Friday, December 25, 2009

Sherlock Holmes as Action Hero

Action Specialists Guy Ritchie and Joel Silver Re-invent British Sleuth

Lock, stock, and smoking Sherlock Holmes?

Robert Downey, Jr. brings his Iron Man swagger to the tweedy, intellectual role of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s brilliant super-sleuth, under the direction of British action specialist Guy Ritchie (“Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels”) and American mega-producer Joel Silver.

This Sherlock is a master of martial arts as well as mystery-solver. He still smokes a pipe but he also wields a pistol and nunchucks.

Holmes shares bachelor quarters at 21 Baker Street with his mild-mannered best friend Dr. Watson, underplayed nicely by Jude Law. Watson has been upgraded too in co-producer Lionel Wigran’s original story. No bumbler this Watson, he engages in fisticuffs alongside Holmes and handles a gun expertly like the ex-soldier he is.

Dr. Watson is engaged to Mary (Kelly Reilly), a freckled Irish lass, and he already is in early stages of being henpecked.

Clearly Mary sees Holmes as a threat or perhaps even rival for Watson’s affections; a situation Downey has joked about on the David Letterman Show.

The show begins- and it is a show- with an eleventh-hour saving of a human sacrifice to some kind of black art ceremony.

Behind the scheme is malevolent Lord Blackwood (Mark Strong), an imperious villain with greasy slicked back hair and affection for large capes.

Blackwood is sentenced to hang, and hang he does. Dr. Watson verifies he has no pulse.

But in a warped parody of the Resurrection, Blackwood turns up very much alive, after his corpse is discovered to be that of another man.

Blackwood is head sorcerer for something called the Temple of the Four Orders, and it is his evil plan to wrest power from Parliament and install his own minions: hiss, boo!

Subtle this new Sherlock Holmes is not. The movie is so loaded with computer-generated special effects it is more a super hero fantasy than traditional British mystery.

But the computer-enhanced 1891 London looks great (North Manchester, England, and Brooklyn, New York provided some of the locations), and Downey and Law have a nice rapport.

Rachel McAdams is a luscious damsel-in-distress; a woman so smart she has outwitted Holmes twice, and Eddie Marsan provides solid support as the supportive, incorruptible Inspector Lestrade.

This amped-up Sherlock Holmes is no threat to Conan Doyle’s original, or even Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce’s popular collaborations in the 1930s and 1940s, but it is neat to have Britain’s greatest sleuth introduced to a new, attention-deficit generation. By the looks of the finale, there will be sequels.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

"It's Complicated" an American French Sex Farce

Writer-Director Nancy Meyers Goes for Broad Comedy

Is there anything Meryl Streep can’t do?
The answer seems to be no.
Streep is in farcical broad comedy mode in “It’s Complicated,” written and directed by contemporary female comedy specialist, Nancy Meyers. Myers is far and away the most successful female writer-director-producer in Hollywood.
More to the point, Meyers knows how to make people laugh with her written word, an art she first proved with “Private Benjamin” in 1980
She also has a keen eye for casting just the right people. Who would have thought Meryl Streep would work so well with Alec Baldwin?
Streep and Baldwin are pitch perfect as a divorced couple who get back together for a fling, much to the shock and chagrin of all other family members,
Streep is Jane, a Santa Barbara caterer so successful she has hired Adam (Steve Martin), a high-end architect, to build an addition to her already large house.
Adam is recently divorced and insecure, but he takes a shine to Jane from the start.
Jane divorced Jake (Alec Baldwin) ten years ago after nearly 20 years of marriage. He had an affair and married Agness (Luke Bell), a hot younger babe. Jake is 50, flabby and not as potent as he once was. He’s been going to a fertility clinic at Agness’ insistence. because she would like to another child in addition to the young son she has.
You can tell the bloom is off the Rose for Jake, who realizes he still feels something for his fifty-something ex-wife. One night after too much to drink celebrating their son’s graduation, they fall into bed.
“You are an adulterer,” Jake gloats.
“I’m an awful person,” wails Jane, guilt-stricken already.
When Adam inevitably learns about the fling he is crushed and Jane feels guiltier than ever.
Jake and Jane’s grown children are understandably appalled at their parents’ irresponsible behavior, but this is a farce; an American French farce, if you will, and reactions are played for laughs by the same person who paired Mel Gibson and Helen Hunt in “What Women Want.” That 2000 movie was the most successful ever directed by a woman.
I don’t think “It’s complicated” will be that broadly popular. Parts of it are uncomfortable, particularly Alec Baldwin’s caution-to-the winds physical comedy.
Steve Martin is rather underused and his role so sketchy there is not a whole lot he can do with it.
But if sex farce tickles your funny bone, Streep and Baldwin are happy to oblige, with a little nudging from Nancy Meyers.

"Nine" a Dirty Old man's Delight

Fellini Purists Won't Like it, but "Nine" Entertains

By Skip Sheffield

“Nine” is a dirty old man’s dream- quite literally.
For this reason, opinion of this Rob Marshall musical extravaganza tends to divide along gender lines, though there are some guys who really hate it.
That group would be the Fellini purists, who feel everything the master Italian writer-director did is sacred and untouchable.
I’m not that way at all, and I freely admit I admire female pulchritude.
“Nine” is chock full of fabulous females of every description, representing the various types fancied by Federico Fellini, who was also a world-class womanizer. That fact no one can deny. The miracle is that he stayed married to the same woman, actress Guilietta Masina, for 50 years.
Fellini insisted his works were not autobiographical, but even a casual student of his art recognizes some of the important female figures in his life in the acclaimed 1961 film “8 ½,” which is the basis for the 1982 Broadway musical “Nine” on which screenwriters Michael Tolkin and Anthony Minghella based this script.
I had the privilege of meeting Minghella in person and spending some time several years ago in Fort Lauderdale when he was promoting his film, “Breaking and Entering.”
Like Fellini, Minghella was proud of his Italian heritage and it shows in this otherwise Americanized movie by the director of “Chicago.” Alas Minghella died March 18, 2008, and this was among his last scripts.
“Be Italian!” is the exuberant theme song for the musical, but curiously Rob Marshall cast an Englishman, Daniel Day-Lewis, as Fellini alter ego Guido Contini.
That said, Day-Lewis handles the role quite well, though his singing voice is no great shakes. What is formidable about Day-Lewis is his dramatic ability, and Guido Contini is constantly on the verge of a nervous breakdown, when he isn’t almost catatonic with depression.
With so many beautiful women in his life, why should Contini be so depressed? The simple answer is that Contini’s art is more important than anything else in his life, and at this moment he just can’t make it.
“Nine” is about artistic blockage when it’s not about Contini’s philandering escapades.
It’s about Catholic guilt too, instilled by the church and by his devout mother, played ironically by voluptuous Sophia Loren. Hey why not? Loren was a real-life inspiration to Fellini, who cast her in several films.
Playing Luisa Contini, the longest-suffering, most patient and forgiving wife a man could ever conceive, is French actress Marion Cotilliard, emoting up a storm even when she is not speaking a word. But when she sings “Take it All” watch out, she will break your heart.
On the other hand is brazen sexpot Carla, played with joyful abandon by Spanish actress Penelope Cruz. Ay Caramba! Cruz’s writhing, rope-dancing, acrobatic production number is nothing short of scorching, yet this is another fine dramatic performance as a woman ultimately scorned.
Yes, each of Guido’s women gets a production number. For Kate Hudson, as spunky American press agent Stephanie, “It’s Cinema Italiano.” For Fergie (Stacey Richardson) it’s a phantasmagoric number set at the beach, combining religious imagery with boys’ sexual desire.
Even Dame Jodi Dench gets her moment in the spotlight (“Follies Bergere,” no less), as does Nicole Kidman as Guido’s latest designated blond goddess, Claudia.
“A film is a dream,” broods Guido, in a beginning scene. “You kill it sometimes.”
Did Rob Marshall kill Fellini?
Nah, no more than Arthur Kopit did when he wrote the book, nor Maury Yeston, who wrote the music and lyrics, or Tommy Tune, who directed the 1982 Broadway production of “Nine.”
It won five Tony Awards.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Christmas Films

