"Mock and Roll" / One Year Later - by Pete Vogel

Last year I had the pleasure of meeting Mark Stewart, a local filmmaker who debuted his feature film – “Mock and Roll” – at the Gateway Theater in Columbus last November.  This was his debut film and he was showing it to local audiences for the first time. The film was shot primarily in Columbus, so having a hometown debut was both a blessing and a curse, with all the highs and lows that accompany a homecoming of this nature.  Mark’s journey was a little off the beaten path—he left his day job in HR (after working 34 years) to pursue his passion of music and movies, so there was a lot at stake for his Gateway debut as he began his sixth decade.

“Mock and Roll” was a dream come to fruition, a perfect blend of music, satire and storytelling.  It follows a local band (Liberty Mean) that parody another local band (The Black Owls) in their attempt to gain fame and fortune as a cover band.  It’s a mash-up of “The Office,” “This is Spinal Tap” and “Fargo” all rolled into one, with the storyline focused around a cadre of hapless millennials.

In the spirit of “The Odyssey,” Liberty Mean is set to embark on a sojourn to Austin TX to attend the South-by-Southwest (SXSW) Festival, even though they weren’t booked for the event, nor had any idea what to do once they arrived.  They decided to raise funds for the trip by setting up a crowd-funding page, but their contributions were paltry at best—on par with their paying gigs. This didn’t stop them from their quest, however, and they ended up engaging in questionable scientific experiments to raise funds for the trip…..Tomfoolery ensues.

There are many plot twists and turns, so I’ll leave it at that.  If you like music, DIY, dreamers, cameo appearances, satire, mockumentaries and homegrown art, you’ll love “Mock and Roll.”  It’s got something for everyone.

The film has been featured in many festivals since last fall, including the Orlando Film Festival, Oklahoma’s Eyecatcher International Film Festival, Austin’s Revolution Film Festival and Cincy’s Inside the Loop Film Festival.  They received several nominations (Best Comedy, Best Director, Best Editor, etc.) and received awards for Best Feature and Best Original Score. It also took home awards from Cleveland’s Indie Gathering Film Festival. Stewart and company have enjoyed an entire year of basking in the spotlight.  

More good news: “Mock and Roll” is currently available on Amazon for the low price of $9.99.  It’s a perfect stocking stuffer for the holidays. You don’t have to be a member to purchase; you can simply follow the link here:

Congratulations to Mark and his team that brought us “Mock and Roll.” It was a wild ride.  We definitely look forward to the next project! - Pete V.


No Respect for Penny Marshall - by Wal Ozello

By now, I’m sure you’ve heard the news that Penny Marshall died earlier this week from complications with Diabetes. Like many my age, I grew up with reruns of Laverne and Shirley on my local UHF channel. While my parents were watching the news and game shows, I was laughing away at the bumbling, ever funny, Laverne played by Penny Marshall. It was a great lesson in comedy.

She was probably one of the greatest comediennes of her time but never won the big prize. She was nominated for three Golden Globes but never a winner, losing to Carol Burnett in 1978 and Linda Lavin in 1979 and 1980. (If you don’t know who that is, don’t feel bad. I had to Google her name, too.)

While her comedic performances are at the level of Jerry Lewis, Jim Carrey and Robin Williams, her directing talents were even better. She had this knack for weaving real comedy into heartfelt stories. Ones that can make you laugh one second and touch your heart the next. Few people had that talent and Penny Marshall was a genius at it. It shines through in one of the best baseball movies ever, A League of Their Own.

A League of Their Own had only two Golden Globe nominations: Geena Davis for Best Performance by an Actress in a Motion Picture - Comedy or Musical and Madonna for Best Original Song - Motion Picture. Here’s some perspective: Honeymoon in Vegas was nominated for a Golden Globe Best Motion Picture - Comedy or Musical and A League of Their Own wasn’t. Pathetic. And as for the Academy Awards? No nominations.

Big was another amazing film directed by Penny Marshall. Also starring Tom Hanks, Marshall does a wonderful job of getting the best out of Tom by placing him in perfect situations for him to shine. I’m sure after years of being in front of the camera, she knew how to give her actors exactly what they needed. What works the best about this piano clip is the timing. It’s perfect.

