Film Review: “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 ensues!


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”

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.

Film Review: “Gringo”

Starring:  David Oweloyo, Charlize Theron and Joel Edgerton
Directed by:  Nash Edgerton
Rated:  R
Running time:  1 hrs 50 mins
Amazon Studios

It’s hard for me to go into detail about why I did not enjoy “Gringo” as much as I wanted, or even as I feel I should have.  It’s one of those things you can’t really put a finger on…you just know you didn’t like it.  But I’ll try.

Harold (Oweloyo) is a middle-management employee for a pharmaceutical company.  Things appear to be well on the outside, but inside he is dealing with the fact that his wife is spending him into bankruptcy and rumors that his company is about to be sold.  He approaches his bosses, Richard (Edgerton) and Elaine (an icy Theron) who assure him things are fine.  They also inform him that they will be accompanying him on his upcoming trip to Mexico, where recent inventory reports disclose a shortage of product.  After concluding their business the pair leave Harold in Mexico to wrap things up.  But things go incredibly wrong when Harold is kidnapped.  Or is he?

I wanted to like this movie so much.  I love the cast and director Nash Edgerton, who is Joel’s brother, has done some great short films and music videos.  But it looks like everyone was working on different movies and they were all patched together in editing.  It’s not for lack of trying.  After seeing Oweloyo in such dramatic fare as “Selma,” where he played Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, or the outstanding HBO production “Nightengale,” it’s a rare treat to see him tackle comedy.  And tackle it well.  He seems to be having fun and it’s infectious.  Heck, this film may be the first time I’ve ever heard him laugh on screen.  Joel Edgerton and Theron are strictly bad bosses out of central casting, but the effort they put into their characters keeps them interesting.  And while he’s a treat to watch, Sharlto Copley seems to wander in from another film.  Add to this group a drug lord with an almost un-healthy love of the Beatles and a very brief, but impressive, film debut from Paris Jackson (Michael’s daughter) and they do hold your interest.

No, the problem, I think, is that director Edgerton just decided to use everything he shot, giving very little thought to when a scene could be cut so that the payoff doesn’t continue to hit you on the head, long after you’ve been satisfied by it.  Perhaps Joel Edgerton, who wrote and directed the much underrated film “The Gift” should have given his brother some much needed advice.

Win Passes to the Kansas City Premiere of “Love, Simon”


Media Mikes has teamed up with their friends at 20th Century Fox to give (50) readers and a guest the chance to be among the first to see the new film, “Love, Simon,” in Kansas City.


The film, starring Nick Robinson and Katherine Langford, will be screened on Wednesday, March 14, at the B&B Shawnee Theatre in Shawnee, Kansas and will begin at 7:00 pm.


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

Win Passes to the Kansas City Premiere of “Gringo”


Media Mikes has teamed up with their friends at Amazon Studios to give (50) readers and a guest the chance to be among the first to see the new comedy, “Gringo,” in Kansas City.


The film, starring David Oyelowo and Charlize Theron, will be screened on Wednesday, March 7, at the AMC Studio 28 Theatre in Olathe, Kansas and will begin at 7:00 pm.


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

Film Review – “Survivor’s Guide to Prison”



Starring:  Danny Trejo, Matthew Cooke and Susan Sarandon

Directed by:  Matthew Cooke

Rated:  Not Rated

Running time:  1 hrs 42 mins

Gravitas Ventures





When I sat down to write this review, I tried to think of a film that, upon its release, found itself on the front page because of the subject matter it covered.  All I could come up with was “The China Syndrome,” which was released in March 1979.  12 days after it opened, events unfolded at Three Mile Island which nearly mirrored the film.  Recently here in Kansas, a man named Lamonte McIntyre was released from prison after serving 19 years for a crime he didn’t commit.  That theme is repeated in filmmaker Matthew Cooke’s latest project, “Survivor’s Guide to Prison.”


The film introduces us to two very different people with one thing in common:  innocence.  Bruce Lisker was a white 17-year old boy when he came home one afternoon to find his mother dying from multiple stab wounds.  He called 911 but when the police arrived they took him into custody “for his protection.”  He would not see freedom again for 26 years.  Reggie Cole was a young black man who was also arrested for murder.  He was lucky.  He only had to fight for 16 years for his freedom.  Both men were the victims of shoddy police work, ineffectual representation and this country’s eagerness to throw people in prison.  And it’s not getting any better.


