Film Review: “King Cohen”

KING COHEN

Starring:  Larry Cohen, J.J. Abrams and Michael Moriarty

Directed by:  Steve Mitchell

Rated:  Not Rated

Running time:  1 hour 49 mins

Darkstar Pictures

 

As a teenager there were two film trailers shown on television that not only scared the hell out of me, but that I still remember vividly to this day.  One was for the film “Magic,” featuring Anthony Hopkins, Ann-Margaret and a dummy named Fats, who would look into the camera and recite, “Hocus, pocus…we take her to bed.  “Magic” is fun.  YOU’RE DEAD!”  The other one began like this:  “There’s only one thing wrong with the Davis baby.  IT’S ALIVE!”

 

“King Cohen” is an excellent documentary about filmmaker Larry Cohen, whose films, including “It’s Alive!,” “The Stuff”  and “Q” have a devoted following of fans, including such successful directors as J.J Abrams, John Landis and Martin Scorcese.  All three of these men face the camera and expound on the effect Cohen has had on their own projects.  Abrams recalls a time when he was fifteen years old and running into Cohen on a Los Angeles street.  Cohen was lost and the young man pointed him in the right direction.  Decades later, when the two meet again, Cohen remembers Abrams as the kid who gave him directions.

 

Cohen grew up like many people in show business…wanting to be in show business.  He broke into television in the 1960s, writing for such shows as “Surfside Six,” “The Fugitive” and “Branded.”  Occasionally Cohen was ahead of the times.  A script he wrote for the show “Naked City” was turned down for being to “rough” for the times.  30 years later, Cohen sold the script to “N.Y.P.D. Blue.”

 

The film looks at the various films in Cohen’s career, with Cohen and others talking about his filmmaking process.  Cohen was often a true guerilla filmmaker, often putting a cameraman up on a fire escape and filming the passerby’s reactions.  For one film, he required a parade of 5,000 New York City.  To get the shot, he dressed Andy Kaufman up as a cop and had him join the rest of the boys in blue in marching across the city.  While filming a film dealing with J. Edgar Hoover in Washington D.C., Cohen learns the address where the former F.B.I. director lived and films a few scenes on the front lawn.

 

This film covers pretty much Cohen’s filmography, focusing more on the most popular films, especially “Q” and “The Stuff.”  Interviews with fellow filmmakers, crew members and actors such as Michael Moriarty and Eric Roberts gives the viewer every possible look at Cohen’s process.

 

All in all, “King Cohen” is one of the best documentaries about Hollywood to come down the pike in a very long time.  Now, if I could only get that Davis baby out of my head!

Film Review “Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again”

Directed by: Ol Parker
Starring: Lily James, Amanda Seyfried, Christine Baranski, Pierce Brosnan, Dominic Cooper, Colin Firth, Andy García, Stellan Skarsgård, Julie Walters, Cher, Meryl Streep
Distributed by: Universal Pictures
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Running time: 114 minutes

Our Score: 4 out of 5 stars

Earlier this year I heard word that “Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again” was coming out and I thought to myself that it was a sequel that really no one asked for nor did it seem necessary…but the trailer was a lot of fun, so I was excited. The cast is all back along with some new great faces (more on that below). I really just enjoyed this movie a lot. It had tons of laughs followed up by some really solid drama (bring the tissues). I loved the balance of the two. Listen, I am not a huge ABBA fan but those songs seems to win me over and performed by these amazingly talented people makes it hard not to enjoy! I have a feeling that I will be seeing this film again soon in the theaters again perhaps if they have a Sing-a-long version (if you are reading this Universal) 😉

Let’s just talk about the cast, this film brought back EVERYONE! Amanda Seyfried looks better than ever, WOW, and her voice was on point. Christine Baranski and Julie Walters were amazing together again. I just love their characters. Pierce Brosnan was sweet in the film and really gave some heart. It’s looks like he was trying really hard, so I am throwing him a bone here. Colin Firth and Stellan Skarsgård were very funny again and added a lot of heart. Cher still has it let me tell you and she looks fantastic! Meryl Streep delivers a very emotional song and I really enjoyed her being back as she was. Some new faces Lily James and Andy Garcia were fantastic as well. Andy Garcia steals the show for me personally. Lily James though was simply perfect as a younger Donna. Her voice is extraordinary and she really nailed that carefree spirit and made you want to be like her (except for the three random hook-ups). I loved her in “Cinderella” and she is even more amazing in this!

Like I mentioned at first I thought this would be unnecessary, put I feel like the sequel does have some extra life in it that I didn’t expect. It takes place tn years after the first “Mamma Mia!” (which grossed more than $600 million around the world). In the film, we return to the Greek island of Kalokairi, where Sophie (Amanda Seyfried) running planning a grand re-opening of Donna’s (Meryl Streep) villa, who had past away a year prior. She finds herself thinking about her relationships and her future. With the arrival of friends and family to support they guide her through the opening event. Plenty of surprises along the way including an appear from Sophie’s grandmother played perfectly by Cher. The story intertwins with a flashback of Donna when she is young and how Sophie was led to be born, which also connects with Sophie today.

