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Beast is an okay thriller/adventure film. August 16, 2022

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Idris Elba packs up his two daughters after the death of their mother for a fun-filled African savannah vacation. There is playful banter and “serious talk” as they set off on their adventure. Unfortunately, there is a large lion on the loose in the vicinity of their camp, and its mad and out for blood.

There’s lots of blood.

Nicknamed “Jaws on land” months before opening, the moniker isn’t far from wrong. You will most likely figure out who lives and who survives early in the short 90-minute film.

But it’s a fun ride to the conclusion, with Elba getting to star in another action adventure film and he gets to punch a lion. No really, they have him punching a lion. There’s lots of mumbo jumbo about poachers and how the lion is out for revenge against all people now. But really, he punches the lion.

Directed by Baltasar Kormakur, with a script from Ryan Engle, it’s a zippy hour and a half that is a good run time for this film. Expect it to head to streaming video pretty quickly, although there isn’t much else opening for the next few weeks so that it might cling to the box office for awhile.

If you go, beware it is rated R for language, bloody violence, and heart-pounding thrills. Kind of like riding Steel Vengeance at Cedar Point with blood added. It’s up to you to know your kids and their tolerance level for this type of bloody adventure. It’s scary enough that I’d probably leave my under 13’s at home for sure.

End of summer fun, with Bullet Train and The Gray Man (reviews) August 2, 2022

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BULLET TRAIN, set aboard a speeding 180 mph train traveling from Tokyo to Kyoto is an action thriller from David Leitch, the director of the John Wick series. It stars Brad Pitt, Sandra Bullock, and a handful of other racially diverse actors. This is the last of the big new summer movies this season.

Five assassins are out to get a McGuffin briefcase and the film is colorful, funny, and ultra violent, as you would expect from the director of John Wick. It is based on a Japanese novel, and there is some international controversy since Leitch chose to cast the film with a racially diverse mix of primarily Americans, while the original novel and the story itself take place entirely in Japan with Japanese characters. Make of that what you will.

Bullet Train is rated R, and it will appeal to folks who enjoy films like Fast and Furious but secretly wish those films were far more violent. Its showing exclusively in movie theaters.

THE GRAY MAN is an espionage thriller from the Russo Brothers (Avengers:Endgame, Everything Everywhere All At Once) but less creative than their normal fair. It’s clearly meant to be the first in a franchise series for star Ryan Gosling. There are 11 more novels after this one in the series. 

Think of this as Jason-Bourne Lite. The pieces are all there, but they are not as smart, and not as exciting as the Bourne films. Chris Evans plays an outstanding bad guy, and you will have a hard time associating him with any of the hero movies where he has played Captain America. Bravo to Chris Evans.

The Gray Man is rated PG-13 and will appeal to those who like more standard spy thrillers but secretly wish they were far less interesting. Its playing in select theaters and it’s streaming on Netflix.

Forgotten Musicals Part 2: They’re Playing Our Song (1979) July 24, 2022

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Robert Klein and Lucie Arnaz, Photo: Martha Swope

When a show is as huge a hit as They’re Playing Our Song was, you’d think everyone would know it, right? Well, not in this case.

Running for over three years in NYC with major productions in LA and London’s West End, the musical has a storyline based on the real world relationship of Carole Bayer Sager and Neil Simon — with book and lyrics written by the two, and music written by Marvin Hamlish.

Starring comedian Robert Klein and Lucie Arnaz, it’s a two-character show with a 6-member backup of “egos” for both Robert and Lucie. While it seems like a small show, it had an enormous set by Douglas W Schmidt including the first use of stage-wide moving projections. 

A movie was planned and sold to Columbia, but never made. Nominated for awards across the board, it won none losing out to Sweeney Todd that same season. Bad timing for the show. (It’s other competition that year? Best Little Whorehouse in Texas, and Ballroom). It had a terrific tv commercial that ran day and night in NYC.

Neil Simon’s hilarious one-liners were on full display, which came naturally to comedian Robert Klein, with Lucie Arnaz making her Broadway debut with precision timing and a natural comedic style she no doubt learned from her mother (Lucille Ball).

