Interview with Oscar/BAFTA nominated filmmaker Agnieszka Holland

I first met Oscar and BAFTA nominated filmmaker Agnieszka Holland several years ago when I had the honor of introducing her amazing 1990 film “Europa, Europa.”  In my introduction I noted that, when I first saw it I was a theatre manager and watched it at 430 in the morning.  I then commented that I loved the film so much that I threaded up the projector and watched it again.  She told me later in the evening that I had given her one of the best compliments she had ever received. She also very graciously signed my “Europa, Europa” DVD.  Her latest film, “Mr. Jones,” tells the story of a Welsh journalist who broke the news in the western media of the famine in the Soviet Union in the early 1930s and is currently available via Video-on Demand.  “Europa, Europa” recently received a beautiful CRITERION Blu-ray/DVD release.  While awaiting start on her next project, Ms. Holland took the time to speak with me about “Mr. Jones.”

 Mike Smith:  What drew you to direct “Mr. Jones?”

Agnieszka Holland:  The script was sent to me by a first-time screenwriter and when I read the script what struck me first was how personal it sounded as well as how relevant it was.  A story about the manipulation of the media – the propaganda – fake news and the consequences of it and how they are relevant to our time.  I realized at the time that the work of Stalin was virtually unknown to the masses and that what he allowed was unjust and wrong. And I knew the story had to be told.  At the beginning, Mr. Jones is curious and bright and a businessman. He wants to discover some new things but what he finds are things that other people don’t see; this incredible tragedy happening to the entire population.  He becomes the messenger that speaks for them.

MS:  Were you familiar with Gareth Jones’s story before you were sent the script?

AH:  Not really. It was only after I agreed to make the film and met with members of his family that I found out they were hearing the story for the first time. It was one of his grand-nephews that discovered the documents that center around the story. After his death his actions had been forgotten. He is best known in Ukraine where he is considered a national hero. Once I read the script I knew this young man’s work had to be brought to the light again

MS:  “Europa, Europa” turns 30 this year. Do people still approach you and tell you the impact the film had on them?

AH:  Yes, the film doesn’t seem to age. They’ve either seen it on television or they have purchased the new CRITERION Blu-ray/DVD.  I hadn’t seen the film myself in quite a while and I recently introduced it at a film festival and I was surprised at how well it stood the test of time

MS:  You work a lot in both film and television.  As a director do you have a favorite medium?

AH:  Television is easier because as a director you don’t have to be totally involved.   You are just helping to tell the story. On a film the director is responsible for everything. On television you have several layers of responsibility from the show runner on down, and rarely does a director do the entire series. I will share my vision but it’s not entirely my own work so things go a lot smoother and entirely faster.

MS:  What is your next project?

AH:  I just finished a film called “Charlatan,”  a Czech film that recently premiered at the Berlin Film Festival. It was supposed to open in European theaters in March but because of the Covid lockdown it will probably be released in the fall. It was well received in Berlin so I hope the people like it. I’m now preparing to shoot a television series for Apple TV which will be filmed in Paris but we are waiting to see when we can begin filming, again due to the current situation. Right now it would be impossible but we are continue to prepare it so will be ready when we are allowed to start.

Television/Streaming Review: ESPN 30 for 30 – “Long Gone Summer’

On September 8, 1998 my son Phillip, his friend Bobby and I drove from Kansas City to St. Louis to take in that evening’s Cardinals/Cubs match-up. We witnessed baseball history when J.D. Drew hit his first career home run. I’ve told this story for over two decades.

Most people know Todd MacFarlane as the creator of the popular SPAWN comics and his amazing toys. He is also a huge baseball fan. We learn that as the film begins with McFarlane bidding almost $3 million to purchase a baseball. But not any baseball. This is the ball hit by Mark McGwire for his 70th home run, at the time a new record. The summer of 1998 was a big one for baseball. After the players strike in 1994 caused the cancellation of the World Series for the first time in history, the game began to draw fans back in 1995 when Baltimore Oriole Cal Ripken, Jr. played in his 2131st consecutive game. But the summer of 1998 is the one that drew fans, old and new, to the game. It was the summer McGwire and Chicago Cub Sammy Sosa swung their way into the history books.