Big got two Academy Award Nominations that year. Tom Hanks for Best Actor and Gary Ross and Anne Spielberg for Best Writing, Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen. At least the Golden Globe gave it a Best Picture nomination but it lost to Working Girl. But again, no love for Penny Marshall. (Side note: Big was the first movie directed by a woman to gross $100 million at the U.S. Box office. That was 1988.)

Ms. Marshall is able to open a door and give us a tour to the inside of the human soul. Her movies are not huge and dramatic. Instead they are calm but moving. You don’t know where they suck you in, but at some point they make you feel better about improving the lives of others. Here’s a clip from her movie Awakenings. If you haven’t seen this movie, rent or download it. It’s a masterpiece.

This got the most nominations seeing it’s the most dramatic of her movies. It received an Oscar nomination for Best Picture (given to the producers), Robert DeNiro for Best Actor and Steven Zallian for Best Screenplay. Robin Williams got a Golden Globe nomination for Best Actor. No love for Penny Marshall.

She hired some amazing talent: Tom Hanks, Robin Williams and Robert DeNiro and got them to create masterful performances. Made movies that are historic and loved by millions. Made the world laugh as an actress. But never received a Golden Globe or an Oscar. How immensely sad.

But they’ll be no crying today. Instead, let’s celebrate Penny Marshall and thanks her for giving us a glimpse of humanity covered in laughs and comedy.

Wal Ozello is a science fiction techno-thriller novelist and the author of Assignment 1989 ,  Revolution 1990, and Sacrifice 2086. He's the lead singer of the former Columbus rock band Armada. His film work includes directing Dad Can’t Help You Now by Colin Gawel.

Rocky Balboa Returns in Creed ll, a.k.a. Rocky Vlll - by Johnny DiLoretto

Maybe this is crazy, but Sylvester Stallone is a genius. Sure, he’s produced more crap than a flock of geese, but he invented Rambo (the onscreen version anyway) and the beloved Rocky Balboa, one of the all-time great characters in movie history. He puts that hat on, that leather jacket, and lays down some doe-eyed, slack-jawed philosophy, and suddenly the world and my place in it seems clearer. I think it’s that way for a lot of people.

All told, there are six true Rocky films: Rocky (still a masterwork of underdog pathos), Rocky II (a smart, heartfelt sequel), Rocky III (the next logical progression in the to-riches part of the saga), Rocky IV (a short and satisfying glasnost-era melodrama), Rocky V (the one we don’t like to mention) and the absolutely underrated Rocky Balboa, a brilliant low-budget comeback that reintroduced the character after a 16-year hiatus, and that takes us back, full circle, to the spirit and scrappy indie production values of the 1976 original.

In Rocky Balboa, the former champ is lured out of retirement for an exhibition match with the current champ to breathe some life into their dying sport and to quench the never-say-die fire in Rocky’s belly. It’s Stallone’s Unforgiven, an elegiac and sweetly made send-off to the character that made him a superstar and who still inspires millions of people to face down their demons and go the distance, often by running up the steps at the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

But a funny thing happened after Rocky Balboa. We didn’t want to say goodbye to the Italian Stallion just yet. Frankly, it was just so nice to see him again. The character had still more life, more fight in him and more wisdom to impart to an audience for whom humility and quiet dignity have become fast fading concepts. And, so, Creed was born.

In much the same way that Casino Royale rebooted and reinvented James Bond, the Creed movies are a savvy, baton hand-off of the franchise to a younger star and directors, but (in an inspired creative move) Stallone doesn’t do the obvious and simply write a younger Rocky into the mix, he shifts the focus to the son of his former adversary and best friend, Apollo Creed.

Rising screen sensation Michael B. Jordan as Adonis Creed outwardly bears little to no resemblance to Rocky. First off, the obvious, he’s black; secondly, he’s got a streetwise confidence that belies his inner sweetness; and third, he’s riddled through with daddy issues. But under Adonis’ toughness is the essential element required for these films to work: his character’s fragility, a sad, broken heart and the deep-seated desire to fight to find his self-worth. Enter Rocky as the perfect supporting character.

