CD Review: Masked Intruder “III”

“III”

Masked Intruder

Pure Noise Records

Producers: Roger Lima/Mike Kennerty

Tracks: 12

Our Score: 4 out of 5 stars

Masked Intruder return with the follow up release to their 2016 EP “Love and Other Crimes” simply titled “III” the album consists of 12 brand new tracks which were produced by Roger Lima (Less Than Jake) and Mike Kennerty (All American Rejects) at The Moat House in Gainesville, FL. “III” is the bands second release and first full-length album to be released via Pure Noise Records.

Intruder Red, Yellow, Blue and Green are back terrorizing your neighborhood with their latest album “III” but, have no fear Officer Bradford is in hot pursuit attempting to retrieve your valuables. Packed full of tongue and cheek lyrics and pogo ensuing punk rhythms “III” is an enjoyable listen from beginning to end. Tracks like “No Case” and “I’m Free (At Last)” are spewing over with energy and laughable subject matter while tracks like “All Of My Love” and “Stay With Me Tonight” cover more emotional topics set perfectly against the bands signature pop-punk style.

If you had a chance to catch the band on one of their many recent tours then you already know just how fun the band is live. “III” captures that same energy and enjoyment over the course of its twelve tracks giving you that same experience listen after listen. The only thing missing is a partially dressed Officer Bradford as the colorfully masked four piece have taken their musicality to another level with their latest offering.        

Track Listing:

1.) No Case

2.) Mine All Mine

3.) All of My Love

4.) Just So You Know

5.) I’m Free (At Last)

6.) Please Come Back To Me

7.) B & E

8.) Maybe Even

9.) Not Fair

10.) Stay With Me Tonight

11.) Dream a Little Dream

12.) I’ll Be Back Again Someday

Film Review: “Us”

  • US
  • Starring:  Lupita Nyong’o, Winston Duke and Elisabeth Moss
  • Directed by:  Jordan Peele
  • Rated: R
  • Running time:  1 hr 56 mins
  • Universal Pictures

It used to be that, when I thought of Jordan Peele, I thought of his character, Raffi, the baseball player who used to over congratulate his teammates by yelling “Slap Ass!” and whacking them on the backside.  Then he won an Oscar.  Which means when I sat down to watch Peele’s newest creation, “Us,” my expectations had been raised.  And, wow, was I not disappointed.  In this reviewer’s humble opinion, Peele has created a new horror masterpiece.

1986.  A time of movies on VHS tapes and Hands Across America (which I actually participated in).  It’s a beautiful night on the boardwalk as little Adelaide Wilson (Madison Curry) and her parents take a stroll.  Her mother excuses herself, reminding her husband to watch the little girl.  He doesn’t and the little girl wanders down to the beach, where she enters a house of mirrors.

Not the best place to lose yourself.

There is so much I want to tell you about this film, but to do so would spoil one hell of a night at the movies.  Like his Oscar-winning debut film, “Get Out,” Peele has found a way to combine drama, humor and horror in such a perfect way that I found myself, literally, on the edge of my seat during the screening.  I haven’t done that since I was 16 and snuck into a re-issue of “The Exorcist.”

To even go into slight detail about the performances would be a major spoiler so I will just say that, like “Get Out,” Peele has assembled an amazing cast with much to do and many ways to do it.  Peele’s direction is fluid, keeping the story moving at an almost breakneck pace.  During the end credits he thanks many of the filmmakers he admires, including Steven Spielberg, whose work obviously influenced some of the shots in the film.  And, if I could, I’d give the film an extra star for dressing one of the characters in a JAWS shirt!

Don’t walk, run to the theatre to see “Us.”  And be prepared to run some more!

Film Review: “Birds of Passage”

 
BIRDS OF PASSAGE
Starring: Carmiña Martinez, José Acosta
Directed by: Cristina Gallego, Ciro Guerra
Rated: Unrated
Running Time: 125 minutes
The Orchard
 

Operating with dangerous impunity from roughly 1976-93, the infamous Medellín Cartel of Colombia was once among the most powerful and notorious drug trafficking organizations in the Western Hemisphere. While it is hard to tell how much is fact, or fiction, the Colombian entry in this year’s Academy Awards, “Birds of Passage,” which did not make the final cut of five, does take us back to the humble origins of the drug trade in the years just prior to the Medellín Cartel’s savage rise. From the late 1960s to the late 1970s, “Birds of Passage” paints an intriguing, although uninspired picture of the native Wayuu people and how a desire to pay for a dowry turned into a bloodbath heated by blind revenge.

