Thursday, October 20, 2016

Can The Holocaust Unite Unruly Youth?


Can the Holocaust Bring Kids Together?

By Skip Sheffield

Imagine if the Holocaust could bring together a multiracial, alienated, antagonistic group of high school youth in a French suburb, and go on to win a national prize?
That is the premise of “Once in a Lifetime,” and the best part is it is true.
The script was co-written by director Marie-Castille Mention-Schaar with Ahmed Drame, who plays one of the students, Malik, an aspiring filmmaker. Drame was a 10th grade student at Lycee Leon Blum in 2009. He was a participant in a class project proposed by History and Art teacher Anne Gueguen (Ariane Ascaride). The subject was a heavy one: the child victims of the Holocaust in Nazi concentration camps.
To set the stage, we see a Muslim girl being refused to receive her diploma because she insisted in wearing her Habib.
“I’m proud to be a Muslim,” she declares.
On top of the usual teenage rivalries, there is an undercurrent of anti-Muslim, anti-Jewish sentiment in what was once a mostly Christian student body. The influx of refugees from the Muslim former French colony of Algeria has greatly taxed France’s infrastructure, and nowhere is it felt more keenly than among the young. We see everyday acts of cruelty and brutality between the ethnic types.
Calmly and methodically, Mrs. Gueguen tends her unruly herd; setting ground rules: no caps, no headphones in class. We see the subtle power Mrs. Gueguen wields when she takes a day off to attend her mother’s funeral. The class goes wild under the poor substitute teacher. When Mrs. Gueguen returns (after being reprimanded by the school principal), she shocks with a dose of reality when she invites a Holocaust survivor to speak to the class. Leon Zyguel speaks with such passion and eloquence he moves the students to tears. Finally they are willing to work in small groups as part of a larger team to compete in the National Contest for Resistance and Deportation.

For those who despair about the youth of today, this movie provides a beacon of hope. If it can work in an unruly, multicultural school in France, perhaps it could in the USA.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Love, Sex and Sorrow in American Pastoral.


A Troubling “American Pastoral”

By Skip Sheffield

If you have read any of Phil Roth’s work, you know you will be in for some sex and suffering. In “American Pastoral” you get both, plus some bitter laughs.
“American Pastoral” is the debut as director of Ewan McGregor, the Scottish actor who also stars as sports hero and all-American boy, Seymour “Swede” Levov; a fair-haired Jew who passes as goy. In a fairy-tale romance, Swede married a gorgeous former Miss New Jersey, Dawn Dwyer (Jennifer Connelly). Swede worked for his gruff father Gus (Peter Riegert, bringing much-needed comic relief) in the family glove factory in Newark, NJ. Swede became so prosperous he bought a small farm 30 miles west of Newark to indulge his wife, who contented herself raising cows and tending her house and gardens.
The story begins in 1968 with the Vietnam War raging. The Levuvs have a beautiful blond, blue-eyed daughter named Merrie, played by Ocean James at age 8, Hannah Nordberg at 12 and Dakota Fanning as a teenager.
The narrative flashes forward to 1991 and the 40th anniversary of Swede’s high school graduation. Philip Roth’s alter ego, Nathan Zuckerman (David Strathairn) is introduced. For those familiar with Roth, Nathan Zuckerman has grown up in the fiction of the author; from bumbling teenager in “Portnoy’s Complaint” to the aging, broken character of Swede. Nathan has not come to attend his high school reunion but to attend the funeral of its star. Through a series of flashbacks we learn how his fate came to be. It is not a pretty story. That’s Philip Roth.
“American Pastoral” is an actor’s showcase for its leads. No one emotes more deeply than the star himself, though Jennifer Connelly is a close second. Dakota Fanning is rather flat and one-dimensional as rebellious Merrie while Uzo Abduba is warm and solid as Swede’s loyal right-hand woman at the factory. The liveliest (and sexiest) character is Rita Cohen (Valorie Curry), a renegade hippie friend of Merrie who provides the story with its requisite sex scene.