“Long Gone Summer” not only chronicles both players assault on Roger Maris’ then-record of 61 home runs in a season, but the effect the challenge had on America. People that had sworn off baseball after the strike left a bitter taste in their mouth began to pay attention to the game again, while people who had never shown interest began to watch. Having been in Camden Yards when Ripken set his milestone I was already a fan so I followed the exploits of McGwire and Sosa daily, ensuring that ESPN’s SPORTCENTER was a must-see every night.

As the film follows McGwire, Sosa and, for a time, Ken Griffey, Jr, it also talks with some baseball fans who are household names, among them Bob Costas and George Will. Also interviewed are Roger Maris’ sons, as well as Cardinal’s broadcasters Jack Buck (though archival footage) and Mike Shannon. The race had a personal feel to Shannon, who had been a Cardinal teammate of Roger Maris in the mid 1960s.

But the big voices here belong to the two players themselves. McGwire explains his lifelong desire to hit the ball far while Sosa talks about the fun he had. What they don’t talk about are the accusations that both were using performance enhancing drugs. In fact, in a show that runs almost 1 3/4 hours, PED’s are not mentioned until the 45 minute mark, when a container of Androstenedione is spotted in McGwire’s locker. He brushes the questions off, noting that Andro is available over the counter. It’s almost another 45 minutes before the subject comes up again.

Of the two players, McGwire comes off the best. He is insightful in looking back at what he describes as both the best, and worst, time of his life. Sosa, speaking perfect English – when he testified before Congress he had to have his attorney read his statement, as he felt his English wasn’t strong -is more concerned with relaying the fun times he had that summer. Archival interviews with both – again with Sosa speaking English like a native – gives a look into the love and respect Big Mac and Slammin’ Sammy had for each other. As the season ends, McGwire finishes with 70 home runs, Sosa with 66. Sosa would hit 63 the next year and Baroid Bonds would hit 73 in 2001. By then, the PED cat was out of the bag and, in the almost 20 years since Bonds, no one has hit 60 home runs in a season.

Given an opportunity to confirm whether or not he juiced, Sosa will only say that “Everybody was doing them.” After years of denial, in 2010 McGwire admitted to using PED’s. His admission and apology seemed sincere to me. So much so that I can tell you that, on September 8, 1998, my son Phillip, his friend Bobby and I drove from Kansas City to St. Louis to take in that evening’s Cardinals/Cubs match-up. We witnessed baseball history when Mark McGwire hit his 62nd home run of the season over the left field fence, directly below where we were sitting. No disrespect to J.D. Drew, but this story is more exciting.

“Long Gone Summer” airs this Sunday night at 8:00 pm EST on ESPN and will stream directly afterwards on ESPN+.

Film Review: “The King of Staten Island”

THE KING OF STATEN ISLAND
Starring:  Pete Davidson, Marisa Tomei and Steve Buscemi
Directed by: Judd Apatow
Rated:  R
Running time:  2 hrs 16 mins
Universal

Scott Carlin (Davidson) sits on the couch with some friends, enjoying their company.  One of them notices a tattoo on Scott’s arm and asks him the significance.  His attitude seems to change as he informs the questioner that the ink commemorates the day his father died.  Upset that she made have upset Scott, she begins to apologize, to which Scott and the others burst into laughter as if it’s no big deal.  “Knock, knock,” one of them says.  “Who’s there,” Scott queries.  “Not your dad!”

A dark comedy featuring an unexpectedly powerful performance from Pete Davidson, “The King of Staten Island” takes a look at a young man who is still struggling to understand the eternal question, “why?”  Based in part on Davidson’s own family experience – his father bravely died while attempting to rescue people inside the Marriott World Trade Center Hotel on September 11, 2001 – the film, which Davidson also co-wrote with director Apatow and Dave Sirus, is an often funny, sometimes tragic look at a life forever changed in a single tragic moment.

