Film Review: “I Feel Pretty”

I FEEL PRETTY

Starring:  Amy Schumer, Michelle Williams and Lauren Hutton

Directed by:  Abby Kohn and Marc Silverstein

Rated:  PG 13

Running time:  1 hrs 50 mins

STX Entertainment

 

Do you ever look in the mirror and wonder?  Why is my nose this way?  Why is my chin that way?  Do other people think I’m pretty?  Or handsome?  They say beauty is in the eye of the beholder, which Amy Schumer learns with a vengeance, in “I Feel Pretty.”

 

Renee Bennett (Schumer) is a fun girl.  But she’s insecure.  She’s a little more “curvy” then some women and, while attractive, doesn’t see herself as pretty.  Some of this self-doubt comes from the fact that she works in the on-line department of one of the world’s largest makeup companies, whose spokesperson/owner (Williams) is the cover girl.  Renee spends her free times with her friends Vivian (Aidy Bryant) and Jane (Busy Phillips) and, while the three aren’t setting any records with attracting men, they enjoy being together.  One night, while watching the movie “Big,” Renee jokingly wishes she were beautiful.  The next day, at a SPIN class, she falls and hits her head.  When she comes to, she looks in a mirror and smiles.  She IS beautiful.

 

Though I’m still trying to figure out the message (Beauty is on the inside?  Be careful of what you wish for?  Be happy with who you are?) the film is trying to send, I found “I Feel Pretty” to be a funny film with a little bit of heart.  Now that she’s “pretty,” Renee has the courage to apply for a job as receptionist of her company, a job she’s noticed is normally filled by amazingly beautiful women.   Instead of being the woman who feels she’s five pounds too heavy, she sees herself as one of the beautiful people, giving herself the self-confidence she needs to not only get the job but flirt with the handsome brother of her boss.  But soon she is self-absorbed with the idea of her beauty, abandoning her friends and climbing the social ladder.  She doesn’t realize that it’s not her perceived looks that are getting her places, it’s her confidence in herself, and this is what impresses.

 

The film is well cast, with Schumer striking all the right notes.  This is not the raunchy Amy Schumer you may be familiar with.  This version is a little tamer, but still fun loving.  A scene where she impulsively enters a bikini contest, hiking her shorts and t-shirt up to expose her stomach, undulating to the music, is a moment of pure freedom.  Williams, with a Jennifer Tilly-esque voice, is also well cast as a woman whose beauty doesn’t allow others to see how intelligent she is.  Rory Scovel is Ethan, a man Renee meets “cute” at a coffee shop who falls in love with Renee the way she is, not the way she sees herself.  And, my God, how is it that 74 year old Lauren Hutton is as beautiful today as she was when I was a teenager??

 

Directors/screenwriters Kohn and Silverstein, who previously gave us “Never Been Kissed” and “He’s Just Not That Into You,” do a fine job keeping the story moving in their feature directorial debut.  I appreciate the fact that, even when she looks into a mirror, Schumer sees what we see – Amy Schumer – and not some high cheekboned model.  Both Renee, and Schumer, are just fine the way they are.

Interview with Comedian Sandy Bernstein

 

I’ve known Sandy Bernstein for over three decades.  We met at a backyard party her boyfriend at the time was holding in the fall of 1984.  She was cute, friendly…and funny.  I’m happy to say that 34 years later she hasn’t changed.

At age 50, she threw her hat in the ring of stand-up comedy and is quickly climbing the ladder of funny.  She recently achieved her dream of performing before a packed house on the main stage of the Washington D.C. IMPROV and she killed!

Sandy recently took time out from her schedule to chat about her career.

 

Mike Smith:   What made you pursue comedy at this stage of your life?

Sandy Bernstein:   Interesting story behind how I decided to get into comedy. I was 53 years old, and had never even considered it. There was no way I thought I could do it, so it wasn’t even an option.

I am a writer/editor in the marketing department of University of Maryland University College. My team handles internal clients, like Human Resources and Diversity Initiatives. In summer 2014, HR decided they wanted to do a talent show and needed my team to promote it. I attend all the kickoff meetings with my boss, and at this meeting, I made a wise crack: “I have the perfect headline. ‘Who Wants to Commit Career Hari Kari?'” One of the organizers of the talent show said, “That’s it, I’m signing you up to do stand-up!” I started to object, and my boss said, “Sandy, you need a stretch project for your performance review.” I said, “Fine, when I go down in flames, you’re going to have to be the one to write the Performance Improvement Plan.” So I guess you could say I did it on a dare.