If you have never heard of them, the Wayuu are a Native American people from the Guajira Peninsula, straddling northern Columbia and northwestern Venezuela. Unlike many other native groups, the Wayuu were never fully conquered by the Spanish thanks in large part to their adaptation of using guns and horses. Their indomitable spirit is still reflected in the matrilineal society we are introduced to in the late 1960s when Zaida (Natalia Reyes, who is set to co-star in “Terminator: Dark Fate”), the daughter of protective clan leader Úrsula (Carmiña Martínez), is ceremoniously presented as being ready for marriage.

Rapayet (José Acosta) is a single man who announces his desire to marry Zaida through a “word messenger.” However, the dowry is steep. While contemplating his quandary, the unemotional Rapayet and his friend Moisés (Jhon Narváez) encounter some American Peace Corps members who are looking to score weed to take back to the United States. Rapayet seizes the opportunity and convinces his older cousin Aníbal (Juan Bautista Martínez) to harvest some whacky weed for the gringos. Not only do the profits allow him to pay the dowry, much to the chagrin of Úrsula who disapproves of Rapayet, but they also provide everyone involved a way to become filthy rich.

Greed begets power and power begets violence as Rapayet’s influence grows, but a pivotal moment involving the hot-headed Moisés has vicious repercussions for years to come. Additionally, the ancient traditions of Úrsula’s clan come under increasing attack from the new times they live in. It all comes to a bloody head that is reminiscent of something straight out of “The Godfather,” “Scarface,” or virtually any other organized crime-type of drama. And that’s a major problem with the film.

Directed by Cristina Gallego and Ciro Guerra, who previously worked together on the 2015 drama “Embrace of the Serpent,” “Birds of Passage” does contain a terrific, Shakespearean tragedy at its core. It is saddening to witness the meteoric rise and epic downfall of both a family and an ancient culture all at the hands of the illegal drug trade. However, it’s boringly predictable and the characters are stereotypes. Furthermore, the acting varies between being wooden and over-the-top with pacing that is sluggish at times. Take a pass on “Birds of Passage.”

CD Review: Teenage Bottlerocket “Stay Rad”

“Stay Rad”

Teenage Bottlerocket

Fat Wreck Chords

Producer: Andrew Berlin

Tracks: 14

Our Score: 4 out of 5 stars

Formed in Wyoming in 2000, Teenage Bottlerocket were rad when they released their debut album, “Another Way”, in 2003 and almost two decades – as the title of this eighth studio album suggests – they remain just as rad. Following on from 2017’s “Stealing The Covers” these 14 short, snappy and stylish punk songs are centered around the songwriting chops of guitarists/vocalists Ray Carlisle and Kody Templeman and overflow with Teenage Bottlerocket’s typical mix of humor and poignancy, silliness and melancholy.  “Stay Rad” is being released via Fat Wreck Chords and was produced by Andrew Berlin and is the first album of original material that the band – completed with bassist Miguel Chen and drummer Darren Chewka following the death of former drummer and Ray’s twin brother Brandon in 2015.

When you think of Wyoming you don’t often think of punk rock however since the early 2000’s Teenage Bottlerocket have been trying their darnedest to change that. The band’s latest release “Stay Rad” is a fast past 14 track rocker reminiscent of early Ramones albums. Songs like the albums opener “You Don’t Get the Joke” and “Anti-Social Media” hit society right between the eyes with their tongue and cheek lyrics about the need to fit in and social media addiction while tracks like “Everything to Me” and “Little Kid” go deeper emotionally discussing the bond between father and son and the loss of a loved one. While the subject matter varies in seriousness one thing that is consistent is the band’s blistering pace. The albums fourteen tracks clock in at just over thirty minutes wasting no time with drawn out interludes or repetitiveness

From beginning to end “Stay Rad” offers listeners a high energy, fast paced album that is really enjoyable. Even the albums more serious moments are set to catchy beats which do a great job balancing things out while not taking away from the sons meaning. The guys in Teenage Bottlerocket really brought it with their latest offering so do yourself a favor and pickup a copy.

Track Listing:

1.) You Don’t Get the Joke

2.) Death Kart

3.) Everything to Me

4.) I Wanna Be a Dog

5.) Night of Knuckleheads

6.) Creature From the Black Metal Lagoon

7.) Anti-Social media

8.) Wild Hair (Across My Ass)

9.) The First Time That I Did Acid Was The Last Time That I Did Acid

10.) I Want to Kill Clint Carlin

11.) I’ll Kill You Tomorrow

12.) Stupid Song

13.) Little Kid

14.) I Never Knew

Film Review: “Finding Steve McQueen”

FINDING STEVE McQUEEN

Starring:  Travis Fimmell, Rachael Taylor and Willian Fichtner

Directed by:  Mark Steven Johnson

Rated: R

Running time:  1 hr 31 mins

Momentum Pictures

1980.  In a small California town, Harry Barber (Fimmell) has something to confess to Holly (Taylor), his girlfriend of seven years.  Holly thinks a break-up is coming but it’s more like a stick-up.  You see, Harry is a bank robber.

