EVERYTHING EVERYWHERE ALL AT ONCE LEADS NOMINATIONS FOR 95TH ANNUAL ACADEMY AWARDS

 

 

Everything Everywhere All at Once, a quirky sci-fi comedy, received (11) total nomination this morning when the films and performances vying for the 95th Annual Academy Awards were announced.

 

The film received nominations in several major categories, including Picture, Director, Actress, Supporting Actor and Original Screenplay.  It was followed by the German World War I drama All Quiet on the Western Front and The Banshees of Inisherin, which each received (9) nominations.  Al three films are in competition for the coveted Best Picture award, along with a selection of both popular hits and critically received films Avatar: The Way of Water, Elvis, The Fabelmans, Tar, Top Gun: Maverick, Triangle of Sadness and Women Talking.

 

Angela Bassett became the first actor nominated for a performance in a Marvel film when she received a Best Supporting Actress nod for Black Panther: Wakanda Forever.  This nomination marked a 29-year gap since her first Academy Award nomination – Best Actress in 1994 for What’s Love Got to Do With It?  Not to be outdone, Judd Hirsch, nominated as Best Supporting Actor for his role in The Fabelmans, closes a 42-year gap, having been nominated in the same category in 1981 for Ordinary People.

 

The awards will also feature a couple of feelgood comeback stories.  Brendan Fraser, inexplicably absent from mainstream Hollywood for over a decade, scored a well-earned Best Actor nomination for his work in The Whale.  Ke Huy Kwan, long considered by me as the titular “doom” in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, received a Best Supporting Actor nomination for his role in Everything Everywhere All at Once.  Jamie Lee Curtis, a Best Supporting Actress nominee for Everything Everywhere All at Once,  becomes the second daughter of Oscar-nominated parents (Tony Curtis/Janet Leigh) to receive a nomination, following Oscar winner Laura Dern (Bruce Dern/Diane Ladd).

 

 

The maestro, John Williams, a five time Oscar winner, received his 53rd  nomination for his original music score for The Fabelmans.

 

Here is a complete list of this year’s nominees:

 

Best Picture

“All Quiet on the Western Front,” Malte Grunert, Producer

“Avatar: The Way of Water,” James Cameron and Jon Landau, Producers

“The Banshees of Inisherin,” Graham Broadbent, Pete Czernin and Martin McDonagh, Producers

“Elvis,” Baz Luhrmann, Catherine Martin, Gail Berman, Patrick McCormick and Schuyler Weiss, Producers

“Everything Everywhere All at Once,” Daniel Kwan, Daniel Scheinert and Jonathan Wang, Producers

“The Fabelmans,” Kristie Macosko Krieger, Steven Spielberg and Tony Kushner, Producers

“Tár,” Todd Field, Alexandra Milchan and Scott Lambert, Producers

“Top Gun: Maverick,” Tom Cruise, Christopher McQuarrie, David Ellison and Jerry Bruckheimer, Producers

“Triangle of Sadness,” Erik Hemmendorff and Philippe Bober, Producers

“Women Talking,” Dede Gardner, Jeremy Kleiner and Frances McDormand, Producers

Best Director 

Martin McDonagh (“The Banshees of Inisherin”)

Daniel Kwan, Daniel Scheinert (“Everything Everywhere All at Once”)

Steven Spielberg (“The Fabelmans”)

Todd Field (“Tár”)

Ruben Östlund (“Triangle of Sadness”)

Best Lead Actor

Austin Butler (“Elvis”)

Colin Farrell (“The Banshees of Inisherin”)

Brendan Fraser (“The Whale”)

Paul Mescal (“Aftersun”)

Bill Nighy (“Living”)

Best Lead Actress

Cate Blanchett (“Tár”)

Ana de Armas (“Blonde”)

Andrea Riseborough (“To Leslie”)

Michelle Williams (“The Fabelmans”)

Michelle Yeoh (“Everything Everywhere All at Once”)

Best Supporting Actor

Brendan Gleeson (“The Banshees of Inisherin”)

Brian Tyree Henry (“Causeway”)

Judd Hirsch (“The Fabelmans”)

Barry Keoghan (“The Banshees of Inisherin”)

Ke Huy Quan (“Everything Everywhere All at Once”)

Best Supporting Actress

Angela Bassett (“Black Panther: Wakanda Forever”)

Hong Chau (“The Whale”)

Kerry Condon (“The Banshees of Inisherin”)

Jamie Lee Curtis (“Everything Everywhere All at Once”)

Stephanie Hsu (“Everything Everywhere All at Once”)

Best Adapted Screenplay

“All Quiet on the Western Front,” Screenplay by Edward Berger, Lesley Paterson & Ian Stokell

“Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery,” Written by Rian Johnson

“Living,” Written by Kazuo Ishiguro

“Top Gun: Maverick,” Screenplay by Ehren Kruger and Eric Warren Singer and Christopher McQuarrie; Story by Peter Craig and Justin Marks

“Women Talking,” Screenplay by Sarah Polley

Best Original Screenplay

“The Banshees of Inisherin,” Written by Martin McDonagh

“Everything Everywhere All at Once,” Written by Daniel Kwan & Daniel Scheinert

“The Fabelmans,” Written by Steven Spielberg & Tony Kushner

“Tár,” Written by Todd Field

“Triangle of Sadness,” Written by Ruben Östlund

 

Best Cinematography 

 

“All Quiet on the Western Front”, James Friend

“Bardo, False Chronicle of a Handful of Truths,” Darius Khondji

“Elvis,” Mandy Walker

“Empire of Light,” Roger Deakins

“Tár,” Florian Hoffmeister

Best Documentary Feature Film 

“All That Breathes,” Shaunak Sen, Aman Mann and Teddy Leifer

“All the Beauty and the Bloodshed,” Laura Poitras, Howard Gertler, John Lyons, Nan Goldin and Yoni Golijov