The Creed films put Rocky in his protege’s corner as both trainer and life coach. It’s another completely sensible and satisfying story pivot: turn Rocky into Mickey, his own former trainer and mentor. But whereas Mickey was tiny, gruff and occasionally cruel; Rocky, though sometimes reluctant, is a lumbering sweetheart always there to lift Adonis up, coach him through his toughest battles and inspire him to rise up when he’s knocked down.

It’s a testament to the timelessness of Stallone’s formula, and the ways he keeps repackaging it with sincerity and love, that the image of an underdog fighter, bruised and bloodied, getting up from the canvas to the strains of that indelible theme music still has the power to stir the heart. It’s the kind of thing that can give you the strength to fight any number of personal crises. You can apply it to nearly every one of our emotional or psychological wounds.

And that’s the beauty of this enduring character: Rocky no longer needs to fight to inspire us. We’re no longer cheering him on - he’s now squarely on Adonis’s and our side, whispering in our ears, telling us how great we can all be if we’re just willing to bear down, do the hard work, and fight through the pain and disappointment life punishes all of us with. Like he tells his estranged son in Rocky Balboa, “It’s not how hard you can hit. It’s how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward.” That’s clearly not about boxing at all...

Fortunately, with Creed 2, an absolute blast that ties Adonis’s evolving story to the fourth Rocky film (in which his father is killed in the ring by the Russian juggernaut, Ivan Drago), the Rocky saga just keeps moving forward with the same invaluable lessons for a new generation. In fact, counting the new Creed movie, there are now a total of eight Rocky films: and these new movies have earned inclusion in the franchise in their own right, but mostly because Rocky is still there informing the soul of the stories.

You know, if you went through each one of these movies and edited together all the scenes where Rocky has something to say, you’d have a nice little blueprint for how to be a good man and a decent human being. Stallone can make 20 more of these movies for all I care. It’ll be a sad day when the 72-year old’s not around anymore to guide the spirit of his creation. But, like the Stallion says, “It ain’t over til it’s over.” Thankfully, Creed 2 is a wildly entertaining reminder that it could do all of us a little good to go another round or two with this guy in our corner.

Johnny DiLoretto is a longtime broadcaster, media personality and performer; co-host of the long running, Cinema Classics, host of the currently on hiatus, Not So Late Show; and the director of community relations at Central Ohio’s original NPR station, WCBE 90.5 FM.

Movie Review: Hearts Beat Loud - by Ricki C.

Hearts Beat Loud is currently playing at the Drexel and Gateway Theaters, check the links for showtimes.

There are precious few ways to grow old in rock & roll music, fewer ways still to grow old gracefully.  Longtime readers of Pencilstorm will be painfully familiar with me grousing about this fact in past blogs: for every whip-crack, spark-spitting Joan Jett & the Blackhearts gig, playing their hearts out at the likes of the terribly-unforgiving Obetz Zucchini Festival, there’s a dispirited, not-even-going-through-the-motions Blue Oyster Cult appearing at a Q-FM Wing Zing, looking (and, in fact, PLAYING) like insurance salesmen, not like the Dark Princes of Heavy Metal they were when I loved ‘em in the 1970’s.

And don’t even get me STARTED on Pete Townshend & Roger Daltrey of The Who.

Anyway, the movie I caught over the weekend at the Drexel (and – let’s face facts – wouldn’t you much rather see a movie at the Drexel than the Gateway?) (Actually Ricki, I prefer the Gateway - Colin) Hearts Beat Loud, addresses that exact topic of Growing Old With Rock & Roll.  (Not coincidentally the title of my old blog, 2012-2013.)

In Hearts Beat Loud, Nick Offerman (apparently from Parks & Recreation, a TV show I never saw a single episode of) plays Frank Fisher, a 40-something Brooklyn record store owner and widowed father of 17-year old Sam, played by Kiersey Clemons, who is simply incredible in this movie, and whom I would like to think is somehow related to Clarence & Jake Clemons from Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band, but she probably isn’t.