Based on a true story, “Finding Steve McQueen” is one of the smaller films that often get overshadowed by the latest offerings from the Marvel Cinematic Universe.  Through flashbacks we find Harry back in 1972 (who Molly knows as John) working in his Uncle Enzo’s factory, along with his younger brother, Tommy (Jake Weary).  The factory is a front for Enzo (played by the always fun to watch Fichtner), who is, for lack of a better word, the “boss” of Youngstown, Ohio.  Enzo has learned from a friend that President Richard Nixon, who Enzo is definitely not a fan of, has squirreled away $30 million in campaign funds in a bank not far from San Clemente (the Western White House).  Eager for a big score, and the chance to stick it to the President, Enzo and his team, including Harry and Tommy, journey west to pull off what Enzo believes will be the perfect crime.  After all, if someone steals the President’s dirty money, who can he call?

The film is both clever and, if you’re a fan of the 1970s, nostalgic.  The script, by Ken Hixon and Keith Sharon, moves sharply through the decade, taking time to introduce things like hot tubs and historic characters.  When the F.B.I. bureau chief (Oscar winner Forest Whitaker) gets a visit from his boss, Mark Felt (John Finn), you can’t help but smile when Felt tells him to read an article in the Washington Post written by “a couple reporters named Woodward and Bernstein.”  For those who don’t remember their history, Felt was the infamous “Deep Throat” who led Woodward and Bernstein to their Pulitzer Prize.

Director Johnson keeps the story moving and kudos as well to whoever picked the songs that accompany the on-screen action.  They helped set a perfect tone for a film that doesn’t need someone in Spandex to make it entertaining.

Kansas City Theater Review: “Anastasia”

REVIEW by DAN LYBARGER

ANASTASIA Music Hall, Kansas City, MO March 12, 2019

If The Lion King and Aladdin work as stage plays because they remind audiences the joy they experienced watching the original animated movies, the makers of Anastasia succeed because the original 1997 cartoon, while enjoyable, isn’t a classic.

Don Bluth and Gary Goldman’s animated film has some gorgeous 2D animation, but their reworking of the legend of Anna Anderson, who falsely claimed to be Russian Tsar Nicholas II’s youngest daughter had a problematic story.

For example, the chief villain was an undead version of Rasputin (voiced by Christopher Lloyd), who had difficulty keeping his rotting body in one piece. Despite the G-rating the film had, it disturbed some of the children and even adults who watched it.

For those with stronger memories, the cartoon also incorporated some ideas from Anatole Litvak’s 1956 movie, with served as a powerful comeback for Ingrid Bergman, after her affair with Roberto Rossellini almost ended her career.


The new musical adaptation, which debuted on March 12 at the Music Hall in Kansas City, keeps some of the characters from the original tale but reworks the plot extensively. Thanks to playwright Terrence McNally (Love! Valor! Compassion!Master Class), Rasputin is gone, and a more credible antagonist has taken his place. This time around, the Bolsheviks are eager to stamp out rumors that the Grand Duchess Anastasia survived the chaotic mass execution that took place in 1918.

Nearly a decade later, a Party operative named Gleb (Jason Michael Evans) is trying to remove all traces of the royal family, but a pair of con artists named Dmitry (Stephen Brower) and Vlad (Edward Staudenmayer) are hoping to capitalize on whatever is left of the dynasty.

With the Soviet economy unable to deliver the prosperity the Revolution promised, the two hope that if they can find a suitable impostor to pose as Anastasia, they can collect a finder’s fee that will set them up for life in Paris. While streetwalkers of Leningrad can’t pass themselves as royalty the way Vlad can, a street sweeper named Anya (Lila Coogan) might.

She’s in Leningrad after having been discharged from a hospital in Odessa. She’s got no memory of her life before the Revolution, so it’s easier for Dmitry and Vlad to teach her how mingle at what’s left of the Russian court in Paris, and the amnesia conveniently explains why she hasn’t bothered to claim what’s left of the Romanov fortune.

Now, all the three of them must do is escape the draconian Leningrad authorities and convince the bereaved and highly skeptical Dowager Empress (Joy Franz) that Anya is the Grand Duchess.

Neither is a simple task.

The chief selling point of Bluth and Goldman’s cartoon was its gorgeous visuals, and the current production features several delicious bits of eye candy.

Thanks to sliding panels and rear projection, Anastasia leaps from the Tsar’s palace to an intimidating Bolshevik office to a moving train to the elegant streets of 1920s Paris. While Anastasia might have been enjoyable with the cast simply wailing and hoofing, the lightning fast scene changes and bits of action, keep the play moving briskly.