Scott, age 24, still lives at home with his mother, Margie (an excellent Tomei) and pretty much spends his days hanging out with his friends, smoking weed and trying to get a job as a tattoo artist.  Scott’s own body is covered in tats, some professional and others not-so professional.  Things change when, while partying with his friends in the woods a young boy wanders by.  He’s encouraged to join the group and even agrees for Scott to give him a tattoo.  Of course, as soon as the needle touches his skin he jumps up and runs away.  Soon the young man and his father are on Scott’s doorstep.  Dad is not angry.  Marcie tries to intervene but the man continues yelling.  When he asks to speak to Scott’s father he is informed that he is dead and this softens the man a bit.  When he returns later to apologize he asks Marcie out.  After 17 years Marcie has begun to live for herself again.  Scott is unhappy with the situation and even more so when he learns that Marcie’s new friend is a fireman.

As I noted earlier, “The King of Staten Island” rests squarely on the narrow shoulders of Pete Davidson.  I’ve found him funny on “Saturday Night Live” – though I can’t help but cringe when he tells 9/11 jokes – and expected him to be funny here.  But it’s the emotional journey Davidson takes that impresses.  Scott has a lot of pent up feelings – as I’m sure Davidson does – and when they are released the feeling is both terrifying and a relief.  Tomei, who appears to be aging in reverse like Benjamin Button, is also well cast here.  And I want to mention a great supporting turn by Steve Buscemi who plays a wizened fireman.  Buscemi was a New York City fireman before becoming an actor and, after 9/11, returned to his old firehouse to assist in searching the rubble at Ground Zero.

It’s mid-June and, even though Hollywood has slowed down a bit in light of the current world situation, there are still films that need to be seen.  “The King of Staten Island” is one of them!  “The King of Staten Island” is now available through Video on Demand.  

Television/Streaming Review: ESPN 30 for 30: BE WATER

I’m old enough to remember watching Bruce Lee as Kato on television’s “The Green Hornet” when it originally aired on ABC. T o me he was just a cool guy who wore a mask and kicked ass. But there was a lot more to Lee, as both an actor and a person, and those remarkable qualities are revealed in the latest ESPN 30 for 30 documentary, BE WATER.

We first meet Lee as he is completing a screen test in 1964. He is quite and soft spoken but, when he is asked to demonstrate some of his martial arts skills, he is a tornado. Even in these few minutes of film, you can see the legend that lie ahead.

Born in San Francisco (his father was a popular Chinese actor and opera performer), Lee’s family returned to Hong Kong shortly after his birth. Like most children, Lee had a mischievous side and his father allowed him to begin acting in films as a child in hopes of curbing his rambunctious attitudes. Finding his idea unsuccessful, his father sends him to Seattle to attend college. It is there that he begins the journey that most fans know. But there is also a lot they don’t and that is revealed here in Lee’s own words. Using archival interviews and quoting his letters, read by his daughter, Shannon, we learn that Lee was a very philosophical man who yearned to bridge the racial prejudice felt in America. He wanted to be able to share and express his culture and was tired of seeing such actors as Mickey Rooney, Marlon Brando and John Wayne portraying Asian characters on screen, usually in ridiculous make up.

Lee’s short-lived small screen stardom begins to fade and he is hopeful for the lead in an upcoming program to be called “Kung Fu.” When he is passed over for the role in favor of David Carradine – we hear the show’s producer proclaim that he could not find an Asian actor he felt could handle the role, he takes his family to Hong Kong,, where he will soon make film history.

BE WATER gets it’s title from a philosophy that Lee often shared in interviews. Water, he notes, is the softest substance on Earth, yet it is strong enough to penetrate rock. It takes the shape of whatever vessel it finds itself in. The film is full of amazing archival footage and the story is told through conversations with not only Lee’s daughter and widow, Linda, but various friends and former students, including Kareem Abdul Jabbar.