The show had a series of headliners over the years after the original cast left — and there was talk of friction between Klein and Arnaz, the most famous being Klein’s boredom with playing the same role and reciting the same lines night after night, being a standup comedian…Lucy would act by looking at Klein and making eye contact…Robert would act by looking at the audience and playing all the jokes to them. The friction increased throughout the run, although it was never apparent from the audience side of the stage. They remained friends after the show closed. 

Some of the songs are more familiar than the show itself – many of them becoming standards at the time recorded by Jack Lawrence, Johnny Mathis, Frank Sinatra, and others. The script itself was reviewed as reflective of Simon’s The Goodbye GIrl and other comedies of the era. 

Rarely produced, it is a show that is appropriate for both large and small theaters, although  some of the laughs and jokes are now dated so it remains strictly a show trapped in time during the late 70’s.

With songs like “If He Really Knew Me”, “I Still Believe in Love”, and “Just for Tonight”, it’s a cast album you really should have in your collection.

Peele’s Nope is a big Yup July 22, 2022

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Jordan Peele has crafted a Spielberg-ish suspense thriller in his latest movie Nope, which is incorrectly classified as a “horror” movie, which it is not. Unless you consider films like Jaws or War of the Worlds horror movies.

Following a brother and sister trying to get the “ultimate movie shot” of a UFO pestering their local valley, the film creates the perfect summer blockbuster – suspenseful, often funny, sometimes weird, always entertaining. Grab your popcorn and settle in for summer fun.

The very solid cast are realistic and make you root for characters rather than stereotypes. A side story about a sitcom gone tragically wrong is gripping and comments on the unpredictable nature of our world.

The first half of the film plays out like Jaws…things happen but the monster lurks almost unseen in the shadows (or in this case bright clouds). The second half echoes War of the Worlds as things play out to a very satisfying conclusion.

Nope gets a big Yup from me. Scare rating- somewhere between Jurassic Park and Aliens. Grade A – highly recommended.

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time is challenging, compelling, and beautiful at The Dio. (Review) June 18, 2022

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Photo courtesy The Dio Dining and Entertainment

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, Simon Stephens award-sweeping play (2013 London, 2015 Broadway) is receiving a gorgeous production at the Dio in Pinckney through mid-July. You should put it on your list of shows that need to be seen this summer — in fact, go to their website and reserve a table right now. 

If you read Mark Haddon’s book upon which the play is based, well, there’s a lot more to this story than there was to that story.

There are multiple stars of this lovely production – the first being Austin McCoy, who gives an exceptional performance as Christopher, a 15-year old with autism spectrum disorder who discovers a neighbor’s dog dead, and sets off to solve the mystery of what happened (which is really just a small part of this fascinating story). You seriously can’t take your eyes off of him, no matter what else is going on around him (often a lot).

The second star is Matt Tomich’s beautiful hand drawn moving projection set and lighting that propels the show quickly and creatively to school, home, train station, London, and even outer space (and later a ridiculously entertaining math problem).

The third star(s) is the outstanding ensemble cast that play, well, everyone else in Christopher’s world – even inanimate objects. Clever direction by Jared Schneider keeps things moving at a fast pace – but not so fast that you don’t find yourself thinking about these compelling stories as things unravel and then re-assemble again. (Anne Bauman, Rachael Cupples, Kelsi Fay, Andrew Gorney, Marlene Inman, Dante Justice, DOnovan Leary, Dan Morrison, and a particulary touching Monica Spencer).

You will quickly see why this play won all those awards. This production will also surely be award winning and it is beautiful.

Costumes are designed by Norma Polk and props by Eileen Obradovich. Steve DeBruyne serves as artistic director. Rachael Cupples also served as assistant director.

This is a challenging and compelling play to be sure. It’s never maudlin, but it doesn’t shy away from ASD challenges and at times it makes some of the scenes intense. There are no easy answers here, and Christopher’s final words in the show wake a feeling we normally don’t want to think about or talk about. Indeed, they don’t talk about it here — and let you decide on your own what you think — ultimately making this show a comedy, or a drama, or a tragedy, depending on your own take-away.

Dinner, as usual, is excellent – and the intermission dessert reminded me of visits with my grandma when I was a kid — altogether perfect for the meal at this show at the Dio! 

Highest Recommendation. 

