Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Spectacular Cirque "Holidaze" at Broward Center

A Spectacular “Holidaze” Show at Broward Center

By Skip Sheffield

“Cirque Dreams Holidaze” is a dazzling spectacle of sound, light and human feats of derring-do at the Broward Center for the Arts, onstage through Sunday Jan. 1.
This “Cirque” (French for circus) is not to be confused with the much larger, better-known Cirque du Soleil with headquarters in Montreal. Producer-director Neil Goldberg creates his shows right here in Florida in a large warehouse-studio in Pompano Beach. Like the French-Canadian company, Goldberg’s Cirque is a circus with no animals or animal tricks. It is a strictly human show with an international cast of 30 phenomenal acrobats, jugglers, balancing acts, trapeze artist, gymnasts, trick bicyclists, dancers, roller-skaters- you name it. This is a kitchen sink of diversity, wildly costumed and brilliantly lit, with a thunderous recorded musical accompaniment and live singers. In fact the music is a little too thunderous for those with sensitive ears.
It’s been a good ten years since I first met and interviewed Neil Goldberg. The show he produces now is vastly improved over what I saw a decade ago. There is only the barest thread of a plot. It’s Christmas Eve, and through some magic all the tree ornaments and toys spring to life. There are three main characters who sing and thread the acts together: Angel (Hannah Hammond), the Ice Queen (Traci Blair) and author Dickens (Jamarice Daughtry) all from the USA. Each of these singers is powerful in his or her way. I was especially impressed with Daughtry’s vocal range. I was less impressed with the original music by Jill Winters and David Scott, but it is lively, to say the least. There are several familiar cover tunes, including “Jingle Bell Rock,” “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree” and a particularly lovely version of “O Holy Night.”
The cast includes performance artists from Brazil, China, Ethiopia, Latvia, Mexico, Russia, Spain and the Ukraine. Each act has a specialty and special moments guaranteed to make you gasp. If you enjoy toned bodies performing incredible tricks, this is a show for you regardless of the season.
Tickets are $29.25 to $69.25, and well worth it. Call 954-462-0222 or go to


Friday, December 23, 2011

Holiday Movies Galore

By Skip Sheffield

We are heading into the home stretch of the holiday film season. There are so many films coming out, I couldn’t possibly get to them all, but here are a few notables.
I belong to two film critics groups: Florida Film Critics Circle and Southeastern Film Critics Association. Because of this, I am invited to advance screenings and some of the studios provide DVDs for viewing at home.
SEFCA asked each of its 47 members to submit a top ten favorite film list. I voted “The Artist,’ which opens Dec. 23, No. 1. The rest in descending order were Melancholia at 2, Moneyball, 3, War Horse 4, My Week With Marilyn 5, Descendants 6, The Muppets 7, J. Edgar 8, We Bought a Zoo 9 and Young Adult 10.
The rest of the SEFCA writers voted The Descendants No. 1, followed by The Artist 2, Hugo 3, Moneyball 4, Tree of Life 5, Drive 6, Midnight in Paris 7, Win Win 8, War Horse 9 and The Help 10.
George Clooney was voted Best Actor for Descendants while Meryl Streep got Best Actress for Iron Lady.
Christopher Plummer won Best Supporting actor for Beginners and Janet McTeer was Best Supporting actress for Albert Nobbs.
The Help won Best Ensemble and Martin Scorsese was Best Director for Hugo. Good ol’ Woody Allen got Best Original Screenplay for Midnight in Paris.
The very funny film Rango was voted Best Animated Film and the very strange The Tree of Life got Best Cinematography.
It will be very interesting to see who scores at Academy Award time. I suspect The Artist will do better because A: it’s a masterpiece and B: it is all about Film.

The Artist is the first major silent, black-and-white film in more than 30 years. The production crew is French, but the film is set in Hollywood in the late 1920s at the ending of the silent film era. The film is written and directed by Michael Hazanavicius and it co-stars his wife Berenice Bejo as aspiring starlet Peppy Miller, who rides the coattails of a married movie star named George Valentin (Jean Dujardin) to stardom.
George is a dashing Rudolph Valentino- Douglas Fairbanks kind of action star. George is at the peak of his stardom and wealth in 1927, but all that is about to change because talkies are coming and George thinks silent film is the only pure art film form.
“I am an Artist not a puppet,” he declares to ruthless studio head Al Zimmer (John Goodman). George is so convinced silent film is the only way to go that he invests his life savings in a silent epic.
It is not hard to guess how this will go. What makes The Artist so great is that it tells its poignant story through body language and facial expression, not words. Minimal titles are used, and there is a bit of sound at strategic moments. At its core The Artist is a love story for and about film, and it is also a romantic love and redemption story; not just about a woman for a failing man, but of a servant’s devotion to his longtime employer. For that role of Clifton, George’s butler-chauffeur, James Cromwell will surely be recognized.

“Iron Lady”

If you like British history and great acting, I recommend Iron Lady. America’s most versatile actress, Meryl Streep crawls right into the skin of indomitable British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. If you don’t care for British history, you may find it on the dull side.

“Adventures of Tintin” and “War Horse”

Yet to come is Steven Spielberg’s Adventures of Tintin and War Horse. I have not seen the former, but I have read great things. The latter opens on Christmas Day and I assure you it is a most wonderful cinematic present. Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!

Amy Glazer at FAU for "Charlie

By Skip Sheffield

Filmmaker Amy Glazer will appear in person after the 7:35 screening of her film Seducing Charlie Barker at FAU’s Living Room Theaters for a Q&A.
“I always enjoy speaking with audience members,” said Glazer recently. “We have had a great reception for seducing Charlie Barker. It has been a labor of love and kind of a family affair.”
Amy Glazer and brother Mitch, a film producer, grew up on Miami Beach and became interested in the performing arts there.
“Seducing Charlie Barker” is a dark comedy and cautionary tale about a struggling New York actor who falls into an ill-advised affair with a beautiful, sexy, extremely ambitious young woman.
Charlie Barker (Steven Barker Turner) is married to Stella (Daphne Zuniga) who is called a “frigid Nazi’ by her nemesis, but in fact is understandably at the end of her rope as the only support for her increasingly erratic, disloyal husband.
When Charlie is approach by the aforementioned gorgeous, seductive woman at a party, he is just weak and vulnerable enough to fall under her spell.
Charlie’s best friend Lewis (David Wilson Barnes) had set his sights on Clea (Heather Gordon), a manipulative blond goddess, but heedless Charlie falls for her anyway. It is the first of a number of betrayals in a downward spiral of a morbidly self-destructive man.
“Charlie Barker” is based on a play by Theresa Rebeck. Director Amy Glazer worked with all four of the principal cast members prior to making the film.
“The play was called The Scene, and we first did it at the Humana Festival of 2006,” Glazer revealed. “Theater is my first love, but when a patron saw our production, he said ‘That could be a movie,’ and he signed on as producer.”
Because she had worked with the two women in California and the men at the Humana Festival in Kentucky, Glazer said they developed a kind of shorthand.
“It was kind of like The Brady Bunch,” she says with a chuckle. “It wasn’t that hard to jump into shooting, even though we had to shoot out of sequence. I really lucked out with this cast.”
Heather Gordon interrupted her MFA studies at Harvard to do the film. Daphne Zuniga had to work around a busy acting schedule.
Glazer says the film is more a commentary on shallow contemporary values rather than an indictment of a vain, weak-willed man.
“Clea steals the show the way she contradicts herself,” says Glazer. “In real life she would be a studio president one day.”

A Heartwarming “Zoo”

If it’s heartwarming you want this season, you won’t go wrong with “We Bought a Zoo.’
“Zoo” is based on the real-life zoo story of British journalist Benjamin Mee, who used his life savings to rescue a dilapidated zoo and its 200 creatures from destruction.
The American version is by writer-director Cameron Crowe and stars Matthew Damon as Benjamin Mee.
Damon is just the right all-around good guy to play this selfless, brave soul. Thomas Haden Church is likewise right on target as his skeptical older brother.
Scarlett Johansson is less likely a prospect for a tough, determined zoo manager, but she tones down her natural allure and turns up her determination as Kelly Foster.
Yes there are cute kids and many funny, unpredictable animals and even a huffing, puffing-type villain, but in this holiday season, you can’t beat this for family fare.

A Hard-Hitting “Girl With Dragon Tattoo

“Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” is most definitely not family fare, but it is not a recycling of the hit 2009 Swedish mystery-thriller, but a re-visioning by American director David Fincher. If anything, this version is more shocking, harder-hitting and more understandably a horror film, starring Lisbeth Salander (Rooney Mara) as Stieg Larsson’s angry, tough, yet vulnerable computer-hacking hero.Daniel Craig is a more animated, appealing version of crusading investigative journalist, Mikael Blomkvist. If you like it unflinching hard, dark and tough, this is your cup of hemlock.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Junkers to Creampuffs Vehicle List

Back when I was in my early 30s I had the presence of mind to make a list of every vehicle I had owned, however briefly. My first motor vehicle I built myself with an old Briggs & Stratton lawnmower engine I mounted to a toy car Mike Welch gave me. I was 12. One day I mustered the courage (stupidity?) to drive the thing on city streets from our house in Lake Floresta, through Royal Oak Hills, down Camino Real to Dixie Highway and thence to the west entrance of Royal Palm Yacht & Country Club. I waved at the guard without stopping and pulled up at my friend Chip Haeberle's house.
Chip could hardly believe my foolhardy feat. The feat became even more foolhardy when I decided to rev up the old engine, which made quite a racket with just a straight pipe. Bang! You guessed it: a rod right through the block. I don't remember if I got a ride from Chip's dad, or if I had to walk all the way home.
The day I turned 14 I took and passed my restricted driver licence test, driving our family's huge 1958 Chevy station wagon. Yes, I even parallel-parked that sucker.
A restricted license meant I could buy a motorbike with 5 brake horsepower or less and ride it during daylight hours. That very same day I bought a used Sears Allstate Puch mo-ped, made in Austria. I paid $80. I was off and running.
The next year at 15 I bought my first car: a non-running 1931 Ford Model A coupe. It took me a whole year to get it going, but by my 16th birthday I was licensed and legal, even if the car was often unwilling.
It's been like that ever since: one misadventure after another. I reached my peak of wheeler-dealings my last two years of college in Lakeland, which was a paradise of old iron. One one hand I hung out with egghead intellectuals and self-styled rebels and poets. On the other hand I was down with the good ol' boy gearheads and rednecks. My friend D.C. Hall, a rich boy from Palm Beach, and I had a routine down pat. He was Shorty and I was Slim and we could drawl with the best of them. It was great fun until one fateful day when D.C. lost control of his 1966 Corvette and smashed into a railway underpass. He survived with two broken legs and many other injuries. So did his Husky dog, who like his master was fitted plaster casts for his broken front legs.
So here is that list: 79 4-wheelers and 35 2-wheelers. Lord willing I hope it continues to grow.

