s great to finally connect and chat.

MS:  I appreciate it.  It’s a true honor to speak to you.  I turned 60 last year and your dads music was very important to me so it’s great to be able to talk to you.

JC:  I think music is incredible.  All the time I hear stories from people  – parents who enjoy sharing their music with their kids and then the kids enjoying it as well. I think music connects with people a lot deeper that say, someone reading a book or a poem or even watching a movie.  It’s also great that musicians can now get themselves out there and reconnect with their fans…meet more people and build their base.

MS:  How many times have you met someone that, once they learn who your father was, tell you that they feel that “Cats in the Cradle” was written just for them?

JC:  (laughing)  It happens all the time.  A lot of times I tell them that the song was originally written as a poem by my mother.  My mother and father collaborated on a lot of poetry and songwriting.  After my younger brother, Josh, was born I think my father began thinking more about family and fatherhood.  He wrote the song but didn’t know how the reaction would be to it until he started performing it live.  And thus began the journey of a song that became very important to a lot of people who still tell me today how important it was to them.  Any song that gets them to think about the importance of family is a great song. 

MS:  Does the song kindle any special memories for you when you hear it?

JC:  Yeah.  It reminds me of my parents.  It reminds me of how excited my father was when it became a hit and went to #1.  It also reminds me of all of the doors that opened once that happened, enabling all of the things he was able to do.  I think it was, for him, a great moment in his career but I also think it was a little scary for him.  He had a conversation with my uncle, Tom (NOTE:  Tom Chapin is also an accomplished musician who still tours with members of Harry’s band.  For those of you who grew up in the 1970s, Tom Chapin was the host of the great weekend television show “Make a Wish”) about being under the pressure to do it again (reach #1), but he was never able to do it again, though he certainly wrote a lot of great music after that.

MS:  Do you have a favorite memory that you can share about your dad?

JC:  I don’t have one specific memory.  I have a lot of memories of playing sports with him…going to sporting events with him.  And a lot of fantastic family trips.  He was the kind of person who always had a lot of energy and was always looking to do things with people that were memorable.  I have so many great ones but not one that really stands out.

MS:  Your dad was one of the first entertainers to use his celebrity to shine a light on an important social issue – in his case World Hunger – leading him to found his WhyHunger Organization.  Was helping others very important to him?

JC:  Yes.  He came from a very large family that was not well off and so he had a great understanding of what other families were going through.  I don’t think he took his success for granted.  I actually think he felt guilty about his success and wanted to give back.  It was my mother who was really raising some of the issues being felt on Long Island and I think it was a challenge to my father to understand what the issues were – what the root causes were – and to use his success to try to make a difference.  By coincidence, he had a radio interview with Father Bill Ayres, who had a show called “On This Rock.”  They became friends and that friendship led to discussions, which led them to decide to really do something and create an organization that looked at the root causes of hunger.  It was a long process but, once he started to do it – and people realized he was willing to do benefits and get involved…he was always getting requests – it was difficult for him to say “no.”  Which is why he started doing around one-hundred benefit shows a year. 

MS:  Last year you co-produced a documentary film about your dad entitled “Harry Chapin: When In Doubt…Do Something.”  How has the film been received?

JC:  It’s been extremely well received.  It currently has a 100% rating on RottenTomatoes – both from critics and viewers, which is really unheard of.  All of the people I’ve spoken with – family and fans – say they learned a lot about him.  The film really has two parts.  The first concentrates on his career while the second focuses on his humanitarian efforts.  Many of the fans weren’t aware of the humanitarian work that he did.  I feel very fortunate that we were able to include Pat Benatar , Billy Joel and a lot of other artists sharing their thoughts not only about my father but on hunger and poverty.  It has become a bigger film than I expected because it’s touched people in many different ways. 

UNITED KINGDOM – SEPTEMBER 01: Photo of Harry CHAPIN; performing live onstage, (Photo by David Redfern/Redferns)

MS:  The Chapin family is PACKED with musicians (Not only was Harry Chapin’s father a musician, but his brothers Steve and Tom, and most of the Chapin kids, are also quite musical).  I can still remember watching Tom on “Make a Wish” as a kid.  How about you?  Do you play anything?  Are you musically inclined?

