Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Big Hair and Big 1980s Sounds at Broward Center

By Skip Sheffield

Where were you in ’82?
If you are like me, no matter where you were or what you were doing it was to the beat of bombastic 1980s “big hair” bands like Foreigner, Night Ranger, Journey, REO Speedwagon, Styx, Pat Benetar and Whitesnake.
“Rock of Ages,’ running through Jan. 9 at Broward Center for the Arts, takes some of the greatest hits of these groups and incorporates the lyrics into a boy-meets-girl tale of fortune-seeking, bitter disappointments and rueful life lessons.
Yeah, Chris D’Arienzo’s book is pretty clichéd and corny, but the production itself is a catchy, guilty pleasure wave of comedy, wailing vocals, gymnastic dance moves and thundering heavy metal rock music.
The nominal star of the show is Constantine Maroulis, who plays nice-guy everyman Drew Bowie, a waiter and aspiring musician at a Los Angeles Sunset Strip club called the Bourbon Room (think Whisky-a-Go-Go), run by a towering hulk of man named Dennis Dupree (Nick Cordero).
Drew’s female counterpart is star-struck Kansas cutie Sherrie, played by Rebecca Faulkenberry.
Maroulis, an “American Idol” finalist, originated the role of Drew Off and on Broadway and was rewarded with a Tony Award nomination as Best Actor. Maroulis has the requisite long mop of curly dark hair and a piercing tenor voice that easily penetrates to the back of the balcony.
Narrating the show, which is set in 1987 but has some songs into the 1990s, is a character named Lonny (Patrick Lewallen). Lonny often breaks the “fourth wall” and talks and jokes in a conspiring fashion with the audience.
Pop songs are often blended in a clever manner, as when Drew and Sherrie have a picnic and sip wine coolers overlooking L.A. while singing “More Than Words” (Extreme, 1990), “Heaven” (Warrant, 1989) and “To Be With You” (Mr. Big, 1991).
There is an inevitable girl-loses-boy twist when Sherrie unwisely has a fling with Stacy Jaxx (Mig Ayesa), the preening, egotistical lead singer of house band Arsenal. Sherrie also loses her gig as a waitress, and she is reduced to working as an “exotic dancer” (stripper) at the disreputable Venus Club, run by the commanding Justice (Teresa Stanley).
Things get rocky at the Bourbon Room when father and son German developers Hertz (Bret Tuomi) and Franz (Travis Walker).
Love makes unexpected turns when Lonny declares devotion to Dennis and light-in-the-loafers Franz takes up with Casey Tuma’s Regina (rhymes with vagina), a crusading, socially-conscious city planner.
None of this matters very much. What does matter is the anthemic songs, played with expert bravado by a precision band, highlighted by lightning-fast guitar-shredding by Chris Ciccino.
Director Kristin Hanggi was nominated for a Tony Award, but this is not the kind of show that wins Tonys. It’s the kind of show that sells tickets. If you loved the extreme looks, music and attitude of the 1980s, you’ll love this show.
Tickets are $25-$65. Call 954-462-0222 or visit

God a Subject in Two Current Plays

By Skip Sheffield

Two plays opened this weekend in West Palm Beach. Coincidentally, both of them debate the existence of God. Even stranger, both are largely comic, but with inescapable philosophical implications.
“Goldie, Max & Milk” is the funnier production, presented at Kravis Center for a long run though Jan. 16.
A woman, Karen Hartman, wrote “Goldie, Max & Milk.” Another woman, Margaret M. Ledford, directs the show, which has four female characters and just one male.
It is interesting and amusing to note the character of Mike (David Hemphill) though played breezily for laughs, is essential to the premise of the play (and to the existence of all men). Mike is sperm donor to the lesbian, atheist single-mom Maxine (Erin Joy Schmidt), whose lover Lisa (Carla Harting) has left her after convincing Max to become a mother. Oh, and by the way Mike, a free-wheeling dope dealer, is Lisa’s ne’er-do well-younger brother.
Max is poor, afraid and insecure in her crummy Brooklyn apartment, and perhaps because of this she is having trouble lactating; producing the mother’s milk essential to the good health of her infant. She doesn’t believe in God, but as an optimist she allows there could be something called the soul.
In desperation Max calls a social worker named Goldie (Deborah l. Sherman), who is an Orthodox Jew and a “lactation coach” for nursing mothers.
Who knew there was such a thing?
I certainly did not, but the device allows for a comedic clash of cultures and beliefs as “New-Agey,” anti-organized-religion Max is forced to cope with a woman whose views are so set and so diametrically opposed to her own.
But wait, there’s more to test Goldie’s mettle. Her eldest daughter Shayna (Sarah Lord) is what you could delicately call “bi-curious,” and she is fascinated by mom’s newest client.
Sex is a funny thing, and playwright Hartman milks the subject (pardon the pun) for maximum effect. On the other hand there is real pain in the characters of down, out, but not defeated Max; loving, nurturing but rigid Goldie, and her uncertain, vulnerable daughter Shayna, who is enduring a painful sexual identity crisis of her own.
At times “Goldie, Max & Milk” is like a TV sitcom, with fast-flung bon mots and quick comebacks, but then it hits back with doses of real emotion. This is not a comedy for everyone, but for people who want to explore and appreciate the greater value of true “family values,” it is reassuring to know we still can laugh.
Tickets are $47 and $50. Call 800-514-3837 or visit

Freud and C.S. Lewis Debate God’s Existence

“Freud’s Last Session” is a paradoxical comedy by Mark St. Germain, playing through Feb. 6 at Palm Beach Dramaworks, 322 Banyan St., West Palm Beach.
The play is paradoxical because it is not really a comedy at all but an extended debate between two intellectuals representing opposing spectrums of human faith, values and belief.
Dr. Sigmund Freud (Dennis Creaghan, uncannily resembling the famed thinker) was the father of modern psychoanalysis and a staunch atheist.
C.S. Lewis was a novelist and allegorist whose works such as “The Chronicles of Narnia” are being read and re-interpreted to this day. Lewis was probably England’s most ardent defender of the Christian faith, which he declared publicly in his apologia “The Pilgrim’s Regress” in 1933.
Playwright St. Germain finds a kinship in these divergent characters through their intellectual brilliance, their restless quest for knowledge, their courage to face and challenge any opponent, and not the least of all, their ready, self-deprecating wit.
The play is set in London at the crucial point in the year 1939 When King George VI is about to make his famous Sept. 3 speech regretfully announcing England’s declaration of war against Germany and its allies.
Freud has summoned the younger professor and writer to his study for an unspecified reason. There is a lot going on at the time. London is evacuating, planes are flying overhead, and air raid sirens are being tested.
As a result Lewis is late, allowing Freud some good-natured scolding. This sets the combative tone of their meeting. Freud has read “Pilgrim’s Regress,” and he wants to know why a highly-intelligent, otherwise rational man can suddenly express a belief in a man who died 2,000 years ago claiming to be the Son of God and the savior of all who would believe in him.
Freud is desperately ill with oral cancer, and only too well-aware of his own mortality, which gives an added edge to the question of where one spends eternity after this physical life is over.
Having been raised in a religious home (I am a preacher’s grandkid), I have heard these debates a thousand times. Rarely have I heard the opposing points of view expressed so eloquently and cleverly.
I think the point of the playwright is that dialogue is essential if opposing factions are ever to live together in peace. This play is performed quickly in less than 90 minutes, without intermission. In that brief interlude it leaves one with the feeling maybe there is hope for communication regardless of poles of belief as long as individuals respect a worthy opponent.
Tickets are $47. Parking is just $1 an hour at the nearby City Center Garage (first hour free) and it is free on Sunday. Call 561-514-4042 or visit

Monday, December 27, 2010

Jack Black Goofs on Gulliver

This is not your grandfather’s “Gulliver’s Travels.” It’s not your father’s either.
Jonathan Swift wrote “Gulliver’s Travels” in 1726 as a satire of the British monarchy, government and human nature in general. It is by far Swift’s most popular work, and it has been so enduringly loved it has never been out of print.
Perhaps it was inevitable that a Hollywood studio, bereft of original ideas, would adapt the tale as a CGI-gimmicky Jack Black comedy.
A little Jack Black goes a long way. I happen to like his audacity and mischievous grin, but as a romantic lead I find the idea as far-fetched as Swift’s tiny and giant people in far-off lands.
Lemuel Gulliver (Black) works in the mail room of a New York City publishing house. He is a classic slacker and probably would be a mail room boy forever if it weren’t for a crush on Darcy Silverman (Amanda Peet), the pretty editor of a travel magazine.
Somehow (this is far-fetched, remember?) he fakes his way into taking a travel assignment to Bermuda that Darcy doesn’t want.
And so Gulliver sets off in a rented road bound for the Bermuda Triangle with no crew or provisions. A storm brews, water spouts, and Gulliver awakes on the shore of an island, tied up by tiny ropes tied by tiny people.
The tiny King Theodore (Scottish actor Billy Connelly) rather likes oafish Gulliver, as does his daughter, Princess Mary (Emily Blunt).
Gulliver also makes friends with Horatio (Jason Segal), who is smitten with the fair Princess.
Ah, but Mary is promised to General Edward (Chris O’Dowd), the egotistical head of Lilliput’s army.
That’s pretty much it, except for a brief detour to Brobdingnag, where Gulliver becomes plaything of a giant little girl, and an absolutely absurd battle royale finale in which Gulliver battles Theodore inside a giant Transformer-type robot contraption.
Who this is supposed to appeal to is anyone’s guess. It’s too mushy for kids, too ridiculous for adults, and too fakey for those who love special effects. Big Jack, I think you bombed out this time.

