Win a Blu-ray/DVD copy of “Honest Thief,” starring Liam Neeson

Media Mikes has teamed up with their friends at Universal Pictures Home Entertainment to give one random reader the opportunity to win a Blu-ray/DVD copy of Liam Neeson’s latest action film, “Honest Thief.”

The film, written and directed by Mark Williams (“The Accountant,” “Ozark”) stars Neeson as a notorious bank robber who turns himself in, only to be betrayed by a pair of corrupt F.B.I. agents.

All you need to do is let us know in the comments below what your favorite Liam Neeson film is. Is it one of his action flicks, like “Taken?” Something romantic like “Love Actually?” Or something prestigious like “Schindler’s List?” Let us know below. One random entry will be chosen and that reader will win the prize. This giveaway ends at 11:59 pm CST on Sunday, January 3, 2021. Winner will be notified by email. GOOD LUCK!

“Honest Thief” is now available wherever you can purchase Blu-rays or DVDs.

Film Review: “Wonder Woman 1984”

  • WONDER WOMAN 1984
  • Starring:  Gal Gadot, Chris Pine and Kristen Wiig
  • Directed by: Patty Jenkins
  • Rated:  PG 13
  • Running time:  2 hrs 32 mins
  • Warner Bros.

FINALLY!!

Originally scheduled to be released LAST December, Wonder Woman has

finally returned to the big screen.  And after more than eight months of dark times, moviegoers (and theatre owners) will be glad to see her.

We find ourselves on the Island of Themyscira.  An event to rival the Olympics is about to begin.  Among the participants is the young girl Diana (Lilly Aspell), anxious to compete against the older contestants.  Diana is leading the race when a mishap slows her down.  She tries to “Rosie Ruiz” her way to victory but is stopped.  Upset at losing she is comforted with the words, “Your time will come.”

1984.  A strange time in the world.  A time of popped collars, fanny packs, video arcades and pay telephones.  We meet a now adult Diana Prince (Gadot) at her job at the Smithsonian.  We also meet a new employee, meek Barbara Minerva (an amazing Wiig), so unassuming that she literally has to introduce herself to the supervisor that hired her.  A recent robbery attempt – which Diana as Wonder Woman foiled – has led the F.B.I. to a cache of stolen ancient artifacts which were being sold on the black market.  They have asked the Smithsonian to identify some of the pieces, including an odd piece that is referred to as “the Wishing Stone.” Sounds like a cool item but remember the old adage: be careful for what you wish for.

Jam packed with action as the film travels the world, from Washington D.C. to Egypt, “Wonder Woman 1984” is a thrill-ride of a film guaranteed to get your heart racing.  Gadot continues to bring new aspects of the character to the forefront, here showing the longing and sadness she has endured since her boyfriend Steve Trevor (Pine) died at the end of 2017’s “Wonder Woman.”  As you can see above, Chris Pine is in this film (he’s also in the trailers so I’m not giving anything away) but I’m not going to say anything about how he got here.  I will say that, with his wide-eyed astonishment at what he sees 70 some years after his death (when trying on parachute pants he inquires if everyone parachutes), Pine is perfect in the role.  Wiig is a revelation.  Sure she can be funny, but here she is also vulnerable as well as downright nasty.  As scamming oil dealer Max Lord, Pedro Pascal chews the scenery like Gordon Gekko on speed.

The film is beautifully shot and Ms Jenkins’ direction flows smoothly, though at two and a half hours the film could have used some trimming.  Hans Zimmer’s score sets the mood of the film and energizes the action scenes. 

We missed out on this one last December.  Thankfully Santa thought we were nice enough this year to drop Wonder Woman in our stockings! 

P.S. – Sit through the end credits – you won’t be disappointed that you did! 

A Conversation with Author and Filmmaker Nicholas Meyer

It’s hard enough establishing yourself as one of the best in one field.  Nicholas Meyer has achieved this goal in several.  His first novel, “The Seven Per-Cent Solution,” introduced a new generation of fans to the exploits of Baker Street’s best known sleuth, Sherlock Holmes. 

Following the enthusiastic greeting of the film version of the novel, for which Meyer wrote the script, he made his film directorial debut with 1979’s time-travel classic “Time after Time.” For his next project he simply created the greatest “Star Trek” film in the series when he took the helm on “Star Trek II:  The Wrath of Khan.” 

Mr. Meyer then proceeded to frighten everyone living in the Midwest with the television film “The Day After,” which told the story of the town of Lawrence, Kansas dealing with the devastating effects of a nuclear bomb. Twenty years after the film aired my son went to the University of Kansas, which is in Lawrence, and the first thing I thought of was this film. 

His other films include “Volunteers” with Tom Hanks and John Candy; “Company Business” with Gene Hackman and Mikhail Baryshnikov (which he also wrote) and the final adventure for the Original Series cast, “Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country.”

Stepping back from directing after his wife passed away from breast cancer at the age of 36, Mr. Meyer has continued to write, not only novels but for both the big and small screen.  Mr. Meyer recently took some time out of his schedule to talk about his career, past, present and future. I should note that I am posting this on Christmas Eve, Mr. Meyer’s 75th birthday. Happy birthday sir!

Mike Smith:  You graduated from Iowa State with a degree in filmmaking and drama.  You also wrote film reviews (hope for me to yet to become successful).  What was your career goal upon graduation?  Acting?  Directing?

Nicolas Meyer:  My motives were doubtless inchoate.  All I knew was I wanted to “Make Movies” (I’m guessing I meant Directing), but hadn’t much of any idea how to go about it.

