Friday, May 29, 2015

California Disaster, French Intrigue

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Dwayne Johnson Carries It All in “San Andreas”

By Skip Sheffield

If anyone can carry the weight of a movie on his shoulders, it would be the broad, beefy shoulders of Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson.
Johnson saves everyone he can save from the first few action moments in the earthquake disaster flick “San Andreas.” The movie begins with a disaster of another kind: a teenage girl texting while driving on a twisty Los Angeles mountain road. Joe (Dwayne Johnson) an LAFD helicopter pilot, is summoned by 911 to rescue the girl hanging in a cliff. After a harrowing effort that nearly crashes the copter, Joe saves the girl- all in a day’s work.
Meanwhile at Caltech, a seismologist, Dr. Lawrence Hayes (Paul Giamatti) frets that no one will listen to him concerning his promising efforts to predict impending earthquakes. “We’re 100 years overdue for a major earthquake,” he warns. Dr. Hayes detects suspicious activity in the vicinity of Hoover Dam in Nevada and dispatches an associate to the site.
So begins the first of the impressive computer-generated images of destruction of well-known landmarks. So also begins the first of the logical conundrums in Andre Fabrizio’s fanciful story and Carlton Cuse’s screenplay. Wouldn’t a 7.1 Richter scale earthquake also wreak havoc on Las Vegas, only 30 miles away? Who knows?
Instead we go back to Joe and his domestic problems. He wants to take his daughter Blake (Alexandra Dabbario) up to college in San Francisco, but his estranged wife Emma (Carla Gugino) has agreed to let her new boyfriend, high-end real estate developer Daniel Riddick (Ioan Gruffudd, in full slime mode)  take Blake and Emma.
Meanwhile signals are even more alarming in the laboratory of Dr. Hayes. Signs of seismic activity are showing alone the entire 800-mile San Andreas Fault, which runs up the spine of California to San Francisco. This is where a disastrous 7.8 to 8.3 earthquake destroyed the City by the Bay in 1906. Dr. Hayes is predicting a 9.5 quake, which would equal the greatest ever measured, off the coast of Chile in 1960.
So Joe must rescue his wife, who has been abandoned by her cowardly boyfriend, as well as his daughter, trapped in wreckage, and her new nerdy British boyfriend Ben (Hugh Johnstone-Burt) and his kid brother.
If you like disaster movies, you will find a satisfying level of mayhem, with Joe in a rubber boat miraculously avoiding one peril after another. If you are cynical you will scoff at the Hollywood illogics of pretty women who emerge unscathed from major mishaps. Hey, it’s only a movie, and Dwayne Johnson makes a humanly appealing superhero.

Catherine Deneuve in “In the Name of My Daughter”

If you are looking for something a little classier and more mysterious, acclaimed French director André Techine delivers “In The Name of My Daughter,” a romance wrapped up in a murder mystery in the South of France in Nice.
French cinema grande dame Catherine Deneuve is Renee Le Roux, the imperious owner of a casino called Le Palais. Her estranged daughter Agnes (Adele Haenel) has just returned from Africa, penniless, and she appeals to mom for some help.
Renee’s chief advisor is a shifty lawyer named Maurice Agnelet (Guillaume Canet), who is also her lover. Maurice is quite a womanizer who has several lovers. Despite dire warnings, Agnes falls for the conniving creep.

“Name of My Daughter” will confirm all your worst suspicions about scheming, manipulative, ambitious males. Making this all the more disconcerting is the fact the screenplay is inspired by an actual missing-person scandal case in France.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Brett and Sam Take Their Act on the Road

photo by Skip Sheffield

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Hanging at the New 1 Hotel South Beach with Brett and Sam 

By Skip Sheffield

You know Sam Elliot even if you haven’t seen him in countless Westerns and television movies. He’s the tall, strikingly handsome man with a big droopy moustache. If somehow you haven’t seen him you know the voice: rich, resonant and deep; the current voice of Dodge Ram commercials.
Sam Elliott and writer-director Brett Halsey came to Miami Beach recently to promote “I’ll See You in My Dreams.” Their first stop was an AARP convention, attended by more than 750 cheering people. The new day they did a round-robin series of interviews at the new 1 Hotel South Beach.
“I’m glad I was available to do it,” said Elliot, relaxing on a sofa. “I’m very fortunate to have work at all at this point in life. To work with someone like Blythe is just a bonus.”
Elliott found his own dream girl, actress Katheryn Ross, back in 1984. They have been happily married ever since.
Brett Haley, who previously co-wrote and directed “The New Year,” teamed with his producers to raise seed money with a Kickstarter program and then shot on a bare-bones budget in just 18 days. A Florida native who was raised in Pensacola and Key West, Haley would have liked to have shot in Florida, but found Los Angeles more feasible.

