Singer/Actor Lizzy Borden discusses his role in the new film “Die Influencers Die”

Lizzy Borden burst on to the Los Angeles heavy metal scene in the early 1980’s with their debut EP “Give ‘Em the Axe” and subsequent full-length release “Love You to Pieces”. The band also appeared in Penelope Spheeris rockumentary “The Decline of Western Civilization Part II: The Metal Years”. Media Mikes had the chance recently to talk with Lizzy about his newest movie titled “Die Influencers Die” where he plays a dark and sinister character known only as Otherworld-Coyote.  

Adam Lawton: Can you tell us how you got involved with the film “Die Influencers Die”?

Lizzy Borden: I was good friends with the director Gary Orona.  We both were moving to Las Vegas around the same time and he mentioned he was thinking of doing a move. He had asked if I would be in it and I said yes but, I was heading out on touring. While I was out on the road, they contacted me about the part and said that they were going to be doing table reads. I missed all of those and only had gotten the script about a day and a half before I was set to film. Everything just sort of happened while I was out with the band.

AL: What can you tell us about your character?

LB: It’s kind of weird because when I first got the script was trying to figure out how this character was involved with everything. There was no backstory for him, so I tried to figure out what his motives are. This character literally has no name and appears out of nowhere. I had to try and figure out how to really play this character. I thought of things like “Othello” and made this guy a real instigator. We have actually talked about doing another film that would explore this guy’s back story. There is just this unexplained nature about this guy that made it a lot of fun.

AL: Being there wasn’t a lot that was known about the character were given creative freedom or did the director have you stay within certain parameters?

LB: We knew this was going to be a supernatural character so I kind of knew where to take things, but I still didn’t know even what he was going to look like. On the first day of shooting, I had about five or six different looks we could go with for this character. Gary came in and the one you see is what he picked. When I then went into hair and makeup, they suggested I should just put a ton of gel in my hair. They put probably a half gallon of gel in there and it really sold the character and took it in another direction. We were kind of improvising. As far as the acting went when I looked at the lines it always seemed to me that he was screaming and very angry. I thought back to all of the great scenes where someone has portrayed being angry and those were usually done in a very calm way. I wanted to bring his presentation down to a whisper and if he did get angry, I wanted whoever else was in the scene to feel his intensity without me having to scream at the top of my lungs. I remember the first thing we shot with everyone there Gary asked to do a practice. We did the scene and he ended up getting really mad. I asked what was wrong and he was mad that he didn’t film it because it was so good. From then on, he filmed everything.

AL: At what point did the option to have a song in the film come up?

LB: That was an afterthought. The film was finished however it was taking awhile to release. It was originally supposed to go to either Netflix or Amazon Prime but there were some paperwork problems. We couldn’t even promote the film. Then Covid-19 hit. We had planned to do a red-carpet event in Las Vegas where we showed the movie and then my band would play. We had it booked and set up but then COVID-19 happened. We had done a soundtrack video for the film “The Decline of Western Civilization Part II: The Metal Years” that turned out really good and a lot of people got to see clips of the movie through that video, so we started with that same idea. It came down to a matter of picking the song and the scenes and we landed on “My Midnight Things” which is the title track from our last album.

AL: Can you tell us a little bit about the video for the song?

LB: The whole point of the video was to make a commercial for the movie. I really wanted to do something interesting and asked how could we do some new shots of me singing the song while also incorporating the scenes from the film. We talked about a lot of things and a bunch of those were unrelated to the movie. I wanted for the video to look like it was another part of the movie. We ended up using the same studio we filmed in and we also brought in green screens which was a lot of fun. Ultimately, we needed something to promote the film and help tap into people who might not normally go see a movie like this. Through the video they can get a good representation of the film through the four-minute video.

AL: When you perform with the band it is very theatrical. Did you notice any similarities in how you prepare for a live show and how you prepared for the film?

LB: It was almost identical. Other than memorizing lines that was the only thing. I had the lines, but it was all about the delivery. That is where my focus was. I do the same thing backstage when I am working on the show. I think about the previous night’s performances and what I liked or didn’t like and how I can make those things better. I do a lot of pacing. (Laughs) They gave me my own spot at the studio and I just wandered around between shots until they were ready for me.

AL: Having now done the movie do you think you will take what you learned from there and apply it to your live performances?