JC:  No.  I took piano lessons…guitar lessons.  I spent about five years playing the trumpet but it wasn’t my strength. (laughts)

MS:  How can Harry’s fans, and people reading this interview, help continue Harry’s work today?

JC:  Well, the organizations that were most near and dear to him, and ones that family, friends and fans have been supporting for decades, are WhyHunger, which looks at the root causes of hunger and works with other organizations around the country and across the globe, Long Island Cares, which helps hundreds of thousands of people each year and the Harry Chapin Food Bank of Southwest Florida which was not started by him but was named to honor him.  I think my father would say that if something is important to you, take the time and learn about it and get involved.  I think he would want everyone to realize that you can volunteer, which is incredibly important.  You can donate, which is also incredibly important.  But most of all, find some way to get involved because that’s what makes the difference.

MS:  If you had to describe your dad in three words, what would they be?

JC:  Hmmmmm.  Three words?   Caring. Committed. And Unique.

MS:  Perfect. 

Jason, thank you so much for this.  I was 14 when “Cats in the Cradle” came out and my dad was away a lot.  I would listen to the song and think “that’s me…I’m the boy.”  Now I’m 60.  My son HAS grown up and moved away.  I have grandchildren.  Now I’m the dad.  It’s like Harry wrote, “all my life’s a circle.”

JC:  Thank you for sharing that.  I think the song has helped a lot of parents become better parents and I think that it’s enriched a lot of lives, which is a tremendous tribute for a song writer. 

IF YOU WOULD LIKE TO DONATE OR VOLUNTEER TO KEEP HARRY’S DREAM ALIVE, HERE ARE LINKS TO THE ABOVE MENTIONED ORGANIZATIONS:

WhyHunger – click HERE

Long Island Cares – Click HERE

Harry Chapin Food Bank of Southwest Florida – Click HERE

Film Review: “Black Widow” SPOILER FREE!

  • BLACK WIDOW
  • Starring:  Scarlett Johansson, Florence Pugh and Rachel Weisz
  • Directed by:  Cate Shortland
  • Rated:  PG 13
  • Running time:  2 hrs 13 mins
  • Disney

The expression is “timing is everything.”  I say this because, while I found “Black Widow” enjoyable, it doesn’t feel as timely to me as other films in the MCU (Marvel Cinematic Universe for those of you who don’t understand fan-speak).

Ohio.  1995.  It’s another sunny day in the local park and Melina (Weisz) is enjoying the time watching her young daughters play.  When they get home mom prepares dinner and they all wait for dad (David Harbour) to get home.  However, the mood changes when dad announces “it’s time.”  On the move again!

Full of non-stop action and some self-depreciating humor, “Black Widow” is an origin story that attempts to inform viewers where Natasha (Johansson) came from and why she defected to the Avengers. 

The majority of the film takes place in 2016, after Theodore Ross (William Hurt) helped the United Nations enforce the Sokovia Accords, which basically made the Avengers outlaws, unable to do their stuff unless requested.  It also requires all “enhanced” people in the United States to not only identify themselves but disclose what their enhancement is.   Currently Ross is on the look for Black Widow and Captain America.  And the hunt is on.

I’m doing my best to make this a SPOILER FREE review, so I won’t be going into too many details.  Suffice it to say that the characters travel literally all over the world, a lot of stuff gets damaged and a lot of people got hurt.  The action scenes are well designed and the script fun.  But still…..

While it’s not the best film in the MCU, it certainly isn’t the worse.  And that’s a good thing.   

Theater Review: “Godspell” – Kansas City

  • GODSPELL
  • Starlight Theater
  • Kansas City, Missouri
  • June 22, 2021

45 years ago tonight, the musical “Godspell” opened on Broadway at the Broadhurst Theater.  It had been performed in workshops and on the road since 1971 so this year actually marks the show’s 50th Anniversary.  What a great show to celebrate the return of live musical theater to Kansas City.