The play gains momentum in the second act as Vlad uses his old contact Countess Lily (Tari Kelly) to help him set up a meeting with the Dowager Empress. Now that the long exposition is over, the story becomes more engaging. It doesn’t hurt that Coogan can play both a princess and a waif with equal finesse and belts out Stephen Flaherty and Lynn Aherns’ songs effortlessly.

She may be small, but she can easily dominate the stage.

The cast handle Flaherty’s demanding score well, although it’s hard to imagine any of the tunes catching on outside of the play, although “Once Upon a December” is certainly haunting, especially with images of ghosts projected behind the actors.

As a lifelong obsessive over the fall of the Romanovs, I often have to remind myself to let movies and plays about them play on their own terms. Anna Anderson, who was the best-known impostor to pretend to be the ill-fated Grand Duchess, had some believers, but DNA tests in the 1990s proved she had no claim on the lost throne. Her dark and twisted odyssey would make a great movie or play, but it wouldn’t make much of a family musical.

That said, the story of an amnesiac princess is inherently engrossing because we all wonder if there is something more to our lives than our memories let on.

There is no mystery to whether any royalty emerged from the massacre alive, but there is a deep well of stories about the end of the dynasty. It’s seemingly inexhaustible.

Film Review: “Climax”

Starring: Sofia Boutella, Kiddy Smile and Roman Guillermic
Directed by: Gaspar Noe
Rated: R
Running Time: 96 minutes
A24

Usually for arthouse films, you hear the phrase, “This may not be for everyone.” When it comes to Gaspar Noe films, they may not be for anyone. Having only seen “Enter the Void,” out of curiosity on Netflix one night, my second trip into Noe’s twisted mind comes in the form of a dance troupe’s celebration before heading out on an international tour. They got the jams, they got the drinks, and they got the food. However, an uninvited guest is about to crash their party.

The jubilation slowly turns into a horrifying mystery as members of the young French dance team suspect someone has spiked their sangria with drugs. Things decline quickly as the LSD takes hold, leading to arguments, more dancing, graphic violence, more dancing, deaths, more dancing, graphic sex and more dancing. Luckily for audience members that might not have the stomach for Noe’s twisted vision, he never comes off as an edgelord looking to exploit his characters for ghoulish fun. Instead he’s more transfixed on how an eclectic group of young 20-somethings in the mid-90’s quickly turn on each other or flock into unsuspecting arms when their perceptions deteriorate.

“Climax” doesn’t abide by any cinematic rules, as it begins with the film’s end credits, then fixates on an old box TV that plays VHS interview tapes of all the dancers we’re about to meet. After every character’s brief introduction, the film switches to the old abandoned school where the madness goes down, beginning with a lengthy dance sequence, all within a single take. There’s actually quite a few single takes in the film, some that would make Alejandro Inarritu scratch his head in curiosity as to how it was pulled off.

A movie like this in anyone else’s hands would be boring, but Noe keeps you transfixed to the screen as he flies seamless and methodically around the school, like a curious specter watching the pure bedlam unfold. There’s genuine dread as several scenarios are left to playout as the LSD amplifies character’s primal instincts. It’s in these moments that you realize that despite our best attempts to do good for the benefit of society, self-preservation will kick in or we’ll resort to our most basic animal instincts. Of course it’s entirely possible that you’ll take away a different experience or viewpoint.

Much of the film is made even more impressive by the tidbit that the cast is made up of professional dancers, not professional actors. We never see the hallucinations from their point of view, but the pain or pleasure is etched all over their faces. The only person of note in this film is Sofia Boutella, and even she gets lost in the group theatrics. In several interviews, Noe has discussed his love of dance. Not as a participant, but more as an observer. “Climax” is almost like his theatrical version of people watching. “Climax” takes that club dancing expressionism that he fondly enjoys and cranks it to 11 by throwing in drugs, blood and sex. It’s a trial by fire where the people become marionettes, with the bass puppeteering their every movement. For those who break free from the trance, they meet an untimely fate or wind up naked with an unlikely lover. It’s a true Heaven/Hell on Earth.

I felt really unsure about “Climax” as I left the theater, but I couldn’t quite narrow down much in terms of technical or storytelling complaints. The cinematography is on another level, matching the constant dance beats in the background. The soundtrack ranges from foreign EDM to more recognizable artists like Daft Punk and the Rolling Stones. I only withhold unflinching adoration for a film like this because I may believe I’m consuming something of substance while blinded by its deliciously fresh style. It’s a brisk, but bewitching film that I’m sure I’ll watch again. It’s in that second watch I’ll either find distaste or amplified admiration for Noe’s vision. Love it or hate, viewers won’t be able to shake “Climax,” much like a bad acid trip.