“This isn’t just a movie for older people,” he says. “We have discovered at screenings that kids like it too. People can find love in many ways at any age. We tried to show this in an entertaining way.”


A Dreamy Romance for Older Lovers

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It’s Never Too Late For Love.

By Skip Sheffield

Yes, it sounds like a cliché. A number of songs have been written based on that very sentiment.
“I’ll See You in My Dreams” is a movie based on a similar theme, but it is no cliché. It is written and directed by Brett Haley, a man nowhere near his golden years (he’s still in his 30s). Haley had the good sense to cast two of the best-looking post-65 actors and a potent supporting cast to prove love in the autumn of life can be every bit as moving as first love.
Carol Peterson (Blythe Danner) is a 70-something widow living alone in Southern California. One morning when she awakes she notices her beloved dog Hazel is not well. A trip to the veterinarian brings bad news: the dog is terminally ill and should be put down.
Carol is practical enough to recognize the inevitable, but still she can’t help feeling blue about losing the closest friend since her husband died in a plane crash some 20 years ago.
Carol gets some solace from her chatty, supportive friends, all whom live in a senior facility called Royal Oaks (which is a real-life 55-up California facility). She also makes a new friend in Lloyd (Martin Starr), her pool boy and a perennial college student who doesn’t quite know what he wants from life.
One day when visiting her friends at Royal Oaks after they encouraged her to make a comic but disastrous attempt at speed-dating, Carol makes eye contact with a handsome white-haired stranger. Her friends are impressed. They know who Bill is: the resident dream boat.
Bill (Sam Elliott) is a carefree, wealthy, divorced man who has moved from Dallas to Los Angeles to enjoy life a bit more. He does not beat around the bush. He likes Carol and she likes him. After a trip on his motor yacht the two septuagenarians get quite cozy.
Enough of the plot. Supporting players Rhea Perlman, Mary Kay Place and June Squibb provide reliable laughs. Malin Akerman adds a touch of drama as Carol’s estranged daughter reunited. Martin Starr contributes surprising chemistry in an unlikely relationship.

Blythe Danner is best known these days as Gwyneth Paltrow’s mom. It is good to see her on the big screen showing off where her Academy Award-winning daughter got her chops.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

A Swedish Comedy Complete With Elephant

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A 100-Year-Old Comedy From Sweden

By Skip Sheffield

We don’t get too many comedies out of Sweden, home of such downbeat drama masters as Igmar Bergman and Bo Widerberg and the controversial sexual fantasies of Vilgot Sjoman. However, “The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared” is quite funny in any language. It is in Swedish with subtitles and some English.
I had never heard of Robert Gustafsson, the 100-year-old man of the title, Allan Karlsson, but it is quite a tour de force for the actor, who plays the centenarian and his younger self.
We meet Allan in his nursing home as the staff is preparing a cake for his momentous birthday.
Allan is having none of it. He climbs out a window and walks to the nearest bus station. He has just enough money for a one-way ticket to a small town called Byringe. At the station he meets a burly young biker who goes to the men’s room and insists Allan mind his carrying case. The bus approaches, Allan shrugs and hops on it, carrying the case with him.
At Byringe he meets Julius (Iwar Wiklander), who gives him food and shelter. The men open the case and discover it is full of cash: $50 million Kroner’s worth. Later he falls in with Benny (Jens Hulten), a sympathetic biker who fall for Gunilla (Mila Skarlinger) who harbors a purloined circus elephant.
Based on a novel by Jonas Jonasson, “100-Year-old Man” has echoes of “Zelig” and “Forrest Gump” as the clueless but clever Allan meets such world figures as Franco, Stalin, Truman, Einstein and even witnesses the Manhattan Project in flashbacks while vicious bikers pursue him in the present, after the money. The film can be seen at the Gateway and Lake Worth Playhouse.




