Wednesday, December 28, 2011
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 www.browardcenter.org.
Friday, December 23, 2011
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.
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!
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
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” 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?”