By Skip Sheffield

There is an abundance of new films opening this Christmas Day. I’ve had the opportunity to see four of them.
The most impressive of the lot is “Young Victoria,” starring Emily Blunt as England’s monarch so beloved she has the entire Victorian Age named after her.
The popular conception of Queen Victoria, especially in the USA, is of prudishness and decorum.
The reality of it is that Victoria was a flesh-and-blood woman who very much loved her Prince Albert. She bore him nine children and was devastated by his death in 1861- but this story is not about that sad period of mourning.
Screenwriter Julian Fellows has explored the sensuous, romantic side of a vibrant, intelligent young queen, and Emily Blunt beautifully embodies her.
The story begins in 1837 when Victoria was just 17. Her genial uncle, King William (Jim Broadbent), is dying, and her status-seeking mother, the Duchess of Kent (Miranda Richardson) and her devious advisor, Conroy, (Mark Strong) are scheming to wrest power from her on the pretext that Victoria is just too young to be monarch.
Victoria’s handsome cousin, Albert (Rupert Friend), is the nephew of King Leopold of Belgium. For political expediency the Duchess has invited Albert to the place to meet and possibly woo Victoria.
Despite initial doubts, the headstrong and somewhat rebellious Victoria finds a kindred spirit in Albert, who is also tired of being dominated by his relatives. Before he returns to Belgium, Albert asks if he might write Victoria. She grants him that right, and so by royal mail romance begins to blossom. Victoria was crowned Queen in 1838 at age 18, and it was she who proposed to Albert and married him Feb. 10, 1840.
It can’t be easy living in the fishbowl that is royal life, but somehow Victoria grew and flourished despite challenges and political battles around them. We see them when her chief advisor, Lord Melbourne (Paul Bettany) is forced from power and an unfriendly Tory government takes over.
Above all “Young Victoria” is a romance, and a sumptuous, beautiful one at that. I will never again think of Queen Victoria just as an elderly dowager thanks to this fascinating depiction of Britain’s longest-ruling monarch (1838-1901).

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Florida Film Critics Announce 2009 Winners

"Up in the Air" Wins No. 1 Spot

It has happened again. Jason Reitman's "Up in the Air" has been named favorite 2009 movie by the Florida Film Critics Circle (FFCC). The film's star, George Clooney, has been named Best Actor, and director and co-writer Jason Reitman is Best Director.
In other FFCC rankings, Gabourey Sidibe won Best Actress for "Precious."
Christopher Waltz was voted Best Supporting actor for "Inglourious Basterds" and Mo' Nique earned Best Supporting Actress for "Precious."
Scott Neustadter and Michael Weber were recognized for Best Screenplay for "(500) Days of Summer."
"Avatar" won Mauro Fiore Best Cinematography.
"Sin Nombre" was voted Best Foreign Language Film.
"Up" won Best Animated Film.
"The Cove" earned Best Documentary.
Gabourney Sibibe earned special recognition as Breakout performer.

I liked "Up in the Air" and admired George Clooney's performance- his best ever- as a glib, globe-trotting corporate hatchet man, Ryan Bingham. I did not love the film.
It is hard to love someone as superficial, cold and distant as Ryan Bingham or his latest hottie fling, Alex Goran, played by Vera Farmiga.
Oh, there is onscreen heat generated by Clooney and Farmiga, but this is sex, not anything resembling love.
Jason Reitman and Sheldon Turner adapted Walter Kirn's cynical novel about the heartlessness of America's large corporations and the emptiness of Ryan Bingham's jet-setting life (322 days on the run, and a sterile cubicle in Omaha as home base) with chilling effect.
Jason Bateman is appropriately hypocritical as Ryan's glad-handing boss, but the surprise is dewy Anna Kendrick as a whiz kid downsizer, Natalie Keener. Natalie thinks she has the science of downsizing refined to the next logical step: she doesn't even have to meet her victims; she does it by telephone-video conference call.
Of course if this works out for corporate, the days of free-spending, nice guy face-to-face termination are numbered, and so is Ryan's lifestyle.
Life has a way of defying expectations, and there are a couple of nifty twists in this decidedly unromantic film. Clever? Yes. A great film? No, I don't think so, not even by the standards of soulless 21st century corporate America.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Southeastern US Film Critics Announce Awards

"Up in the Air" Named Best Picture

The Southeastern Film Critics Association (SETCA), of which I am one of 44 voting members, has announced its winners for 2009 excellence in films.
Earning the Best Picture of 2009 award is Jason Reitman's serio-comic look at love on the fly, "Up in the Air."
I respectfully disagree with SEFCA on that. My favorite was the bittersweet Valentine to romantic love, "(500) Days of Summer," which earned slot No. 6 in the voting.
The awards were all over the place in other categories: George Clooney as the skirt-chasing corporate downsizing expert in "Up in the Air," with Jeremy Renner as runner-up for the explosive Iraq War drama, "Hurt Locker.
Meryl Streep got the nod as Best Actress for her incomparable French chef Julia Child in "Julie & Julia." Second place was Gabourey Sidibe as the tortured teenaged unwed mother in "Precious."
Best Supporting actor went to Christoph Waltz for Quentin Tarantino's violent "Inglourious Basterds" and Best Supporting Actress went to Mo 'Nique for "Precious."
Kathryn Bigelow was named Best Director for "Hurt Locker." Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber got the nod for Best Original Screenplay for their time-tripping "(500) Days of Summer." Best Adapted Screenplay was Jason Reitman and Sheldon Turner for "Up in the Air."
France's "Summer Hours" was named Best Foreign Film while "Food, Inc." nudged out the eco shocker "The3 Cove" as Best Documentary.
The Wyatt Award for the best best representing the Southern region was "That Evening Sun," starring Hal Holbrook.

The top Ten Films are as follows.

1 "Up in the Air."
2 "The Hurt Locker"
3. "Up"
4. "Inglourious Basterds"
5. "A Serious Man"
6. (500) Days of Summer"
7. "Precious: Based on the Novel by Sapphire"
8. "The Messenger"
9. "Fantastic Mr. Fox"
10. "District 9."

Due for voting this Friday is the Florida Film Critics Association, of which I am also a member.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Storytelling Ability of a Boy

pictured: Laura Carbonell, Bethany Anne Lind, Marshall Pailet

A Funny, Emotional Look at Young People and Love

Some people are in closer touch with their adolescent angst than others.
Playwright Carter W. Lewis seems intimately acquainted with his teenaged self, judging by "The Storytelling Ability of a Boy," enjoying a world premiere run through Jan. 17 at Florida Stage, 262 S. Ocean Blvd., Manalapan.
We can only speculate on what autobiographical details might be in any work of fiction, but the playwright admitted to me he was a brainy kid, and obviously he is a consummate storyteller, with a poet's gift of vivid language.
The storyteller of the title is Peck (Marshall Pailet), a self-professed outsider with only one close friend.
She is fellow outsider Dora (Bethany Anne Lind), a rebellious, potty-mouthed iconoclast in search of emotional engagement.
Their English teacher and mentor Caitlin (Laura Carbonell) is only a decade older than her students and still in a state of flux.
Recently divorced, Caitlin has fled from an abusive husband and is trying to get a new start in an unnamed Midwestern town.
Much of the beauty of "Storyteller" comes from the prose of Peck, who sees ordinary things in most extraordinary ways.
Because he is smart, not a jock and stand-offish, Peck is the butt of jokes and the target of bullies.
Dora is his fierce defender- a "Tomboy" in the best sense of the word- and Caitlin quickly joins the cause when certain incidents provoke violence.
The reality of adolescence is that it is a scary period; uncertain and an often violent time. Anyone who says otherwise has led a charmed life or is just not being realistic.
What Carter and his superb cast have accomplished is to make a thing of beauty out of the very things we fear and that may hurt us. "Storyteller" is at times harsh and profane, but so is life.
This, ladies and gentlemen, this is the real deal. I urge you to consider this fascinating, compelling play, performed quickly and without intermission under the incisive, compassionate direction of Louis Tyrrell. I do not think you will be disappointed.
Tickets are $45 and $48. Call (800) 514-3837 or visit

Friday, December 11, 2009

Mandela and Rugby Unite a Nation in "Invictus"

