Friday, May 26, 2017

Johnny & the Pirates in Episode 5

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Déjà vu on the High Seas

By Skip Sheffield

Haven’t I seen this movie before? Yes I have actually. “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales” is the fifth in a wildly successful series starring Johnny Depp as pirate Capt. Jack Sparrow. In each installment Depp has worn the same hat and the same heavy dark eye makeup. He also clutches a bottle of booze and rambles around drunkenly. How this guy could captain anything is a mystery, which is the one big gag of this series. Depp has one trademark expression: eyes open wide with a look of astonishment as if he was thinking I can’t believe they pay me to do this.
Well they do, and I am sure it is substantial. The saving grace of this new installment is esteemed Spanish actor Javier Bardem. He plays the dead Capt. Salazar, who roams the seas with an equally dead crew. Their skeleton ship sails equally well above or under water. Also returning is Kevin McNally as Jack’s first mate, Gibbs.
Returning from previous Pirates movies is Geoffrey Rush as onetime foe Capt. Hector Barbosa, who is now buddy with Jack Sparrow. There are two new pretty people; Brenton Thwaites as Henry Turner and Kaya Scodelario as Carina Smyth. Kaya is much more buxom than Keira Knightley, who returns in a pointless cameo with Orlando Bloom.

In all this movie is pretty pointless, noisy and rambling, but who cares? As long as people keep paying money to see Capt. Jack Sparrow, they will keep churning these things out.



Is Chuck Wepner the Real Rocky Balboa?

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Is “Chuck” Rocky Balboa?

By Skip Sheffield

My late friend, mentor and surrogate father figure Hal Williams used to say “I abhor fisticuffs.”
I do too, which explains why I don’t like boxing and I was a little leery about seeing “Chuck.” The Chuck of the title is Chuck Wepner, the self-styled boxing champion of New Jersey. Chuck is played by Liev Schreiber, an actor I greatly respect. Schreiber must have packed on some pounds and got into combat shape to portray the man whose biggest claim to fame was going 15 rounds with Muhammad Ali.
“I can take a punch,” boasted Wepner, who was also known as “The Bayonne Bleeder.” Wepner was a semi-celebrity in New Jersey simply because he could take a beating. He was also a white man in a sport dominated by black men. That’s why he was chosen March 23, 1975 to battle heavyweight champion Muhammad Ali (Pooch Hall) by his manager, Al Braverman (Ron Perlman).
What cinched Chuck’s fame was the release of the first “Rocky” film in 1976. Although he denied it, Sylvester Stallone (Morgan Spector) modelled his underdog character of Rocky Balboa on Chuck Wepner. The people of New Jersey regarded Chuck as their hero. As so often happens, fame went to his head. Chuck, who was married to Phyllis (Elizabeth Moss) and had a loving daughter Kimberly (Sadie Sink), started messing around with other women; principally pretty bartender Linda (Naomi Watts) and snorting cocaine.

I still don’t much like boxing, but I did like “Rocky” and I am glad I got to see the back story in “Chuck.”


Monday, May 22, 2017

Marry Me, Please

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A “Wedding Plan” at All Costs

By Skip Sheffield

“The Wedding Plan” is to get married at all costs. That’s the bottom line on this Israeli comedy about an ultra-orthodox 32-year-old Jewish woman and her quest to find a groom by the eighth night of Hanukah.
Yes, it helps to be Jewish and orthodox at that to appreciate this comedy, written and directed by Rama Burshstein.
I am neither, but the saving grace of this movie is Noa Koler, as the marriage-minded Michal. She has been dating for ten years, but has yet to find a guy willing to make the commitment.
When her latest fiancé jilts her by saying bluntly “I don’t love you,” Michal undertakes a drastic plan: go ahead with the marriage anyway, groom or no groom. God will find a way, she rationalizes.
So at a cost of 15,000 shekels, Michal books a wedding hall for 200 guests. She already has the white wedding dress.
Michal operates a mobile petting zoo. She must do exceptionally well. For a secular Westerner, the thought is, what’s the big whoop? Noa Koler is so appealing, with big, expressive brown eyes; we tend to root for her.

Hey, it’s another romantic fantasy. We’ll do no spoilers here, except to note love can come from the most unexpected places.


Sunday, May 21, 2017

Chekhov Visits Bucks County Pennslyvania

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Chekov Spoofed at Delray Beach Playhouse

By Skip Sheffield

Vania, Sonia and Masha are all characters in plays by the great Russian playwright Anton Chekhov. Spike is not.
The Delray Beach Playhouse wraps up its 70th season with “Vania and Sonia and Masha and Spike,” a very clever comedy by American playwright Christopher Durang, running through June 4.
Chekhov is known for his gloom and doom. Characters often sit around complaining, but never do anything to change their situation. Such is the case with Sonia (Marcie Hall) and Vanya (Michael DeGrotta). This may be Marcie Hall's greatest performance ever, as she proves when she morphs into Maggie Smith as the Wicked Queen in a spangly dress.
They live in the Bucks County, Pennsylvania house of their childhood, though Sonia is quick to point out she was adopted.
The duo has a glamorous older sister Masha (Dr. Ann Patrice Casale) who foots the bills, and a soothsayer housekeeper Cassandra (Vicki Klein) who cleans up after everyone.
Spike  (Josh Matheney) is the latest boy-toy of five times married Masha, whose movie career is winding down. Then there is Nina (Danielle Tabino), who is an aspiring actress.  In the play’s funniest bit, Vanya stages a reading of his terrible play about the end of the world, with Nina as a molecule.
Yeah, it sounds kinda crazy, but under the sure direction of Randolph DelLago, every vein of humor is mined. Delray Beach Playhouse stands alone not only as South Florida’s oldest community theater, but as its consistently best.
Tickets are $30, and that’s a bargain. Call 561-272-1281, ext. 4.