MS:  Your first success was the Sherlock Holmes novel “The Seven-Per-Cent Solution.”  Did you have to get approval from the Conan Doyle estate before you began writing?

NM:  “Where ignorance is bliss ‘tis folly to be wise.”  I had – typical – no idea the difficulties I would encounter with the avaricious and totally mismanaged Conan Doyle estate.  Had I known what I was in for, I doubt I would have written the novel.

MS:  You’ve written three additional Holmes stories.  Was this a favorite character of yours when you were younger?

NM:  I fell in love with Holmes around age 11 when my father gave me “The Complete Holmes” to read.

MS:  You received an Academy Award nomination for your adapted screenplay of “The Seven-Per-Cent Solution.”  Was it easy to convince the studio to allow you to write the script?  Did they try to pair you with another writer?

NM:  It was very easy as I refused to sell the rights to the book unless I got to write the script.

MS:  Do you have a favorite story about the making of “Time after Time?”

NM:  I was amused when my producer’s wife, Nel Jaffe, suggested that Malcolm McDowell and his leading lady, Mary Steenburgen, were falling in love.  “Nonsense,” I thought, I’m simply a brilliant director.  (NOTE:  McDowell and Steenburgen married shortly after the film was released and were together for a decade).

MS:  Were there any “rules” you had to follow on “Wrath of Khan?”  Did you ever have an idea that was nixed from above because it wasn’t something “Trekkie?”

NM:  I was pretty much left to my own devices writing and directing the movie.  Sometimes the film’s producer, Harve Bennett, would reel me in.  I remember at one point Carol Marcus warns her son against killing Kirk – “You’ll be a parricide!” I wrote.  Harve said, “Nick, no; you’ll be killing your father.”  That sort of thing.  Occasionally the cast would offer corrections: “This isn’t the way so-and-so talks” and I’d make those kind of adjustments. 

MS:  You are the only director to pull what I considered an award worthy performance from William Shatner.  Every time his voice cracks when he describes Spock’s souls as the most….human it brings a tear to my eye.  Much more emotional.  How did you address the character with Shatner?

NM:  I found the trick with Mr. Shatner was to make him do scenes several times.  He would get bored and stop attitudinizing.  He’d stop “acting” and start “being.”  That said, Shatner’s performance is his own and all credit for it belongs to him.

MS:  A favorite memory from working on “Wrath of Khan?”

NM:  Really a post film memory.  I was talking with my friend John McNamara (NOTE: Mr. McNamara’s credits include the television series “The Magicians” and the feature film “Trumbo”) and I mentioned that my favorite shot in the film is the pullback in the torpedo bay as the torpedo is lowered and makes its way towards the audience.  I said, “I know it’s an anachronism from old Pirate movies but I couldn’t resist.”  Whereupon John protested, “what do you mean ‘anachronism?’ The weapon’s electronics were all out of commission.  They had to go that way!”  To my way of thinking this is a perfect example of the imaginative contribution of the audience, essential for successful artistic experiences.  You want people’s imaginations engaged.  Or, as Shakespeare puts it in “Henry V,” “On your imaginary forces, work!”

MS:  This is a question inspired by my friend Andrew Armstrong, who is the biggest“Star Trek” fan I know and who is quick to point out little things that most people would never notice.  Did you ever get scolded by a fan about Khan recognizing Mr. Chekov, even though Chekov wasn’t in the “Space Seed” episode that inspired the film?

NM:  Yes he was, but on a different deck!

MS:  You have a bit of matchmaker in you.  Shortly after “Time After Time” Malcolm McDowell  and Mary Steenburgen were married and Tom Hanks met Rita Wilson on the set of your next feature, “Volunteers.”  Could you see then the career Hanks had in front of him?

NM:  I confess I could not.  I thought Tom was (and is) a terrific actor and a wonderful human being.  I was delighted he and Rita fell – and remain – in love.  I knew he’d have a career but couldn’t dream how big it would get.

MS:  I imagine if was a fun set working with both Tom Hanks and John Candy.  Do you have a favorite memory from “Volunteers?”

NM:  The scene where they are sitting next to one another on the plane and Candy talks about Albert Speer’s quote that fear is victory’s fuel.  No matter how many times we rehearsed this, Tom couldn’t keep a straight face – and I’m talking MONTHS between rehearsals and shooting.

MS:  Apparently DeForest Kelley did not want to direct (I joke – I actually think Shatner did a competent job with TREK V, especially when you read his book about the experience)  and you were brought back to close out the Original Series portion of the “Star Trek” film legacy with “Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country.”  How did you manage to squeeze Christian Slater into a cameo?

NM:  Christian’s mother, Mary Jo Slater, was my casting director.  She mentioned that her son was a big fan. 

I highly recommend Mr Meyer’s book detailing his amazing career.

MS:  Are you working on anything currently?

NM:  I co-created (with Frank Spotnitz) the Italian television series “Medici, Masters of Florence.”  I’ve published my fourth Sherlock Holmes novel, “The Adventure of the Peculiar Protocols.”  The paperback edition just came out November 10th and the fifth novel, The Return of the Pharoahm” will come out next fall.  I’m also working with Frank Spotnitz on a new television series. 

If you want a more in-depth look at Mr. Meyers work, you can visit his official website HERE

Film Review: “News of the World”

  • NEWS OF THE WORLD
  • Starring:  Tom Hanks, Helena Zendel and Ray McKinnon
  • Directed by: Paul Greengrass
  • Rated:  PG 13
  • Running time:  1 hr 58 mins
  • Universal Pictures

News is everywhere today.  Back in my day, you needed to watch television to learn what was happening, both locally and around the world.  Or subscribe to a newspaper.  Today there are 24 hour television news networks, Facebook, Twitter and all other assortments of way to get the word out.  So imagine having to gather in a darkened room, pay ten-cents and have someone read you the news.  If you can then allow me to introduce you to Captain Jefferson Kyle Kidd.