There were difficult things going on in my life at that time. My boyfriend (now husband) was undergoing chemo and radiation for Stage 3 colorectal cancer, and my mother was in a nursing home, dying from Alzheimer’s Disease, so I was having a lousy year. I figured this would either be a welcome distraction or the cherry on top of my shit sandwich. In any event, I figured, WTF.  I was looking at it as a one-shot deal. You know, one and done.

I was terrified. But having worked there for seven years, I had a lot of material. I put together a PowerPoint to run in the background. The first slide was my head on Mylee Cyrus’s body, because I had a joke about twerking at the talent show. I figured if that didn’t get them laughing, nothing would. So I practiced relentlessly for several weeks. My poor husband had to hear it over and over again. He said he preferred chemo.

So the day of the show came, and the second I stepped on stage, before I even said a word, people were laughing hysterically, because they had already put up the Mylee Cyrus slide. I probably had one of the best sets of my life, and I’ve been chasing that pink cloud ever since. Now I know how junkies feel. Before I even left the stage, I was thinking about where I was going to get my next fix. People were coming up to me afterwards asking me how many years I’d been doing it. I was blown away. I actually have a video of that set, along with talent shows from subsequent years, on my website, www.sandybernsteincomedy.com.

The rest is history, but it took me a while to get going. My mother passed away in November of that year, and my husband had finished his treatments and surgeries. (BTW, he has been cancer-free for four years now.) So in January 2015, I took a course at the DC Improv called “Five Minutes to Funny,” taught by Chris Coccia. It was on five or six consecutive Sundays, culminating in a graduation show on the main stage of the Improv. Chris had done a great job with us, and we all ripped the room. From there I started doing open mics once every week or so, and some showcases for new comics. I had heard that you needed to go up at least three times/week if you wanted to progress, but with a full-time job, I couldn’t even fathom doing that. But by that summer, I felt kind of stuck. There were some comics who seemed to be making remarkable progress, and one of them turned me on to The Fat Doctor. He was one of only four comics to make Richard Pryor’s top four comedians list. After dealing with some health issues, he focused on training other comics. He has taught, mentored, wrote for, and/or influenced comedians such as Martin Lawrence, Patton Oswald, Tommy Davidson, Wanda Sykes, and Dave Chappell,  just to name a few.  I have been studying with him via Skype sessions since September 2015. In January 2016, I resolved to get on stage at least twice a week. I figured out how to make it work while working full time. I ended up getting out a minimum of three times a week, sometimes more, and only then did I feel like I was starting to make progress.

 

MS:  With some of the comedians out there today, your comedy could almost be called “tame.”  Was that a decision going in or did you just find that it suits your style better?

SB:  Tame is in the eye of the beholder. I just did a Jewish-themed comedy show where I kept it PG-13, but my references to sex and body parts did not go over so well. Even though my stuff could probably fly on late-night TV, it definitely isn’t tame enough for many clean comedy shows. I’m actually trying to work cleaner!

MS:  First joke you ever told – not on stage but in your life?

SB:  I’m afraid I don’t remember. I was very shy as a kid. I have an older brother, and he was the one to make all the jokes growing up. He’s my biggest fan.

MS;  First time you told a joke on stage and nailed it?

SB:  From our work talent show –  “Apparently, twerking is frowned upon in this organization.”

For Sandy’s appearance schedule, check out her website, www.sandybernsteincomedy.com

To check out Sandy’s performance at the Washington D.C. Improv, click HERE

Interview with Comedian Eric Schwartz

You may have seen comedian Eric Schwartz in one of his many appearances on Showtime, “The Tonight Show,” BET or his HULU special “Surrender to the Blender.”  If you haven’t, get over to YouTube because you’re missing one funny man.

Schwartz is currently embarking on his “Release the Sounds” tour (he is in Kansas City on Tuesday, April 17th) but found time to answer some questions between gigs.

 

Mike Smith:  Who in the hell is the OTHER Eric Schwartz and how did he beat you to EricSchwartz.com?  He isn’t near as funny as you are.
Eric Schwartz:  THANK YOU FOR ASKING THIS QUESTION AND STARTING IT WITH “WHO IN THE HELL…”

Most people don’t realize we’re two completely different people. Yes, two different people, who happen to have the same name, and who happen to both do comedy and music. It’s beyond frustrating–it’s infuriating!  But, I have to admit, “the other Eric Schwartz” is a supremely talented musician and brilliant writer.  It’s hard to be mad at the guy when his only crime is not changing the name his parents gave him. At least he’s not out there bringing shame to the name. By the way, I’m pretty sure he calls me, “the other Eric Schwartz,” too.

