Monday, October 20, 2014

In Time for Halloween is "Carrie: The Musical"

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Just in Time for Halloween: “Carrie: The Musical”

By Skip Sheffield

It’s not exactly the feel-good show of the season, but Slow Burn Theatre’s “Carrie: The Musical,” playing through Nov. 2 at West Boca High School Performing Arts Theater, is nothing if not diverting and entertaining.
Stephen King’s novel of religious zealotry, high school bullying, teenage cruelty and telekinesis seems an unlikely choice for a stage musical. It still is.
That’s why the 1988 Broadway debut of the $8 million production was deemed a “notorious flop.” In fact some audience members booed as the final curtain rang down opening night.
Slow Burn artistic director Patrick Fitzwater has never been one to back down from a challenge. Once again he has met it by adapting an improved script and hand-picking the youngest cast of highly talented performers, aided and abetted by three older pros.
The pedigree of “Carrie: The Musical” is impressive. The book is by Lawrence D. Cohen, who wrote the screenplay for the 1976 movie version of Stephen King’s hit 1974 novel. The music is by Leslie’s younger brother Michael Gore, who won an Oscar for his 1981 “Fame” soundtrack, and Dean Pitchford, who also won an Oscar for collaborating on that film.
Fitzwater and musical director Caryl Fantel have concentrated on the musicality of the show. The ensemble harmonies are virtually flawless, and Fitzwater cast Equity powerhouse Shelly Keeler in her Slow Burn debut in the crucial role of Carrie’s mother, Margaret White.
“Religious zealot” is not really a strong enough description of Margaret White. Her narrow, fundamentalist view of what is sinful and what is good is obsessive and borders on demented. Her husband has understandably left her, adding bile to her bitter, warped view of life.
Her only daughter, poor Carrie (Anne Chamberlain), bears the brunt of her resentments. As a result Carrie is stunted emotionally and even physically. Although she is 17, Carrie has never had a period. When it comes, at the worst possible time in the school shower, it sets in motions a series of events that will end horribly at the high school prom.
Shelly Keeler is far and away the best, strongest singer in the cast. This helps balance the fact she is playing such a disagreeable character. Keeler brings home the pain and anguish of Margaret in the ballad “When There’s No One,” which is also the best song of the score.
Anne Chamberlain holds her own with her monster mom. Her character is described as “not pretty,” but Chamberlain is. This does not detract from her torment.
Jessica Brooke Sanford is the sympathetic Ying of Sue Snell, who attempts to defend Carrie. Cristina Flores is the cruel Yang of Chris, Carrie’s malicious classmate who hatches the plot that goes so horribly wrong.
Alexander Zenoz is most appealing as Tommy, Carrie’s good-guy prom date. Kristian Bikic is appropriately punkish as juvenile delinquent Billy.
Serving yeoman duty as the responsible adults as Anne Marie Olson as gym teacher Miss Gardiner and Matthew Korinko as school principal Mr. Stephens.
The timing of “Carrie: The Musical” couldn’t be better. This show is the perfect setup for the harmless hijinks of Halloween.

Tickets are $40. Student and Theater League discount tickets are available at the door. Shows are 8 p.m. Thursday-Saturday and 5 p.m. Sunday. Call 866-811-4111 or go to slowburntheatre.org.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Reese Witherspoon Does a Good Deed in "Good Lie"








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Reese Witherspoon Does a Good Deed with “The Good Lie”

