Saturday, September 20, 2014

Kevin Klein Gapples with "My Old Lady"

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Versatile Kevin Kline and “My Old Lady”

By Skip Sheffield

Kevin Kline is one versatile performer. Most recently he convincingly played the tragically-flawed movie star Errol Flynn in “The Last of Robin Hood.”
Now is another anti-hero, Mathias Gold, in Israel Horovitz’s “My Old Lady.”
Mathias Gold is a spoiled, once-rich New York screw-up guy who inherits a lavish, historic Parisian townhouse complete with garden.
Mathias was never close with his father, who from the time Mathias was 10, spent most of his time in Paris while Mathias lived in Upper East Side New York with his mother. Nevertheless Mathias was named in his will as his father’s only surviving heir, and with that came the incredibly valuable French real estate. There is a catch though, and it’s a big one in this psychological tale by master storyteller Israel Horovitz. The apartment has a permanent resident, an English woman named Mathilde Girard (Maggie Smith), whose daughter Chloe (Kristin Scott Thomas) lives with her. Under archaic French real estate law, Madame Girard is entitled to stay in the apartment for the rest of her life. She can however rent space.
“My Old Lady” is developed from a three-character play by the playwright himself, who directs the film. It still seems much like a play, but what a cast, working with eternally gorgeous Paris as a backdrop.

This is an adult film for those who have loved and lost and perhaps learned something in the process. Lucky us, Israel Horovitz has developed a fruitful relationship with Delray Beach’s Arts Garage theater program. The next time he visits I will thank him personally.

Dolphin 2 "Winter's Tale"

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A Wholesome “Dolphin Tale 2”

By Skip Sheffield

For wholesome family entertainment you can’t go wrong with “Dolphin Tale 2.” Sure it’s a sequel and it is not exactly exciting, but “Dolphin 2” is a charming advertisement for Clearwater and the west coast of Florida in general, and it has a couple talented young actors returning in principal roles.
Nathan Gamble reprises his role as aspiring marine biologist Sawyer Nelson and Cozi Zuehisdorff, now 13, returns as Sawyer’s friend Hazel Haskett. Both are volunteers at Clearwater Marine Hospital, where an injured dolphin named Winter is a permanent resident. In the first movie Dr. Cameron McCarthy (Morgan Freeman) invented a prosthetic tale for Winter, who lost hers in an accident.
Morgan Freeman has only a small walk-on role in this sequel. In fact none of the adults matter much. Harry Connick, Jr. has the most screen time as Hazel’s father, Dr. Clay Haskett, but let’s just say Connick is a much better musician than actor.
Ashley Judd also returns as Sawyer’s lovely mom Lorraine Nelson, but really all she has to do is be radiant and lovely, and she does that so well.
The plot is hardly worth mentioning, but for what it’s worth, Winter’s pool mate, an elderly dolphin named Panama, dies, and a snoopy USDA official (Charles Martin Smith, who is also director) warns that Winter must have a pool mate or be shipped to another aquarium.
Spoiler alert: a very cute juvenile dolphin is rescued in the nick of time.

So if you like dolphins, cute kids and happy endings this is a movie for you.

Jane Fonda Spoofs Herself in "This is Where I Leave You"

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Jane Fonda Gets Crude and Lewd

By Skip Sheffield

Jane Fonda has turned to comedy- low comedy- in her golden years as the prickly, pushy, breast-enhanced matriarch of “This is Where I Leave You.”
This is best described as a comedy of situations, adapted by Jonathan Tropper from his novel and directed by Shawn Levy.
The main situation is that four grown siblings of the Altman family are “grounded” by their mother Hillary (Fonda) so that they sit Shiva for a week as is the Jewish custom when their father dies.
Judd Altman (Jason Bateman) points out his father was not the least bit religious and mother Hillary, a celebrity best-selling child psychologist and author, is not Jewish at all. Furthermore, despite having a know-it-all psychologist mother, the Altman clan is completely screwed up.
Poor Judd has just caught his sexy wife Quinn (Abigail Spencer) “in flagrante delicto” with his jerky, egotistical young boss Wade (Dax Shepard).
Sister Wendy (Tina Fey) is married to Barry (Aaron Lazar) and has two children. Wendy is still haunted by guilt after a car accident left her childhood boyfriend Horry (Timothy Olyphant) brain damaged and in the care of his mother.
Paul Altman (Corey Stoll) is the most level-headed and responsible of the siblings, who runs the family’s sporting goods business. However Paul and his wife Alice (Kathryn Hahn) have been trying to have a child with no success, and Alice is getting desperate.
Finally there is Phillip Altman (Adam Driver), the baby of the family, who has refused to grow up and carries on like a playboy thanks to his much, much-older lady friend (Connie Britton).
As an example of the cheap humor, the young rabbi (Ben Schwartz) is continually referred to by his childhood nickname of “boner,” much to his distress.
The biggest situation of all is a switcheroo revealed at film’s finale by dear old mom and her best friend and neighbor Linda (Debra Monk), Horry’s caregiving mother.