Let’s not forget the music now. “Mamma Mia” wouldn’t be “Mamma Mia” without the songs of ABBA. There is a decently balanced combo of new songs mixed with a few songs redone from the first film. At first, I really wasn’t too keen on hearing the same songs again but they were really well done, specifically “I Have A Dream” by Lily James. When you think about “Mamma Mia” though, I would want to hear “Dancing Queen” and songs like that, so this movie does not disappoint at all. This is a fun movie that has a really good heart and even though a little cheesy but you leave the theater smiling (and a little teary).

CD Review: Down By Law “All In”

“All In”
Down By Law
Kung Fu/Cleopatra Records
Tracks: 12

Our Score: 4 out of 5 stars

Punk rock staples Down By Law are back with a brand new studio album simply titled “All In”. The 11 track album is the bands first studio release in five years and features the group’s classic 90’s lineup of Dave Smalley, Sam Williams, John DiMambro convening for the first time in almost twenty years along with drummer Jack Criswell. “All In” will also be the bands first release since joining Kung Fu/Cleopatra records.

If you grew up in the reemergence of punk rock in the 1990’s like me then you most definitely are aware of Down By Law. With classic albums such as “Punkrockacademyfightsong” and “All Scratched Up” solidifying the bands place in the punk ethos long ago the group’s latest release “All In” continues to build on the bands thirty plus year career. The album is a blending of familiarity and freshness that both fans new and old will enjoy. From tracks like “Boredom” and “Undone” which feature thumping four on the floor rhythms to the Echo laden “Infatuation” and, the haunting closing track “Dear Fate” which at the start creeps along like a low lying fog before a perfectly timed solo helps transition to a slightly more upbeat back end which seemed to serve as the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel for the songs subject matter.

The reuniting of Down By Law’s classic lineup is on display from beginning to end with “All In” and they more than deliver! From catchy lyrics to upbeat instrumentation the group provides listeners with an album that is new and different while still retaining the elements which endeared them to fans over thirty years ago. No fancy studio tricks or filler tracks here. Down By Law brings it on “All In”.

Track Listing:
1.) Aperture
2.) Boredom
3.) Rebrand It
4.) Carousel
5.) End of Rhyme
6.) Undone
7.) Then and Tomorrow
8.) Infatuation
9.) Ride
10.) Mannequin
11.) Dear Fate

Concert Review: Weezer/Pixies, Syracuse, NY

Weezer, Pixies, The Wombats
Sunday, July 15th, 2018
St. Josephs Health Amphitheater at Lakeview, Syracuse, NY

Our Score: 4.5 out of 5 stars

Nerd rockers Weezer made a stop at the sprawling St. Josephs Health Amphitheater at Lakeview in Syracuse, NY on July 15 as part of the bands current North American tour with alt favorites Pixies. Also performing on the bill this evening were UK natives The Wombats. All three acts brought the near capacity crowd to their feet time and time again making for an energetically charged night by the lake.

The Wombats would take to the stage first performing a handful of songs of their recently released album “Beautiful People Will Ruin Your Life”. Though the band took little time to introduce themselves the 3 piece band from Liverpool, UK allowed the music to speak for them providing for a great start to the evening’s festivities. After a quick set change the Black Francis led Pixies would rumble to the stage where over the next 60 plus minutes they took the growing Syracuse crowd to musical school. The full length set was made up of a variety of tracks from the bands 6 albums and included such favorites as “Um Chagga Lagga”, “Wave of Mutilation” and “Gouge Away” before closing out the night with one of their more commercial tracks “Where Is My Mind?” and the shred-tastic “Vamos”. The band showcased a unique cohesiveness that only comes from having performed together for over thirty years making the set just a little more special. After an extensive set change and to the tune of the “Happy Days” intro the evening’s Co-headliner, Weezer was finally posed to take the stage. The bands set was a bombastic mix of hit after hit which was combined with corresponding stage set ups which paid homage to the bands history. Highlights of the night included songs like “Buddy Holly”, “Undone (the Sweater Song)” and acoustic versions of “Island in the Sun” and the A-Ha classic “Take On Me” all of which were performed solo by front-man River Cuomo atop a small moving boat that circled the rear of the amphitheater.

From open to close all the band on the bill brought their A games as each provided both a great listing and visual experience. With the Pixies and Weezer both performing full length sets you get practically two full scale rock shows for the price of one! What could be better than that? With the tour running through late August there are still plenty of chances to catch the band so, do not miss it!

Pixies Set List:
1.) Planet of Sound
2.) Magdalena 318
3.) Something Against You
4.) Isla de Encanta
5.) Um Chagga Lagga
6.) Wave of Mutilation
7.) Gouge Away
8.) Caribou
9.) Hey
10.) Mr. Grieves
11.) Bel Esprit
12.) Monkey Gone to Heaven
13.) Gigantic
14.) Cactus
15.) Classic Masher
16.) Crickity Jones
17.) River Euphrates
18.) Head Carrier
19.) No. 13 Baby
20.) All the Saints
21.) Here Comes Your Man
22.) Where Is My Mind?
23.) Vamos

Weezer Set List:
1.) Buddy Holly
2.) Beverly Hills
3.) Pork and Beans
4.) Undone- The Sweater Song
5.) Hash Pipe
6.) Perfect Situation
7.) My Name Is Jonas
8.) El Scorcho
9.) In the Garage
10.) Susanne
11.) Happy Together (Longview snippet)
12.) Keep Fishin’
13.) Island in the Sun
14.) Take On Me
15.) Burndt Jamb
16.) (If You’re Wondering If I Want You To) I Want You To
17.) Feels Like Summer
18.) Africa
19.) The Good Life
20.) Say It Ain’t So w/ Paranoid outro