“Fire of Love,” Sara Dosa, Shane Boris and Ina Fichman

“A House Made of Splinters,” Simon Lereng Wilmont and Monica Hellström

“Navalny,” Daniel Roher, Odessa Rae, Diane Becker, Melanie Miller and Shane Boris

Best Documentary Short Film 

“The Elephant Whisperers,” Kartiki Gonsalves and Guneet Monga

“Haulout,” Evgenia Arbugaeva and Maxim Arbugaev

“How Do You Measure a Year?” Jay Rosenblatt

“The Martha Mitchell Effect,” Anne Alvergue and Beth Levison

“Stranger at the Gate,” Joshua Seftel and Conall Jones

Best Film Editing

“The Banshees of Inisherin,” Mikkel E.G. Nielsen

“Elvis,” Matt Villa and Jonathan Redmond

“Everything Everywhere All at Once,” Paul Rogers

“Tár,” Monika Willi

“Top Gun: Maverick,” Eddie Hamilton

Best International Feature Film 

“All Quiet on the Western Front” (Germany)

“Argentina, 1985” (Argentina)

“Close” (Belgium)

“EO” (Poland)

“The Quiet Girl” (Ireland)

Best Original Song 

“Applause” from “Tell It Like a Woman,” Music and Lyric by Diane Warren

“Hold My Hand” from “Top Gun: Maverick,” Music and Lyric by Lady Gaga and BloodPop

“Lift Me Up” from “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever,” Music by Tems, Rihanna, Ryan Coogler and Ludwig Goransson; Lyric by Tems and Ryan Coogler

“Naatu Naatu” from “RRR,” Music by M.M. Keeravaani; Lyric by Chandrabose

“This Is a Life” from “Everything Everywhere All at Once,” Music by Ryan Lott, David Byrne and Mitski; Lyric by Ryan Lott and David Byrne

Best Production Design 

“All Quiet on the Western Front,” Production Design: Christian M. Goldbeck; Set Decoration: Ernestine Hipper

“Avatar: The Way of Water,” Production Design: Dylan Cole and Ben Procter; Set Decoration: Vanessa Cole

“Babylon,” Production Design: Florencia Martin; Set Decoration: Anthony Carlino

“Elvis,” Production Design: Catherine Martin and Karen Murphy; Set Decoration: Bev Dunn

“The Fabelmans,” Production Design: Rick Carter; Set Decoration: Karen O’Hara

Best Visual Effects

“All Quiet on the Western Front,” Frank Petzold, Viktor Müller, Markus Frank and Kamil Jafar

“Avatar: The Way of Water,” Joe Letteri, Richard Baneham, Eric Saindon and Daniel Barrett

“The Batman,” Dan Lemmon, Russell Earl, Anders Langlands and Dominic Tuohy

“Black Panther: Wakanda Forever,” Geoffrey Baumann, Craig Hammack, R. Christopher White and Dan Sudick

“Top Gun: Maverick,” Ryan Tudhope, Seth Hill, Bryan Litson and Scott R. Fisher

Best Animated Feature Film 

“Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio,” Guillermo del Toro, Mark Gustafson, Gary Ungar and Alex Bulkley

“Marcel the Shell With Shoes On,” Dean Fleischer Camp, Elisabeth Holm, Andrew Goldman, Caroline Kaplan and Paul Mezey

“Puss in Boots: The Last Wish,” Joel Crawford and Mark Swift

“The Sea Beast,” Chris Williams and Jed Schlanger

“Turning Red,” Domee Shi and Lindsey Collins

Best Animated Short Film

“The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse,” Charlie Mackesy and Matthew Freud

“The Flying Sailor,” Amanda Forbis and Wendy Tilby

“Ice Merchants,” João Gonzalez and Bruno Caetano

“My Year of Dicks,” Sara Gunnarsdóttir and Pamela Ribon

“An Ostrich Told Me the World Is Fake and I Think I Believe It,” Lachlan Pendragon

Best Costume Design 

“Babylon,” Mary Zophres

“Black Panther: Wakanda Forever,” Ruth Carter

“Elvis,” Catherine Martin

“Everything Everywhere All at Once,” Shirley Kurata

“Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris,” Jenny Beavan

Best Live Action Short

“An Irish Goodbye,” Tom Berkeley and Ross White

“Ivalu,” Anders Walter and Rebecca Pruzan

“Le Pupille,” Alice Rohrwacher and Alfonso Cuarón

“Night Ride,” Eirik Tveiten and Gaute Lid Larssen

“The Red Suitcase,” Cyrus Neshvad

Best Makeup and Hairstyling 

“All Quiet on the Western Front,” Heike Merker and Linda Eisenhamerová

“The Batman,” Naomi Donne, Mike Marino and Mike Fontaine

“Black Panther: Wakanda Forever,” Camille Friend and Joel Harlow

“Elvis,” Mark Coulier, Jason Baird and Aldo Signoretti

 

“The Whale,” Adrien Morot, Judy Chin and Anne Marie Bradley

Best Original Score 

“All Quiet on the Western Front,” Volker Bertelmann

“Babylon,” Justin Hurwitz

“The Banshees of Inisherin,” Carter Burwell

“Everything Everywhere All at Once,” Son Lux

“The Fabelmans,” John Williams

Best Sound

“All Quiet on the Western Front,” Viktor Prášil, Frank Kruse, Markus Stemler, Lars Ginzel and Stefan Korte

“Avatar: The Way of Water,” Julian Howarth, Gwendolyn Yates Whittle, Dick Bernstein, Christopher Boyes, Gary Summers and Michael Hedges

“The Batman,” Stuart Wilson, William Files, Douglas Murray and Andy Nelson

“Elvis,” David Lee, Wayne Pashley, Andy Nelson and Michael Keller

“Top Gun: Maverick,” Mark Weingarten, James H. Mather, Al Nelson, Chris Burdon and Mark Taylor

 

THE 95TH ANNUAL ACADEMY AWARDS WILL BE PRESENTED ON SUNDAY, MARCH 12TH ON ABC TELEVISION

Film Review: “The Whale”

 

 

  • THE WHALE
  • Starring:  Brendan Fraser, Sadie Sink and Hong Chau
  • Directed by:  Darren Aronofsky
  • Rated:  R
  • Running time:  1 hr 57 mins
  • A24

 

And the Oscar goes to…..  Brendan Fraser.  That is all.