1. 1931 Model A Ford coupe (pd $175 1962, sold $325 1964)

2. 1929 Oldsmobile 3-window coupe (pd $60, sold $175)

3. 1948 Jeepster phaeton (pd $225 1966, sold $400 1982)

4. 1951 Hudson 4-door sedan (pd $75)

5. 1929 Model A 2-door sedan (pd $60, sold $110)

6. 1940 Ford 2-door sedan ('53 Merc engine) (pd. $75, sold $125)

7. 1940 Ford 4-door sedan (parts car, pd $10)

8. 1940 Ford 3-quarter-ton panel truck (pd $30, sold $150)

9. 1920 Model T touring (body only, free)

10. 1950 Willys Wagon (at FSC)

11. 1951 Willys wagon (parts)

12. 1940 Chevrolet 2-door sedan (pd $150)

13. 1946 Chevrolet 3-quarter-ton pickup (pd $275)

14. 1935 Studebaker 2-door sedan (briefly, free)

15. 1948 Plymouth 2-door coach (traded for '46 Chev p.u.)

16. 1948 Plymouth 4-door sedan (parts, pd. $25)

17. 1965 Corvair Corsa, 4-speed, 4-carb (pd. $1,300)

18. 1939 Cadillac Model 75 limousine (pd $275)

19. 1946 Cadillac convertible (pd $50)

20. 1948 MG TC roadster (pd $400, sold $700)

21. 1933 Plymouth 4-door sedan (pd $75)

22. 1961 MGA 1600 roadster (pd $1,000)

23. 1971 MBG roadster (pd $1,500)

24. 1972 MGB roadster (pd $1,400)

25. 1964 Triumph TR-4 roadster (pd $500)

26. 1971 Triumph TR-6 roadster (pd $1,700)

27. 1956 Hillman Husky estate car (RHD, free, sold $750)

28. 1969 Fiat Spyder 850 roadster (pd $175)

29. 1965 Dodge convertible (the Red Sled)

30. 1961 Ford Falcon wagon (Jim Williams, pd $75)

31. 1953 Chevrolet 4-door sedan (co-owner with Mike)

32. 1936 Buick Model 40 4-door (co-owner with Mike)

33. 1955 Chevrolet 4-door station wagon (pd $150, trade toward '57 Ford)

34. 1964 Chevy II station wagon (pd $140, totalled)

35. 1957 Ford 2-door Ranch Wagon (312 T-bird engine, stick. pd $175, totalled)

36. 1963 Chevrolet Bel Air coupe (free, Fred Bode). Gave it back.

37. 1967 Volvo 122S 2-door sedan (pd $200, sold $700)

38. 1971 Volvo P-1800 E coupe (pd $1,600, sold $2,500)

39. 1968 Pontiac Le Mans convertible (350 V-8 Hurst 3-speed, pd $900, sold $1,100)

40. 1971 Camaro (Corvette V-8 4-speed) (pd $700, sold $1,100)

41. 1970 Volkswagen bug, sunroof (pd $500)

42. 1977 Pinto Youth Wagon (pd $390)

43. 1965 Chevy II Nova wagon (pd $1,200, sold $1,350)

44. 1978 Honda Accord (new)

45. 1979 Honda Prelude

46. 1982 Volvo 4-door sedan

47. 1981 Volvo 240 wagon

48. 1986 Volvo 740 GLE wagon

49. 1952 Willys Wagon (at Hillsboro)

50. 1971 Toyota Corolla 2-door (Battered Bruce, pd $175)

51. 1968 Ford pick-up (the beater). Mercury OHV V-8

52. 1970 Ford Eonoline Van (Mondo I) pd $200

53. 1969 Ford Econoline Van (Mondo II, 302 V-8 stick) pd $400, sold $275

54. 1971 Ford Econoline 300 Van (Mondo III) pd $250

55. 1979 GMC Vandura 10 (Mondo IV) Pd. $800, sold $550

56. 1990 Volvo 745 GL wagon- sold $2,600

57. 1972 P 1800 ES Wagon (pd $1,300, sold $1,100)

58. 1957 Chev 4-door V-8 (pd $400, sold $650)

59. 1985 Mazda RX-7 (pd. $1,000- stolen Feb. 2000)

60. 1993 Volvo 940 wagon (pd $9,000)

61. 1954 Ford station wagon, V-8 stick. (free)- sold $1,200 April, 2002

62. 1982 Mazda 626 convert. (pd. $1,800, sold $600)

63. 1986 Volkswagen Jetta (pd. $600, sold $500)

64. 1974 MGB roadster (pd. $700. sold $1,200)

65. 1972 Dodge Monaco wagon (The Whale) pd. $300 Sold. 11-10-2000 $750

66. 1988 VW Jetta GL (pd. $850, sold $800)

67. 1988 VW Cabriolet (pd. $1,000, sold $800)

68. 1984 Chevy S-10 pickup (free, sold $100 Dec. 17, 2001)

69. 1989 Mustang convertible 75K original (paid $1,500 March 2002), sold $1,200 Jan. 2010

70. 1985 Toyota Supra, Canadian edition- given to Mary Ruth- sold $600

71. 1993 Ford Mustang coupe (paid $1,300), sold $900 (Laura)

72. 1992 Ford Tempo 83K original Paid $1,600 (Laura, wrecked)

73. 1998 Nissan Sentra- paid $3,000- for Anna

74. 1984 Datsun 300 ZX, paid $50 May 9, 2004

75. 1996 Volkswagen Jetta- Laura's car- paid $3,000 Nov. 15, 2004- demolished

76. 1993 Mazda MX-6- Laura's car- paid $3,550 Feb. 2005- sold $2,300 March, 2006

77. 2006 Toyota Highlander, Lynda's car, bought new $22,000

78. 1996 Honda Accord 4-door, Laura's car, paid $800

79: 1990 Mazda Miata, paid $3,600 Jan McArt, Jan. 2010

Homemade Go-Cart (1960-1961)


1. 1959 Puch Allstate Mo-Ped (pd $80 1961)

2. 1958 Cushman Super Eagle (pd $75 1962)

3. 1962 Ducati Bronco (pd $175 1966)

4. 1959 Harley Hummer 125 cc

5. 1968 Suzuki 125 cc

6. 1966 Honda 160 (pd $160)

7. 1969 Honda 350 (pd $350)

8. 1971 Honda 360 (pd $75)

9. 1970 Triumph 650 cc (pd. $600)

10. 1972 Honda 750

11. 1979 Honda 750

12. 1981 Yamaha 650 Maxim

13. 1983 Honda Magna 750

14. 1985 Suzuki Madura 700

15. 1983 Honda Shadow 750

16. 1985 Yamaha Virago 700 (pd $1,900)

17. 1970-71 Honda CB 350 (pd $50)

18. 1990 Harley-Davidson Sportster 1200 (Pd $5,000, sold $6,000)

19. 1994 Suzuki Intruder 800 (pd $4,450, sold $3,000)

20. 1967 Honda 305 Scrambler (pd $140 White River Junction, VT, sold $400)

21. 1961 Triumph Bonneville chopper (pd. $800, sold $700)

22. 1971 Norton Commando 750 (pd. $2,200, sold July '00 $2,700)

23. 1978 Yamaha XS 650 (pd. $375, sold $500)

24. 1982 Kawasaki 1000 (titled as 1981, pd. $1,600, sold $1,500)

25. 1988 Suzuki Intruder 750 (pd. $700, sold July '00 $2,000)

26. 1979 Yamaha 750 Triple (Pd. $915 in June, 2000, sold $800 July 2002)

27. 1982 Honda Sabre 750 V-4 (pd. $1,200 July 27, 2002, sold $900 March 2003)

28. 1978 Kawasaki KZ 750 (pd. $78 March 1, 2003, traded in on '92 Suzuki)

29. 1992 Suzuki 500 E 2-cylinder (pd. $900, Motorcycle Mike)

30. 1975 Yamaha 650 (pd. $350, E. Randolph, VT, sold 2005 $500 Jack Zink)

31. 1975 Norton Commando 850 (pd. $1,000, plus Suzuki trade, sold May 2009 $6,500)

32. 1975 Honda 750-4 Super Sport (Pd. $800 Stuart FL Nov. 8 2003, sold $1,500 Feb. 11, 2005)

33. 1966 Honda Dream 150 (Free from Marty, Oct. 7, 2004, sold Oct. 8, 2005 $900).

34. 1981 Suzuki 650 4-cylinder. Paid $750, sold to brother John.

35. 1985 Honda Magna 65 V-4 1100, bought Nov. 25, 2008.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Butch Cassidy Rides Again in “Blackthorn”

By Skip Sheffield

What if Butch Cassidy did not die in a hail of bullets in 1908 in Bolivia?
That is the simple high concept of “Blackthorn,” a film that picks up years after the alleged death of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.
The story, written by Miguel Barros, begins in 1927 with Cassidy, born Robert LeRoy Parker in 1866, living as James Blackthorn (Sam Shepard) in a small Bolivian town with his much-younger girlfriend Yana (Magaly Solier).
As so often happens in later life, Butch gets a hankering to return to his homeland to see friends and family. So he withdraws his life savings from the local band, and sets off on horseback. Butch doesn’t get very far before he is ambushed by a young man who needs his horse. In the scuffle Butch shoots the young man and his horse runs off, money and all.
For an outlaw Butch is an old softie. He learns the young man is named Eduardo Apodaca and he is from Spain. Like Butch he is on the run because he has embezzled the equivalent of $50,000 from a mining company. Eduardo says if you help me I’ll help you, and we’ll split the loot.
So begins an unlikely friendship. Director Mateo Gil often flashes back to the past of Butch’s heyday as bank and train-robber. The younger Butch is played by Nikolai Coster-Waldau and Padraic Delaney plays the Sundance Kid.
It is kind of ironic the American myth of the Wild West has been recycled by two Spanish guys in South America. I have a soft spot for Westerns, and the scenery looks great, so I don’t mind.
Sam Shepard is a better playwright than actor, but he certainly looks the part of a grizzled yet still virile hero. There are certainly worse ways to spend an hour and a half.