LB: I think so. There is a subtlety to it as my live shows are pretty over the top. What I got out this character is that there was nothing flamboyant about him in any way. I tend to try and pull out all of the stops with my shows but, maybe if I am in a support slot where I am not able to do that by having played this character, I know I can go out there in a stripped-down format and still deliver a highly theatrical and interesting show.

AL: In 2020 you released “Best of Lizzy Borden” Pt. 2 which included two newly recorded cover songs. (Blue Oyster Cult’s “Burnin’ for You” and The Ramones “Pet Sematary”) How did you go about selecting those songs being they are quite different from one another?

LB: Almost all of my influences are set in the 1970’s. They are all established, big bands which I saw when I was a kid, so they are just imbedded in my brain. I could have chosen two hundred songs! There are just so many good songs. Blue Oyster Cult is one of my favorites and definitely one of the top ten best song writers that I love. On an earlier record we recorded a cover of their song “This Ain’t the Summer of Love” as we had been playing it at our live shows. I originally wanted to do “Burnin’ for You” for the album but was out voted by the producer so that was a song I have been wanting to do. I am a huge Ramones fan and love all their work. I thought about all of their songs and a majority of them have to be done in a punk a style. “Pet Sematary” is one that you really don’t have to do that. We did a Halloween show at the Whiskey in Los Angeles and I had the band learn the song prior to the show and people loved it. That’s ultimately how it ended up getting chosen.

AL: With the uncertainty of 2021 are there any other projects that you are currently working on or have coming up?

LB: I am almost halfway completed with a new album. It is coming along but it is very slow. I can imagine this being one of the most favorite albums I have ever done. I still see myself doing four or five more but this one is coming together in a really fun way. I have never had more fun putting a record together. I am not sure how that will translate over to people responding to it but as far as making it I am really enjoying it. I have been doing one song at a time and am about halfway done. I have been getting show offers as well but it doesn’t make sense to me to book shows only to have them cancelled. I see others starting to get out there, so we have to just wait and see. Everyone is ready to go we just don’t want to book something and have to cancel.

AL: When you are writing do you do that all your self or is it a more collective effort?

LB: I do it differently for every record. I have done records in the past where I record everything myself. On this new album I am having the musicians replace what I have already put down with their performances. I will play all the parts then have Joey Scott add in drums and then we build from there. Usually, my vocals are done as well so we kind of work backwards. I like to hear how it sounds in my head rather than putting just a scratch track out there for everyone. A lot of time when you do that a song can change quite a bit and when you are all done its not what you had envisioned. This way I get my idea out there the way I want it and if someone adds something really great to what I have already played we will keep. So far with this record things have stayed pretty much the same as I wrote it.

For more info on Lizzy Borden, you can check out www.Lizzyborden.com

Film Review: “Godzilla vs Kong”

  • GODZILLA vs KONG
  •  Starring:  Godzilla, King Kong, Alexander Skarsgard
  • Directed by:  Adam Wingard
  • Rated:  PG 13
  • Running time:  1 hr 53 mins
  • Warner Bros.

It’s March.  Do you have your brackets ready?  Who are you picking?  Rodan?  Mothra?  Typhon?  How about King Ghidorah?  With a name like that, how can he lose?  Quite easily it turns out.

Off the coast of Florida an unusual creature emerges from the ocean.  It’s our old pal Godzilla and he’s pretty pissed.  As CNN reports the news, they question what turned this once “friendly” monster into a…well…MONSTER?

Meanwhile, on Skull Island, King Kong is just minding his own business when he suddenly finds himself captured and flat on his back on a barge on the ocean.  Destination?  I’m not telling.

Short on story but HUGE on special effects, “Godzilla vs Kong” is a perfect example of the mindless entertainment we need right now.  Sure, Skarsgard, Millie Bobby Brown and Kyle Chandler – who must really enjoying working with Mr. Kong since he also starred in Peter Jackson’s epic 2005 King Kong” – emote in all the right ways but come on, you came for the Titans!!

As the two title characters make their way towards the inevitable battle, they have some fun along the way, destroying cities and battling other badies.  Millions (conservative estimate) of innocent people are killed as entire city blocks full of apartment buildings are knocked over like dominoes.  But you don’t care about them – you cheer every punch and laser=breath blast, clearly taking sides in the Fight of the Century!