Now that the Civil War has ended, Captain Kidd (Hanks, outstanding as usual) earns his living traveling the country on horseback, picking up newspapers along the way.  He is known as a “News Reader,” and his choice of stories, and the way he tells them, earn him a decent living.  It’s 1870 and tonight we find him in the town of West Falls, Texas preparing for an evening of reading.  As he continues on his travels he comes across a young girl named Johanna (Zendel) who had been raised by Kiowa Indians but is now being sent to live with her remaining living relatives (her parents having been killed). Kidd takes her to the local settlement but is told by the authorities that he can either wait with her for three months – when the necessary people are scheduled to arrive – or take her to her family himself.  She is now his responsibility.  Determined to reunite her with her relatives, Kidd sets out with Johanna into the wild Texas wilderness.

Though well-paced, “News of the World” is not the type of film I expected from Paul Greengrass, whose amazing action work includes three “Bourne” films, “Captain Phillips” and the heart-wrenching “United 93,” which earned him an Academy Award nomination as Best Director.  Along the way to San Antonio (where Johanna’s relatives have settled) the pair run into all kinds of problems, including a band of no-goods who at first try to buy Johanna then decide to take her with violence. But Captain Kidd is a sharp guy – and a hell of a good shot.  As the film progresses, Kidd and Johanna form a bond.  He is protective of her as a father would be and she does her best to help him with his business, imploring those interested in Kidd’s news service to ante up a dime. 

Hanks is his usual excellent self, seemingly able to inhabit any character he plays, much like Jimmy Stewart did in his career.  Ms. Zendel is equally outstanding.  Already the youngest actress (she is currently 12 years old) in history to win the Lola for “Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role” at the German Film Awards for her performance in 2019’s “System Crasher,” her inability to speak English only intensifies her work as most of her communication is done through body language and with her eyes.  It’s plain to see that Johanna has seen plenty in her young life and Ms. Zendel lets you see it on screen.

The film is beautifully photographed, with much credit due to Cinematographer Dariusz Wolski (“Sweeney Todd,” “The Martian”).  He shoots the Texas landscape beautifully and a scene where Kidd and Johanna are caught in a sandstorm is breathtaking.  

If you’ve ever said to yourself, “I wish Tom Hanks would do a Western – and the “Toy Story” films don’t count – your wish has been granted.  Think of “News of the World” as an early Christmas present.    

Film Review: “The Dissident”

  • THE DISSIDENT
  • Starring:  Omar Abdulaziz, John O. Brennan and Hatice Cengiz
  • Directed by: Bryan Fogel
  • Rated:  PG 13
  • Running time:  1 hr 59 mins
  • Orwell Productions

On October 2, 2018, Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi, a Saudi National, walked into the Saudi consulate office in Istanbul, Turkey in order to obtain the necessary paperwork to marry his fiancé.  He was never seen again.

We open in Montreal, Canada where we meet Omar Abdulaziz, a friend of Khashoggi, is traveling on the subway.  While telling the interviewer he does not feel safe he receives a text.  It informs him to be careful and to change his cell phone number.  The final words are chilling:  “They are going to kill you soon.”  So begins a film that anyone concerned with Human Rights and the right to speak freely MUST see.

We learn much about Khashoggi, both the person and the journalist.  A long time, and popular, Saudi reporter he trumpeted the successes of the Royal Family for three decades.  Enter crown prince Mohammed bin Salman, referred from now on, and in the film, as MBS.  Promoting himself as a new kind of leader (he opens movie theatres and allows women to drive) MBS is the man in charge of the oil, which is the lifeblood and currency of Saudi Arabia.  However, he is in reality not a nice guy and soon Khashoggi begins

to write negatively about him.  Being the age of social media, Khashoggi beings sending unflattering tweets.  Twitter is a big deal in Saudi Arabia, with over 80% of the population tweeting daily.  To combat the negativity, MBS employs hundreds of “trolls” to drive down the popularity of Khashoggi’s tweets – not allowing them to trend – and spread disinformation.  Fearful for his life, Khashoggi leaves Saudi Arabia in late 2017 in self-exile.  But he doesn’t stop writing.

I try to keep politics out of my writing – you’re here to get my opinions on film, not my political beliefs – but the film is a fair, and damning, report on the way the world works.  Jumping back and forth between Abdulzazzi’s travails in Canada and the last year of Khashoggi’s life, it’s clear to see that, as Cyndi Lauper used to sing, “Money Changes Everything.”  Many world leaders, including US President Trump, immediately side with MBS, who proclaims his innocence in the matter of Khashoggi’s death.  Even when Turkish police are finally able to search the Embassy and develop evidence – a room is spackled with blood under the black light, a Saudi agent is seen leaving the Embassy in Khashoggi’s clothes, only to go a few blocks, duck into a restaurant rest room, and exit in different clothes.  Still, ideas like “rogue agents” are thrown out as quickly as beads at Mardi Gras.

We also learn the more personal side of Khashoggi, as we meet his fiancé Hatice Cengiz.  She talks about his gentle side.  How he loved the Lazy Boy recliner she had purchased him and how they spoke of marriage.  Bravely she continues to speak out about Khashoggi’s murder, hoping that SOMEONE will hold MBS responsible.  In fact, as I write this comes word that Ms. Cengiz is calling on President-elect Joe Biden to make good on a campaign promise to get accountability in Khashoggi’s murder, asking Biden to release the CIA’s classified report once he takes office.  I should note that President Trump read the CIA’s report and dismissed it.

