Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Laugh It Up with "Captain America: Civil War"

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Chris Evans as Captain Ameica

“Captain America: Civil War” Marvel Comics’ Funniest Yet

By Skip Sheffield

“Captain America: Civil War” is the funniest Marvel Comics movie I have ever seen.
This is a good thing, because I never took seriously the Marvel universe of super heroes. “Civil War,” directed by brothers Anthony and Joe Russo, has a whole mess of them, but the two main characters are Steve Rogers, aka Captain America (Chris Evans) and Tony Stark, aka Iron Man (Robert Downey, Jr.). Scarlett Johansson enjoys quite a bit of screen time as Natasha Romanoff, aka Black Widow, and we are the better for it.
The plot by screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, is overly complicated, which lends to the film’s bloated 147-minute length. It boils down to a battle between Captain America, who feels the Avengers should be free of any government control, and Tony Stark, who thinks they should cooperate with the United Nations, FBI and various governmental agencies. But before the big showdown happens we are treated to a travelogue all over the globe, with furious fights, hair-raising car chases and amazing stunts. Able support is provided by Anthony Mackie as Sam Wilson, aka Falcon, who has concealed wings that unfold in time of distress; Don Cheadle as the ever-serious Lt. James Rhodes, aka War Machine; Jeremy Renner returning as the archer Clint Barton, aka Hawkeye; Paul Bettany as the red-faced Vision, and new guy Chadwick Boseman as T’Chall, aka Black Panther. Sebastian Stan plays the villain, Bucky Barnes, aka Winter Soldier.

There are more, many more characters. As I said, this movie’s main fault is that it is over-stuffed. But for pure, mindless entertainment it is hard to beat. I still don’t care about the Marvel Comics universe of people with super powers, but darned if I wasn’t pleasantly surprised and thoroughly entertained by this biff-baff-boff romp.



Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Carole King Celebrated in "Beautiful"

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Becky Gulsvig as Cynthia Weill

Carole King Celebrated in “Beautiful”

By Skip Sheffield

Will you still love me tomorrow?
Yes we will Carole King, and always. “Beautiful: The Carole King Musical,” opens Tuesday, May 10 and runs through May 22 at Broward Center for the Arts.
Carole King wrote or co-wrote some of the greatest song hits of the 1960s and 1970s. She talked her way into the famed Brill Building when she was only 16 in 1958, and became partners with fellow songwriters Cynthia Weil, Barry Mann and one-time husband Gerry Coffin. They became a virtual hit machine with classics like “Chains,” “Cryin’ in the Rain,” “Loco-Motion” and “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?” King became an even greater success with her 1971 solo album “Tapestry,” which became one of the best-selling albums of all time with such hits as “It’s Too Late, “A Natural Woman,” “I Feel the Earth Move,” and another song that became a hit for her friend James Taylor, “You’ve Got a Friend.”
Becky Gulsvig plays the role of songwriter Cynthia Weil, who was King’s best female buddy at the Brill Building. Abby Mueller plays Carole King and Liam Tobin her ex-husband, Gerry Coffin.
“Carole surprised us by showing up at the show in Boston,” says Gulsvig, who joined the tour in September. “It’s the story of how Carole King came to be Carole King, and how she met Gerry Coffin. People come for the music, but the story has humor and romance.”
Among Gulsvig’s credits are the original cast of “Legally Blonde”. Most recently she originated the role of Cinderella in “Disenchanted” Off-Broadway.
“The show opens with Carole at Carnegie Hall, then flashes back to her humble beginnings in Brooklyn,” Gulsvig explains. “It’s a full production with a full orchestra, plus Carole’s piano. It’s a joy being part of it.”
Tickets start at $35. Call 954-462-0222 or go to www.browardcenter.org.



Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Love at First Sight in Madison County

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Love is a Fleeting Thing

By Skip Sheffield

Let’s have a forbidden fling. That is the essence of “The Bridges of Madison County,” playing through May 1 at Kravis Center in West Palm Beach.
Robert James Waller had a 1992 best-seller about a chance encounter between a bored Iowa housewife and a photographer from National Geographic magazine.
A 1995 movie directed by and starring Clint Eastwood and Meryl Streep became even more popular. The stage musical, with book by Marsha Norman (Pulitzer Prize-winner for “’night Mother”) and music by Jason Robert Brown (“Parade”) was mounted in 2014.
Elizabeth Stanley plays the role of Francesca Johnson, originally from Naples, Italy. It is the summer of 1965 and while her husband Bud (Cullin R. Titmas) and children are away at the Indiana State Fair, Robert Kincaid (Andrew Samonsky) pulls up in his pickup truck. Robert has located six of the seven covered bridges of Madison County, Iowa.. He asks Francesca if she knows where the seventh one, called Roseman Bridge, is. Francesca volunteers to show Robert where the bridge is. Later she invites him in for a home-cooked dinner. So begins a four-day fling that will be the romance of Francesca’s life.
Elizabeth Stanley is a marvelous operatic soprano. Andrew Samonsky is a worthy tenor and super good-looking guy. The two actors blend convincingly. Mary Callanan provides nice comic relief as snoopy neighbor Marge.
If you have ever had the advantage of a brief fling with someone who will stick with you forever, you will relate to “The Bridges of Madison County.” If you have not, you can still fanaticize. Love is fleeting but art is long.
Tickets start at $27. Call 561-832-7469 or go to www.kravis.org.


Tuesday, April 26, 2016

The Magical Power of Music in "Sing Street"

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The Sing Street Band

“Sing Street” is the Power of Music

By Skip Sheffield

“Sing Street” could have been the story of my life, except it is set in Dublin, Ireland.
Writer-director John Carney has created another fable about the positive power of music, which he previously explored in “Once” and “Begin Again.”
This time it is a coming-of-age tale about a Dublin teenager, Conor (fresh-faced newcomer Ferdia Walsh-Peelo), whose family has fallen on hard times in the mid-1980s. His father Robert (Aiden Gillen) is an architect, but his commissions have dried up. Mother Penny (Maria Doyle Kennedy) has been cut back to part-time employment. Conor’s older brother Brendan (Jack Reynor) has dropped out of college. To cut back on expenses, Conor’s parents pull him out of his pricey Jesuit school and enroll him in the state-supported Christian Brothers School on Synge Street.
The new school proves troublesome. Conor is harassed by bullies and reprimanded by Brother Baxter (Don Wycherly) for not having regulation black shoes. The truth is Conor’s family can’t afford them.
On the positive side Conor meets beautiful Raphina (Lucy Boynton). In an effort to impress her, he offers her a role in his music video. The problem is he has no band. Conor has to improvise. With the help of his geeky new friend Darren (Ben Carolan), he puts together a band and goes for it.

This is where I really relate to “Sing Street.” As a young teenager I had no athletic abilities and I didn’t much enjoy the company of academic eggheads. With the help of my friend Marty Caron, I learned how to play guitar at age 14, which is the same age as Conor. At 15 Marty and I put together a band. It wasn’t to impress any girl in particular, but I learned girls in general like guys who play in bands. Music changed my life, and I have never let it go. I never will. I think John Carney understands.


Monday, April 25, 2016

Irving Berlin Forever

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Irving Berlin Celebrated in “I Love a Piano”

By Skip Sheffield

The genius of Irving Berlin is beyond compare in American musical history. The never-ending creativity of this singular songwriter is on display in the joyous musical revue “I Love a Piano,” continuing through May 15 at the Wick Theatre in Boca Raton.
There is no biographical stuff to clutter up the show. It is Berlin’s life story told through his songs by a singing and dancing cast of six, with onstage seven-piece band.
The show begins in the present, then immediately flashes back to 1910, with an even older upright piano as a centerpiece. One of the first songs, “A Pretty Girl is Like a Melody,” is familiar to anyone who has watched the Miss America Pageant.
The cast is roughly divided into ingénues (Caitlin Hornik, Ryan Patrick Lammer); a more mature couple (Karla Shook, Timothy Booth) and a romantic duo (Amelia Millar, Alex Jorth).
The songs are performed rapid-fire. Some are standards of the American Musical Songbook (“Blue Skies,” “Puttin’ on the Ritz,” “Always,” “White Christmas” and of course “God Bless America”). Others are quite forgettable (“Snooky Ookums,” “Two Cheers Instead of Three,” “Any Bonds Today”). Amelia Millar was a standout with her prat-falling comedy and her channeling of Kate Smith with “God Bless America.”
Caitlin Hornik and Karla Shook are quite attractive and agile dancers. Karla is the sister of Kelly Shook, who both directed and choreographed the show.
Irving Berlin became a virtual recluse after retiring in 1962. Ironically, this all-American composer was born in Russia. He moved to the USA as a child with his family in 1893. I was granted a phone interview with the great man the first time this musical revue came to Florida. Berlin stayed mentally sharp until his death at 101 Sept. 22, 1989. His legacy will last forever. “I Love a Piano” a most fitting tribute.

