Friday, June 29, 2012

"Magic Mike" Fun, "Ted" Not So Much

“Magic Mike” Raunchy Fun for Females
By Skip Sheffield

Two offbeat adult romantic comedies open this weekend. “Magic Mike” is aimed more specifically at the female audience.
The ladies turned out in force for a preview screening at AMC Aventura. They were whipped into a squealing, screaming frenzy by a fast-talking Miami radio personality. Frankly it was a little scary, but it set the tone for “Magic Mike,” a yarn about strutting male strippers in a tawdry Tampa “Club Xquisite.”
Channing Tatum stars as the title character. He also co-produced the film, which was directed by Steven Soderbergh.
You could say Tatum has an intimate knowledge of the subject matter, as he did some stripping before he turned to acting.
Tatum is still a better dancer (and stripper) than he is an actor, but that is perfectly fine for this story, written by Reid Carolin. While there are elements of a cautionary tale, most of this is played for laughs and bawdy physical fun.
Mike (Tatum) is the star of Club Xquisite, which is run by an ex-stripper named Dallas (a superbly chiseled Matthew McConaughey).
We see Mike in action, thrilling a girl who has just turned 21 and who just wants to have fun with her girlfriends.
Mike has a day job working construction. On the job he meets Adam (Alex Pettyfer), a 19-year-old guy he calls “The Kid.”
Mike sees potential in The Kid, and when a guy falls to show up for a show, he pushes Dallas to give Adam a chance. He turns out to be a natural.
Complications ensue when Mike falls for Adam’s protective older sister Brooke (Cody) and Adam becomes entangled with dope-dealing shady characters.
But “Magic Mike’ is not about the perils of stripping or drugs. It’s more about the joy of proudly strutting your stuff, with a side plot of accepting grown-up responsibility.  It’s not a movie I would want to see alone, but it is fun seeing women express their carnal fantasies like, um, men.

Three stars

“Ted” Very Raunchy; Not Much Fun for Anyone

Much less enjoyable is “Ted,” which is a tawdry tale about a 35-year-old man who has to choose between his best friend, a childhood Teddy bear, and a real-life woman.
“Ted” is directed and co-written by irreverent “Family Guy” creator Seth MacFarlane, who also voices the CG-animated Ted.
“Ted” is set specifically in Boston to take advantage of star Mark Wahlberg’s real-life background.
The story begins in 1985 with a Christmas wish by young John Bennett (Bretton Manley) that his beloved Teddy bear could to life. Thanks to the magic of computer animation Ted not only springs to life, he develops a randy personality of his own.
“Ted” is rated R. Much of the humor derives from the shock value of a foul-mouthed Teddy bear doing raunchy things. Ted is like a perennial adolescent, always on the make. Inexplicably women find this attractive.
John has a longtime girlfriend named Lori (Mila Kunis) who also inexplicably tolerates Ted as a rival for her affections. A crossroads is met when John and Lori come home to find Ted partying with four hookers. It’s not so much the hookers but the really gross thing one of them has done that disgusts Lori.
Understandably Lori is issues an ultimatum: the bear or me.
I don’t know what is so tragic about a man having to man up, but a number of Hollywood fantasies seem to be based on the same “dilemma.” Jason Segal had the same problem in “The Muppets,” but that was a kinder, gentler and more touching comedy. “Ted” is simply gross and not much fun.