"True Grit" Truer, Grittier Than Original

“True Grit” Truer, Grittier Than the Original

By Skip Sheffield

John Wayne is so indelibly attached to the comic Western “True Grit” it seems audacious anyone would have the nerve to remake it.
The Coen brothers have never shrunk from a challenge. They went back to the original source material, the 1968 novel by Charles Portis, to reinterpret the yarn of spunky young Arkansas pioneer Mattie Ross, and the fat, aging, one-eyed, alcoholic bounty hunter Rooster Cogburn to avenge the death of her father.
The 2010 Mattie, played by newcomer Hailee Steinfeld, is tougher, less girlish and altogether more convincing than Kim Darby was more than 40 years ago.
The spotlight is more on Mattie this time around, and deservedly so. She is filled with righteous anger over the murder of her father by the sneaky, cowardly Tom Chaney (Josh Brolin).
The name Cheney has new meaning for this generation, and Josh Brolin sees fit to make his blackguard as reprehensible as possible.
Perhaps because of his Oscar win last year for “Crazy Heart,” Jeff Bridges is relaxed, confident, without shame and very generous to his young co-star as a younger, less spotlight-hogging Rooster Cogburn.
“I intend to kill Tom Cheney with it,” Mattie states to the man she buys a pistol from. Then she bargains to buy back the horse that was stolen from her feather.
When she approaches Rooster Cogburn (she heard he had “true grit”), he looks at her skeptically and demands $100 to undertake the search. He promptly leaves without her.
Mattie cements her determination by fording and swimming a rushing river to chase after Rooster, who has been joined by another bounty hunter, Texas Ranger LaBoeuf (Matt Damon, barely recognizable), who wants the price on Cheney’s head.
This ragged trio takes off across the vast badlands, beautifully photographed by Joel and Ethan Coen’s favorite cinematographer, Roger Deakins.
They meet a catalog of typical Western characters along the way, during which a form of protective parental mode develops in the previously irresponsible Rooster. He still drinks and slouches in the saddle, but this Rooster is no buffoon. Despite all his faults he does indeed possess true grit. So does Mattie.
John Wayne received his Academy Award more for his body of work than his role as Rooster Cogburn. I remember scratching my head at the time and thinking what they say about Academy Awards is true: they don’t always go to the most deserving party.
The competition is too stiff for Jeff Bridges to win a second consecutive Oscar, but odds are better than even that young Miss Steinfeld will be remembered at nomination time.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Festival Boca Returns

Festival of Arts Boca Raton Back for Fifth season

By Skip Sheffield

Festival of the Arts Boca Raton will return for a fifth season March 4-12 though with a somewhat scaled-down schedule and younger, less famous artists.
“A city must have a cultural arts component in order to be a world-class community,” stated Boca Raton Mayor Susan Whelchel at a press conference at the Mizner Cultural Arts building. “A cultural component is vital to the success of any community. It is fun to see Festival Boca is younger this year.”
At the youthful end of the spectrum, the phenomenal 10-year-old operatic soprano Jackie Evancho will perform with the Young Stars of the Metropolitan Opera at the Festival finale on Saturday, March 12.
Instead of the costly Russian National Orchestra, the Festival has engaged the much more reasonable Boca Raton Symphonia Orchestra, which also gives a boost to the local musical community.
Festival Boca 2010 might not have happened at all with the generosity of Richard and Barbara Schmidt and the Schmidt Family Foundation.”
“We provided seed money to make the Festival possible,” revealed Dick Schmidt. “The city has stepped up its role too by taking over the amphitheater. We would hate to see the Festival fall victim to politics.”
The Festival begins 7 p.m. Friday, March 4 with the traditional Future Stars Competition of young performers, presented by the Rotary Club of Boca Raton.
The literary component begins at 4 p.m. Saturday, March 5 with a talk by Kate Walbert, author of “A Short History of Women,” in the Cultural Arts Center.
The Canadian Brass Headlines at 7:30 p.m. Saturday in the Amphitheater.
Literature continues at 4 p.m. Sunday, March 6 with Kevin Bleyer, Emmy Award-winning writer for The Jon Stewart Show and author of “Earth: The Book.”
The musical component continues at 7:30 p.m. Sunday with the American debut of Montenegro classical guitarist Milos Karadaglic, 27.
As the literary program is a “work in progress,” the Monday, March 7 author is to be announced. At 7:30 p.m. Monday evening Ballet Hispanico debuts.
The Latin theme continues 7:30 p.m. Wednesday with Piano Latino, featuring veteran Eddie Palmieri, Dominican Grammy Award-winner Michael Camilo and Cuban-born Alfredo Rodriguez, 24, discovered by Quincy Jones at the 2006 Montreaux Jazz Festival.
Improvisational genius pianist Gabriela Montero of Venezuela plays classics and takes requests at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, March 10.
An author is to be announced for Friday, March 11.
As the Russian National Orchestra is not touring this year, the Boca Raton Symphonia is providing live music for the family movie classic “The Wizard of Oz” at 7:30 p.m. Friday.
Distinguished writer-in-residence Doris Kearns returns at 4 p.m. Saturday, March 12 and the Festival finale, “A Night at the Opera” stars Jackie Evancho and the Young Stars of the Metropolitan Opera with the Boca Raton Symphonia, under the baton of famed French pianist/conductor Philippe Entremont.
Individual tickets are $35-$125 and packages are available. Call 561-368-8445 or 866-571-ARTS or visit

Things are Not Idyllic in “Hemingway’s Garden of Eden”

Ernest Hemingway never wanted his “Garden of Eden” to be published.
Nevertheless his final novel was published posthumously in 1986 Now it is a movie, starring Jack Huston as the Hemingway-like World war I veteran and young novelist David Bourne, Mena Suvari as his young, wealthy, reckless wife Catherine and Caterina Murino as the couple’s sexy, seductive Italian friend, Marita. It is showing at FAU’s new Living Room Theaters.
The newlywed young American couple is enjoying life bombing around the French Riviera in a 1927 Bugatti sports car Catherine bought for David. They rent a seaside villa for the season, and Catherine soon grows bored and restless while David attempts to write.
One afternoon Catherine shows up with Marita in tow, and Catherine practically dares David to have an affair with the Italian beauty.
A ménage a trois develops with predictably unhappy results.
Mena Suvari is no longer the dewy-eyed doll she was in “American Beauty,” and with her hair chopped off and bleached platinum, she looks fairly ridiculous. Jack Huston looks even sillier with his platinum hair and dark eyebrows.
“Garden of Eden” may have been Hemingway’s attempt to emulate his friend F. Scott Fitzgerald, but “Tender is the Night” this is not.

Two stars

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

"127 Hours" a Test of the Will to Live

By Skip Sheffield

How strong is the human will to live?
It is no coincidence that “127 Hours” is being released at Thanksgiving time. After you see this short (95 minutes) but gruelling and intense film you can’t help but feel grateful to be safe and alive.
“127 Hours” is based on the personal memoir “Between a Rock and a Hard Place” by Aron Ralston.
Never has a cliché been so true.
Ralston, played by a buff and toned James Franco, was a guy who never played it safe. He was an adrenalin junkie, looking for ever more intense and dangerous thrills.
On April 25, 2003, Ralston set off on an adventure Utah’s gorgeous, remote Blue John Canyon. At the outset Ralston broke two cardinal rules of hiking/mountain climbing: never venture into the wilderness alone. If you are foolhardy enough to disregard that stark warning, at least notify friends and family what you are up to and where you are going.
Ralston was no doubt used to people warning and scolding him about his risky behavior, and he probably figured everyone would try to talk him out of his foolhardy adventure.
So off he went, with enough provisions for only a day in the desert.
English director Danny Boyle, who co-wrote the script with “Slumdog Millionaire” collaborator Simon Beaufoy, knows how to stretch a basically static, one-man drama into a gripping, discomforting and at times quite lovely and contemplative tale of survival.
We see Aron, then 28, frolicking with a couple college babes, showing them a secret swimming hole deep in a crevasse and daring them to jump.
The girls are jazzed after swimming and so is Aron as he heads off grinning into the rugged, mountainous terrain.
Then it happens. While testing a large boulder for stability it suddenly shifted, rolled, and left his right forearm wedged between the proverbial rock and a hard place, where Aron will remain lodged for the 127 hours of the title.
With just one bottle of water and a couple energy bars, one has to go to extreme lengths to hold off starvation, dehydration and exhaustion.
“127 Hours” is not a film for the squeamish. The scenes of Aron’s anguish and increasing desperation are interspersed with flashbacks to happier times, which also serve to show the viewer how Ralston came to be the daredevil he is. If there is anything certain in the 2011 Oscar race, it is that James Franco will be up for Best Actor. Franco is certainly not just another pretty face. A highly intelligent scholar and workaholic in real life, Franco is just the actor to capture the bravado, pain and repentance of Aron Ralston. When it comes to the fateful scene in which Ralston snaps the major radius and ulna bones in his right arm, the pain is palpable. The hacking away of the flesh with a cheap, dull, Chinese-made multi-purpose tool is agonizing to watch. In an ironic touch, director Boyle makes a point of showing that Ralston had a sturdy Swiss Army knife back in his truck, which would have made the job much easier.
Because of his pain, endurance and refusal to lie down and die, Aron Ralston is now a successful author and motivational speaker, married, with his first child. And oh yes, he still climbs mountains.
So if you need a jolt of inspiration in this season, and you can take the shock of harsh reality, “127 Hours” should do the trick.