The film is well paced and the visual effects are amazing.  I just watched the original 1933 “King Kong” the other night and the effects here make the early stop-motion effects used in that film look like…well…early stop- motion effects.  The effects come courtesy of Peter Jackson’s WETA shop and are so clean you can count every hair on Kong’s back as the wind blows through it and every scale on Godzilla’s rather large body.

Sure, you could stay home this weekend and watch the basketball Final Four, or you can treat yourself to the Ultimate March Madness and see “Godzilla vs Kong!” 

Film Review: “The Violent Heart”

THE VIOLENT HEART

Starring: Jovan Adepo, Grace Van Patten

Directed by: Kerem Sanga

Rating: Unrated

Running Time: 1 HR 47 MINS

Gravitas Ventures 

The brutal murder of a young woman leaves a family in agony and for her little brother, an intense anger that while growing up is a powder keg ready to explode at any given moment. “The Violent Heart” is a dark crime drama with a dose of young romance that keeps your attention from start to finish. With fresh, young actors who have talent to spare and some nice twists and turns, “The Violent Heart” provides some nice entertainment for an evening at home. 

A nine-year-old boy named Daniel watches his older sister load a suitcase into a strange car and get in before it speeds off down the road in the middle of the night. Concerned, Daniel sets out after them on his motorbike. He spots the car sitting vacant on the side of the road. After shutting off his bike, Daniel hears voices in the nearby woods. Through the darkness, Daniel follows the sounds until he sees his sister and a man standing in a clearing. A pair of shots soon ring out and Daniel’s sister is dead. 

Fifteen years later, his sister’s unsolved murder hovers like a dark cloud above his family. Daniel (Jovan Adepo, “Fences”) now works as a mechanic while helping to take care of his mother (Mary J. Blige) and younger brother. However, he still desires a life in the Marine Corps like his father. On one fateful day, 18-year-old high school senior Cassie (Grace Van Patten, “The Meyerowitz Stories”) drops off her father’s car to be serviced. There is an instant attraction and a romance soon blossoms between them. 

Unlike Daniel, Cassie is close with her father, Joseph (Lukas Haas, “Inception”), who is an English teacher at her school. This fact makes an affair she uncovers all that much more devastating for her, but it does her closer to Daniel who has his own newfound struggles to deal with. Ultimately, “The Violent Heart” shows that no matter how deep secrets are buried, they seem to always rise back up to the surface. 

Written and directed by Karem Sanga (“First Girl I Loved”), “The Violent Heart” has steady pacing throughout with a pair of nice lead performances by Adepo and Van Patten. Adepo demonstrates solid depth as he portrays someone who erroneously fears that his life will amount to nothing if he does not get into the military. 

The film’s weaknesses can be found in a lack of serious relationship development between the characters within Daniel and Cassie’s immediate families. Therefore, we feel a sense of disconnection which makes it hard to be truly impacted when crisis hits the families towards the third act of the film. It is particularly disappointing that Daniel’s career military father is omitted from almost the entire story. 

Overall, “The Violent Heart” is well worth your time.

Film Review: “Sound of Metal”

  • SOUND OF METAL
  • Starring: Riz Ahmed, Olivia Cooke
  • Directed by: Darius Marder
  • Rated: R
  • Running Time: 2 hrs
  • Amazon Studios 

To be succinct, the Oscar-nominated drama “Sound of Metal” is a cinematic revelation which will sear itself into your memory. With six total Oscar nods, including Best Picture, “Sound of Metal” is a powerful story by first time, feature-length film director and co-writer Darius Marder. Riz Ahmed (“Venom”) in the lead delivers the best performance of the year with gritty and powerfully emotional acting as a man whose tenuous hold on sobriety is put to the test. 

Trying to make a go of it as the heavy metal duo Backgammon, Ruben Stone (Ahmed) and Lou Berger (Olivia Cooke, “Ready Player One”) travel across the United States from one small gig to another in their RV, which also serves as their home and studio. It is a grueling lifestyle, but the couple, who are recovering addicts, are devoted to their music no matter their circumstances. 

Without warning, Ruben begins to experience hearing loss, putting his role as the duo’s drummer in jeopardy. Eventually, Ruben is referred to a specialist who informs him that his hearing is deteriorating rapidly, and he will lose it permanently if he continues to perform. Angry, frustrated, and desperate not to lose his creative outlet, Ruben pushes forward anyway and tries to keep playing. 