On July 20, 1973, Bruce Lee died. 10 days later, “Enter the Dragon” was released, making him an international superstar, ironically a term Lee disliked. His impact on pop culture and racial acceptance is still being felt today. With the current situation the nation, and the world, finds itself in, we could use a man like him today.

BE WATER airs this Sunday night at 9:00 pm EST on ESPN. It will stream afterwards on ESPN+. Don’t miss it!

Television/Streaming Review: ESPN 30 for 30 – LANCE

In 2008 I was driving through downtown Kansas City when I was amazed at the sight of a seven-story banner of Lance Armstrong hanging from the building where my wife worked.  I called her and asked about it and she informed me that her company – an investment management firm – had partnered with Armstrong to promote his LIVESTRONG investments.  Hearing this, I asked her “and what happens when it finally comes out that he was a cheater?”  “Hopefully that isn’t true,” she replied.

LANCE, the latest episode in ESPN’s brilliant “30 for 30” documentary series, is a two part look at the rise and the fall of one of the most celebrated athletes in American history.  Episode one begins with Armstrong telling director Marina Zenovich how he knows there are many people that, upon seeing him, just want to scream out “F**k you, Lance,” but seldom do.  He also recounts how, once when a group heading into a restaurant did just that, he called the restaurant, informed the manager that he would pay for their dinner and asked the manager to inform the party that “Lance loves you.”  Unfortunately, Lance also loves himself.

We are introduced to the young man that would go on to “win” seven consecutive Tour de France bicycle races, the most prestigious race in the world.  He played several sports as a kid but didn’t excel in any of them.  He tried swimming and developed a passion.  Entering triathlons introduced him to competitive cycling, which is where he found his calling.  Then, his life was dealt a blow when he was diagnosed with testicular cancer.  Beating major odds, Armstrong not only survived his ordeal but returned to competitive cycling.  He also returned to a dark secret he had been hiding – taking performance enhancing doses of such banned (in competitive sports) substances as EPO and Andrial.  He admits this rather non-chalantly, falling back often on the old “everyone else was doing it” excuse.

However, in Episode two, which airs this Sunday night on ESPN (and will be available afterwards on ESPN+) the true Armstrong comes through.  Like many athletes, Armstrong was set on winning at any cost, allegedly going so far as to inform the anti-doping agency that a rival cyclist was juicing.  Like many people in denial, Armstrong was like a pit bull in his defense of his reputation.  Whether using his cancer as a sympathy ploy or slandering his accusers (while testifying in an inquiry he calls one woman who filed a deposition alleging his cheating a whore) or using his status and power to destroy other riders, he comes off as a man who still feels that he’s done nothing wrong.

Part two also looks at Armstrong’s effect on those close to him.  His son, who played college football, is asked if he would ever use performance drugs.  His reply – that he only wants to succeed through his own hard work – is heartfelt and honest.  That’s what all athletes want to do.  Asked if he still considers himself relevant, Armstrong declares, “I AM relevant.”  He also refers to former U.S. Postal Service team mate Floyd Landis – who was the rider that finally outed Armstrong’s doping – as a “piece of s**t.”  Other team members relate that Lance was fine with them as long as they kept his secret but, at the slightest hint of disloyalty they were gone.

On the positive side, the film also takes a look at the magnificent work that the Lance Armstrong Foundation and LIVESTRONG have done in support of cancer patients everywhere.  Thanks to Armstrong’s popularity hundreds of millions of dollars have been raised for these organizations (I’ll admit that I bought a LIVESTRONG bracelet when they came out).  And this achievement allows Armstrong to ask if the ends justify the means.  Would this money have been raised if not for him?

In the end, you come away with a man who still doesn’t accept responsibility for anything (except his divorce).  He also laments the hardship he endured having to date such celebrities as Cheryl Crow and Kate Hudson.  Wahh!

I’m not sure if I’ll ever run into Lance Armstrong on the street so let me just say here, for the record, “Hey Lance – F**k you!”