To make things even more interesting, we actually know each other.  He moved from the East Coast to two blocks from me in L.A. We’ve actually shown up to the same gig before after the booker tagged  us both on Facebook.  He once dated someone I knew and she would sometimes accidentally call me all sultry like, “Baby…did you see the moooon tonight?”  I was like, “Yeah, Suzanne. But I’m not taking my clothes off like the last time we talked.”
And yes, one of my biggest career regrets was not grabbing EricSchwartz.com when I was building my first website in 1999.  For some reason, I chose “SuburbanHomeboy.com,” which now forwards to my current site, EricSchwartzLive.com.
MS:   How did you get into comedy?
ES:  I got hooked on Eddie Murphy, George Carlin, Robin Williams and SNL as a kid. I would do their bits and characters to my friends at school.  Everyone already thought of me as a comedian at that point, but I knew I had to start writing material.  I was also a DJ, which is where the musical element came in. In college, I put on my own comedy shows in the dorms mixing comedy and music and somehow didn’t get kicked out.
MS:  When do you know a joke is working? Or isn’t?
ES:  Unless my ears take the night off, I can tell right away.  The cool thing about a live show is the audience will let you know if it’s working or not.
MS:  Do you have a good “I put that heckler in his place” story?
ES:  Most hecklers are actually having a good time and want to participate. They just go a bit overboard on their approach.  But if you ever encounter a mean-spirited heckler, here’s something you can do. Make peace by offering them a free CD.  When they thank you, shout, “SEE DEEZ NUTS!”
MS:   Besides your tour, what else are you working on.
ES:  The “Release The Sounds” Tour is in support of the audio from my first hour special, “Surrender to the Blender” being re-released to Sirius-XM, as well as digital platforms like Pandora, Spotify, Apple Music and Amazon Music. I’m also working on shooting my second special this year.
For upcoming tour dates or to hear some of Eric’s work, click HERE

CD Review: “This is Jerry Pearce”

 

My first concert was February14, 1977 at the Bayfront Center in St. Petersburg, Florida.  The performer?  None other than the King himself, Elvis Aron Presley.  Not a bad start, wouldn’t you agree?

Since then I’ve been fortunate to see many of the people whose work defined the Great American Songbook.  Frank Sinatra.  Sammy Davis, Jr.  Wayne Newton.  Barbra Streisand.  Johnny Mathis.  All masters at their craft and several of them no longer with us.  If you feel the void I sometimes do, I would like to suggest the vocal stylings of one Jerry Pearce.

His latest CD, entitled “This is Jerry Pearce,” is a beautiful trip down memory lane.  Accompanied by the Alan McPike Trio, Pearce puts his own signature on such classics as “Always,” “From Here to Eternity” and, one of my all time favorites, “Fly Me to the Moon.”  He also tackles lesser known songs, like “Watch What Happens” and “Girl Talk.”  In all, there are (10) selections on this disc, and all of them are trips down memory lane.  (No, I’m not THAT old, but this is the music my mother played when I was growing up).

 

If you’re interested in learning more about Jerry, or would like to order one of his many CDs, click HERE

You can read my recent interview with Jerry HERE

Kansas City fans, win tickets to see comedian Eric Schwartz

 

Eric Schwartz, one of the fastest rising comedians in the country, will be making an appearance on Tuesday, April 17th at the Record Bar in Kansas City and Media Mikes has arranged for one lucky reader and a guest to go to the show.

All you have to do is let us know below, if you had the chance to see any legendary comedian live in person, who would it be?  Your choices can be living or dead.  Just let us know who you think would make for one funny evening.  One winner will be chosen randomly from all entries on Sunday, April 15th and will be notified by email.  Good luck!

Recently Eric tried to challenge some of the unwritten rules of Kansas City barbecue.  Click HERE for the results.

Win Passes to the Kansas City Premiere of “I Feel Pretty”

 

Media Mikes has teamed with their friends at STX Entertainment to give (50) readers and a guest the chance to be among the first to see the new comedy starring Amy Schumer, “I Feel Pretty.”

The screening will be held on Tuesday, April 17, 2018 at the B&B Overland Park Theatre in Overland Park, Kansas and will start at 7:00 p.m.