"Invictus" is ostensibly about Nelson Madela, the anti-apartheid crusader who spent much of his life in prison before becoming president of South Africa.
But "Invictus" is as much about a pivotal rugby match as it is about Mandela the martyr and statesman. Director Clint Eastwood has used the rugby world champion match as a device to tighten dramatic tension.
Mandela is played by Morgan Freeman with his customary authority, wit and compassion.
Francois Pienaar, the Afrikaaner rugby captain, is played by Matt Damon, complete with credible South African accent and convincing rugby moves.
It helps that Americans don't know that much about rugby, which is wildly popular in England and former British colonies, but scarcely known in the USA.
The big difference between rugby and American professional football is the rugby players do not wear the helmets or protective gear of American football. Rugby players mix it up with reckless abandon in a tougher, more violent but more intimate kind of combat.
And so a rugby match is an apt metaphor in the opposing sides of Caucasian colonial forces and black native South Africans. Mandela took brilliant advantage of a sport loved equally by white and black South Africans as a device to unite a nation.
Of course it is a huge simplification of what Nelson Mandela accomplished, but this is an American rah-rah action movie after all. The fact that is pays tribute to a brilliant, courageous and above all indomitable statesman is a bonus.
I know William Ernest Henley's "Invicus" by heart. I was puzzled by its choice for the title of a movie about overcoming colonialism, but after seeing this movie I understand. If ever there was an "unconquerable soul," it is Nelson Mandela.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

What's in a Name?

Just Call Me Skip

Long-time friends will notice I have a different handle on Facebook: Norman Skip Sheffield.
The reason for that awkward nomenclature is that the name Skip Sheffield was already taken- by me.
When Boca Raton News closed so suddenly on Aug. 21, 2009, the e-mail access to all employees being dismissed was disabled.
As I was one of that unlucky lot I was cut off from everything, including my considerable e-mail address book.
After many failed attempts (I'm still quite a Luddite re the Internet) I had finally joined Facebook under my address under the name Skip Sheffield.
Theoretically Boca News owned everything I've written in their employ, including my name.
I suppose there could have been a way around that conundrum, but I am impatient and practical. I just joined again on my own e-mail address under a slightly different name.
My formal name is Norman L. Sheffield, Jr. My mother started called me Skippy when I was just an infant to differentiate me from my dad. When I reached my teens I followed Rick Nelson's lead and shorted my name to the more manly Skip.
Norman Sheffield died of cancer Feb. 18, 1997. I could have said goodbye to Skip, but my difficult father was nothing if not unique. No, I could never be Norman Sheffield, may he rest in peace.
In recent years I have been doing more international travel. Of course one must travel with a passport, and the name you register your plane tickets under had better match with the one on your passport.
Previously it was only cops, banks or telemarketers who addressed me as Norman. Now I was getting used to it.
I have always been fond of nicknames and aliases. I dreamed up the character Crash Crisby, a more daring, adventurous version of myself, when I was around 9. At age 18 I was working as a busboy at a country club in Columbus, Ohio when I found an unused nametag on the floor. It read "Hello, My name is Vernon Moder."
"C'est moi!" I realized. Vernon is my nerdier, pseudo-intellectual side.
My daughters carry on the family tradition. The two older ones, Mary and Laura, act out their fantasies in a musical group called Zombies! Organize! You'll find all three of my daughters including youngest Anna on Facebook, plus an alias or two.
I say bravo. Real life can be such a drag. A little fantasy makes it all bearable.

So you can Just Call Me Skip

Friday, November 27, 2009

"Little Traitor" Charms His Way into Theaters

Odd Couple Friendship Tale Even Better on Second Viewing

"The Little Traitor" was first shown locally as part of the 2007 Palm Beach International Film Festival.
Since that time I have been to Israel and Jerusalem, where the story is set. On second viewing and with local knowledge I enjoyed this film by Lynn Roth even more.
"Little Traitor" is set in 1947, just a few months befoe Israel gained its independence. The ancient city looks much the same now as then. Then as now peace remains a fragile, precarious thing. Only the characters and nationalities have changed.
The "traitor" of the title is 11-year-old Proffy Liebowitz (wide-eyed Ido Port), the son of recent Jewish immigrants from Poland.
Proffy's family is part of a huge wave of refugees from Nazi-ravaged Europe, many of them concentration camp survivors, all yearning to find freedom and peace in the promised land.
What they found instead was stern repression from British troops, who had occupied Palestine as a protectorate since the end of World War I.
The Brits are hated symbols of authorty, especially among children who see things in black and white.
Proffy and his thuggish pals delight in harassing the British with grafitti and pranks. Now they are graduating to serious business: home made nail bombs.
In the course of mischief, Proffy misses the rigidly enforced 6 p.m. curfew.
He is collared by Sgt. Dunlop (Alfred Molina), who give him a serious lecture.
Instead of taking the lad to the brig, Dunlop escorts the boy home and explains to his parents what he has done.
The parents are frightened and angry, but grateful the soldier has given little Proffy another chance.
After a period of confinement to his bedroom, Proffy contemplates the seriousness of his offense and the selfless kindess shown him by the British stranger.
So begins a variation on the time-honored odd-couple, opposites-attract friendship between boy and man. Mixed into the plot, based on the novel "Panther in the Basement," by Amos Oz, is a coming-of-age tale enhanced by the prescence of luscious Gilya Stern as Miriam, a comely neighbor and object of Proffy's Peeping-Tom binoculars.
Alfred Molina is one of the finest British actors in the world today. He is ideally-suited to the role of bemused, fatherly and homesick Sgt. Dunlop. The bittersweet irony is that Sgt. Dunlop is a better father figure than Proffy's own distant, distracted dad ((Rami Heuberger).
Newcomer Ido Port is a most appealing, natural actor who meshes beautifully with the celebrated Molina.
"Little Traitor" is heartwarming in the best sense of the world; offering the fond hope that adversaries can somehow reconcile their differences and live together in peace. Would that it were true.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Give Thanks for "The Blind Side"

An Inpirational Story Tempered by the Comedy of Sandra Bullock

Just in time for Thanksgiving comes "The Blind Side," an unabashedly inspirational story about a homeless black boy and the wealthy white family who took him in.
Michael Oher (Quinton Aaron) was 16 when feisty Leigh Anne Touhy (Sandra Bullock) spotted him wandering, ill-clothed in the street of Memphis, Tennessee.
Leigh Anne is a woman who takes her Christian charity seriously. Without a second thought she asks "Big Mike" if he'd like to come home with her family.
Big Mike is a student at Wingate Christian School as a charity case. Little S.J. (Jae Head), Leigh Anne's 10-year-old son, becomes Mike's best buddy and defender.
With an irrefuteable fan's logic, Leigh Anne's mild-mannered husband Sean (Tim McGraw) figures the huge, 300-pound Mike would be a natural for football.
There are two immediate problems: Mike's IQ has been measured at only 80 and he has been doing poorly in school.
That can be remedied with a little help from a tutor, Miss Sue (Katy Bates).
A larger obstacle is the fact Mike is not combative by nature. He would rather be called Michael than Big Mike, and his favorite book is "Ferdinand the Bull."
Leigh Anne is the kind of woman who has never met a challenge she can't overcome, be it Michael's passive nature, his violent, threatening former friends, her veiled racist friends or his drug-ravaged mother (Adriane Lenox).
Though it is ostensibly about Michael Oher's miraculous rise from homeless, aimless boy to sought-after college football star, this really is Sandra Bullock's movie.
If Sandra Bullock weren't doggone appealing, her Leigh Anne would be insufferable.
But Bullock makes her brash, pious, goody-two shoes character so funny and subtly sexy that she never seems like a prig.
I'm not a football fan, but I'm guessing fans of the game will get a kick out of seeing the parade of real-life college coaches playing themselves, as well as the real Michael Oher, who is a rookie right tackle on the 2009 Baltimore Ravens team. As improbable as it seems, this is a true story, and it comes at a time when we all could use some good news.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