Tickets are $70-$80. Call 561-995-2333 or go to www.thewick.org.



Thursday, April 21, 2016

Elvis Meets Nixon, With a Little Help From Friends

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A Monumental Meeting of Two Weird Dudes

By Skip Sheffield

Elvis Presley was one strange dude. Richard M. Nixon was even stranger. How fitting that the two odd ducks should meet in “Elvis and Nixon,” a new film by Liza Johnson. The script, written by Joey and Hanala Sagal, imagines the circumstances around the historic meeting of Elvis Presley and Nixon in December, 1970. The photograph taken of the meeting is the most requested image in the National Archives.
Playing Elvis is Michael Shannon, a man who looks not a bit like the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll. Likewise Kevin Spacey does not much resemble Richard Nixon. For one thing, he is much better-looking.
None of this really matters, because “Elvis & Nixon” is played for laughs. Elvis by that point was one the down side of his career. The Memphis, Tennessee native was deeply conservative, despite his flamboyant lifestyle. Elvis was convinced America was going to Hell because of loose morals and rampant use of drugs.
Similarly Nixon was a hardcore right-winger who was contemptuous of the free love hippie lifestyle. The trick was getting these two characters together. Elvis was used to getting his way, and it never occurred to him getting an audience with the U.S. President might take some doing. Elvis imagined himself to be a perfect candidate for “Federal Agent at Large;” a post that did not exist. Enter Elvis’s handlers Jerry Schilling (Alex Pettyfer) and Sonny (Johnny Knoxville). These guys knew Elvis better than he knew himself.
On the side of the President were yes-men Egil Krogh (Colin Hanks) and Dwight Chapin (Evan Peters). They knew better than Nixon what was good for his public image.
It is one of my life’s regrets I never got to see Elvis perform. I could have gone to what turned out to be his last Florida appearance at West Palm Beach Auditorium. I just didn’t care.
Likewise I never saw Nixon in the flesh. I don’t think I missed much.

Liza Johnson has a playful sense of history and a keen sense of ironic comedy. Historical accuracy be damned, “Elvis and Nixon” is good fun.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Kevin Costner Uglies Up to be a "Criminal"

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Kevin Costner Uglies Up for “Criminal”

By Skip Sheffield

What is up with Kevin Costner? Is he trying to disavow his handsome movie star image?
One might think so from “Criminal,” Costner’s latest movie. Costner starts out as long-haired and bearded. Then his hair is shorn into an ugly buzz cut so his brain can be operated upon to implant the memories and experiences of another man.
The memories are from a CIA operative named Bill Pope (Ryan Reynolds). Pope is killed before he can complete his mission of defeating a young hacker known as “The Dutchman” (Michael Pitt).
Jericho Stewart (Kevin Costner) is a death row inmate presumably assumed expendable. In this far-fetched fantasy by the late Douglas Cook, who died in 2015, and David Weisberg, who collaborated with Cook on “Double Jeopardy,” Stewart is operated upon by Dr. Franks (Tommy Lee Jones, looking more furrowed and wrinkled than ever) and implanted with the memories of Bill Pope in hopes Jericho can catch the dastardly Dutchman, It gets more confusing from there. Bill Pope had a beautiful wife named Jill (stunning Israeli actress Gal Gadot, who is Wonder Woman in the current “Batman vs Superman” movie). The director is another Israeli, Aviel Vroman, who previously collaborated with the screenwriters and Tommy Lee Jones on “Double Jeopardy.”
I couldn’t quite figure out who the character of Quaker Wells (Gary Oldman) was supposed to be. I’m guessing a CIA muckety-muck, but much of the plot is murky. What is not murky is the special effects and “blow up real good” stunts. The setting is mostly in London, England, which is at least scenic.

Kevin Costner has had winners (“Bull Durham,” “Field of Dreams” and “Dances With Wolves), and he has had losers (“Waterworld,” “The Postman). I think “Criminal” ranks in the second category.