Thursday, July 20, 2017

Get Naughty with Girls Trip


A Girls Trip Leading to a Fall

By Skip Sheffield

Who would have thought a black chick comedy could be so appealing to a whitebread male? As the whitebread male in question I can assure you “Girls Trip” is the funniest thing I have seen in quite some time.
There is unquestionably a cultural divide between black and white Americans. Black people seem looser, freer, less uptight than whites. Director Malcolm D. Lee (“The Best Man” and its sequel) has accentuated those differences ingeniously.
A crew of four writers hatched a plot about four longtime college friends who have a reunion at the Essence Festival in New Orleans. Essence is a slick magazine aimed primarily at African-American women. Ryan Pierce (Regina Hall) is the most successful of the group as author and television personality with her husband Stewart (Mike Colter) Ryan has been invited as the keynote speaker at the Essence Festival. She invited her friends Sasha (Queen Latifa), Lisa (Jada Pinkett Smith) and Dina (Tiffany Haddash) along for the ride. Highjinks and mishaps immediately ensue amongst the “Flossy Posse” as they call themselves. Some serious things happen as well.

“Girls Trip” has an unbelievable fairy as aspect to it, but the fun is watching these women going at it in extremely politically non-correct fashion. Let’s just say the language is blue, peppered with N words, F words, C words and MF words. The women utter insults white persons would never be allowed to say. My sense is director gave his powerful women free rein to be as naughty as they wanted to be. They certainly are as funny as we want them to be.

Darkest Hour of Dunkirk


“Dunkirk” a Relentless War Movie

By Skip Sheffield

“Dunkirk” is a war film that just won’t quit. From the first frames to the finale, “Dunkirk” is all action, all the time. Writer-director Christopher Nolan captures the desperate plight of 400,000 Allied troops, from France, Belgium, England and Canada in that dark time from May 26 to June 4, 1940 on the northwest coast of France.
The film unfolds in real-time fashion. The surrounded men are helpless and pretty much hopeless. Their only defense was hotshot British Spitfire fighter planes, with Farrier (Tom Hardy) offering us a point of view. On the beach we have Cillian Murphy and Mark Rylance representing the grunts and Kenneth Branagh as their Commander Bolton.
“Dunkirk” occurred before the Pearl Harbor attack of Dec. 7, 1941 forced the United States into the Second World War. For that reason the desperate stand-off between Allied and German forces is little-known in America. British-born writer-director Christopher Nolan (the “Batman” Dark Knight Series and “Inception”) has corrected that oversight.

“Dunkirk” is relentless, underscored by a fiery score by Hans Zimmer. This is not light entertainment, but it is a vivid history lesson, building to a climax of ragtag civilian boats coming from England, just 26 miles away. It is impossible not to be moved by Winston Churchill’s famous speech on British resolve to never surrender. In this case it is spoken by a British Army grunt, reading from a newspaper account. That is a fitting touch.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

"Sweeney Todd" a Good Bloody Show


“Sweeney Todd” a Bloody Good Production

By Skip Sheffield

Basing a musical on a remorseless serial killer seems unlikely at best. Yet the character of Sweeney Todd, the “Demon Barber of Fleet Street,” has fascinated people since its creation in 1846 as a “penny dreadful” story.
Palm Beach Dramaworks has put its reputation on the line with a full-blown production of the 1979 Stephen Sondheim-Hugh Wheeler production, based on a 1973 play by Christopher Bond. It runs through Aug. 6.
Sondheim was at his tongue-twisting peak with his re-creation of mid-19th century London. The song “No Place Like London” introduces principal characters Anthony Hope (Paul Louis Lessard), Sweeney Todd (Shane R. Tanner) and a Beggar Woman (Shelley Keelor). How can a beggar woman be a principal character? You will find out by the final curtain.
Sweeney Todd is a man wronged. His wife Lucy was raped and murdered by the devious Judge Turpin (Michael McKenzie). His daughter Johanna (Jennifer Molly Bell) has been virtually imprisoned by the Judge. When the aptly-named Anthony Hope falls for Johanna, a series of events will take place to entangle Sweeney Todd and the Judge.
There is another principal character named Mrs. Lovett (Ruthie Stephens). Nellie, as she is called, runs a shop selling “The Worst Pies in London.” When Sweeney Todd moves into Mrs. Lovett’s apartment, he will provide a solution to her meat shortage problem.
Meat pies are a very British thing, but this play, directed by the redoubtable Clive Cholerton, is specifically set in 19th century England, when class distinctions were much more prominent. Judge Turpin was of the arrogant upper class, Sweeney Todd, whose original name was Benjamin Barker, was not. Stephen Sondheim has said this is a play about obsession. Sweeney Todd was nothing if not obsessed.
We would be remiss if we did not remark on the ingenious set design, which features an onstage elevator, or the lighting design, which enhances Sweeney Todd’s moments of madness. The almost unseen but definitely heard musical ensemble, led by Manny Schvartzman, elegantly tackles Sondheim’s difficult score. It may not be the most lovable musical, but “Sweeney Todd” is an impressive success.
Tickets are $67 adults, $47 students, but playgoers age 18-40 simply pay their age. Call 561-514-4042 or go to