Film Review “Leave No Trace”

Starring: Ben Foster, Thomasin McKenzie
Directed by: Debra Granik
Rated: PG
Running Time: 1 hr 49 mins
Bleecker Street

Our Score: 4 out of 5 stars

Has another star been born thanks to director/writer Debra Granik? While watching the powerful performance delivered by New Zealand-born actress Thomasin McKenzie in the new drama “Leave No Trace,” it is impossible to not think about what Granik once pulled out of a relatively unknown young actress named Jennifer Lawrence. It is perhaps an unfair comparison considering that Lawrence received the first of her four Oscar nominations for her role as a tough, teenage Ozarks girl in 2010’s “Winter’s Bone.” However, McKenzie, whose previous experience has primarily consisted of TV work, has, at roughly the same age as Lawrence was eight years ago, provided something that is special to watch on the silver screen. Through her eyes alone she projects her character’s tough, determined nature which she also reveals is just a façade masking a 13-year-old girl’s desperation to please a father traumatized by war.

The present-day setting for “Leave No Trace” is a heavily forested park on the outskirts of Portland, Oregon. Widowed veteran Will (Ben Foster, Hell or High Water, The Messenger) and his daughter, Tom (McKenzie) live an isolated existence in the often damp and rainy woods. They survive by scavenging for food that nature provides them with only a few creature comforts of modern society. Will drills her on hiding techniques by making sure she leaves no trace of where she is at. Occasionally, they walk into Portland where he checks into a Veterans Administration hospital to get medications he later sells to other struggling vets to buy necessities for their life in the woods.

Their existence is changed forever when they are discovered by park rangers and law enforcement. Each is subsequently given a series of tests with social services questioning if she has ever been violated by her father. The system gives them a second chance to have a conventional life together as they are placed in a residence on tree/horse farm where Will is given a job. This new sense of normalcy is too much for Will as he cannot bring himself to be a part of society. The opposite happens with Tom whose introduction to a life outside of the one with her damaged father sparks a sense of curiosity within her and a desire to be a part of something more. This puts them on a collision course that will test the bonds of their relationship.

Based upon the 2009 book “My Abandonment” by American novelist Peter Rock, “Leave No Trace,” which premiered at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival, is a moving work of genuine sadness that will pull at the heartstrings of anyone who has a heart. McKenzie is a revelation of such proportions that it is hard to think of another young actress who has demonstrated this level of promise since Lawrence. Her delivery is flawless as she brilliantly plays a young girl who has been forced to grow up faster than anyone her age ever should. There is a certain sense of tragedy about her, yet you can tell it has also forged an iron determination within her.

I would be negligent if I did not mention Foster who once again demonstrates how skillful of actor he has become in recent years. Pain leaks out of every pour in Foster’s skin as his character is so consumed by PTSD from combat that he is putting Tom in danger every day they are on the run without thinking about what he is doing. Unfortunately, like someone from a Greek tragedy Will is man who has fallen so far and is so broken that he simply cannot be fixed again. Foster does not have a lot of extensive dialogue to recite but his quiet moments speak volumes.

Although her story lacks the complexity of “Winter’s Bone,” Granik, who co-wrote the screenplay with Anne Rosellini, also a producer and writer on “Winter’s Bone,” has created something that will haunt you for a while after leaving the theater.

Concert Review: Styx, Joan Jett and The Blackhearts, Tesla. Syracuse, NY

Styx, Joan Jett and the Blackhearts, Tesla
Thursday, June 28th, 2018
St. Joseph’s Health Amphitheater at Lakeview, Syracuse, NY

Our Score: 4 out of 5 stars

Legends of Rock Styx, Joan Jett and the Blackhearts, and special guests Tesla made their stop in Syracuse, NY on June 28th at the beautiful (newly renamed) St. Joseph’s Health Amphitheater at Lakeview. The venue was packed with fans from all walks of life, eager to hear their favorite hit songs. The beautiful summer night was the perfect background for a concert such as this.

Tesla opened with outstanding energy starting things off with the more recent track “I Wanna Live” however, It wasn’t long before vocalist Jeff Keith led sing-alongs to hits like “What You Give” and “Signs” Guitarists Frank Hannon and Dave Rude expertly wowed the audience later on in the set with the always pleasing “Love Song.” The band which is celebrating 30 years together are performing at the top of their game adding a nice shine to their already legendary status. Joan Jett and her band The Blackhearts would take the stage next where they performed a fairly stock set of Jett standards including “Bad Reputation”, “Cherry Bomb” and of course “I Love Rock n Roll”. Though the founding Runaways members set mostly consisted of older more well known tracks it was nice to see her the band include the song “Soulmates to Strangers” from Jett’s most recent album “Unvarnished”

The true dominating force on the night was hands down Styx as their set was nothing short of captivating. All eyes were glued to the veteran performers as they played hit after hit including the return of “Mr. Roboto” a song which had been missing from the Styx live show for sometime. As the band performed song after song each member brought their own signature flair to the nights performance. From scene-stealer, Lawrence Gowan’s spinning and dancing to James Young’s soaring guitars solos not to mention the always captivating Tommy Shaw and thunderous bass sound of Ricky Phillips. All this performance power combined in one band made for a very memorable evening.

