Friday, May 25, 2012

"Bernie" Plays Murder for Laughs

Jack Black and Richard Linklater

 “Bernie” a Murder Story Played for Laughs

 By Skip Sheffield

 “Bernie” is a most extraordinary film. “What you are fixin’ to see is a true story,” drawls the voiceover introduction. What follows are the best-ever performances of Jack Black and Matthew McConaghey and a return to form for Shirley MacLaine and writer-director Richard Linklater. It helps that Linklater is a Texan (Houston) and so is McConaghey (Longview), for “Bernie” is set very specifically in Texas- East Texas- in the tiny town of Carthage. It was there that in 1996 a murder occurred that rocked and divided the town and continues to be controversial to this day. But “Bernie” is not really a murder-mystery, nor is it as much about a crime as it is about people from a specific place. The script for “Bernie” was written by Linklater (“School of Rock”) and Skip Hollandsworth, who wrote the story “Midnight in the Garden of East Texas” for Texas Monthly magazine in 1998. In a tour de force, Jack Black uses all his comedic, musical and dramatic talents to portray Bernie Tiede, a meek and mild- you could say effeminate- 39-year-old assistant funeral director at a Carthage funeral home. Bernie is a true artist in the art of embalming, as we learn in testimonial after testimonial. He is also a church choir director and soloist and director, musical director and actor at the local community theater. It’s hard not to like kind, generous Bernie, and just about everyone does, including the town’s richest, most difficult citizen, Marjorie Nugent (Shirley MacLaine). Bernie meets Marjorie at her late husband’s funeral and little by little ingratiates himself with the embittered, selfish, demanding grandmother, estranged from her sister, children, grandchildren and just about everyone in town. Bernie takes brown-nosing to a new artistic level; becoming Marjorie’s best buddy and soon live-in and world travel companion. If you have known someone like Bernie- and there are plenty like him in South Florida- you know there is a price to pay for all that bowing and kow-towing. It’s a great ride for Bernie while it lasts and the symbiotic relationship is played for choice laughs. It is great fun seeing MacLaine play the ultimate prune-faced shrew with a heart of ice. It’s even more fun watching Black’s transformation from confident conman to cornered desperado. McConaghey is deadpan droll as Bernie’s nemesis, Panola County district Attorney Danny Buck Davidson. While he represents the law, it is hard not to boo Buck and McConaghey’s puckish performance. While “Bernie” does not fit in any easy category, it is entertaining all the way, even when bad stuff happens. Stick around for the end credits and you can see the real residents of Carthage alongside their fictional counterparts. This includes the actual Bernie Tiede, now serving a life sentence as a model prisoner. < Chloe Dolandis at Arts Garage Boca Raton’s very talented Chloe Dolandis gets a showcase at 8 p.m. Friday, June 1 at the Arts Garage, 180 NW First St., Delray Beach. It’s been a great year for Chloe so far. Her album “Bring Back the Fever” reached No. 19 on the Top 300 iTunes Jazz Album Downloads. Her self-penned song “Solid Woman” was a semi-finalist in the 2011 International Songwriting Competition. Perhaps sweetest of all, she was the First Place winner of the South Florida Chapter National Society of Arts & Letters’ 2012 Musical Theater Competition. Tickets are $20-$30. Call 561-450-6357 or go to For more on Chloe visit Two Free Shows at Mizner Park Amphitheater Boca Ballet Theatre presents an evening of mixed repertory dance at 7:30 p.m. Sunday, May 27 at Mizner Park Amphitheater. There is no admission charge, and food, beverage and chair rental is for sale. Call 561-995-0709 or go to At 7 p.m. Monday, the New Gardens Band and Robert Sharon Chorale performing in honor of Memorial Day. The concert is sponsored by the city of Boca Raton and admission is free.
Will and Anthony Nunziata Bring Happiness to Royal Room Cabaret By Skip Sheffield Will and Anthony Nunziata want to “Make Someone Happy.” To that good end the 27-year-old singing and joking twins will be headliners for the next four weeks starting Friday, May 25 in the Royal Room Cabaret of the Colony Hotel, 155 Hammon Road, Palm Beach. “Make Someone Happy” is the duo’s new show and also the title to their debut CD. It is done in tribute to the “Rat Pack” era of Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and Sammy Davis, Jr. “It is timeless music,” offers Another. “We just try to give it a fresh spin.” “It kind of makes sense because we were brought up with this music,” adds Will. “While other kids were listening to Madonna and New Kids on the block, we were listening to the great American Songbook. We love visiting Palm Beach because it lets us get out and meet people. Rob Russell (Royal Room manager) discovered us in New York three years ago and he has been very good to us. He took a risk and he’s watched us and our audience grow.” In addition to their fresh, handsome appearance, the 27-year-old twins bring