 

OK, I’m getting a little bit ahead of myself here.

 

An online class is in progress.  The main screen is filled with the faces of all of the students.  The only black frame belongs to the instructor, who informs the others that the camera on his laptop is broken.  But it isn’t. He’s just afraid of being seen.

 

Driven by Brendan Fraser, who gives a performance that is both brilliant and emotional, “The Whale” tells the story of a man whose life has spiraled downward as his waistline has increased.  Charlie (Fraser) was once a happy man with a wife and daughter.  A college professor, he was able to share his love of literature and of writing.  But Charlie had a secret and that secret destroyed not only his life, but the lives of those that loved him.  Now it is only through food that Charlie can achieve any semblance of happiness, finding consolation in a bucket of chicken or a couple of giant meatball and cheese subs.  He is looked after by his friend, Liz (Chau), who drops by often offering dinner and some companionship.  Liz knows that Charlie is slowly killing himself, but he refuses to seek medical help.  Only after receiving a couple of unexpected visitors does Charlie begin to think of happiness.  But not for himself.

 

I’m a big guy.  I can always afford to lose a few pounds.  And I can admit here that I have had people refer to me as fat.  But I’m Audrey Hepburn compared to Charlie.  Usually, a large person is played for laughs on screen.  Think Eddie Murphy in “The Nutty Professor,” Martin Lawrence in “Big Momma’s House” or the final scene in “Dodgeball” where a very hefty Ben Stiller makes a self-depreciating joke and remarks to the audience, “Are you happy?  Fatty made a funny.”  But with “The Whale” you have no desire to laugh at Charlie.  You sympathize with him.  When he struggles to take a few steps, you feel his exhaustion.  And when he strains to pick something up off the floor, you can feel your fingers reaching out as well.  But Charlie doesn’t want your sympathy.  He just wants to be.

 

I have always been a fan of Brendan Fraser.  From “School Ties” to the “Mummy” series to the underappreciated baseball comedy “The Scout,” he has always appeared genuine on screen.  His performance here is no different.  You feel sad for Charlie.  Not because he’s heavy but because he’s a human being.  It doesn’t matter if Charlie weighs 400 pounds or a buck twenty-five, the hurt he feels is evident in his eyes.  And the ability to express such emotion with only a glance is the hallmark of a great actor. 

 

Fraser is supported ably by his co-stars, including Ms. Chau, Sadie Sink as Charlie’s estranged daughter and Ty Simpkins as a man literally on a mission who knocks on Charlie’s door.  There is not a false performance in this film.

 

As a filmmaker, director Darren Aronofsky can be very hit or miss.  On one side of the spectrum, he created a masterpiece with “Requiem for a Dream.”  On the other hand, I give you “The Fountain.”  “The Whale” is another fine achievement and one that should be seen and appreciated. 

Enter to Win a 4K UHD Copy of “Halloween Ends”

 

 

With Christmas approaching, the one thing on everyone’s mind is…..Halloween?

 

Media Mikes has teamed up with their friends at Universal Home Entertainment to give one reader the opportunity to find a 4D UHD copy of “Halloween Ends” in their stocking.

 

All you have to do is let us know in the comments below do you think the “Halloween:” film series is over?  And if not, what do want to see next?

 

A random comment will be chosen and that person will win the prize.

 

This is contest ends at 11:59 pm on December 24, 2022.  Winner will be notified by email.

 

Merry Christmas!

 

HALLOWEEN ENDS will be releasing on 4K, Blu-ray and Digital on December 27th. 

Theater Review: “Pretty Woman: the Musical”

 

 

  • PRETTY WOMAN: THE MUSICAL
  • Music Hall – Kansas City, Missouri
  • December 6, 2022

 

WELCOME TO HOLLYWOOD!

 

Hundreds of newcomers receive this greeting daily.  For some new arrivals, it’s the beginning of fulfilling a dream.  For Vivian Ward (Jessie Davidson), it’s a daily reminder of the life she now leads.  A daily reminder that she has yet to find her prince. Yet?

 

There have been so many musicals in the pipeline recently – coming soon, shows based on “Mr. Holland’s Opus” and “The Nutty Professor” – and some are, to be polite, not very good.  So please take this as a great compliment when I say that “PWTM” is much better than I expected.  Based on the 1990 film that unleashed Julia Roberts on an unsuspecting world, “PWTM” is a very funny, and well produced, show that is carried squarely on the shoulders of the writers and the performers.

 

For those of you who may not be aware of the story, it’s the tale of Vivian, a working girl trying to drum enough business to help pay the rent.  A chance meeting with Edward Lewis (Adam Pascal) leads her to an arrangement she cannot turn down.  However, as things progress, unemotional business begins to take a backseat to actual feelings, as two lonely people connect.

 

Adam Pascal has one of the most powerful and recognizable voices in musical theater history (again, for those of you who don’t follow theater, he was Roger in the original production of RENT, as well as in the film).  Pascal gives Edward a sense of decency that helps make the character likeable.  Ms. Davidson also works some magic in making Vivian a true heroine of the story.  It’s hard to create a fairy tale out of cutthroat businessmen and prostitutes, but together Pascal and Davidson pull it off.  They are assisted greatly by a strong ensemble cast, including Jessica Crouch as Vivian’s roommate, Kit; Kyle Taylor Parker, as the overzealous greeter, proved an audience favorite.  And I want to give a special shout out to Trent Soyster as the limber and mischievous bellboy Giulio.

