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.