All three bands gave top-notch performances on this beautiful night by the lake with plenty of singing and swaying making for great concert experience. This is definitely a show I will be talking about for some time and I highly recommend checking out these veterans when they come to your town.

Tesla Set List:
1.) I Wanna Live
2.) Hang Tough
3.) Heavens Trail (No Way Out)
4.) What You Give
5.) Signs
6.) Love Song
7.) Little Suzi
8.) Modern Day Cowboy

Joan Jett and The Blackhearts Set List:
1.) Bad Reputation
2.) Cherry Bomb
3.) Do You Wanna Touch Me (Oh Yeah)
4.) Victim of Circumstance
5.) Soulmates To Strangers
6.) You Drive Me Wild
7.) Light of Day
8.) Fake Friends
9.) Love Is Pain
10.) A Hundred Feet Away
11.) Fresh Start
12.) Love Is All Around
13.) I Love Rock ‘N’ Roll
14.) Crimson and Clover
15.) I Hate Myself For Loving You
16.) Everyday People

Styx Set List:
1.) Overture
2.) Gone Gone Gone
3.) Blue Collar Man (Long Nights)
4.) The Grand Illusion
5.) Lady
6.) Ms. America
7.) Radio Silence
8.) Fooling Yourself (The Angry Young Man)
9.) Too Much Time On My Hands
10.) Khedive
11.) Bohemian Rhapsody
12.) Come Sail Away
13.) Mr. Roboto
14.) Renegade

Film Review: “Skyscraper”

 

SKYSCRAPER

Starring:  Dwayne Johnson, Neve Campbell and Roland Moller

Directed by:  Rawson Marshall Thurber

Rated:  PG 13

Running time:  1 hour 42 mins

Universal

 

I can hear the studio pitch now.  “What if we combined “The Towering Inferno” with “Die Hard” and have the Rock play Bruce Willis, Paul Newman AND Steve McQueen rolled into one character?”  My answer?  “Hell yeah!”

 

When we first meet FBI Hostage Rescue Team Leader Will Sawyer (Johnson), he is leading his group in trying to arrange the surrender of a man who is also holding his young son.  Thinking he has resolved the situation, Will and his team are badly injured when the man, feigning surrender, detonates a bomb.  Waking up in the hospital, he is comforted by the reassuring face and words of trauma nurse Sarah (Campbell).

 

Jump ahead several years.  Will and Sarah are now married, with two young children.  They are in Hong Kong where Will, now a safety and security assessor, has been summoned to go over the world’s tallest building.  Without his O.K., the buildings lavish owner cannot get the 200-plus story building insured.  Things go well until Will is attacked by a mysterious person trying to get a computer tablet he possesses that gives him access to ALL of the building’s security protocols.  It seems someone doesn’t want the building to open.  EVER!

 

Full of some amazing set-pieces and some serious “jump in your seat” moments, “Skyscraper” is a film that rides capably on the back of Dwayne Johnson.  Will possesses both Willis’ John McClain’s personality while also embodying the caring about of the situation that Newman’s architect and McQueen’s fire chief did in “The Towering Inferno.”  But while the latter film’s destruction was due to an accident, “Skyscraper” deals with a nasty man by the name of Kores Botha (Moller).  He’s not as smooth as Alan Rickman’s Hans Gruber, but he is as vicious.

 

The cast does a fine job in dealing with the situations around them, and I’m giving Johnson extra credit because, due to opening bomb explosion, Will is missing a leg, having to move about the building (and do some extraordinary stunt work) on a prosthetic leg.  And yes, while I realize it’s all CGI, Johnson moves and reacts as if he really is standing precariously on a piece of molded metal.  The story moves smoothly and represents a graduation to a new genre’ for writer/director Thurber, best known for creating the “Terry Tate, Linebacker” series of commercials as well as the film “Dodgeball:  A True Underdog Story.”  The film moves on and the action flows.  A definite hit for the hot days of July.

Film Review: “Eating Animals”

Starring: Natalie Portman
Directed by: Christopher Dillon Quinn
Rated: Unrated
Running Time: 1 hr 34 mins
IFC Films

Our Score: 3 out of 5 stars

After having reviewed movies for almost 20 years, it is a challenge to think of a work that has had more of a personal connection to yours truly than the new anti-factory farming documentary “Eating Animals,” with Academy Award-winner Natalie Portman providing its narration. For you see, even though I may be a mild-mannered film critic I have also been a family farmer my entire life, as has eight generations before me. “Eating Animals” doesn’t take aim on family farmers necessarily, but it most certainly shows what the effects of industrial farming has had on them since its skyrocketing growth beginning in the 1970s. The gross mistreatment of the animals we eat on our dinner plate is sickening to watch, but “Eating Animals” makes a valid point that it is nevertheless a dirty little secret everyone already knows yet chooses not to think about.

Director Christopher Dillon Quinn, who based his documentary on the 2009 novel of the same name by American author Jonathan Safran Foer, introduces us to a turkey farmer in Lindsborg, Kansas who is resorting to old practices of raising birds because of his disdain with genetically modified turkeys. Other farmers in the swine, dairy, beef, and fowl industries are also highlighted to demonstrate the difficulties they face trying to remain on their own. Quinn also examines the risks whistle blowers within the factory farm industry take when they try to shed light on the darkness. This latter point is punctuated with the enlightening and disturbing fact that several states have passed “Ag Gag” laws that essentially prohibit and punish whistle blowers.