Two and a half stars

A Sour and dark “Young Adult:”

Like your comedy dark and sour? One “Young Adult,” coming up.
Charlize Theron stars as eternal prom queen and spoiled princess Mavis Gary.
Mavis has made a living writing fairy tale romances for young readers, but her series is winding down and her marriage has ended. What is a 37-year-old girl to do?
For Mavis it is a return to past glories in her small hometown of Mercury, Minnesota- or so she thinks. Specifically, Mavis wants to win back her high school sweetheart, Buddy Slade (Patrick Wilson). No matter that Buddy is happily married and has just become a father, Mavis thinks she can lure him away from his “trapped existence” with Beth (Elizabeth Reaser).
In reality Beth is way cooler than Mavis ever will be. She even plays drums in a girl band.
If Mavis had any sense she would consider Matt Freehauf (Patton Oswalt), the crippled, bitter loser who has adored her since high school. Mavis is a fool. She just doesn’t realize it.
“Young Adult” is written by Diablo Cody and directed by Jason Reitman, the same team that created “Juno.” Leave it to Diablo to find the humor in teenage pregnancy or a woman so vain and obnoxious her beauty disappears before your eyes. For gorgeous Charlize Theron that is a powerful bit of acting.

“Shame” on the Sex Addict

It’s hard to pity a sex addict. Likewise it is hard to embrace the character of Brandon Sullivan, a Manhattan junior executive who is obsessed with sex of all kinds regardless of the consequences.
The role is played by Michael Fassbender, an intense Irish actor who previously teamed with British writer-director Steve McQueen with “Hunger,” about a hunger-striker.
Brandon has a way with women. He can seduce a total stranger in minutes, as is so graphically depicted onscreen. Brandon gets no joy from his conquests, but he is helpless to stop.
“Shame” is the first mainstream movie rated NC-17 since “Midnight Cowboy,” and it is much more gritty and graphic than that rather idealized fable of friendship. “Shame” is exclusively playing the Gateway Theater, which specializes in films you are unlikely to see in the neighborhood multiplex. If you can steel yourself to the sad spectacle of a man destroying himself and anyone close to him, you will appreciate the incredible performance of Carey Mulligan as his equally-damaged sister.

Sheffield Brothers Band circa 1990. Mark is the smiling guy down front.

By Skip Sheffield

How do pastors, priests and rabbis console the inconsolable?

I pondered that question as I listened to Pastor Forrest “Buddy” Watkins, who was officiating at the funeral Dec. 17, 2011 or our dear friend Mark Winans. Mark was only 56-year-old. He was loved by so many the chapel was overflowing and standing-room-only.
Buddy Watkins, 89, had known Mark since Mark was a child in the “King’s Kids” choir of his Baptist church in West Palm Beach. That’s where Mark first started playing piano. I never knew that about him.
I guess there were a lot of things I could never know about Mark, although he was a friend of 30 years and a band mate of 25. I know there were a lot of people thinking the same thing. What went wrong? Why did I not see the signs? How did I fail him?
Grieving is for the survivors. In a way it is feeling sorry for ourselves. Mark is out of his pain.
Pain is a part of life. Sometimes it is the only way we know we are alive. There are many things I will never understand; but there is one thing I know for certain: life is precious. I have a rather special perspective on this because of something that happened to me at age 7. I survived a near-death experience and lived to tell about it. I learned on that day that miracles do happen. One can never give up hope, but even as life ebbs away, peace comes. It is called “the peace that passeth all understanding.”
So I know in my heart Mark is at peace. We are the ones who have the problems, but we will work through them. The pain may never end for Mark’s widow Donna, his daughter Lindsay and the rest of his family, but over time it will lessen. Life without pain is not life at all. To live in one’s memory is to live forever.
I know I could never be a pastor because I have no easy platitudes. I am not 100 percent certain about anything. I am in no position to judge or even give reliable advice. Life is fully of mystery, and that is what makes it so fascinating. I prefer it that way.
So I salute you men and women of the cloth. You soldier on even though you may have doubts of your own, and somehow you make us feel a little more… not exactly better, but more at peace.
Rest in peace brother Mark.

Monday, December 5, 2011

"Into the Abyss" of Life and Death

“Into the Abyss” a Documentary on Death

By Skip Sheffield

More people are executed in Texas than any other state in the union. Not surprisingly, German filmmaker Werner Herzog set his death penalty documentary, “Into the Abyss,” in Conroe, Texas.
The first person we meet is the prison chaplain, Rev. Richard Lopez.
“Why does God allow capital punishment,” he wonders out loud. “Life is precious.”
Apparently life isn’t very precious in the dusty, run-down town of Conroe. Ten years previously two teenage hoodlums talked their way into a woman’s home and then brutally killed her just to steal her red Camaro. They later return and killed the woman’s teenaged son and his friend.
Now 26, Michael James Perry has been on death row for ten years. His accomplice, Jason Burkett, plea-bargained for a lesser life sentence. Perry has reached the end of the line. He will be executed by lethal injection in one week.
Like many who are facing the final curtain, Perry has found religion. He is contrite about what he has done and resigned to his fate. He is even curiously cheerful.
In painstaking detail Herzog reconstructs the events of that terrible night by interviewing witnesses, survivors and family members. Again it comes as no surprise that both Perry’s father and his brother have done jail time. His father is in for life.
Herzog makes no moral judgments other than to say he doesn’t think it is right for the state to take away the life of a human being. I don’t believe “Into the Abyss” will change anyone’s mind about capital punishment, but it does help one understand how horribly wrong a young life can go, and the damage and pain it inflicts on anyone it touches. The only thing I know for certain is that I am really glad I don’t live in Texas. If ever there were a Chamber of Commerce nightmare, this is it.

“Answers to Nothing” is Nothing Much

“Answers to Nothing” is as vapid and vacuous as it title and setting.
Written and directed by Matthew Leutwyler, “Answers to Nothing” explores the sleazy lives of sleazy characters in the sleazy City of Los Angeles.
All right, not all of the characters are sleazy. One of them is a guy in a wheelchair preparing for the LA Marathon. Another is a cop grieving over the death of his wife. For the record the cast includes Dane Cook, Elizabeth Mitchell, Julie Benz and Barbara Hershey. I would humbling suggest something more uplifting. How about “The Muppet Movie,” or “The Descendants?”

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Gorgeous George in Paradise

George Clooney Does the Right Thing in “The Descendants”

By Skip Sheffield

It was a choice between Martin Scorsese’s family film “Hugo” and gorgeous George Clooney goes to Hawaii in “The Descendants.”
Since Fox Searchlight had invited us to “Descendants’ first, and since Beth was driving, we decided to see what Mr. Clooney is up to.
“The Descendants’ is a breakthrough for Clooney as an actor, as he has to do more than just be handsome and dashing. Clooney’s character of lawyer-father Matt King is in fact not very heroic. His wife is at the hospital in a coma after a boating accident. Matt had been neglecting his wife before the accident. When he collects his sullen teenage daughter Alexandra (Shailene Woodley), she informs him her mother had been carrying on an affair.
Matt’s potty-mouthed 10-year-old daughter Scottie (Amara Miller) is a disciplinary problem and is not doing well in school. When Matt learns his wife will never recover, he must tell his girls the truth.
That is the setup for a drama with ample dashes of comedy, based upon the 2009 novel by Kaui Hart Hemmings, with screenplay by director Alexander Payne, whose last movie “Sideways” caused quite a stir in 2004.
Like “Sideways” “The Descendants” is about men behaving badly. Over the course of a family trip to the island of Kauai in search of the man who cuckolded him, Matt gains insight into what a crummy father and husband he has been, and how much everyone resents him.
Matt comes from an old Hawaii family that is in part related to Hawaiian royalty. Back in 1860 the family was granted 25,000 pristine acres on Kauai. Now Matt’s family wants to cash out and sell the land, but as executor of the estate, Matt has the final judgment.
Along for the ride at the insistence of Alexandra is her wiseguy boyfriend Sid (Nick Krause), who rubs both Matt and Matt’s father-in-law (Robert Forster) the wrong way.
The philandering lover turns out to be Brian Speer (Matthew Lillard), a smarmy real estate agent who is also involved in the sale of the King land. Speer is a hypocrite of the worse kind: he is a married man with a loving wife (Judy Greer) and two adoring children.
Matt’s relatives aren’t much better than he. Led by the boozy, blustering Cousin Hugh (Beau Bridges), the clan is practically licking their chops over the prospect of newfound, unearned riches.
I have a particular interest in Hawaii and its history because my mother and her parents lived there for six years, starting in 1941, during the Hell of World War II. My parents first met there and my sister was born there.
Hawaii has some things in common with semi-tropical south Florida; particularly by the way its economy is driven by real estate.
“The Descendants” is ultimately a feel-good movie because characters learn to change and do the right thing. George Clooney did the right thing by choosing this role and proving he really can act.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Welcome Back Muppets

Triumphant Return of The Muppets

By Skip Sheffield

Who doesn’t love The Muppets?
I sure do. The Muppets bring back fond memories of my three daughters growing up in Boca Raton, watching “Sesame Street” and “The Muppet Show” on television.
Certainly I’m not alone in my nostalgic feelings, and that is exactly why the Jim Henson franchise is being rebooted by Disney in “The Muppet Movie.”
The motivating spirit behind this project to create a seventh Muppet movie 12 years after the last one is writer, actor and producer Jason Segel.
Segel is an avowed Muppets fan, and thanks to the success of his movies he has the clout and financial wherewithal to lead the charge.
Segel co-wrote The Muppet Movie with Nicholas Stoller, with whom he wrote “Forgetting Sarah Marshall” and “Get Him to the Greek.” He also stars as Gary, a Muppets fan from Smalltown USA who lives with his “brother” Walter, who is a newly-created Muppet character.
Like Pee-Wee Herman, Gary and Walter lived in a cute little cottage that is more like a boy’s clubhouse. Gary does have a girlfriend named Mary (Amy Adams), but they have been together ten years and Gary has yet to pop the big question.
The setting of Smalltown is like an idealized 1950s TV show, with vintage cars, mom-and-pop stores, and smiling citizens who sing and dance at the drop of a downbeat.
In Fact “Life’s a Happy Song” pretty much tells the story as a song sung by Gary and Walter and later an elaborate dance number in the town square. The song was written by musical director Bret McKenzie, who wrote or co-wrote several other new songs to add to the Muppets musical library.
The set up for the story is Gary’s decision to give Mary her dream trip to Los Angeles. When Walter learns Gary and Mary are going to Los Angeles, all he can think is that it is the home of the Muppet Theatre on Hollywood Boulevard. At the last dramatic moment, Gary tells Walter he is going too. Soon a 1950s-vintage Greyhound bus pulls up, and they are off.
Muppet Theater is no longer a working studio, but a museum; a museum which is on its last legs. A wheezy old tour guide (Alan Arkin in the first of many guest star cameos) takes them on a tour of closed offices and broken attractions.
The Muppet Theater is about to be sold to oil baron Tex Richman (Chris Cooper), who lets slip his real intention is to demolish the theater and drill for the oil he knows is below.
What is a Muppet to do? Put on a show, of course, to raise the $10 million it will take to buy the property. So begins a reintroduction to the Muppet characters, starting with an initially reluctant Kermit the Frog. You’ll have to see the movie to see all the comical details that go into reassembling the old gang, but trust me it is very clever and knowledgeable about musical comedy conventions, with characters breaking the fourth wall to talk about plot twists and motivations. I love the map travel concept. I’m surprised no one has thought of it before as a gag.
Muppets have never been real, but they have always represented the best of an optimistic, friendly, generous can-do America. Sly references to the current reality are many. I love that Fozzie the Bear is now performing with a Muppets tribute band call The Moopets. They are Muppets with a cynical edge, you see.
No, there is no room for cynicism in Muppetland, where even villains can see the light and get into the act. Yes, this movie will make tons of money for a corporation that already makes tons of money, but when it’s this much fun, I’ll let it pass. Jim Henson left this world in 1990 at the far too young age of 53. As long as Muppets can bring laughter and love, Jim Henson’s spirit will shine.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