Saturday, May 20, 2017

Love Your Local Cripple

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“The Cripple of Inishmaan” May Win Your Heart

By Skip Sheffield

The witty and wonderful Irish play “The Cripple of Inishmaan” continues through June 4 at Palm Beach Dramaworks, 201 Clematis St., West Palm Beach.
The Irish have a love of language and tall tales. Playwright Martin McDonaugh is the poet laureate of recent plays. Palm Beach Dramaworks staged his “Beauty Queen of Leenane” in 2011.
There is a beauty queen in “Cripple,” though she has no such title. Her name is Helen McCormick and she is played by Adelind Horan in her PB Dramaworks debut. Helen is a feisty red-haired lass and object of affection of the play’s title cripple, Billy Claven.
Adam Petherbridge is also making his Dramaworks debut as Crippled Billy. His performance is nothing short of astounding. Petherbridge turns his right foot out at an impossible 90-degree angle to simulate Billy’s disability. Billy may be crippled, but he is shooting for the stars. A center plot device is his trip to the USA to do a screen test as what else?, a cripple.
Director J. Barry Lewis, at his 34th time at the helm, has called upon an outstanding cast of supporting players, including Elizabeth Dimon and Laura Turnbull as gossiping aunties; Colin McPhillamy as the self-styled town crier; Wesley Slade as Helen’s somewhat dim brother; Jim Ballard as the kindhearted but volatile Babbybobby Bennett; Dennis Creaghan as kindly Dr. McSharry and Harriet Oser as whisky-loving Mammy O’Dougal.
The play is set in the remote Aran Islands in 1934. Scenic artist Rebecca Pancoast and dialect coach Ben Furey lend much to the Irish authenticity. Not a whole lot happens in “The Cripple of Inishmaan,” but it is enough to move your heart.
Tickets are $66. Call 561-514-4042 or go to www.palmbeachdramaworks.org.




Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Love is "Everythin Everything"

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Young Love is “Everything Everything”

By Skip Sheffield

“Everything Everything” is a young adult romantic movie based on the 2015 young adult novel of the same name by Nicola Yoon.
Director Stella Meghie has cast two exceptionally attractive leads: Amandla Stenberg as Maddy Whittier, a 17-year-old girl who has severe combined immunodeficiency (SCID) and is allergic to everything, and Nick Robinson as Olly Bright, the proverbial boy next door.
Maddy has been a virtual prisoner in her own home due to her over-protective mother, Pauline (Anika Noni Rose). Pauline is either a nurse or a doctor. She must be a doctor and a well-paid one at that, because her house is an amazing dream pad in pricey Los Angeles. The house has been customized with sliding glass doors and many windows that enable Maddy to see the world outside.
Believability is not a strong suit of “Everything Everything.” Maddy and Olly, who has an abusive, alcoholic father, establish an e-mail correspondence, and with the secret cooperation of Maddy’s nurse Carla (Ana de la Reguera), they finally meet in Maddy’s house. When Pauline learns her daughter has been secretly meeting the boy next door, she angrily fires Carla and hires a severe nurse Maddy calls Nurse Ratched.
What’s a girl to do? In Maddy’s case it is flee to Hawaii where she enjoys a few idyllic days with Olly. Don’t ask how they afford all this, because this is a romantic fantasy.

There is a plot turn and a final reveal, which we won’t. As a date flick, “Everything Everything” is pretty good for the young and gullible. It’s harmless fizzy fun far removed from the harsh reality of everyday life.

Friday, May 12, 2017

The Lighter Side of Death in Israel

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A Comedy About Death?

By Skip Sheffield

“One Week and a Day” is a curious little film from Israel opening May 12 at FAU’s Living Room Theaters, Regal Shadowood and Movies of Delray. Considering our large Jewish population and its warm reception in Israel it may attract an audience looking for something offbeat.
Writer Asaph Polonsky, who also directs, has essentially written a comedy about death. The title refers to the traditional Jewish shiva, or week of mourning. The deceased, Ronnie Spivak, we never meet, but we learn he died young, of cancer.
Eyal Spivak (Shai Avivi), the boy’s father, is not taking his son’s death well. We first see him playing ping-pong with Zooler (Tomer Kapon), a neighbor boy and friend of the deceased. When Zooler’s parents drop by to deliver a salad (friends traditionally drop off food during shiva), Eyal tries to lock them out. Eyal’s wife Vicky (Evgenia Dodina) intervenes and accepts the salad. Later she finds Eyal has thrown it into the garbage can.
Vicky urges Eyal to get on with his life. Eyal seems determined to prolong his mourning. Zooler comes up with an alternate plan. He scores a bag of marijuana and shows Eyal how to roll a joint. Evidently there is good weed in Tel Aviv. Eyal finds great solace in being stoned, and spends the rest of the film in a dope haze. As you can imagine, this causes some practical problems. Eyal and Zooler are an odd comic duo. Shai Avivi is a fine deadpan comic. Tomer Kapon is a puppy-dog foil to a man his father’s age.
The movie takes a serious yet hopeful turn toward the end. As a goy I do not understand all Jewish traditions, but I do know about death and mourning. Because of this I find “One Week and a Day” oddly uplifting.


Writer-director Asaph Polonsky will be present at screenings at 12:30, 3 and 5 p.m. Saturday, May 14 at Movies of Delray and 7 p.m. Saturday at Shadowood. He will also be at Living Room Theaters at 7:20 p.m. Saturday and 11:45 a.m. Sunday, May 15.