a playful sense of humor to their act. In fact the brothers got their start doing stand-up comedy while they were students at Boston College. In New York they performed stand-up at Caroline’s Comedy club and the Upright Citizen’s Brigade Theater. “I can be silly but it’s a cool silly,” Anthony stresses. “Will is just silly. Seriously, we just play off each other.” Since taking their act on the road around four years ago, the New York natives have been all over the world; most recently Singapore. After the Palm Beach gig they will be the featured act at Feinstein’s July 10-14 in New York City. Since this is the brothers’ longest engagement to date in Florida, then intend to do some exploring and sightseeing. “Palm Beach and the Colony is our second home,” Will declares. “This time we want to get out and see some other places, like Delray Beach and Boca Raton.” When asked if he was more like Sinatra or Dean Martin, Anthony said he leans more toward Sinatra, but it really doesn’t matter. “At the end of the day what we do is music that hopefully touches hearts,” he says. “It is lyrics and music that have a universal quality. We may sing older songs, but we want to bring a 20-something spirit to them.” Tickets are $90 for dinner and show or $60 show only. Call 561-659-8100. Take That Israel Bashers! “Follow Me: The Yoni Netanyahu” is a dramatic documentary by Ari Daniel Pinchot (“The Life and Times of Hank Greenberg”) about one of Israel’s proudest moments: the midnight July 4, 1976 rescue mission to Entebbe, Uganda, where the “Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine” was holding 103 highjacked Air France passengers hostage. Director Jonathan Gruber has worked from real footage of the then 30-year-old Lt. Colonel Yonatan Netanyahu as well as words drawn from Netanyahu’s personal letters and writings along with remembrances by his ex-wife, three Israeli Prime Ministers and recently-released audio of the daring raid itself. There is a good reason why Israeli commandos are the most highly-regarded soldiers in the world. The film is tangible proof of their bravery, loyalty and sacrifice. This is a bittersweet story. Like all men Netanyahu had his shortcomings, which are duly noted. However, his achievement will always be remembered and celebrated. This film is a great way to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the State of Israel.
A Magnificent “Les Miserables” By Skip Sheffield If ever there was an epic stage musical, “Les Miserables” is it. Theater-lovers have a unique treat available only through May 26 with the 25th anniversary edition of “Les Miserables” at Kravis Center in West Palm Beach. This is a somewhat scaled-down version of the musical I first saw more than 20 years ago in Miami Beach, but it is no less powerful. This stage musical is based upon Victor Hugo’s 1862 novel of the same name. Many consider it the finest work of literature of the 19th century. “Les Miserables” is a massive work of five volumes, 365 chapters and 1,400 pages unabridged. Obviously it could never fit in a two-and-a-half-hour musical, but producer Cameron Mackintosh and original director Trevor Nunn, working from a French script by Alain Boublil and Jean-Marc Natel, worked miracles in 1985 by shoehorning the sprawling 1815-1832 story into a workable show. This 25th anniversary Cameron Mackintosh production is faithful to the music by composer Claude-Michel Schonberg and lyricist Herbert Kretzmer, and it is distinguished by amazing new set design and projections by Fifty-Nine Productions. The story centers on Jean Valjean (Peter Lockyer), a luckless young man who is arrested for stealing a loaf of bread to feed his starving sister and her family. The story begins in 1815 in Digne, France after Valjean has been released from 19 years in prison. In those days an ex-prisoner was forced to carry a yellow passport, which branded him as an offender. The story moves forward to 1823 in Montreuil-Sur-Mer, where Valjean has been taken in by the kindly Bishop (Joseph Spieldenner). Valjean shows his gratitude by stealing the Bishop’s silverware. He is shocked when the Bishop covers for him to the police, forgives him, and even gives him two valuable candlesticks. While it delves into French history, politics, moral philosophy, anti-royal sentiment and justice, “Les Miserables’ is ultimately a tale of redemption, both for Valjean and the man who torments him, Inspector Javert (Andrew Varela). Valjean earns his redemption by loving the destitute Fantine (Betsey Morgan) and her out-of-wedlock daughter Cosette (Lauren Wiley as the adult Cosette). Cosette is in turned loved by Marius (Max Quinlan), an idealistic student who hates the monarchy. This production is enlivened by the comic antics of the corrupt innkeepers the Thenardiers, played by Shawna M. Hamic and Timothy Gulan. All of the cast are wonderful singers, but the sound is mixed unmercifully loud for those who are not hard of hearing. Still it is a grand and glorious production. I defy you not to be moved by Lockyer’s beautiful “Bring Him Home.” Tickets start at $27 and may be reserved by calling 800-572-8471 or going to