If You Can Dream "Tomorrowland" Is Yours

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Would That “Tomorrowland” Could Be Real

By Skip Sheffield

Would that saving the world were as simple as it is portrayed in Disney’s sci-fi fantasy “Tomorrowland.”
Tomorrowland was Walt Disney’s featured display in the 1964-1965 World’s Fair in Flushing Meadows, Queens. I know because I was there as a 16-year-old with my family. The gist of Tomorrowland was that through science, technology and intensive research, anything is possible. Any problem is conquerable.
The world is a bit more complicated in 2015 than it was 50 years ago. World population has more than doubled. Wars have decimated the Mideast and Far East. Weapons have become deadlier. Seas and carbon dioxide levels have risen and average world temperature rises as ice caps melt. Pollution has spread to parts of the ocean previously pristine. You get the point.
George Clooney stars as George Walker, once the whiz kid son of a Cape Canaveral rocket scientist circa 1964 (Thomas Robinson); now a grumpy, disillusioned, paranoid hermit holed up in a creepy, crumbling high security safe house near Orlando.
Clooney is top-billed, but the real stars are two girls: Casey Newton (Britt Robertson) and Athena (Raffey Cassidy).
Robertson is a 25-year-old child star veteran who looks and plays much younger (she plays a teenager here). Raffey Cassidy is a 13-year-old actress from Manchester, U.K.
The story, by directors Brad Bird (“Ratatouille”,  “Up”) and Damon Lindelof (“Prometheus”), begins with a voiceover by George Walker saying how different it was when he was a kid and visited Tomorrowland at the World’s Fair.Now in 2015, the world is “scary.”
George had created a “jet pack” from an Electrolux vacuum cleaner as a child. The jet pack did not work well, but it caught the attention of mysterious, ageless Athena, who showed him a glimpse of the technological dream world tomorrow could be.
Casey is the brainiac daughter of a Cape Canaveral space station worker (played by Country star Tim McGraw) who stands to lose his job when the launch pad is demolished.
Casey is so clever she infiltrates the launch pad and temporarily thwarts its destruction, only to be busted and hauled to jail. There she receives a mysterious token with a “T” on it. When she touches it, she is transported to Tomorrowland.
But not so fast. The token is only good for a limited time, and there is trouble in Tomorrowland. With the help of ingenious Athena Casey must enlist the help of unwilling George and somehow rekindle his optimism so together they can renew the dream of Tomorrowland.

There is a lot more to it than that; perhaps too much. The special effects are dazzling, but the exposition drags the tale out to a two-hour-plus length. At the end you are left with the optimist versus pessimist argument. The whole of “The Magic Kingdom” is based on the former. The world as it appears to be is the latter. It is an attractive notion that if we just remain positive, somehow everything will work out. Alas there is a nagging suspicion maybe not. Still, this is undeniably uplifting, even thrilling entertainment.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

A Reboot Better Than Original

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“Mad Max: Fury Road” Better Than the Original

By Skip Sheffield

A reboot can improve on the original. Case in point is “Mad Max: Fury Road,” which was reconceived by its originator, George Miller.
In development more than 10 years, the new “Mad Max” is bigger, badder and in many ways better than the 1979 original, which starred Mel Gibson as the sullen but explosive ex-Australian policeman trying to do some good in a world ruined and gone mad, ruled by barbarians.
All the reboot lacks is Max’s faithful dog, which added a most poignant touch to the original. The new Max is handsome 37-year-old British actor Tom Hardy. Hardy’s Max hardly has any lines. It’s all action stunts from the very first frame, when Max hears the approach of the murderous “War Boys,” who are ruled by the insane fascist despot, King Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne), outfitted in Plexiglas armour with attached breathing apparatus. In his supercharged hot rod Australian Ford, Max is herded, cornered, captured and put on a cage, with a Hannibal Lecter-style metal bridgework bolted on his face.
It isn’t the first or last time Max is in a seemingly hopeless situation. If Max didn’t escape there wouldn’t be a story. So of course he does, ultimately to team with rogue Imperator Furiosa (39-year-old South African actress-model Charlize Theron), who has double-crossed King Joe by veering off course to collect precious fuel to instead free five stowaway “wives” of the King, who are more like sexual slaves.
Although Theron is tarted up with a buzz haircut, a bionic arm and black grease over half her skull, Theron’s fine beauty still shines through. This will not escape Max’s attention.
The human characters are just sketches; secondary to the crazy machines and their amazing high-speed crashes in the Australian and African outback. The outlandish contraptions are a gearhead’s delight. According to Engadget magazine, 150 of the contraptions were constructed and at least half of them destroyed. My favorite is King Joe’s rig, which is topped by two 1959 Cadillac bodies grafted together.
Real live action is what separates “Mad Max” from such computer-generated cartoons as “The Avengers” and “Furious 7.” Miller even hired Cirque du Solelil artists to perform some of the acrobatic feats. Though the movie is two hours long it fairly flies by and leaves one wondering if there won’t be little Maxes and Furiosas in the future.