A powerful film that will make you think long after it’s over, “The Dissident” is one of the best films of the year. 

Film Review: “HAM; A Musical Memoir”

  • HAM: A MUSICAL MEMOIR
  • Starring:  Sam Harris, Todd Schroeder
  • Directed by: Andrew Putschaegel
  • Rated:  Not Rated
  • Running time:  1 hr 57 mins
  • Global Digital Releasing

Now that there are 10,000 television channels to choose from, it seems like every one of them have a talent contest program.  “American Idol.”  “So You Think You Can Dance?” “Masked Singer.’  “Masked Dancer.”  ‘So You Think Your Monkey Can Sing?” (coming to the Animal Planet, probably sooner than we think).  But the one that really started it all was an early 1980s program called “Star Search.”  “Star Search” ran for fourteen seasons (13 in the 80s-90s and one in 2003) and introduced the world to such talented performers as Brad Garrett, the band Sawyer Brown, Billy Porter (more on him later), Adam Sandler, Alanis Morisette, Sinbad, Britney Spears and Sutton Foster.  But the best and the brightest to come out of “Star Search” was first season Grand Champion Sam Harris.  After his big win, it was all fame and fortune and success.  Right?

A filmed version of Harris’ award winning off-Broadway show, “HAM: A Musical Memoir” is an entertaining – and deeply moving – look at the life of a boy with a dream and the sacrifices he had to make to keep that dream alive.  Still looking youthful at age 59, Harris takes the stage, accompanied on piano (and in banter) by Todd Schroeder.  We learn that the showbiz bug bit Harris at an early age – 3 ½ – and his early days were happy.  His father was an athletics coach and, when he tried out for Little League and was offered the position of team water boy he realized he was “different.”

A job at Opryland in Tennessee at age 16 released him from the bonds of his Oklahoma home.  It also introduced him to, as Harris calls it, “the Summer of Scott.”  With his dreams still in his sight, Harris heads to California, where he performs in night clubs – sometimes to an empty audience.  Harris talks about his audition for “Star Search” and how he was originally rejected.  He emphasizes these stories with several musical numbers, from familiar show tunes to original songs written by Harris and Schroeder.

But it’s not all music and laughter.  In the most emotional part of the film, Harris explains the emptiness in his young life, how he felt he had not lived up to his father’s dreams for him and how he decided to take his life.  He does not succeed, obviously, but the scars from the incident, and so many more from his life, are evident in his heartbreaking delivery.

I have seen Harris a few times in concert and had the amazing opportunity to catch an early preview of “Grease” before it went to Broadway, which starred Harris as Doody and Billy Porter (told you he’d be back) as Teen Angel. (The show also featured a very miscast Rosie O’Donnell and a very young Megan Mullally, who would go on to star on “Will & Grace,”).  The fourth number in the show is “Those Magic Changes,” which Harris performed.  He brought the house down.  I remember turning to my friend when the applause died down and commenting “well, that’s the show-stopper!”  And it was, though Porter’s “Beauty School Dropout” was a close second.  We had been invited to the cast party after the show and I was able to chat with most of the cast – even got a few to sign my CD of the show (already recorded).  It was a great night and one I still think of, even though I went home with a massive crush on Susan Wood, who played Sandy!

I still have my CD – Sam signed it in silver!

Performed on an almost empty stage (there’s a bench and few props), “HAM” succeeds on Harris’ genuine and unvarnished look at his life, warts and all.  If you are a fan of Harris – as I am – this is a film for you.  If you aren’t familiar with him, I recommend you give it a look.  Not only for the music and laughs, but for the honesty Harris shares.

Film Review: “All Joking Aside”

  • ALL JOKING ASIDE
  • Starring:  Raylene Harewood, Brian Markinson and Richard Lett
  • Directed by: Shannon Kohli
  • Rated:  Not Rated
  • Running time:  1 hr 23 mins
  • Animal Mother Films

The story is told that, in 1833, a friend visited actor Edmund Kean on his deathbed and said sympathetically, “This must be very difficult for you?”. Kean smiled up at his visitor weekly and assured him it wasn’t.  “Dying is easy,” Kean replied.  “Comedy is hard.”

Not sure if that is a true story or not but it has lived on through the ages.  Jack Lemmon was fond of saying it and, in the film “My Favorite Year,” Peter O’Toole’s character also uses it.  I’ve been told I’m a funny guy but I don’t have three minutes of stand-up to offer.  I have great respect for my friend Sandy Bernstein, who many years ago, in her fifties, decided to give stand-up comedy a try and she has been quite successful at it.  It’s not for everyone.  But Charlene “Charlie” Lewis Harewood) is a 21 year old wannabe who’s not afraid to take the stage.  Unfortunately, she should be.

A well-crafted story grounded by excellent performances, “All Joking Aside” is one of those little films you might miss if you blink. Charlie’s first attempt on stage is ruined by a heckler who dresses her down from the audience for her topic selection.  Charlie later learns that her tormentor is Bobby Carpenter (an excellent Markinson).  A decade earlier he was THE comic that everyone wanted to see, with new material nightly and a disdain for doing television and movies.  Charlie finds out that in his last appearance on stage Bobby got into it with a customer and assaulted him with the microphone, blinding the customer.  Charlie tracks Bobby down and convinces him to teach her the ropes of comedy.  From how to design your set list to which jokes to lead with first.  And, most importantly, to observe and write daily.