"Melancholia" Addresses Big Questions

“Melancholia” Addresses Cosmic Questions

By Skip Sheffield

When a film is titled “Melancholia” you know you are not in for a barrel of laughs.
“Melancholia” is an archaic expression for depression. It is also the name of a rogue planet on a collision course with Earth in Lars van Trier’s challenging new film of the same name.
“Melancholia” is challenging in a good kind of way. It took me a while before I could see where the writer-director was going in part one, called Justine. The opening sequence is pretentiously arty, with alternately dark and bright, mysterious celestial images, displayed to the tune of Wagner’s tragic, grandiose opera “Tristan and Isolde.”
The setting is an imposing seaside estate so large it has an 18-hole golf course. It is the wedding night of a young couple: Justine (Kirsten Dunst) and Michael (Alexander Skarsgard).
Justine is not your typical radiant bride. While she smiles, kisses and show affection for Michael, she is clearly troubled by something. The story begins comically with the couple’s absurdly long limousine having trouble navigating the long, winding, narrow road to the estate.
It is a huge, elaborate wedding with full orchestra, gourmet dinner and scores of guests, overseen by a fussy, temperamental wedding planner (Udo Kier).
Nothing goes right with the wedding or subsequent reception, starting with the late arrival of the couple. It quickly devolves into an uncomfortable wedding hell.
The bride’s sister Claire (Charlotte Gainsbourg) warily tries to sooth the bride. Her father (John Hurt) seems three sheets to the wind. The mother (Charlotte Rampling) is an obviously embittered mess.
Claire’s husband John (Keifer Sutherland), the guy who is footing the bills, is angry and exasperated. Justine’s boss Jack (Stellan Skarsgard) is an egotistical jerk. Jack’s young assistant Tim (Brady Corbet) has a thing going for the bride.
Weddings tend to be emotional occasions, but this one careens out of control. The whole thing is an embarrassing spectacle. Clearly this marriage is doomed before it ever begins.
Doom is the main subject of the second part of the film, titled Claire. Doom is manifested by the aforementioned rogue planet called Melancholia, which was only hinted at in the first part. It is clearly visible on the horizon and looming larger all the time.
John insists Melancholia will miss planet Earth by miles. Claire isn’t so sure. Their 10-year-old son Leo (Cameron Spurr) simply wonders why everyone is so upset.
Leo seems to have a calming effect on Justine. In fact she seems preternaturally calm compared to her sister, who is falling apart.
If you’ve made it this far, the finale of the film is heartbreakingly beautiful. The performances are searing.
“Melancholia” dares ask the really big questions. What is the nature of happiness? Is true love possible? How does one face the inevitability of death? That von Trier can pose these really vexing questions in such visually beautiful, poetic manner is proof of his artistry. I have found von Trier’s earlier films angry, abrasive and depressing. This one makes up for that. Perhaps it is because von Trier himself was diagnosed with clinical depression, recognized the problem and got treatment for it. True art often come from a very painful place.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Give Me a Head With Hair

Skip at age 25

Hair: I’ve always had a thing about it. I like it long and natural, on men and women.
When I was a baby I had platinum curls, like a Botticelli angel. My mother was thrilled, and as I was first-born, my dad grudgingly let her have her wish to leave my hair alone.
By the time I was two my hair was quite long, and I had a sister a year younger. She was born larger than me, and she grew quicker, and more robust. It was not long before people were asking if we were twins.
This became too much for my old man. At age 2.5 he decreed I must have a haircut to look like a real boy. My mom cried copious tears, and saved some platinum locks in an envelope in my baby book.
At age 4, for some reason my dad decided I needed a “butch” haircut. We were living in Narrragansett, Rhode Island in the Dunes Club. At a Halloween costume party, my mom costumed me as Father Time and my 1-year-old brother Richard as the New Year baby. I weighed maybe 32 pounds, and with my shaved head, brown skin from a summer in the sun, and skinny body. I looked like a little Gandhi. We won first place.
When I was 7 my paternal grandfather played a mean trick on me. I was up to 45 lbs., but still wretchedly skinny. He took me to a barber shop in St. Cloud Fla. and said “Give him a G.I.”
I didn’t know what that was, but I found out soon enough. I felt humiliated with my almost bald head.
My dad started going bald in his early 20s, and he despised guys with long hair. I made it through elementary, junior and senior high without any more scalping, then it was off to college. It was the British Invasion era, and all the guys who were allowed were growing long hair. I was the lead singer in a band that had two guys in the National Guard and a third who at age 23 was already bald. They all bought wigs to become The Weeds. I tried a wig, but I looked too much like a girl. I decided to let my own hair grow.
There were strict appearance standards at the time at Florida Southern College, but I ducked under the radar, and transferred to Palm Beach Junior College for my sophomore year.
It was a trying, chaotic year to say the least, but I earned my A.A. When it came time to collect my diploma, the Dean of Men spotted me and said, “Are you a student here?” I said yes, and I was picking up my diploma before I went back to see my family in Columbus, Ohio.
“Oh no you’re not,” he said “Not before you get a haircut.”
Turns out the dean had a sweetheart deal with the barbershop across the street.
I paid my $5 and got a brutal prison shop hairdo. The dean smiled menacingly as he relinquished my diploma.
I returned to Florida Southern for my last two years, and continued to play music as my locks grew longer.
When it came graduation time, my mom beseeched me.
“Please get a haircut,” she pleaded. “Otherwise your father won’t come to your graduation.”
Frankly I didn’t care, but I did it for mom, and I looked like a 16-year-old boy. I vowed at that time I would never again have a short haircut, as long as I had enough hair on my head not to appear foolish.
I broke that promise twice: at my first marriage at age 23 and my second at age 28.
Now I am 64- the same age my mother’s father when he died (with a full head of hair)- and sadly, I am divorced. I have not had a “store bought” haircut in 3 years. My daughter Laura does the honors. I don’t have the luxuriant “Acrylan carpet” of curly hair I once had, but there is something still up there. So with my Native American brothers, I will continue to go natural as long as nature smiles on me. Hair, it’s a beautiful thing.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Racy Fun at Willow Theater

A Saucy “Tale of the Allergist’s Wife”

By Skip Sheffield

Oh my, Boca Raton Theater Guild has gotten racy in its mature years.
BRTG is producing Charles Busch’s “The Tale of the Allergist’s Wife” at the Willow Theater. If you know anything about Busch, you know his plays are anything but G-rated.
“Allergist’s Wife” is a solid R for language and subject matter, and that’s fine for broad-minded adults- particularly hip New Yorkers.
The play is set very specifically on the Upper West Side of Manhattan in a posh apartment. Patti Garner is Marjorie, the allergist’s wife of the title. Michael Beecher is Dr. Ira Taub, her doctor-husband of 32 years. Living with the couple is Marjorie’s mother, Frieda (Iris Acker).
As we meet Marjorie she is chatting with the door man, Muhammad (Yusuf Rathmore) and confiding she feels “dissatisfied.”
“Everything today seems so terrifying,” she confesses.
Clearly Marjorie has problems, and they have become manifest in a freak-out at the Disney Store. It is also evident Marjorie longs for some kind of change in her predictable life of shopping, museum and theater-going.
Change arrives in the form of Lee (Barbara Sloan), a childhood friend.
One guesses that Lee, who used to be Lillian Greenblatt, was an ugly ducking that grew into a swan. Lee is forceful and self-confident; maybe a little too forceful.
Much like the man who came to dinner Lee moves in and brings about some marked changes in the lives of Marjorie and Ira. Some make them downright uncomfortable.
Lee is the kind of person who enjoys luring people out of their comfort zone. This is a comedy about self-styled sophisticates, and it’s fun to watch them squirm.
It’s also fun to watch Iris Acker cheerfully play one of the saltiest mothers-in-law you can imagine.
Everyone in the cast is a seasoned professional save Yusuf Rathmore, an FIU chemistry major who is making his stage debut. Rathmore is just fine, and perfectly cast.
Patti Gardner and Barbara Sloan must be friends in real life, because they have that all-important chemistry in their character’s relationship, which makes their rather surprising Act Two plot twist believable.
Michael Beecher has less to work with as his do-gooder doctor, but he pulls off a few surprises of his own.
Above all everyone seems to be enjoying themselves under the direction of Genie Croft, who has directed three previous shows at BRTG.
“Allergist’s Wife” is a far cry from the community theater-level productions done by BRTG in its formative years more than 20 years ago. Like Karen Stephens’ “Bridge & Tunnel,” this is an entertaining professional show, and worthy of your support.
Shows are at 8 p.m. Wednesday-Saturday and 2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday at Sugar Sand Park, 300 S. Military Trail, Boca Raton. Tickets are $18. Call 561-437-3948.