Scared that Ruben’s volatility might lead him to return to his addiction, Lou tearfully convinces Ruben to stay at a rural shelter that treats recovering addicts who are deaf. Run by a mild-mannered Vietnam veteran (Paul Raci), the shelter is supposed to be a place for Ruben to find peace with his new condition. Despite learning sign language and establishing relationships, Ruben’s desperation to get cochlear implants, and return to Lou, threatens his newfound stability.

Also nominated for Best Film Editing, Sound and Original Screenplay, “Sound of Metal” is a masterful tale of a man trying to find his footing in a world that has been turned upside down. Marder places us in Ruben’s head by allowing us to hear what he is going through. It is a strong tool that punctuates his deafness and how he attempts to adapt to it. 

The emotions conveyed through the script are raw and brought with ferocity to the silver screen by Ahmed. Of course, Ahmed had a terrific co-star to bounce off of in the form of Cooke, who was snubbed horribly by the Academy in this writer’s humble opinion. They exchange a chemistry of the highest sincerity and her individual performance is just as remarkable. Last, but not least, Raci, a veteran TV series actor, is an absolute delight to watch as a genuinely good man who tries to show Ruben how he can overcome his challenges. 

Overall, “Sound of Metal” is a heavy work of brilliant, cinematic art.

Film Review: “Nobody”

  • NOBODY
  • Starring:  Bob Odenkirk, Connie Nielsen and Christopher Lloyd
  • Directed by:  Ilya Naishuller
  • Rated:  R
  • Running time: 1 hr 32 mins
  • Universal

BOB ODENKIRK – ACTION STSR!!!

Seriously.

A handcuffed man, his face badly bruised, sits across a table from two detectives.  They stare as he takes a can of cat food out of his pocket, then opens it.  They stare more as he pulls a kitten out of his jacket.  “Who are you,” they ask?

Hutch Mansell (Odenkirk) leads a pretty dull life.  Wake up.  Make breakfast. Jog. Catch the bus.  Go to work.  Come home.  Repeat.  The same dull life, day after day after day.  Until the day he hears a noise downstairs in the middle of the night.  He comes across a pair of burglars, who confront him.  Suddenly his teenage son tackles one of the baddies and Hutch has the opportunity to take out the other.  Instead he lets them go, drawing the ridicule of everyone from his neighbor to the cop that takes the report.  He catches more hell at work from his boss – also his father-in-law – (Michael Ironside) and his brother-in-law (Billy MacLellan).  He remains un-phased until his daughter notes that her kitty-cat bracelet is missing, innocently commenting that it must have been stolen.  This comment, despite the innocence in its mention, triggers something in Hutch, who heads out on a mission.  And what a mission it is.

Action-packed from beginning to end, “Nobody” is a true cousin to films like “Death Wish” (the Bronson one, not the horrible Bruce Willis remake) and “Straw Dogs.”  A film about a seemingly mild-mannered man who reaches his breaking point.  Only Mitch is much deadlier because he has a past.  An amazing past that puts him square on the top of the “People You Should Never Mess With” list.

Odenkirk, probably best known as Saul Goodman in the acclaimed series “Better Call Saul,” is a revelation here.  I’ve been a fan since he appeared with David Cross in “Mr Show with Bob and David” and have enjoyed his supporting work in films like “The Post” and “Nebraska” proves himself a capable leading man.  His is a character you keep learning things about, slowly understand how (and why) he is able to do what he does.  The supporting cast is also very good, including Nielsen as Hutch’s somehow understanding wife, Aleksey Serebryakov as a Russian mobster and the always entertaining Christopher Lloyd as Hutch’s father, who apparently has passed down some of the family skills. 

The film is perfectly paced – no slow spots and plenty of amazing action, all set to some great tunes that set the tone of the on-screen action.

ICONIC HORROR FILM SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT SLATED FOR REBOOT

Feature film will be coming down the chimney in 2022

Orwo Studios and Black Hanger Studios (JEEPERS CREEPERS: REBORN) announced today that they have acquired the remake rights to the seminal slasher film Silent Night, Deadly Night. The original film’s producers Scott Schneid and Dennis Whitehead of Wonderwheel Entertainment will join Orwo in bringing an exciting new vision of this cult classic to modern movie audiences in 2022. 