Blu-ray Review: “The Invisible Man” (2020)

DIrected by: Leigh Whannell
Starring:  Elisabeth Moss, Oliver Jackson-Cohen
Distributed by: Universal Home Video
Running time: 124 minutes

  • Film: 4 out of 5 stars
  • A/V: 5 out of 5 stars
  • Extras: 3 out of 5 stars

There’s a great joke I first heard in the eighth grade that deals with a mishap involving Superman, Wonder Woman and the Invisible Man.  I can’t relate it hear but believe me, the punchline is killer.  So is the latest incarnation of the Invisible Man.

We open on a couple in bed.  As Adrian (Jackson-Cohen) sleeps, Cecilia (Moss) gets up, gathers some things and makes her way quietly out of the state of the art house.  Doing her best to avoid cameras and not set off alarms, she makes her way to the road, where a ride is waiting.  But she will soon find out that you can’t run away from some things, no matter how hard you try.

Genuinely terrifying, with a tour-de-force performance by Ms. Moss, “The Invisible Man” starts off slowly and clumsy.  20-minutes in I resigned myself to the fact that I was going to see a rehash of “Sleeping with the Enemy,” only with a Patrick Bergin that I couldn’t see.  But just as that thought came into my head, writer/director Whannell flipped the switch, taking the film into directions I never would have imagined.

There have been many attempts at filming H.G. Wells’ story of a man with the power of invisibility, from the 1933 Universal Horror Classic “The Invisible Man” starring Claude Rains to the 2000 Kevin Bacon-starrer “Hollow Man.”  Heck, even Kurt Russell and Chevy Chase have taken comedic shots at the story.  But here, the main theme is terror, especially to an audience who is on the edge of their seats, intently staring at the screen and looking for the slightest hint the bad guy is there.

Moss is a revelation here.  Best known for her television and streaming work (“Mad Men,” “The Handmaids Tale”) and a strong supporting turn in last year’s Jordan Peele horror masterpiece, “Us,” she has the unenviable job of basically interacting with a character that the audience never sees.  Whether arguing, pleading or physically fighting with our villain, it’s just her on the screen, yet you feel her terror, especially when she is violently struggling with an entity that she (nor the audience) can see.  Mr. Whannell, no stranger to horror thanks to his involvement in the “Saw” and “Insidious” film series, keeps the pace moving (after the first half-hour) and uses his camera as an almost additional character.  The musical score, by Benjamin Wallfisch (“IT,” “Bladerunner: 2049), helps set the mood as well.  The result is the most terrifying film since the aforementioned “Us.”  If you’re a fan of horror, you definitely need this one in your collection.

Giant Pictures Set To Release Sci-Fi Thriller “Volition”

Giant Pictures has acquired the U.S. rights to the sci-fi/thriller VOLITION. The film will be released in theaters, on Apple TV, Prime Video and other Digital Platforms on July 10, 2020. 

VOLITION is the feature directorial debut for Tony Dean Smith (Rakka), who co-wrote the script with his brother and producing partner Ryan W. Smith (Next Gen).  The film stars Adrian Glynn McMorran (The Revenant), Magda Apanowicz (You), John Cassini (The Possession), Frank Cassini (Watchmen), Aleks Paunovic (War for the Planet of the Apes), and Bill Marchant (Godzilla).  It was produced in association with Paly Productions and Smith Brothers Film Company.

“A great debut for the Smith Brothers, VOLITION is sure to deliver thrills and a mind-bending experience to sci-fans everywhere,” said Courtney Cox, Manager of Content Acquisitions & Marketing at Giant Pictures.  “We are thrilled to be bringing it to digital platforms.”

VOLITION is a time-bending cerebral science-fiction thriller where a man afflicted with clairvoyance tries to change his fate when a series of events leads to a vision of his own imminent murder. Awarded as best feature at the Philip K. Dick Film Festival, among a slew of other awards and critical acclaim, VOLITION is a tightly-wound puzzle of a ride.  