100-year-old Voysey Inheritance Surprisingly Modern

Greed, Hypocrisy Never Go Out Out of Style

Rarely has a play selection been as timely as "The Voysey Inheritance," the season opener at Caldwell Theatre Company through Dec. 13.
With the double whammy of the Bernie Madoff scandal and now Scott Rothstein, financial scams are on the minds of everyone.
Robbing Peter to pay Paul is nothing new. "Voysey Inheritance" was written 100 years ago by British playwright Harley Granville-Barker. The script performed at Caldwell is a new version written by David Mamet.
Mamet is notorious for his aggressive, profane plays that castigate America's business and social mores.
"Voyey Inheritance" does the same thing to Edwardian England, but the criticisms are as pertinent today as they were a century ago.
The inheritance of the title refers both to a family fortune and character traits passed from one generation to the next.
The play begins with Edward Voysey in a disconsolate state over something that is as yet unclear.
He is short with his fiancee Alice (Marta), who complains he has lost interest in her.
Edward pours himself a stiff one and confronts his father (Peter Haig)with the fact that vast sums of money are missing from the funds they are supposed to be protecting, managing and reinvesting.
"We are bankrupted," Edward wails.
Dad acts like it's no big deal. He insists everyone will be paid back in the end. There's just a little shortfall right now.
Does this sound familiar at all, investors?
"Voysey Inheritance" is not big on action. For Mamet it is positively genteel. It is all about the torment of the main character and the greed and dishonesty of his family and friends.
Terry Hardcastle does good torment and Marta Reiman is excellent as his anguished, baffled, ultimately supportive fiancee.
The next character in importance is George Booth (Dennis Creaghan), a crony of Edward's dad and heavy investor in the company. In his role of potential whistle-blower Booth reveals his own greed, selfishness and hypocrisy.
It seems like everyone associated with the Voysey clan is in it for him or herself, even the mild-mannered vicar (John Felix).
This is how Ponzi schemes work: greed enabled by dishonestly. If a scheme sounds too good to be true it probably is not. This play is an excellent reminder that human nature has not changed in 100 or 1,000 years, and sometimes the good guy- not the bad- pays the price.
Tickets are $34-$55 ($10 students).
Caldwell Theatre presents a benefit with the excellent jazz paint Copeland Davis at 7:30 p.m. Monday. Dec. 7 at 7901 N. Federal Highway, Boca Raton. Tickets are $50 and $100.
Call 561-241-7432 or go to

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Gumbo Limbo Goes International

"Turtle: The Incredible Journey" Filmed largely in Boca Raton.

About a year and a half ago I visited Gumbo Limbo Nature Center in Boca Raton to interview Nick Stringer, director of a documentary film about Loggerhead sea turtles.
Loggerheads are the most plentiful sea turtles, and 90 percent of them are born in Florida.
Stringer was an animated, enthusiastic fellow who told me the film would concentrate on the life journey of a single female Loggerhead, from hatchling to motherhood.
"Turtle: The Incredible Journey" was shown as part of the 24th annual Fort Lauderdale International Film Festival. The first screening was so jammed with ocean guardians and turtle lovers, many of them volunteers at Gumbo Limbo, that a second screening was added as a "best of" series.
The star of "Turtle" was born on the beach in Boca Raton in July, 2002 (the only survivor out of 94 eggs) and bred in the tanks maintained by Florida Atlantic University under the watchful eye of Dr. Kirk Rusenko, a marine conservationist.
The turtle was dubbed FeeBee, and once she had done her film and research duty, she was released in the wild after six years on Nov. 6, 2008. We have not heard the last of her, as a satellite tag is afixed to her shell, enabling resesearchers to track her.
FeeBee is voiced by Miranda Richardson. Hers is a struggle from the day she is hatched. It takes three days just to dig out of the sandy nest, then the hatching must dodge predatory seagulls, pelicans, racoons and crabs in a mad dash to the ocean.
It is no safer in the water, where more predators abound. It's another mad dash to the northbound waters of the powerful Gulf Stream river-within-the Atlantic Ocean.
Once in the Gulf Stream, if the hatchling is lucky it will find refuge in a raft of seaweed.
The incredible journey covers 10,000 kilometers from the Arctic to the Azores to the Caribbean, and it takes 21 years, ending on the very beach where FeeBee was born. Only one in every 10,000 turtles survives predators, accidents and environmental hazards.
"Turtle" is designed so that a child can understand and appreciate it, and therefore it is more educational the action-entertainment.
The folks at Gumbo Limbo and FAU should be justifyably proud of this Austrian-British-German international effort. I know I learned some new things about the amazing Loggerhead. If it comes to your town, you will too. Or better yet visit Gumbo Limbo, one of the few places in the world where visitors can interact with marine life, educators and scientists.
Call 561-338-1473 or visit

Friday, November 6, 2009

Bad Times at Baader Meinhof

Amidst Student Protests, the Red Army Faction Arises

The 1960s were giddy, exciting, heady times. There was a lot of really nasty stuff going on too.
Foremost in that category was the Vietnam War. As the body count escalated, so did worldwide protests, and with the protests, violence and death.
"Der Baader Meinhof Komplex" is a 2008 German film that depicts one of the most extreme reactions against the war: the Red Army Faction.
"Baader Meinhof" begins almost idyllically at the seaside, with children and adults frolicking nude, without shame.
Then it is announced the Shah of Iran is coming to Germany with his wife.
A parade in their honor erupts into a riot. The violence is orchestrated by beautiful Ulrike Meinhor (Martina Gedeck) and handsome Andreas Baader (Moritz Bleibtreu), leaders of the loosely-knit Red Army Faction.
College-age radicals thought the RAF was cool stuff: a bunch of beautiful, young people gallantly fighting the forces of opression everywhere.
But when the son of the former chief federal proscecutor is assassinated, things take an ugly turn.
The RAF wants to torch oil fields, punish corporations, fight on the side of Ho Chi Minh and eliminate opposition to their radical leaders.
More murders and mindless violence follow, including a creepy association with the Black September terrorists who massacred 11 Israeli athletes at the 1972 Munich Olympics.
While this stuff may or may not have been true, it certainly isn't very pleasant to watch, and director Uli Edel drags out the story and its inevitable conclusion for two and a half hours. No matter how sexy or handsome these radical dead-enders were, they were scheming, cold-blooded murderers, no better than the purported forces of evil they fought.

Two stars

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Three Pianists, One Concert

Sung Knowles, Bruce Martin and Stan Sherman in Concert Thursday, Nov. 5 at Steinway Gallery

My friend Sung Knowles is an amazing woman. I met her through Boca Raton Museum of Art, where she chairs the BAM young professionals support group. She is also CEO of her own finance company and chair of the annual Boca Museum auction Dec. 6.
Sung also plays the piano. She'll be showing off her talent at 7 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 5 at Steinway Galley, 7940 N. Federal Highway, Boca Raton.
Also on the bill are pianists Dr. Bruce Martin and Dr. Stan Sherman. A busy cardiologist, Dr. Martin is an accomplished pianist who hosts the radio show "Sunday Morning Medical Hour" on WDJA 1040 AM from 11 a.m. to 12 p.m. Sundays.
Dr. Sherman studied jazz theory at Juilliard but earns his bread and butter as a plastic surgeon. He's recorded a couple CDs at Steinway Gallery.
This sounds like a very interesting mixed bill. The price of admission (to benefit Boca Museum) is $25 and includes champagne and munchies.
Call 561-392-2500, ext. 208 or Steinway Gallery at 561-982-8887.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Two Jews Wander Into War

Finding Faith Amidst Destruction in Afghanistan

"Two Jews Wander Into War:" it's not a pretty title for the first play of the 23rd season of Florida Stage, 262 S. Ocean Blvd., Manalapan.
War is not pretty, nor is anti-Semitism or hate, and they are part and parcel of this world premiere by Seth Rozin.
Playwright Rozin was inspired by the true story of Zebulon Simentov and Isaac Levin, who were discovered by NATO troops in 2001 in the rubble of a ruined synagogue in Kabul, Afghanistan. The vicious zealots of the Taliban have been ousted from power, leaving the two men as apparently the only two surviving Jews in Afghanistan.
Instead of despairing, the men are preparing for the ritual of Channukah even as bullets still fly and bombs drop.
As unlikely as it seems, playwright Rozin has cast the story as a dark comedy of two bickering men fighting and surviving against the odds.
Director Louis Tyrrell has cast two master comic actors for the roles: Gordon McConnell as the Rabbi Ishaq and Avi Hoffman as his sole congregant, Zeblyan.
Rabbi Ishaq is so learned he knows the entire Torah (the first five books of the Old Testament) by heart.
In order for a synagogue to be consecrated, it must have a Torah, written by hand on parchment.
The last Torah in Afghanistan has been destroyed, and with the Rabbi's total recall and Zeblyan's deft hand, they will improvise their own Torah, with Zeblyan the skeptic challenging the Rabbi every word and punctuation point of the way.
It helps to be somewhat knowledgable of the Bible to get the clever criticisms offered up by pugnacious Zeblyan. The play is performed without intermission in just 80 minutes, so it demands close attention of an audience.
Avi Hoffman has made a career celebrating the joys and foibles of being Jewish in his "Two Jewish?" one-man shows. Here he is perfectly cast as the skeptical Everyman, unafraid to question and argue with a man of superior knowledge and faith, yet knowing in his heart the traditions he is grudgingly preserving are worth life itself.
"Two Jews Wander Into War" is not everyone's cup of tea. I found it curious, yet provocative and stimulating, and ultimately life-affirming- for that is what faith is all about.
And no, you do not have to be Jewish.
Tickets are $45-$48. Call 800-514-3837 or visit