All you have to do is click HERE.  The first (50) readers to do so will receive a pass for two to attend the screening.  This is a first come/first serve giveaway.  Once all (50) passes have been claimed, the contest is over.  GOOD LUCK!

 

I FEEL PRETTY

Tuesday, April 17, 2018  –  7:00 p.m.

B&B Overland Park Theatre – Overland Park, Kansas

Win Passes to the Kansas City Premiere of “Super Troopers 2”

Media Mikes has teamed with their friends at Fox Searchlight Films to give (50) readers and a guest the chance to be among the first to see the new comedy from the gang at Broken Lizard, “Super Troopers 2.”

The screening will be held on Monday, April 16, 2018 at the AMC Studio 28 Theatre in Olathe, Kansas and will start at 7:00 p.m.

All you have to do is click HERE.  The first (50) readers to do so will receive a pass for two to attend the screening.  This is a first come/first serve giveaway.  Once all (50) passes have been claimed, the contest is over.  GOOD LUCK!

 

SUPER TROOPERS 2

Monday, April 16, 2018  –  7:00 p.m.

AMC Studio 28 Theatre – Olathe, Kansas

 

 

Film Review: “Chappaquiddick”

Starring:  Jason Clarke, Ed Helms and Jim Gaffigan
Directed by:  John Curran
Rated:  R
Running time:  1 hrs 46 mins
Apex Entertainment

Our Score: 4 out of 5 stars

Before I begin I’m going to share something.  I was born in 1960 and the Kennedy family were royalty in our house.  One of the few times I can remember my father crying was the day JFK was assassinated and I can remember my mother doing the same thing in 1968 when Bobby was killed.  My first presidential election was 1980 and I worked tirelessly for Ted Kennedy’s campaign.  So I kind of go into anything related to the Kennedy legend with a very wary eye.  I’m so glad that “Chappaquiddick” did not disappoint.

July 18, 1969.  While the world waits as Apollo 11 heads towards the moon, the mood is festive on Chappaquiddick Island, a spur of Martha’s Vineyard in Massachusetts.  It’s a reunion of sorts for the Boiler Room Girls, a dedicated group of young women that campaigned long and hard for Robert Kennedy in 1968.  Joining the women are several members of RFK’s campaign staff, including his younger brother, Ted (Clarke).  As the film’s opening montage tells us, the Kennedy boys, from oldest brother Joe – a Navy pilot who died in World War II, John – our 35th President and Bobby, who died before he could accomplish the great deeds he set out to do, had all died young, leaving Ted to carry the family mantle.  It is something he is reluctant to do, but he is also contemplating running for President in 1972.

Also at the party is pretty Mary Joe Kopechne (Kate Mara), one of Bobby’s strongest supporters.  She and Ted talk for a while and then the two leave the party, get into Ted’s car, and drive away.  Hours later, Ted will return alone and on foot.  He will tell those who greet him “I’m not going to be President.”

A solid film that keeps you guessing on the facts, “Chappaquiddick” is an unbiased attempt to tell the story everyone thinks they know.  The story is helped along by solid direction and a cast that embodies more than imitates the characters.  Clarke does a fine job as Kennedy, nailing the mannerisms and accent perfectly.  As Kennedy cousin (and family fixer) Joseph Gargan (from the Fitzgerald side of the family) Ed Helms gives a fine dramatic performance.  Also so nice to see Jim Gaffigan, who was so great in “Chuck,” continue his journey to dramatic actor as family friend Paul Markham.  And Bruce Dern, in a role that’s almost wordless, is still stern and tough as family patriarch Joseph Kennedy.

The Dike Bridge

As an added bonus, if you’re a fan of the film “Jaws” – and if you’ve ever read my stuff you know it’s my favorite film – you’ll get to see a lot of Edgartown exactly as it appears in the film.  Even the real life area doctor, Robert Nevin, who played the town doctor in the film, rates a mention.

Finally, and this is just a mention, but I’ve been to Chappaquiddick and I’ve driven over the Dike Bridge.  Sober.  In broad daylight.  It’s still pretty narrow if you ask me.  If you don’t believe me, give it a look yourself.  And while you’re there, stop and pay your respects at the grave of Pipit, the dog from “Jaws.”

Pipits Grave. I wasn’t kidding.

Film Interview: Director Susan Walter talks about her debut feature, “All I Wish”

 

After almost three decades working behind the scenes on other people’s films, Susan Walter has finally gotten to sit in the big chair.  As writer and director of the new film “All I Wish,” she called the shots and achieved a dream.