Friday, November 19, 2010

A Lot Happens Quickly in "Next Three Days"

By Skip Sheffield

Russell Crowe as Mr. Mom?
For awhile that’s what it seems like in “The Next Three Days,” which stars Crowe as tweedy Pittsburgh college English literature teacher John Brennan, married to a lovely, young, temperamental and diabetic Lara (Elizabeth Banks).
This is a Paul Haggis film however, and things won’t remain peaceful for long. We see Lara lift a fire extinguisher from under her car as a woman rushes by and squirts some blood on Lara’s coat.
These seemingly inconsequential actions will change the life of Lara, John and their young son.
One evening the police smash their way into the Brennans’ cozy suburban home, seize and handcuff Lara and haul her off to jail, accused of the brutal murder of another woman.
No matter that the evidence is circumstantial and superficial, Lara is found guilty and sentenced to life in prison.
For three years John Brennan goes about his daily routine, quietly seething about the injustice of it all. Then one day after Lara attempts suicide he snaps, and after advice by successful escapee Damon Pennington (Liam Neeson), Brennan decides to go all out spring his wife from prison.
“The Next Three days” is an adaptation of the French film “Pour Elle” (Anything For Her), written by Fred Cavye, who collaborated with Haggis (“Crash”) on the American version.
This is a very complex, interwoven, scene-shifting prison break movie, but with split-second timing, chases, gunfire and crashes aplenty, Haggis keeps the viewer on the edge of the seat. It is fun to see a movie set in Pittsburgh, and Haggis makes use of every unique location the city has to offer. If you can brush away the logical and logistical problems of the plot, “Next Three Days” is an exciting, suspenseful rapid ride to an unexpected destination.

Friday, November 5, 2010

The Real Face of Nazisim

“A Film Unfinished” a Staggering, Devastating Documentary Film

By Skip Sheffield

Be forewarned: “A Film Unfinished” will make you weep.
I have seen dozens of films about the Holocaust, but none as chilling, gut-wrenching, infuriating and heartbreaking as this documentary by Israeli television editor Yael Hersonski.
What separates “Film Unfinished” from most Holocaust films is that it is real footage shot in the Warsaw ghetto in May of 1942. In essence these are outtakes, discovered in 1998, from a larger film commissioned by the Nazi Party as propaganda and discovered just after World War II. This “lost footage” gives glimpses of the reality behind the rosy picture being created to depict cheerful, humanely-treated Jews who have been relocated to their own district in Warsaw, where a half-million human beings were crowded into an area of three square miles.
“This film documents evil, passionately and systematically,” the introduction explains. “This is a rough draft of a film called ‘The Ghetto.’ This systematic deception should not be forgotten.”
Silent black-and-white 16 mm film is juxtaposed with interviews of present-day survivors, most of whom were young children in 1942. Their reactions are varied from anguish to horror.
The “systematic deception” is made apparent by capturing scenes of suffering, diseased, starving ghetto dwellers, many of them dead or dying.
This is contrasted with edited footage that shows parties and banquets choreographed by the Nazi filmmakers. The intention is to show rich Jews living it up while there poorer brethren suffer and starve.
The footage is augmented by narrative: a diary kept by detainee Adam Czernikow; recollections of the Jewish Council leader in Warsaw and court testimony by German filmmaker Willy Wist.
“Film Unfinished” is a perfect example of how truth can be distorted and turned inside out through careful staging and editing. Of course Nazis weren’t the only ones who practiced this deception. Consider the recent political campaigns and the outrageous charges of some of the candidates.
Warsaw was just one example of what went on all over Europe in the name of “racial purity.”
Director Hersonski saves the worst for last: footage of the disposal of those who did not survive to be herded into cattle and hauled to death camps. The inhumanity of it all is staggering and devastating, but the horrifying truth must survive.

The High and Low Road of Entertainment

“Cane” Brews a Storm at Florida Stage

By Skip Sheffield

For reviews this week we have sort of a ying and yang of entertainment: the lofty and noble new play “Cane” at Florida Stage’s new space at Kravis Center and “Due Date,” a low, vulgar road trip comedy starring the unlikely duo of Robert Downey, Jr. and Zack Galifianakis.
“Cane” is a play by resident playwright Andrew Rosendorf commissioned expressly for Florida and its Florida Cycle of plays about the Sunshine State.
The title has a double meaning. It refers to the murderous hurricane of 1928 that devastated much of Palm Beach County- especially in the region near Lake Okeechobee, which overflowed its flimsy dike and flooded the communities of Belle Glade, Pahokee and Canal Point.
The second reference is to the cash crop of sugar cane, the harvesting and refinement of which is the leading business in the area.
The play is equal parts history lesson and morality tale. Unfortunately for theater goers, there is not much in the way of fun.
Act One is set in 1928. Eddie Wilson (Gregg Weiner) is a successful, ambitious bean-farmer turned-merchant. His neighbor Noah Brooks is in financial peril, and Eddie is bullying him to sell off his land at a dirt cheap price.
Meanwhile an unnamed hurricane is traveling their way.
Newspaper editor Jacob Gold (Dan Leonard) warns there will be Hell to pay in the likely event the earthen dike fails, but nobody cares to listen.
The women folk are Eddie’s loyal wife Ruthie (Julie Rowe), and Harriet (Trenell Mooring), a pregnant tenant farmer’s wife.
Act One has the most action, sound and fury as Eddie and Noah grapple while thunderclaps and lightning flashes signal the advance of another storm.
Act Two forwards to the present day. Eddie’s great-grandson Junior (Weiner) is more successful than ever and greedy for yet more. Junior thinks there is gold in the sugar cane fields if he can just wrest the land away from Harriet’s descendant, Zora (Mooring).
Noah’s descendent Isaac (Nail) is a local cop strongly protective of Zora. Dan Leonard’s character has devolved into a crazy old coot spouting dire warnings of certain destruction coming from both the fury of Mother Nature and the greed of venal men like Junior Wilson.
Those of us who know a thing or two about Florida history will find no surprises in the script. Mankind has been foolishly trying to conquer, rather than work in concert with nature for over a century. What is highly unlikely is the prospect of suburbia spreading to a place as impoverished and desperate as Belle Glade.
Then again I never thought I would see giant urban malls at the very edge of the Everglades, so what do I know?

Is Zach Galifianakis The New “Great One?”

Could Zach Galifianakis be a Jackie Gleason for a new generation?
That thought occurred to me after seeing the raucous, raunchy, hilarious “Due Date;” a road trip comedy that reunites Galifianakis with “Hangover” director Todd Phillips.
Like Gleason, Galifianakis is a large, rotund man. He uses his bulk to comic effect in surprisingly delicate ways, and he is utterly fearless to do anything for a laugh.
Robert Downey, Jr. is the straight man of this piece: Peter Highman, an uptight Los Angeles entrepreneur with a young wife Sarah (Michelle Monaghan) expecting their first child.
Sarah’s due date is in just a few days. All Peter has to do is board a flight in Atlanta non-stop to L.A. and everything will be peachy.
Then Ethan Tremblay (Galifianakis) careens into the picture.
Ethan is, improbably, an aspiring actor who is convinced fame awaits him in Hollywood.
Even more improbably, Ethan is traveling with the ashes of his recently-deceased father, stored in a coffee can.
In situation comedies, all the situations are a setup for a gag later on. The first setup is crazy circumstances that not only get Peter and Ethan thrown off their plane but get them branded “no fly.”
So the guys are forced to rent a car, and the fun really begins.
Ethan is the kind of guy who has no clue how irritating or obnoxious he is. I won’t go into details, but suffice it to say Peter is appalled and disgusted with Ethan and his little dog. However, circumstances continue to conspire to keep the men together through car crashes, chases, drug busts and even the threat of a jail cell in Mexico.
Jamie Foxx has a small role as Peter’s best buddy whom Peter fears may be a little too friendly with his wife.
Yes, there are gags that are in very bad taste and situations that would never happen in million years in real life, but darn it, it’s funny. That’s all that really matters in “Due Date.”

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Loose Ends Are Tied in "Hornet's Nest"

By Skip Sheffield

“You came to kill me” are the first words heard in “The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest” as hero Lisbeth Salander (Noomi Rapace) lies in a hospital bed, bruised and swathed in bandages, emerging from a coma.
The statement is pretty much the essence of all three parts of the Millennium Trilogy by the late Swedish author Stieg Larsson. Professional computer hacker Lisbeth was abused by her father as a child, and she retaliated by trying to set him on fire at age 12. For poor Lisbeth it is kill or be killed.
Since her violent incidents with dad (she later went at him with an ax), Lisbeth has been in and out of mental institutions, and under the care of dubious guardians who have abused her further.
No wonder Lisbeth distrusts and dislikes men in general.
There is one notable exception: Mikael Blomkvist (Michael Nyqvist), a crusading investigative journalist at Millennium magazine. In installment one, “Girl with the Dragon Tattoo,” Lisbeth helped Mikael uncover a half-century old Nazi plot involving mutilation and murder of women. In the course of their perilous investigation they have a torrid fling.
“Dragon Tattoo” remains my favorite of the Millennium trilogy because it combined mystery, suspense, blistering action and hot May-December romance. In part two, “The Girl Who Played With Fire,” Lisbeth took center stage to become kind of an avenging feminist supergirl. As a result of her desperate altercations, she has a bullet in her head and two other parts of her body, and at age 27 she is accused of three counts of murder.
In this final installment, Mikael moves back to center stage as Lisbeth’s steadfast defender and protector, though feisty Lisbeth hardly needs to lean on any man for support. Her conscientious Dr. Jonasson (Askel Morisse) does his best to shield her from police and bad guys alike while she is helpless.
The Millennium series has made a star of Lisbeth Salander, a thin, slight, dark-haired beauty who does martial arts moves with a ballerina’s grace.
The problem with “Hornet’s Nest” is that it is much more static than either of the earlier chapters, and it is bogged with plot details that clutter its two hours-plus length under the direction of Daniel Alfredson.
The person who must be killed is Lisbeth’s purely evil father, Russian immigrant Alexander Zalachenko (Georgi Staykov). Zalachenko revels in his own evil, and he is contemptuous of anyone who thinks he can be defeated.
On that account there is some satisfying closure regarding the fate of Zalachenko, but there are oodles of other bad guys who must be dispatched by Ms. Salander.
Paramount among these is Niedermann (Micke Spreitz), a hulking platinum-haired giant who just happens to be Lisbeth’s half-brother. Other nasties include crooked psychiatrist Dr. Peter Teleborian (Anders Ahlbon), and Evert Gullberg (Hans Alfredson) and Fredrik Clinton (Lennart Hjulstrom), former heads of the shadowy, sinister “Section” political faction.
Once Lisbeth regains her health and readies to face the music in court with her compassionate lawyer, Mikhail’s sister Annika Giannini (Annika Hallin), she struts her all-black colors, teases her hair into a Mohawk, and re-inserts all the hardware into her various piercings in defiance of courtly decorum.
Plot threads tie up a little too neatly in this finale, but it still has action, intrigue and style. I cringe to think what is in store when this series is remade in the USA with American actors, so catch the real thing while you can.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Strong Leads Help Conviction