Narrated by a host of celebrities, among them Trejo, Quincy Jones, Danny Glover, Sarandon, Ice T and director Cooke himself, the film is a step-by-step, by the numbers guide on how to do whatever it takes to keep yourself out of prison.  As they tick through the bullet points – “Be Polite” is first and foremost – it’s almost humorous to see people like Trejo, his face weathered from having spent over a decade himself in prison, offer reminders on how to stay clean.  But the more they speak, the more you realize you’d better pay attention.  It is revealed that with all of the new and various laws being passed constantly, the average American can commit three felonies a day without knowing it.


As we learn more and more about life behind bars, the film also revisits Lisker and Cole, and they’re own struggles.  The true definition of irony comes when, five years into his sentence, Cole kills a man in self-defense.  Because of the circumstances that put him behind bars for murder, an innocent man is NOW a murderer.  Hidden camera and surveillance footage show the brutal way of life that is a constant for those incarcerated.


A sobering look at a life any of us, if enough things work against us, could find ourselves living, “Survivor’s Guide to Prison” is a film that should not be missed.

“GET OUT” chosen the Best Film of 2017 by Media Mikes readers.

After tabulating the votes from more than 3,000 entries, “Get Out,” writer/director Jordan Peele’s debut feature, was chosen the Best Film of 2017 by the readers and staff of Media Mikes.   The film also nabbed Peele the award for Best Original Screenplay.


Director Guillermo del Toro was chosen the year’s Best Director for his film “The Shape of Water.”       


In the acting categories, James Franco was selected as Best Actor for his role in “The Disaster Artist” while Frances McDormand was chosen Best Actress for her performance in “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.












In the supporting categories, Sam Rockwell was named Best Supporting Actor for “Three Billboards” while Allison Janney was named Best Supporting Actress for “I, Tonya.”














“Coco” was chosen the year’s Best Animated Feature.


“Call Me By Your Name” was recognized for it’s Best Adapted  Screenplay.  Benjamin Wallfisch was named Composer of the Year for his work on “IT” and “Bladerunner 2049.”

Once Again, KC’s Planet Comicon Stands Above All Others

I’ve been going to conventions since the late 1970s. I’ve gone to small, one room gatherings, to the World Science Fiction Convention and every size Con in between. And every year, the one that consistently gets my nod as the Midwest’s best is Kansas City’s Planet Comicon. This year’s event was no different.

What makes Planet Comicon so special, and it was true again this year, was the variety of guests the show attracts. Besides perennial fan favorites from film, television and comics, they always bring out big guns with guests not only making their Kansas City convention debut but, on occasion, their very first convention appearance ever. This year, Planet Comicon treated it’s attendees with the chance to meet film stars John Cusack, Jason Mamoa and musical legend Alice Cooper. Not a bad trifecta of guests, especially when you pair them with other fan favorites in attendance, including Danny Trejo, Michael Rooker and Alan Tudyk. They were among the nearly 40 celebrity guests on hand this year.

Also popular, as has been the case in recent years, was the amazing cosplay participants who once again spared no expense in honoring their favorite characters. For the newly initiated to cosplay, there were several tables in the dealers area that were more then equipped to get you started on your way. The days of poorly made costumes and rubber-band held masks are long gone as cosplay continues to dominate the convention floor.

We at MediaMikes would like to send out a special “thank you” to Chris Jackson, Tracy Jackson and their incredible staff for their constant kindness over the years. I’ve attended every Planet Comicon since it began and it has amazingly not only gotten bigger every year but better. Next year will mark the 20th Anniversary of Planet Comicon and I can only imagine what kind of a celebration they have planned for 2019!

Photos by Dan Lybarger

The Godfather of Shock Rock gets Geeky We found Waldo Clever “Moana” cosplay John Cusack talks about the 1980’s classics he’s starred in The biggest John Carpenter fans at the convention We want to see this crossover Danny Trejo radiates cool Wet on wet Hands down, the best “IT” cosplay at the convention

Win Passes to the Kansas City premiere of “Annihilation”


MediaMikes has teamed up with their friends at Paramount to give (50) readers and a guest the chance to be among the first to see the latest film by Alex Garland, “Annihilation.”  The film, starring Academy Award winner Natalie Portman, will be shown on Wednesday, February 21 at the Cinemark Palace on the Plaza in Kansas City, Missouri.  The screening will begin at 7:00 pm


All you have to do is click HERE.  The first (50) readers to do so will receive a pass for (2) to attend the screening.  This is a first come/first serve giveaway.  Once (50) passes have been claimed the contest is over.  GOOD LUCK!