 

A fun night at the theater, PWTM is playing in Kansas City through December 11th.  For information on this stop of the tour, or upcoming shows, please click HERE.

Film Review: “The Fablemans”

 

  • THE FABLEMANS
  • Starring:  Michelle Williams, Gabriel LaBelle and Judd Hirsch
  • Directed by:  Steven Spielberg
  • Rated:  PG 13
  • Running time:  2 hrs 31 mins
  • Universal

 

A young boy goes to the movies.  What he see’s has such an impression on him that he makes film a major part of his life.  That young boy could never have known that 2 hours in the dark would change his life forever.  I should point out here that the young boy in question is me and the movie in question was “Jaws.”

 

New Jersey.  1952.  Young Sammy Fableman (LaBelle) is taken to the movies to see “The Greatest Show on Earth” by his parents, Mitzi (Williams, in an Oscar-worthy performance) and Burt (Paul Dano).  Burt is a scientific engineer, so instead of explaining movies in terms of enjoyment he spouts off about how the film runs 24 frames per second, giving still images the illusion of movement.  Despite his father’s description, Sam is mesmerized by the film, especially the famous train crash (oops, SPOILER ALERT!).  He plays the scene over and over in his head when he gets home.  When he receives a train set for Hanukkah you can see the wheels turning in his head.  Especially when he picks up his fathers 8mm movie camera. 

 

An obviously very personal film for Steven Spielberg, “The Fablemans” could easily be compared to Bob Fosse’s “All That Jazz” – without the naked women, of course.  It is rare for any filmmaker to give such an inside look at his life, and while this isn’t a true bio-pic, there are many similarities between Sam and Steven.  His mother was a very talented pianist and his father instrumental in the development of the computer.  Williams even wears her hair in the same style as Leah Spielberg.  But there are enough little changes in the story to make the audience wonder “did that really happen?”

 

 

The film is buoyed by an amazing cast, all at the top of their game.  Williams is stellar as a woman who has put her own creativity on hold to encourage her husband.  Dano excels as a man who truly loves his wife but can’t see the proverbial forest through the trees.  He constantly refers to Sam’s passion as a “hobby” and it’s obvious he doesn’t understand.  Supporting work by Seth Rogen and Judd Hirsch helps flesh out the story.  And special praise indeed for young Mr. LaBelle, who just turned 20 this past weekend.  It would be nerve wracking enough to have your second major film directed by Steven Spielberg but to ALSO be playing the director…Yikes!  LaBelle approaches the role with the same wonder that Spielberg must have had as a young man.  It’s a beautiful performance.

 

With all Spielberg films, the production values are first rate.  And it’s so nice to once again see a Spielberg film accompanied by a beautiful musical score by the great John Williams.  Spielberg and Williams.  Takes me back to “Jaws.”

 

Like Spielberg, I made short films throughout high school but that’s pretty much all we have in common.  Though I did notice that he’s #22 on the Internet Movie Data Base STAR METER while I’m listed as #965,422.  Close. 

Film Review: “The Menu”

 

 

  • THE MENU
  • Starring:  Ralph Fiennes, Nicolas Hoult and Anna Taylor-Joy
  • Directed by:  Mark Mylod
  • Rated:  R
  • Running time:  1 hr 46 mins
  • Searchlight Pictures

 

I must admit before I continue that I do not consider myself a “foodie.”  If you know me you know I enjoy eating but I’ve never understood the high price restaurants that serve tiny portions on tiny plates made up of things I’ve never heard of.  One example in my lifetime:  I went to Washington D.C. to conduct an interview for my book on “Jaws 2,” offering to take the couple I was speaking with to dinner near my hotel.  While I was thinking something casual, like Houlihan’s or a similar establishment they gave me the name of a little place a block away from where I was staying.  The company, and the conversation, was amazing.  The food was…meh.  $260 later, after we said our goodbyes, I stopped at Subway on my way back to my hotel. 

 

Tyler (Hoult) is excitedly pacing back on forth on a dock.  He explains to Margot (Taylor-Joy) that he has been waiting seemingly forever for this night to come.  A night on an isolated island tasting food created by the most famous chef on the planet, Chef Slowick (Fiennes).  As they board the boat neither Tyler, no the other guests, can contemplate what will be on the menu.

 

 

A film that is both dark and funny, “The Menu” benefits from the combination of a smartly written script and some excellent performances.  If you’ve ever watched a reality cooking show, you know that the chef’s featured often have an overstated sense of importance.  That is true here with Chef Slowick, whose single clap of a hand can bring his entire kitchen staff to attention.  Fiennes is perfect in this role, going from stern taskmaster to sarcastic joker seamlessly.  The guest list is quite eclectic, with everyone from a well known food critic (Janet McTeer) to a once famous actor (John Leguizamo) who now tells people his career is in “the presenter phase.”  Each “course” is presented as a great surprise, though not all of the surprises are good ones.

 

The film is beautifully shot, with each course its own individual piece of art.  I may never eat pickled cucumber balls or slurp down some fancy oysters but they certainly do look good.  So does this film.

Film Review: “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever”

BLACK PANTHER:  WAKANDA FOREVER
Starring:  Letitia Wright, Lupita Nyong’o and Angela Bassett
Directed by:  Ryan Coogler
Rated:  PG 13
Running time:  2 hrs 41 mins
Marvel Studios
 
 
There are very few film franchises that can boast as many quality films as the Marvel Cinematic Universe.  The majority of these films have been embraced by both fans and critics alike.  Even so, there are a few films that miss the mark.  “Iron Man 2.”  “Thor: the Dark World.”  And now, “Black Panther:  Wakanda Forever.”
 