No two-hour movie can capture the historical, psychological and sociological intricacies of Roth’s 1997, which won him the 1998 Pulitzer Prize. Screenwriter John Romano (“The Lincoln Lawyer”) has done his best to whittle down Roth’s sprawling story, but those who read the book are bound to be a bit disappointed- but good try. Philip Roth has retired from writing after 31 books. We can only appreciate what he has accomplished.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Laughter, Love & Music at Wick Theatre

James Clow and Andrea McArdle Photo by Amy Pasquantonio

Laugh and Love at The Wick Theatre

By Skip Sheffield

“They’re Playing Our Song” is a lot funnier and livelier than I remembered. The Wick Theatre production of the show, which runs through Nov. 6, is greatly enhanced by the presence of Andrea McArdle in the female lead of lyricist Sonia Walsk.
Sonia Walsk is an exaggerated version of real-life lyricist Carole Bayer Sager. The male lead of Vernon Gersch (James Clow) is likewise an exaggerated version of composer Marvin Hamlisch. The songs and lyrics are by Hamlisch and Bayer-Sager. The book is by that clever old pro, Neil Simon.
The staging of this show is ingenious. The 8u-piece band is perched on a movable riser, which is stage center and up front at the beginning for the overture. The band is rolled back for Scene One, which is set in Gersch’s posh 14th story apartment overlooking Central Park. Walsk had written lyrics for Gersch’s consideration and a possible collaboration. In what becomes a running gag, Walsk is 20 minutes late and dressed in a costume from “The Cherry Orchard.” Walsk wears a different costume from a different show each time she meets Gersch. The show is very New York-centric while telling a reluctant love story between two high-strung, highly creative people.
“Collaboration is a nasty business,” cracks Vernon.
A fun gimmick in director Norb Joeder’s staging is a three-man, three-woman “Greek Chorus” dressed like the main couple and expressing their inner thoughts.
There are really very few songs in this musical. The only song I remembered from previous viewings is the title song, which is played in Act One and repeated at the finale. “If he/she really knew me” is lovely as a solo, duet or with chorus. The loveliest of all is McArdle’s solo, “I Still Believe in Love.”
My favorite moment came when they wheeled out a shiny black MG TD. There were a couple good cracks about the unreliability of British sports cars. I know, believe me.
I came away with newfound respect for this sassy show. Good job kids.

Tickets are $80. Call 561-995-2333 or go to

Friday, October 14, 2016

"American Honey" Not So Sweet


“American Honey” is Anything but Sweet

By Skip Sheffield

If you think America’s youth is up to no good, “American Honey” will confirm your worst suspicions.
Written and directed by Briton Andrea Arnold, “American Honey” is an almost 3-hour long rambling trip across the USA with a group of young, disaffected youth allegedly trying to sell magazine subscriptions.
I say allegedly because this gang spends more time drinking, getting high and having sex than any legitimate salespeople. As a child I tried to sell magazine subscriptions door-to-door, and I can tell you it is next to impossible.
It is even worse now that the printed word has diminished in value. So I don’t condemn these kids for their misdeeds, but neither do I understand their cultish behavior.
A teenage girl who calls herself Star (Sasha Lane) one day packs up her meager belongings and joins a tribe of kids, who travel from town to town in the Midwest. Star is lured by Jake (Shia LaBeouf), who is the alpha male of the tribe, but the real boss is Krystal (Riley Keough), who keeps a percentage of all the profits.
There is no particular plot to “American Honey.” The gang just wanders from town to town. Sometimes they engage in sex with lonely homeowners. Sometimes they rip them off. Where is this going?, I wondered. The answer is nowhere.

“American Honey” is a movie that makes me glad I am not a teenager anymore. If you want to get mildly bummed-out, see this movie. Otherwise avoid it.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Attention Must Be Paid to "Denial"


Rachel Weiscz Giver Her All in “Denial”

By Skip Sheffield

Rachel Weiscz is one formidable actress. She pours her body and soul into her role of a lifetime in “Denial.”
Weiscz plays Deborah Lipstadt, upon whose 1993 book the David Hare screenplay is based.
Lipstadt was a professor of Jewish Studies at Emory University in Atlanta. David Irving (Timothy Spall) was a self-styled British historian and avowed admirer of Adolph Hitler. Furthermore he had published books claiming that the Holocaust never happened; that there were no gas chambers or crematoriums.
The Nazis covered their tracks very well in World War II. The most notorious concentration camp, Auschwitz, was leveled. We meet Irving in Atlanta, interrupting Lipstadt’s class and defiantly offering anyone $1,000 cash if they could prove the Holocaust happened. Lipstadt responded by branding Irving a charlatan and bogus historian. He responded in 1996 by suing her for libel and defamation of character.
The legal system is different in England. For one thing judges wear those silly silver wigs. More importantly the burden of proof is on the accused, not the accuser. To save her reputation and discredit Irving and others like him, Lipstadt would have to provide solid proof the Holocaust happened.
A courtroom- particularly a British one- is not very exciting. “Denial” builds its case slowly and methodically, with Tom Wilkinson’s Scottish lawyer Richard Rampton as the star player.