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time continues through July 17th at the Dio, 177 E Main Street, Pinckney MI — tickets at www.DioTheatre.com

Say “I Do, I Do, I Do” to Mamma Mia! at Encore Musical Theatre Company (Review) June 17, 2022

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Yes, I did sneak a photo during the finale on opening night. Sonja Marquis, Keith Kalinowski, Sarah Stevens, David Moan, Anna Elizabeth, Sebastian Gerstner, and the cast of Mamma Mia!

Sophie is getting married. She has three possible dads. That’s about all you need to know about Mamma Mia!, the mega-hit international musical that opened at the Encore Musical Theatre Company in Dexter last night. It doesn’t really matter what else happens in this storyline, because it is the ABBA music and the fun and the feel-good evening that it’s really all about. And boy, will you feel good, and you’ll be singing the songs all the next morning as well.

Encore pulls out all the stops in their biggest, slickest musical ever, and I say that in the most enthusiastic way. What a thrill to see a big cast on their stage. It’s the closest you will come to seeing the Broadway show plunked down in the middle of Dexter, with all the bells and whistles (thank Dan Cooney who appeared in the Broadway production, and his choice of Monica Kapoor, also a 7-year veteran of the production, to direct and choreograph.)

What you will see on the Encore stage is the best-choreographed, best-acted production of Mamma Mia! you will ever see locally, and bravo to everyone involved. 

Sarah B. Stevens plays Donna, and Kate Cummings plays her daughter Sophie – about to get married to Sky (Tyler J. Messinger). Stevens and Cummings are superb throughout the evening in their many scenes together and separately. Donna’s best friends from “back when” Rosie and Tanya are played by Sonja Marquis and Anna Elizabeth and they are both fantastic. 

Once the guys arrive (Sebastian Gerstner as Harry, Keith Kalinoswki as Bill, and David Moan as Sam) the evening kicks into high gear. Which one is the father? It doesn’t really matter. Everything is a setup for the spectacular song and dance numbers.

And wow, does this show dance. Kapoor is familiar with every beat, every move, every motion set to music – and I guarantee you that you have not seen this type of choreography in any local production. The cast is really split in two — the adults, who show their singing and acting chops, and the “kids” who explode with energy every time they take the stage in their many musical numbers.

By the end, there is a wedding, though not exactly what you might expect and the audience is up on its feet for the final dance-along numbers. It just plain old works. And when you see a production that is professionally directed, choreographed, acted, and designed, you can appreciate a show that is far better than you might recall, especially if you have only seen the movie. 

Set Design by Sarah Tanner is outstanding, as is Nikki Belenski’s lighting design (and Will Myers projections). Sharon Larkey Urick’s costume design is spot on. Anne Donevan provides a million props (I exaggerate, but only a little) and Chris Goosman’s sound design deftly juggles a large orchestra and performers. Musical Direction is under the always-capable and talented direction of Tyler Driskill. The technical aspects of this production simply shine.

Very highest recommendation, Get your tickets now as every performance is sure to sell out.

Mamma Mia! continues at the Encore Musical Theatre Company until July 17th. Tickets at theencoretheatre.org

Women send “Company” soaring at Croswell (review) May 21, 2022

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Aiyanna Fivecoat (Kathy), Lauren Goyer (April), and Sydney Bramlett (Marta) in Company at Croswell Opera House. Photo courtesy Croswell Opera House.

Opening the 2022 Broadway Season at Croswell Opera House, Stephen Sondheim’s Company is a great way to launch the summer season at Michigan’s oldest theater! Before reading further, get your tickets now at croswell.org — the show only runs through Sunday — and you should see it. 

Bobby is the sole single person among his circle of closest friends in NYC. In what was a daring departure in musical theater in 1970, the show doesn’t follow a straightforward storyline – rather it takes it’s time exploring the couples’ relationships as well as their ongoing urging for Bobby to couple up rather than continue to live the (gasp) single life at his 35th birthday. Of course, Bobby has daliances with other single women who enter and leave his life. There is not much more I am going to say about the script, since it’s up to you to discover who you relate to, who you don’t. and what you think as the show winds through it’s course.