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

If You Must be Lost, be "Lost in Paris"


If Lost, Be “Lost in Paris”

By Skip Sheffield

If you must be lost somewhere, there is no better place than “Lost in Paris.”
This is a charming goofball comedy-romance by Dominique Abel and Fiona Gordon.
Fiona plays a character also named Fiona, who is a prim Canadian librarian who receives a letter from her elderly Aunt Martha (Emmanuelle Riva) indicating she is in some kind of distress in Paris.
Canada is pictured comically as a blizzard-bound white wasteland. Fiona takes the first available flight to Paris, strapped to a ridiculously huge red backpack, topped with a Canadian maple leaf flag.
Things go amiss right away. First Fiona can’t locate her Aunt Martha. Then she falls off a bridge into the River Seine, losing her backpack. Then she meets a homeless man named Dom (Dominique Abel), who tries to help her, but he only irritates her and won’t leave her alone.
The movie takes best advantage of the City of Paris; one of the most beautiful cities in the world. If you have been there it’s a plus. I was there only once as a lad of 21, looking more like 15. However I was pretty fluent in French, which was an enormous advantage. The character of Fiona has only a rudimentary knowledge of French. Poor Fiona klutzes her way through Paris, with Dom and a certain stray dog attached to her. Fiona Gordon is an actress we can call “fearless.” She wears large unflattering glasses and a frumpy dress, which due to her loss of her backpack; she wears through most of the film.

Dom Abel is one of those adorable tramp types, like Charlie Chaplin. Real homeless people are rarely this charming, but hey it’s a fantasy, and it is set in Paris. It has a limited run at Living Room Theaters in Boca and the Lake Worth Playhouse.

Monday, July 3, 2017

A Younger, Funnier "Spider-Man"

"Spider-Man" Goes Back to High School

By Skip Sheffield

There is a new Spider-Man in New York City, though he is more like a Spider-Boy.
British actor Tom Holland, 21, quite believably plays Peter Parker as a 15-year-old sophomore from the Borough of Queens at Midtown School of Science and Technology.
Director Jon Watts (“Cop Car”) and a team of six writers have gone back to square one to recast Peter Parker as a bumbling high school student who doesn’t quite understand his newfound powers as Spider-Man. This isn’t a regular high school. It is one for over-achievers. There are no jock bullies as in previous incarnations of Spider-Man with Tobey Maguire 2002-2007 and Andrew Garfield 2012 and 2014. Instead of a football team they have an Academic Decathlon. The closest thing to a rival for Peter is a guy named Flash (Tony Revolori) who is jealous of Peter’s superior intellect.
Peter has two mentors; Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.) whom he met in “Captain America: Civil War” as Iron Man, and Aunt May, played by the younger and much more attractive Marisa Tomei.
Michael Keaton, who once played Batman in the super hero universe, has gone rogue as Adrian Toomes, who transforms into The Vulture in a magic flying suit. Toomes has stolen some high-tech weapons and is willing to sell them to the highest bidder.
Meanwhile the homecoming of the title is approaching, and like any 15-year-old, Peter is nervous about asking his crush Liz (Laura Harrier) to the prom. Cheering Peter on is his best buddy Ned (Jacob Batalon) who has accidentally discovered Peter’s secret identity. Providing a one-woman Greek chorus is Peter’s brainy friend Michelle (Zendaya), who is always dropping droll observations.
“Spider-Man Homecoming” is like a travelogue of New York City, culminating with an epic battle aboard the Staten Island Ferry. Being a knowledgeable New Yorker is a plus. As a nod to the past, Gwyneth Paltrow makes a cameo appearance as Pepper Potts.