By Skip Sheffield

Reese Witherspoon did a good thing when she agreed to star in and promote “The Good Lie.” The title is taken from a term in Mark Twain’s “Huckleberry Finn.”
This truth-based movie, written by Margaret Nagle and directed by Philippe Falardeau (“Monsieur Lazhar”) dramatizes the plight and flight of the “Lost Boys” from civil war-torn Sudan. We meet the “boys” (and one girl) as children. Ruthless militia invades their village, kill the adults and torch the huts.
A half-dozen children flee blindly. When a soldier spots one of them hiding in tall grass, the eldest,Theo (Okawr Jale), stands up and surrenders himself, saving the other children.
The group encounters a mass march and learns they are heading for safer territory in Kenya. After walking almost 800 miles and losing one of the boys to illness, the remaining four make it to a refugee camp. They are issued clothes and food by Red Cross volunteers. After putting their names on a waiting list, the quartet is overjoyed to learn they have been accepted in a program to take them to the USA to gain asylum. The joy is tempered by sorrow when the boys learn their sister Abital (Kuoth Wiel) cannot go with them to Kansas City because of some arbitrary immigration regulation. Abital is sent to a foster family in Boston. The boys continue to Kansas City, where they are picked up at the airport by a somewhat scatterbrained employment agency counselor, Carrie Davis, played by Reese Witherspoon. Though Witherspoon is top-billed in movie ads, she does not make her appearance until 35 minutes into the film, and her entrance is not grand. If anything dark-haired Carrie is the anti-“Legally Blond” glamour girl. Carrie wears sloppy clothes and has an even sloppier apartment. She curses, drinks beer and has temper tantrums, but at heart she is a good soul. So is her tolerant boss, Jack (Corey Stoll).
There are many comical fish-out-of water scenes when the boys encounter American technologies, customs, and attempt to be gainfully employed.
Aspiring doctor Mamere (Arnold Oceng) is the natural leader of the group and literally a Chief since his older brother Theo was seized.
Tall, lanky Jeremiah (Ger Duany) is a spiritual person and sensitive soul who learns some harsh lessons about America’s materialist ways.
Paul (Emmanuel Jai) is the more rebellious and resentful of the group, which will cause problems.
All the African characters are played by real Sudanese refugees, which adds authenticity to an otherwise fictional plot. There is a strong but unobtrusive Christian message in the story. The only book the group has is a Bible, and the people who save them are professed Christians.

If you in need of a feel-good, we-are-the-world kind of movie, this is one for you. The situation in all of Africa has only worsened since Sudan refugees were cut off after 9/11, but for the 3,600 “Lost Boys’ who made it to the USA, there are heartwarming messages at film’s end.

Not the Stars, the Fault is in the Internet

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The Fault is in the Internet, Not the Stars

By Skip Sheffield

Everyone is messed up in “Men, Women and Children.”
That’s all you need to know about this latest offering from Jason Reitman, who brought us the superior “Juno” and “Up in the Air.”
Yes, everyone is messed up, and it’s the fault of the Internet. That’s the short version of the novel by Chad Kultgen, on which the screenplay is based.
We follow a representative group of Texas high school students and their parents as they navigate the perils of the Internet age.
It’s not exactly news that most teenagers keep their eyes trained on handheld devices, and that they would rather text than talk.
I feel like an old fart because I do not have an Iphone and I refuse to text, but there are some people my age who don’t even have a computer.
Don Truby (Adam Sandler in a relatively straight role) and his wife Helen (Rosemarie DeWitt) are plugged in and turned on, but not to each other. That’s where the trouble begins.
Patricia Beltmeyer (Jennifer Garner frumped up with glasses and a severe hairdo) is an uptight control freak who insists on knowing where her daughter Brandy (Kaitlyn Dever) is every minute of the day. You know the type, and it rarely turns out well
Kent Mooney (Dean Norris) is a recently-divorced, basically decent guy who is clueless as to how to get back into dating or how to deal with his teenage son Tim (Ansel Elgort, of “The Fault in Our Stars”), who is falling for a nice girl named Allison (Elena Kampouris).
Then there is Brooke (Katherine C. Hughes), a beautiful girl whose mom Donna (Judy Greer) wants her to succeed in show business so badly she is almost like her pimp.

Well it goes on; video game addiction, porn on the Internet, the dangers of chat rooms, anorexia, infidelity, inability to appreciate the simple, natural things in life. “Men, Women and Children” has its merits, a few laughs and some somber moments, but mostly it is things we already know, acted out by good-looking people.