Most people know the show thanks to the song “Day by Day,” which was a hit on the radio in the summer of 1972, but may have never seen the show.  The story basically tells the story of Jesus, from beginning to end, in song and with a surprising amount of humor.  Obviously the show has been “punched up” since 1971, and jokes revolving around COVID, Netflix and the Kardashians hit their mark.  There’s even a brief mention of one of the “other” biblical musicals, “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” which, along with “Jesus Christ Superstar,” completed the Biblical Musical Trifecta!,

With a musical score by Stephen Schwartz, who also created “Pippin” and “Wicked,” the show is an ensemble extravaganza, with each cast member creating their own identity.  What made the show special was that every actor on stage had Kansas City roots.  The entire cast was brilliant but I’d like to give special mention to Eric Geil (Jesus), Patrick Lewallen (Judas) and Shon Ruffin (Shon), whose amazing voice reminded me of the great Nell Carter. 

As usual, Starlight was most accommodating to the audience, with a beautiful night to go along with a beautiful presentation.  “Godspell” continues its run in Kansas City through Sunday, June 28.  You can buy tickets HERE.

Quite simply, “Godspell” is a blessed return to musical theater!

Win Passes to the Kansas City Premiere of “Summer of Soul”

Media Mikes has teamed up with their friends at Searchlight Pictures to give (15) readers and a guest the chance to be among the first to see the musical event of the summer, “Summer of Soul.”

The film, directed by Questlove, the film will screen on Tuesday, June 29th at the AMC Town Center 20 in Leawood, Kansas. The screening begins at 7:00 pm.

To attend, all you need to do is click HERE. The first 15 readers to do so will receive a pass for (2) to attend the screening. This is a first come/first serve giveaway. Once the allotted passes have been claimed the giveaway has ended. Good luck!

SUMMER OF SOUL (…OR, WHEN THE REVOLUTION COULD NOT BE TELEVISED)

In his acclaimed debut as a filmmaker, Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson presents a powerful and

transporting documentary—part music film, part historical record created around an epic event that

celebrated Black history, culture and fashion. Over the course of six weeks in the summer of 1969, just

one hundred miles south of Woodstock, The Harlem Cultural Festival was filmed in Mount Morris Park

(now Marcus Garvey Park). The footage was never seen and largely forgotten–until now …

Win Passes to the Kansas City Premiere of “Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard”

Media Mikes has teamed up with Lionsgate to give (50) of our readers and a guest not one but TWO opportunities to be among the first in Kansas City to see the new film “Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard,” starring Ryan Reynolds and Samuel L. Jackson.

The first screening is this Tuesday, June 8th at the Screenland Armour Theatre in North Kansas City, Missouri.

The second screening will be held of Thursday, June 10th at the AMC Studio 28 Theatre in Olathe, Kansas.

Both screenings begin at 7:00 p.m.

All you have to do is pick the screening you want to attend and click on the links below:

For June 8th at the Screenland Armour, click HERE

For June 10 at the AMC Studio 28, click HERE

This is a first come/first serve giveaway and is limited to (25) admit two passes per screening. Once all passes have been claimed the giveaway has ended.

Please note that some Covid Protocols are still being enforced and must be followed for entry, including having to wear a mask.

Good luck, and welcome back to the movies!!

Blu-ray Review: “The Father”

  • THE FATHER
  • Starring:  Anthony Hopkins and Oliva Colman
  • Directed by:  Florian Zeller
  • Rated:  PG 13
  • Running time:  1 hr 37mins
  • SONY Pictures Classics

I turned 60 last September and, as I get older, one of my biggest worries is that I’m going to slowly lose my faculties.  As someone that loves to write and communicate, I think that would destroy me.  I preface this review with that statement because that MIGHT be what’s going on in THE FATHER.

Anthony (Hopkins in an Academy Award winning performance) likes to relax in his flat, listening to music and taking occasional glances out the window.  He is looked after by his daughter, Anne (Colman) and things appear to be well.  Until one afternoon when Anne informs him that she will be hiring a caretaker because she is moving to Paris to be with the man she loves.  At least Anthony thinks this is what she told him.  Things get more puzzling when the next moment Anne’s former husband appears, but claims to be her current husband for the past eight years.  What the hell is going on here?

A true psychological thriller, “The Father” is a very non-linear descent into what could either be madness or gas-lighting.   Director Zeller leaves it up to the viewer to decide which it is.