CD Review: Mark Morton “Anesthetic”

“Anesthetic”

Mark Morton

Spinefarm Records

Tracks: 10

Our Score: 3 out of 5 Stars

“Anesthetic” is the debut solo offering from Lamb of God Guitarist Mark Morton. The album which features 10 tracks from Morton and a who’s who list of top rock and metal musicians is being released via WPP/Spinefarm Records and while the album certainly has plenty of heavy moments it also shines the light on other aspects of the Grammy Nominated guitarist playing which listeners will surely enjoy.

From full on in your face metal to hip-hop tinged southern rock and all points in between the soft spoken guitarist Mark Morton appears to hold nothing back on his debut release. Pulling from a list of top players including Mike Inez of Alice in Chains, Ray Luzier of Korn and Dave Ellefson of Megadeth “Anesthetic” takes listeners on a stylistic roller coaster ride deserving of multiple listens. The album opens with the track “Cross Off” featuring deceased Linkin Park front man Chester Bennington on vocals. Easily one of the heavier tracks on the record the song explodes like a shotgun blast setting the stage for what is to come. “Axis” the third track on the record taps into Morton’s love of hip-hop as its repetitive beat lays the foundation for a raspy vocal performance courtesy of Screaming Trees front-man Mark Lanegan while Morton showcases a slew of southern rock like riffs that would make Lynyrd Skynyrd very proud. “Anesthetic” is not just all heavy guitar riffs and double bass drums fills as the song “Reveal” gives listens something quite different from the albums other 9 tracks. Featuring Brooklyn based guitarist/vocalist Naeemah Maddox “Reveal” is a multi-layered blues/rock track complete with Stevie Ray Vaughn like solo acting as the icing on the cake.  

Fans of Mark Morton or any of the other guests who appear on “Anesthetic” will definatley want to give this record a listen.  The albums solid performances and top notch production make for a great listening experience that can be enjoyed time and time again as the albums diverse textures and styles will appeal to a wide variety of listeners.

Track Listing:

1.) Cross Off (Featuring Chester Bennington)

2.) Sworn Apart (Featuring Jacoby Shaddix)

3.) Axis (Featuring Mark Lanegan)

4.) The Never (Featuring Chuck Billy and Jake Oni)

5.) Save Defiance (Featuring Myles Kennedy)

6.) Blur (Featuring Mark Morales)

7.) Back From The Dead (Featuring Josh Todd)

8.) Reveal (Featuring Naeemah Maddox)

9.) Imaginary Days

10.) Truth Is Death (Featuring Randy Blythe and Alissa White-Gluz)

Film Review: “Arctic”


ARCTIC
Starring: Mads Mikkelsen
Directed by: Joe Penna
Rated: PG-13
Running Time: 1 hr 38 mins
Bleecker Street
 
Every once in a blue moon a film comes along that reminds us how truly spectacular cinema can be and replenishes our passion for the artform. The stark Danish adventure/drama “Arctic” happens to be such a film. With a gripping man-versus-nature story that makes “Cast Away” and “All Is Lost” look like cocktail parties, “Arctic” is as impressive as the unyielding icy bleakness which constantly threatens to overwhelm the lone survivor of a plane crash somewhere in the Arctic Circle.
 
Shot entirely in Iceland, “Arctic” does not waste time with a lot of background exposition to its story, co-written by Brazilian director Joe Penna whose previous directorial work includes the 2015 shorts “Turning Point” and “Beyond.” Instead it thrusts us into an already precarious, ongoing struggle for survival by a man named Overgård (Mads Mikkelsen). He survives each day by sticking to a strict routine that includes maintaining a giant SOS carved into the snow, generating enough electricity with a hand crank to operate a distress signal, and catching fish through ice holes.
 
We don’t know if he is the pilot of the intact, yet charred plane he uses for shelter, but we do know that whoever was with him died in the crash. Despite all his hardships, Overgård preserves a steely resolve to stay alive and an unyielding belief that help will come. His hard work appears to pay off when his distress signal is picked up by a rescue helicopter. However, Mother Nature denies his victory with a vicious storm that causes his would-be saviors to crash nose first into the unforgiving ice below. Overgård stabilizes the helicopter’s badly injured co-pilot, but the new situation pushes his abilities to keep them alive to the limits. Ultimately, he is faced with a terrible choice of whether to stay put or risk traveling across the Arctic wasteland to find salvation.
 