Friday, November 4, 2011

A Heist, a Downer and French Sex

“Tower Heist” Another Caper Movie With Big Stars

By Skip Sheffield

Everyone likes a good caper movie. That’s why Hollywood keeps making them.
The latest is “Tower Heist.” The only original twist is the unique form of the fortune the heisters seek. I won’t give it away.
“Tower Heist” is light, entertaining fare with a decent cast. Ben Stiller is Josh Kovacs, the harried manager of a Donald Trump-type Manhattan high-rise.
Alan Alda is Arthur Shaw, the Bernie Madoff-like tenant who owns the building and lives in the penthouse suite.
Alda seems to relish this kind of capitalist-pig role, and he makes Shaw really reprehensible and ripe for a fall. Shaw has bilked investors for millions, maybe billions of dollars in a Ponzi scheme. The losers include his employees, who stand to have their pension fund wiped out.
That fund figures out to about $20 million, which is the sum Kovacs calculates Shaw has stashed in his penthouse safe.
So Kovacs enlists fellow employees and losers to cook up a scheme to break into Shaw’s penthouse and steal the stash. The guys include Casey Affleck, Matthew Broderick and Michael Pena, and since none has criminal experience, Kovacs enlists recently-released convict Slide (Eddie Murphy) to pull off the caper.
The presence of Eddie Murphy doing his wiseguy thing guarantees some chuckles. Gabourey Sidibe, the young woman who was so moving in “Precious,” shows she has comic chops too in her small role of Ponzi loser Odessa.
Like most caper movies the premise is wildly improbable, but under the direction of Miami Beach native Bret Ratner, at least it’s fun.

"Gainsbourg" a Musical, Sexy French Romp

Love a sexy French film? “Gainsbourg” is your ticket.
“Gainsbourg: A Heroic Life” is the ironic title of a film by comic book artist Joann Sfar, inspired by the real life of French-Jewish artist, pianist, songwriter, singer and lover, Serge Gainsbourg.
Born Lucien Ginsburg to Russian-Jewish parents, Serge (Eric Elmosino) as he later re-named himself, was precocious musically and sexually. Lucien had an enormous hooked beak of a nose, which we see parodied in a cartoon puppet figure which represents his alter ego. We see Lucien rejected by girl because he is “too ugly,” but that never stopped the confident Serge-to-be.
Once Serge Gainsbourg became a musical star, women were only too happy to jump into his bed. In one notable scene we see him happily fornicating on the bed of rival artist Salvatore Dali.
“Gainsbourg’ is studded with celebrities of the 1960s era; most noticeably Brigitte Bardot (Laetitia Casta) who then was at the peak of her movie stardom. Other beauties he wooed and won were Juliette Greco (Anna Mouglalis) and Jane Birkin (Lucy Gordon).
Serge Gainsbourg never made much of an impact in the USA. The only song of his I remember is the torrid “Je T’Aime,” with its breathy feminine spoken lyric, which was banned in many parts. Judging from this film, Serge (he died in 1991 at age 63) was quite a guy. Eric Elmosino has already won Best Actor awards in France and New York’s Tribeca Film Festival). Serge Gainsbourg is vivid proof you never know what a woman is attracted to. His legacy lives on in his daughter, singer-actress Charlotte Gainsbourg.

Too Happy? "Son of No One" Will Bring You Down

“Son of No One” is a gloomy little film that reminds one how bad in was in New York City just a decade ago.
Channing Tatum stars as Jonathan “Milk” White, a rookie cop assigned to New York’s notoriously rough and violent 118th Precinct. It’s 2002 and Milk lives with his lovely young wife Kerry (Katie Holmes) on Staten Island.
When mysterious hand-written notes begin arriving at the office of much-raking newspaper reporter Loren Bridges (Juliette Binoche), evidence of a cover-up of two murders that occurred in 1986 begins to emerge. That’s all you need to know to realize this is probably not going to lead to a happy ending.
Writer-director Dito Montiel has Katie Holmes and Juliette Binoche playing against type as tough, angry, foul-mouthed women. Also playing against type is Tracy Morgan as a docile grown up but broken childhood friend of Milk.
Playing the types for which they are so well-known are Al Pacino, chief of the 118th in 1986 and Ray Liotta as his 2002 counterpart.
If nothing else, “Son of No One” is gritty and seems real. That’s what makes it such a downer.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

"Mozart's Sister," "Margin Call" and "Take Shelter"

History, Music and Romance Blend in “Mozart’s Sister”

By Skip Sheffield

Did you know Wolfgang Mozart had a sister? Did you know she may have been a musical genius too?
That is the premise of “Mozart’s Sister,” a beautiful and melancholy film by French writer-director Rene Feret, starring his daughter, Marie Feret, now playing at FAU’s Living Room Theaters.
I did not know about Maria Anna Walburga Ignatia Mozart (Nallerl for short), born in 1751, four and a half years ahead of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, her gifted, certifiably genius younger brother.
The film begins in 1763 during the rule of King Louis XV of France. The Mozart family is plodding along in their carriage when father Leopold (Marc Barbe) discovers an axle has cracked and must be repaired to continue the tour that will ultimately take them to the Palace of Versailles and an audience with the King and his court,
The main attraction is 7-year-old Wolfgang (David Moreau), who is not only a virtuoso violinist, but composer of the music he plays. Sister Nannerl accompanies on harpsichord and piano and sings. She used to be the star violinist, but stern, chauvinistic Leopold insists violin is not for a woman. Furthermore he refuses to let her compose music or teach her how to write it down.
The family makes a detour to a convent that just so happens to have some very special guests. They are the illegitimate daughters of Louis XV, infamous for his debauchery. The eldest, Louise de France (Lida Feret, another of the directors daughters), takes an instant shine to Nannerl. The girls begin confiding, and Louise gives a letter to Nannerl to deliver to the boyfriend of her dreams at Versailles.
It is through this boyfriend the Nannerl, disguised as a boy, meets the Dauphin (Clovis Foulin), the only surviving son of Louis XV.
The Dauphin, shy and insecure, finds himself attracted to the messenger “boy.” When Nannerl confesses her true identity, the Dauphin is even more intrigued and asks her to compose something that can be played at his court.
“Mozart’s Daughter” is a frothy mix of history, romance and feminism. It is sumptuously beautiful, as much of it was filmed at Versailles. Music lovers will adore its soundtrack. It is highly doubtful how historically accurate it is, but it is a delicious “what if?”

A Tough "Margin Call" About the Financial Mess

“Margin Call” is a tough film about tough, deceitful characters much like the people who got us into our current financial mess.
An impressive debut by writer-director J.C. Chandor, “Margin Call” boasts a high-powered cast to match its manipulative, treacherous characters.
It is the eve of the 2008 financial meltdown at a financial firm a lot like Lehman Brothers. Eric Dale (Stanley Tucci), a risk management specialist, is being rudely shown the door after 19 years of service. So are some 80 percent of the staff, without explanation.
On his way out Dale passes a flash drive to his young assistant, Peter Sullivan (Zachary Quinto of “Stak Trek”), and warns, “Be careful.”
While his friends go out to carouse, Peter goes back to work on his own. Peter is a very bright guy; brighter than his boss, and it doesn’t take him long to have a “Eureka!” moment. It is bad, very bad. According to the projected losses of high-risk home loans, the whole company will soon be “upside down,” or owe more than it is worth.
“Margin Call” becomes a 24-hour race to make the best of the inevitable disaster at any cost.
Company man Sam Rogers (Kevin Spacey) feels anguish even as he instructs his staff to dump loans that will surely burn the buyer. CEO John Tuld (a steely Jeremy Irons) feels no such qualms, and coolly goes about his business as if it were another day at the office.
Another Briton, Paul Bettany, plays Dale’s amoral boss, Will Emerson like the villain he is.
Demi Moore pops up somewhat out of place as Sarah Robertson, a risk officer playing as tough as the boys.
This movie is filmed and presented, without musical soundtrack, as starkly as its subject. It provides no answers but it graphically depicts the nest of vipers that is Wall Street.

Acting Phenomenal in Troubling "Take Shelter"

The title “Take Shelter” does not give a clue as to its real subject, so I will cut to the chase. It’s about the onset of mental illness.
I am very interested in the subject myself, as I deal on a daily basis with mental health professionals. They do not have an easy job.
Michael Shannon is a powerhouse of an actor who has taken on a complex, conflicted character: Curtis, a manager at a sand mining company in Ohio. Curtis is a good husband to his lovely wife Samantha (Jessica Chastain) and a devoted father to his deaf young daughter Hannah (Tova Stewart).
“You’ve got a good life” says Curtis’ best friend and co-worker Dewart (Shea Whigham) admiringly.
Unexpected storms brew in even the best of lives. The fierce, terrifying storms that begin to menace this tornado-prone part of the country are symbolic of Curtis’ inner life, which is teetering on the brink of sanity. Curtis becomes obsessed with building out his house’s storm shelter. He is convinced a storm of apocalyptic proportions is on its way.
Writer-director Jeff Nichols uses some of the tricks of horror-thrillers to depict the turmoil of Curtis’ mind represented in terrifying nightmares as he descends deeper into fear and paranoia.
“Take Shelter” is a bit long at two and a half hours, but Shannon and Chastain are fascinatingly emotive as the embattled father and the devoted wife struggling mightily to understand and sympathize him. Even the little girl is convincing without a word of dialogue.
If you or anyone you know is struggling with the sorrow of mental illness, this is a good film to help laymen understand the very real terrors, hallucinations and delusions that plague the paranoid-schizophrenic.