But it’s the women in Bobby’s life that make this production soar — and I mean soar. Take, for example, Leah Fox who turns in the evening’s funniest performance as marriage-shy personally neurotic Amy in “Getting Married Today”. It’s the strongest performance I have seen from her already strong career in musical theater. And then there is Julia Hoffert as karate-wielding, “I can’t I’m on a diet” Sarah whose vocals and physical shtick shine throughout the evening (watch her delighfully munching on brownies in the background at times). Maya Gangadharan turns in a masterful performance as Joanne, and her “Ladies Who Lunch” is spot-on perfect. Lauren Goyer is delighful as flight attendant April (whom Bobby occasionally calls May, or June). 

You will have your favorites too – and it all looks great on the Croswell stage, with projections making for rapid and stylistic backgrounds as the show moves from apartment to apartment, club to bedroom. Meghan C Hakes returns to Adrian to direct and choreograph. The staging of “Side by Side by Side” and “You Could Drive a Person Crazy” is particulary good. The superb 13-piece orchestra is under the direction of musical director Adam P. Miller.

This is an adult show to be sure though there is nothing in it that would prevent you from bringing your mid-teens on up — though they might not be super invested in these adult relationships and there is a fair share of blunt sex talk, drugs, and language. It also has a fair smattering of 70’s lingo that adults will get but younger audiences might not. This was a show that was fairly shocking and controversial to it’s 1970’s audiences although the impact has all been watered down over the years. 

Very highly recommended.

Company continues at Croswell Opera House, Adrian, MI through May 22nd. croswell.org for tickets. 

Josh Gates Live! (Detroit) review May 9, 2022

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It’s hard to say anything but nice things about the delightfully entertaining archeologist/adventurer/actor Josh Gates (host of Discovery’s Expedition Unknown). But the entire “Live” appearance is built around his charisma and his stories – believe them or not.

Ardent followers of his TV show (myself included) know that he is a highly enthused explorer in pre-scripted “expeditions” to find treasures and (lately) ghosts. And of course, he never finds much of anything, but he has a relaxed and involved style in presenting stories about historic figures and their (most often) lost treasures — DB Cooper, Captain Kidd, sunken ships and lost voyages, etc. Sometimes he finds nails or canisters suggesting the historical figure was there at one time — at others (a recent opening of an Egyptian crypt with a mummy inside!) are carefully orchestrated press releases for other archeological groups – and sometimes border on defiling the crypt/ruin (they drilled holes in a Mayan temple to “look for gold”). Josh is surrounded by a superb television team that makes it look like he himself is leading these explorations — when in reality he’s a talkative (and sometimes smart-alecky) narrator at best.

Still, when it was announced he would be appearing live, I put on my shepherd’s sundial neckless and sat rapt for 90 minutes at a packed Masonic Temple Theater to hear about his stories and adventures.

The first thing you notice is that he is taller and thinner than he appears on tv — of course, on Expedition Unknown he is usually the only (on-screen) American surrounded by thin Europeans or Egyptians. The next thing you notice is how his conversational style really is like that on the series. Over the course of the evening he tells stories about his adventures, close calls, boring month long trips that are edited down into exciting 40 minute episodes, and most recently his (bizarre) fascination with ghosts and supernatural. He was the impetus for the spinoff series Expedition X — “what was that!” — tv at it’s most unbelievable and hokum of the first order.

Unfortunately he spent too much time discussing his supernatural obsession, and he lost me for most of that section – though from the reactions around me there are clearly those who think that is more interesting than his actual archeological adventures. Different strokes for different folks.

I did have a VIP package and would have met him, were it not for the hundreds of other people at the VIP event, so no thanks, hero or no hero.

If you get the opportunity to see him live, do so! It’s rare that we get to see someone like Josh Gates in person, away from the tv screen, and away from the cameras — but he’s also an actor of the first order, so expect your evening to sound like a memorized script (because it is).

Expedition Unknown returns to Discovery Channel on May 25th.

Recent Movie Reviews April 17, 2022

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Downton Abbey: A New Era is exactly what you expect…a continuation of the same story you have been familiar with all these years. It looks great. Character stories are familiar and while it won’t win any Downton converts, its a nice two hour diversion for already existing fans. There are zero surprises here, but I found it lovely.

