Steve Walker

Arts Reporter

Since 1998, Steve Walker has contributed stories and interviews about theater, visual arts, and music as an arts reporter at KCUR. He's also one Up to Date's regular trio of critics who discuss the latest in art, independent and documentary films playing on area screens. 

In addition, Walker has taught creative writing and film criticism classes at the Kansas City Art Institute and currently teaches at the University of Kansas. His writing has appeared nationally in The Sondheim Review, The Advocate and Theater Week, and locally in The Kansas City Star, The Kansas City Business Journal, Ingram's, The Pitch and Review.

Julie Denesha / KCUR

The downtown performance space known as The Living Room arrived on the scene in 2010 with a debut season that included two plays by John Kolvenbach. Five years later, Scott Cordes and Katie Gilchrist are back in the directors’ chairs with both plays being performed in repertory.

Film 4 Productions

When editorial writers hoped to spur the country's westward expansion with the phrase “Go west, young man,” they might not have envisioned a sixteen-year-old from Scotland whose beloved has a bounty on her head. But that’s the deceptively simple narrative of Slow West, director and writer John Maclean’s creative, at times dazzling new western.

Kodi Smit-McPhee plays Jay, a teenager who left his native Scotland for the Colorado territories circa 1870, a place and time of volatility and random violence. Equipped with money, a gun, and two suitcases stuffed with clothes and cooking utensils, he’s on horseback and intent on reuniting with Rose (Caren Pistorius), his girlfriend from back home. Stopped and held at gunpoint by a grizzled outlaw, Jay is saved by a fellow renegade named Silas (the charismatic Michael Fassbender), who conveniently shoots the robber through the head.

Hilary Bronwyn Gayle / IFC Films

Based on its trailer and the reputation of its rowdy star, one might expect the new Jack Black comedy The D Train to be thick with predictable shenanigans involving the pot-bellied man-child at its center. But the writing and directing team of Andrew Mogel and Jarrad Paul give Black unexpected layers of complex emotion to make a profound statement about contemporary male sexuality.

Julie Denesha / KCUR

In 1961, in the heat of the civil rights movement, black and white college students rode buses through the South to challenge segregated public transportation. These "Freedom Riders" are the subject of a new play being staged by the University of Missouri-Kansas City's theater department. It's a collaboration between students, several playwrights, a director, and a choir. They hope to inspire a conversation about how the lessons of the past can have meaning in the present. 

Julie Denesha / KCUR

Theater insiders will call someone who acts, writes, and directs a triple threat. Kyle Hatley, Kansas City Repertory Theatre's resident director, is such a person. Following his acclaimed performance in An Iliad earlier this year, he's now at the helm of Sticky Traps, the theater's third play by Kansas City's own Nathan Louis Jackson.

In this month's installment of Director's Cuts, Hatley talks about his history with Jackson, a playwright-in-residence at the Rep, and what it means to rehearse a show with the playwright in the room.

Andrea and Annie, two students at the University of North Carolina, couldn't have had a worse college bonding experience. During their freshman year, both were sexually assaulted. The trauma united them to speak out about how badly sexual assault victims are treated on U.S. college campuses.

Subsequently followed across the country by Kirby Dick and Amy Ziering, the director and producer of the startling new documentary The Hunting Ground, the young women manage to amass an army of like-minded survivors.

Julie Denesha / KCUR

As curator of The Fishtank, an evolving performance space in the Crossroads Arts District, Heidi Van has helped ignite a growing interest in experimental theater. She's produced shows in the building's front windows with the audience in the street, performed a play in a lingerie shop around the corner, and tweaked the art of clowning.

In this month's installment of Director's Cuts, Heidi Van talks about how her avant-garde sensibility might influence her first directing job at The Coterie: a production of Dr. Seuss's The Cat in the Hat

Sony Pictures Classics

In contemporary movies where characters are motivated by revenge, they're usually armed with guns and bullets — and there will be blood. But director Damian Szifron's Wild Tales has a different type of arsenal.

By compressing six short films into a two-hour triumph, Szifron turns revenge into an urge that can be as hilarious as it is sinister. This Academy Award nominee from Argentina lost the Best Foreign Language Oscar to Poland's Ida, a film whose calm, contemplative nature couldn't be more different from Wild Tales' brash and buoyant effervescence.

Jerome Prebois / Courtesy Zeitgeist Films.