The project was brought to Orwo by producer Anthony Masi of MasiMedia. Schneid, Whitehead, and Masi will produce along with Jake Seal, Terry Bird, and Jamie R. Thompson of Orwo Studios/Black Hangar. Orwo Studios is financing and representing the film for worldwide sales rights. 

Declared as the most controversial film of the 80s – Silent Night, Deadly Night tells the story of a child who is traumatized after seeing his parents killed by a man dressed as Santa Claus. Years later, he dons a Santa suit himself and gets bloody revenge on the naughty list. 

Wonderwheel says, “The continued desire for horror content and the ongoing success of the genre meant it was the perfect time to be able to offer up this chilling revival of the iconic title.” Masi adds, “We are thrilled to be working with the original producers as well as Orwo and Black Hangar and are committed to honoring nostalgia for the original while offering surprises for new audiences to discover and embrace.”

Film Review “Adverse”

Movie title: Adverse
Director(s): Brian A. Metcalf
Actor(s): Thomas Nicholas, Mickey Rourke, Penelope Ann Miller
Release Date: February 12, 2021
Running Time: 1h 34min

Our Score 3.5 out of 5 stars

If I am not mistaken this is the third collaboration between Brian A. Metcalf and Thomas Nicholas after 2018’s Living Among Us and 2016’s The Lost Tree. Adverse definitely feels the largest on the scale of the three. Having seen all three films, I can honestly say that Adverse is the most mature film to date as well. Adverse is a slow burn thriller, very slow burn but its worth it for the wild third act. The studio released a trailer that hypes this film up as an action thriller but that is not what you are going to get and is misleading. Watch this trailer below for a real look at what you should expect from this film. Either way, it’s worth sticking with.

Here is the official premise for the film “Struggling to make ends meet, rideshare driver Ethan (Nicholas) learns his sister Mia is deep in debt to a sleazy drug dealer. When Mia goes missing, Ethan discovers that crime boss Kaden (Rourke) is behind the act, and to get close to him Ethan takes a job as Kaden’s driver. One by one Ethan hunts down members of Kaden’s crew to wreak bloody vengeance as he prepares to confront Kaden himself.”

I mean for an indie film this does definitely pack a cast including Thomas Nicholas (Rookie of the Year, American Pie), Sean Astin (The Goonies, The Lord of the Rings), Andrew Keegan (7th Heaven, 10 Things I Hate About You), Lou Diamond Phillips (La Bamba, Young Guns), Penelope Ann Miller (The Artist, Carlito’s Way), Matt Ryan (Constantine, The Flash) and last but not least Mickey Rourke (The Wrestler, Sin City). The director himself, Brian A. Metcalf, also carved himself a role as well. So there is no shortage of talent here.

Thomas Nicholas definitely delivers his most bad ass role yet. I mean this guy means business and I would want to be on this guys bad side. He is quite handy with a crowbar! I felt bad for Mickey Rouke honestly, he looked like he was hobbling around from scene to scene. He delivered his lines on point though.

Adverse is not just a slow burn thriller, it has some good surprises throughout. Flashback scenes are rather intense and the action scenes can be quite brutal. The visual effects for the gore could have used some work but for this it works well enough. Overall if you are looking for a 90 minute rollercoaster ride with a great cast throughout, I would definitely recommend watching Adverse.

Film Review: “STALLONE: Frank That Is”

  • STALLONE: AS IN FRANK
  • Starring:  Frank Stallone, Sylvester Stallone and Richie Sambora
  • Directed by: Derek Wayne Johnson
  • Rated:  Not Rated
  • Running time:  1 hr 13 mins
  • Branded Studios.

I love me some Frank Stallone.

I was first introduced to his music when his group, Valentine, appeared as the street-corner singers in the Academy Award winning film “Rocky.”  I played the soundtrack album to death and one of my favorite tracks is Stallone’s song “Take You Back.”  He also contributed to and performed several songs for the film “Staying Alive,” including the top 10 hit “Far From Over,” which earned him Grammy and Golden Globe nominations for best motion picture song.  Criminally it was NOT nominated for an Oscar, the category that year being overtaken with songs from “Flashdance” and “Yentl.”

As an actor, Stallone has turned in fine work in films like “Barfly,” “Hudson Hawk” (a guilty pleasure of mine) and “Tombstone” (he is the card player that accuses Doc Holiday of cheating early on in the film).  With all of these achievements you’d think he would be a household name like his brother, Sylvester.  Unfortunately despite his talents, that is one shadow he has never been able to escape.  Until now.  Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome…Frank Stallone.