The deal was negotiated by Courtney Cox, Manager of Content Acquisitions & Marketing from Giant Pictures, and Smith Brothers Film Company and Paly Productions on behalf of the filmmakers.

ABOUT GIANT PICTURES:

Giant Pictures is a boutique digital distributor based in NYC and Los Angeles, which is dedicated to elevating the digital experience. We work directly with filmmakers and rights owners to distribute movies and TV shows to VOD & OTT platforms in North America and worldwide. Giant is a division of Giant Interactive, an award-winning digital media and technology services company. Giant is an iTunes Preferred aggregator and encoding house. Recent movie and documentary releases include: ‘Love, Antosha’ (Dir. Garret Price, Sundance 2019), ‘Matangi/Maya/M.I.A.’ (Dir. Steve Loveridge, Sundance 2018), ‘In Reality’ (Dir. Ann Lupo, LAFF 2018, Austin FF 2018). Visit us at: www.giant.pictures

ABOUT PALY PRODUCTIONS:

Paly Productions, Inc. is a U.S.-based investment fund, focused on high-quality artistic projects for the world market.

ABOUT SMITH BROTHERS FILM COMPANY

Smith Brothers Film Company is the creative partnership of brothers Tony Dean Smith & Ryan W. Smith.  As an independent film company, it produces high-quality, character- and story-driven film and television content for the global market.

Available in Theaters and On Digital Platforms on July 10, 2020

Film Review: “The Girls of Summer”

THE GIRLS OF SUMMER
Starring:  Tori Titmas, Jeff Puckett and Nathan Hosner
Directed by: John D. Hancock
Rated:  Not Rated
Running time:  1 hr 33 mins
Indie Rights

It’s a beautiful day in Indiana.  Working on their family sod field, the Taylor sisters are looking forward to the coming evening with both joy and sadness.  Soon two of them will be leaving home to pursue other endeavors but first, for the last time, tonight The Girls of Summer will take the stage.

Beautifully photographed and smoothly paced, “The Girls of Summer” follows oldest sister Maren (Tori Titmas, who also wrote the screenplay) as she embarks on the journey of life.   A chance meeting at their last gig with former country star Luke Thomas (Hosner) offers her the opportunity to join his touring band – he’s on the comeback trail, an opportunity she originally turns down to stay home and care for her father (Puckett), still grieving for his late wife and now heavily dependent on drugs and alcohol to get through the day.  Dad convinces her to follow her dreams.  But, as with many dreams, they don’t always come true.

I think what made this film so enjoyable to me is that it is the finished product of a “Community Project.”  As with his previous films, “The Looking Glass” and “A Piece of Eden,” director Hancock and crew prove that not all the talent in the world resides in Hollywood.  From his headquarters in Indiana he has put together some amazing local talent and their freshness and enthusiasm fill the screen.  The performances are strong, the songs are catchy and the countryside is beautiful.  Hancock has always been at his best when tackling “real life.”  His camera seems to give you a look into the hearts of the characters, giving the viewer an emotional attachment to what they are seeing. 

This time of year usually signals the beginning to the upcoming summer movie season, filling theatres with loud, multi-million dollar extravaganzas.  “The Girls of Summer” is a welcome respite from those films.

“The Girls of Summer” is currently available on Amazon Prime.

Film Review: “Trolls World Tour”

TROLLS WORLD TOUR
Starring the voices of:  Anna Kendrick, Justin Timberlake and Sam Rockwell
Directed by: Walt Dohrn and David P. Smith
Rated:  PG
Running time:  1 hr 31 mins
Universal

FINALLY!!

The situation in the world today has kept some studios from releasing anything “major” this past month but this week Universal is giving us the new animated film “Trolls World Tour.”  And, while you aren’t going to be able to see it in a theatre any time soon, it’s a brightly colored musical spectacular that I heartily recommend.