Raylene Harewood is “Charlie” Lewis

A film about stand-up should, of course, be funny and “All Joking Aside” has some side splitting moments.  But it also has heart, which makes it a rarity in the genre’. The heart here comes from the performances of the three leads.  As Charlie, Miss Harewood begins as a girl with a dream (and a medical condition) who is not afraid to face down either.  Mr. Markinson, a veteran of several television shows with recurring roles in “Mad Men” and “The L Word” among others, is well-cast here.  At first you’re not sure of his motives for initially heckling Charlie, then agreeing to help her but as the film plays out, they become evident.  And I must also single out Mr. Hewitt, who plays the owner of the local comedy club and whose relationship (and influence) with Bobby helps drive the film.

As I said, the film is well written and nicely paced.  If I had one problem with the film it’s that it makes it look very easy to just walk into a comedy club and get on stage.  Not in New York City!  If you don’t believe me, ask my friend Sandy!

My funny friend Sandy Bernstein

And if you’d like a couple of extra laughs, you can follow Sandy at http://www.sandybernsteincomedy.com/

Film Review: “BELUSHI”

  • BELUSHI
  • Documentary
  • Directed by: R.J. Cutler
  • Rated:  Not Rated
  • Running time:  1 hr 48 mins
  • Passion Pictures

He was the first movie star of MY generation.  Springing almost seemingly from nowhere he appeared on my television one late Saturday night and remained there for five years, giving my friends and I unending laughs and so many catch phrases – “but NO!” – to take us all the way through high school.  He made hit films, inspiring an amazing Toga Party at my house that is still part of Tampa’s legacy.  He is John Belushi, the subject of an incredible new documentary airing this Sunday, November 22, on SHOWTIME.

Told though audio interviews with many of the people who knew him best, ‘Belushi” introduces us to a young man that was seemingly born with a will to succeed.  As a young boy he would entertain his neighbors, had a successful band and was King of his high school prom.  When he and a couple of friends form their own imrov group it isn’t long before they are asked to audition for the prestigious Second City Comedy Troupe.  He becomes the first person to audition for the group and be asked to join the First Stage group, not learn the ropes in the touring company.  This leads to New York, the National Lampoon show “Lemmings” (and their weekly radio show) and, eventually, “Saturday Night Live,” which my friends and I all watched in my living room the night it premiered.    Soon came Hollywood, albums and fame but sadly the demons also came along with them.

John Belushi in his final film, “Neighbors”

The son of Albanian immigrants, John’s father came to America with dreams of becoming a cowboy.  Instead, he settled his family in Wheaton, Illinois and opened a restaurant.  Both of his parents were ashamed of their accents but John and his brothers and sisters loved America and set out to find their dreams.    When he meets Judy Jacklin at high school (their first date is the senior prom) he finds someone who loves him unconditionally.  The film highlights many letters that John sent to Judy throughout his life.  Whether they contained good career news, or his heart breaking words while dealing with his various addictions, the love he has for her is front and center.  Conversations with Judy, and best friend Dan Aykroyd, reveal the John Belushi nobody really knew and the ache in their voices when they explain they did all they could do to save him from his demons  is real.   After the release of their last film together, “Neighbors” – a film that was not loved by critics – Aykroyd describes talking to Belushi and finding him “sad and defeated.”  Aykroyd informs John that he is writing their next project and that it will be a success.  That film was “Ghostbusters.” 

But “Belushi” is also a testament to the man’s talent.  Early performance clips, including his audition tape for “Saturday Night Live,” show a man

Full of love and humor John only wanted to share both with people.  In 1978 John Belushi did something no other entertaining ever did.  In one week he not only starred in the No 1. Show on television – “Saturday Night Live” – but also in the No 1. Film that week, “National Lampoon’s Animal House.” To add to this historic achievement, he also, along with Aykroyd, had the No 1 Album in the country – “Briefcase Full of Blues” – with the Blues Brothers.  Through the audio interviews, we hear from many people that knew John best, from his mother and brother, Jim, through people that worked with him over the years, including Chevy Chase, Harold Ramis, Joe Flaherty, Penny Marshall, Carrie Fisher, Richard Zanuck and Lorne Michaels. It is these performances that are the highlight of the film.  I have always maintained that John Belushi would have had a career similar to Robin Williams.  Both men had unlimited range and talents and I would not have been surprised if Belushi won an Oscar one day.  Sadly, we will never know what joys John Belushi could have given us.  But the ones he left us in a single decade of work are much more than most performers leave in an lifetime. 

Streaming Film Review: “Leap of Faith: William Friedkin on ‘The Exorcist'”

  • LEAP OF FAITH:  WILLIAM FRIEDKIN ON “THE EXORCIST”
  • Starring:  William Friedkin
  • Directed by: Alexandre O. Philippe
  • Rated:  Not Rated
  • Running time:  1 hr 44 mins
  • Exhibit A Pictures

What is a perfect film?  To me, it is a film that, when you’ve watched it and absorbed what you’ve seen, you can’t find any fault with it.  Not a false note, not a frame you would change.  Perfect films are rare and the list is short.  “Citizen Kane…”  “The Godfather…”  “Chinatown…” and the most terrifying film I’ve seen in my 60 years on Earth, William Friedkin’s “The Exorcist.”  The new documentary, “Leap of Faith: William Friendkin on ‘The Exorcist’,” which airs exclusively beginning November 19 on the Shudder streaming service, takes you on an amazing journey into the making of the film, with the film’s director as your tour guide.