This entertaining documentary begins with Frank Stallone in the next phase of his career…doing big band songs.  Dressed to the nines, and sporting a pair of Frank Sinatra’s cuff links, he takes the stage to great applause.  He is in fine voice and the crowd loves him.  We learn that he always had a love for music and, when he caught Elvis Presley on television, vowed to make it his career.

Growing up in Philadelphia he played in a couple of different bands.  He then formed Valentine, a band with several different line-ups (the third version is the one that appeared in “Rocky.”)  Along the way he worked with both Darryl Hall and John Oates, who played guitar in Valentine 2.  In a conversation with Oates we learn that, after he left the band he hooked up with Hall.

Having a song in the most popular film of 1976 should have been a ticket for musical stardom for Stallone and his group.  Unfortunately, when the band had a gig it was often introduced as “Frank Stallone and Valentine,” much to Stallone’s chagrin.  The shadow of his movie star brother followed Frank as a solo artist, with newspaper ads touting him as “Sylvester Stallone’s Brother, Frank.”  One club announced his appearance by simply noting that “Rocky’s Brother” was playing.

But it isn’t just music that Stallone does well.  We learn he is also an accomplished boxer and, as I noted, a fine actor.  Unlike some “actors” who only get cast because they have more famous family members – I’m looking at YOU, Joey Travolta.  You too, Don Swayze – Stallone never used his brother as a stepping stone.  In fact, sometimes the name was a curse.

As the film progresses we are treated to a bevy of Frank’s friends, touting his talents.  Among them are big brother /Sly, Billy Dee Williams, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Talia Shire – who can understand Frank’s frustration at being known as someone’s brother (her maiden name is Coppola, as in Francis Ford, and she wanted to be judged on her talents, not get a job because of who her brother is) and Steven Bauer.  Attesting to his musical talents you have such musical icons as Bon Jovi guitarist Richie Sambora, Guns and Roses bassist Duff McKagen and the ever-young Frankie Avalon. 

If you’re looking for a film in which the underdog keeps fighting, and you’ve already seen “Rocky” a hundred times, I hope you give “Stallone: Frank That Is” a look. 

Film Review: “On the Rocks”

ON THE ROCKS

Starring: Bill Murray, Rashida Jones

Directed by: Sofia Coppola

Rating: Rated R

Running Time: 1 hr 36 mins

American Zoetrope 

There is nothing rocky about the dramatic comedy “On the Rocks” as comedian/thespian extraordinaire Bill Murray delivers a superb performance as a wealthy, partly retired art dealer with a penchant for the playboy lifestyle. Arguably his best role since 2014’s “St. Vincent,” this marks the third time Murray has teamed up with filmmaker Sofia Coppola – 2015’s “A Very Murray Christmas” and 2003’s “Lost in Translation,” which garnered her an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay. Murray received a Best Actor nomination for that collaboration and deserves another for this one. 

In “On the Rocks,” which made its world premiere last September at the New York Film Festival, Laura (Rashida Jones) is a successful yet mild mannered New York novelist who is currently experiencing a severe case of writer’s block. A devoted wife and mother of two young daughters, Laura is often on her own as her husband, Dean (Marlon Wayans) is typically away trying to launch his startup tech company. Troubling signs, like a woman’s travel bag in Dean’s luggage, give Laura pause. 

Worried that an increasingly absent Dean could be cheating on her, Laura calls her father, Felix Keane (Murray) for advice. This seems to be a bad idea as we soon learn that Felix, who years ago left Laura’s mother for another woman, believes all men are hard wired in their genetic code to cheat. With all sorts of conspiracy theories, Felix becomes convinced that Dean is having an affair with an assistant despite a lack of concrete evidence. His paranoia, though, feeds into Laura’s concerns and she starts to think her marriage is on the rocks. 

Murray is a perfect fit for his somewhat eccentric character who proves to be one of those rare people who can charm almost anyone. His natural delivery and timing is spot-on, and it often feels like his lines are more often improvised than not. The chemistry he shares with Jones is terrific and their scenes are consequently performed effortless ease. This is best magnified during a casual lunch scene and a more dramatic one later involving a serious emotional confrontation. The latter is given a dash of gravitas as Murray throughout the film subtly infuses Felix with a complexity and fragility that lies below his flirtatious, playboy façade. 