Altered History "After the Revolution"

Keeping the Light Aflame “After the Revolution”

By Skip Sheffield

Memory often distorts reality. Some good things become better than what they really were. Some bad things become worse, but as a rule we idealize the past.
“After the Revolution” is a thought-provoking play by Amy Herzog, running through Nov. 20 at Caldwell Theatre Company, 7901 N. Federal Highway, Boca Raton.
Emma Joseph is the main character in this work, impressively played by Jackie Rivera in her Caldwell debut. There is another main character we never see: Emma’s grandfather Joe, who died a year and a half before the setting in New York City in 1999.
Emma is a proud, idealist leftist who has just graduated from law school. Emma has established a legal defense in her grandfather’s memory. One of its first cases is a Black Panther Party member accused of murdering a Philadelphia policeman.
Joe Joseph was one of those Americans who became involved with the Communist Party in the USA, and as such he was summoned before the court of the House Un-American Activities Committee, headed by Sen. Joseph McCarthy. Like many of the accused at these hearing, Joe plead the Fifth Amendment and refused to name names of alleged Communists. Because of this he lost his politically sensitive government job.
Sen. McCarthy and his zealous prosecution of “pinkos and Commies” have been largely discredited, but not all his targets were blameless, innocent victims of right-wing politics. There were Marxists who sincerely believed the Soviet Union had a better solution, and its dictator, Joseph Stalin, was not such a bad guy.
The truth is often found between extremes. Joe Joseph’s school teacher son Ben (Gordon McConnell) knows some things about his father that are not very flattering. In fact some things old Joe did were quite disturbing and even shocking. Worse, everyone in the family except Emma knows these secrets.
“After the Revolution” examines what happens to a character whose faith in her family is betrayed; not maliciously but out of misplaced loyalty and kindness. Events unfold quickly in the 11 scenes of Act One, which sets up the big reveal detailed in the six scenes of the shorter Act Two.
While the main thrust of the play is the anger, disappointment and disillusionment of Emma, there also is humor and wry wit in the script, played to maximum effect by the polished, experienced cast. There is authentically warm banter between ultra-liberal crusader Ben Joseph and his stalwart wife Mel (Nancy Barnett). This does not come as a surprise as they are married in real life. Barnett was an administrator for many years for Florida Stage, and this is her first acting job in quite some time. You can tell she relishes it.
Tiffany-Leigh Moskow makes the most of her screwed-up, druggy Jess, younger sister to Emma.
I’m sure Harriet Oser doesn’t mind being called an “old pro” since she is, and her comic sense is impeccable as Emma’s elderly hard-of-hearing step-grandmother.
Handsome Arturo Fernandez manages to find humor in his role of Emma’s paramour Miguel, the world’s most patient, perfect boyfriend.
Howard Elfman makes the best of his small role as a former friend of and potential donor to Joe’s foundation.
Guest director Margaret M. Ledford brings a deft touch to the proceedings, and as always Tim Bennett’s set is fine. Good show, ladies and gentlemen.
Tickets are $27-$50. Call 877-245-7432 or go to

Fiddler on the Roof: The Back Story

“Sholem Aleichem” Documents Celebrated Yiddish Writer

There is a lot more to Sholem Aleichem than “Fiddler on the Roof.” Tevye the careworn Russian dairyman was just one of thousands of characters and yarns created by the most prolific, celebrated writer in Yiddish literature.
“Sholem Aleichem: Laughing in the Darkness” is his story, now playing at FAU’s Living Room Theaters.
The writer was born Sholem Rabinovich near Kiev, Russia in 1859. Early in his career he adopted his pen name, which loosely means “peace be with you.”
There was little peace for Russian Jews in the 19th century. Aleichem was born into a fairly prosperous family, but it was not immune to the political, religious and economic oppression of the Russian Empire in pogram after pogram. This is a well-researched and beautifully presented documentary by Joseph Dorman, with appearances by actors Peter Riegert as Tevye and Jason Kravits as Menachem-Mendl. Aleichem’s own 100-year-old granddaughter Bel Kaufman is a major source of recollection, and “Fiddler on the Roof’ lyricist Sheldon Harnick tells how the writer inspired him. Other scholarly sources are Aaron Lansky, founder of the Yiddish Book Center and Mendy Cahan of Yung Yiddish, an Israeli center for the preservation of Yiddish culture.
You don’t have to be Jewish or speak Yiddish to appreciate the accomplishments of this endlessly-creative, hard-working artist. Sholem Aleichem is a writer for all time who crosses all political and cultural boundaries. This documentary is a fitting tribute.

Monday, October 24, 2011

"The Way" Earnest Family Project

“The Way” an Inspirational Film for Non-Religious People

By Skip Sheffield

“The Way” is tangible proof Martin Sheen is a good father. He’s a good grandfather too.
“The Way” is a family project for acclaimed actor Martin Sheen, his son Emilio Estevez and grandson Taylor Estevez.
Taylor Estevez, then 19, in 2003 undertook an 800-kilometer pilgrimage on the Camino de Santiago, from the French Pyrenees to the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in Galicia, Spain. Actually Taylor drove the route with his grandfather, Martin Sheen, but the trip so inspired him his convinced his father, director-actor-writer Emilio Estevez, the subject was worthy of a film.
You could file “The Way” under “I” for inspirational, but it is not that simple. Emilio Estevez has crafted an entertaining fable about ordinary, non-religious people looking for meaning in their lives.
Tom Avery (Martin Sheen) is a California eye doctor whose son Daniel (Emilio Estevez) perished at the outset of a pilgrimage on “The Way” to Santiago. Avery drops everything to fly to France to identify his son’s body. When the body is cremated, Tom is inspired to undertake the pilgrimage himself to better understand his long-estranged son.
Along the way Tom meets three central characters who travel with him. The first is Joost (Yorick van Wageningen), a jolly Dutchman who is doing the pilgrimage simply to lose weight and get in better shape. Joost has an ample supply of pot and other mind-altering substances to make the journey easier.
Sarah (Deborah Kara Unger) is an angry divorced Canadian woman. Her quest is to stop smoking. Why she has to go all the way to Spain to do this is never explained.
Finally there is “Jack from Ireland,” a blocked writer of travel stories who would like to write a great novel.
Estevez freely admits he was inspired by “The Wizard of Oz,” with na├»ve Dorothy and three ragtag oddball characters she meets on a quest to see the Wonderful Wizard.
There is no Wizard in “The Way,” but there is a physical goal and an unspoken spiritual message to make the most of whatever life throws at you. This is a religious movie for non-religious people, anchored by the quiet power of Martin Sheen, an actor who knows how to convey grief, anger, frustration and joy without making a big show of it.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Good Germans as "Saviors in the Night"

By Skip Sheffield

Not all Germans were Nazis in World War II. Not all Germans were anti-Semitic either. A very small number of Germans risked their lives to save Jews from extermination camps. “Saviors in the Night,” playing at FAU’s Living Room Theaters, is the story of one such family.
“Saviors” is based in the best-selling memoirs of Marga Spiegel, played by Veronica Ferres in this Franco-German movie by Ludi Boeken.
Veronica Ferres is a delicately beautiful, blond, blue-eyed woman who like the woman she portrays, does not come across as the stereotypical “Jewish type.”
This was probably key to her survival, for Marga could move amongst the farmers and villagers of Westphalia and blend right in. For her husband Menne (Armin Rohde) it was a different matter. Menne was a horse-trader and looked the part of a Jewish entrepreneur. While Menne was popular and well-liked, his “Jewishness” forced him to go deep into hiding to survive.
The story begins in early 1943, as the Nazis were rounding up the last remaining Jews in Germany for death camps in “the East.” In the middle of the night Marga tells her young daughter Karin “We have to go!” Menne knew the Nazis were approaching, and in desperation he approached a local farmer, Herr Aschoff (Martin Horn) asking if he could take in his wife and daughter.
Aschoff agrees, though his wife (Margarita Broich) is fearful and his daughter Anni (Lia Hoensbroech), a loyal member of the Hitler Youth, is suspicious.
Because of her physical appearance Marga obtains Aryan papers through a ruse and clutches an Iron Cross for protection. The Aschoff family is Roman Catholic, and they take their Christianity seriously.
Marga is forced to disavow her husband and act like a loyal German, but there are many close calls as time wears on, eventually for two full years before the Allied liberation.
Not all of “Saviors” is grim. There are moments of humor and good cheer and even a little romance. In short “Saviors of the Night’ is not just another Holocaust story. It says in the Talmud “He who saves a single life saves the world entire.” This is an extraordinary tale of three lives saved at the risk of an entire community.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Real Steel Not Really About Battling Robots

Humans the Best Part of “Real Steel”

Would you play good money to watch robots box?
That questioned bugged me when contemplating whether or not to go to an advance screening of “Real Steel.” Since the screening was conveniently at the Cinemark Palace in Boca Raton, I thought OK, I’ll bite.
As it turns out, I enjoyed “Real Steel” more than expected. I am no fan of boxing or the Transformers movie series about giant fighting robots, but “Real Steel” has a more human component to it, thanks largely to the performances of Hugh Jackman as a has-been boxer and fight promoter and Dakota Goyo as his 11-year-old adoring son.
The screenplay was inspired by a 1956 short story by noted science-fiction writer Richard Matheson.
Charlie Kenton (Jackman) is in desperate straits when we meet him. He has borrowed money from everyone he knows, including shady characters who vow to extract their pound of flesh. His ex-wife (Hope Davis) has married a rich, obnoxious older guy (James Rebhorn) who plans an expended honeymoon in Europe.
That leaves Max Kenton, (Goyo) in the lurch. The older man takes Charlie in confidence and says he will give him $50,000 up front and another $50,000 on their return if Charlie will take Max, the son he abandoned not long after his birth, off their hands.
In a plot that much resembles “The Champ,” father and son
build a relationship while Charlie tries to rebuild his career with an obsolete old robot called Atom.
The computer-generated robot action looks pretty convincing, but it is the father and son stuff that give this otherwise silly movie its warm appeal.

Restless Not for everyone

“Restless” an Offbeat Romance Not for Everyone

By Skip Sheffield

Perhaps it takes a near-death experience to fully appreciate “Restless.” This very offbeat young romance is preoccupied with death, near-death, and what it means to be fully alive.
A couple of my writing colleagues felt it was boring, self-consciously arty and disconnected from conventional reality.
I on the other hand was quite drawn in to this far-fetched tale of doomed love, written by Jason Lew and directed by Gus Van Sant.
“Restless” marks the screen debut of the late Dennis Hopper’s son Henry. Hopper plays Enoch Brae, an alienated high school drop-out who has been in shock and withdrawal from ordinary life since both his parents were killed in a car crash he alone survived.
Enoch lives with his Aunt Mable (Jane Adams) who has moved into his parents’ house to take care of him.
It’s a thankless task for poor Mabel. It would be easy just to brand Enoch as a self-absorbed, self-pitying brat, but what Enoch has going for him is his imagination. Enoch’s best friend is imaginary: a dead Japanese Zero pilot named Hiroshi (Ryo Kase).
Hiroshi is a very friendly ghost, and he is Enoch’s best and only real friend until he meets a pretty young woman at a funeral. Enoch has the macabre habit of attending funerals of people he doesn’t even know.
To most people this would be pretty creepy, but not to Annabelle (the peerless Mia Wasikowska). Death is very much on her mind, because she has a tumor on her brain that will kill her within three months.
I never liked “Love Story,” which had a similar weepy scenario, or “Terms of Endearment,” which was also moving but manipulative.
The character of Annabelle is no typical victim or object of abject pity. Annabelle has accepted the fact that death is a natural part of life. Unlike a victim of accidental death she knows what is in store. Instead of wallowing in despair she is determined to live every day she has left to its fullest; like the songbird who every nightfall thinks he has died, only to awake every morning singing a joyous song of rebirth.
Those of us who have faced the end and emerged miraculously on the other side know there is a clear choice on how to live life. Like Annabelle’s character, who admires Darwin and sees the incredible beauty of nature in everything around her, I choose to be grateful and glad to be alive.
Corny? You bet! “Restless” maybe be sentimental and unbelievable, but it is a fantasy I embrace, and these two fantastic young actors beautifully embody that fantasy.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

A Comedy (Sort of) About Cancer

Cancer No Laughing Matter, But is it Better to Cry?