The Duke truly is ridiculously charming. It’s a bit like a BBC tv show, but this British film tells the outlandish tale of a Goya held hostage in exchange for free tv for pensioners and elderly in 1961 England. A great cast, a great script, and great directing (his last film) by Roger Michell. 5 star alternate adult programming to Dr Strange this weekend.

DOCTOR STRANGE IN THE MULTIVERSE OF MADNESS is a mess, in both a good and bad way, and you should see it. It hops from MCU world to world, some recognizable, some not. Having seen WandaVision helps, because you’ll be lost in some places if you have not (having seen Loki doesn’t hurt either). Raimi does solid work here, but the CGI team does better work. It’s hard to connect with any of these people — but there is no doubt this is a continuation of the Avengers films, not the diversions we’ve had in-between. The film does commit the ultimate movie crime though: several times it stops and feels like people are making a movie. You’ll see what I mean. Because, come on, admit it, you’re going to go see it. It deserves to be seen in iMax, EMax, Dolby, or whatever the biggest loudest screen is that you have near you. Small town folks — go see it on a big town. 4/5 stars for MCU fans – 3/5 stars for your partners you’re going to drag to go see it. There is a mid-credit and end-of-credit scene, so don’t go rushing out (they’re fun). And being Raimi there is a touch of horror in the movie — mostly toward the end — but nothing out of the realm of other Marvel movies. Still, maybe a bit too intense for the wee ones, who you should leave at home (they will be completely lost anyway unless they have seen every Marvel movie to date).

The Northman is a deeply moody, gorgeously visual, ultra-violent (seriously leave the kids and squeamish folks at home) Norse take on Hamlet – kind of – steeped in Northern European mythology and battles for land and just sheer dominance. The blood flows freely here – both literally and metaphorically. Highly Recommended for mature audiences. May not be your type of thing.

The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent – I had an immeasurably wonderful time at this film. Nick Cage gets to send-up every role he has ever played, but he’s fantastically upstaged at every turn by Pedro Pascal who has quickly turned into my favorite actor – his resume is as long as Nick’s at this point. Highly recommended. 5/5

Everything Everywhere All at Once – I waited awhile to post my thoughts on this film until people had the chance to see it and make up their own mind about it. I personally hated everything about this film – it was frenetic and unevenly paced; the storyline had an insignificant family drama payoff not worthy of the metaverse, and it gave me a migraine reading the subtitles with progressive glasses with the constant motion in the background. I thought all of the actors (whom I adore) were wasted in this bizarre film. I know I differ from 97% of the critics and 90% of the audiences on this one, and that’s rare for me – but I was very clearly not the target market for this unrealistic and agitating film.

Fantastic Beasts: The secrets of Dumbledore — I wanted so much to love this. I did not. I wanted so much to “return to the magic”. It has less magic than any of the previous world of Harry Potter films. And we already found out Dumbledore’s secret in part 2 so the title is a bit of a tease. Mads is no match for the now-cancelled Johnny. It’s a “meh” pre-summer could-have-been blockbuster. See it in IMAX or Dolby. It will disappear when the new Dr Strange arrives a few weeks hence. C at best. I suspect it will be on HBOmax within 6 weeks. This was meant to be a 5-picture prequel from the Harry Potter gang, but it is going to fail miserably at the box office, and I suspect this is the end of the Fantastic Beasts journey. I think the movie makers thought the same, because there is a three minute tacked-on ending that ties everything up in a neat bow. Well, almost everything. Anything you care about, anyway. 

Ambulance is solid Michael Bay fun, even if there is a bit too much of it at 2 hours 15 minutes. Mostly car chases, lots of guns ablazing, and fast action. The acting is solid. There are plenty of explosions to keep Michael Bay fans happy. You wont remember most of the film when you leave, but you wont leave disappointed either. My audience loved it and reacted to action sequences throughout. Recommended, just dont go in expecting art. It feels a bit like a shoot-em-up family drama crossed with Speed. 

Morbius is a bad movie. There, I’ve said it. I wanted to like it but dd not and it will please neither Marvel fans nor vampire fans. Its probably fine if you have nothing else to see and want to be reminded of how good the Venom movies are not. Is it just me or is Jared Leto just getting weirder and weirder? 2/5 stars. Not recommended.