Perhaps best known for her TV series work on “Parks and Recreation” and “The Office,” Jones holds her own as she delivers a nice, consistent performance throughout the film. Her character’s relationship with Dean could have been explored more thoroughly to help enhance depth to the married couple’s relationship, and therefore a better understanding of their issues. However, “On the Rocks” is much more of a father/daughter story than a husband/wife one. It is one that should not be missed.

Film Review: “Promising Young Woman”

  • PROMISING YOUNG WOMAN
  • Starring: Carey Mulligan, Bo Burnham
  • Directed by: Emerald Fennell
  • Rating: Rated R
  • Running Time: 1 hr 53 mins
  • Focus Features 

Former Academy Award nominee Carey Mulligan (“An Education”) delivers the performance of her career in the inventive crime drama “Promising Young Woman.” Written and directed by British actress Emerald Fennell, “Promising Young Woman,” which marks Fennell’s first attempt as the creative force behind a feature length film, is a well-crafted tale of revenge by a woman scarred by the tragic loss of her best friend.

 The night is getting late at a local bar where three single men spot Cassandra “Cassie” Thomas (Mulligan) sitting alone at a booth. She appears to be so drunk that she cannot sit up or see straight. The supposed “nice guy” of the three jumps in to save her but betrays who he pretends to be by taking Cassie to his apartment where he attempts take advantage of her. Much to his shock and fear, Cassie suddenly reveals she has been faking inebriation. What she does to him exactly we do not know, but we do see her make a mark in a ledger she keeps that also contains the names of predatory men she has turned the tables on.

 We soon learn that 30-year-old Cassie lives with her parents (Jennifer Coolidge, “2 Broke Girls” and Clancy Brown, “The Shawshank Redemption”) and that she has worked at a coffee shop ever since she dropped out of medical school several years earlier. Her decision came in the wake of her best friend, Nina being raped in school and no one believing her, which ultimately led to her friend’s suicide. Cassie is clearly a broken soul full of rage against most of humanity, especially anyone male excepting her doting father.

 During the process of going after those who she most blames for her best friend’s death, Cassie meets Dr. Ryan Cooper (Bo Burnham, “The Big Sick”), a former medical school classmate who awkwardly asks her out on a date. Things move slowly at first, but a romance does unexpectedly develop. It goes so well, that Cassie decides to move on with her life, especially after a conversation with Nina’s mother. However, a ghost from the past reveals an old bit of information that turns the story on its head. 

“Promising Young Woman” made its world premiere on January 25, 2020 at the Sundance Film Festival but its release had to be postponed until this past Christmas weekend thanks to COVID-19. Except for a couple of brief, poorly done supporting performances near the climatic end, the cast surrounding Mulligan does a solid job with the script and Fennell keeps us wondering where exactly she is going to take us. The material is dark yet remains engrossing.

 

Film review: “Promising Young Woman”Starring: Carey Mulligan, Bo BurnhamDirected by: Emerald FennellRating: Rated RRunning Time: 113 minutesFocus Features Former Academy Award nominee Carey Mulligan (“An Education”) delivers the performance of her career in the inventive crime drama “Promising Young Woman.” Written and directed by British actress Emerald Fennell, “Promising Young Woman,” which marks Fennell’s first attempt as the creative force behind a feature length film, is a well-crafted tale of revenge by a woman scarred by the tragic loss of her best friend. The night is getting late at a local bar where three single men spot Cassandra “Cassie” Thomas (Mulligan) sitting alone at a booth. She appears to be so drunk that she cannot sit up or see straight. The supposed “nice guy” of the three jumps in to save her but betrays who he pretends to be by taking Cassie to his apartment where he attempts take advantage of her. Much to his shock and fear, Cassie suddenly reveals she has been faking inebriation. What she does to him exactly we do not know, but we do see her make a mark in a ledger she keeps that also contains the names of predatory men she has turned the tables on. We soon learn that 30-year-old Cassie lives with her parents (Jennifer Coolidge, “2 Broke Girls” and Clancy Brown, “The Shawshank Redemption”) and that she has worked at a coffee shop ever since she dropped out of medical school several years earlier. Her decision came in the wake of her best friend, Nina being raped in school and no one believing her, which ultimately led to her friend’s suicide. Cassie is clearly a broken soul full of rage against most of humanity, especially anyone male excepting her doting father. During the process of going after those who she most blames for her best friend’s death, Cassie meets Dr. Ryan Cooper (Bo Burnham, “The Big Sick”), a former medical school classmate who awkwardly asks her out on a date. Things move slowly at first, but a romance does unexpectedly develop. It goes so well, that Cassie decides to move on with her life, especially after a conversation with Nina’s mother. However, a ghost from the past reveals an old bit of information that turns the story on its head. “Promising Young Woman” made its world premiere on January 25, 2020 at the Sundance Film Festival but its release had to be postponed until this past Christmas weekend thanks to COVID-19. Except for a couple of brief, poorly done supporting performances near the climatic end, the cast surrounding Mulligan does a solid job with the script and Fennell keeps us wondering where exactly she is going to take us. The material is dark yet remains engrossing. Mulligan is nothing short of spectacular in a role that requires her to dwell in a painful place filled with darkness and anguish. She deftly switches between her character’s wide-ranging emotions with the ease of someone who has become an expert at their craft. Mulligan is nothing short of mesmerizing as she elevates “Promising Young Woman” to a different level.