Friday, October 23, 2009

Eliot Kelinberg's "Wicked Palm Beach"

When Films are Slow, Read a Book

It's a slow week for new movies.
The most promising is the Amelia Earhart biopic "Amelia," starring Hilary Swank, but due to my new day job, I was unable to get to an advance screening.
The good news for film buffs is the 24th annual Fort Lauderdale Film Festival begins tonight at Miniaci Performuing Arts Center in Davie.
FLIFF continues through Nov. 11 with screenings at Cinema Paradiso, 503 SE Sixth St., Fort Lauderdale. Go to for details.

Life During Prohibition

One of the good things about a book is that you can read any time you want, as time permits.
"Wicked Palm Beach: Lifestyles of the Rich and Heinous," is the latest from journalist and history buff Eliot Kleinberg.
Each chapter of "Wicked" is an expanded version of columns that originally appeared in the Palm Beach Post, where Kleinberg still works.
Most of the tales occurred during the Prohibition Era, from 1919-1933.
It is very difficult to legislate morality, and just about impossible if laws prohibit something most people want.
The "Noble Experiment" of the prohibition of alcoholic becverages, enacted as the Eigtheeth Amendment, turned the United States into a nation of criminals. It made bootleggers and gangsters rich and transformed ordinary people who simply wanted to relax with an alcoholic beverage, scofflaws.
Because of Florida's proximity to the Bahamas, where alcohol has always been readily available, the state became a hotbed of illegal activity, which bred crime and lawlessness.
Kleinberg chronicles such well-known crime lords as Al Capone and John Dillinger and their Florida connections, as well as lesser-known figures like John Horace Alderman, the ruthless "Gulf Stream Pirate." A whole chapter is devoted to the infamous Ashley Gang of Jupiter.
Rubbing elbows with the unsavory were such celebrities as George Gershwin, Babe Ruth and Hoagy Carmichael, all of whom had Palm Beach County connections.
Then there are tales of ordinary life: the boom-time buildings of West Palm Beach (some still standing), era movie theaters and boxing venues, mail service, bridges and highways, the first radio station and even license plates.
As a lifelong history buff with a particular fondness for Florida and its wild and wooly past, I find "Wicked Palm Beach" both fascinating and educational.
Write on, Eliot.
"Wicked Palm Beach" ($19.95) is published by The History Press of Charleston, South Carolina. Go to

Overseas Highway an "All-American Road"

In other Florida history news, the Florida Keys Overseas Highway has been declared an "All-American Road" by the Federal Highway Administration.
If you've ever driven down to Key West, you know there is no other highway in America remotely like the stretch of U.S. 1 from Key Largo south to Mile Marker Zero at the southernmost point of the USA.
I first visited the Keys as a Boy Scout on a camping trip in 1959. Back then a trip on the narrow, rickety highway, built atop 1912 trestles of the Florida East Coast
and opened in 1938, was quite an adventure.
I first drove the road in 1970 and have been back many times, most memorably by motorcyle.
The ride became safer, more comfortable and less white-knuckle in 1982 when 37 of the original bridges were replaced with wider, DOT-approved spans.
Many of the old bridges stand alonside the new, in mute testimony to the many who suffered and died building this "Eighth Wonder of the Word."
The Florida Keys Overseas Highway is one of only 20 in the country designated All-American Road.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Gerard Butler Dirty Harry Sans Badge

Unpleasant Revenge Thriller Strains Credulity

Circumstances prevented me from atteding screenings of tbe Maurice Sendak adult/kid fantasy "Where the Wild Things Are" or the Coen brothers latest dark comedy, "A Serious Man." Bummer.
I had to settle for "A Law Abiding Citizen." Double bummer.
Clyde Shelton (Gerard Butler) is a modern-day Dirty Harry without a policeman's badge.
Clyde is a Philadelphia tinkerer/inventor whose wife and daughter are sadistically raped and murdered in the first frames of this revenge thriller by F. Gary Gray ("The Italian Job").
As unpleasant as that is, it gets worse. The chief bad guy plea bargains and shifts the blame to his accomplice. The accomplice gets the death penalty. The real murderer gets five years.
Clyde's lawyer, the politically ambitious Nick Rice (Jamie Foxx), tells Clyde that's the way it is with the American justice system.
"You can't fight fate," the real killer sneers, tauntingly.
Oh yes you can- if you are Clyde Shelton.
Screenwriter Kurt Wimmer's ("The Recruit") yarn flashes forward ten years. Clyde has been very busy. His inventions have made him millions, and he has invested that into revenge. The master plan is to take out everyone involved in the massacre of Clyde's family, starting with the gruesome torture and dismemberment of the leering killer.
I saw this film with two avid film buffs, both women. I felt embarassed that they were being subjected to the sadistic violence and gore, but they admired Butler's performance and some of the trickier intracasies of the plot.
Clyde Shelton is not a man to be admired or even liked, but with Butler's earnest portrayal of him as a kind of righteously vindictive Old Testament prophet, we almost feel we understand him. However, in the Bible in Leviticus in the Old Testament and Romans in the New, "Vengeance is mine" spoken by the Lord means that God, not people, is the ultimate judge. Revenge is never the answer, Clyde.
The intrcasies of the plot degenerate into absurdity as we discover the complexity of Clyde's schemes. Some of them are kind of cool (A cell phone that kills!). Others are patently rediculous (Tunneling into every single cell of a large prison).
Somehow it makes one yearn for the simplicity of Clint Eastwood's Dirty Harry.
Feeling lucky, punk?
I don't think so.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Give Peace a Chance in Delray Beach

Like John Lennon?

You have until Sunday, Oct. 11 to see "Give Peace a Chance," a 40th anniversary celebration of the Bed-In for Peace at the Queen Elizabeth Hotel in Montreal, Canada mounted in the 1925 Gymnasium of Old School Square, 51 N. Swinton Ave., Delray Beach.
On display are approximately 40 large scale photos by Gerry Deiter, who was on assignment for Look magazine and was invited by Lennon to document the week-long event.
Deiter's photo spread never appeared in Look. He filed away the negatives and sadly died in 2005.
The photos were catalogued posthumously by Deiter's friend Joan E. Athey, who has published a book on the subject. The Delray Beach exhibit, which also features vintage guitars identical to those played by Lennon, as well as other artwork and memorabilia, is only the second public exhibition.
A highlight of the Oct. 5-11 event was a Friday, Oct. 9 reenactment of the Bed-In recorded by press and camera crews and culminating with the singing of "All We are Saying is Give Peace a Chance." That date would have been Lennon's 69th birthday.
Korean-born Sung Knowles and Delray Beach librarian Christopher Leary played the parts of Yoko and John and gamely posed for photos, flashing peace signs from bed the entire evening. At 8:15 p.m. a video camera was set up and everyone was invited for a mass singing of "Give Peace a Chance." I was invited to play Timothy Leary, who had sat at the foot of the bed, shirtless, playing an Indian drum.
I gamely doffed by shirt, assumed the position, and we performed the song once without rehearsal by the crowd of young and old adults and children of all ages. I thought it went well.
The aim was to get the video posted on YouTube. The video can be accessed by going to and typing in Give Peace a Chance Delray Beach.
Meanwhile you can more information about the exhibit by calling 561-243-7922 or by visiting