There’s really not much plot to the film: dad & (reluctant) daughter write & record a song together at home, which becomes a hit of sorts on Spotify (whatever THAT is, I’m 66 frickin’ years old, I have never ONCE listened to a song online, maybe Colin can fill in the blanks here).  But the plot is not really the selling point of this movie, it's the PERFORMANCES – from Offerman & Clemons, from (of all people) Ted Danson, from Toni Collette & Blythe Danner, and from the heartbreaking Sasha Lane, playing Sam’s love interest - that propel the picture.  (I have to credit director Brett Haley - who I've never even HEARD of - and his co-writer Marc Basch for pulling out performances this consistently brilliant from his cast.)  (Also, I calculate that the budget for this movie was probably IN EXCESS of $137.50.  I bet the producers of The Avengers spent more on DONUTS for the special-effects crew than the entire budget for this superlative flick.)

I’m a connoisseur of rock & roll movies (for a semi-complete rundown, check out The Best of Everything, part two in Growing Old With Rock & Roll), and lemme tell ya, for every masterwork like Almost Famous or Rock & Roll High School, there is always a The Runaways or Begin Again lurking around the corner.  And I’ve gotta say, Hearts Beat Loud is THE BEST r&r movie I’ve seen since 2016’s Sing Street or 2009’s Crazy Heart, starring Jeff Bridges. 

Hearts Beat Loud actually shares a lot with the aforementioned Almost Famous.  The first time I saw Almost Famous, by 45 minutes into the movie I loved it SO MUCH that I spent the rest of the film holding my breath, waiting for the writers & director to screw it up, to pull out something that would NEVER REALLY HAPPEN to a real rock & roll band, to trot out something so hokey-Hollywood that they would ruin the picture for me.  And it never happened.  Almost Famous was perfectly great, start to finish.

I felt exactly the same way on Sunday afternoon at the Drexel, taking in Hearts Beat Loud.  I was certain they were gonna screw it up somewhere in the final half-hour (i.e. Frank & Sam wind up on the Jimmy Fallon show or at Madison Square Garden, Beyonce shows up wanting to cover their song, etc.) but they never did.  It was wonderful.  You should go.  – Ricki C. / July 2nd, 2018

(ps. It has been pointed out to me that I never mentioned the TUNES in a music movie.  The songs Offerman & Clemons perform in Hearts Beat Loud were by written by Keegan Dewitt and they were pretty great.  They mighta been a little too indie-rock for this over-the-hill devotee of Mott The Hoople and The Dictators, but they were still great, and PERFECT for the film.)

Catching Up with Mike McGraner - by Pete Vogel


Mike McGraner has been a very busy man the past ten years.  

When he’s not working on his album, musing about his own movies, or traveling between Columbus and LA, Mike is seen with his childhood hero, Frederick Peerenboom.

Who is Fred Peerenboom, you may ask?  Hardly anyone knows him by his real name; he’s better known in these parts as Fritz the Nite Owl.  [Ah yes…THAT guy!]

For those reared in Columbus in the 70s and 80s, Fritz the Nite Owl was an iconic part of our childhood.  He’s been a staple of Columbus since 1959, when he took a job as the broadcast booth announcer for WBNS radio.  His smooth baritone and breezy, conversational style was his signature sound and anyone with AM radio could instantly recognize that suave and debonair voice.

Fritz moved to television in 1974 where he hosted a late-night movie program called Nite Owl Theatre, which lasted until 1991—6205 episodes in total.  What was most memorable was his Friday night feature called Double Chiller Theatre: It was back-to-back horror movies with Fritz providing comic relief in between commercial breaks.  

I remember Chiller Theatre vividly, because every Friday night my brother Andy and I would make it our goal to stay up and watch BOTH movies—which wrapped up around 3am—but we never reached our summit.  Fritz was always entertaining: his dry, comic wit, those silly owl glasses, and the campy background effects added flair to the broadcast.  Fritz was an iconic part of Columbus late-night television.  While WCMH-4 enjoyed Johnny Carson, WBNS-10 had Fritz the Nite Owl.