Here’s my take on the Academy Awards by way of the Best Picture nominees:

“Belfast,” was my favorite movie of the year. It fires on every cylinder. It will probably win best original screenplay. I’m rooting for it as an upset winner, but I am pretty sure it won’t win.

“CODA,” once the underdog, is looking like Best Picture this year. I loved this movie and will be happy if it wins.

“Don’t Look Up,” the star-powered super liberal look at the end of the world by comet got drubbed by the critics even though it gets everything about stupid people right. I don’t think it will win anything tonight.

 “Drive My Car,” is a three hour Japanese movie that I could barely sit through. It doesn’t stand a chance, especially after the backlash about a foreign film winning last year’s Academy Award.

 “Dune,” is going to walk away with just about every technical award, but it is a misfit in the best picture category until part II is released two years from now, then we might be talking about a different story.

 “King Richard,” is another movie that isn’t going to go far tonight, but I do expect Will Smith to win best actor.

 “Licorice Pizza,” was a great movie, and it was lucky just to be nominated.

 “Nightmare Alley, ” was another great movie but it wouldn’t have been nominated if Guillermo del Toro wasn’t attached to the project.

 “The Power of the Dog” was a surprising front-runner for awhile (I hated this movie with a passion, but I often hate the Best Picture winners).

 “West Side Story.” is another big ticket nominee that isn’t going to win anything except an assured best featured actress award for Ariana DeBose.

I very much enjoyed The Lost City. Tatum and Bullock have chemistry to spare, Radcliffe is great as a bad guy. Pitt appears for a few minutes. It’s a direct rip-off of Romancing The Stone and several other movies but it is funny, the rom-com segments have heart, and while not everything lands, much of the film is spot on terrific. Go, get popcorn, have fun. Recommended. 4/5 stars. A minute into the credits there’s a short funny scene so don’t spring out of your seat and leave.

I’ve mentioned it before, but there’s nothing better for a lousy weather weekend than last year’s Barb and Star Go To Vista Del Mar, a ridiculous comedy I have probably watched 11 times now. The jokes are hit and miss but Wiig and Mumolo are fantastic, as is Jamie Dornan. And don’t blink or you’ll miss the Mouse Orchestra. The strings need work but the rest of you can have cheese.

The Batman is 3 hours long. It has an A-list outstanding cast. It will sell a gazillion tickets and as word of mouth gets out will sell a gazillion more. Get your advance tickets NOW if you want to see it opening weekend. I thought it was fantastic film-making and while not as good as The Dark Knight it is still the next best Batman movie made. It feels long and it feels over-edited so as not to offend anyone. It’s a darker vision to be sure, but it works even if it’s not much fun. It’s serious and gloomy. Art design is consistently excellent and sometimes exceptional. Pattinson is fantastic. Seriously. 5/5 stars.

I saw Cyrano so long ago last year that I almost forgot it opens wide today (still only playing primarily on art screens and specialty AMC screens)….first, Yes, its “that” Cyrano that opened at Goodspeed Opera House years ago, eventually played off-Broadway, and was shopped around forever before it was picked up as a movie. And no, it does not have Frank WIldhorn’s great score for his own Cyrano, but a bland pop rock score written specifically for this production by a rock band…and yes, Peter Dinklage is really good, but not right for the part (his wife wrote it and produced it)…and no, I didn’t really like anything else in this movie. The scenic design and costumes and cinematography all feel a bit flat (and in many instances evidently edited to cut out modern day buildings and things in backgrounds)…Its a decent waste of time, but that’s about it. Of course, this is a memory of a film I now saw 4 months ago. But it is what it is. 3/5 stars. Average at best.

Uncharted is a fun adventure film that falls in the National Treasure ilk…it has better toys, but half the intelligence. Actors fine. Story fine. Action fine. Ticks off all the standard action adventure checkboxes. Stars the massively over-rated but teenage girl friendly Tom Holland. 3/5 stars. Fine for a snowy afternoon. Generic maps! Tuxedoes! Auction house! Motor boats!