The film is brilliantly acted, with, as noted earlier, Hopkins winning his second Best Actor Oscar for his performance.  Colman, herself an Oscar winner – and a nominee for her work here – matches him beat for beat.  Supporting work by Imogen Poots and Rufus Sewell, among others, carry the story along smoothly.

With theatres opening up to usher in another summer of fast cars and explosions, take a moment to stay home and watch “The Father.”   

Special Features:

  • Homecoming: Making “The Father”
  • Perception Check: Portrait of “The Father”
  • Deleted Scenes

4K Ultra HD/Blu-ray Review: “Last Action Hero” (Steelbook)

  • LAST ACTION HERO
  • Starring:  Arnold Schwarzenegger, Austin O’Brien
  • Directed by:  John McTiernan
  • Rated:  PG 13
  • Running time:  2 hrs 10 mins
  • Columbia Pictures

It was THE movie event of 1993.  A movie starring the world’s biggest action star, directed by the guy who directed “Die Hard,” and featuring an amazing array of celebrity guest stars.  Hell, they even launched a rocket into space with the film’s title on the side.  That film was “Last Action Hero,” and, at a cost of $85 million was one of the most expensive films made at the time.  Even though it made over $134 million world-wide, it was considered a dud by the bean counters in Hollywood and was not met well by critics.  However, as a 32 year old movie theatre manager, I LOVED IT.  Almost 30 years later, I still love it.

Danny (O’Brien) is a young boy who lives with his mother and spends most of his free time at the movies, where he has made friends with the projectionist, Nick (Robert Prosky).  One of the benefits of the friendship is Danny being allowed to screen new films before they open.  This night he is getting set to watch the latest Jack Slater adventure, starring Arnold Schwarzenegger.  Nick give Danny a “magic ticket,” goes into the booth and starts the film.  But tonight is different.  Danny isn’t watching the movie, he’s IN the movie.

A fun buddy comedy (even though there is 30 years age difference between the buddies), “Last Action Hero” is everything it was advertised to be, which made its poor box office in the U.S. surprising (it mad $15 million it’s opening weekend but ended up only making another $35 million before it was out of most theatres).  The fun comes from the fact that Jack Slater (Arnold, of course) has never heard of Arnold Schwarzenegger.  He thinks Danny is just some crazy kid who somehow ended up in the back of his car during a high speed chase. 

Jack thinks Danny is delusional.  A trip to the video store features a lobby display for TERMINATOR 2, but this version stars Sylvester Stallone.  Introduced to another cop (F. Murray Abraham), Danny instinctively recognizes him as the guy who killed Mozart in “Amadeus.”  Having never heard of the film, Slater tells the cop that Danny thinks he killed someone named Moe Zart!

The fun continues until the pair chase a baddie (Dance) back into Danny’s world, where Slater learns that you can’t punch a window without cutting yourself and you are no longer magically bulletproof. 

The film is an amazing combination of action and humor and one that doesn’t live up to it’s rep.  Check it out with an open mind and I think you’ll agree with me. 

Both the picture and sound on this release are amazing and the film comes in a special steel case.  This is a fun film I highly recommend. 

Special Features:

Commentary with Director John McTiernan

Deleted & Alternate Scenes

Alternate Ending

“Big Gun” Music Video by AC/DC

Original Behind-the-Scenes Featurette

Theatrical Teaser

Win Passes To See the New Film SPIRAL (Nationwide)

HELLO EVERYONE!!!

How in the hell are you doing?? It seems like forever since we did a pass giveaway and to celebrate, we’re not giving out passes to see a movie in Kansas City or Boston or Orlando – we’re giving passes out all over the country!!

Mediamikes has teamed up with their friends at Lionsgate Films to give (10) readers and a guest the chance to check out the latest film in the SAW series, SPIRAL.

All you have to do is let us know below what film you are most looking forward to this year. The new Bond? “Top Gun: Maverick?” “The Batman?” Let us know and you could be on your way to the movies.

(10) random winners will be chosen and they will be sent, via email, an ATOM code that will get them (2) tickets to see SPIRAL. Pretty simple if you ask me. Not like we’re asking you to saw off your arm!