In the Techno Kingdom the DJ is spinning some fresh beats – like my “kids” lingo? – When his set is interrupted by the arrival of an ominous ship.  Descending from the gangplank is the tough looking Queen Barb (Rachael Bloom) wielding an impressive guitar.  She plays a few chords of hard rock, captivating those in attendance then demands their String!

Meet Poppy (Kendrick) and Branch (Timberlake).  They are best friends and live in a kingdom where Poppy is the queen.  A kingdom of smiles and laughter and, most of all, music.  Pop music to be specific.  A messenger bat arrives with a note from Queen Barb, demanding Queen Poppy give up their String. Confused Poppy turns to her father who explains that there are more Troll kingdoms in the world. Originally it was one kingdom filled with all kinds of music but in fighting caused the lyre that held the stings to break, and each group took a string with them:  Pop, Rock, Classical, Country, Techno and Funk. Poppy’s dad stresses that different Trolls should be shunned but Poppy believes in inclusion and sets of to meet with Barb. She will soon learn that differences do matter.

If you’re a fan of music in general you will really enjoy this film. Fun renditions of classic songs from all genre’s fill the soundtrack, accompanied by the bright colors and sharp animation you’d expect from Dreamworks.  The script is cleverly written, giving props to such sub-genre as Smooth Jazz and Hip-Hop while slyly playing on the assumed stereotypes of that music and their fans.  The vocal performances are fine across the board with work from such performers as George Clinton, Kelly Clarkson and Mary J. Blige keeping the music going.  Special shout out to Ozzie Osborne who plays Barb’s hard to understand father, King Thrash.

If you like this movie Personalized By Kate sells rock, pop  and other music gifts. “Trolls World Tour” is available on several streaming services, including Amazon and iTunes.

Media Mikes Awards in the Mail

Due to the current situation in the world it took some time for the 2019 Media Mikes award certificates to be printed but they are now on their way to the winners.

Last year the readers and staff of Media Mikes awarded certificates to such films as “1917,” “Joker,” “Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood” and “Parasite.”

Congratulations again to all of our winners!

Blu-ray Review: Dark Waters

Directed by: Todd Haynes
Starring: Mark Ruffalo, Anne Hathaway and Tim Robbins
Distributed by: Universal Home Video
Running time: 126

Film: 4 out of 5 stars
A/V: 3 out of 5 stars
Extras: 1 out of 5 stars

1975. A group of youngsters out on a Saturday night. They take their trucks and their beer to the local swimming hole and jump in. A pretty standard night for the teenagers in West Virginia (or anywhere else for that matter). They are surprised when they are rousted out of the water by strange men with hoses in boats.

1998. After being informed he is moving up in the law firm he works for, Attorney Rob Billot (Ruffalo) is informed that he has a visitor. The man, a farmer named Wilbur Tennant (Bill Camp) has come to ask for help regarding the horrific deaths of cows on his farm. At first Rob hesitates to speak with Wilbur but, when he learns that the man is friends with his grandmother in West Virginia, he agrees to listen. What he hears -and later witnesses – will change his life forever.

At first I thought this film would play out as a male-led version of “Erin Brockovich.” I was wrong. While I enjoyed that Julia Roberts flick, it didn’t pack the heart that “Dark Waters” does. I think a lot of this comes from the fact that Mark Ruffalo is not only a talented actor but he has been, and is, very vocal about the world’s environment. I imagine him hearing the pitch for this film and just saying “yes.” Intentional or not, Ruffalo’s personal passions inhabit his character, and you feel that passion.

Ruffalo is joined by a strong cast of supporting actors, including Hathaway, Robbins (in only his third film in five years), Victor Garber, Mare Winningham and a grizzly Bill Pullman. The script, based on a New York Times magazine article, is strong but not preachy. The direction is strong and Mr. Haynes keeps the film flowing smoothly over it’s two-plus hour length.

Oddly, this is the 2nd time Mark Ruffalo has taken on DuPont. He ended up on the wrong end of a gun in “Foxcatcher” so maybe this film was his way of getting even!