A year after the death of King T’Challa, the country of Wakanda is still in turmoil.  Countries all over the world seek the rare vibranium that is found in Wakanda, without success.  When it appears that the rare element has been found in the Atlantic Ocean, the attempt to harvest it is foiled by an aquatic group under the leadership of a man called Namor.  Cue the action!
 
I can only imagine the difficulty it took to devise a sequel to the Oscar nominated “Black Panther” after the unexpected passing of actor Chadwick Boseman.  And while “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” has many of the elements that fans love it is missing one main ingredient.  Heart.  Instead of emotion, the film is an ongoing barrage of action scenes, with characters traveling all over the world to track down Namor (Tenoch Huerta).  Every familiar character, from Queen Ramona (the amazing Bassett) to her daughter, Princess Shuri (Wright) to the leader of Wakanda’s army, General Nakita (Nyong’o) battle the bad guys, with small bits of Martin Freeman and Julia Louis-Dreyfuss thrown in for some minor levity. 
 
A major problem with the film is the pacing.  Director Coogler has put together a film that is at least 30 minutes too long, as if he really didn’t know where to end it.  Also, the musical score sounds as if it were written for an entirely different film, with no subtlety in the quieter scenes while blaring in others, as if to say to the audience “hey, this is important!”  It feels like the producers weren’t sure about financing a stand-alone Submariner film so they kind of blended Namor’s story into this one. 
 
On the positive side, the performances are strong and the visual effects are outstanding.  But great effects do not always a great movie make – I’m looking at you, “Avatar” – and the humanity that Mr. Boseman brought to the title character is greatly missed.   

Film Reeview: “Potato Dreams of America”

 

 

 

  • POTATO DREAMS OF AMERICA
  • Starring:  Dan Lauria, Sara Barbieri and Tyler Bocock
  • Directed by:  Wes Hurley
  • Not Rated
  • Running time:  1 hr 37 mins
  • Darkstar Pictures

 

Potato (Hersh Powers) is a little Soviet-era boy in love with American movies.  He enjoys these films so much that, when his mother Lena (Barbieri) is being beaten by one of her boyfriends, he forms his hands into a viewfinder and watches the incident unfold as if it was on the big screen.  An odd boy, Potato accepts his mother’s current, abusive boyfriend because he has a color television…much nicer then their old black and white model.  Still, he has very few friends.  Unless, that is, you count Jesus Christ (Jonathan Bennett), who drops by often.  It is a very oppressive society that portrays anything different as evil.  Among the presumed evils – homosexuality.  Potato is taught that everyone in the West is a homosexual.  Except Freddie Mercury, who is much too talented.    Wanting to be free of the chains of their country, Potato and his mother are overjoyed when she is chosen by a man in America as a mail order bride.  Soon things will be different in the glorious USA.  Right?

 

 

An unusual film, based on the life of writer/director Hurley (who was born in Russia), “Potato Dreams of America” is almost two different films.  Where the Russian act is very bleak visually, it is filled with some great humor.  Yet when the setting moves to America, things begin to get quite serious.  It’s also unusual in that the main characters are portrayed by different actors during the second act.  Potato is now played by Tyler Bocock while Lena is now portrayed by Marya Sea Kaminski.  All four actors embrace their characters, as does Dan Lauria, the American husband with secrets of his own.

 

 

Hurley’s script is quite funny, especially in the first act, where Potato and Lena do their best to tolerate those who are intolerable among them.  And while the film is not rated, I would be remiss if I didn’t point out that the second act deals with some very adult subject matter, so be advised.  That being said, “Potato Dreams of America” is a charming film that deserves an audience.

Film Review: “Beautiful Blue Eyes”

 

 

  • BEAUTIFUL BLUE EYES
  • Starring:  Roy Scheider, Scott Cohen and Alexander Newton
  • Directed by:  Joshua Newton
  • Rated:  R
  • Running time:  1 hr 30 mins
  • MovieFarm

 

When Roy Scheider passed away on February 10, 2008 he was in the process of completing a film he was working on called “Iron Cross.”  Though the film played some festivals, it was never released.  Earlier this year it was announced that the film, now titled “Beautiful Blue Eyes,” (a title suggested to the producers by Scheider) would finally hit theatres, opening this past weekend. 

 

Joseph (Alexander Newton) is a young man living in Nazi-occupied Poland.  Even though he is Jewish, he has a non-Jewish girlfriend, who he often visits at night.  One morning, after a night with his lover, Joseph returns to his home to find his family being taken away.  He goes with them but, when the opportunity arises, runs off, the sound of his family being executed behind him ringing in his ears.

 

  1. Nuremburg, Germany. Joseph (Scheider) has traveled all the way from New York City in hopes of making amends with his son, Ronnie (Cohen) he hasn’t seen in years.  Recently retired from the NYPD – Scheider excelled at playing cops – he visits the apartment building his son and family live in, where he meets his daughter-in-law, Anna (Calita Rainford) and his young grandson.  When Joseph and his son decide to go out, they pass an elderly man on the stairs.  Joseph is stunned as he is sure the man on the stairs (Berger) was a monster from his past.

 

Where to start?   I know when Scheider passed it was announced that there was still some of “Iron Cross” that needed to be filmed.  I’m not sure if that was ever done, or to what effect those scenes may have had on the finished film.  The film wants to be a thriller but is so jumbled in images and plot points that it is, sadly, sometimes hard to understand.  We have no idea what kind of cop Joseph was.  We get an occasional flash-back to his witnessing atrocities in Poland, only to have a quick cut to what appears to be a similar situation in New York.  But we don’t know if this means that Joseph was a brutal cop or just that occasionally something at work would trigger a memory.