Wednesday, February 21, 2018 – 7:00 p.m.

Cinemark Palace on the Plaza – Kansas City, Missouri


CAST : Natalie Portman, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Gina Rodriguez, Tessa Thompson, Tuva Novotny, and Oscar Isaac


DIRECTOR: Alex Garland


SYNOPSIS: Lena, a biologist and former soldier, joins a mission to uncover what happened to her husband inside Area X – a sinister and mysterious phenomenon, known as THE SHIMMER, that is expanding across the American coastline.  Once inside, the expedition discovers a world of mutated landscape and creatures, as dangerous as it is beautiful, that threatens both their lives and their sanity.


It’s writer/director Alex Garland’s follow-up to his critically-acclaimed 2015 film EX MACHINA. Garland adapted for the screen based on Jeff VanderMeer’s acclaimed first volume of the best-selling Southern Reach Trilogy.






RUNNING TIME: 115 minutes

Film Review – “Black Panther”

Starring:  Chadwick Boseman, Michael B. Jordan and Lupita Nyong’o
Directed by:  Ryan Coogler
Rated:  PG 13
Running time:  2 hrs 14 mins
Walt Disney Pictures



Holy Crap!!

I continue to be amazed at how the films in the Marvel Universe seem to keep getting better and better.  And it’s not just my opinion.  In checking back though our pages, I found that NONE of the main film reviewers on this site (myself, Mike Gencarelli, Jeremy Werner and Lauren Damon) have given a Marvel film less than four stars out of a possible five.  And “Black Panther” is no exception.

We first met our hero briefly in 2016’s Captain America: Civil War.  Our story here takes us to Oakland in the early 1990s.  While young boys shoot hoop in the courtyard of the projects they call home, high above them they see a flash of light among a dark cloudy sky, briefly forgetting their problems.  But those problems will not go away, no matter who you are.

A story of diversity, family and compassion, Black Panther roars onto the screen at a million miles an hour.  Having lost his father, the former king of the African country of Wakanda, in a terrorist attack, Prince T’Challa (Boseman) returns home to find that he has much to learn.  The only place on the planet where one can find Vibranium, the world’s hardest metal, the country hides its vast wealth and technological advantages behind the guise of a small, third-world country.  Before he can rightly take the throne, T’Challa must accept and defeat all who would challenge him.  He does this with the help of his head of security, Okoye (Danal Gurira), brilliant sister Shuri (Letitia Wright), loving mother (Angela Bassett) and former partner in crime and matters of the heart Nakia (Nyong’o).  As the work to keep their country safe, they must take on the challenge of a long-lost relative, Erik Killmonger (Jordan), who is defiant of the fact that Wakanda is a wealthy country with seemingly endless resources.  He wants to share the wealth and make it possible for everyone to reap its benefits.  Of course, this brings a great hub-bub up to King T’Challa.  “If we take in people and their problems they wil soon become our problems as well.”  Sounds familiar.

Director Coogler, who directed Fruitvale Station and Creed, has once again filled his cast with an amazing set of actors.  Besides Boseman, who has played everyone from James Brown to Jackie Robinson to Thurgood Marshall on film recently, the cast contains recent Oscar winners Forest Whitaker and Nyong’o, as well as Academy Award nominee Bassett.  These films are meant to be taken serious and the cast more than delivers on that promise.  But these films are also meant to be fun, and with great visuals and a brilliant musical score, Black Panther more than fills the bill.

Film Review – “Hostiles”


Starring:  Christian Bale, Rosamund Pike and Wes Studi
Directed by:  Scott Cooper
Rated:  R
Running time:  2 hrs 14 mins
Entertainment Studios Motion Pictures


What would you do if you’d spent your entire adult life hating someone only to find that they are now your roommate? I’ll wait while you think up an answer.

A young husband (Scott Sheppard) is alerted by his wife (Pike) that there is a band of Native Americans approaching their homestead. The husband orders her and their young daughters to flee while he takes up his rifle. Sadly, he is no match for the marauding group, nor are his children. Terrified, the woman seeks refuge in the neighboring woods.