Overall, there is nothing revolutionary about what “Eating Animals” has to say about family farms. It’s a tradition/business that has been vanishing at an alarming rate for a few decades now. Quinn wants to lay a lot of this at the feet of corporations like Tyson, who have indeed had a negative impact on farming communities that once thrived when small farmers cooperated with one another. Now the farmers who work under contract for a company like Tyson, according to “Eating Animals,” are prohibited from helping each other and are treated like indentured servants. However, there are many more factors that have led to the demise of family farming that is left out of Quinn’s documentary.

Farms were lost during the 1970s not simply because of the explosion of prepackaged frozen dinners, as the film implies was a part of the problem, but because interest rates rose so high during the latter part of the decade that some farmers went into bankruptcy thanks to the loans they took out on their land. Quinn also ignores the fact that because of the rising costs of land, equipment, and seed/feed, most young people cannot afford go into the business if they don’t inherit the land outright. (It’s no coincidence that the farmers he interviews are middle-aged men.) There’s also a lack of desire among increasing numbers of young people to put in the long hours that it requires 24/7, 365 to maintain a farm and make it successful. Not to mention that farming is one of the most dangerous jobs to have considering the equipment that’s used and what larger farm animals can do.

In a back-handed way, “Eating Animals” does slam farmers for the ones being responsible for the disappearance of a large, freshwater lake in California. No mention is made of the historic draught the Bear Flag Republic has endured over the past several years or the fact that without irrigation, crops and animals in many parts of that state could not thrive. Quinn’s effort also mentions animal feed laced with anti-biotics and how it has contributed to the rise of superbugs. Unfortunately for him this is not the case anymore as the use of antibiotics in feed was eliminated effective January 1, 2017. The real problem, and it’s not discussed enough, is the explosion in the world’s population over the past 50 years. The consequential soaring demand, in part manufactured by corporations like Tyson with clever marketing, is what has put extreme pressure on the farming industry and helped propel the rapid growth of factory or industrialized farming.

Quinn does a nice job of exploring some of the ecological consequences of the swine and fowl confinement houses in the Carolinas, and the horrific distortions of what nature had intended when it comes to the animals we eat. The images of animals being treated cruelly at these confinement houses is stomach churning to say the least and may very well turn some folks who watch this film into vegetarians. While “Eating Animals” is a solid documentary, it still fails to give this topic the thorough examination it requires and leaves out a lot of details it should have included.

Film Review “Ant-Man and the Wasp”

Directed by: Peyton Reed
Starring: Paul Rudd, Evangeline Lilly, Michael Peña, Walton Goggins, Bobby Cannavale, Judy Greer, Tip “T.I.” Harris, David Dastmalchian, Hannah John-Kamen, Abby Ryder Fortson, Randall Park, Michelle Pfeiffer, Laurence Fishburne, Michael Douglas
Distributed by: Walt Disney Studios
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Running time: 118 minutes

Mike G’s Score: 4 out of 5 stars

I was a huge fan of the first “Ant-Man” film. I thought Paul Rudd nailed it and brought something different to the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Personally, I don’t think anyone would have expected the first film to have done well to warrant a sequel but here we are. “Ant-Man and the Wasp” is solid follow-up, It’s funnier and even though it lacks a solid villain (big shoes to fill after Thanos in Infinity War), it is a ton of fun! I can also see this film growing on me more, as the wife and I have been quoting it already!

The best part of this film is easily the cast. I love Paul Rudd as Ant-Man he is funny as hell and has some great laugh out loud moments in this film. Michael Peña easily steals the whole show. He is funny as hell! Marvel get this guy a freaking suit for “Ant-Man 3”!!! I am glad to see that David Dastmalchian is back as well. He has a few lines in the film that we’ve been quoting like “Baba-Yaga!” Once you see the movie you will get it. It’s a riot! Randall Park really deserves some props too man. I was howling at some of he’s scenes.

I loved Hannah John-Kamen, who played the villain Ghost as an actress but the character wasn’t great to be the main villain, maybe side kick. Laurence Fishburne is always great to see but he didn’t really have much of a major impact on the film and seemed out of place a bit. Just going to warn you, not a spoiler but Michelle Pfeiffer isn’t in the film much but she does rule when she is in it! Let’s not forgot about Hank Pym! Michael Douglas gets a nice boost in screen time in the sequel and get a few of the scene stealing lines as well.

Official Premise: From the Marvel Cinematic Universe comes “Ant Man and the Wasp,” a new chapter featuring heroes with the astonishing ability to shrink. In the aftermath of “Captain America: Civil War,” Scott Lang grapples with the consequences of his choices as both a Super Hero and a father. As he struggles to rebalance his home life with his responsibilities as Ant-Man, he’s confronted by Hope van Dyne and Dr. Hank Pym with an urgent new mission. Scott must once again put on the suit and learn to fight alongside the Wasp as the team works together to uncover secrets from the past.