This giveaway will run through Thursday, May 13th at 10:00 pm EST. At that time the winners will be selected and sent their codes via email. GOOD LUCK!!

SPIRAL opens nationwide this Friday, May 14th!

Facebook:                                 @Saw

Twitter:                                     @Saw 

Instagram:                                @Saw

Hashtag:                                   #Spiral

BEHIND THE SCREEN: 93rd Annual Academy Awards – A Night to (NOT) Remember

Well, thank God that’s over. The final film award ceremony of 2021 is over, and not a minute too soon.

Viewers who tuned in to the 93rd Academy Awards ceremony (guilty, but I have a website. What’s your excuse?) were treated to un-enthusiastic presenters, amazingly long speeches (I’m guessing Questlove wasn’t told he could play people off) and an “In Memoriam” segment that looks like it was thrown together at the last minute. And can someone tell me how a show with no host, opening monologue and zero musical numbers – unless you count the embarrassing “Oscar Music Trivia” game that featured Glenn Close shaking her ass to E.U.’s “Da Butt” – ran almost 3 1/2 hours??

On a positive note, there were some great achievements rewarded. A woman of color (Chloe Zhao) was named Best Director, only the second time a woman has won that Award. Think about that. Out of 465 nominees only SEVEN women have been nominated: Lina Wertmuller, Jane Campion, Sophia Coppola, Kathryn Bigelow (who won), Greta Gerwig, Ms. Zhao and Emerald Fennell, who with Ms. Zhao was nominated this year. Which means such female directors, like Penny Marshall and Barbra Streisand, have been totally ignored, even though in the past they had directed films nominated for Best Picture!

Daniel Kaluuya and Youn Yuh-jing took home the Best Supporting Actor and Actress awards, respectively, putting a slight dent into the #OscarSoWhite reputation.

Frances McDormand became the second actress to receive (3) Best Actress awards when her name was announced last night, putting her right behind the immortal Katherine Hepburn, who won (4). Meryl Streep does have (3) Oscars, but one was for Best Supporting Actress. Ms. McDormand picked up a 4th Oscar as one of the producers of the evening’s Best Picture, “Nomadland.” And whose idea was it to give the Best Picture award out early? Normally it’s the last award of the night, but on this night it was awarded before Best Actress and Actor were named. My hunch is that the producers assumed the late Chadwick Boseman, who was nominated for his final performance in the film “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom,” would win, which would have made for a nice emotional way to end the evening. Instead, Joaquin Phoenix sheepishly announced Anthony Hopkins as the winner of the Best Actor award, and that was a wrap!

My beef with the “In Memoriam” segment was that, for some reason, the Academy figured if you were watching you knew who everyone was and what they did. An introduction that took u 1/3 of the segment, no film clips and, while known talents like Christopher Plummer, George Segal and Wilford Brimley got a few seconds of screen time each, others – among them Marge Champion (a great dancer), Shirley Knight (a fine actress), Kelly Preston (same) and Michael Chapman (an amazing cinematographer whose credits include “Taxi Driver,” “Raging Bull,” “Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid” and “The Fugitive”) whizzed by in a blink.

The fact that only nominees and presenters were allowed to be in the venue also made for dull television. Smatterings of applause signaled that the guests in the theatre were apparently as bored as the ones at my house.

Blame it on COVID. Blame it on the fact that none of the films nominated were “NAME” films – no “Titanic,” “Avatar” or “Lord of the Rings” in the bunch. Blame it on bad television. There’s plenty of blame to go around.

For those of you who went to bed early, here is a list of the winners:

Best Picture – Nomadland 

Best Actor in a Leading Role– Anthony Hopkins (The Father)

Best Actress in a Leading Role – Frances McDormand (Nomadland)

Best Director – Chloé Zhao (Nomadland)

Best Actress in a Supporting Role – Youn Yuh-jung (Minari)

Best Actor in a Supporting Role – Daniel Kaluuya (Judas and the Black Messiah)

Best Adapted Screenplay – The Father, Christopher Hampton, Florian Zeller

Best Original Screenplay – Promising Young Woman, Emerald Fennell

Best Animated Feature Film – Soul 

Best International Feature Film – Another Round (Denmark)