There are some laughs, mostly crude, in the privileged setting of a Westchester estate. At the very least Jane Fonda proves to be a good sport, willing to play to the cheap seats.


A Quiet Action Hero Walks Among Tombstones

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Liam Neeson Stands Tall in “Walk Among Tombstones”

By Skip Sheffield

There are two R-rated rock ‘em sock ‘em, shoot ‘em, stab ‘em, ultra-violent crime thrillers out this weekend.  “A Walk Among the Tombstones” is the better of two, largely because of its star, Liam Neeson.
The hulking Irish actor has a powerful onscreen presence, but he also has an undercurrent of sorrow and regret, which serves his conflicted characters well.
Neeson is Matthew Scudder, a former cop-turned unlicensed private investigator in stories by novelist Lawrence Block. There is a whole series of Matt Scudder adventures, some of which have already been made into movies.
The character of Matt Scudder is a recovering alcoholic. The story is prefaced by a flashback to Scudder’s drinking days in 1991. Matt is in his favorite bar, starting off the day with two shots of whisky and a black coffee. Suddenly two thugs burst on the scene, waving guns and demanding money from the bartender. When they wantonly shoot the proprietor dead, Scudder springs into action, chasing them out the down with pistol drawn. With deadly aim Scudder kills two of the hoodlums and wounds an accomplice.
We learn later Scudder was given a commendation for his bravery, but knowing he was already drunk, the incident has shaken himself so badly he decides to quit the force and take the Alcoholics Anonymous 12-step pledge.
The action shifts to the present and a murder most foul. A pretty young woman has been abducted and held for ransom. Despite the fact her husband paid the ransom, the woman known as Leila (Laura Birn) is murdered anyway and dismembered, with body parts stuffed into plastic bags.
Scudder has seen and done everything, but something this senseless and vile really gets his goat. When a young girl is threatened, Scudder grudgingly goes on the offensive, aided by a young but brainy homeless kid known as T.J. (Brian “Astro” Bradley) and a not very stable Army veteran known as Kenny (Dan Stevens).
There are interesting characters in the mix, such as Loogan (Olafur Darri Olafsson), who was involved with the killers but not an active participant. Then there is Ray (David Harbour) a murderous flat-out psycho, and Yuri (Sebastian Roche) as his more rational but no less deadly co-conspirator.

Despite the blood, bullets and gore this violent romp is anchored by the strong, silent serenity of Liam Neeson. I suspect we may be seeing his Matthew Scudder again.


Beware "The Guest"

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“The Guest” Shows Promise, Then Blows Up

By Skip Sheffield

British actor Dan Stevens has piercing baby blue eyes that could cut through anything with their menacing intensity.
I suspect Stevens’ peepers were enhanced with contact lenses for his role as the mysterious, too-good-to-be-true American Army veteran known as David in “The Guest,” a thriller by Simon Barrett (V/H/S, “You’re Next”) and directed by Adam Wingard.
David shows up at the front door of Laura Peterson (Sheila Kelley), who warily but unwisely lets in the handsome, smiling young military man who claims he was in the same company with Mrs. Peterson’s son Kevin, who was recently killed in action.
“David” claims it was Kevin’s deathbed wish for him to visit the Peterson family and tells each and every one that Kevin loved them.
Laura Peterson is immediately drawn in by the charming, helpful stranger. Her husband Spencer (Leland Orser) is initially suspicious, but David, a master of flattery, soon wins him over.
David proves himself a hero to middle school-aged Luke Peterson (Brendan Meyer) who has been mercilessly bullied by punk jocks. An incident in an offsite bar dispatches the bullies with extreme prejudice.
By this time it is clear to the viewer David may have a problem with Anger Management.
When David escorts underage but precocious Anna Peterson (Maika Monroe) to a wild party she should not be attending, David once again saves the day. When David asks one of Anna’s drug-dealing friends if he knows where he can get a gun, it is obvious to all but the densest viewer this guy David is big trouble.
“The Guest” is the kind of movie that builds a promising amount of suspense and ominous foreboding, only to blow it all in an orgy of cops who can’t shoot straight, machine guns that can’t kill, grenades, car chases and car crashes, all culminating in a confrontation in a creepy haunted house in a public school which conveniently has no law enforcement in sight until the bad stuff is over.