“Spider-Man” has moved on to a new generation. A sequel is already in the works. Never mind that the whole premise of the story that first appeared in a 1963 Marvel comic is absurd, it’s a lot of good harmless fun with plenty of decent laughs.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Once More, Times Two "Despicable Me 3"


Re-Live the 1980s with “Despicable Me 3”

By Skip Sheffield

“Despicable Me 3” is more of the same, times two. Voiceover star Steve Carell returns as villain-turned family man Gru, and he does double duty as Gru’s twin brother Dru. You can tell the two apart because Gru is totally bald and Dru has a big mop of floppy blond hair. He is also an inexplicably rich pig farmer.
A new villain, Balthazar Bratt (Trey Parker) is introduced as a 1980s child star. Bratt aged ungracefully, but remained stuck in the 1980s, with padded shoulders, a mullet haircut (with prominent bald spot as he aged) and an obsession with bubble gum and Rubik’s Cubes.
In the introductory sequence, Balthazar Bratt steals the watermelon-sized, pink Dumont Diamond. Gru thwarts the heist and seizes the diamond, but Bratt escapes.
For this lapse, Gru is dumped from the Anti-Villain League by his boss, Valerie da Vinci (Jenny Slate).
Gru returns to his wife Lucy (Kristen Wiig) and his adopted daughters Marge (Miranda Cosgrove), Edith (Dana Gaier) and Agnes (Nev Scharrel). Agnes is obsessed with finding a real unicorn, but she sacrifices for her father by selling her toy stuffed unicorn so Gru can pursue Bratt.
What of all the amusing minions? They spend most of the film in prison, with only one big production number.

If you liked the 1980s you’ll probably like this movie, which is rife with 80s references and musical soundtrack. However, the 1980s references will fly over the heads of the target audience: children and teens. The good thing is the movie is only 91 minutes long. You can only take so much 1980s nostalgia.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

A Nazi in Love?


A Nazi in Love in “The Exception”

By Skip Sheffield

There is an exception to every rule. Capt. Stefan Brandt (Jai Courtney) is “The Exception.” Capt. Brandt is a war-wounded Nazi officer assigned to be a bodyguard to the deposed German Emperor, Kaiser Wilhelm II, in splendid exile in Holland, 1940.
Christopher Plummer plays the wily, sardonic Kaiser, grandson to Queen Victoria. At age 87 he is the best thing about this film, directed by British theater director David Leveaux and based on the 2003 novel “The Kaiser’s Last Kiss,” by Alan Judd.
There is a romantic subplot involving Brandt and a pretty young maid named Mieke (Lili James). The last time we saw Lili she was a very blond “Disney’s Cinderella.” Here she is very brunette and possibly dangerous. Brandt has been told there is a Dutch Resistance spy somewhere in the vicinity of the Kaiser. Mieke is Dutch, and she reveals she is Jewish. What’s a loyal Nazi to do? In Brandt’s case it is fall in love with Mieke despite the cost. This is what makes Brandt an exception. He feels deep guilt about a Nazi massacre of women and children he witnessed. He is beginning to feel Hitler is a madman. His loyalty to the German cause is eroding. When, in the film’s most startling scene he has intercourse with Mieke with no foreplay, he is hooked.
When Nazi henchman Himmler (Eddie Marsan) visits and talks about a “final solution” for the weak, elderly, deformed and children, Brandt snaps inside.

Through it all the Kaiser is a bemused presence. Plummer portrays him more sympathetically probably than the real man was. He is an old man, nostalgic about the good old days of the monarchy and proud of his large closet filled with fancy uniforms. “The Exception” is a flight of fancy based on facts. If for Plummer’s performance alone it is worth a look.