The visual effects are solid and I really enjoyed the depth the 3D added to the film (as I also did in the first “Ant-Man”). The shrunken scenes are pretty amazing and the quantum realm was visually amazing! I really like how the film was tied back into “Captain America: Civil War” and I loved how it connected back to “Avengers: Infinity Wars”, no spoilers but stay through the first post credit scene for sure! Your not going to want to miss it! “Ant-Man and the Wasp” might not be the best entry in the Marvel Cinematic Universe but it was fun as hell and I can’t wait to see it again!

 

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Blu-ray Review “Escape Plan 2: Hades”

Actors: Sylvester Stallone;Dave Bautista;Curtis Jackson
Directors: Steven C. Miller
Rated: R
Studio: LIONSGATE
Release Date: June 29, 2018
Run Time: 94 minutes

Film: 2 out of 5 stars
Blu-ray: 3.5 out of 5 stars
Extras: 3 out of 5 stars

The first “Escape Plan” back in 2013 was an “ok” movie, not great and definitely didn’t warrant a franchise. Iam not sure what Sylvester Stallone was thinking about when he agreed to do not one sequel but TWO for “Escape Plan”. Oh wait I know…$$$$$. What’s sad about this film is that it is the truly first low budget direct-to-video release for Stallone since “Eye See You” in 2002. Anyone remember that bomb? I didn’t think so. Stallone just got nominated for an Oscar back in 2015 and then this…so I am honestly sad because this film is such a mess that it is nearly hard to watch…and I seen it twice now. I was hoping that I missed something the first time but it is a true bomb and the whole film just wastes time to setup the third film! WHY?!

Arnold Schwarzenegger smartly stays away from this sequel but Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson returns for what feels like a useless role. Same goes to Dave Bautista! This dude is on the top of his game with the “Guardians of the Galaxy” franchise etc and yet he is in a film like this. I don’t understand. I don’t even think any of these people of in the same scene together. “Escape Plan 2: Hades” is directed by Steven C. Miller. He has become the go-to low budget action direct-to-video guy with recent forgettable films like “Extraction (2015)”, “Marauders (2016)” and “First Kill (2017)”, which all happen to star Bruce Willis (another actor that has gone to the straight home video market). Let’s hope the third movie makes up for this one.

Official Premise: Years after Ray Breslin [Academy Award nominee Sylvester Stallone (Best Supporting Actor – Motion Picture, Creed, 2016)] fought his way out of the escape-proof prison called “The Tomb,” he’s organized a new top-notch, for-hire security force. But when one of his team members goes missing inside a computerized techno-terror battle-maze known as HADES, Breslin together with Trent DeRosa (Dave Bautista, Guardians of the Galaxy) must now decipher a way to break into the world’s best hidden prison, release their kidnapped team, and make it out alive.

Even though the film is what it is, the Blu-ray is solid and comes stacked as a combo back with a Blu-ray + DVD (anyone still use these) and a digital copy. The film feels low budget and doesn’t carry the same scale as the first film (which had a $70 million budget). The look of the film is cheap but the sound is solid. The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 works well with the action, when there is any. I was honestly shocked to see there was extras included. There are three features including: “Making Escape Plan 2: Hades”, “Creating the Look of Escape Plan 2: Hades” and “Building the Robot of Escape Plan 2: Hades”. Lastly there are a few more Extended Cast / Crew Interviews, worth taking a look if your really bored.

 

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Theatre Review: “The King and I” – Kansas City

‘The King and I”

Starlight Theater – Kansas City, Missouri

June 14, 2018

 

I can imagine it’s pretty hard to write a Broadway musical.

In 1943, a couple of guys named Richard and Oscar took a popular novel and turned it into one of the most popular musicals of all time; “Oklahoma!”  They followed it up with “Carousel,” “State Fair” and ‘South Pacific.”  Four hits in a row.  What would Mr. Rodgers and Mr. Hammerstein come up with for their next show?

Our story begins with Anna Leonowens (Elena Shaddow) aboard a boat with her son, Louis (Ryan Stout).  They have traveled from England to visit the court of the King of Siam, where Anna has been employed as the new teacher for the King’s wives and children.  Both mother and son are taken by the pageantry that accompanies their journey to the palace, as well as the exuberance of the King (Jose Llana) himself.  The King wishes to have his country adapt more modernist attitudes, and he hopes this English teacher can help him change.  And help him she does.

“The King and I” is a show I’ve been dying to see performed live since I first saw the film in the early 1970s.  The closest I ever got was a touring production, starring Yul Brynner, that came through Baltimore in the mid 1980s.  Sadly, I didn’t get to see the show, but I later did eat in the same Chines restaurant made popular by the fact that, when Brynner visited for dinner, somebody stole his shoes.   And, while it would have been amazing to see Brynner in his career-defining role, this new tour is equally every bit its equal.

Elena Shaddow and Jose Llana in Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “The King and I.” Photo by Jeremy Daniel

Both leads give amazing, energized performances and I would be remiss if I did not point out that Mr. Llana makes the role of the King his own.  The supporting cast is just as good and the music….well, it’s Rodgers and Hammerstein, for God’s sake!  What’s amazing is that Rodgers and Hammerstein still had “Cinderella” (a perennial favorite on television), “Flower Drum Song” and “The Sound of Music” to follow.  Filled with familiar songs like “Hello Young Lovers,” “Getting to Know You” and “Shall We Dance,” the show is easily one of the best productions I’ve seen at Starlight in a long time.