 

While promoting the film, which is now in theatres and also available on Video on Demand, she took time out to talk with me about finally being in charge.

 

Mike Smith:  Please tell me that Tony Goldwyn isn’t really that bad of a singer. (NOTE:  In the film, Goldwyn tries his hand at karaoke, much to the chagrin of anyone in earshot.)

 

Susan Walter:  (laughs) Tony Goldwyn is a brilliant singer!  The first time I talked to him about that scene, he said to me “you know I can sing, right?”  He wanted everyone to know that he could sing.

 

MS:  Where did you get the idea for the film?

 

SW:  I’m a huge fan of “When Harry Met Sally.”  It’s one of my favorite films of any genre’.  And what I love about it is that it takes these two characters and looks at how the spend time together over a long period of time.  So I thought what would happen if I showed characters that not only got to know each other but got to know themselves over a long period of time.  And I picked each period beginning on a birthday because your birthday is a time when you look at your life.  The stakes are super high on your birthday.

 

MS:  Most people, when they think of romantic comedy, don’t readily think of Sharon Stone, who is more known for tougher roles.  What made you cast her?

 

SW:  Sharon cast herself.  (laughs)  Literally.  She got the script originally when it was written for her character to be in her 20s, and I wanted somebody tough and vibrant to play the mother.  I sent her the script and offered her the mother and she called me and said, “I’m not playing the mother…I’m playing the lead!”  And I got chills all over my body because I knew that she was right.  She felt really connected to the character and she really spoke passionately about why she had to do it.  So that’s the version of the movie that got made.

 

MS:  Which also became a bonus because you got to work with Ellen Burstyn.

 

SW:  We were so lucky that Ellen responded so well to the script.  Sharon was so passionate about having her and when we sent it to her she responded right away.  Though Ellen’s character appears tough as nails in the film she also has a vulnerability that you can feel.  You can feel the love that she has for her daughter and it was something beautiful for me to watch.

 

MS:  You’ve spent decades working behind the scenes until you finally got the opportunity to direct a feature.  Was the experience everything you thought it would be?

 

SW:  I have to tell you, I was totally nervous into the lead-up of the movie.  I was worried.  Could I do the job?  Did I have the energy?  It takes an incredible amount of stamina to direct a feature film.  You’re on your feet all day and you need every corner of your brain to do the job.  I got so much incredible support from my cast, especially Sharon.  They made it effortless.  It was like being weightless.  I entrusted them with their characters.  I was just there as a sounding board if they had a question about a line or a moment.  The experience of directing was almost effortless.

 

MS:  You’ve worked with several name directors in the past, including the late Garry Marshall.  Did you learn anything from them that you used on your set?

 

SW:  The one thing I learned from Garry in regards to actors is to just let them play.  Make them feel safe and let them play.  And when they had an idea, it was always “yes.”  He may not have agreed with it, but he would always say, “let’s try it.”  That was the way he worked and I think some of it rubbed off on me.  I said “yes” a lot to my actors.  We played a lot.  And I think you can feel how free they felt when you watched the film.

 

MS:  What are you working on next?

 

SW:  I wrote a movie with a friend of mine who is an actress and an extremely hilarious human being.  It’s an “R” rated ensemble comedy that we’re putting together now.  Hopefully we can start it soon.  I hope it doesn’t take another fourteen years.

Film Review: “Blockers”

 

BLOCKERS

Starring: Leslie Mann, John Cena and Kathryn Newton

Directed by: Kay Cannon

Rated: R

Running time: 1 hrs 42 mins

Universal

 

Ah, prom night. A night of magic, music and, if you are three very anticipatory young girls, the night you plan on losing your virginity. Unless your parents find out that is.

 

We first meet Julie (Newton), Kayla (Geraldine Viswanathan) and Sam(antha) (Gideon Adlon) as they arrive for the first day of kindergarten. Though the girls are nervous, they aren’t as upset as their parents. Julie’s mom, Lisa (Mann) is a single mom who has devoted her life to her child. Kayla’s pop Mitchell (Cena) is a sports-loving guy who isn’t afraid to show emotions. And Sam’s dad Hunter (Ike Barinholtz) is never afraid to take a drink, no matter the time of the day. The girls become best pals and before you know it, they’re now seniors in high school preparing for the prom, graduation and college. And sex.