General Sherman Said It Best

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War is Hellacious in “Fury”

By Skip Sheffield

“War is Hell!” General William Techumseh Sherman famously declared.
Sherman knew only too well. He was an early advocate of “Total War,” which he demonstrated with a vengeance with his infamous, devastating “March to the Sea” through Georgia in the War Between the States.
“Fury” puts the viewer in the center of a “Total War.” The story is set in the desperate last days of World War II in Germany, April 1945. Allied forces are attempting to conquer Germany, town by town, and the Nazis have desperately pressed into service every man, woman and child to fight back. Those who refused were hanged as traitors.
Don “Wardaddy” Collier (Brad Pitt) is a scarred veteran of the war who commands a Sherman tank (note the name) which has the hand-painted word “Fury” on its cannon barrel.
Contrasting with courageous, confident Collier is a new recruit named Norman Ellison (Logan Lerman), who has been pulled out of a typing pool and pressed into service as a tank gunner.
In a plot device that echoes Stephen Crane’s “Red Badge of Courage,” Norman will spend the rest of the story ridiculed and shunned until he mans up and becomes the killing machine he is ordered to be.
There is nothing pretty or light about “Fury.” There is some rough humor amongst the rag-tag tank crew, which includes Michael Pena as driver Trini “Gordo” Garcia, Jon Bernthal as obnoxious good old Georgia boy Grady “Coon-Ass” Travis, Jim Parrack as the level-headed Sgt. Binkowski and Shia LaBoeuf as the religious, moral voice, Boyd “Bible” Swan.
There are only two women of note in the story. As the tank presses further inland it encounters a bombed-out village in which two women are hiding in a building. Collier and Norman Ellison scout the building and encounter a German woman named Irma (Anamaria Marinca) and her pretty young niece Emma (Alicia von Rittberg). It is love at first sight for Norman and Emma, but it is a sadly brief interlude.

The main problem with “Fury” is that most of us have already heeded Sherman’s warning. You don’t have to be a veteran to know war is a terrible thing, but perhaps people need to be reminded again and again. Remember “The Alamo.”

King Versus Cub in "The Judge"

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A Young Lion and The King of The Jungle Square Off in “The Judge”

By Skip Sheffield

There is a reason Robert Downey, Jr. is the highest paid actor in movies today.
“You are the best,” admitted Robert Duvall simply.
Spoiler alert: Duvall was speaking as his character of Judge Hank Palmer in “The Judge.” Downey plays his estranged son, Joseph Palmer.
Joe returns to his small Missouri home town from Chicago, where he is a hotshot lawyer, when he receives word his mother has died. Joe’s pugnacious attitude is established in a brief, funny scene in a men’s room early in the movie.
Joe hasn’t really dealt with his old man since he went off to college. In fact he has not returned home since that time.
Hank Palmer has a reputation has a reputation as a tough but fair judge. His confidence is shaken with the passing of his beloved wife, but there is something else bothering him. His entire reputation is put to the test when a young man on a bicycle is killed by a motorist. Circumstantial evidence points to blood of the victim and damage on Hank Palmer’s vintage 1971 Cadillac.
A young lawyer named C.P. Kennedy (Dax Shepard) is hired to defend Hank Palmer, but Joe Palmer knows from the outset Kennedy is no match for shark-like lawyer Dwight Dickham (Billy Bob Thornton, in fine form) as the prosecutor. Dickham wants no less than a first-degree murder charge.
Director David Dobkin brings out a fair amount of humor, much of it raunchy, but it is the father-son battle that is the heart of Nick Schenk’s (“Gran Torino”) screenplay.
There is plenty of dysfunction in the Palmer family. Older brother Glen (Vincent D’Onofrio) was a champion baseball player in college, but a car accident with a 17-year-old Joe Palmer at the wheel put an end to that career.
Younger brother Dale (Jeremy Strong) is evidently mentally disabled and dependent on his family for care.
Providing strong support as Joe’s high school sweetheart, Samantha Powell, is Vera Farminga. Intriguing as Sam’s alluring daughter Carla is Leighton Meester.