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Fear Not Old Age, Laugh By Skip Sheffield Don’t fear old age. Laugh at it. That is the cheerful attitude of “Best Exotic Marigold Hotel,” a cheeky comedy featuring some of the best older British actors working today. Dame Judi Dench heads a cast of seasoned pros who are not afraid of having a little fun at their own expense. The premise is that a diverse group of cash-strapped British retirees collectively fall for a photo-shopped brochure boasting a charming, newly restored and affordable “Best Exotic Marigold Hotel for the Elderly and Beautiful” in Jaipur, India. The reality is that the hotel is a decrepit relic of the British colonial era run by Sonny (Dev Patel of “Slumdog Millionaire”) in partnership with his two absent, older, more successful brothers. The seven British visitors are the first and only guests. Based on the 2004 novel “These Foolish Things” by Deborah Moggach, with screenplay by Ol Parker, “Marigold Hotel” is a comedy of cultural clashes and reality adjustments, directed by John Madden (“The Debt”). Judi Dench is Evelyn Greenslade, a proud woman so broke she is forced to seek employment at an Indian call center. Nevertheless Evelyn is resourceful and clever and determined to make the best of her Indian adventure. Her opposite is Muriel Donnelly (Maggie Smith), a hard-working housekeeper who was dumped for a younger woman. Perhaps as a result of her oppressed lot, Muriel has become distinctly racist. Graham Dashwood (Tom Wilkinson) is the only one in the group acquainted with India, as he spent the first 18 years of his life there. A former high court judge, Graham is returning to India for a special reason near and dear to his heart. Bill Nighy and Penelope Wilson play Douglas and Jean Ainslie, a couple married nearly 50 years but falling out of love. Ronald Pickup is Norman, an aging Lothario who doesn’t quite realize he is no longer appealing to women. Celia Imrie is Madge Hardcastle, a woman unlucky in love but still searching. Contrasting with the older characters is the young love of Sonny for Sunaina (Tena Desae), a beautiful girl deemed not suitable for Sonny by his class-conscious mother. “Marigold Hotel” is funny, romantic, touching and an utter delight for people of all ages. “Dark Shadows” Played for Laughs It is helpful to see “Dark Shadows” with someone who is a fan of the old television show as well as a fan of Johnny Depp. My friend Beth fits both descriptions. She watched the 1966-1971 television series and its re-runs religiously and she has always had a thing for Depp. I on the other hand was not interested in a soap opera with vampires and werewolves. Director Tim Burton is a professed admirer of “Dark Shadows” and Johnny Depp has long waited to play the head vampire, Barnabas Collins. So Depp applies whiteface and dark eye makeup once again to play the role of cursed vampire Barnabas Collins, who came with his family from England to coastal Maine to found a thriving fishing business and a town named after him: Collinsport. Though he was the most successful man in town and built the imposing Collinwood manor, Barnabas ran afoul of the local witch when he fell in love with fair Josette Dupres (Bella Heathcote). In a jealous rage the witch cursed Barnabas, turned him into a vampire, and buried him alive in a coffin. That coffin is unearthed 200 years later in 1972. Rather than being overly reverential or serious, Tim Burton opts for a comic approach to the far-fetched tale and its overblown characters. Depp’s Barnabas is a second cousin to his prancing pirate, Jack Sparrow. The character who is the most fun to watch is Eva Green as bitchy, witchy Angelique Bouchard. It’s good to see Michelle Pfeiffer back in action as regal matriarch Elizabeth Collins Stoddard. Jackie Earle Haley makes the most of his role as the family’s booze-swilling caretaker. The 1970s-era details are fun too. “Dark Shadows” may not strike terror, but it is good for a few good laughs. “The Cup” Old-Fashioned Horserace Drama On the serious side is “The Cup.” It’s a lovely, old-fashioned film by Simon Wincer (“Phar Lap,” “Free Willy”) film about the true story of the Melbourne Cup horse race of 2002. The Melbourne Cup is like the Kentucky Derby of Australia. The 2002 race was particularly dramatic not only because of the thrilling outcome of the race, but also the offstage drama. Damien Oliver (Stephen Curry) and his brother Jason (Daniel MacPherson) were born into a horseracing family. The boys’ father Ray died 20 years earlier in a racing accident. Just days before the Melbourne Cup, Jason Oliver too was killed in a racing accident. Damien Oliver was wracked with guilt and unsure if he should race the temperamental horse Media Puzzle, trained in Ireland by the great horse trainer Dermot Weld (Brendan Gleeson). I have never seen Brendan Gleeson deliver a bad performance, and he does not disappoint here. However, the human characters are secondary to the beautiful horses and racing sequences. That alone is worth the price of admission. A Dysfunctional "Perfect family" “The Perfect Family” is the ironic title of a very imperfect one, starring Kathleen Turner as Eileen Cleary, a devout Catholic suburban New Jersey housewife who is Campaigning hard for Catholic Woman of the Year at her parish. The fly in this ointment is the fact Eileen must introduce her family to the church board for their approval. Her husband Frank Cleary (Michael McGrady) is a recovering alcoholic teetering on relapse. Son Frank Jr. (Jason Ritter) is unhappily married and having an affair with a manicurist. The “piece de resistance” is daughter Shannon (Emily Deschanel), five months pregnant and determined to marry her girlfriend. While this is supposed to be zany, dysfunctional family fun under the direction of Anne Renton, I found it uncomfortable. When I saw Kathleen Turner recently playing a nun onstage, she looked better than in this film, which must have been made at the peak of her weight gain. Richard Chamberlain must have fallen on hard times to take a gig as the parish priest, Monsignor Murphy.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