 

A funny film that doesn’t treat the youngsters like, well….youngsters, “Blockers” is the female version of “Porkys” without Buela Balbricker. The young ladies decision is not made in haste. They each have a reason to “go all the way.” One is love. Another is curiosity. And the third is a litmus test. You see, one of them is a lesbian and is afraid to act on her feelings. I won’t give away anything more but I will say that the people behind “Love, Simon” could have surely taken some pointers in dealing with the way her feelings and sexual curiosities are handled.

 

The fun part here are the parents, especially pro wrestler Cena, who is hilarious as he is large. Mann is also strong as the mother who is afraid to let her child leave and Barinholtz as a father trying to reconnect with a daughter he clearly underestimated.

 

The film is well paced and the supporting cast, especially the three “lucky” boys, keep the film moving as well.  If I had any qualm with the film it was the constant reminders of other Universal films that kept showing up on screen.  From movie posters (“16 Candles,” “Love Actually”) on the wall to just random mentions of, among others, “American Beauty” and the “Fast and the Furious” series, it was a little heavy handed to me.  Still, the film is definitely worth a trip to the local cinema this weekend.

Film Review: “All I Wish”

 

ALL I WISH

Starring:  Sharon Stone, Tony Goldwyn and Ellen Burstyn

Directed by:  Susan Walter

Rated:  Not rated

Running time:  1 hrs 34 mins

Cinetel Films

 

 

Birthdays.  Every year it’s the one day where everyone treats you nice and you’re allowed to make a wish for your future.  But for Senna (Stone) those wishes never seem to come true.

 

The morning of her 46th birthday finds Senna in bed with a much younger man.  The phone rings, as it has for many years, as Senna’s mother (Burstyn) wants to be the first to wish her a happy birthday.  This will be the highpoint of her day.  A buyer for an upscale boutique, she angers the owner with her choices and is fired.  She then goes to her party, where she meets an attractive lawyer (Goldwyn) who has been invited to meet a woman by a mutual friend.  As he goes on about the blind dates known shortcomings, Senna soon realizes he was there to meet her.  They do part friendly but Senna’s day ends on a sad note.

 

For the next seven years, we drop in on Senna and her friends on this most special day.  We see that she has been able to grow some each year, though she still has a lot to wish for.  Love.  Success.  Making her mother happy.   Quite a list.

 

A very sweet romantic comedy, “All I Wish” is helped by it’s fine casting.  When most people think of Sharon Stone, they think of her as the tough broad from “Basic Instinct” and “Casino.”  But she is also a very gifted comedienne, and she brings that tough to her portrayal of Senna.  Goldwyn is also charming as the man who is in search of his soulmate.  He also gives the worse karaoke performance ever captured on film.  So bad, in fact, that it makes Cameron Diaz in “My Best Friend’s Wedding” sound like Cher.  And you can never go wrong when you have Ellen Burstyn in your cast.  Her appearances are brief but very welcome.

 

The script, from first time director Susan Walter, is strong and her direction keeps the film moving with very little slow spots.  A fine freshman debut.

 

“All I Wish” is currently in theatres and is also available on Video on Demand.,

Win Passes to the Kansas City Premiere of “Isle of Dogs”

 

Media Mikes has teamed up with their friends at Fox Searchlight to give (35) Kansas City-area readers and their guest the chance to be among the first to see the latest film by Wes Anderson, “Isle of Dogs.”

The film will be shown on Monday, April 2, 2018 at the AMC Studio 28 Theatre in Olathe, Kansas and will start at 7:00 p.m.

All you have to do is click HERE.  The first (35) to do so will receive a pass for (2) to attend the screening.  This is a first come/first serve giveaway.  Once (35) passes have been claimed the giveaway is over.

Good Luck!

 

ISLE OF DOGS

Monday, April 2, 2018  –  7:00 p.m.

AMC Studio 28 Theatre  –  Olathe, Kansas

Film Review: “Pacific Rim: Uprising”

 

PACIFIC RIM: UPRISING
Starring:  John Boyega, Scott Eastwood and Charlie Day
Directed by:  Steven S. Deknight
Rated:  PG 13
Running time:  1 hrs 51 mins
20th Century Fox

I will admit right here that I never saw the original “Pacific Rim.”  I’ve been told it was pretty good.  I certainly hope so, because this new installment isn’t.

After a quick shot of Idris Elba – I’m told he was the hero in the first film – we learn about how mankind and their giant Jaegers pulled together to defeat the evil, monstrous Kaiju, which in my limited imagination meant that some Transformer rip-offs beat Godzilla and his family.