Swank Convincing, Rockwell Surprising in “Conviction”

By Skip Sheffield

The advance buzz on “Conviction” concerns Hilary Swank as possible Oscar contender, which would make her a three-time Best Actress winner. The real surprise is Sam Rockwell in his strongest screen role to date.
Swank and Rockwell play sister and brother, Betty Anne and Kenny Waters in this truth-based screenplay by Pamela Gray.
Director Tony Goldwyn establishes from the beginning this brother and sister are extremely close, probably out of self-protection due to an absent father and neglectful mother.
It is established that Kenny and Betty Anne were getting into mischief at a very young age. They were no strangers to the local police in their small town of Ayer, Mass.
It is also established that Kenny has a hair-trigger temper that can flare up suddenly regardless of consequences. We see it happen in a bar when Kenny violently threatens a guy who has made a disparaging remark about his young daughter.
In short Kenny is no angel and nobody’s role model, but is he a murderer?
First degree murder is what Kenny was accused and convicted of in 1983, two years after Katharina Brow was discovered murdered in a most horrific manner, with 30 stab wounds to her body.
Kenny had been questioned at the time of the crime, and he had the bad sense to wise off to the police investigator, Nancy Taylor (Melissa Leo).
Taylor was the wrong cop to mess with we learn later in the story, with Kenny in prison and Betty Anne obsessively working to get him a new trial.
Like the strong women Swank portrayed in “Boys Don’t Cry” and “Million Dollar Baby,” Betty Anne is a self-made, doggedly determined underdog who got her GED, went to college, and then law school to become a lawyer with just one client: her brother Kenny.
None of this happened overnight. It was 18 years of struggle that cost Betty Anne her marriage and nearly cost the embattled woman her two sons.
In this dramatization Betty is spurred on by her best friend Abra, played by Minnie Driver.
Heroes and villains are drawn quite literally. The former is a lawyer named Barry Scheck (Peter Gallagher), who pioneered using DNA testing to disprove convictions. The latter is Nancy Taylor (Leo) and the unseen district attorney Martha Coakley, who was loath to admit a mistake could have been made. Playing a most intriguing coerced false witness is a scarcely recognizable Juliette Lewis.
In the hands of less-skilled actors this could have been just another TV drama, but Swank and Rockwell, both affecting convincing heavy Mass. accents, draw the viewer into what is ultimately story of love transcendent, a sister for brother, against all odds.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Old Pros at Play in "Red"

By Skip Sheffield

First you should know “Red” stands for Retired Extremely Dangerous.
“Red” is a CIA conspiracy plot spoof adapted from a DC Comics graphic novel. It stars Bruce Willis as retired but extremely lethal black ops agent Frank Moses. Frank is bored and out of sorts in his quiet Cleveland suburb. His only diversion is lengthy phone calls to Sarah (Mary-Louise Parker at her dewy-eyed best), a government pension employee who works in Kansas City.
The second thing you need to know is that this has an incredible cast of old pros having the time of their lives acting out ridiculous revenge fantasies.
You know this is a comic book right away when a squad of black-suited, masked gunman descend on Frank’s little house and riddle it with so many bullets the front porch falls off.
Frank Moses is of course unscratched, and he proceeds to dispatch his attackers one by one, as well as a second backup squad.
Then it’s off to Kansas City where Frank suddenly appears inside Sarah’s locked apartment. When she gets understandably alarmed, he gags her, binds her, throws her in the car and takes off for New Orleans. You just know this is comic book love at first sight.
First stop is Joe Matheson (Morgan Freeman), age 80 with stage 4 liver cancer, living in a nursing home. When Frank tells Joe the CIA has tried to kill him and he may be next, Joe is in.
Robert Schwentke directs at blistering speed, interspersing witty one-liners with amazing collisions, near-misses and huge fireball explosions.
Next up in Pensacola is Marvin Boggs (John Malkovich in his funniest, most over-the-top role ever) a wacky, paranoid survivalist who mistrusts cell phones, computers, the Internet and the modern world in general. Marvin has achieved his unique vision having been fed LSD experimentally for 11 years. He is perfect for this mission.
In Virginia the team picks up Victoria (Helen Mirren), a polished Brit with a lethal knack with a machine gun. Later Victoria’s former lover, Russian agent Ivan (Brain Cox) joins the band.
With a little help from Henry (venerable Ernest Borgnine), keeper of records deep in the bowels of the CIA, Frank will get the lowdown as to why CIA agent Cooper (Karl Urban) has been ordered to assassinate him. The trail will lead to arms dealer Alexander Downey (Richard Dreyfuss, as a snarling, sniveling villain), and up to the office of the Vice President of the USA.
The plot is patently absurd nonsense, with our heroes dodging bullets, missiles and flying vehicles and batting them away as if they were flies.
This is great stuff for the over-50 set, and I think kids can enjoy it too for all the action and mayhem. No one will ever mistake this for great art, but as slam-bang entertainment, at this moment in time it can’t be beat.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Young Frankenstein Invades Ft. lauderdale

Giddy, Bawdy Fun with “Young Frankenstein” at Broward Center

By Skip Sheffield

Is there anything Mel Brooks cannot do?
We know and love him for his witty and humorous writing, but Brooks has also acted, sung and danced, directed and produced film, television and theater, and he composes music and lyrics too.
“Young Frankenstein” the stage musical is Brooks’ latest creation, after the huge success of “The Producers” on Broadway.
“Young Frankenstein” runs through Oct. 17 at Broward Center for the Arts. It’s a giddy, silly, sexy explosion of song, dance and mock science fiction.
“Young Frankenstein” has inspired the kind of devotion that leads to word-by-word recitation of key gags by loyal fans.
The book, by Brooks and Thomas Meehan (“Hairspray”) is as true to the 1974 movie as is possible on a theatrical stage.
It is director Susan Stroman’s choreography that raises the stage show above the movie. This touring company features a bevy of beautiful, saucy dancing babes and an equally agile company of athletic young men.
Playing the guileless young Dr. Frederick Frankenstein (pronounced “Fronk-en-Steen) is boyish Christopher Ryan.
The opening scene is set in Transylvania (“The Happiest Town”) in 1934, and Frederick’s grandfather, Dr. von Frankenstein, has just died, leaving New York Dr. Frederick the sole surviving heir.
Frederick is engaged to frosty Elizabeth (Janine Davita), who demonstrates her attitude with “Please Don’t Touch Me.”
When Frederick dutifully travels to Transylvania, he fist encounters Igor (That’s Eye-Gore) (Cory English), his grandfather’s faithful hunchbacked assistant (Hump, what hump?) and a luscious young Fraulein named Inga (Synthia Link), who is only too willing to be Frederick’s favorite laboratory helper. We can see where things are going with the corny, bawdy “Roll in the Hay.”
A scene-stealer in this show is Joanna Glushak as the haughty Frau Blucher, whose very name causes horses to whinny.
Another outstanding player is baritone David Benoit in the dual role of Inspector Kemp and the lovelorn, blind Hermit.
Then of course there is the monster himself, played by strapping Preston Truman Boyd, a creature first barely coherent but ultimately supple enough to tap dance to “Puttin’ on the Ritz” in a tuxedo while reciting in Shakespearean tones.
“Young Frankenstein” is closer to burlesque than classic musical theater, but it sure is fun with its barrage of singing, dancing and cheerful innuendo. After all, a spoof is a spoof, and Mel Brooks is the spoofmaster general.
Tickets are $25-$65. Call 954-462-0222 or visit

A Horse, Schools and Clones

“Secretariat” a Winner for All Time

“Secretariat” is a good, old-fashioned, rah-rah sports movie, but it is more; an emotional underdog story about a determined woman and her equally determined horse.
The woman is Penny Chenery, portrayed by Diane Lane.
I have admired Diane Lane ever since I saw her in “The Outsiders” when she was only 17-years-old. Lane has paradoxical qualities: she is beautiful and feminine but a little rough and tough, worldly, and above all, sexy.
These are the perfect qualities to play Penny Chenery, who is described as an “ordinary housewife,” but really is a most extraordinary person.
Chenery was the owner of Secretariat, one of the most extraordinary racehorses of all time, and the last one to win the Triple Crown of the Kentucky Derby, Belmont and the Preakness in 1973. Secretariat set records in the first two races that stand to this day.
As magnificent as Big Red (Secretariat’s nickname) was, the movie is as much about Penny Chenery’s personal struggle to train, compete and triumph in a lame-dominated sport.
The story begins back in 1969 in Virginia with an agreement struck by Penny’s father (Scott Glenn) and his wealthy, friendly rival, Ogden Phipps (James Cromwell). A coin toss was proposed to determine the pick of the next two foals of two championship horses. Phipps chose a weanling filly he thought was a sure thing. Chenery “lost” with the colt that would change the fact of American horse racing.
Adapting from journalist William Nack’s non-fiction book, Mike Rich has devised a gripping double underdog story that builds under Randall Wallace’s direction through trials, tribulations, setbacks and finally edge-of –the-seat racing triumphs. John Malkovich lends humor, pride and determination to his French-Canadian trainer, Lucien Laurin
Particularly rewarding is the final display of photos of the real characters, including the fabled horse.
“Secretariat” is inspirational in an old-fashioned, can-do American way. It seems a miracle that Penny Chenery’s marriage survived all the challenges of her husband’s skepticism, the expenses of thoroughbred racing and her own defiant self-determination. But as the movie poster declares, this is “The Impossible True Story.” You will laugh, thrill and probably weep. This is Walt Disney entertainment at its best.