As things in Washington D.C. get progressive, Army Captain Joseph Blocker (Bale) looks forward to retiring soon. He has spent the majority of his military career hunting down (and killing) the Native Americans the government has deemed dangerous. Among them, was Chief Yellow Hawk (Studi), a Cheyenne who, along with his family, was captured by Blocker. Blocker is surprised to find out that the plight of the Native Americans has reached the cosmopolitan east coast of the country and that his last assignment will be to escort the Chief and his family safely to Montana, where he can live out his days as a free man. Blocker refuses, only relenting when he learns that to disobey will cost him his pension. To say he’s not happy is an understatement.

Scott Cooper has always been an entertaining filmmaker. Whether it’s the day to day life of singer Bad Blake in “Crazy Heart” or the bond of the Baze brothers in “Out of the Furnace,” he has a unique way of telling a story that makes the viewer feel they are part of the story. And he also knows how to get great performances out of his actors. Jeff Bridges won an Oscar for “Crazy Heart” and both Bale and Casey Affleck did some of their best work in “Furnace,” which is saying a lot since they both also have Oscars. Bale shines again here, as does the group of soldiers he takes with him on the mission, including Jesse Plemons, Jonathan Majors and newly Academy Award nominated Timothee Chalamet. Add to this group long time performers like Ben Foster and Scott Wilson, as well as the quiet, dignified Studi, and you have a cast that is more than up to the task. This also goes for Ms. Pike, who is found by Blocker’s party and taken into the group, with Blocker going out of his way to ensure her safety. Not for any ulterior motive but out of a sense of chivalry and decency.

Visually the film is beautifully shot, with director Cooper and DP Masanobu Takayanagi (“The Grey,” “Silver Linings Playbook”), along with composer Max Richter (television’s “Black Mirror”) painting portraits of the long ago countryside.

THE SHAPE OF WATER Dominates 90th Annual Academy Award Nominations


The Shape of Water, director Guillermo det Toro’s “fish out of water” love story, led all nominees when the nominations for the 90th Annual Academy Awards were announced this morning, receiving thirteen, including Best Picture and both Best Director and Best Original Screenplay for del Toro.


Other films with many nominations include Dunkirk (8),  Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (7), Phantom Thread (6) and Lady Bird (5).  All of those films were nominated in the
Best Picture category.  Other Best Picture nominees:  Call Me by Your Name, Darkest Hour, Get Out and The Post.


Director Christopher Nolan finally earned his first nomination in the Best Director category for his work on Dunkirk.  Joining him are del Toro, Jordan Peele (Get Out), Greta Gerwig (Lady Bird)
and Paul Thomas Anderson (Phantom Thread).


Best Actor nominees are Timothée Chalamet (Call Me by Your Name), Daniel Day-Lewis (Phantom Thread), Daniel Kaluuya (Get Out), Gary Oldman (Darkest Hour) and Denzel Washington (Roman J. Israel, Esq).  Missing from this list, in my opinion, is James Franco, whose work in The Disaster Artist, was nothing short of brilliant.


For Best Supporting Actor, the nominees are Willem Dafoe (The Florida Project), Woody Harrelson (Three Billboards), Richard Jenkins (The Shape of Water), Christopher Plummer (All the Money in the World) and Sam
Rockwell (Three Billboards).  This is Rockwell’s first nomination.  All of the other actors in this category have been nominated before, with Plummer winning the award for Beginners.  If he wins, I’m curious if Plummer will thank Kevin Spacey, who he replaced in the film.


Best Actress nods went to Sally Hawkins (The Shape of Water), Frances McDormand (Three Billboards), Margot Robbie (I, Tonya), Saoirse Ronan (Lady Bird) and Meryl Streep (The Post). Amazingly, this is Streep’s 20th Academy Award nomination, giving her eight more than 2nd place legends Katherine Hepburn and Jack Nicholson.


Best Supporting Actress nominees are Mary J. Blige (Mudbound), Allison Janney (I, Tonya), Lesley Manville (Phantom Thread), Laurie Metcalf (Lady Bird) and Octavia Spencer (The Shape of Water). Again, in my opinion, this list is missing Holly Hunter, who was so good in The Big Sick.