Thursday, October 1, 2009

"Gotta Dance" a Force of Life

Hip-Hop a Tonic for Seniors

My first encounter with the documentary "Gotta Dance" was at the 2008 Tribeca Film Festival.
Gee, I thought, what an entertaining, life-affirming movie. My gut feeling was reinforced when it won the audience favorite award at the 2008 Palm Beach International Film Festival.
Now more than a year later, "Gotta Dance" has been picked up by foreign and art film houses here in South Florida. What a perfect place for a film that says life does not end after age 60.
"Gotta Dance" is a documentary by Dori Berinstein about the first-ever over-60 hip-hop dance team, performing for fans of the New Jersey Nets NBA team.
The Nets already had a professional dance team of young babes, but it was thought the sight of a bunch of old codgers attempting teenage hip-hop moves would be an amusing sight. It is.
Team team consists of 12 women and one man ages 59-83. We meet each of the performers and the coaches who teach them. they are a jolly lot; a cross-section of humanity from a plucky kindergarten teacher who blossoms into a star and group leader, to 83-year-old Marge, whose granddaughter Marla Collins is a Nets dancer and coach.
As kind of comic relief we have the lone guy Joe, who admits to having no sense of rhythm whatsoever.
"Gotta Dance" is not about choreography or perfection. It is about being fully alive.
"Six of the original dancers still dance with the team," reports Dori Berinstein. "They are so vibrant and filled with life. Fortunately we have suffered no casalities."

Yoo-Hoo, Mrs. Goldberg

We didn't get a television set until I turned seven, in the summer of 1954, so I missed out on the opening of the Golden Age of Television.
"Yoo-Hoo Mrs. Goldberg" shows me what I missed.
Gertrude Berg was a woman before her time. She first appeared on radio in "The Rise of the Goldbergs" in 1929. The show ran 17 years and she was hailed as "The First Lady of Radio."
"The Goldbergs" debuted on television in 1949. Gertrude Berg not only starred, but wrote the scripts(12,000 in all in her lifetime),produced and even cooked the food.
The television series lasted less than two years, thanks to the big Red Scare of the early 1950s. Berg's co-star Philip Loeb, who played her husband Jake, was accused of being a Communist.
Berg stood by Loeb, but it essentially destroyed her career. Loeb died in 1955, a suicide, and Gertrude Berg in 1966, largely forgotten by the American public.
"Yoo-Hoo, Mrs. Goldberg" restores Gertrude Berg's status as actress, feminist, writer, business innovator and folk hero.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Digital Tyranny

Is a Segment of the Population Being Forced out of Broadcast Television?

Who voted for HDTV digital broadcasting?

Oh that's right. No one did. It was an arbitrary decision, made presumably for the public good. A digital signal is clearer, brighter and sharper. You'll get no argument from me there.
But the thing is, digital is binary 1-0, yes-no technology, like a computer. There is no middle ground. Either you have a signal or you don't, not like analog television, which sometimes was snowy or visited by ghosts, but always tried to reach a signal, however faint.
I learned this arbitrary lesson over the weekend when I wrangled with installing an analog-to-digital converter box to my 1999 vintage Sony television.
I had been without TV since mid-June, when analog broadcasting was banished from USA airwaves. I can't say I missed it, but every once in a while there is something on broadcast television worthy of a watch.
I was told installing the box was quite simple. True, it wasn't so bad, but then comes the hard part: getting a signal.
I used to have a big outside antenna on the roof of our house, which is a dizzying 27-foot above sea level. I could get virtually every television in South Florida, plus even Ft. Myers on a good day.
Hurricane Wilma took out the antennae, so I bought an inside antenna, a kind of improved rabbit ears, with dial and swivels. I could still get 8-10 stations in the Miami-WPB markets.
After much finagling with said rabbit ears, I finally got a signal: WPBT, Channel 12 in West Palm Beach, the CBS affiliate.
I went to my friendly local Radio Shack and asked what I should do to get more stations.
"You need an enhanced antenna," I was told. The cheaper one was $35, the better one $50.
Hmm. One of the reasons I don't have cable or satellite TV is that I just don't think it's cost-effective. I went home and messed further with the antenna. Bingo! Up popped WPTV Channel 5, the NBC affiliate in West Palm Beach.
WPLG Channel 10, the ABC affiliate in Miami, used to be one of my best signals, but for whatever reason it eludes me: digital technology.
I still shoot photos with 35 mm film. I like the warm, forgiving flesh tones of film, but as the world goes digital, film becomes increasingly expensive, and ultimately I'll be priced out. At least for now I still have a choice (and yes, I do have a digital camera).
But think of the poor folks in East Nowhere, South Dakota or Dying Moose, Montana or
wherever else cable TV never reached.
People can spring for satellite television or pray to the computer gods somehow they can get their converter box to find a signal.
Good luck.

Friday, September 25, 2009

John Keats in Love in "Bright Star"

Keats' Poetry Comes Alive in Beautiful Story of Love and Death

John Keats has always been my favorite of the English romantic poets. Not only did his work embody the romantic ideal: "A thing of beauty is a joy forever: Its loveliness increases; It will never pass into nothingness," Keats' tragically short life underscored his passion and foreboding of death.
"Bright Star" begins in 1818, when Keats was 23.
When I was studying Keats' writing in college, I never knew of Fanny Brawne, an 18-year-old girl he fell in love with as simultaneously his creative output was reaching its peak and his health was slipping into terminal decline.
"Bright Star" is the title of a poem Keats wrote for Fanny: "Bright Star, would I were as steadfast as thou art..."
Writer-director Jane Campion has beautifully captured the bittersweet affair between Keats and Fanny, and handsome Ben Whishaw and perky Abbie Cornish embody the beauty of youth and the tragedy of economic failure, sickness and death.
Lest you think this is a downer, let me reassure you that Campion does not dwell on the indignities of Keats' tuberculosis, and she creates characters of comic relief in Fanny's younger Samuel (Thomas Sangster) and red-headed sister "Toots" (Edie Martin).
Playing both comic and villain is Keats' protective best friend Charles Armitage Brown (Paul Schneider); a misogynist brute who sees Fanny as a threat both to Keats' work and his health.
The story is told from Fanny's point of view and its is largely derived from the letters between Keats and her.
The tale begins with the foreshadowing illness and death of Keats' younger brother Tom (Olly Alexander). Fanny is a neighbor who is proud of her fashion sense and prowess, yet knows not a thing about poetry. She is also a first-class flirt who piques Keats' interest, and he in turn gently introduces her to his literary world of truth, beauty and the senses.
As their love grows and deepens, Keats' financial situation becomes more precarious. His books simply are not selling, and no one has yet discovered his true genius.
It is implied that Keats' depression over his lack of success weakens his physical will as well. Though he and Fanny become engaged, Keats feels he cannot marry until he can support her.
Yes, it is all heading for a sad, foregone end, but "Bright Star" is suffused with beauty, both visually and from Keats' beautiful poems and his equally lovely letters to Fanny.
"If I should die, said I to myself, "I have left no immortal work behind me- nothing to make my friends proud of my memory- but I have learned the principal of beauty in all things, and if I had had the time I would have made myself remembered."