“Waiting for Superman” a Disconcerting Documentary

“Waiting for Superman” is the most important film documentary since “An Inconvenient Truth.”
It is no coincidence that both films were directed by Davis Guggenheim, a man who really knows how to make a point forcefully.
“Superman” should do for American public education what “Inconvenient Truth” did for global warming.
Guggenheim accomplished his goal by finding five appealing, typical kids facing challenges in obtaining a quality education and following the children through a school year in home towns of The Bronx, New York, Harlem, Washington, D.C., Detroit and Los Angeles.
Guggenheim barrages us with grim facts and figures between scenes showing the children at home and in schools labeled as “drop-out factories.”
Contrasting the stories of failure is that of Bronx inner city native Geoffrey Canada, who rose above his circumstances and started a miraculously successful charter school in the worst part of Harlem.
Why a charter school, you might ask?
The simple answer is teachers’ unions and tenure rules. Defending the teachers’ point of view is teachers’ union president Randi Weingarten.
There is no simple answer to the fact of why America has slipped behind so much of the civilized world in education over the past 50 years, just as there is no simple answer regarding global warming.
“Superman” promises to be as controversial and volatile as “Inconvenient Truth,” but for those of us who have children in the public school system, or simply care about the kids struggling now, “Superman” is a ray of light shed on a very dark issue. Let the debates begin.

“Never Let Me Go” a Mournful Horror Film

“Never Let Me Go” is a mournful, melancholy melodrama based on the 2005 novel by Japanese-born British author, Kazuo Ishiguro.
Carey Mulligan stars as Kathy H, a girl raised in a sequestered boarding school in Hailsham, England.
Kathy’s best friends are Tom (Andrew Garfield) and Ruth (Keira Knightly). What the kids don’t realize until too late is that they are clones being cultivated expressly as donors of organs for ailing human beings.
As horrifying as that thought is, screenwriter Alex Garland and director Mark Romanek pour on the melodrama with the specter of a doomed romantic triangle with all its regrets.
What “Never Let Me Go” does prove is that Mulligan, Knightly and Garfield are three of the best and brightest young actors of their generation,

Monday, October 4, 2010

The Face and birth of Facebook

Like or Unlike, “The Social Network” is One Good Movie

Are you on Facebook?
Many people are still holdouts, although FB claims a membership of 500 million and counting.
“Social Network” will leave FB naysayers declaring “I told you so.”
You could call “Social Network” the ultimate Revenge of the Nerd.
That nerd is Mark Zuckerberg, played with prickly precision by Jesse Eisenberg.
We meet Mark in the fall of 2003 at Harvard, where he is an undergraduate. Mark is dumped by his girlfriend Erica (Rooney Mara), who has had enough of his short attention span, social awkwardness and obsession with computer programs.
Reeling from Erica’s rejection, Mark plays a cruel Internet prank that infuriates the female population of Harvard and crashes the university’s computer servers.
Perversely, the handsome, identical Winklevoss twins (Cameron and Tyler, both played by Armie Hammer), who are in every way Mark’s opposite, are impressed with Mark’s programming genius, and ask him for some help with a social dating network for Harvard students.
Mark accepts the challenge and goes one step further to create his own social network, which he calls The Facebook. He takes on as a partner his roommate Eduardo Savererin (Andrew Garfield) a wealthy Cuban-American from Miami who puts up $1,000 as seed money.
The Winklevoss twins, who epitomize the W.A.S.P. ideal, will spend the rest of the story using their wealth and privilege to force a legal judgment again Zuckerberg.
As the film’s slogan goes, “You can’t get to 500 million friends Without Making a Few Enemies,” and Zuckerberg proceeds to wrong his best friends on his way to becoming the world’s youngest billionaire and worldwide, certifable cultural phenomenon.
Based on Ben Mezrich’s book “The Accidental Billionaires,” Aaron Sorkin’s screenplay is clever, suspenseful and ironically comic, featuring Eisenberg reciting complicated computer jargon with the speed of an auctioneer.
Some of the choicest comedy comes via Justin Timberlake, who plays Napster founder Sean Parker. Mark clearly develops a man crush on Parker, who is Mark’s gregarious, cocaine-fueled, womanizing opposite.
Parker was just another stepping stone for Mark, who can’t be bothered with the high life.
This movie was directed by David Fincher (“The Curious Case of Benjamin Button”) without any cooperation from Facebook or Mark Zuckerberg. Some have called it a hatchet job against Zuckerberg, but I don’t think so. If anything, it will only increase public admiration for the distant, mysterious, obviously brilliant Facebook creator.
I don’t think it will change any minds about Facebook. There are plenty of people who couldn’t care less about what other people are doing, and there are even more who simply use it as a tool for their own self-promotion.
So like it or unlike it, “The Social Network” is a heck of a good movie that should entertain even the worst skeptics.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Aborigine Musical "Bran Nue Dae"

In America, African-Americans were (and sometimes still are) treated like second-class citizens.
In Australia it is the Aborigines, the indigenous people of the islands of Australia and New South Wales, who lived happily before the white Europeans came along and made life miserable for them.
“Bran Neu Dae” is the modern Australian version of an American minstrel show, the minstrels being Aborigines.
Set in the late 1960s, “Bran Neu Day) (Brand New Day) is a politically-charged fable with music about an Aborigine boy who dares to stand up to the Colonial establishment. The story adapted from the songs and stage act of an Aboriginal band called Jimmy Chi and Knuckles and fashioned into a screenplay by Chi, Reg Cribb, and Rachel Perkins, who also directs. The movie has elements of road trip, coming-of-age and rebellion in a Wizard of Oz kind of fashion.
Willie (Rocky McKenzie) is a model son and student who lives with his mother in the Outback in the tiny town of Broome. Willie has never met his father, who he has been told is dead.
Willie is sweet on Rosie (Jessica Mauboy), a childhood friend who has blossomed into womanhood.
Rosie is pretty and very good singer, which has attracted the attention of Lester (Dan Sultan), the egotistical Caucasian leader of a band and the club he plays in.
Willie is such a good student he has been accepted into a strict Catholic prep school in the big city. The school is ruled by the tyrannical Father Benedictus (Geoffrey Rush), who treats his students with patronizing condescension.
When Willie endures all that he can, he decides to make a break for it and somehow make the 3,000-mile trip back home. Father Bend ictus is not about to let that happen, so he takes off in pursuit in his old Mercedes.
Early in his journey Willie meet an older Aborigine he calls Uncle Tadpole (Ernie Dingo).
Tadpole has a fondness for booze, but he feels protective of the boy and decides to help him on his quixotic journey. Also the way they hook up with a couple hippies in a ragtag VW bus, an Annie (Missy Higgins) and Slippery (Tom Budge) reluctantly join the quest.
“Bran Neu Dae” is old-fashioned and corny, with characters breaking into and dance at the drop of a hat.
You just know it will all lead to a big-finish production number, and so it does. Don’t be too surprised if you find yourself saying, “I’m an Aborigine too.”

Friday, September 17, 2010

Ben Affleck's Bloody Boston Baby

“The Town” is Ben Affleck’s baby. Affleck directs, co-wrote and stars in this gritty crime drama, set on the bad side of Boston in Charlestown, Mass.
Charlestown, referred to just as The Town by locals, is a one-square-mile breeding group for crime, specifically bank robbers.
Based on the novel “Prince of Thieves” by Chuck Hogan, “The Town” tells the story of Doug MacCray (Affleck) and his gang of tough townies. Jem (explosive Jeremy Renner from "Hurt Locker"), the meanest, toughest of the lot, took a fall for MacCray and has just gotten out of nine years in prison. If anything, the jail experience has made Jem more violent and reckless than ever.
“The Town” is a tense, suspense-filled series of daring bank heists, desperate escapes, and spectacular, vehicle-destroying chases.
Contrasting the ultra-violence is MacCray’s blossoming relationship with winsome Claire Keesey (Rebecca Hall), a bank manager who was taken hostage by the masked desperadoes, but does not realize MacCray was one of them.
It comes as no surprise that as MacCray’s affection for Claire grows, so does a decision to renounce his life of crime and run away with Claire.
Sadly for MacCray one can’t just walk away from the Irish gang lords who have bought and controlled everyone for years.
“The Town” builds to a fever pitch just on the right side of ridiculous, but very satisfying.
Be warned it is a bloody, brutish tale, but well-told and with passion by the star and all his swaggering supporting cast.