Before the end of Volker Schlondorff’s Diplomacy, two men are embedded in a clipped war of words fraught with horror. German General Dietrich von Choltitz (Niels Arestrup) is holed up in a luxurious yet besieged Paris hotel in 1944 as Allied forces close in on recapturing the city. On the day the Germans have scheduled a series of devastating explosions that would leave Paris in ruins, the General has a fortuitous visitor: Consul Raoul Nordling (Andre Dussollier), who has the inside scoop about the planned attacks as well as the kind of negotiating skills that could stop them.

Sony Pictures Classics

What starts as a seemingly benign spat over less than an acre of land turns toxic and deadly in Russian director Andrey Zvyagintsev's masterfully crafted Leviathan. A nominee for this year's Best Foreign Language Oscar, it focuses an intense gaze on a civil suit and the discordant parties whose lives are either pointlessly enriched or irrevocably destroyed.

Simon Mein / Sony Pictures Classics

Movies about artists typically stumble toward their most basic goal: to link the paint on the canvas to the psyche of the painter. Ed Harris’s Pollock worked masterfully, as does Mr. Turner, British director Mike Leigh’s complex portrait of the esteemed English landscape painter J.M.W. Turner.

Through beautiful cinematography (reflecting the artist's attention to light), Leigh’s learned script, and Timothy Spall’s robust performance, Mr. Turner presents a lush visual biography that’s strikingly relevant considering its subject died in 1851.

Jojo Whilden / Sony Pictures Classics

Dr. Alice Howland is at the top of her game as both a linguistics professor and a smart, sophisticated and sexy New York woman in her fifties, played by Julianne Moore in the wrenching new drama Still Alice.

At the family dinner that opens the movie, she carries herself like a bright and vibrant sunrise — until she has an uncharacteristic memory lapse so slight it goes unnoticed by her husband and adult children. Yet it is the first drop of the downpour about to wash away her faculties.

IFC Films

With the Academy Awards quickly approaching on Feb. 22, it may be just the weekend to head out to the theaters to see some of the nominees. Up To Date's Indie, Foreign, and Documentary film critics offer their Oscar nominated suggestions. 

Cynthia Haines:

  • Two Days, One Night
  • Oscar-Nominated Live Action Short Films
  • Boyhood 

Steve Walker:

IFC Films

In Two Days, One Night, the new film from the Belgian brothers Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne, Marion Cotillard gives a complex, tough performance as a wife and mother scrambling to keep her job.

On a Friday, Cotillard's Sandra learns that sixteen of her co-workers at a solar panel factory have voted to take a bonus of 1,000 euros rather than keep her on the payroll. Devastated yet not defeated, she spends all Saturday and Sunday on a desperate and humble but hopeful campaign to personally convince each colleague to change his or her mind before a Monday-morning vote.

Julie Denesha / KCUR

Theatre for Young America honors President's Day with the play Starring Abe Lincoln, written and directed by the company's co-founder Gene Mackey. The show is a biographical portrait of the 16th president told by the man himself, who happened to be attending another play the night in question.

Director Gene Mackey talked about the production as part of our monthly series, Director's Cuts.

Sony Pictures Classic

  The weather forecast for the next few days makes getting out and about a no-brainer.  Top off your weekend  by taking in a movie.  Up To Date's indie, foreign and documentary critics offer their picks to see this weekend.

Cynthia Haines:

  • Selma
  • Boyhood
  • Birdman

Steve Walker:

Julie Denesha / KCUR

  The Greek myth about the short-lived marriage of Orpheus and Eurydice is traditionally relayed from his point of view. Playwright Sarah Ruhl's version turns that around in her play Eurydice, opening next week at The Living Room.

Directing the show is Natalie Liccardello, who talked about the production as part of our monthly series, Director's Cuts

The Best Independent, Documentary And Foreign Films of 2014

Dec 26, 2014
IFC Entertainment

For those who prefer art houses for their film viewing, it's been a very good year. From the class system that develops on a train of the future to musician Nick Cave marking his 20,000th day on the planet to a young novitiate nun in 1960s Poland,  independent, documentary and foreign filmmakers have given moviegoers plenty to choose from.

Fox Searchlight

Cheryl Strayed's best-selling memoir Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail suggested to more than a million readers that the way to tame inner demons is to redefine what it means to navigate a wild life. Jean-Marc Vallee, the director of last year's Oscar-winning Dallas Buyers Club, has adapted Strayed's book into a beautiful and gritty film with a transformative performance by Reese Witherspoon at its core.