Jane Campion illustrates just how wrong John Keats' self-assessment was.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Key Kay, Kim Cozort and Burt Reynolds

Kenneth Kay named new executive director of Burt Reynolds Institute for Film and Theater Training

Ken Kay was still settling in one week after moving with his wife, Kim Cozort, from Blowing Rock, North Carolina, where the couple had run Blowing Rock Playhouse for the past nine years, when I dropped in for a visit.
A major achievement of Ken Kay's tenure at Blowing Rock was the conception, creation and completion of a beautiful new playhouse.
Unfortunately the community of Blowing Rock was unwilling or unable to keep up with a daunting $4.50 million mortgage. Ken Kay saw the handwriting on the wall before the bank called the note, and he cast about for other job opportunities.
When Kay learned Burt Reynolds wanted to revitalize the school he started (with Charles Nelson Reilly) in 1979, he contacted his old friend.
Although he was an adult with a master's degree from Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton and a professional actor, Kay entered the apprentice program in the third class of what was then called Burt Reynolds Institute for Theatre Training.
Kay made the best of his training with master teachers Reilly and Reynolds and the host of Hollywood heavyweights Reynolds enticed to his dinner theater on Indiantown Road.
Forty years later Reynolds' theater still stands, revitalized and updated as Maltz Jupiter Theatre.
Burt Reynolds' Institute is housed temporarily in the Burt Reynolds Museum, located just north of Indiantown Road on US 1.
The crowded museum, housed in a former bank, is chock full of thousands of pieces of memorabilia, spanning 60 years from Burt's high school years to the present.
Reynolds teaches a master acting class (by appointment only) on Tuesday and Friday evenings on a small stage in the center of the museum. Four other instructors teach classes in film, editing, improvisation and so forth at other times to more than 100 students.
"I never expected to be back in Jupiter, but it feels right," said Kay recently. "I've kept in touch with Burt through the years. He is one of my best friends and most trusted mentors. He is serious about bringing the Institute up to the next level. I am honored to be part of it."
I first encountered Ken Kay in 1978, when he enrolled as a graduate student at Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton. Kay was hard to miss: tall and bronzed, with shoulder-length blond hair, he had just come from a summer playing Jesus in the Smoky Mountain Passion Play in Townsend, Tennessee. One of his first roles was Petruccio in Shakespeare's "Taming of the Shrew." Never has the role been so swashbuckling.
The Reynolds Institute gets a bonus: Kay's lovely and talented wife Kim Kozort, an actress and singer who has starred or co-starred in 55 of her husband's shows.
"We met in a whorehouse run by Jan McArt," joked Kay on the day of his 20th wedding anniversary to Kim Cozort. "It's been a wild, fun ride, and we are ready for the next chapter."
McArt, dubbed "South Florida's First Lady of Theatre," ran Royal Palm Dinner Theatre for 25 years and is currently director of theater arts at Lynn University in Boca Raton.
For more information about Burt Reynolds Institute for Film and Theater Training call 561-743-9955 or visit

Friday, September 18, 2009

Love Happens

Stuff Happens in "Love Happens," but not Romantic Love

"Love Happens," but just not in the movie of the same name.
OK, love does happen in this rom-com by first-time writer-director Brandon Camp (with Mike Thompson), but it is not conventional romantic love.
Looking at promotional materials you might think this will be a makeout fest between Jennifer Anniston and Aaron Eckhart. You would be wrong.
The story centers more on Eckhart's character of Dr. Burke Ryan, a psychotherapist who writes a hit book about letting go of grief after the death of a loved one. Burke's tag line is "A-OK!," and he is a walking self-help industry, with the help of his pushy agent/promoter Lane (Dan Fogler).
Burke is poised to hit the next level of international fame, but there is a problem. He is not A-OK and he is deep in denial over the accidental death of his wife three years earlier.
Jennifer Anniston is Eloise Chandler, a perky, single Seattle gal who has found her fulfillment in flowers; no messy, troublesome guys in her life.
Burke can't help notice and be attracted (who wouldn't?) to the comely florist, but she resists by playing deaf.
We leve Eloise for awhile to concentrate on Burke in action: cajoling, insisting, nay demanding that people cheer up and move on with life.
Walter (John Carroll Lynch) is a guy who resists. In the most moving plot thread of the movie, Walter begins to let loose of the massive guilt and sorrow over the death of his 12-year-old son.
Meanwhile Burke and Eloise do finally hook up, but not in a hot and heavy way. Burke still has the matter of the giant 2-by-4 in his eye that prevents him from removing the speck in Eloise's.
To resolve this impasse we must turn to Martin Sheen as Eloise's gruff ex-Marine dad.
Sheen is an old pro, and a tear-jerking denouement is no problema for him.
However, it is left to our imagination to know if "Love Happens" to Burke and Eloise, and by film's end, we don't really care.

The Informant

Matt Damon Amazing

"The Informant" a Baffler

"The Informant" is one big fakeout of a movie.
Matt Damon is the title character, a geeky, seemingly bumbling biochemist named Marc Whitaker.
Damon piled on 30 pounds, donned a lousy toupee, grew a wispy moustache and put on science teacher glasses to play Marc, the youngest executive at the multi-national, Indiana-based, Archer Daniels Midland agribusiness.
It's October of 1992 and Marc is one of the biggest hotshots in Decatur, Illinois. He lives in a tidy McMansion with his loving wife Ginger (Melanie Lynsky). He drives a Porsche and has seven other cars.
Why Marc would want to put the finger on his fellow executives for fixing the price of lysine, a byproduct of corn, is a puzzle. Marc doesn't quite feel a part of the gang, and as a scientist he feels he should be morally correct.
So when FBI agent Brian Shephard is sent to tap his phone, he spills the beans and agrees to wear a wire.
Marc wears the wire for three years all over the world: Tokyo, London, Mexico, and he collects solid proof of an international conspiracy.
Job well done, Marc? Not quite. Marc, who speaks to us in a mumbling stream-of-consciousness, has not been quite straight with us, his co-workers, the FBI or even himself.
In short Marc is mentally ill- bi-polar to be more precise- and his delusions have turned him into a worse criminal than those he betrayed.
Director Steven Soderbergh has a keen sense of irony, and working from a truth-based novel by Kurt Eichenwald, Marc is nothing if not ironic. What starts out as an indictment of arrogant corporate American anti-consumerism turns into the yarn of a pathetic, self-deluded schmuck, whose downfall is played comically to a goofy musical soundtrack by Marvin Hamlisch.
"The Informant" is interesting largely because of Damon's amzing performance. You can't like Marc Whitacre, but you can admire the actor who got so deep into his body and his mind.

Friday, September 11, 2009

September Issue

Anna Wintour Unmasked

All is revealed at Vogue in "September Issue."

Vogue magazine is never a publication that has interested me, but the colorful cast of characters who make it happen certainly are entertaining.
"The September Issue" centers on the making of the largest Vogue edition in its 114 years: the whopping 646-page September, 2007 issue.
Documentary filmmaker R.J. Cutler follows the year-long journey of production, from initial planning sessions through fashion shows, photo shoots and interviews with designers, culminating with the frantic last week of editing and proof.
At the calm center of the maelstrom about her is Anna Wintour, the British-born editor of the American Vogue for more than 20 years. Wintour customarily wears large dark glasses indoors and out, but Cutler catches her in candid moments when the shades are lowered: in heated battle with fellow Brit and longtime creative director Grace Coddington and in maternal discussions with her non-fashionable daughter Bee. If there is a hero in the tale, it is the stoic, ever tolerant Coddington, like Wintour a one-time model.
Along the way we meet such flamboyant characters as fashion maven Andre Leon Talley, rising Thai designer Thakoon, various name-brand designers in France and Italy, and of course beautiful young women by the score in strange outfits and outlandish makeup.
"September Issue" does not make me want to run out and buy a copy of Vogue, but I do respect the effort it takes to create such a fleeting, illusory world.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Bobcat Goldthwaite casts Robin Williams as "World's Greatest Dad"

Trust writer-director Bobcat Goldthwait to push the edges of extreme, uncomfortable, distasteful comedy.
Robin Williams stars as "The World's Greatest Dad" in an inky black comedy about sex, suicide and hero worship.
Williams is Lance Clayton, a failed novelist, failed husband and failing dad, divorced and living with his surly, sex-obsessed 15-year-old son Kyle (Daryl Sabara).
Lance tries to teach poetry to high school students who couldn't care less.
In fact if attendence doesn't pick up, his classes will be dropped, the principal warns.
The only bright spot in Lance's life is Claire Reed (Alexie Gilmore), a sexy young teacher who has taken a shine to the older man.
But even Claire is beginning to slip away when her attentions are distracted by a young, hunky, basketball-playing fellow teacher.
Could things gets any worse for hapless Lance?
Yes they could- much worse.
His virtually friendless son has developed a morbid obsession with extreme mastrubation; the kind where you bring yourself to the brink of self-strangulation for the ultimate orgasm.
You guessed it: one of Kyle's capers goes horribly wrong and Lance is faced with the ultimate horror of the loss of a child.
None of this sounds very funny, I know, but believe it or not there are funny satirical jibes at high school life, male vanity, female fickleness and the comic pathos of outsiders.
Faced with the twin tragedy of his son's death and its unfortunate cause, Lance decides to rewrite Kyle's destiny, quite literally, with a poignant, erudite suicide note.
When the note gets posted on the Internet, Kyle morphs from loser to sensitive, tortured hero. Lance makes matters worse by fabricating a diary with more of the same astute, introspective, heartbreaking commentary on the anguish of being unloved.
Lance Clayton is the anti-John Keating, the inspirational poetry teacher in "Dead Poet's Society." Lance is selfish, cowardly, devious, obsequious and undependable. Williams goes through self-laceration in depicting the character's tortured fall and repentance.
Funny? No. Fascinating? Completely.
It comes as no surprise this film was pulled from theaters at the last minute here in South Florida. I am told it is available by Video on Demand from cable outlets. It's definitely worth a look, but not for those easily offended.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Lunch with Allan Cole