Friday, September 10, 2010

A Bittersweet Love Affair From France

“Mademoiselle Chambon” is an exquisite, bittersweet fable of forbidden love from France via writer-director Stephane Brize.
Based on a novel by Eric Holder, “Mlle Chambon” explores desire, discontentment and the consequences of following rash emotional and sexual impulses.
Jean (Vincent Lindon) is a solid, blue-collar Parisian citizen, married to loving and loyal Anne-Marie (Aure Atika) and father to bright, energetic Jeremy (Arthur Le Houerou).
Jean is a stone mason and all-around contractor. His son’s teacher, Veronique Chambon (Sandrine Kiberlain) invites Jean to lecture Jeremy’s classmates about his practical occupation.
Jean graciously accepts the assignment, and after Mlle Chambon thanks him, she asks him what she might do about a leaky window in her apartment.
This is one of those ah-ha moments, played with great subtlety and delicacy by Lindon and Kiberlain, who were once man and wife. Though nothing has been spoken out loud, we know Jean has already fallen under the spell of Mlle Chambon. Though the request is seemingly innocent, we know it is not, as we can see desire building in the limpid eyes of Veronique, who has had many affairs but never a long-term relationship.
Once a concert violinist, Veronique has been a drifter and a loner ever since she quit music. Jean agrees to install a new window in her house, and when he spots the violin she once played, he asks Veronique if she could play him a tune.
Veronique refuses at first, then acquiesces, only if she can play with her back turned, due to the extreme shyness that sabotaged her career.
The tune is an achingly romantic piece by Ferenc von Vecsey. Again without words, we know Jean is a goner. Their passion is sealed with a kiss. The next day she leaves a simple note: “Thinking of you.” Not long afterward Anne-Marie informs Jean she is pregnant.
There is a reason why forbidden love is called forbidden. It may be wonderfully exciting and invigorating, but it causes terrible pain for loved ones.
Jean is such a good guy he even washes the feet of his elderly father, who is having an 80th birthday party hosted by Anne-Marie. Recklessly, Jean invites Veronique to play her violin at the party. Equally recklessly Veronique agrees.
During the party Jean inexplicably flies off the handle at his wife, who wails, “What’s going on Jean? Where are you?”
Jean is lost in the wilderness of lust and passion, but Veronique calls his bluff when she tells him she has finally decided to settle down and stay at the school where she is.
Anyone who has been tangled in a triangular relationship will react with discomfort to Jean’s dilemma. Will he go with his heart or his head?
You’ll have to see this masterful little film to see the conclusion, but it is not as simple as you may think.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Love from a Distance and Gore Up Close

Drew Barrymore and Justin Long Retro Romantics in “Going the Distance”

By Skip Sheffield

Drew Barrymore and Justin Long are “Going the Distance” in the rather retro, reasonably pleasant romantic comedy of the same name.
“Distance” seems more authentic because Barrymore and Long were (and perhaps still are) an item when documentary film director Nanette Burstein was filming in New York and San Francisco. It doesn’t hurt that these are two of the most photogenic cities in America.
This movie is retro because Barrymore’s character, Erin, aspires to be a crusading newspaper reporter. For one thing, daily newspapers are quickly becoming a thing of the past. For another, it is mostly older people who still read them.
Yes, 31-year-old Erin is gung-ho on saving, or at least improving the world through the power of the press. She has an internship at the fictitious New York Sentinel and she hopes to go full-time.
Garret (Justin Long) works at a record label (another dying profession) and lives the bachelor life with two goofy roommates.
Erin and Garrett meet cute in a bar over a game of Centipede, a 1980s video game. They click immediately and wind up at Garrett’s and end up making out under a poster of Tom Cruise in “Top Gun” (1986).
Erin says up front she doesn’t want romantic entanglement, as she is going to grad school at Stanford in six weeks.
Of course they do become entangled and enjoy a whirlwind affair to the tune of 1980s song classics.
Erin can’t find a job in New York and Garrett is unwilling to relocate on the West Coast. So beings a long-distance relationship with all its trials and tribulations
Keeping the affair from getting too gloopy is a fine comic supporting cast including Charlie Day and Jason Sudeikis as Garrett’s wacky roommates and Christina Applegate as Erin’s sarcastic older sister.
“Distance” is rated R mostly for content and coarse dialogue. Ultimately it has a soft heart for young lovers in love, and that’s what makes this idealist fantasy a perfect date movie.

Three stars

“Machete” Revels in Cartoon Violence, Gore

Fan boys and girls will love the outrageous “Machete.” Tea-Partiers and other conservatives will despise it.
“Machete” is a feature-length movie based on a single 90-second sight gag in Quinten Tarantino’s 2007 “Grindhouse.”
The title character, played by the menacing-looking Danny Trejo, prefers a blade to a gun, but he is adept at all kinds of weaponry, including his bare hands and gardening equipment.
Machete is a former Mexican Federale who is driven out of his country by an all-powerful drug lord Torrez, played by slimy, reptilian Steven Seagal.
Machete is stranded in a Texas border town with no papers and no money; in short an illegal immigrant.
The area is controlled by Von Stillman (Don Johnson, relishing the role of villain), who heads a group of ruthless vigilantes who will do anything, including murder, to stem the flow of illegal immigrants from Mexico.
Jeff Fahey is another American bad guy: Michael Benz, a crooked businessman who supports the equally corrupt right-wing Senator John McLaughlin (Robert Di Niro, also relishing his scene-chewing villain).
In this revenge fantasy by Robert Rodriguez (“Spy Kids") all the Americans are bad; bigoted, greedy, amoral, and all the Mexicans are good souls just looking for a better life.
Rodriguez doles out violence and sickening gore in equal measure with sexy babes. The list includes Michele Rodriguez as the resourceful, fearless taco girl who in reality runs an underground Mexican resistance group; Jessica Alba as an immigration officer with a sense of justice and fair play, and Lindsay Lohan, mocking her image as infant terrible as Michael Benz’s out-of-control daughter.
And then there is Cheech Marin as Machete’s pious brother, a Catholic priest who does not turn the other cheek.
Needless to say this debacle gets a richly-deserved R Rating. If the viewer realizes the whole thing is over-the-top satire about rigid American anti-immigration crusaders then it becomes a funny spectacle of cartoon violence and a clever reversing of stereotypes for ironic effect. If not, you’ll be outraged.

Two and a half stars

Friday, August 20, 2010

Bloody Vengeance in the Dominican Republic

If you’ve ever wondered what it’s like to visit part of the Dominican Republic tourists never see, or what it’s like to be an immigrant from the D.R. in the mean streets of New York City, ‘La Goga” is a film for you.
Shot in the D.R. and The Bronx, “La Soga” is a tale of survival of a tough kid, Luisito (Manny Perez, who also wrote the screenplay), who was 10 when he witnessed the murder of his butcher father in a burst of random violence by local drug lord Rafa (Paul Calderon).
Luisito, known as “La Soga” (the rope) has become a government sanctioned assassin, with a license to kill drug dealers and other baddies at will.
Rafa has fled to New York, and Luisito desperately wants him deported so he can extract his revenge.
So Luisito goes about his bloody business, but he is getting soft and reckless. When he oversteps his bounds and he is called for it, he realizes Rafa may not be the primary source of his country’s misery.
“La Soga” is not for faint hearts. The character of Luisito is a vegetarian for a good reason, and we see explicitly why with a gruesome slow-motion butchering of a life pig and some luckless chickens. This with the conscionless brutality of both the bad and good guys is a bit hard to take.
Director Josh Crook does have a point: violence begets violence and corruption begets corruption. The same dictum applies the world over.

Kevin Kline Just a Gigolo in "Extra Man"

“The Extra Man” is an old-fashioned comedy of manners. Though it is set in contemporary Manhattan, it has a prelude set in the late 20s or early 30s, when F. Scott Fitzgerald was in his prime.
Fitzgerald is a literary hero of Louis Ives (Paul Dano), a prep school literature teacher who is dropped from his post after an embarrassing incident.
Desperate for a job, Louis finds work as an entry-level employee at an environmental magazine New York City.
Louis has very little money, so he seeks out the cheapest apartment he can find.
When he answers an ad for a room to rent, he meets Henry Harrison (Kevin Kline), the unconventional “extra man” of the title.
An “extra man” is another term for a professional escort or walker. A retired teacher with thwarted literary aspirations of his own, Henry makes a precarious living off rich women who need a man on their arm at social functions.
The role is perfect for Kevin Kline, who is masterful as a rueful, yet dignified Chaplinesque character.
Louis and Henry are an odd but oddly-suited couple. Both men are lonely and both are flawed. Louis is a compulsive cross-dresser; a quirk that doesn’t bother the actor-ly Henry at all.
Henry feels like a failure, and having a young friend and confidant is rejuvenating for him.
This film is dominated by Kevin Kline, but there is a small but interesting supporting role by Katie Holmes as a green-obsessed co-worker and potential love interest for Louis, and John C. Reilly as a flakey neighbor in Henry’s neighborhood.
Based on a novel by Jonathan Ames, “Extra Man” is a small, bittersweet film of interest to people who feel nostalgic about vanishing New York and vanishing dreams.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

An Imperfect Affair at Caldwell Theatre

It’s not a good sign when I don’t know quite what to say after seeing a play.
At least I know what the title, “The Comfort of Darkness,” means. This world premiere production of a play by Joel Gross continues through Sept. 5 at Caldwell Theatre Company, 7901 N. Federal Highway, Boca Raton.
Concert pianist Maria-Theresa von Paradis (Jessalyn Maguire) has been blind since age 3. Blindness has been no impediment to Maria-Theresa’s career. She can read Braille as fast as sighted people can read a book. If anything, the darkness has been a comfort zone into which she can retreat.
Dr. Anton Mesmer (Stevie Ray Dallimore) thinks otherwise. He sees Maria-Theresa’s blindness as a curable mental affliction, and he believes he can cure it through “animal magnetism,” which is his term for an early form of hypnosis.
Maria-Theresa von Paradis and Dr. Anton Mesmer were real-life figures who lived in Vienna in 1777. Mesmer’s name inspired the word “mesmerize;” to put someone under a kind of spell.
Playwright Joel Gross, who visited Boca Raton to consult with director Clive Cholerton on the production, used the story of doctor and patient as a what-if springboard for an unlikely but perhaps inevitable romance.
Thereby perhaps lurks the problem. Broadway actor Robert Cuccioli (“Jekyll and Hyde”) was originally billed as star of the Caldwell production.
For whatever reason Cuccioli bowed out, and now Dr. Anton Mesmer is played by Stevie Ray Dallimore.
Dallimore is a handsome devil, but looks are less important to this role than personal magnetism. Mesmer literally has the power to probe into a person’s psyche and change that person’s mind. Despite dramatic finger-pointing flourishes, Dallimore just doesn’t quite radiate that power.
Jessalyn Maguire has a delicate, fragile beauty that is perfect for Maria-Theresa von Paradis. Though she is only 22, Maria-Theresa is a confident and secure woman who is quite comfortable with her disability.
I think the playwright’s point is that some people use disability as a shield from deeper emotion. When the doctor messes with the patient’s cozy little world, he creates more problems than he solves.
The real Dr. Mesmer died poor and discredited. In this play his best friend, Dr. Otto von Stoerk is the voice of reason and bridge between the medical establishment and Mesmer’s more far-out theories.
It’s a rather thankless role for Ken Kay, who was a stalwart at Caldwell for many years, and is now is executive director of the Burt Reynolds Institute for Theatre Training.
Even more thankless is the role of Dr. Mesmer’s patient Francisca Oesterlin, played by Jane Cortney as one of the doctor’s earlier conquest/cures.
I guess the heart of the problem is that Dr. Mesmer is a quack, and his speeches sound like so much poppycock. Why any woman would fall under this guy’s spell is the real mystery of this ornate, beautifully-costumed and designed but oddly unmoving period piece.
Tickets are $38 and $45. Call 561-241-7432 or visit

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Portait of a Wimpy Geek as Superhero

I loved "Scott Pilgrim vs the World." so did all three of my daughters. Here's what I wrote.