Still we are impressed with this Dan Stevens chap, who is best known for his role in “Downton Abbey,” which he gave up to branch into movies. It’s as if the steely special ops guy in “The Guest” and the drug-addled, revenge-seeking stoner in “Walk Among the Tombstones” are creatures from different planets. That’s what’s known as acting. Stevens next appears as Sir Lancelot in “Night at the Museum 3.”

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

"The Subject Was Roses" at Sol Theater

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Dysfunctional Families Never Go Out of Date

By Skip Sheffield

Dysfunctional families are always in style. You can go all the way back to the Old Testament to find plenty of family members doing terrible things to one another, either accidentally or on purpose.
The family drama “The Subject Was Roses” won the Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award in 1964 and was adapted as a film by its playwright, Frank D. Gilroy, in 1968.
Evening Star Productions is presenting a revival through Sept. 28 at the Sol Theater, 3333 N. Federal Highway, Boca Raton.
Though it was first produced in 1964, “The Subject Was Roses” is set just after World War II in Brooklyn, 1946. The war figures prominently in the Irish-American Cleary family. Father John (Alan Gerstel) never served in the armed forces as he was the sole support of his family as a young man.
Son Timmy (Evan Gerstel) is just coming home after serving in combat. His mother Nettie (Elli Murray) is beside herself with happiness that her beloved son is returning home.
It should be a happy occasion, but as so happens in family dynamics there are conflicts, resentments and unresolved problems just waiting to surface. The playwright shines a light on these problems in the course of the play, which is presented efficiently by director Jeffrey Bruce in less than two hours, intermission included.
Evening Star Productions is truly a shoestring, non-profit, non-professional theater company aimed mainly at young adult actors. Alan Gerstel and Elli Murray are both professionals. Evan Gerstel fits the definition of young professional, and he does quite well with his role, despite the fact neither he nor his dad Alan Gerstel seems the least bit Irish.
Elli Murray has the meatiest role as the beleaguered mother, and she goes for it. The show is not without laughs and the drama is not overly depressing. In all it’s a good showing for a company using borrowed set pieces, a borrowed tiny children’s stage, good lighting by Bruno Vida and a sound engineer (Austin Stein) who is all of 12-years-old.
Tickets are just $15 and shows are 7 p.m. Friday-Saturday, and 2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Call 561-447-8829 or go to www.eveningstarproductions.org.



Friday, September 12, 2014

A Tough Final Act for James Gandolfini

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“The Drop” a Gritty Career Finale for James Gandolfini

By Skip Sheffield

Rest in peace big Jim Gandolfini.
It’s been over a year since James Gandolfini’s untimely death in Rome at age 51. “The Drop,” Gandolfini’s last movie starring role, is only just now hitting theaters.
Gandolfini returns to his familiar rough, gruff, tough guy persona as “Cousin Marv,” the proprietor of a Brooklyn bar of the same name. Marv used to own the bar, but he has been squeezed out by violent Chechen thugs who are the new landlords. The screenplay was written by Dennis LeHane (“Shutter Island”), based on his original short story “Animal Rescue.”
The rescued animal is a young pit bull saved by Bob Saginowski (Tom Hardy), the bartender at Cousin Marv’s bar.
Bob is a pretty tough guy himself, but he is quiet and modest, with a soft side for defenseless, struggling people and animals. When Bob hears a dog whimpering, he lifts the lid of a garbage can and discovers the little gray pup, bloody and battered.
Bob knocks on the door of the house where he found the dog and he is greeted, very tentatively, by a pretty young woman named Nadia (Noomi Rapace of “Girl with the Dragon Tattoo”). Nadia lets down her guard enough to allow Bob into her house to clean up and comfort the dog, who he calls Rocco.
“The Drop,” which refers to a money-laundering operation, is more about Bob than Marv. There is a lot more to Bob than meets the eye, and British-born Tom Handy is an actor with just the right calm but menacing intensity to pull it off.
There are a lot of creeps, thugs and losers in “The Drop.” The worst is a guy named Eric Deeds (Matthias Schoenaerts) who claims to own the dog and threatens to harm him more. Furthermore Eric claims to be the boyfriend of Nadia, though she obviously dislikes and fears him. Clearly something will have to be done about Eric Deeds.

Though “The Drop” is Gandolfini’s last role, it is not among his best. Marv is really a supporting role. I prefer to remember Gandolfini with “Enough Said,” the charming, wistful romance co-starring Julia Louis-Dreyfus, released last year. Gandolfini’s shy, battered suitor was a far richer, more compelling and endearing role by which to remember him.