It is 10 years later and the world isn’t really doing well.  We meet Jake (Boyega) and learn he is the son of Elba’s character.  Jake lives on his wits and the barter system.  Squatting in an abandoned Hollywood mansion, he’s not above trading an Academy Award for a box of cereal.  He’s also not above stealing, mostly technology, and selling his spoils to the highest bidder.  When he is caught stealing parts from damaged Jaegers he is sent back to “the academy,” where he will now train a class of young people to be the next great Jaeger pilots.  Hijinx ensue!

A loud movie with lots of giant shiny things, “Pacific Rim: Uprising,” is a CGI spectacle of crushing metal played against a background of tough kids and one-liners.  Think of it as “Real Steel” without Hugh Jackman.  Which is a shame because the cast seems to be trying their best.  Boyega is bold and cagey here at times.  Hopefully he’ll demonstrate some of this ability in the next “Star Wars” film (sorry, I think Finn is a little too wishy-washy sometimes).  As the tough-as-nails Amara, Cailee Spaeny also shows some emotional depth.  And damn it, Scott Eastwood is one handsome man.  Charlie Day also shows up (apparently he was in the first film) but spends most of his screen time yelling, like he’s channeling Bobcat Goldthwait

If you like big shiny things destroying things, this is the film for you.  If you don’t, go see “Black Panther” again!

Film Review: “Love, Simon”

LOVE, SIMON
Starring:  Nick Robinson, Josh Duhamel and Jennifer Garner
Directed by:  Greg Berlanti
Rated:  PG 13
Running time:  1 hrs 49 mins
20th Century Fox

 

Meet Simon (Robinson).  Like most high school seniors he keeps himself busy, hanging out with his friends, going to parties and getting ready to graduate.  But Simon has a secret.  He’s gay.

A coming of age story with a twist, “Love, Simon” is the story of a young man at the crossroads of his life.  Citing an unusual series of dreams about Daniel Radcliffe in his early teens as the turning point in his sexuality, Simon comes across an online post by a young man who calls himself Blue.  Blue is also gay and longs to come out but does not have the courage.  Simon emails Blue and explains that he, too, is in the same boat.  He signs his note “Jacques,” and the two begin a series of conversations that grow both bolder and emotional as they go on.  However, a fellow student named Martin (Logan Miller) comes across the missives and informs Simon that he knows his secret.  He also blackmails him, trying to arrange a hook-up with one of Simon’s female friends.  If Simon doesn’t help him, he’ll spill the beans.  Sadly the kid is beyond unlikable and soon, after an embarrassing attempt at wooing his intended, he outs Simon to the school.  What a dick!

I have a lot of mixed feelings about this film.  I commend it for being one of the few mainstream films to deal with gay issues in a matter of fact way.  “Love, Simon” is simply a love story about a young man with a crush that happens to be another young man.  But the film also sends up the typical Hollywood stereotypes I didn’t expect.

Part of Simon’s fear stems from the fact that there is already a gay student in his class (Clark Moore).  Sadly, this young man is a sassy, well-groomed confidant of the school’s snobby girls, dishing out fashion advice and one-liners.  Sadly, the typical “gay” character from Central Casting, the same people that brought you Lamar from “Revenge of the Nerds.”  I have several gay friends.  None of them is, if stereotypes are to be believed, “obvious.” It’s a shame this is the only way Hollywood can find to portray an openly gay character.  To me it’s a double shame because the film’s director, Greg Berlanti, is gay and should know better.

Between being outed and then bullied, nobody is held accountable.  The most believable character in the film is Natasha Rothwell, who plays Ms. Albright, the school drama teacher (the school is putting on a production of “Cabaret,” which, though I’ve learned has been put on in high schools, doesn’t strike me as a show to be performed by teenagers).  When two boys bully Simon in the lunchroom, it is Ms. Albright that confronts them and assures them that this action will not be tolerated.  So it’s disheartening to see the two boys a few moments later being excused for their actions by offering Simon a mumbled “sorry.” And Martin, who for some reason is playing the Emcee (badly) in the production of “Cabaret,” continues to be the class clown, again not facing any consequences for his actions.   By the time Simon’s friends, all with petty slights, deserted him I lost all faith in the film or its message.

Which is a shame, because Nick Robinson does a great job trying to balance all of the inner feelings Simon must deal with.  He can only smile and nod when his father, commenting on the latest contestant on “The Bachelor,” says “look at him…you know he’s gay.”  He knows his father means no harm but still just the way he says “gay” is enough to keep Simon in the closet.