For a movie based on a graphic novel and video game, “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World” is awfully clever and entertaining.
Everybody’s favorite wimp, Michael Cera, plays the 22-year-old title character, a dreamy slacker who has no proper job but dreams of fame and fortune with his Toronto garage band, Sex Bob-omb.
In the band are guitarist Stephen Stills (Mark Webber) and drummer Kim Pine (Alison Pill).
If you know about rock culture, you know Stephen Stills as a famous guitarist, singer and songwriter. Equally famous is Canadian singer-guitarist Neil Young, who is referenced in Bryan Lee O’Malley (original story) and Michael Bacall's (screenwriter) script as Young Neil, Stephen’s roommate, played by Jeremy Simmons.
The plot is simplicity in itself. Scott encounters the girl of his dreams; a roller-blading, crazy hair dye delivery person named Ramona Flowers (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), and immediately falls for her.
This is despite the fact Scott already has a girlfriend, “Knives” Chau (Ellen Wong). Knives is only 17 and still in high school, and for that reason Scott gets razzed for robbing the cradle. His relationship is quite chaste however, and it is more a crush on Knives’ part.
Scott and Ramona are connected on some sort of intuitive, cosmic level, despite the fact Ramona is clearly out of Scott’s league.
There is a major roadblock to romantic happiness. Ramona has seven evil ex-boyfriends, and Scott must fight them all to win her hand.
And so the plot is basically an extended fight, with Scott facing a parade of challengers, with fight scenes enhanced by animation, graphics and video game visual and audio effects.
Now I can’t claim to be a part of video gaming, but I know a romantic underdog when I see one, and Michael Cera has that role down pat. The martial arts part is a lot harder to believe, but thanks to the magic of CG effects, Cera seems to rise (literally) to the occasion.
Credibility is not the strong suit for this or any comic book adventure. It’s all about fantasy, and director Edgar Wright blends sights, sounds, music and humor beautifully.
“Scott Pilgrim” is especially meaningful to anyone who has played in a band. I’ve been playing since I was an adolescent myself, and so have my daughters. I’m happy to report all three girls enjoyed this movie every bit as much as I did. A generation gap bridge as good as this does not come along often.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Ringo Starr at Seminole Hard Rock

Here is a piece I wrote for the Boca Raton Tribune. I haven't seen it online yet.
The photos are by Tom Craig.

By Skip Sheffield

Peace and Love.
That was the recurring theme for Ringo Starr’s July 15 visit with his 11th All-Starr Band to the Seminole Hard Rock Live in Hollywood.
In a pre-concert presentation, Starr presented a check for $197,500 to the Yele Haiti relief effort, administered through Hard Rock Charity partner WhyHunger.
“I grew up with the Tribe here when the Seminoles were underprivileged,” said Hollywood Tribe council member Max Osceola. “We got our first new shoes, clothes and education from a group of Ladies called Friends of the Seminoles. Today we are blessed. It is time to give back. The circle is complete.”
And so the upbeat, feel-good mood was set for former Beatle Ringo’s All-Starr Band concert, which featured Ringo singing, playing drums and bantering with his fans and sharing the stage and spotlighting a group of stellar musicians.
The standout players were guitarist Rick Derringer and multi-instrumentalist Edgar Winter. Informality and warmth are the hallmarks of Ringo Starr’s shows. He picks some of the best players available, and allows each his moment to shine.
Ohio-born Derringer is best known for his No. 1 1965 hit “Hang On Sloopy,” but he has moved far beyond that as solo artist and one of the best guitarists in America today.
Derringer first worked with Texas-born Edgar Winter and his older brother Johnny in the early 1970s, when the Edgar Winter Group had a string of hits.
Winter’s showpiece is the instrumental Frankenstein, which he plays on a synthesizer strapped around his next (the first to do so, he says) with additional solos on saxophone and trap drums.
Keyboardist Gary Wright was the only Brit other than Starr in an all-American lineup. He shone on his best-known “Dream Weaver.”
Wally Palmer is best known as singing front man of The Romantics of Detroit, Michigan. Of course he played his hits “Talking in Your Sleep” and “What I Like About You.”
Richard Page is better known as Mr. Mister, which had mid-1980s hits with “Broken Wings” and “Kyrie.”
Finally there is Gregg Bissonette, who has been Starr’s regular drummer since 2003. All the boys in the band harmonize vocally, and exceptionally well.
Ever modest of his musical talent, Ringo Starr admits he “Gets By With a Little Help From His Friends.” His fans can only hope there with be a 12th All-Starr Band. At age 70, like fellow surviving Beatle Paul McCartney, Ringo shows no sign of slowing down.
At the end of the tour Starr gave the trap drum he had been playing for display at the Hard Rock’s permanent collection. He also presented his limited edition artwork, which he has been creating on computer since 2005. His latest CD, “Why Love,” was released in January of 2010.
“What ever you choose, choose love,” go the lyrics from one of the songs he wrote for that album. “Peace and Love” was the slogan on hundreds of white plastic wristbands he threw to his fans. Who can possibly argue with that?

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

The Girl Who Played with Fire

“The Girl Who Played with Fire” is the second of a trilogy that began with “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” and ends with ‘The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets’ Nest.”
Though not as grippingly suspenseful nor as sexy as “Tattoo,” “Fire” continues to unravel the mysteries of one Lisbeth, the tattooed, fire-playing girl of the title.
Lisbeth is the creation of the late investigative magazine journalist, Stieg Larsson, whose alter ego most likely is Mikael Blomkvist, played by noted Swedish actor Michael Nyqvist.
Mikael has not seen Lisbeth in the year since he first encountered the computer genius hacking into his account. Lisbeth has kept tabs on her onetime lover by cloning the hard drive of the computer he uses at Millennium magazine.
After a short stay in prison on trumped up charges, Mikael is back to his crusading ways. The latest expose in his magazine concerns a sex-trafficking operation with underage girls. The co-authors are Dag Svensson (Hans Christian Thulin) and his girlfriend Mia (Jennie Silfverhjelm), who is doing the research as part of her doctorial thesis. The list of Johns includes some very powerful people in Swedish government, law and business.
Monitoring the project from afar with great interest is Lisbeth, who lives in a fancy apartment with her girlfriend Miriam (Yasmine Garbi).
Before the story can be published Dag and Mia are murdered. Shortly thereafter Lisbeth’s legal guardian, Nils Burman (Peter Andersson) is also murdered. Lisbeth is implicated by circumstantial evidence in all three murders and her face is plaster all over the tabloids.
It is up to Mikael to help Lisbeth clear her name. Unlike the first film, Lisbeth and Mikael are not physically together. Mikael is almost like a bit player, with the focus shifted to Lisbeth, who has becomes like a Swedish Wonder Woman, fighting, boxing and throttling guys three times her size. Poor, abused Lisbeth discovers some unhappy truths about her past even more terrible than in the first film.
In all, “Fire” is a worthy sequel. Now I need to read the book.

Mont Blanc Comes to Summerfest

Mont Blanc Chamber Orchestra is magnifique!
The Orchestra visited FAU in Boca Raton Sunday, July 11 for a 2010 Summerfest concert sponsored by philanthropist Madelyn Savarick and Symphony of the Americas.
The whole merry band flew in Panama the next day, but there is still one more chance to catch them: at 8 p.m. Wednesday, July 21 at Broward Center for the Arts.
This is the 19th season for Summerfest, founded and directed by maestro James Brooks-Bruzzese. The really cool thing about Summerfest is the musicians are generally much younger than you would see at a typical classical music concert.
Mont Blanc is in the French Alps, and that’s where Lorenzo Turchi-Floria founded the chamber orchestra in 2005.
Turchi-Floris is a conductor, concert pianist and composer of note. He treated the Boca audience with an American premiere of his composition, “Tempo di Concerto for Piano and String Orchestra." The piece is rather frantic in it allegro passage, and technically quite demanding, both for the pianist and the players keeping up with him.
The musicians of Mont Blanc are not only young. Some of them are quite beautiful.
Laszlo Pap is not from Mont Blanc (he is Hungarian), but he is a world class violinist and frequent collaborator with Symphony of the Americas, led by Brooks-Bruzzese.
Pap was a featured soloist on two stunning show-off pieces: Paganini’s “Witches Dance’ and Sarasate’s “Introduction and Tarantella.”
Marilyn Maingart is a virtuoso of the flute and one lovely lady in the bargain. A frequent soloist with SOA, she charmed on Sarasate’s “Zigeunerweisen Op. 20” and Telemann’s “Suite in A Minor for Flute, Strings and Cembalo.”
There’s much more to the show than just these titles, and if you are lucky you’ll here two encores by the whimsical, humorous American composer, Leroy Anderson. The entire concert is available on a CD recording.
Tickets may be reserved by calling (954) 462-0222 or 954-545-0088 or by visiting