 

Another thing that I really found odd was the entire reason that Joseph and Ronnie were estranged.  Joseph wanted Ronnie to follow in his footsteps as a cop, and Ronnie decided to move to Germany.  However, he is currently an actor PLAYING a cop on a television program so when he decides to help Joseph investigate his neighbor, he is fully trained in the art of surveillance and investigating.  I am a big fan of “NYPD BLUE,” but if I really need a cop, I’m not calling Dennis Franz.

 

Also confusing is the film’s use of subtitles.  Sometimes when the characters are speaking German, their dialogue is accompanied by subtitles.  But sometimes, it isn’t.  And it seems like there is another actor doing some of Scheider’s dialogue, especially in voice overs.  Again, I’m aware that the film as planned was never finished, and I’ve read that “Beautiful Blue Eyes” is approximately 30-minutes shorter then the version of “Iron Cross” that was shown.  Those edits may have helped to continuity of the story and made the film less puzzling.

 

Still, this film gives Scheider’s fans an opportunity to see him on the big screen one more time.  His performance is strong, a testament to the man who once told me that his most important role is the one he is currently working on.  His final performance was no exception.

 

Concert Review: “Weird Al” Yankovic w/Emo Philips

 

 

  • “Weird Al ” Yankovic w/Emo Philips
  • Kaufman Center for the Performing Arts/Kansas City, MO
  • September 2, 2022

 

Roger Daltrey.  Tina Turner.  Robert Plant.  Freddie Mercury.

 

These amazing people possess some of the greatest and most powerful voices in the history of Rock and Roll.  To that list I humbly add Mr. Alfred Matthew Yankovic.  That’s right…”Weird Al.”

 

In a show that, except for the Talking Heads’ “Psycho Killer,” included only original songs – there was a brief medley of some of his more popular parody songs towards the end – Yankovic gave a show that I would put up against any concert I have ever seen.  After opening the show with “Fun Zone,” Yankovic reminded the audience that this was going to be a show that some fans have complained about, because he was doing the “funny” stuff.  He noted that “the name of the tour should have tipped you off.”  And he was right, as the show was billed as “The Unfortunate Return of the Ridiculously Self-Indulgent, Ill-Advised Vanity Tour.”  Not a lot of leeway there.  And while I secretly hoped he’d break out his new “Hamilton” medley, I went home utterly amazed at what I’d just witnessed.

 

True fans of Yankovic are, of course, familiar with his parody hits, but also enjoy his original tunes as well.  On this night, he interspersed several of his more popular originals – “One More Minute,” “You Don’t Love Me Anymore” and “The Night Santa Went Crazy” with an array of great tunes, some done much differently then their album versions.  “Dare to Be Stupid” was done like a 60s lounge song, while “Craigslist” could have easily been included on an album by the Doors.  He really let his rock chops loose when he introduced a song he claimed he’d written for the band Rage Against the Machine.  Apparently, the band didn’t record it, so he did.  The song, “I’ll Sue Ya,” brought the audience to its feet with its growling vocals and kick ass music.  And I would be remiss if I didn’t point out that the musicians accompanying Yankovic on stage were amazing, showing the skill, and tightness, of a band that had been together for over four decades!

 

Opening the show was comedian Emo Philips, whose comedy I was introduced to late at night while listening to Dr. Demento with my friends.  I always enjoyed his style of comedy and it was a true treat to have the opportunity to see him in person.  Speaking of Dr. Demento, early next week (September 14th) will mark the 42nd Anniversary of when I heard “Weird” Al live on Dr. Demento’s radio show introducing his first big parody song, “Another One Rides the Bus.”  Wow!  I should write a book titled “Everything I Need to Know About Life I Learned from Dr. Demento!”

 

 

“Weird” Al’s “The Unfortunate Return of the Ridiculously Self-Indulgent, Ill-Advised Vanity Tour” continues through the end of October.  Many shows are sold out, but if you’re thinking about going – and after reading this review,  why the hell aren’t you? – click HERE

 

SET LIST:  Fun Zone, Close But No Cigar, Melanie, Bob, One More Minute, Dare to Be Stupid,  Dog Eat Dog, Velvet Elvis, Craigslist, You Don’t Love Me Anymore, I’ll Sue Ya, Franks 2000” TV, Don’t Download This Song, The Night Santa Went Crazy, Skipper Dan, Good Old Days, Albuquerque.  ENCORE:  Psycho Killer, UNPLUGGED MEDLEY – Amish Paradise/Smells Like Nirvana/White & Nerdy/Word Crimes/Yoda.

 

Concert Review: The HAPPY TOGETHER Tour

 

 

  • HAPPY TOGETHER TOUR
  • Kauffman Center – Kansas City, Missouri
  • August 21, 2022

 

Part two of my wonderful musical weekend!

 

What if I told you that you could see the Cowsills, the Vogues, the Buckinghams, the Association, Gary Puckett and the Turtles all in one night?  No, really!  They are all together on the most recent HAPPY TOGETHER tour, which made a stop in Kansas City this past weekend.

 

For those who may not know this, the Cowsills was a group made up of a mother and her musical children.  Sound familiar?  That’s right.  The Cowsills were the inspiration for television’s “Partridge Family.”  On this night, brothers Bob and Paul, along with sister Susan, opened the show with a set of the most popular songs.  They even threw in the theme to television’s “Love, American Style,” which I had no idea they’d done. 

 

The Vogues took the stage and opened with their classic “Five O’ Clock World.”  The group was in fine voice, with amazing harmonies.  The Buckinghams were represented by original members Nick Fortuna and lead singer Carl Giammarese, who was celebrating his 75th Birthday this evening.

 

Next up was the Association, who sounded as good on this evening as they did in their heyday.  Songs like “Cherish” and “Never My Love” filled the Kauffman Center, with the crowd signing along.  Next up was the amazing Gary Puckett.  I had seen him in 1986 when he opened for the Monkees.  He didn’t disappoint then, and he didn’t disappoint on this evening.  With his distinct voice, songs like “Young Girl” and “This Girl is a Woman Now” rolled over the audience.  Mr. Puckett noted that Carl Giammarese was 75 but that Susan Cowsill was 63.  He also noted that he had them both beat as he will be turning 80 later this year!