“Tangerines” Amidst War in Crumbling USSR

As if we didn’t need to be reminded again that war, especially sectarian war, is foolish, illogical, destructive and in short Hell, we have the relatively subtle Russian parable “Tangerines.”
Set in 1992 during the dissolution of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, “Tangerines” takes place in the grove of the title, on which two Estonian immigrant farmers- the last in the village- are trying to hold on in Soviet Georgia to harvest the precious fruit before war between invading Abkhazia and defending Georgia destroys everything. Margus (Elmo Nuganen) intends to leave forever once the harvest is done. Ivo (Lembit Ulsak) is older and intends to hang on, as he has nowhere else to go.
During an intense skirmish a soldier named Ahmed (Giogi Nakashidze) is injured and rescued by Ivo and taken to his farm house. Ivo and Margus send his Jeep over a cliff to get rid of the evidence. Soon there is another skirmish in which another man, Niko (Misha Meski), a native Georgian, is injured. Ivo again provides a safe haven for him to recuperate.
Ahmed and Niko are on opposite sides of the conflict. Ahmed swears to kill Niko the first chance he gets.
“To kill a sleeping man is a holy thing?” Ivo challenges Ahmed, a Muslim mercenary. “There will be no killing in my house.”
One can only hope there are wise, compassionate characters like Ivo to counteract the blind hatred of most wars. One can only hope.

If you need some laughs with a cappella singing, also opening May 15 is “Pitch Perfect 2,” starring Anna Kendrick and Rebel Wilson.




Monday, May 11, 2015

Have a Romp with "Dames at Sea"

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Come On, Get Happy with “Dames at Sea”

By Skip Sheffield

“Dames at Sea” is probably the lightest, silliest, most-clichéd Broadway musical ever.
Thereby lies its unsubtle charm. See “Dames at Sea” through May 31 at the Wick Theatre in Boca Raton and you’ll see what I mean.
“Dames at Sea” was created in 1966 as a deliberate parody of over-the-top 1930s Busby Berkeley musicals. It was written by George Hamilton and Robin Miller, with music by Jim Wise. It became a vehicle for unknown ingénue Bernadette Peters when the actress originally cast dropped out. In an art-versus-life scenario, both Bernadette and the show were a hit. Bernadette Peters is now a Broadway icon. “Dames at Sea” has become a staple of theater companies across the country as it is a very simple show with a cast of just six (plus band) and minimal set requirements.
This puts the burden on the performers. For the Wick production director Michael Ursua has found a Bernadette Peters sound-alike for the role of Ruby, a Utah innocent freshly off the bus from Utah.
Pretty Lindsay Bethea has a high-pitched, girlish Betty Boop kind of voice that suits her star-struck ingénue.
Likewise Alex Jorth has the suitable gee-whiz naivety for his role of Navy sailor Richard, or Dick as everyone calls him.
Like the characters created by Dick Powell and Ruby Keeler, Dick and Ruby are made for each other, but Dick is not immune to the overpowering charms of Broadway star Mona Kent (Laura Hodos), who not only wants Dick for herself; she wants Rudy booted from the chorus line of the namesake show “Dames at Sea,” which could be Ruby’s launching shot for stardom. Hodos has the requisite rafter-shaking belt voice, which underscores the force of Mona.
Other stereotypical characters are fellow seaman Lucky (Blake Speliacy) who has a thing for Ruby’s gal pal, hoofer Joan (Alison McCartan).
The adult authority figures of producer-director Hennesey and the ship Captain are played by Gabriel Zenone, a newcomer with impressive theater and television credentials.
The songs themselves are clichés, parodying the shallow show tunes of the 1930s, but they are sung earnestly and accompanied beautifully by an onstage band led by pianist Caryl Fantel. If you are a sucker for tap-dancing as I am, you’ll love the routines choreographed by Angela Morando.
If you want to come on, get happy, “Dames at Sea” is a lightweight treat for you.
Tickets are $58-$62. Call 561-995-2333 or go to www.thewick.org.