Cynthia Levin / Unicorn Theatre

Hollywood super agent Sue Mengers was never a household name. But, in the 1970s, she was considered the most powerful woman in show business. The play, I'll Eat You Last, opening this weekend at the Unicorn Theatre, shows that Mengers could be as vulnerable as she was cut-throat. 

Sidonie Garrett, the show's director, answered some questions about the show as part of our monthly series, Director's Cuts

Magnolia Pictures

A potentially devastating mishap on a family vacation in the French Alps chills a marriage in Swedish filmmaker Ruben D. Ostlund's gripping and beautiful Force Majeure. The event — an ultimately benign avalanche at a ski resort — stops short of being catastrophic. But a fight-or-flight response by the husband and father buries the family in something less tangible than snow.

Courtesy Dogwoof Pictures

Prior to 1990, scientists had unearthed only twelve Tyrannosaurus rex skeletons, none of them more than 40 percent complete. In August of that year, Sue – the titular T. rex in the riveting new documentary Dinosaur 13 – changed everything.

Julie Denesha / KCUR

Now that it's in its fourth season, Spinning Tree Theatre is proud to be Kansas City's youngest Equity theater company. Though it doesn't always do musicals, it has built a reputation with them, including its current production, Violet, with a title character unlike any musical theater heroine audiences have ever seen.

Here’s the cast on the night of a recent rehearsal:

Magnolia Pictures

In the sordid world of cult novelist Patricia Highsmith, everyone who isn’t an outright villain still manages to harbor dark secrets. Movies made from her books include Alfred Hitchcock’s twisted and campy Strangers on a Train and Anthony Minghella’s gloriously decadent The Talented Mr. Ripley. The latest is called The Two Faces of January. Though it's not as successful as its predecessors, it is stylish, suspenseful and awfully pretty to look at.

Music Box Films

Is selling one’s soul to a parent’s worst enemy justified if it means avoiding torture, prison, or much worse? Such is the quandary at the crux of Nadav Schirman’s documentary The Green Prince, a tense and dense examination into how Mosab Hassan Yousef, a young Palestinian whose father was a founder of Hamas, ended up an informant for the Israeli security force known as Shin Bet. By the time viewers reach its bittersweet climax, prior documentaries about guarded family secrets will seem like Saturday-morning cartoons.

Brad Allgood

Update, Monday, Oct. 13: The jury award in the Social Justice Documentary category was announced on Oct. 13. It went to 120 Days. Audience awards will be announced at the end of the festival on Thursday, Oct. 16.

Immigration, contamination from everyday chemicals, and Christian colleges' struggle with gay students and alumni are among the topical and controversial issues explored in the films up for the Best Documentary Jury Prize in this year’s Kansas International Film Festival.

Julie Denesha / KCUR

This year marks the 100th anniversary of the birth of writer William S. Burroughs, an icon of the Beat movement.

Burroughs lived in Lawrence, Kan., from 1981 until his death in 1997.

As a way of honoring him, the Lawrence Arts Center is focusing some of its programming on Burroughs' work and influence, including a production of the 1950s musical The Nervous Set.

Here, Megan Birdsall sings one of the songs from the production called "Spring Can Really Hang You Up The Most":

Roadside Attractions

Saturday Night Live fans who've felt a void since Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig departed the show can get sated with The Skeleton Twins. Playing Milo and Maggie, siblings who are rehabilitating their relationship after a 10-year freeze, Hader and Wiig wield comedic chops as well as dramatic ones, reminding SNL viewers that the cast wasn't made up slap-happy stand-up comics but fine actors.

Andi Enns / Kansas City Repertory Theatre

Our Town, the Thornton Wilder play about small town life in Grover's Corners, has been a staple of high school theater for so long, one would think its commercial prospects would be slim. 

But director David Cromer's 2009 production Off-Broadway was a smash hit, chalking up the longest run in its 76-year history. Cromer directs the current production at the Kansas City Repertory Theatre. 

David Cromer answered these questions as part of our monthly series, Director's Cuts

Courtesy Music Box Films

Everyone who’s ever stayed at a hotel turns into a hotel inspector as soon as the bellman closes the door. Does the bedspread look plush or threadbare? Is the bathroom gleaming or grungy? Will room service arrive promptly and hot or late and cold? In the new Italian film A Five Star Life, Margherita Buy wonders these and other things as a hotel inspector beginning to question the constriction and loneliness of a career that looks awfully glamorous from the outside.

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