Best Sound – Sound of Metal, Phillip Bladh, Nicolas Becker, Jaime Baksht, Michelle Couttolenc, Carlos Cortés, Carolina Santana

Best Costume Design – Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, Ann Roth

Best Makeup and Hairstyling – Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, Matiki Anoff, Mia Neal, Larry M. Cherry

Best Live Action Short Film – Two Distant Strangers

Best Animated Short Film – If Anything Happens I Love You 

Best Documentary Feature – My Octopus Teacher 

Best Documentary Short Subject – Colette 

Best Original Song – ‘Fight for You,’ (Judas and the Black Messiah)

Best Visual Effects – Tenet, Andrew Jackson, Andrew Lockley, Scott R. Fisher, Mike Chambers

Best Cinematography – Mank, Erik Messerschmidt

Best Production Design – Mank, Donald Graham Burt, Jan Pascale

Best Film Editing – Sound of Metal, Mikkel E.G. Nielsen

Best Original Score – Mank, Trent Reznor, Atticus Ross

Behind the Screen: Here Comes the Strangest Oscar Ceremony Ever!

THIS COULD BE THE STRANGEST OSCAR CEREMONY EVER

In its 93 years the Academy Awards have seen some strange occurrences.

In 1973, Marlon Brando, who was announced as the winner of the Best Actor Award, sent an actress pretending to be a Native American up to the podium to refuse the award, citing the way Native American’s were portrayed in films.

The next year, David Niven was startled when freelance photographer Robert Opel decided to “streak” across the stage behind them.  I always thought that this was a set-up.  The camera angle was such that none of Mr. Opel’s nether-region was shown and Mr. Niven was awful quick and his quip: “The only laugh that man will ever get in his life is from stripping off and showing his shortcomings!” 

And, of course, who could forget the 1989 ceremonies when Rob Lowe and Snow White engaged in a musical number?  Only months before a sex-tape with Lowe and two women (one underage) had been released, which I’m sure upset the folks at Disney, who were already upset because they hadn’t given their permission for the character to appear.

But this year could be the strangest and most unpredictable ceremony ever.

Tonight, for really the first time since last year’s Oscars, nominees have been encouraged to be in attendance.  In the past year, shows like the Emmys have had a minimal crowd (usually first responders) and the awards have been “delivered” to the winner via Zoom.  Tonight we could actually see people walk across the stage to give their acceptance speeches.

Tonight also notes the first time that a streaming service has received more total nominations than any of the established studios.  NETFLIX leads the way with 35 total nominations, followed by Amazon with 12.  The highest number of studio nominations is 8, shared by Warner Bros. and the Walt Disney Company.

Streaming has been the thing this year.  Though theatres are now open again, very few people are going.  The one closest to me, and 18 screen mega-plex, is showing films that range from current (GODZILLA vs KONG, MORTAL KOMBAT) to titles that are months old.  They are even trying to fill their screens with Bollywood features.

In the past year, I have seen three films in a movie theatre.  The aforementioned GODZILLA vs KONG and MORTAL KOMBAT, both in the last 2 months.  Before that, the last film I saw on the big screen was TENET.  And I LOVE going to the movies.

With the exception of TENET, every other Oscar nominated film or performance I have seen this year has been either on a streaming platform or a DVD screener.  A nice way for a critic to binge on what they need to see but also a way that takes the fun out of the movies. 

I enjoy going to the theatre.  Getting my popcorn and sitting in a room with 250 strangers who are about to share an experience with me.  I like hearing others laugh along with me and I like sitting in the silence and hearing if anyone else is crying at the incredibly sad scene I just witnessed.  And I like talking to people as we exit the auditorium, discussing what we saw and whether or not we liked it. 

I should note that there were no more than four other people in attendance at the three films I have seen in a theatre.  Which makes for a lonely exit conversation.

Hopefully after the awards some of the winners will be released to theatres.  That is how Hollywood makes a little more money off of their films – re-releasing them to theatres after the awards to get a post-Oscar push at the box office.  I, for one, would love to see MANK on the big screen.  It’s impeccable recreation of 1940s filmmaking would be glorious to take in on a screen 40 feet high.