Timothy Spall usually plays lovable buffoons. In this case he is a buffoon all right, but a reprehensible lying villain. Evil comes in many forms. Sometimes it is from the jovial guy next door. David Irving had to be brought down. His positions on the Holocaust were indefensible. That Deborah Lipstadt had to prove the obvious shows what a brave woman she was. For that reason “Denial” is an important film.

Saturday, October 8, 2016

A Supercharged "Rent" 20th Anniversary


A Memorable, Supercharged “Rent” at Broward Center

By Skip Sheffield

“Rent” is back for a very limited time in a supercharged 20th anniversary edition through Sunday. Oct. 9 at Broward Center for the Arts.
“Rent” had a unique, star-crossed genesis as a creation of Jonathan Larson, who died of an aortic dissection the night before the musical’s opening Off-Broadway in 1996. The show won the Tony Award for Best Musical and eventually a Pulitzer Prize. It ran for 12 years on Broadway and had multiple national and international tours.
Loosely based on Puccini’s tragic 1896 opera “La Boheme,” “Rent” is an early 1990s time capsule of would be artists, drag queens and dreamers who are squatting in a tenement on New York’s Lower East Side. The show began in 1988 as a collaboration with playwright Billy Aronson as a “musical for the MTV generation.” In 1991 Larson took sole control of the show.
The two main characters are Roger Davis (Kaleb Wells), a struggling songwriter who is HIV positive, and Mark Cohen, a struggling Jewish filmmaker from a prosperous family in Scarsdale. Roger’s girlfriend is the sickly but alluring “exotic dancer” Mimi (Skyler Volpe). Mark has a girlfriend named Maureen (Katie Lamark) who will leave him for a woman named Joanne (Jasmine Easler).
The most flambouyant scene-stealer is a petite drag queen named Angel (David Merino), who loves Tom Collins (Aaron Harrington), a large black man who is a part-time teacher at NYU. The nemesis of this ragtag bunch is Benjamin Coffin III Christian Thompson), who owns the building and would like to redevelop it. The action takes place over a year, from Christmas Eve to Christmas Eve.
“Five Hundred Twenty-five Thousand Six Hundred Minutes… Moments so dear, How do you measure a year?,” go the lyrics of the most memorable song, “Seasons of Love.” Seeing “Rent” is a memory you will cherish.
Call 954-462-0222 or go to for ticket information.

Friday, October 7, 2016

All Your Favorite Older Actors in "Silver Skies"


Golden Years in “Silver Skies”

By Skip Sheffield

“Silver Skies” is the name of an older adult rental complex in Los Angeles. It is also the title of a movie written and directed by Rosemary Rodriguez (“The Good Wife” TV series 2009-2016).
This movie was the centerpiece attraction at the 2016 Fort Lauderdale International Film Festival. The choice was appropriate, because we certainly have plenty of retirees in our area.
“Silver Skies” also afforded work to actors who are past their prime. The principal one is George Hamilton, who plays an actor named Phil who is entering early stages of Alzheimer’s dementia. Phil lives with Nick (Jack McGee), who works at a local horse race track.
I initially assumed Phil and Nick were a gay couple, but no. Nick develops a crush on Ethel (Valerie Perrine).
The essential dilemma of “Silver Skies” is that the building is being sold to be converted to condos. Residents can either purchase (at a greatly increased price) their apartments, or get out. They have just 30 days to make a decision.
One tenant, Harriett (Mariette Hartley) has the wherewithal to solve the problem. But the building’s attorney (Heather McComb) and its seedy manager (Micah Hauptman), are rigid.
Just when you think all is lost, there is a last-minute plot twist that saves the day.

It is great fun seeing actors we grew up with, such as Alex Rocco, who died July 18, Howard Hesseman, Barbara Bain and Dick Van Patten (playing himself). The Boca Raton/Delray Beach market is ideal for this film, but younger people might learn a thing or two if they give it a look.