The main attraction is the two leads: a young lion and an aging king of the jungle. Duvall looks older than his 72-year-old character, but there is a reason for that two. “The Judge” is a quality movie for mature adults.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Gay and Union "Pride"

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Unlikely Allies Feel “Pride”
By Skip Sheffield
“Pride” is another fact-based story inspired by the highly unlikely alliance between the striking National Union of Mineworkers and a ragtag group of London gay and lesbian activists in the United Kingdom in 1984, when ultra-conservative Margaret Thatcher was Prime Minister.
Thatcher was known as the “Iron Lady,” and she didn’t intend to knuckle under to Welsh miners who wanted increased pay and better working conditions. One would assume she was even less in favorite of flamboyant, noisy homosexuals.
Written by Stephen Beresford and directed by Matthew Warchus (“God of Carnage”), “Pride” is essentially a comedy- a colorful one at that- with a social conscience. It has a young and eclectic cast, with Ben Schnetzer as the heterosexual Northern Irish champion of both groups. Old pros include Imelda Staunton and Bill Nighy.

“Pride” is a word often used by gay and lesbian activists who will love this movie. This little film may make straight people better understand that pride, for if burly, begrimed macho miners can find common ground with flouncy, prancing homosexuals, who cannot learn to get along?

Jeremy Renner Kills in "Kill the Messenger"

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Jeremy Renner Hits Hard in “Kill the Messenger”

By Skip Sheffield

Journalism can be a dangerous business. It can even get you killed.
That’s the big message of “Kill the Messenger,” starring Jeremy Renner as crusading Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter Gary Webb.
Renner has twice been nominated for Academy Awards. This time he may well win for his impassioned performance as the hothead, incautious, rough-mannered San Jose Mercury News reporter who virtually single-handedly discovered a link between the CIA and Nicaraguan Contra rebels.
The story starts in 1996. Webb had left Washington, D.C. with his family after some personal unpleasantness to get a fresh start in California. He was hired by the San Jose paper as a local stringer, but Webb’s ambitions went far beyond that. When Coral Baca (Paz Vega), a beautiful, mysterious girlfriend of a cocaine trafficker handed Webb a sheaf of classified documents, Webb began to shadow shady types, lawyers and U.S. officials alike to assemle pieces of a puzzle that asked how so much crack cocaine was flooding the streets of poverty-stricken South Central Los Angeles and other impoverised cities. The search led him to crack kingpin lawyer Alan Fenster (Tim Blake Nelson) and his client, crack boss “Freeway” Rick Ross (Michael Kenneth Williams), Webb was able to convince his wary editor Anna Simons (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) and even more cautious executive editor Jerry Ceppos (Oliver Platt) to allow him to travel to Nicaragua to grill imprisoned drug baron Norwin Menses (Andy Garcia). Webb came to the inescapable conclusion the CIA had been turning a blind eye to the scheme of supplying weapons to anti-Communist Nicaraguan rebels in exchange for cocaine, in a misguided attempt to unseat the leftist Sandinista government during the Administration of Ronald Reagan and later George Bush.
When “Dark Alliance” was published in the Mercury News, the response was swift and overwhelming. Webb was criticized by the Washington Post, Los Angeles Times and New York Times of exaggeration, sloppy reporting and insufficient evidence. Webb was busted down to a bureau 150 miles away in Cupertino.
The negative impact was not only felt by Webb and his newspaper, but his family and in particular his long-suffering wife Sue (Rosemarie DeWitt) and son Eric (Matthew Lintz) who idolized him.

Working from a script by Nick Schou, who wrote a book on Webb’s “Dark Alliance,” and screenwriter Peter Landesman, director Michael Cuestra (“Homeland”) has devised a fast-paced thriller and given Jeremy Renner free reign to create a flawed but fearless action hero of freedom of the press.