Speaking of multiple nominations, congratulations to composer John Williams, who earned his 51st nomination for his score for Star Wars: The Last Jedi.


For a complete list of nominations, click HERE


The 90th Annual Academy Awards will be presented on Sunday, March 4th

OSCAR images copyright AMPAAS

Film Review – “Call Me by Your Name”


Starring:  Armie Hammer and Timothee Chalamet
Directed by:  Luca Guadagnino
Rated:  R
Running time:  2 hrs 12 mins
Sony Pictures Classic


What is it about Italy that makes people fall in love?  Is it the weather?  The countryside?  The language?  I really don’t know.  I was only in Italy for a weekend and all I did was play softball.  But it was a beautiful country!

Elio (Chalamet) is a 17 year old musical wiz.  He lives with his parents in a small Italian town where the only signs of life are usually in the local tavern.  As summer begins, a car brings the tall, handsome Oliver (Hammer) to the house, where he will serve as Elio’s father’s research assistant.  Of course this means Elio having to move out of his room to another, which he eventually shrugs off.  Like Oliver, Elio and his family are Jewish, though they don’t go out of their way to announce it (according to Elio, his mother likes to say that they are “discretely” Jewish).  As the summer, and their friendship, progresses, they will discover they have much more in common.

A beautifully told story about discovering love, “Call Me by Your Name” is buoyed by the performance of its two lead actors.  Hammer, who you may remember as BOTH of the Winklevoss twins from “The Social Network,” shows a side I’ve never seen.  He makes Oliver both confident and unsure, worried that what is growing between he and Elio may harm the young man.  As Elio, Chalamet gives a true star-making performance, a boy, not yet a man, learning to deal with feelings he doesn’t understand.

The script, adapted from the Andre’ Acimen novel, is written by three-time Academy Award nominated director James Ivory, who was so instrumental in the success of films like “The Remains of the Day” and “Howards End.”  “Call Me by Your Name” actually plays like a Merchant/Ivory film – brilliantly performed and produced.  This is a story of love, though even those involved are unsure of its consequences.  As a character says in the film, “cinema is a mirror of reality and it is a filter.”  Just like life.

Theater Review – THE COLOR PURPLE – Kansas City

The Color Purple
The Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts – Kansas City, Missouri
January 16, 2018


Since it’s publication in 1983, Alice Walker’s “The Color Purple” has won many awards.  The Pulitzer.   A couple of Tonys.  Heck, if it wasn’t for some bizarre Steven Spielberg backlash the 1985 film version would have one a couple of Oscars.


The musical version of “The Color Purple” opened on Broadway in 2005, closing after running for over two years.  In 2016 the show returned to Broadway, where it won the Tony award for Best Revival of a Musical.  Now the show is on the road and it is definitely not one to miss.


The show begins in rural Georgia in 1909.  We meet sisters Nettie (N’jameh Camara) and Celie (Adrianna Hicks).  Nettie is smart and wants to be a teacher.  Celie has always been mistreated and is about to give birth to her second child – by her stepfather.  The baby is born and given away.  We meet Mister (an amazing Gavin Gregory), a widower looking to marry Nettie.  However, when told she is unavailable he settles for Celie, thinking of her not as a wife but as someone to raise his kids and clean his house.    Not exactly a honeymoon.


Powerfully told, “The Color Purple” is fairly faithful to the book and film many people will be familiar with.  Many of the familiar characters are here:  Sofia (Carrie Compere), Harpo (J. Daughtry), Squeak (Erica Durham) and, of course, the amazing Shug Avery (Carla R. Stewart).  The story is presented on a minimalistic stage, which consists mostly of a set of risers and a set of wooden chairs.  But the show moves smoothly (though a little slow in the first act) and the cast is amazing.  Both Ms. Hicks and Ms. Stewart have the power to bring down the house with their vocals.  As Sofia, my favorite character in every incarnation of this story, Ms. Compere is both funny and heartbreaking. And I must make special mention of Mr. Gregory, who manages to make a character as dark and seemingly heartless as Mister sympathetic.


If you’re familiar with the story, you will genuinely enjoy this production.  If you’re not, you need to take this opportunity to make it’s acquaintance.


The show is playing at the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts in Kansas City through January 21st.  For tickets and information on this show and future productions, click   HERE