However, there are also good reasons to watch the Awards this year.  Many of the nominees are a “pick-em” – there are no such things as “Titanic” nominated tonight.  But my fingers are crossed for two awards and the reaction they will receive. 

The late Chadwick Boseman is nominated as Best Actor for his amazing performance in “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom.”  It is his last film performance and it is brilliant.  A victory here would not only honor a talent gone much too soon but will surely bring the house to it’s feet.

Secondly, tonight Glenn Close is nominated (for the eighth time) for her Supporting turn in “Hillbilly Elegy.”  Not only is she the best thing in the film, she is so overdue for a win.  Should she not win tonight, she will tie the late Peter O’Toole as having the most acting nominations without a win.  O’Toole did receive an Honorary Oscar in 2002.  A win by Close would surely trigger and emotional standing ovation.  It certainly will at my house.

Film Review: “Mortal Kombat”

  • MORTAL KOMBAT
  • Starring:  Lewis Tan and Josh Lawson
  • Directed by:  Simon McQuoid
  • Rated:  R
  • Running time:  1 hr 50 mins
  • Warner Bros.

I can hear the pitch now.  Couple of guys walk into Warner Bros. and layout their idea for a film based on the early 1990s video game MORTAL KOMBAT.  “It’ll be great,” they tell the studio boss.  ‘Every thirty year old with kids will want to take them to see a movie based on their favorite childhood video game.  And, because we obviously don’t know that kids can’t readily see an “R” rated film, we’ll fill it with vulgar language and buckets of blood!”  Mission accomplished.

The story in a nutshell:  bad-ass bad guy kills bad-ass good guy and his family, but doesn’t know there is a baby hidden under the house.  Centuries later, we meet Cole Young (Tan) who is, of course, an MMA fighter.  That loses.  A lot.  An orphan (of course again) Cole has a family of his own, including a young daughter who is his corner-person when he fights.  Sadly, despite her constant pleading, he won’t throw the uppercut, so he taps out a lot.  But even though he’s a loser in the octagon, Cole has one thing the other fighters don’t.  A strange dragon marking on his body.  What could it mean?

Poorly written – I imagine the script was basically there to put a few minutes between fight scenes – and way over the top, MORTAL KOMBAT is exactly the kind of film I wouldn’t want my 37 year old son to take his kids to.

The dialogue, what there is, is very heavy handed, with words of wisdom that fall on deaf ears.  Another issue with the dialogue is that some of the film is subtitled, with the subtitles telling you if the characters are speaking Japanese or Chinese.  Later in the film they drop identifying the dialect.  When one character speaks to Cole in, if we were paying attention, we know is Japanese we can’t help but hope for a subtitle that reads “I have no idea what you’re saying” (English).

While the fight scenes do liven up the film some, the violence is over the top.  Yes, in the video game you killed your opponent in nasty ways.  Usually your opponent would explode in a red burst and their bones would rain down.  Violent, yes.  But not like this.  Here heads are crushed with a bloody splat, limbs hacked off and various blades are buried deep inside bodies, only to be removed in a geyser of blood.  Heck, one character is split down the middle vertically with organs spilling out like quarters from a slot machine.  Definitely not the MORTAL KOMBAT I remember playing.

A loud, rambling blood-fest, MORTAL KOMBAT is a great concept gone horribly wrong. 

Film Review: “Mank”

  • MANK
  • Starring:  Gary Oldman, Amanda Seyfried and Arliss Howard
  • Directed by:  David Fincher
  • Rated:  R
  • Running time:  2 hrs 11 mins
  • Netflix

“Citizen Kane” is often regarded as the greatest film ever made.  Directed by “boy genius” Orson Welles, who was only 25 at the time, the film would receive nine Academy Award nominations, including Best Picture (Welles was also nominated as Best Director and Best Actor) the film won only one Oscar, Best Original Screenplay.  The award was given to Welles and Herman J. Mankiewicz but, according to “Mank,” only one of the deserved the award.

We meet Herman Mankiewicz (Oldman) as he is brought into a home far from the big city.  Mank, as he is called, is recovering from an auto accident and has been hired by Orson Welles to write a story about a man obsessed with power but yearning for love.  As Mank begins dictating his script, we look back at various episodes in his life that have made him the man he is.