CIA, Blue Meanies, Hollywood and the Creative Life

I met writer Allan Cole probably seven years ago. He's one of those characters with whom I instantly clicked. We had a lot in common. We both traveled a lot. We both worked as newspapermen. We both had failed marriages and literary aspirations.
Allan's life story is far more interesting than mine; in fact it is off the scale of normalcy.
Allan was a "CIA Brat," and as such he traveled the world with his parents from age 7 until his junior year in high school, when the family moved to Southern California.
Allan was a chef and then a newspaper reporter and editor for 14 years. He got married and had kids, but he had a burning yearning to write more creatively.
On the side he began writing with a high school buddy named Chris Bunch. His wife did not understand his desire to be a novelist and screenwriter and it cost him his marriage, but in 1979 the gamble paid off. Cole and Bunch sold the first of what would be eight Sten science-fiction novels, and they also sold a screenplay for a new television series called "Quincy."
TV scripts were the gravy train for Cole and Bunch, but they continued to churn out novels: seven more Sten books, a Timura Trilogy, Lords of Terror and a Vietnam novel, "A Reckoning for Kings."
Allan married Bunch's sister Kathryn, but he broke off with Chis and both went solo (Bunch died two years ago).
Since he moved to Boca Raton Cole wrote a comic detective thriller "MacGregor," and more recently two semi-autobiographical books: "Tales of the Blue Meanie," set in Venice Beach California in the 1960s and "Lucky in Cyprus," set in the mid-1950s.
Allan and I enjoy Mexican lunch at the Baja Cafe several times a year, always on Allan's nickel.
"I just got some royalties," Allan usually says.
A year ago Allan collapsed in the Athens airport. It was a heart attack, open heart surgery and a wakeup call.
"I want to get as much out as I can, while I still can," he told me.
Allan is a lot more knowledgeable about the Internet and digital revolution than I, and he's full of great ideas. He's 65, and I hope he reaches his goal of writing about some of the more personal things in his incredible life, especially a violent incident in California so horrific it would strain the credibility of the wildest TV crime show.
Keep up the good work, Allan.
You can learn about him at

Friday, August 28, 2009

Taking Woodstock

Lots of Interesting Background, but Very Little Music

No, I was not at Woodstock, but I was very much a part of the Woodstock generation.
As a journalist I've written of the various Woodstock reincarnations- all doomed to failure, because Woodstock was a once in a milennium event.
"Taking Woodstock" takes stock of everything but the music itself, which is a major omission but necessary, due to copyright laws.
Director Ang Lee ("Brokeback Mountain) focuses on the character of Eliot Tiber, who wrote the memoir on which James Schamus' screenplay is based.
Eliot is a good Jewish boy in New York City, trying to make it as an interior designer.
His success has been spotty, and he has returned to help out his parents and their crummy old El Monaco motel in the Catskills.
The motel is on the verge of bneing foreclosed, and mom's (Imelda Staunton) belligerent attitude is no help. Dad (Henry Goodman) is a classic henpecked husband, just waiting for peace in the next life.
When Eliot learns a permit for a music festival in a neighboring town has been denied, he gets the brilliant idea to use an existing permit he had for a modest recorded music-listening festival to enable the high-powered Woodstock Ventures to go forward with "Three days of peace, love and music."
The mastermind of Woodstock Ventures is Michael Lang (Jonathan Groff) a beatific curly-haired promoter who never has heard a discouraging word.
As the grounds at El Monaco are inadequate, Lang and company stike up a deal with neighboring dairyman Max Yasgur (Eugene Levy), a genial armchair liberal who see no problem with allowing untold thousands of hippies to camp out on his pastures.
The rest is history. More than half a million young people showed up, Woodstock was declared a disaster, and everyone had the time of their lives.
"Taking Woodstock" is more about the inevitable coming-out of Eliot Tiber, with a little help from transvestite Vilma, in a hilarious performance by Liev Schreiber.
Emile Hirsch puts in good screen time as a shell-shocked Vietnam vet, Billy, but if you want to experience Woodstock music, rent the concert video, with new director cut.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

computer tyranny

Kids in Distress Get a Boost from the Dubliner

Jan McArt Provides Moral Support

Last night I attended a benefit for Kids in Distress at The Dubliner in Mizner Park, Boca Raton.
I know what a lame duck candidate feels like now. People were tsk-tsking and tut-tuting or my job loss. I spent most of my time with Jan McArt, who was "The First Lady of Theatre" during the glory days of Boca Raton News.
Jan's Royal Palm Dinner Theatre went out of business, but she reinvented herself as an academic at Lynn University. She encouraged me to do likewise.
Gosh, I wish I could do that. But when I got up this morning, my computer, sensing I had an important task, refused to boot up.
I called my techie friend Bill Curtis, who had lent me the machine when mine fried.
"Hard drive," he said grimly. "Just keep trying to restart it."
Oh brother. So I asked my ex-wife if I could use her computer so I could start working on some freelance with a Friday deadline.
Her machine is better than mine, but different in mysterious ways. Everything seemed OK as I created a doc in Microsoft Word. Then I discovered my machine had decided to come to life- jealous, probably. So I asked ex Lynda to e-mail me the document I had just created.
The e-mail came through, but the text came out gibberish.
I'll have to ask our college-age boarder for tech assistance. Brian has been playing with computers since age 8, and for him that's what it is: play.
For me computers have always meant work and the accompanying problems. I need an attitude adjustment. Any suggestions?

Wednesday, August 26, 2009


A Friend Reaches Out at McGee's Lawnmower Repair

On the fifth day of my unemployment adventure, fear rises its ugly head. The fear rises highest in the early morning hours, just before the dawn. That's when things seem bleakest.
After strange dreams I rise, check e-mail. Some reassuring messages lift the gloom. Breakfast makes one feel better.
I'd mow the lawn but the mower is out of commission. I visit Gianni at McGee's lawn mower repair.
"I heard," he says. "That's too bad. Things are really tough here too."
I tell Gianni I think my fuel filter is clogged.
"More like the diaphragm," he says. "Bring it on in."
"I have no money," I protest.
"Don't worry about it," he says.
That's how friends take care of one another. I am just one of millions who are learning who their real friends are. I'll see more people this evening at a charity event I would have been covering for the paper. I told them of my situation and they said come anyway.
No doubt my spirits will rise, and I'll feel almost normal.
Then it's bed time and the cycle repeats itself. At least I recognize the pattern.

Oh yes, Gianni fixed the lawn mower and charged a nominal minimum for parts.
"Don't tell anyone I did this," he cautioned.
Now that's a friend.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Boca Raton News Folds; a New Career Begins

Crosby, Still and Nash at Seminole Hard Rock, Then the Fall

Hello everyone,

This is the first- no, make that the fourth day of the rest of my life. On Friday, Aug. 21 the doors of Boca Raton News were closed, presumably forever. It was the end of a 40-year career for me.

They say an online version will continue, but until something involving me is confirmed, I reckon a blog is better than nothing. I have been writing something every single day for more than 30 years, so it's hard to get out of the habit.

I'm going to continue to write reviews and reports on things I've done in the course of covering arts, entertainment and society. Once I get the hang of this I'll try to add photos.

The night before Boca News died, I got a surprise invitation to see Crosby, Stills & Nash at Seminole Hard Rock. In view of what went down later, I'm really glad I went. The lads were surprisingly good, and their backup band was terrific.
Particularly surprising to me was David Crosby, who was hands-down the funniest of the three, and has a surprisingly clear, high tenor that makes him still sound like a teenager.
Tom Craig shot a couple photos I'll try to post.
If any of you out in blog land read this and care to comment, I invite you.

After all is said and done,