Win a Family (4) Pack to the Kansas City Screening of “My Spy”

Media Mikes has teamed up with their friends at STX Entertainment to give (25) readers the chance to win a family pack of (4) passes to attend the Kansas City screening of the new comedy “My Spy.”

The film will be screened on Wednesday, March 11th, at the AMC Studio 28 Theatre in Olathe, Kansas and will begin at 7:00 pm.

All you have to do is click HERE. The first (25) readers to do so will receive a family pack of (4) passes to attend the screening. This is a first come/first serve giveaway. Once all allotted passes have been claimed the giveaway is ended. Good luck!

Win Passes to the Kansas City Screening of “I Still Believe”

Media Mikes has teamed up with their friends at Lionsgate to give (50) readers and a guest the chance to be among the first in Kansas City to see the new film “I Still Believe,” which will be screened on Tuesday, March 10th at the Screenland Armour Theatre in North Kansas City, Missouri. The film begins at 7:00 pm

All you have to do is click HERE. The first 50 readers to do so will receive a pass for (2) to attend the screening. This is a first come/first serve giveaway. Once all allotted passes have been claimed the giveaway is ended. Good Luck!

Film Review: “Onward”

ONWARD
Starring the voices of:  Tom Holland and Chris Pratt
Directed by: Dan Scanlon
Rated:  PG
Running time:  1 hr 42 mins
Walt Disney

Fathers and sons.  As a father (and a son) I can tell you there is nothing like the bond shared between the two.  Films dealing with this special relationship have been around since time immortal.  From “The Godfather” to “The Lion King,”… from “Field of Dreams” to “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom,” the celebration of that bond is timeless.  So, if you had only 24 hours to discover that bond, wouldn’t you do ANYTHING to achieve it?

Ian Lightfoot (Holland) is turning 16 but he doesn’t seem to pleased.  His mother (Julia Louis-Dreyfuss) wants him to invite his friends over for a party but, with the exception of a few of his classmates, he really doesn’t have any.  Ian lives with his mom and his older brother, Barley (Pratt).  Ian’s father passed away before Ian was born and today, to honor his pop, Ian is wearing his dad’s favorite college sweatshirt.  A random meeting with a former classmate of his dad gives Ian a new insight into him.  To make things even more exciting, his mother gives Ian a present that dad intended to give him on this special day.  It seems that dad was a fan of wizardry and has bequeathed Ian his staff.  He has also given him a spell that will allow Ian to bring his father back for one day.  A day that Ian will remember forever.

I’ll have to admit that I went into this film not expecting much.  Obviously, as it was from PIXAR, I knew that visually it would be amazing (and I was right) but from the previews I didn’t think the story would hold my attention.  WRONG!  Helped by the strong vocal performances from the cast, “Onward” is a fine addition to the proud line up of films the company has produced.  It hits all of the emotional notes and, if you’ve ever been a child who longed for a few extra moments alone with your dad, it brings tears to your eyes.

Like most animated films these days, the cast is top notch.  Holland brings his youthful exuberance to the role while Pratt is all blustery bravado.  Both actors inhabit their characters.  Louis-Dreyfuss, Octavia Spencer and the rest of the cast do likewise.  Visually, the film is gorgeous.  Brightly colored and stunningly rendered, this is a film that can stand proudly next to such recent fare as “Toy Story 4” and “UP” as a can’t miss hit for the entire family to enjoy!

Win Passes to the Kansas City Screening of “The Way Back”

Media Mikes has teamed up with their friends at Warner Bros. to give (25) readers and a guest the chance to be among the first to see the new film, “The Way Back,” in Kansas City.

The film, starring Ben Affleck, will be screened on Wednesday, March 4th at the Cinemark 20 and XD Theatres in Merriam, Kansas and starts at 7:00 pm.

All you have to do to attend is click HERE. The first (25) readers to do so will receive a pass for (2) to attend the screening. This is a first come/first serve giveaway. When all allotted passes have been claimed the giveaway has ended.