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Bullied and humiliated as a child by other children, his teachers and his own parents, Germaine has withdrawn so much that he is functionally illiterate.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.