By Skip Sheffield

Cancer is no laughing matter.
How then, does “50-50” find nuggets of humor in such a serious situation?
This is the most amazing thing about “50-50,” inspired loosely by screenwriter Will Reiser’s real-life battle with the deadly disease. Reiser was just 24 when a large, cancerous sarcoma tumor was discovered in his back. Helping him cope with this crisis was Reiser’s good friend Seth Rogen. Both Reiser and Rogen are funny guys by nature, and when this diagnosis came in 2003, they were both writers for Sacha Baron Cohen’s satirical television show “Da Ali G Show.” The germ of the idea to create a serio-comic look at cancer was born.
Seven years later the idea has come into fruition under the sensitive direction of Jonathan Levine. Likeable Joseph Gordon-Leavitt plays Will Reiser’s alter ego, Adam and Seth Rogen basically plays himself under a different name, Kyle.
At age 27 the otherwise healthy Adam is diagnosed with a cancerous sarcoma tumor in his spine. If diagnosed early enough, sarcoma is treatable with surgery, but because of the location of the tumor and the danger of the surgery, Adam is given only a 50-50 chance of survival.
A cancer diagnosis is awkward no matter how you look at it. If you are the person diagnosed, once you get over the initial shock and sorrow, a fear of the unknown sets in. You feel almost embarrassed to admit to your fragility.
For friends and family there is a tendency to over compensate with sympathy and/or total avoidance of the matter at hand.
All these things factor into Adam’s story. He undergoes the delicate surgery and his friend Kyle is grossed out when he has to change his dressing.
Adam’s girlfriend Rachel (Bryce Dallas Howard) seems ill-equipped to deal with the seriousness of Adam’s condition.
Adam is assigned Katie (Anna Kendrick), a therapist just out of med school. Adam is only her third patient.
Adam’s mother Diane (Angelica Houston) goes into full denial mode.
It is only through a support group of fellow cancer patients that Adam gets some real understanding and tolerance.
I know none of this sounds very funny, but somehow it is. His head shaved as a consequence of chemotherapy, Joseph Gordon-Leavitt is fearless and engaging. Seth Rogen, who is also producer of this film, puts his money and talent where his heart is as Kyle. Anna Kendrick is absolutely adorable as the wide-eyed, still innocent therapist.
Perhaps I am biased. It was almost eight years ago that I was diagnosed with prostate cancer. I opted for the radical solution of surgery. Sometimes you have to pay a steep price to keep on living. Through tears and laughter, “50-50” beautifully illustrates that process.

Friday, September 23, 2011

"My Afternoon with Margueritte" Romances Books

By Skip Sheffield

Love to read?
A romance does not have to involve sex.
“My Afternoons with Margueritte” is a very romantic film. Though sex is mentioned, it is irrelevant to the central story of an overweight, middle-aged loser and a highly educated, intelligent and compassionate 95-year-old woman.
Co-written and directed by Jean Becker, “My Afternoons” is a romantic fable about the joys and rehabilitative powers of literacy.
Germaine Chazes (Gerard Depardieu, fatter than ever) lives in a trailer in the garden behind his mother’s house in a small French town.
Bullied and humiliated as a child by other children, his teachers and his own parents, Germaine has withdrawn so much that he is functionally illiterate. Everyone in town thinks he is stupid except for Annette (Sophie Guillemin), a young woman who drives a bus. Germaine’s self-esteem is so low he does not appreciate Annette’s attentions.
One afternoon Germain sees an old lady in the park, counting pigeons. Viola! Germaine counts pigeons too, so he strikes up a conversation with Margueritte (Gisele Casadesus), a woman of great learning and experience.
Like Germaine, Margueritte is under-appreciated; by her nephew, who grudgingly looks after her at an assisted-living facility.
Another afternoon, Germain notices Magueritte reading a book. It is Albert Camus’ existential classic “The Plague” of all things. Germain asks Margueritte to read some of it to him. He is transfixed by the prose of Camus about a horrendous plague that struck Algeria, spread by rats. Margueritte offers to lend him the book, but he says no- ashamed to admit he can’t read Camus’ complex, metaphorical sentences.
So Germain’s afternoons are spent listening to Margueritte read rather than counting pigeons. Inspired, he goes to the library and asks for something simple and easy to read.
Running parallel with this blossoming friendship is the decline of Germain’s tyrannical, abusive mother (Claire Maurier).
There are a couple convenient plot twists that change the course of Germain’s life by film’s end, and it’s not just that Germain does indeed learn to read. This film has been criticized as being too treacley and sweet, but a little sweetness sometimes is good for the soul. I’ll admit I love reading, and I love the thought that people can change for the better late in life, even if it is just a movie. That’s why I loved this film.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

"Moneyball" a Winner on All Counts

By Skip Sheffield

The premise doesn’t sound all that exciting. Manager of a cash-strapped baseball team hires a statistics whiz to help him scientifically predict the likelihood of success for any given player.
The good news is “Moneyball” is a rousing success, and you don’t even have to like baseball.
Oakland Athletics general manager Billy Beane is played by one Brad Pitt. Pitt had so much faith in the project he signed on as co-producer.
The Yale University statistics wizard, Peter Brand, is played by Jonah Hill.
Pitt and Hill are a Mutt ‘n Jeff duo. Pitt as a former player is ramrod straight, chiseled, and good-looking just this side of beautiful.
Hill is short, dumpy and pudgy, but behind his wire-rimmed glasses he radiates fierce intelligence.
“Moneyball’ is based on a true story, chronicled by Michael Lewis in his 2003 book: “Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game.”
The unfair part of all professional sports is twofold: the very best command the best salaries and the teams with the largest budgets can afford the best players.
As the 2001 season ended for the Oakland Athletics, they were reeling from the loss of their three star players to richer teams. Oakland was operating on a budget of $39 million. The New York Yankees had $141 million to play with.
Realizing he couldn’t compete in the money game, Billy Beane felt it was time to think outside the box. On his own initiative Beane went to the East Coast and hired recent Yale graduate Peter Brand on the spot as his assistant manager. Brand had no experience with baseball, but he did know his statistics. Using computer models, he could gauge the likelihood of any given player to hit or get on base. This cold logic ignores a player’s age, experience, attitude, physical appearance or injuries.
The conventional wisdom of baseball veterans making the decisions is subjective and therefore flawed. We meet the old pros who guide the Athletics, and watch them bicker, disagree and backstab. Nobody likes change. Billy Beane received formidable opposition for his revolutionary scheme to recruit undervalued players who given the chance, may play as well or better than the multi-million-dollar stars.
The screenplay by Steven Zaillian (Schindler’s List”) and Aaron Sorkin (Social Network”) is a classic underdog story, but it is also a story of courage, ingenuity, heroism and true team spirit. Those who know baseball already know the outcome. I didn’t, so I got caught up in the Athletics’ uphill, against-all-odds battle.
Director Bennett Miller, who amazed Hollywood by winning an Oscar nomination for his debut film, “Capote,” understands a David vs. Goliath story, and unfolds the dramatic action accordingly.
Pitt the actor has never been better than in this immersion into the role of Billy Beane. Beane is far from perfect, and Pitt makes his flaws increase his appeal.
Like a veteran vaudeville team, Pitt and Hill have perfect comic timing, with knowing glances, pregnant pauses, and surprise quick decisions.
“Moneyball” is no simple “Rocky” story. It is about the harsher reality of 21st century life; the ruthlessness of business; the inevitability of change, and the crippling that comes with inability to adapt. Oh, but it still makes you feel good. Now that is an amazing accomplishment.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Dweezil Zappa Offers a Fitting Tribute to his Brilliant Dad

By Skip Sheffield

Photos by Michael Gora

For those of us not lucky enough to have seen Frank Zappa and his bizarre musical group the Mothers of Invention live, we have Dweezil Zappa, Frank’s son, carrying the torch for his dad with his Zappa Plays Zappa show, which played Mizner Park Amphitheater this past Saturday.
Zappa was the opening act for the renowned progressive rock-jazz group Return to Forever, but for this musician, Zappa was the main attraction.
The music of Frank Zappa is very complex, often funny and unpredictable Dweezil Zappa spent an entire year listening and playing along with his father’s recordings to perfect his sound.
Zappa recruited a first rate band to fill out the myriad sound landscape. They include Scheila Gonzalez on sax, flute and vocals; Pete Griffin, bass, Billy Hultin, marimba and percussion, Jamie Kime, guitar, Joe Travers, drums and vocals and Chris Norton, keyboards and vocals.
Dweezil Zappa doesn’t sing and he didn’t do much talking either. He left that up to his lead vocalist, Ben Thomas, who has a gregarious, engaging stage presence.
For me the highlight of Zappa’s set was when he invited RTF pianist Chick Corea onstage, and the two traded licks on “King Kong.” It was a virtuoso experience. As good as Return To Forever is (especially with special gust violinist Jean-Luc Ponty), their music is not as compelling, exciting or purely entertaining as Zappa’s.

Forthcoming Mizner Park Amphitheater events are a “Kingdom Call” fund-raiser at 6:30 p.m. Oct. 8; the 2011 Making Strides Against Breast Cancer Walk at 8:30 a.m. Oct. 22 and Rick Springfield and Jack Wager in concert at 8 p.m. Nov. 4. Tickets for that Live Nation event are $38.50-$98.50.