I’ve heard this film described as a “John Hughes” – type film.  Barely.  Though Hughes did spend a lot of his time writing about teenagers, their problems and how they dealt with them, his characters were a hell of a lot more believable.

Interview with “Survivors Guide to Prison” filmmaker Matthew Cooke

Actor/filmmaker/activist Matthew Cooke has long taken in an interest in looking out for the little guy.  His last film, the tongue-in-cheek documentary “How to Make Money Selling Drugs,” was well reviewed and opened a lot of eyes to the drug problem facing this country.    His newest documentary, “Survivors Guide to Prison,” looks at the current state of the judicial system and how it failed two very different men.  As the film begins it’s run across the country (it’s both in theatres and available on Video on Demand), Mr. Cooke took some time to speak with me about his goals and what he hopes to achieve with his work.

 

 

Mike Smith:   What inspired you to do this film?

Matthew Cooke:  I think we have a very large problem.  It’s like when you see a bad car crash or someone has fallen down a well.  You can’t ignore it.  You have to stop and try to do something.

MS:  Was there any one thing that made you tackle this subject?

MC:  Human beings are funny things.  We can walk by homeless people and ignore them.  We have a tendency to become numb.  But sometimes you look into a topic enough that you go, “Oh my God!”  You begin caring about it.  I really don’t think there’s another explanation I can give other than I finally became aware that human beings are being held in solitary confinement FOR YEARS and they don’t need to be there.  In a way it’s like being tortured.   I became aware that, the system that we have in place now, has an 80% failure rate.  That means that 80% of the inmates that are released from prison end up returning within 5 years.  Yet here we are, spending millions of dollars, putting more people into prison.  The U.S. has more people in prison than any other country in the world.  And it’s not effective.  We don’t help the victims of crime heal.  We don’t create more harmony.  We don’t create well-being.  To what master does this monstrosity serve.  And it’s money.  And when you finally learn about something it becomes personal.  “There but by the grace of God go I.”  I could be in this film.  I’m not trying to be overly dramatic but I couch-surfed for a while when I was out on my own.  That could have easily been the road for me.  That could have been me.

MS:  How did you come upon Bruce and Reggie’s cases? (NOTE:  The film follows two men, Bruce Lisker and Reggie Cole, who were imprisoned for murders they did not commit.  Lisker was 17 when he was arrested for the death of his mother.  Cole 23 when he was accused of a neighborhood killing).

MC:  I met Bruce when he was speaking at a fundraising dinner.  I heard his story and thought, “this guy’s story is incredible.  It would make a hell of a movie.”  Reggie Cole I met through the California Innocence Project.  And I just thought that these two stories were so heart wrenching.  And they are both poets.  I think Reggie is one of the most articulate, poetical people around and no one could describe the horrors he endured the way he has.  Between he and Bruce, I just decided that these two guys’ stories are it.    I mean, there can really be nothing more horrifying than being put in prison for something you didn’t do.  This is a fear we all have.

MS:  One thing I noticed in the film is that you shot all of your narrators close up and make-up free.  Every blemish visible.  Was that intentional?

MC:  Yes.  I wanted them to be raw.  I tell people it’s not really a movie.  It’s a film because of the media used but it’s really a public service announcement.  A bunch of us coming together to tell you what’s going on.  I didn’t want it to be polished.  I adore every aspect of film making but I didn’t want to make anything that was purposely beautiful that would take away anything from the informational aspect.  I wanted it to be very, very raw and very up-close.  Really almost claustrophobic.  I didn’t want audiences to enjoy it as if it was exploitative.  Sometimes we make films that are so pretty that we enjoy them too much.  I really wanted this film to be visceral…in your face.   I want the film to be memorable.   It’s my hope that it delivers an educational and raw, unbridled education and that it achieves it’s goal.   Where we no longer think of prison anymore as the answer.

MS:  Have Bruce and Reggie received any compensation?

MC:  Yes they have.  I don’t have the exact figures off the top of my head.  And I’m also of the opinion that financial compensation is no substitution for time.  (NOTE:  Bruce Lisker received $7.6 million after spending 26 years in prison.  Reggie Cole received $5.3 million for his nearly 15 years behind bars, the last 10 in solitary confinement.)

MS:  What’s next on your plate?

MC:  What’s next?  I want everyone to see “Survivors Guide to Prison.”  We worked five years to construct something that is really worth 100 minutes of peoples’ time.  Getting the word out.  I’m all about that right now.