The show plays in Kansas City through June 17th.  For tickets to a performance, either in Kansas City or later in the tour, click HERE.

Film Review “Mountain”

Starring: Willem Dafoe
Directed by: Jennifer Peedom
Rated: PG
Running Time: 1 hr 14 mins
Greenwich

Our Score: 2.5 out 5 stars

This beautifully-shot Australian documentary attempts to explore why humanity has chosen over the last century or so to start climbing the tallest mountains in the world. Or at least this appears to be the only tangible theme to “Mountain” other than it being a work of eye candy that belongs on the National Geographic Channel. Director Jennifer Peedom’s (“Sherpa”) film doesn’t begin like documentary as we watch, in black and white, members of the Australian Chamber Orchestra tuning up their instruments and Willem Dafoe prepping before a microphone. Then suddenly we are thrust into some of the most wonderful cinematography you will ever see as we fly like Superman across breathtaking mountaintops.

From grandiose passages of British writer Robert Macfarlane’s 2003 book “Mountains of the Mind,” Dafoe speculates about what strange force from within the mountains changed humanity from fearing them to trying to conquer them. All the while we continue to see one shot of a mountain after another, often with a mountaineer dressed in a red or other brightly colored shirt to stand out in contrast to the natural background.

There is some expected exposition of Mt. Everest, the king of mountains, but generally what see are nameless geographical features from all over the world. It’s not just climbers, though, that puts us on the edge of our seats as they put their lives on the line in the name of trying to feel alive. There are skiers and snowboarders dropped from helicopters trying to stay ahead of avalanches they themselves create; tightrope walkers balancing themselves across gaping canyons; bicyclists jumping off cliffs; and let us not forget those that glide through the air at high rates of speed like flying squirrels. To Peedom’s credit, we do see some of the negative consequences these thrill seekers inflict upon themselves.

It’s a challenge to label “Mountain” as a documentary because there isn’t much to it that provokes conversation or opinions about the subject matter after the credits start to roll. Nor are we educated about the subject of mountains other than they are beautiful and some people like to risk their lives for them. The music is wonderfully played, especially the “Winter” portion of Italian composer Antonio Vivaldi’s masterful “Four Seasons.” Dafoe’s narration is okay, but Macfarlane’s descriptions are borderline ridiculous with their grandiosity. In the end, “Mountain” is more style than substance.

Film Review: “Uncle Drew”

Starring:  Kyrie Irving, Lil Rel Howery and Shaquille O’Neal
Directed by:  Charles Stone III
Rated:  PG 13
Running time:  1 hour 43 mins
Lionsgate

Our Score: 3.5 out of 5 stars

Lew Alcindor.  Nate Archibald.  Wilt Chamberlain.  Dr. J.

All of these basketball legends got their start by playing in Rucker Park in New York City.  But they all pale in comparison to the greatest streetball player ever…Uncle Drew.

Our story begins on the famous basketball court as it is being prepared for the 50th Anniversary Tournament.  Dax (Howery) is the coach of a team entered and he’s got a secret weapon – a big man named Casper (Aaron Gordon).  Dax goes out of his way to let Casper know he is loved, not wanting to lose him to a flashier (or better) coach.  Dax was, at one time, a promising basketball player, but an incident during a championship game, when a potential game-winning shot was blocked, his round-ball Karma hasn’t been very good.  And it gets worse when his girlfriend kicks him out and Casper runs to a team coached by Mookie (an obnoxious Nick Kroll).  At his wits end, Dax has a chance run-in with the infamous Uncle Drew.  He convinces him to get his original team together to play for chance to be the champs.  Go Moneys!

I don’t know why, but basketball players make good actors.  Michael Jordan in “Space Jam.”  Ray Allen in “He Got Game.”  Kareem Abdul Jabbar in “Airplane.”  Lebron James in “Trainwreck.”  Now you can add to the list current Boston Celtic Kyrie Irving.  Playing a character 40-plus years older than he is, Irving gives a strong, soulful performance.  And he is joined by fellow former superstars Chris Webber, Shaquille O’Neal, Reggie Aloysius Miller (for some reason, whenever I speak of Reggie Miller I like using his full name), Nate Robinson and Lisa Leslie.  On the non-athletic side Howery, who was so good as the TSA employed pal in “Get Out,” continues his good performance streak here.

But the film is about more than basketball.  It’s about family and friendship, and when those values are discussed the film jumps to another level.  And basketball fans in the know will enjoy the humor (C. Webb’s character is reminded often that there are no “time outs” left, Shaq gets to call a fellow teammate that hogs the ball “Kobe”).  What I found funniest was that, even though past great players like Michael Jordan are referred to often, there is not one mention of Irving’s former teammate, Lebron James.  An error of omission or a quiet dig?  Either way, it’s funny.