She deftly switches between her character’s wide-ranging emotions with the ease of someone who has become an expert at their craft. Mulligan is nothing short of mesmerizing as she elevates “Promising Young Woman” to a different level.

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! 

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 “News of the World”

Directed by: Paul Greengrass
Starring: Tom Hanks, Helena Zengel
Distributed by: Universal Pictures
Release date: December 25, 2020
Running time: 118 minutes

Our Score: 4 out of 5 stars

It’s funny when you watch a trailer , you either know you are going to like the movie or you don’t. When I first saw the trailer to “News of the World”, I thought to myself this might not be a movie for me. When I see something that Tom Hanks is starring in I usually see it without even thinking twice but a Western didn’t really seem to catch my attention. “News of the World” reunites Hanks with Paul Greengrass for the first time since their 2013 Best Picture nominee Captain Phillips. This duo makes for cinematic gold. This is film that has grown on me since watching it and I have a feeling I will be having a repeat viewing very soon. It is such a pleasant surprise when you find a film that you really enjoy and that grows on you after watching it.

Tom Hanks delivers yet another fantastic dramatic performance. Alongside his young co-star Helena Zengel, who also does an amazing job in her English language film debut. I hope to see more of her as she develops her career in film. Throughout this film, it follows the two of them as they form a great relationship even with not being able to communicate together. I really enjoyed how it develops over the near two hour running time. The film is a little slow paced but delivers some excellent tension and action throughout. You find yourself sitting on the edge of your chair at certain parts for sure. Usually I am not a big fan of Westerns but this one definitely delivers.

Official Premise: Five years after the end of the Civil War, Captain Jefferson Kyle Kidd (Tom Hanks), a veteran of three wars, now moves from town to town as a non-fiction storyteller, sharing the news of presidents and queens, glorious feuds, devastating catastrophes, and gripping adventures from the far reaches of the globe. In the plains of Texas, he crosses paths with Johanna (Helena Zengel), a 10-year-old taken in by the Kiowa people six years earlier and raised as one of their own. Johanna, hostile to a world she’s never experienced, is being returned to her biological aunt and uncle against her will. Kidd agrees to deliver the child where the law says she belongs. As they travel hundreds of miles into the unforgiving wilderness, the two will face tremendous challenges of both human and natural forces as they search for a place that either can call home.

The filming took place in Santa Fe, New Mexico and let me tell you that it is a beautiful location. Some of the landscapes in the film really are stunning. The film opens up into some amazing shots of New Mexico. Top that we an amazing score from composer James Newton Howard and we get easily a contender for one of 2020’s best films of the year. 2020 has been a hell of a year for the film industry but this one definitely stands out above the rest.

“News of the World” is an adaptation of a novel by Paulette Jiles and after watching this film, I am definitely interested in checking out the book that it was based on. This film definitely reminds me that I need to be open minded when I watch a trailer and believe that a film could have a good life outside the trailer. Let’s just say that if the Oscars do happen next year, that Hanks has a very good shot at that Best Actor award…if for nothing else he should be nominated because this role is definitely worthy of it. Come this Christmas day, I would highly recommend that you head out to your local theaters (hopefully it is open) and see this film on the big screen!

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.