Whether it’s playing the nemesis of a Marvel wizard in “Doctor Strange” or being a falsely accused teacher in “The Hunt,” Mikkelsen has repeatedly demonstrated an ability to delve into any role thrown at him. One of the most underrated actors in cinema today, Mikkelsen is a force of nature himself in “Arctic.” He attains a level of intensity that Tom Hanks and Robert Redford were never able to achieve in their respective films as he musters emotions as raw as the fish his character eats. Our hearts beat as his does with jubilation when it appears that he is going to be saved and they sink to the depths when he bottoms out in despair. It’s all done with pure emotional power performed flawlessly by Mikkelsen.
 
For his first attempt at directing a feature-length motion picture, Penna does his craft proud with a fluid story that offers a few nice twists and plenty of dramatic suspense. Overall, “Arctic” is a must-see that any cinema lover should put on their to-do list even if the film’s setting makes us feel like winter is never going to end.

Film Review: “Alita: Battle Angel”


ALITA: BATTLE ANGEL
Starring: Rosa Salazar and Christoph Waltz
Directed by: Robert Rodriguez
Rated: PG-13
Running Time: 2hrs 2 mins
20th Century Fox

 BREAKING NEWS: James Cameron movies are generally more about style over substance. As a screenwriter, his simplistic scripts often play second fiddle to grandiose special effects. A bright, shining example would be 2009’s “Avatar,” which was a fantastic 3D experience that sugar-coated a “Dances with Wolves” meets “Braveheart” storyline. (I can hear someone shouting, “Aren’t you forgetting ‘Titanic?’” Sorry, 14 Oscar nominations but none for screenplay.) Apparently, you can’t teach an old screenwriter any new techniques because Cameron’s latest producer/writing endeavor, “Alita: Battle Angel” is all about shock and awe but lacks a soul. 

The story is set in the year 2563 where a dystopian society exists after a mysterious war called “The Fall” has wiped out much of Earth’s population. All we know that is left is a trash heap of a town known as Iron City, which sits directly below Earth’s last floating city – Zalem. Iron City is literally the junk yard for the wealthy Zalem and it is there where mild-mannered Dr. Dyson Ido (Christoph Waltz, “Inglourious Bastards,” “Django Unchained”) finds a disembodied female cyborg with a living brain still intact. 

How this cyborg ended up in the trash is a mystery, but nevertheless Dr. Ido rebuilds the cyborg and names her Alita (Rosa Salazar, “Maze Runner”) after his deceased daughter. Alita, a bright-eyed child with no memory of her past, soon befriends Hugo (Keean Johnson, “Nashville”), a teenage street hustler with dreams of getting enough money to buy his way into Zalem. It is through him that Alita is introduced to the violent sport of Motorball, which resembles a souped-up version of 2002’s “Rollerball.” 

Thanks to Dr. Ido’s side job as a Hunter-Warrior, which is a fancy title for bounty hunter, Alita becomes exposed to a part of Iron City that leads her on a path to realizing her full potential, which involves a United Republics of Mars berserker battle suit. We are given scant background information about all of this except that there was a whole lot of fighting and some guy named Nova sees all atop his perch in Zalem, which sounds like an over-the-counter sleep medication. Of course, everything leads to a resounding conclusion as the unknown underdog attempts to overcome all odds. How original! 

Directed by Robert Rodgriguez (“Sin City,” “Spy Kids”), someone else who is often more about style over substance, “Alita” stylistically is pleasing to watch and there is plenty of action to fill your plate. It doesn’t hurt that the cast contains three Academy Award winners including Waltz, Jennifer Connelly, who plays Dr. Ido’s estranged wife, and Mahershala Ali as Alita’s primary nemesis. They all give a level of gravitas that would have otherwise sunk the film faster than if it was struck by an iceberg in the north Atlantic. While their lines are often unimaginative and cliched, the cast delivers them with such polish that you almost forget how blasé it is. 

For pure popcorn flare, “Alita: Battle Angel” does provide some fun for your time at the theater thanks to its talented cast and visual effects. Don’t expect a satisfying climax though as it sets itself up for a sequel, which may not happen if it cannot at least recuperate its massive production costs. Don’t worry though, you will get to see more James Cameron epics as more “Avatars” are set to be released.


 

Film Review – “Isn’t it Romantic”

ISN’T IT ROMANTIC
Starring:  Rebel Wilson, Adam Divine and Liam Hemsworth
Directed by:  Todd Strauss-Shulson
Rated:  PG 13
Running time:  1 hr 26 mins
Warner Bros.

Natalie (Wilson) isn’t sure about a lot of things.  A skilled architect, she is treated more as a gopher by others in her office instead of a valuable asset.  One thing she is sure about?  She hates romantic comedies,which her assistant (Betty Gilpin) constantly watches at her desk.  One night, while battling a mugger, Natalie is knocked unconscious.  When she comes to, she discovers that her life has changed. And she’s not happy.