Friday, July 9, 2010

Bratt Boys in the Barrio

LA Mission

“LA Mission” is an entirely different family film that is about family, but not necessarily for the family.
Benjamin Bratt stars (and co-produces) and his brother Peter wrote and directed the story of a single father’s difficult relationship with his teenage son.
Benjamin Bratt normally plays handsome leading man types, but for this ethic fable he grew a Van Dyke beard and covered his body with what I hope are temporary tattoos to play Che Rivera, ruler of the roost in his tough, poor Hispanic Mission District of San Francisco.
Che (his first name is probably no coincidence) is an ex-con and recovering alcoholic who found Jesus while in prison. Now he drives a bus and lectures young hoodlums on how to behave. His big passion is his “low rider,” a beautiful, ornately-painted 1941 Cherolet. Every weekend Che and his fellow low riders perform a very slow parade through town.
Che is not exactly close to his only son Jes (Jeremy Ray Valdez), who does not share Che’s religious fervor, his self-discipline or love of old cars. Not long after the arrival of a sexy new neighbor, an African-American healthnik named Lena (Erika Alexander), Che discovers a suggestive photo of Jes with his Anglo boyfriend Jordan (Max Rosenak).
If this weren’t bad enough, it is not long before someone spray-paints “faggot” on Che’s garage door.
Che is homophobic not just because of his “mas macho” Latin machismo; he feels homosexuality is an insult to God. “LA Mission” is the long (almost two hours) tortuous road to reconciliation between father and son, and a hard-fought moral lesson to a man who has always held rigid beliefs.
This is perhaps the most powerful performance Benjamin Bratt has ever delivered, and it is extraordinarily brave because it dares criticize a very proud culture and a very powerful Catholic Church.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Delightful "Despicable Me"

“Despicable Me” is the third in a trifecta of fun family films that are brightening the summer of 2010.
This CGI-animated action movie spoof has the added advantage of being a one-off original, with a distinctive French flair.
While it is not as emotionally moving as “Toy Story 3-D,” it is lighter and much funnier than that sequel and superior in every way to the middling “Shrek Forever.”
The title character of “Despicable Me,” Gru, is voiced by Steve Carrell with a vaguely Russian accent.
Gru is further proof Carrell is a man of prodigious talent. Though we never see the actor, he makes us laugh and at the same time feel sympathy.
Gru prides himself on being the world’s nastiest villain. He loves to freeze people simply to cut to the front of a line. Recently he stole the Statue of Liberty (the small one, from Las Vegas, he concedes to his horde of yellow cylindrical Minions), but lately he has been slipping.
Gru has been upstaged by a mysterious new super villain who has stolen the Great Pyramid of Egypt in broad daylight.
That would be a whipper-snapper who calls himself Vector (Jason Segal), a bespectacled nerd with a weakness for video games and Girl Scout cookies.
To reclaim his title, Gru plans to steal the Shrink Ray that enabled Vector to steal the pyramid. Then he will fly to the moon, shrink it to softball size, and bring it home as his trophy.
While Gru thinks he is the world’s baddest, meanest, smartest villain, he is really none of the above. The brains of the outfit is his chief scientist, Dr. Nefario (British comedian Russell Brand) and his brawn is the legion of tiny, blindly loyal Minions.
As for the bad part, Gru’s shaky façade crumbles away when he meets three adorable orphan girls: Margo (Miranda Cosgrove), Edith (Dana Gaier) and Elsie (Agnes).
How corny is that, right? Yes, it’s corny, but it’s classy corn that openly spoofs and even refers to Orphan Annie from the stage musical and the dread orphanage matron, Miss Hannigan.
In this version, by Sergio Pablos and Ken Daurio, Miss Hannigan is called Miss Hattie (Kristin Wiig affecting a syrupy Southern voice).
To steal the Shrink Ray, Gru adopts the girls and enlists them to unwittingly help him to gain entrance to Vector’s fortress.
Gru’s fumbling efforts to thwart Vector are reminiscent of both Wile E. Coyote and Mad’s Spy vs. Spy. Needless to say, there are many comic complications to Gru’s nefarious plot, and many pitfalls (“I said Cookie-Bot not Boogie-Bot!”), not the least of which is the girls.
Underneath it all Gru is one big softie of course, with a severe inferiority complex due to his frosty, disapproving mother (Julie Andrews).
“Despicable Me” looks great in 3-D, and while it has many thrills and chills, any menace is strictly for comic effect. This is a movie parents can enjoy with even their youngest children

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Tilda gets Torrid in "I Am Love"

The week’s big releases are “Twilight Saga: Eclipse” and “The Last of the Airbenders.”
While “Twilight” will probably take on a load of money from loyal fans, I just don’t get the fascination with teenage vampires and werewolves, and at more than two hours in length, life is just too short.
The same goes with the elemental fantasy of M. Night Shymalian’s latest attempt to enthrall us with science fiction.
That leaves me with the Italian film “I Am Love;” a pretentious title if there ever was one.
“I Am Love” is a labor of love for star Tilda Swinton, who also produced the film.
Swinton is Emma, Russian-born head of the household of the wealthy Recchi family of Milan, Italy. Patriarch Edoardo Recci Sr. (Gabriele Ferzetti) is having a birthday, and he announces he is handing over the family textile business to his son Tancredi (Pippo Delbono), Emma’s husband.
However, his grandson Edoardo Jr., called Edo (Flavio Parenti) will have joint control, while Edo’s brother Gianluca is left out of the deal.
So far it doesn’t sound terribly interesting, and it is not. “I Am Love” is once of those self-consciously artsy films with beautiful setups and long silences, directed with gravity by Luca Guadagnino.
There is intrigue in the Recchi clan, however. Emma’s daughter Betta has fallen in love with a woman. More scandalous still, Emma has fallen for Antonio (Edoardo Gabbriellini), Edo’s handsome chef friend who wants to start a restaurant with him.
Trust Emma and Antonio to heat up the kitchen and bedroom, and expect more than consternation when Emma’s mother-in-law (the great Marisa Berenson) finds out what she’s up to.
So “I Am Love” is really about the breakup of a family Italian-style, with plenty of food, sex and nudity. If that appeals to you, I say bon appétit.

Dr. Ron Wilk into First Decade of Second Life as Novelist

“There are no second acts in American lives,” novelist F. Scott Fitzgerald famously argued.
Ron Wilk would beg to differ. Wilk, 65, has been on the second part of his life for a full decade now, and things are looking up.
The first part of his life culminated in his becoming Dr. Ron Wilk, neurologist and chief resident at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City, and later in private practice in Boca Raton.
Around 10 years ago Dr. Ron Wilk came tumbling down a flight of stairs. The resulting injuries were sufficiently severe to convince him to retire from medical practice and reassess his life.
“As a neurologist I knew the diffuse spinal injuries would make it difficult for lifting, bending and twisting, all of which a neurologist must do,” he explains. “Yes, I went through depression, self-incrimination and regret. Once I got through that, I realized I had to do something with the rest of my life. While I was in law school I discovered I had a facility with writing. Writing is not hard for me. Getting published is more challenging.”
Ron Wilk is now a novelist. “Papal Rogues” (Langdon Street Press, Minneapolis) is his first novel in print, but it is not the first thing he has written.
“I wrote two novels and sent out hundreds of query letters to publishers,” he relates. “When no one responded positively, I created a web site and published them myself. I have had over 950,000 hits so far.”
Almost a million hits, but Ron Wilk has yet to earn a penny.
He hopes that will change with “Papal Rogues,” a timely page-turner about a New Jersey computer hacker who dies under suspicious circumstances. This inspires his Scottish Internet buddy and fellow hacker to seek the truth, and discover shadowy, treacherous figures tied to corporate America, the U.S. Military, and certain rogue elements within The Vatican.
“America is incredibly vulnerable to cyber-terrorism- more so than most other counties,” Wilk asserts. “We are so dependent on computers and the Internet for everything we do. When the Pentagon can get hacked, we’ve got a problem.”
The prime hacker is the late American Michael Squire who relished the challenge of hacking into allegedly invincible web sites.
Evidently Michael was a little too good, because soon after he hacked into the web site of a very rich and powerful organization, he was found dead of an apparent drug overdose in his New Jersey bedroom.
Since Squire eschewed drugs and didn’t even smoke cigarettes, his Scottish friend, Calder McMonagle is highly suspicious. Calder, who worked for the same company creating viruses and their cure is so suspicious he withdraws his life savings and books an airline ticket to Los Angeles to investigate for himself.
“Papal Rogues” is full of rapidly-unfolding intrigues in a one-off world that resembles our own. The starting point for Calder’s investigation is the sinister Recton Corporation, which hired both Michael Squire and Calder McMonagle.
The next clue leads to Aspen Aerospace, a company with U.S. military contracts. Aspen’s most intriguing project is an invention that bends light waves in such a manner as to render material objects invisible.
It is payments made to fund that expensive invisibility project that ultimately leads to a Chicago Cardinal of the Catholic Church with close ties to the Vatican.
In his perilous pursuit of the mystery, Calder encounters two “femmes fatale;” one a hired assassin named Simone and the other a 19-year-old computer genius named Brenda. Along with the hot button issues, there are erotic diversions.
“Sex sells,” Wilk says with a smile and a shrug. “I actually had more sex in the story, but my editor advised me to tone it down.”
As it is “Papal Rogues” is racy enough to keep the armchair voyeur satisfied while fulfilling the role of gripping whodunit.
Wilk is not resting on his laurels. He has just finished a fourth novel, a psychological thriller, and he is working on a possible sequel to “Papal Rogues.” On the practical side, he has an online blog about how to deal with the second part of anyone’s life.
Go to for more information.