A true love letter to the movies of the Golden Age of Hollywood, “Mank” is an amazing recreation of those exciting times before World War II when talking and conversation were almost a commodity. 

Director Fincher, working from a screenplay by his late father, Jack, has captured everything about the films of that era, from the opening credits to the cue marks that appear in the corner of the screen to signify a reel change.  The script is well written (surprisingly this is Jack Fincher’s only produced screenplay) and the dialogue is pure poetry.

Mank is a man who loves his work, his liquor and his women, though not always in that order.  As he makes his way around Hollywood we are introduced to his fellow writers (Ben Hecht, S.J. Perelman and George S. Kaufman among them), Hollywood moguls like David O. Selznick, Irving Thalberg and Louis B. Mayer (an outstanding Arliss Howard, missing from the big screen for far too long).  We also meet the “boy genius” himself, but in this story Orson Welles (Tom Burke) is a secondary character, showing up occasionally to add his thoughts to Mank’s script. 

Oldman is perfect as Mank, accenting every nuance in his many monologues, whether he is sober or…not so sober.  His performance is truly award worthy, and I have him neck and neck with Chadwick Boseman for this year’s Best Actor Oscar.

But the big revelation here is Amanda Seyfried, who plays actress Marion Davies.  I’ve seen her in everything from the “Mama Mia” films to “Ted 2” to “Les Miz” to the underseen “Lovelace,” in which she made Linda Lovelace into a human being and not just a punchline, and have always enjoyed her but this is the first time she has completely inhabited a character.  She has been nominated for a Best Supporting /Actress Oscar for her performance here and rightly so.

Production wise, the film is beautiful to look at, with much credit going to cinematographer Erik Messerschmidt, an Oscar nominee for this, his first film as DP.  His cameras capture the era perfectly and it’s like going back in time.

Most movies about the movies are either hit or miss.  “Mank” is definitely a hit.

Film Review: “Ma Rainey’s Black Botom” (1)

  • MA RAINEY’S BLACK BOTTOM
  • Starring:  Chadwick Boseman, Viola Davis and Glynn Turman
  • Directed by:  George C. Wolfe
  • Rated:  R
  • Running time:  1 hr 34 mins
  • Netflix

It’s a hot summer day in Chicago in the late 1920s.  In a small, enclosed room a group of musicians gather, waiting to back up a recording session for the tardy Ma Rainey (Davis), forever known as “the Mother of the Blues.”  Among the musicians is Levee (Boseman), a horn player with aspirations of musical fame of his own.  He’s tired of being part of a “jug band” and wants to introduce the musical world to a new style.  But he soon learns that Ma isn’t interested in a new style.  And what Ma says, goes.

Like “Fences” before it, “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” is a film adaption of an August Wilson play, again produced by Denzel Washington, who also produced, directed and starred in “Fences.”  “Ma Rainey” is directed by the amazing 15-time Tony Award nominee (and three time winner) George C. Wolfe.  Wolfe skillfully opens up the play on screen while keeping the performances front and center.  And what amazing performances they are.

Davis is tough as nails as Ma, a woman a lot smarter than some give her credit for.  She knows that her white producers only want her for her voice = that otherwise they would have nothing to do with her.  So she wields the power her voice gives her by making demands that must be met.  Whether it’s fetching her a Coke or ensuring that her nephew will appear on a record and get paid, she is as strong a Black woman as the times will allow.

The supporting cast of musicians are equally strong, especially when killing time by sharing stories of their musical past.  Turman, Michael Potts and Colman Domingo share their tales with great conviction and, occasionally, humor

As the session producer, Jeremy Shamos is both firm and bendable, depending on whether he’s dealing with his boss or Ma.

God bless Chadwick Boseman.  His star shone brightly with amazing work in films like “42,” “Get on Up” and, of course, “Black Panther.”  He left this world much too soon, but he left us with a performance that will be remembered forever.  Levee is a dreamer, but when his dreams are dismissed, or downright crushed, his jovial smiling face turns into a mask of anger, an anger that needs to be released.  Boseman, like Ms. Davis, has been Oscar nominated for his performance and they both richly deserves to win.

“Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” is currently showing on Netflix.”