In 1991 Fritz moved to radio, where he broadcasted a late-night jazz program called Nite Owl Jazz, which continued until 2010.  When the show ended, many thought Fritz would fade into obscurity the same way as Flippo the Clown or Lucy from Lucy’s Toyshop.

Enter Mike McGraner.

Mike watched Fritz for the first time as a 6-year-old and loved the quirky host.  “He’s one of my heroes,” he says.  Mike always wanted to make a documentary film about Fritz, and when he heard that Andyman (of 101.1 fame) knew Fritz, they arranged a meeting.

“We spoke for 5 hours the first time we met,” said McGraner.  “We talked about making a film about his life and career, but Fritz said no.”

After some coaxing from his wife—and other colleagues—Fritz decided to proceed with the film.  Little to anyone’s knowledge—except McGraner—there was an audience out there that liked what Fritz the Nite Owl brought to the table.

Filming began in 2010: even though they shot plenty of footage, the documentary was never released.  They abandoned it to begin production on a new concept: bringing Nite Owl Theatre into the 21st century.  

Their idea was simple: Mike, Fritz and a team of writers would produce shows in the spirit of Nite Owl Theatre and release it on the Internet.  Local theatres caught wind of their concept and decided they wanted in: they offered to host these events in their movie theaters.  So Nite Owl Theatre, Version 2.0 plays on the big screen: Fritz is the on-air personality and Mike is producer, director and editor.  They make live appearances as well: Mike and Fritz appear in theaters across Ohio—Columbus, London and Miamisburg, namely—and do their retro act to a new wave of Fritz fans.

In Columbus, both Grandview Theater and Studio 35 provide opportunities to catch the quirky act: each month they host a feature and audiences of every age can enjoy the campy celebrity of Columbus’ very own night owl.  The schedule can be found at

“We figured we’d do 3 or 4 episodes when this started out,” McGraner says.  “We are currently at 63 episodes.  Our goal is to hit 70 sometime in 2018.”

What nobody expected was this local host actually had a national following.  Michael Dougherty, esteemed director of many A-list movies (Superman Returns, X-Men 2, Trick’r Treat, Krampus) is a native of Columbus and a huge fan of Fritz.  He took that fandom to LA with him and has opened up avenues for Fritz to have celebrity outside of Columbus.  “When locals moved out of town, they opened up opportunities for Fritz to become a national celebrity,” McGraner says.  “Every town had a Fritz,” McGraner said.  “And the production quality for his show was pretty good.  People dug his stuff.  He’s been exposed to a national audience for years now.”

Seven years later, they’re still going strong.  What started out as a film idea that a local kid wanted to make about his hero, it has blossomed into a second life for Mr. Nite Owl and his legion of fans.

“We’re probably going to wrap things up after another 7 or 8 episodes,” McGraner says.  “Fritz will still do the live appearances, but he wants to be done shooting.  He’ll be 83 years old later this month.”  Who’s to blame him—he’s been Fritz the Nite Owl for 44 years!

Mike promotes another event alongside his work with Fritz: Terror From The 80s.  “It’s a monthly double-feature of two 80’s horror films presented back-to-back, Grindhouse style.  I have created a presentation that re-creates the feel of seeing a drive-in double feature.  Each month is themed but the movies remain a mystery.  You can see the series at Studio 35, Grandview Theater and State Theatre in London.”        

His plans don’t stop here.  “Next year I’m launching a series called The Director Series, an educational presentation of the complete chronological works of select directors (one per year).  The first director series will be David Lynch.”  

Mr. McGraner has plenty of irons in his fire.  He also has aspirations of finishing his album and producing/directing a movie based on a song by Quinn Fallon.  The movie is called Heartsick and Mike has every intention of finishing it someday. “If it’s the only movie I do, I’ll be okay with it,” he says.  

For now, it’s about continuing to devote a little more time to his hero, Frederick Peerenboom.

  Pete Vogel is a professional musician, filmmaker and Pencilstorm contributor. Click here to read his excellent reviews of The Rolling Stones and The Who