"Marvel's Avengers" Furiously Funny

By Skip Sheffield The idea of comic book super heroes has always seemed silly to me. Sure I like Superman, the grand daddy of them all, but the increasingly outlandish characters concocted by Marvel Comics don’t really interest me. So I went to “Marvel’s The Avengers” with low expectations. Surprise! It’s a ton of fun and very funny, and that’s why I enjoyed this absurd adventure. Writer-director Joss Whedon (“Serenity”) has a great sense of humor. His cast has taken a tongue-in-cheek comic approach that mocks the ridiculousness of the plot line and lame character development. There are six, count ‘em six, super heroes in “Avengers,” starting with another grand daddy figure: Captain America. Chris Evans has already starred as the mythical hero, created in 1940, in his own feature. Writer-director Whedon and Zak Penn (”The Hulk,” “X-men” 2 and 3) have provided a back story that refers to the Captain being frozen in ice. The real story is that the rah-rah all-American hero, who was the most popular comic book hero of the World War II era, was retired in the early 1960s when he went out of fashion. Evans’ America is very much stuck in the patriotic, anti-Nazi mode, but in this case the villain is not a Nazi but simply the nasty, destructive god Loki (Tom Hiddleston), who happens to be the brother of fellow god Thor (Chris Hemsworth), who wields a mean hammer. Loki is a sneering, sniveling scoundrel just born to be booed. The chief quipster on the super team is unflappable Tony Stark/Iron Man, played to deadpan perfection by Robert Downey, Jr. Giving Downey a run for his money is Mark Ruffalo as a more human, subtle Bruce Banner, who mutates into the green, giant, computer-generated Hulk every time he gets angry enough. Jeremy Renner plays the deadly archer Clint Barton, who has an endless supply of lethal arrows as Hawkeye, and Scarlett Johansson is the vaguely Russian Natasha Romanoff, aka Black Widow. Natasha is not given a whole lot to do, nor is Gwyneth Paltrow, reprising her loyal girlfriend Pepper Potts, and everyone is upstaged by spectacular CGI special effects. How many times will New York City be destroyed in these capers? It just wouldn’t be science fiction without the Chrysler Building and Empire State Building being menaced. Grand Central Station gets some good screen time too. “Avengers” goes on a bit long and there are lulls between the laughs, but it’s great fun- a lot more fun that most super hero adventures.