In Mr. Friedkin’s opinion, the majority of religious-themed films from Hollywood  were “sappy.”  Films like “The Ten Commandments”  and “King of Kings” treated God as being “magic.”  To Friedkin, only the 1955 Dutch film “Ordet” really approached religion – the mystery of faith” – in a truthful way.  Friedkin also believe it was fate that put together all of the pieces that became “The Exorcist.” 

We learn how he came to read the novel and how he worked with the book’s author, William Peter Blatty, to bring the book he wrote to the screen.  Friedkin remarks that Blatty’s script for the film omitted key parts in the novel that Friedkin felt were essential to the story.  Friedkin also reveals that several directors, including Stanley Kubrick and Arthur Penn, turned the film down before he was offered the job.  And while I knew that several actors, including Roy Scheider, had begged for the pivotal role of Father Damien Karras, Stacy Keach was actually hired for the part until Jason Miller pleaded with Friedkin for a chance to test for the role.  As much as I love Stacy Keach, when you watch “The Exorcist” now can you see anyone else in the role of Father Karras? 

Director Friedkin confers on-set with Jason Miller and Ellen Burstyn.

“Leap of Faith” contains some amazing archival footage, including footage featuring a possessed Linda Blair speaking with her own voice.  It’s disturbing enough  to hear a 12-year old girl utter the vile dialogue in the gravelly voice of a demon but when you hear those words uttered in Blair’s own soft voice it’s downright chilling.

As “Leap of Faith” progresses you can’t help but think that this is what it must be like to have Da Vinci describe how he created the Mona Lisa.  Nothing is left unmentioned, including a discussion on the many conclusions that moviegoers and critics have drawn from the ending of the film.  To Friedkin, the ending is the film’s only flaw, one he feels he did not fully explain.  Flaw?  Not in my mind.  It’s perfect!

Film Review: “FATMAN”

  • FATMAN
  • Starring:  Mel Gibson, Marianne Jean-Baptiste and Walton Goggins
  • Directed by: Eshon Nelms, Ian Nelms
  • Rated:  R
  • Running time:  1 hr 40 mins
  • Saban Films

There is a great bit at the beginning of the film “Scrooged” in which an upcoming Christmas special is advertised as such:  “Psycho’s Seize Santa’s Workshop and Only Lee Majors Can Stop Them – THE NIGHT THE REINDEER DIED!”  I thought about that bit while I was watching the newest “holiday” film, “Fatman.”

We meet young Billy (Chance Hurtsfield), a 12 year old boy of some privilege who lives with his grandmother and a house full of servants.  Judging by the blue ribbons on Billy’s jacket, he’s a bit of an overachiever.  He also misses his father, who has just informed the boy, through his grandmother, that he won’t be spending Christmas with him.  Upset at the news, Billy still leaves cookies and milk out for the jolly old elf, anticipating what his present from Santa will be.  Sadly, Mr. Kringle DOES know whose been naughty or nice as Billy receives a beautifully wrapped chunk of coal.

In another part of the world, a mysterious man named Jonathan Miller, played by the always amazing Walton Goggins, is visited by a man with a baseball bat to sell.  It was a gift from Santa when the boy was young, identified by a genuine “made by Santa” marking.  The mystery man buys it and places it on a shelf of similarly crafted toys.  He’s also got a grudge against Santa, though his reasons won’t be revealed for a while.

Speaking of Santa – or Kris as his friends know him –he is fretting about the approaching Holiday that, due to budgetary constraints, may not even happen.  The news is full of stories about children doing horrid things and there just aren’t as many good ones as there used to be.  As played by Mel Gibson, Kris is both wise and wizened.  Things get interesting when, in order to make ends meet, Santa takes on a contract from the US Government – they have been subsidizing Santa for years in order to keep the US Economy booming during Christmas – to use his elves to build military plane components.  Things go from strange to downright crazy when Billy hires Jonathan – did I mention Mr. Miller is a professional hitman – to take out the fat man!  The only thing missing is Lee Majors!

A strange, but entertaining film, “Fatman” is bolstered by it’s amazing cast, who put so much effort into the characters that you readily accept them.  Even the elves, who are guided by their foreman Seven (Eric Woolfe) have a realistic premise about them and you find yourself nodding in agreement when they defend their diet of all carbs and sugars – six times a day!  And while there is plenty of naughty in the film, there is a fine supply of nice as well, thanks to Mrs. Kringle (Jean-Baptiste).  Say what you want about Mel Gibson and his very publicized indiscretions, the man has always been entertaining on screen and he’s no different here.  Tough as nails when necessary but he also has an empathy for those who question his motives.  Goggins, who I just realized last week was in “The Next Karate Kid” – I caught it on cable – has been someone I’ve enjoyed watching on screen since he played “Downtown” Anderson in “Major League: Back to the Minors.”  He has become one of the most sought after character actors, probably best known for his work on “The Shield” and the current CBS program “The Unicorn.”  He also won an Oscar 18 years ago for a live action short called “The Accountant.”  His hitman is both terrifying and funny, throwing out insults to everyone who deserve them, especially when they try to mess with his pet hamster!

The production values are strong, with a nice gritty detail to Santa’s workshop and employees.  It’s not all sparkle dust and gum drops!  And the musical score, by the duo composing team known as Mondo Boys, is beautifully composed to fit all of the emotions of the film. 

“Fatman” opens this week. It may not be your most anticipated Christmas film but it’s much better than a lump of coal!