DOG (seen this morning in press preview) is a fun crowd-pleasing dog-lovers story of a roadtrip to try to get to a funeral. SO — for the first 95 percent it’s a roll-around and frolic with one of the screen’s most adorable and camera-ready dogs (actually 3 dogs). The last 5 percent is maudlin stuff. But 95% is still a big A from me. Recommended. Note: If you don’t like dogs you will HATE this movie. Seriously. There’s war and PTSD and scary “what will happen to the dog” stuff…but you know where it goes from the first scene. Light profanity. DO NOT buy one of these gorgeous dogs. They are dangerous, need incredible amounts of training and attention, and are absolutely inappropriate around children or other dogs.

Loved Death on the Nile…you probably already know whodoneit…but it’s a beautiful slow-paced leisurely scenic cruise to the ending. And most likely the last of the Branagh Peroit films. Beautifully dressed beautiful actors in beautifully designed sets committing beautiful Murder. Highly recommended.

Exceptional Gutenberg The musical at the Dio is the funniest show you’ve never seen before April 9, 2022

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Richard Payton and David Moan, photo Dio Dining and Entertainment

The best 17 shows west of the Hudson are on display in the single “Gutenberg The Musical” at The Dio theater in Pinckney. Brilliantly executed by stars Richard Payton and David Moan, hilariously directed by Steve Debruyne, with musical direction by Brian Buckner, the show is a non-stop laugh-fest the likes of which has not been seen in a very long time.

I can not recommend this show more highly — it’s a slice of heavenly comedy pie that will have you relaxed and highly entertained, and you might leave the theater with your sides hurting a bit from having laughed so hard all night. Five stars. 

There are sequences so funny that you haven’t finished laughing before the next big laugh comes along right on top of it —such is Scott Brown and Anthony King’s (Beetlejuice the musical) outrageous book, music, and lyrics. 

There’s not much to the concept: two writers/musicans/actors present a “workshop” of their musical, Gutenberg, where they play the cast of thousands, each indicated by a lettered cap (for example Drunk 1 and Drunk 2 in the stunning photo of Payton and Moan above). Having found a dearth of information about Gutenberg on Google, they set out to create a work of “historical fiction” which includes a satan-worshiping monk and his gentle (but dumb) sidekick; a printing press; a beautiful (but dumb) wine-stomper with the subtle name of Helvetica, and all the denizens of the town of Schlimmer, Germany, who are funny, funnier, and funniest (and mostly dumb). There are take-offs of so many Broadway musicals you can’t count them all – and you’ll learn a bit about writing a musical too (like what a “want song” is, along with the most convoluted definition of “metaphor” you’ve ever heard.)

Moan and Payton make the most of these roles, including characters such as the anti-semitic flower-girl (it’s their “purpose” to lend weight to their show), market stall sellers, townsfolk, and even a dead baby (don’t ask – just go watch). Everyone lives in a run-down medieval German town where all the roofs are made of dirty thatch. The show soars above it all (one time literally) and it is an absolute hoot.  The actors put on an acting class in clowning, singing, instantly transforming from one character (and emotion) to another, at times interchangeably playing the characters as needed to accomodate other stage business (which is your favorite, Payton’s Helvetica, or Moan’s Helvetica?)

They are also experts at improvisation if things go wrong (a hat goes flying, a cat goes flying) or if an audience member blurts out a comment (Moan: “Its just such excellent writing.”)

Brian Buckner plays the third character, not only musically directing the show, but appearing onstage playing piano throughout. His character is dry, funny, and adds another layer to the entire evening.  

There is a reason that many of my New York friends consider “Gutenberg The Musical” their favorite off-broadway show. It is easy to see why. It’s two hour runtime is a bit long, but you will never feel time passing in this show — intermission comes all too soon, and the “serious finale” will even find you singing along as you digest nonsense about “eating your dreams”. 

The Dio serves your dinner now, rather than using a buffet line, and quite frankly I liked that a lot. Remember to tip your waiter! (Even the actors remind you!)

The production is assistant directed by Amy Schumacher, Choreographed (clever!) by Rachael Cupples. Matt Tomich designed the set, lighting, and sound and makes a very complicated set-up feel simple and clean. Costumes are by Norma Polk and the (many) props are by Eileen Obradovich. 

Gutenberg The Musical continues through May 8th at the Dio, 177 E Main St, Pinckney, MI 48169, (517) 672-6009, diotheatre.com – reservations (tables of 2 or 4) required. Masks are optional.