Concert Review: The Black Dahlia Murder & Whitechapel “Nightbringers/This is Exile” Tour

“Nightbringers / This Is Exile Tour 2018”
Whitechapel, The Black Dahlia Murder, Fleshgod Apocalypse, Aversions Crown, Shadow of Intent
Wednesday, June 13th, 2018
Montage Music Hall, Rochester, NY

Our score: 5 out of 5 stars

Death Metal staples The Black Dahlia Murder and Whitechapel made a stop in Rochester, NY with special guests Shadow of Intent, Aversions Crown, and Fleshgod Apocalypse as part of a co-headlining tour which has the tours headliners each performing a selected album in full from start to finish

With the rarity of both headliners playing each of these albums (Nightbringers/This Is Exhile) in their entirety it was well before the first notes rang out that those in attendance knew they were in for a treat. Shadow of Intent opened up the evening with a brief yet ferocious set which was the perfect catalyst the evening ahead. Aversions Crown would follow performing tracks from their new album including the song “The Breeding Process.” Standout Italian metallers Fleshgod Apocalypse were a welcomed breath of fresh air which helped diversify the bill. Drummer David Falchitto was an absolute show stealer throughout the set especially on the song “The Violation.” If you have never checked out this band before defiantly give them a listen.

The Black Dahlia Murder would hit the stage next where they proceeded to rip through their latest album “Nightbringers”. Highlighting the set were songs such as “Catacomb Hecatomb” and “The Lonely Deceased”. Longtime fans worry not, as the band did sprinkle in a few classic ragers including “Everything Went Black” and “Deathmask Divine.” The Black Dahlia Murder continues to execute their live sets masterfully earning them status as a modern death metal powerhouse. Whitechapel would close out the night with a full performance of their second album “This Is Exile”. The universe imploded when vocalist Phil Bozeman and crew unleashed the crushing “Possession” which fueled the bands momentum as they continued on through the night. I have to admit that I was a bit skeptical upon first hearing the band was performing this album in whole. However, it transitioned very well live and the band delivered on all levels.

This tour is an absolute must see for fans of Whitechapel and The Black Dahlia Murder. Fans of modern death metal, metal-core, and slam will not be disappointed as the package has a little something for everyone so if the tour is in your town I highly suggest you check it out!

The Black Dahlia Set List:

1.) Widowmaker
2.) Of God and Serpent, Of Spectre and Snake
3.) Matriarch
4.) Nightbringers
5.) Jars
6.) Kings of the Nightworld
7.) Catacomb/Hecatomb
8.) As Good As Dead
9.) The Lonely Deceased

Whitechapel Set List

1.) Father of Lies
2.) This Is Exile
3.) Possession
4.) To All That Are Dead
5.) Exalt
6.) Somatically Incorrect
7.) Death Becomes Him
8.) Daemon (The Procreated)
9.) Eternal Refuge
10.) Of Legions
11.) Messiahabolical

Film Review “Incredibles 2”

Directed by: Brad Bird
Starring: Craig T. Nelson, Holly Hunter, Sarah Vowell, Huck Milner, Samuel L. Jackson
Distributed by: Walt Disney Studios
MPAA Rating: PG
Running time: 118 minutes

Film Score: 3 out of 5 stars

When I saw the first “Incredibles” movie, I really wasn’t blown away. I know there are some extreme people that saw that it is one of Pixar’s best but I never and still don’t see it even after 14 years. It’s obvious a sequel is here but even though “Incredibles 2” is a smart movie that not only has a message but improves from the first film…yet I was left unsatisfied luckily my expectation were low. I will say that “Incredibles 2” is definitely an action packed movie. I just wish it was more fun. I wanted to laugh more for sure. I just didn’t feel like the cast was having fun. “Incredibles 2” runs nearly two hours, which is a lot for kids to stick with. My little one left the theater yawning (as did I). Second act definitely picks up some steam but too late I felt.

Official Premise: “In “Incredibles 2,” Helen (voice of Holly Hunter) is called on to lead a campaign to bring Supers back, while Bob (voice of Craig T. Nelson) navigates the day-to-day heroics of “normal” life at home with Violet (voice of Sarah Vowell), Dash (voice of Huck Milner) and baby Jack-Jack—whose super powers are about to be discovered. Their mission is derailed, however, when a new villain emerges with a brilliant and dangerous plot that threatens everything. But the Parrs don’t shy away from a challenge, especially with Frozone (voice of Samuel L. Jackson) by their side. That’s what makes this family so Incredible.”

I just don’t see the fascination with these characters. I don’t like them, especially not in this movie. Mr. Incredible is a major egomaniac. I really didn’t like him in this movie, I know he is trying to be funny having “a men” taking care of his children while mommy is out working. I get it, the roles are reversed for the time that this film is timed in. It doesn’t make it any better that he is jealous of his wife’s success and honestly gives me a real bad taste throughout most of his scenes. I am glad that Elastic Girl gets a chance to shine this movie, even if it has a social commentary within it and it ended up being my favorite part of the film. I felt like it added an extra level to the typical superhero male driven story.

Frozone was used a little more this time but at the same time even less it felt like. I didn’t enjoy looking at (the Acid reflux guy was disgusting) or listening to any of the new characters that were introduced outside of Winston Deavor (voiced by Bob Odenkirk) and his sister Evelyn Deavor (Catherine Keener). These two nailed their roles for sure. I liked them but the other “supers” weren’t super at all. Jack-Jack definitely steals the show, no question. He is funny and super cute. Loved his powers for sure. There is a great bit with Edna and Jack-Jack that was a riot. So in closing, I am not a huge fan of “The Incredibles”, I enjoyed the sequel but it is not a favorite of mine. It is probably not something I can watch over and over again like we have with “Inside Out” or “Wreck-it Ralph”. But if you are a huge fan of the first movie, this will definitely leave you satisfied and wanting more.