Film Review: “Where She Lies”

  • WHERE SHE LIES
  • Documentary
  • Directed by: Zach Marion
  • Not Rated
  • Running time:  1 hr 41 mins
  • Gravitas Ventures

As an adult who was adopted as a baby I’m always keen when a film that tackles the subject comes around.  They are usually feel good stories that leave you smiling and happy when they end.  That being said, “Where She Lies” took me on an emotional rollercoaster I am still recovering from.

Meet Peggy Phillips.  In 1961, at the age of 19, the unmarried Peggy found herself pregnant.  The father of the child was a married man who had told Peggy he was separated from his wife.  Anticipating the family embarrassment that such a situation would bring in this time period, she is sent to live with her aunt.  Her obstetrician urges her to give the baby up for adoption, as it will always be labeled a “bastard,” while her father tells her that if she keeps the baby she will always be known as a whore.  He gives her an ultimatum – she can come home after the birth but only without the child.  The problem seems to solve itself when Peggy is informed that the child, a girl, died shortly after birth.  But did she?

A puzzle that has you scrambling to put the pieces together right up until the end, “Where She Lies” is not only one of the best documentaries I have seen this year, but one of the best films as well.  Intrigued by reading a story about Peggy and her daughter, director Marion contacts her and informs her that he would like to help her solve the mystery and film the efforts.  What mystery, you ask?  It seems that, on her deathbed, Peggy’s mother informed her that her baby didn’t die.  Instead she was adopted by a doctor and his wife who lived near the aunt she stayed with when she was pregnant.  Peggy discovers the doctor and his wife DID adopt a baby girl 6 months to the day after Peggy gave birth.  The daughter has become a habitual criminal, spending the past 30 years in and out of prison.  But is SHE the daughter of Peggy Phillips?

Peggy Phillips celebrates her birthday with director Zach Marion

In putting together the pieces of this puzzle – director Marion illustrates his film and chapter breaks with scattered jigsaw puzzle pieces – the filmmaker leaves no stone unturned, interviewing everyone from the cousin who swears the baby was alive and in good shape to the widow of the man that impregnated Peggy.  Everyone has their own opinion and somehow they all make sense.  Until they don’t.

Again, as a child of adoption I pay close attention to how the children are portrayed.  I found it incredulous that the convict daughter blames her being adopted for her drug issues, saying that all adopted children crave their real mother and unconditional love.  Bullshit!  I never for one moment doubted my adopted parents’ love.  When I attempted to find my birth family – with my adopted parents’ knowledge and approval – I did so not out of a sense of something missing but more out of curiosity, especially as I was getting to an age where the doctors would constantly ask me if there was a history of “insert a disease here” in my family.  I was 45 when I found them – I just turned 60 – and thought I love them all – I found 6 brothers and 4 sisters – I don’t love my adopted parents any less. 

“Where She Lies” is now available on all major Video On Demand platforms.

Film Review: “Let Him Go”

  • LET HIM GO
  • Starring:  Diane Lane, Kevin Costner and Lesley Manville
  • Directed by: Thomas Bezucha
  • Rated:  R
  • Running time:  1 hr 54 mins
  • Focus Features

In the beautiful countryside of Wyoming a baby is being bathed.  He’s one of those cute, chunky Michelin-man babies…the kind you just want to squeeze.  He is surrounded by his parents and his grandparents, George and Martha Blackledge.  It’s another good day in a great life.  Fast forward three years and things aren’t so great.  His father has died in an accident and his mother, Lorna (Kayli Carter), is remarrying.  Grandma (Lane) and Grandpa (Costner) say their goodbyes as the new family moves into the nearby town.  But when a surprise visit reveals that the couple have moved, and taken the boy with them, the longing to reconnect with their grandchild pushes leads them on a horrific adventure.

Smartly written (by director Buzucha) and based on the novel by Larry Watson, with fine performances all around, “Let Him Go” gives a look at how far people will go to save the ones they love.  George and Martha head to Montana where we learn George was once a lawman.  They track down the new husband’s family but soon learn they are not a family to mess with.  Headed by an evil matriarch (Manville), they intend to keep the boy and raise him as they see fit, discounting the fact that the boy’s father was George and Martha’s son.  Things go from bad to worse quickly when an invitation to dinner turns into a showdown.  Then they go from worse to horrific. 

It’s nice to see Costner and Lane working together again, having played Clark Kent’s parents in “Man of Steel,” and both are at the top of their game.  Manville steals the film with her performance.  Had this film been released in the 40s every time she appeared on screen the audience would have hissed at her.  The direction is smooth and the story straight ahead.  Production values are strong – this is a period piece, circa the early 60s – and the scenery (the film was shot in Alberta, Canada) is gorgeous to look at.

“Let Him Go” opens in theatres this Friday, November 6th.

Love is In the Air at Media Mikes!!

A couple of the Mikes at Media Mikes, bitten some time ago by the love bug, tied the knot with their respective others recently.

Site co-founder Mike Gencarelli took the lovely Channah as his bride while, at an amazing AVENGERS-themed ceremony, critic and staff writer Michael D. Smith said “I do” to the beautiful Pamela!

Best wishes and much love to both couples!

Blu-ray Review: “Back to the Future – the Ultimate Trilogy”

In the summer of 1985 a film made it’s way to theatres rather unexpectedly. I was a theatre manager when “Back to the Future” opened up and the two things I remember best about the film was that it was released earlier than planned (I have buttons announcing the film opening on July 19th. However, with nothing to show in theatres during the coveted Fourth of July period, Universal dropped it on July 3rd) and that, when the film was over, the credit card read THE END. Not exactly. “Back to the Future” would go on to spawn two sequels and a legion of fans and I couldn’t think of a better day than today, October 21 – the day Marty goes back in time – to rave about the new Blu-ray release of “Back to the Future: The Ultimate Trilogy!”