“Cloud 9” Opens Theater Season at FAU

Florida Atlantic University opens a new theater season with Caryl Churchill’s gender-bending satirical play, “Cloud 9,” opening Friday, Sept 23 and running through Sunday Oct. 2 in the Studio One Theatre.
“Cloud 9” is set in colonial Africa in Victorian times and roughly 100 years later in London circa 1979. The same actors appear in each act, but in different roles and in some cases different gender. For the actors only 25 years have passes, further compounding the surreal aspects of the play.
Director Desmond Gallant cautions this is adult stuff, with rough language, sexual references and general hanky-panky, and it is recommended only for those 16 and older.
Tickets are $20 general admission, $12 FAU students, and $16 for staff and alumni. Call 800-564-9539.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

A French Thriller American-Style

“Point Blank” Violent French Thriller American-Style

By Skip Sheffield

“Point Blank” is one of those “ripped from headlines” kind of stories reflective of our violent, cruel, chaotic world. It opens Friday at FAU’s Living Room Theaters along with the eye-opening documentary, “If a Tree Falls.”
This French thriller from Fred Cavaye begins with a bang: the attempted hit on a motorcyclist, and does not slow down until the final credits.
Gilles Lellouche plays Samuel, a young male nurse trainee who attends to a wounded man brought to the hospital under heavy guard. The victim is a tough criminal boss named Hugo Sartet (Roschdy Zem). He was wounded in an attempted assassination and there is a whole squad of bad guys who want to finish the job.
If this weren’t trouble enough, when the bad guys botch another attempt to kill Sartet, they snatch Samuel’s very pregnant wife (Elena Anaya) from the hospital and seize her as a hostage.
Fred Cavaye in 2008 wrote and directed a film called “Anything for Her” which was remade American-style as “The Next Three Days,” with Russell Crowe as a mild-mannered professor who is forced to take extreme measures to free his unjustly accused wife from jail.
In much the same spirit Samuel is compelled to rise to the occasion, forced into an alliance with the vengeful criminal Sardet to save his wife as bullets fly, bad guys chase, and cars screech and skid, fly through the streets while killers invade the subways of Paris.
Cavaye certainly keeps up the tension and the pace, but the incredible plot turns strain credulity. It’s as if Cavaye is trying to outdo the Americans in violence and high-speed mayhem.
Though I have not had a chance to see it, “If a Tree Falls” seems a much more worthy prospect for a thinking adult. It’s inspired by the true story of the rise and fall of the radical Earth Liberation Front, which resorted to violence and sabotage to further their radical environmentalist goals. Does the end justify the means, or were they just home-grown terrorists? Perhaps this Marshall Curry film will spur debate.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

A Tough But Admirable "Six Years" at Caldwell

“Six Years” Admirable, Tough at Caldwell Theatre

By Skip Sheffield

“Six Years” is a production to be admired, not loved. The heavy-hitting drama by Sharr White continues through Sept. 4 at Caldwell Theatre Company, 7901 N. Federal Highway, Boca Raton.
The title refers to the six-year-intervals of the play’s five scenes. Scene one is set in 1949 in a St. Louis motel. Phil Granger (Todd Allen Durkin), a dazed and confused World War II veteran, has returned to his distraught wife Meredith (Margery Lowe). Meredith is distraught because Phil simply disappeared in 1944, when he stopped writing home. Phil never told Meredith where he was or what had happened to him.
Phil has a really bad case of what we now call Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Back then he would been labeled “shell-shocked.”
While the couple has been reunited, their relationship will never be smooth. Phil has a volatile temper and severe mood swings. Meredith has filed preliminary divorce papers.
The role of Phil is a challenging opportunity, and Todd Allen Durkin runs with it in his Caldwell debut. He can be charming and funny one moment, acidly sarcastic the next, and frighteningly furious without warning.
The role of Meredith is much less flashy. Mostly it is that of quietly suffering, but Margery Lowe conveys real pain, and when she finally begins to stand up for herself, we feel her pride.
Other roles are more sketchily drawn. The Grangers’ son Michael (Michael Focas) is hardly there; a casualty of war if you will.
Meredith’s brother Jack Muncie (Gregg Weiner) has some short, powerful moments of interaction with unpredictable Phil.
With their marriage in shambles, two additional characters are introduced into the Grangers’ marital drama. Tom Wheaton (David Perez-Ribada) is only too happy to provide a shoulder to cry on- and more- for Meredith. Dorothy (Betsy Graver) is a seductive character who is shocked witness to one of Phil’s scariest breakdowns in a California motel.
Director Clive Cholerton uses video projections and vintage recordings to depict the five different eras. Tim Bennett’s set utilizes a turntable to enable quick, smooth scene changes.
“Six Years” is mostly about bad stuff: war, mental instability, infidelity, cruelty, divorce, the rise of cookie-cutter suburbs and even the effects of bad diet. In short it is a lot like real life, and real life, as most of us know, is never a picnic.
But if you are looking for thought-provoking commentary, heartfelt acting and historical reference, you should find much to admire in “Six Years”
Tickets are $38-$50. Call 561-241-7432 or go to

Friday, August 19, 2011

Same Time, One Day

If You Love Love, You’ll Love “One Day”

By Skip Sheffield

A lot can change in one day. In the romantic comedy “One Day,” two college graduates meet on St. Swithin’s Day, July 15, and have an impetuous fling that changes their lives- but not right away.
St. Swithin has no bearing on University of Edinburgh graduates Emma Morley (Anne Hathaway) and Dexter Mayhew (Jim Sturgess) other than it is a funny name reference in David Nicholls’ novel “One Day.”
Nicholls adapted his novel and tapped Danish director Lone Scherfig (“An Education”) to helm this project. While the story somewhat resembles the play “Same Time, Next Year,” there are important differences. This is not about an affair. It is about friendship that blossoms into love.
The fact that Scherfig is a woman with subtle sensibility helps balance the equation. “One Day” is equally about man and woman, and how they love.
On that fateful graduation day July 15, 1988, Emma and Dexter meet. She is a serious-minded scholar with big Harry Potter wire-rim glasses and minimal makeup. He is a glib, handsome, frivolous playboy type rather spoiled by his doting mother (Patricia Clarkson) and a gruff but loving father (Ken Stott).
Even when she is dressed-down, Anne Hathaway (with convincing British accent) is a radiantly beautiful woman. Jim Sturgess is a remarkably good-looking guy, so they make an appealing couple. When they impulsively make love on the night they meet, we intuit this will be more than a one-night stand, even though the morning after in the glare of day they vow to “just be friends.”
And so on July 15 over the course of 20 years, Emma and Dexter meet and part again and again. Her trajectory is upward. She becomes a teacher, then writes the book she has always been threatening to do.
Dexter’s personality and good looks make him ideal for television. For awhile Dexter’s career and finances soar as host of his own vapid, glitzy TV show.
Emma acquires a determined admirer in Ian (Rafe Spall), an aspiring comic who works a day job at the same restaurant Emma works.
Ian is a fool, but he is played with great dignity by Spall, and Emma is such a compassionate person, we can see her befriending him out of pity.
But we the viewers and readers know Emma and Dexter are destined for each other. When they meet in picturesque locales such as Paris and Calais, the mood is rapturous. Guided by Scherfig, Hathaway and Sturgess make us feel the giddy elation of love. Conversely, we feel love’s flip side, the depths of despair.
“One Day” is a first-class weeper. It is also an ideal date movie. I suggest seeing it with someone you love. You may just get lucky.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Cowboys, Aliena and Incurable Romantics

A Fine Madness Called “Crazy, Stupid Love”

By Skip Sheffield

Is there one perfect soulmate for every person? A lot of people think so. They are called “incurable romantics.”
“Crazy, Stupid Love” is a very funny romantic comedy that has fun with the notion there is that perfect person, and if you find him or her, you should hang on for dear life and never give up.
That incurable romantic is named Cal Weaver and he is played by Steve Carrell, who also co-produces. Cal’s soulmate Emily, with whom he fell in love at age 15, is played by Julianne Moore.
Both Cal and Emily Weaver have good jobs and two great kids who live at home and another who has already left the nest. What could possibly go wrong? In Dan Fogelman’s clever script, plenty. Fogelman is a bit of a Cinderella story, having struck it rich first as an unknown with the surprise hit “Cars.” He is now one of the hottest young screenwriters in Hollywood. Fogelman has a way of stating simple, obvious truths in a very funny, ironic way.
Without warning Emily drops a bombshell: she wants a divorce. She has lost sight of what she had and lost her head over a snarky co-worker.
Kevin Bacon is quite adept at playing snarky. His David Lindhagen is a jerk of the first order and a perfect foil for the impossibly pure, squeaky clean Cal, who has been with only one woman in his life.
“Twenty-five years of marriage, and you have nothing to say?,” Emily demands her shell-shocked mate.
True, most guys tend to clam up in this kind of emotional situation, and Cal is more tightly-jacketed than average. Jumping out of a car is pretty extreme, but here quite funny.
In real life it would be hard to imagine some studly dude noticing the morose Cal nursing drinks in a bar every night and deciding to do a Henry Higgins makeover on a complete stranger.
That is just what happens in this fantasy, directed by Glenn Ficarra and John Requa, the same guys who directed the gay romance “I Love You Phillip Morris.”
Jacob (Ryan Gosling) is a chick magnet with killer pickup techniques. He decides to impart his ways with women on the hapless Cal, and bit-by-bit it works.
This gives Carrell ample opportunity to do his bumbling geek schtick that he honed in “40-Year-Old Virgin,” “Dinner for Schmucks” and “Dan in Real Life.” The funniest of these bits co-stars Maria Tomei as a spitfire eighth grade teacher.
Cal is not the only incurable romantic in the story. So is his 13-year-old son Robbie (Jonah Bobo), who is smitten with his 17-year-old babysitter Jessica (Analeigh Tipton). Also discovering her possible soulmate is Cal’s eldest daughter Hannah (Emma Stone), a junior lawyer.
This is shaping up as the summer of Emma Stone, and once again she and her gorgeous blues eyes acquit themselves well.
“Crazy, Stupid Love” is not going to change anyone’s notion of romantic love, but it may help those who have been romantic saps recognize and laugh at themselves.

“Cowboys and Aliens” Neither Fish Nor Fowl

When I did an advance on “Cowboys and Aliens” for Atlantic Ave magazine earlier this summer, I thought to myself this could be daringly brilliant or really dumb. The answer lies somewhere in between. This Steven Spielberg production looks great, has a dynamite cast and a script that both honors and spoofs the movie Western traditions, but it gets headed off at the pass once those darn aliens start jumping around.
Steely, blue-eyed James Bond actor Daniel Craig looks good in a cowboy outfit, and does some convincing choreography as badass gold-robber Jake Lonergun. Harrison is more grizzled than ever as his nemesis, Col. Woodrow Dolarhyde, and Olivia Wilde is stunningly lovely as the obligatory babe, Ella Swenson. Ella has a very special secret in this tall tale adapted by director Jon Favreau from the 2006 graphic novel by Scott Mitchell Rosenberg.
“Graphic novel” is just a nicer way of saying comic book. Like “Super 8’ earlier this summer, “Cowboys and Aliens” goes off the rails- way off the rails- and off a cliff. The advance screening crowd seemed to enjoy it and even applauded after the grand finale, but they didn’t pay for tickets. This movie will please neither fans of Westerns nor alien monster movie fanciers. I guess that leaves fanboys (the film debuted last week at Comic-Con). We’ll see if there are enough of them for this film to earn back its production costs.