A winning comedy built around the chemistry of its stars, “Isn’t it Romantic” is a fun time at the movies.  Much of the fun comes from trying to pick out all of the rom-com tropes that Natalie dislikes yet is now experiencing.  Handsome suitor?  Check. Overly-gay best buddy? Check.  Killer karaoke chops?  Yes, sir. The more she learns the more frustrated Natalie gets.  And when she learns that every time she tries to use the “F” word she is overridden by the sound of a honking horn, she is horrified that the world she is now living in is only rated PG 13.

With two of the “Pitch Perfect” films behind them, Wilson and Adam Divine have built an amazing rapport, and it shows on the screen. Hemsworth is quite charming and Bollywood star Priyamnka Chopra is both funny and beautiful!  The story moves quickly (the film is less than 90 minutes long) and makes a nice Valentines gift for that special someone.  Unless,of course, they hate romantic comedies!

CD Review: Weezer “The Teal Album”

“The Teal Album”
Weezer
Crush Music/ Atlantic Records
Tracks: 10

Our Score: 3 out of 5 stars

Throughout a sold out amphitheater tour in summer 2018, Weezer began working covers into their set, ranging from “Take On Me” by a-ha to “Happy Together” by The Turtles, in addition to their massive cover of “Africa” by Toto, which became a viral and radio sensation upon its release earlier that year. Given the tremendous response to these songs at the shows, the band was inspired to put together a covers album — and thus WEEZER (THE TEAL ALBUM) WAS BORN!

Surely a high light for anyone who attended Weezer’s summer tour which featured the band intermingling their own list of hit songs with classic rock staples such as Black Sabbath “Paranoid” and the new wave esque “Take On Me” all set against a bombastic stage show complete with fire, lights and a boat…Yes a boat! Well for fans that really enjoyed the live experience of those songs they now have the chance to own what is being dubbed “The Teal Album”. The album features all the covers heard on this summer’s tour in studio form along with a handful of other songs that will take listeners back to their younger years. From The Eurythmics hit “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This) and Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean” to TLC’s “No Scrubs” the ten song collection covers a number of musical era’s and genres. Though I would have liked the band to put a little bit more of their own spin on the tracks instead of sticking to the songs original sound they album was still an enjoyable listen.

If you were the guy or girl who couldn’t go with your friends to see Weezer when they were in town who in turn got stuck listening to all the stories about what you missed, you can now get somewhat caught up and at least hear the music. Weezer’s “The Teal Album” is a solid listen and the perfect album to tide you over until the March release of the bands new studio album (queue the Spinal Tap jokes) “The Black Album” which we be released March 1st followed by a Co-headlining tour with The Pixies starting March 8th in Louisville, KY.

Track Listing:
1.) Africa
2.) Everybody Wants to Rule the World
3.) Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)
4.) Take On Me
5.) Happy Together
6.) Paranoid
7.) Mr. Blue Sky
8.) No Scrubs
9.) Billie Jean
10.) Stand By Me

Film Review – “In Like Flynn”

IN LIKE FLYNN
Starring:  Thomas Cocquerel, Clive Standen and Corey Large
Directed by:  Russell Mulcahy
Rated:  R
Running time:  1 hr 46 mins
Blue Fox Entertainment

Fletcher Christian.  Peter Blood.  Robin Hood.  "Gentleman" Jim Corbett.   All of
these men had great adventures on the big screen.  But none of them were as 
exciting as the early adventures of the actor who portrayed them, Errol Flynn.  Some
of those adventures are on display in the new film, "In Like Flynn."

The film begins in New Guinea in 1930.  There we find Flynn (Cocquerel) 
leading a film producer (Daniel Fogler), his cameraman and some helpers 
through the jungle, looking for images to be used in an upcoming film.  Their
presence upsets the local tribesmen and soon the group is fleeing for its life,
with Flynn repeatedly saving their hides.  When they are successfully back
at their camp, the producer tells Flynn he needs to come to Hollywood.  But
Flynn has other plans.

I've always been fascinated by the back-stories of people.  What incidents from 
their past led them to their present.  If "In Like Flynn," which is based in part
from some of Flynn's writings,is to be believed, the roles he would later play
were boring compared to his life experiences.  Sailing the oceans.  Hunting 
for gold.  And, in true Flynn fashion, a big hit with the ladies, the film portrays him
as a real life Indiana Jones.  He lived for adventure.