The story in a nutshell: Marty McFly is a “slacker” who loves playing guitar and riding his skateboard. His friendship with Doc Brown ends up sending him back in time to 1955, where he meets the young boy and girl who will become his parents. Hijinks ensue. In BTTF II Marty and Doc actually go into the future – JAWS 19 anyone – and back. Part III takes them to the old West. But no matter what century they’re in, the story is top notch and the two characters beloved.

But Mike, you’re saying, I already have these films on Blu-ray. Why should I get the Ultimate Trilogy? Besides the amazing video and audio, there are a lot of bonus goodies carried over from the 30th Anniversary Edition but you can now watch these new amazing extras:

A tour of the “Back to the Future” exhibit at the Hollywood Museum

A three-part feature that takes you behind the scenes on “Back to the Future: The Musical,” with a couple of music videos from the show.

Audition tapes of other actors considered for the film, including C. Thomas Howell and Ben Stiller reading for Marty McFly, Kyra Sedgwick autidioning for Jennifer Parker and Billy Zane and Peter DeLuise auditioning for Biff (Zane would make the film as a member of Biff’s gang).

All this and great extras on all three films, including Deleted Scenes, Outtakes, Commentaries and much more. Sadly, no Eric Stoltz footage, though when I interviewed Bob Gale (one of the writers/producers) he told me they haven’t released the footage because they felt it would reflect badly on Stoltz. There are plenty of photos of Stoltz on the set but the only footage I’ve ever seen is a quick shot of him walking across the street. However, if you’re sharp eyed, you’ll see that it is Stoltz’s hand that punches Biff in the soda shop. Look even closer and you’ll see it’s clearly the side of Stoltz’s head. I wonder if he gets residuals.

Film Review: “Borat Subsequent Moviefilm”

  • BORAT SUBSEQUENT MOVIEFILM:  DELIVERY OF PRODIGIOUBRIBE TO AMERICAN REGIME FOR MAKE BENEFIT ONCE GLORIOUS NATION OF KAZAKHSTAN  (whew!) 
  • Starring:  Sacha Baron Cohen, Maria Bakalova and Rudy Giuliani
  • Directed by: Jason Woliner
  • Rated:  R
  • Running time:  1 hr 35 mins
  • AMAZON Studios

2006 was definitely the year of BORAT.  The film, featuring the amazing Sacha Baron Cohen as a foreign journalist sent to America to report on what the country is like, was like nothing ever seen before.  As the presumed “fish out of water” Borat was invited into some very unusual places in our society, sadly (for those caught on camera) revealing the darker, prejudiced side of America.  The questions is:  could he (and, more importantly) should he try it again?

We find Borat (Cohen) doing hard labor, his punishment for having embarrassed his beloved country of Kasakhstan.  However, many things have changed since Borat’s last trip.  There is a new “premier” in charge of America.  One that has the ability of making friends with presumed enemies.  Borat is given his freedom if he will agree to take the country’s most famous celebrity, Johnny the Monkey, to the states and offer him as a bribe to President Trump.  Borat agrees but a wrench is thrown into his plans when, after opening the crate that was supposed to contain Johnny the Money he instead finds his long neglected 15 year old daughter (Bakalova) who claims that Johnny sadly ate himself during the voyage.  The girl has spent many years in her cage watching the animated fairy tale of the refugee woman Melania, who is now a princess.  Deciding to offer his daughter to Trump, Borat begins his journey.  And the hijinks begin!

You would think that EVERYONE in America would recognize Cohen/Borat as he makes his way across the country.  In 2006 you couldn’t go anywhere without anyone mimicking “That nice,” his best known catch-phrase.  And, in the beginning, that is true.  People stop him on the street stop him or try to high five him.  Which means Borat must disguise himself in order to set his plans in motion.  Along the way he learns about Qanon, spends some time with some good old boys – during their time together they write a song about Barack Obama with the chorus “Inject him with the Wuhan Flu” – and infiltrates a conference where Vice President Mike Pence is the featured speaker.  And then there’s Rudy Giuliani.  More about him later. 

  The film also has a sub-plot, where Borat’s daughter, who he introduces as Sandra Jessica Parker Drummond, is taught how to be a lady in our society.  She also is encouraged to get breast implants and constantly refers to a Kazakhstanian “handbook” that informs her of life’s lessons, including one that maintains her “vagine” has teeth and will eat her arm if she ever touches herself “down there.” 

Where I felt the first film was mostly spontaneous, this one is about 50/50 spontaneous and scripted.  Both versions are hilarious, though one is rather disturbing.  You may have seen the many reports detailing Rudy Giuliani’s interaction with Sandra Jessica Parker Drummond, who poses as a journalist (her life dream) and somehow finagles an interview with the former NYC mayor.  If you’ve seen Cohen’s work as Ali G or in various guises on his Showtime show “Who is America,” you know that there will be some questions asked to which the interviewer will reveal his ill-suited answers.  However, things go from whacky to creepy when Giuliani becomes overly friendly with the girl.  That’s all I’m going to say here.  I don’t want to spoil the “big reveal” but I will say that the first thing I asked Alexa after the film was “is Rudy Giuliani married?”

At this time in history the entire world can use a good laugh.  And there are plenty to go around here.  And, with the US Presidential Election less than three weeks away, a lot of food for thought.

“Borat Subsequent Moviefilm” – the truncated title – premieres October 23 exclusively on Amazon Prime Video.