 

Closing out the night was the Turtles, whose hit “Happy Together” gives the tour its name.  A big bonus, for me anyway, was that Ron Dante was the lead singer.  Dante, who turns 77(!) today also was the lead vocalist on the biggest selling song of 1969, “Sugar, Sugar.”  Which means that I can legitimately tell people that I saw the Archies in concert!

 

The night ended with everyone one stage in a mini-medley of some of the night’s best moments.

 

The HAPPY TOGETHER tour continues through the year.  You can find tickets for it HERE.

 

SONG LIST:  Cowsills:  The Rain, the Park and Other Things, We Can Fly, Indian Lake, Love, American Style, Hair.  The Vogues:  Five O’Clock World, My Special Angel, Turn Around Look at Me, You’re the One.  The Buckinghams:  Don’t You Care, “Hey Baby (They’re Playing Our Song), Mercy, Mercy, Mercy, Susan, Kind of a Drag.  The Association:  Windy, Never My Love, Cherish, Along Comes Mary.  Gary Puckett:  Lady Willpower, Over You, This Girl is a Woman Now, Woman, Woman, Young Girl.  The Turtles:  She’d Rather Be With Me, You Baby, It Ain’t Me Babe, You Showed Me, Sugar, Sugar, Eleanor, Happy Together.

Concert Review: Boz Scaggs, Robert Cray Band, Jeff Leblanc

 

  • BOZ SCAGGS/ROBERT CRAY BAND/JEFF LEBLANC
  • Kauffman Center – Kansas City, Missouri
  • August 19, 2022

 

What an amazing weekend of music I just concluded.  Keep an eye out for my piece on the HAPPY TOGETHER show – this one is all about the night I got to listen to one of my all-time favorites and discovered a new one.

 

I had certainly heard of the Robert Cray Band, and was familiar with their biggest song, “Smoking Gun,” and I had known for years that Mr. Cray was the guitarist for Otis Day and the Knights in “Animal House.”  But I’d had no idea that he was a master of the guitar, with an amazing band to match him lick for lick.  I will mention here that my wife is a big fan and has told me for years that I didn’t know what I was missing.  She was right.  With Mr. Cray changing guitars for almost every song played, the music lept from his fingers and filled the sold-out Kauffman Center.  His band kept pace, with bass player Richard Cousins supplying the beat while changing instruments almost as much as Mr. Cray did.  The set ended with a bluesy rendition of Chuck Berry’s (You Never Can Tell) C’est La Vie.

 

After a short break it was time for headliner Boz Scaggs and his band to take the stage.  I’m old enough to remember when hits like “Ledo Shuffle,” “Lowdown” and “Look What You’ve Done to Me” – a great song to have on the turntable when you were “entertaining” a lady friend – were first released.  I played Mr. Scaggs’ “Silk Degrees” album constantly as a teenager and it was quite a joy to hear those songs – and others – performed live.   I just realized I may have confused our younger readers by using both words “turntable” and “album.”  Still the best way to listen to music.  Don’t believe me?  Ask your parents.

 

Besides the hits, Mr. Scaggs also played a selection of songs from his latest album, “Let it Roll.”  The mixture of old and new was well received by the audience, as was the rousing “Ledo Shuffle” sing-along.

 

The evening began with a short set from singer/songwriter Jeff Leblanc, who easily engaged the audience with his stories, including a folksy rendition of Al Green’s (or, if you’re my son’s age – Tina Tuner’s) “Let’s Stay Together,” which he introduced as a song he had to learn for a wedding.  A budding talent who I’m sure we will all hear more about sooner than later.

 

For upcoming shows, please click HERE.  

Kansas City Theater Review: “Sister Act”

 

  • SISTER ACT
  • STARLIGHT THEATER – KANSAS CITY, MISSOURI
  • AUGUST 16, 2022                

 

Over the past couple decades there have been a number of Broadway musicals that have been based on popular films.  “Hairspray,” “The Producers,”  “Beetlejuice,” “Rocky,” and “Young Frankenstein” are just a small fraction of the shows that have hit the Great White Way – with new productions of “The Nutty Professor” and “Mr. Holland’s Opus” currently previewing in smaller cities.  Some have gone on to Great success, while others have faded away.  One of the better ones has just arrived in Kansas City.

 

Based on the very popular 1992 film that starred Whoopi Goldberg, “Sister Act” is the story of lounge singer Delor1s Van Cartier (an excellent Tamyra Gray), auditioning to perform in a club owned by her gangster boyfriend, Curtis (Benjamin H. Moore) on Christmas Eve 1977.  However, despite her obvious talent, she is told she is “not ready” to play the club yet.  This does not phase Deloris, whose dream is to be a star.  She knows she has the talent and the desire.  She just needs the opportunity.  When Deloris accidentally walks in on Curtis and his henchmen immediately after they have killed someone, she runs to the police, who decide that the best thing to do is to hide Deloris where no one would think to look for her.

 

Smartly written, with a great score by multiple Oscar-winner Alan Menken and Grammy award winner Glenn Slater, “Sister Act” is a combination of laughs and music.  Ms. Gray brings a belter’s voice and a Catskill veteran’s comic timing to the role of Deloris and genuinely makes it her own.  Other outstanding turns by Mr. Moore, Anne Tolpegin (Mother Superior) and Susana Cordon (Sister Mary Robert) are accompanied by a supporting cast that keeps the show moving swiftly. 

 

If there was one drawback to the evening, it was one that had nothing to do with the performances.  In each city, local “celebrities” appear on stage in the silent role of the Pope and on opening night we were treated to Kansas City Mayor Quentin Lucas in all of his Papal glory.  Unfortunately, due to some local political issues, some idiots in front of the stage felt the need to stage a protest, causing security to escort them out and taking the fun out of the closing number. 