The cast is first rate.  As Flynn, Cocquerel has the good looks that made
the Tazmanian Devil a star.  More importantly, he captures the spirit with
which Flynn approached every day of his life.  No matter the circumstances,
you can always see the gleam of mischief in his eyes.  As his best friend and
fellow adventurer, Rex, Corey Large (who also produced and co-wrote the film) is
equally good.  The two actors make a great team and their chemistry keeps the
film moving.  Also keeping the film moving is the fluid direction of Russell Mulcahy.
Mulcahy, who turned a brilliant career making music videos (his video for "Video
Killed the Radio Star" was the first ever shown on MTV) into Hollywood 
features, among them "Highlander" and "Ricochet."  Even after four decades 
behind the camera it's clear that he hasn't lost his talent for taking viewers
on a visual adventure.    And it's one I highly recommend you take.                

Film Review – “Cold War”

COLD WAR
Starring: Joanna Kulig, Tomasz Kot
Directed by: Pawel Pawlikowski
Rated: R
Running Time: 1 HR 29 mins
Amazon Studios 


Nominated for three Academy Awards (Best Foreign Language Film, Best Director and Best Cinematography), “Cold War” is an engaging yet tragic period drama that is much deserving of all its accolades.
Shot entirely in black-and-white with English subtitles,
writer/director Pawel Pawlikowski (“Ida”) deftly captures the
brutal essence of communist-controlled Eastern Europe while putting us
on a complicated, 15-year odyssey of obsession.
 
The story begins in 1949 Poland where the scars of a world war
are still fresh. A soft-spoken music director Wiktor (Tomasz Kot, “Gods”)
is tapped to co-helm a school that’s intended to create a group of
talented young people to stage traditional, Polish folk dances. It is during
auditions at the bullet-ridden school that a crafty blonde singer named
Zula (Joanna Kulig, “Pitbull: Tough Women”) catches his eye.  Despite a warning about her troubled past, Wiktor and Zula develop a
secret, passionate love affair.
 
Two years later they have an opportunity to escape their communist
oppressors by crossing into West Berlin, but Zula chickens out while
the brooding Wiktor leaves her behind anyway to go carve out a life as
a jazz pianist in Paris. Even though lovers come and go as the years
pass by, Wiktor still regards Zula as the love of his life. His devotion to
her is so strong that he even risks being sent to a Polish prison when he
travels to Yugoslavia to watch Zula perform.
 
They only reunite when Zula marries an Italian man so she can get out
from behind the Iron Curtain to be with Wiktor. A successful singing
career begins to take shape with Wiktor accompanying her on piano.
However, her jealousy towards other women and her desire to be the
center of attention, especially Wiktor’s, leads Zula to run back to
communist Poland. Wiktor is desperate to follow her but he knows he
will be arrested if he does. It proves to be a fateful test of his devotion to
her.
 
Pawlikowski’s endeavor has all the feel of a film straight out of 1957 as
he channels the bleak repression the peoples of Eastern Europe faced
under Soviet dominance. There is a paranoid sense that there are eyes
everywhere, and in some instances its true. It’s this omnipresent fear he
generates with his script that gives Zula and Wiktor’s relationship a
palpable edginess. Their romance is so much like a careening roller
coaster that it makes it difficult to accurately predict its outcome.
 
Kulig is brilliant as she infuses a sense of instability into Zula. In a
way, you want to yell out in vain to Wiktor to stay away from her,
but his devotion runs so deep that he is beyond help. This obsession is
played with expert subtlety by Kot and skillful direction by Pawlikowski
who keeps the pacing brisk with a short running time. Never mind the
critical darling that is “Roma.” Instead, go see “Cold War.” Trust me,
there’s nothing cold about it.

Film Review – “Clyde Cooper”

CLYDE COOPER
Starring:  Jordi Vilasuso, Abigail Titmuss and Richard Neil
Directed by:  Peter Daskaloff
Not Rated
Running time:  1 hr 21 mins
Souvenir Films

While a man sits sadly on the edge of a bed, two beautiful women begin to experiment with each other.  Suddenly they are interrupted by the sound of a single gunshot.  Thus begins the noir-ish drama “Clyde Cooper.”

A slickly shot mystery, the plot finds the title private investigator (Vilasuso, a staple the past 15-years on various daytime soap operas) being asked to help a smitten gentleman find a woman who, despite only knowing her for a few days, has become, in his mind, THE one.  Cooper takes the case only to discover that there is a lot more going on then meets the eye.  People aren’t who the seem to be and, as the bodies begin to pile up, Cooper discovers a twist in the case that adds a new dimension to the film.

The script, by director Daskaloff, gives Cooper some nice throw-away lines and it’s a credit to Vilasuso’s talent that he comes off as a well intentioned wise ass instead of a boor.  Production credits are strong and whoever came up with the idea of a house with a piano key stairway – one that plays when you’re going up or down – deserves to never be without a job.  An entertaining musical score by Jonathan Price helps keep the action flowing.