 

That aside, I highly recommend you catch “Sister Act” when it comes to your town.  It is, dare I say, a divine evening at the theater.

 

“Sister Act” runs through Sunday, August 21 at Starlight Theater in Kansas City. 

Film Review: “The Day the Music Died – the Story of Don McLean’s AMERICAN PIE”

 

 

  • THE DAY THE MUSIC DIED – THE STORY OF DON McLEAN’S “AMERICAN PIE”
  • Starring:  Don McLean, Garth Brooks and “Weird” Al Yankovic
  • Directed by:  Mark Moorman
  • Rated:  Not Rated
  • Running time:  1 hr 34 mins
  • Paramount +

 

It’s one of the most popular and recognized songs in the world.  An 8-minute epic about the end of rock of roll, chronicling February 3, 1959.  The day the music died.  That song?  Don McLean’s masterpiece, “American Pie.” 

 

I’ve been in bars all over the world, from the good old USA to Europe, and I’ve never heard this song played without everyone in the place singing along.  The chorus is infective and the verses memorable.  But what was the impetus for the song?  And why is it even more popular today then the day it was released over 50 years ago?

 

“The Day the Music Died” gives an amazing insight into the mind of a songwriter so gifted that he was the inspiration for Roberta Flack’s Grammy Award winning song “Killing Me Softly with His Song.”  As a sidenote, I should mention that the tale of how that song came to be is worthy of a documentary film of its own.  Like many singer/songwriters of the late 1960s, McLean would spend  hours putting pen to paper, trying to put his thoughts to music.  A chance remembering of his time as a paperboy kindled a spark that has yet to be extinguished.  As the verses poured out of his mind, it only took McLean an hour to write the heart of the song, going back – as many songwriters do – to fine tune the verses until they sounded perfect.

 

 

Not only does the film take an inside look at the composition of the song, but also gives a glance back, and a nod to, a simpler time in rock and roll.  The three young musicians whose death registered so strongly with McLean – J.P. Richardson (the Big Bopper), Ritchie Valens and McLean’s musical idol, the great Buddy Holly – get their due here, climaxed by McLean’s meeting with Valens’ sister, Connie, whose heartfelt thanks to McLean for helping to immortalize her brother is genuine and moving.

 

I was 11-years old when “American Pie” was released, and I can still remember the local Chicago radio station playing it over and over.  I also remember one Sunday edition of the Chicago “Tribune” that included an in-depth look at the song, line by line, in an attempt to decipher the meaning behind the words.  Who was the Jester?  Was he talking about Vladmir Lenin or John Lennon?  And what exactly was a dirge?  Who knew, but they were being sung in the dark.

 

As I mentioned above, the song was over 8-minutes long (8:42 to be exact) and it was originally released as a two-sided single.  Though radio stations initially played just one side of the 45 rpm disc, listener requests caused them to play the entire song.  If you don’t count streaming sales (sorry Taylor Swift – anyone can download a song from a computer – in my day you had to leave the house and buy the record), “American Pie” remains the longest running song to hit #1 on the Billboard charts.  

 

 

As an added bonus, McLean explains the song’s title.  In the past 50-years I’ve heard all kinds of stories, among them that the plane that crashed, killing Holly and the others, was called “American Pie.”  Incorrect.  To my knowledge, the plane had no name.  In early 1995, famed disc jockey Wolfman Jack was promoting an upcoming appearance in Baltimore and taking listener’s calls.  I got in and asked him if he knew where the song got its title.  He said he did and would reveal the truth at his appearance.  Sadly he passed away before he could – if I’d had my way – whisper it in my ear.  Now I know.  I’d tell you, but then you’d be missing out on one hell of a story!

Film Review: “Bullet Train”

 

  • BULLET TRAIN
  • Starring:  Brad Pitt, Brian Tyree Henry and Aaron-Taylor Johnson
  • Directed by:  David Leitch
  • Rated:  R
  • Running time:  2 hrs 6 mins
  • Columbia Pictures

 

A train rushing through Japan at speeds in excess of 200 mph.  A mysterious briefcase.  Characters with colorful names like “the Wolf,”

“Lemon” and “the Hornet.”  Put them all together and you get a rapid-fire, action packed adventure.

 

Moving at a pace almost faster than the title implies, “Bullet Train” is a mashup of genre’s that can best be described as Guy Ritchie meets “Kill Bill.”

 

The plot revolves around the much desired briefcase and the people who are sent to protect it versus the people who are sent to steal it.  Pitt is one of the thieves, a man with a lot of talent when it comes to killing, but also a lot of issues.  He is in close contact with his handler, Maria (no spoiler here, sorry), whose soothing voice and sound advice keeps him in a mellow mindset. 

 

The other main characters are Lemon (Brian Tyree Henry) and his “brother,” Tangerine (an un-recognizable Aaron-Taylor Johnson.  Yes, the guy who played Kick Ass and John Lennon).  They spend the majority of their trip dealing with all of the issues that come with trying to protect your boss’ son – and when your boss is known as “White Death” you need to be on your “A” game – and keeping a who’s who of baddies from taking your prized briefcase.

 

The action is pretty much non-stop, with occasional moments of laugh-out-loud humor.  Whether it’s a brutal fight to the death in a designated “QUIET” car – loud noises quickly draw a “shush” from

an elderly passenger – or having to shoot your way around and oversized Anime’ character, the situations are preposterously absurd but amazing to watch unfold.

 

The cast seems to be having fun with their characters, only going over the top when the situation calls for it.  Otherwise things are handled with a deadly seriousness that should be afforded anyone dealing with someone known as “White Death.”

 

The film is beautifully photographed and the musical score helps set whatever mood is needed at any particular time.  This is definitely the“Train” to catch this weekend.