Two stars

Monday, June 25, 2012

"Xanadu" in West Boca Raton


A Lively “Xanadu” at the West End of Glades Road
By Skip Sheffield

“Xanadu” was a movie so bad it inspired the creation of the Golden Raspberry Awards, or “Razzies” in 1981.
The story, set in Venice Beach, California in 1980, was ludicrous. The stars, Olivia Newton-John and Michael Beck, were unconvincing and lacked chemistry.
 There were two things in the film’s favor: a soundtrack by Electric Light Orchestra’s Jeff Lynne and a final film appearance by the great Gene Kelly as failed musician-turned construction magnate Danny Maguire.
So it was with the lowest of expectations I braved the rain to drive all the way to the end of Glades Road to see Blow Burn Theatre’s production of the musical “Xanadu,” continuing through July 1 at West Boca Raton High School.
By golly, surprise! “Xanadu” was a campy, hilarious delight, much more enjoyable than the movie that inspired it.
Playwright Douglas Carter Beane wisely jettisoned most of the story and re-wrote it with a wink and a nod to Hollywood, gay humor, and musical theater conventions.
The main thing Beane kept was the initial premise of a Greek goddess, Clio, who springs to life out of a chalk mural in Venice Beach and roller skates into the life of aspiring artist Sonny Malone. Sonny is a young guy who dreams of opening a roller disco nightclub in the never-opened, long-shuttered theater called Xanadu.
Clio, who is also called Kira, is played by a powerhouse, outsized talent named Lindsey Forgery. For her impersonation of Olivia Newton-John, Lindsey wears pink legwarmers, a platinum blond wig and affects an exaggerated Australian accent.
Rick Pena has a fine tenor voice and naïve appeal as Sonny, a mortal who falls into forbidden love with immortal goddess Clio/Kira. The role of Danny Maguire (and a couple others) is played by versatile Larry Buzzeo.
Clio/Kira has a Greek chorus of eight sister muses, two of them played by guys in tutus. Conor Walton and Jerel Brown make a good sight gag, and Walton is one heck of a good tap-dancer.
Two of the muses are wicked and want to see Clio/Kira banished from Mount Olympus. Renata Eastlick is outstandingly wicked as malevolent Melpomene, getting her nasty on with “Strange Magic.”
Director/Choreographer Patrick Fitzwater has wisely staged the show in a single 90-minute act, which gives one no time to ponder the absurdities of the show.
The vocal harmonies are strong and there is a spritely onstage four-piece band to propel ELO’s great songs, augmented by additional numbers by John Farrar.
Have you never been mellow? This show brings new meaning to that once-sappy song.
Shows are 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday. Tickets are $20 students, $30 seniors and $35 adults. Call 866-811-4111.

Friday, June 22, 2012

"Brave" an Instant Classic

------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- “Brave” an Instant Classic with a Timeless Message ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- By Skip Sheffield Though “Brave” is set in 10th century Scotland, it is dedicated to the contemporary figure of Apple innovator Steve Jobs, who bought Pixar Studios in 1986 and sold it to Disney in 2006. That alone should tell you this first Pixar-Disney CG 3-D animated fairy tale is no ordinary children’s story. “Brave” is quite extraordinary as a matter of fact. For one thing it has a strong young female hero, Princess Merida. She is an expert archer voiced by Kelly Macdonald. For another thing, Merida is a defiant feminist who does not want to follow the dictates of her tradition-bound mother, Queen Elinor (Emma Thompson). It comes as no surprise the story was written by a woman, Brenda Chapman, who originally was set to direct as well (Mark Andrews was ultimately tapped as director). It was Merida’s genial father, King Fergus (Billy Connolly) who unwittingly sowed the seeds of rebellion when Merida was a young girl by giving her a bow and arrows for her birthday. When Merida defies her mother by declaring an archery competition to win her hand, then humiliates the young suitors, the family fabric is rent both physically and metaphorically. “Brave” is much darker than typical children’s fare, and some parts of it toward the dramatic finale may frighten wee ones. The violent action is lightened with much physical levity (love Merida’s three little red-headed brothers). The underlying message about the sanctity of family and the healing power of forgiveness add an almost biblical weight. “Legends are lessons,” we are told. Although this legend is brand new, it rings of eternal truth. Don’t miss the charming opening short, “La Luna.” ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- “Safety Not Guaranteed” in Time-Travel Romance ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- “Safety Not Guaranteed” may be the first time-travel romantic fantasy ever based on a newspaper want ad. Derek Connolly won the Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award at Sundance Film Festival for a story inspired by an actual ad: “Wanted: Someone to go back in time with me. This is not a joke. You’ll get paid when we get back. Must bring your own weapons. Safety not guaranteed.” Time-travel has been the stuff of fantasy even before H.G. Wells and Jules Verne in the 19th century. “Safety Not Guaranteed” is a modern hipster spinoff, set in scenic Ocean View, Washington. Romance, of course, is eternal. Kenneth Calloway (Mark Duplass), an eccentric, somewhat paranoid, possibly brilliant young man, placed the ad. A young Seattle magazine reporter, Jeff (Jake M. Johnson) and two green interns Arnau (Karan Soni) and Darius (Aubrey Plaza) set out on a possible wild goose chase to see if Kenneth is for real. Director Colin Trevorrow has a wonderfully light touch and balance between absurd comedy and touching, budding romance. It helps that Mark Duplass and Aubrey Plaza are adorable together and we want to believe them. Yes, ultimately “Safety Not Guaranteed” is an effective date flick. You may be left to ponder what romance has ever been safe- or life itself for that matter?

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Aliens-a-Popping in “Prometheus” By Skip Sheffield Great green gobs of greasy, grimy gopher guts… yuck! That childhood gross-out rhyme for me sums up “Prometheus,” Sir Ridley Scott’s own reboot of his “Alien” series that began in 1979. The story begins promisingly with a cast of new characters and a story set in the year 2089, starting in Scotland. Archeologists Dr. Elizabeth Shaw (Swedish actress Noomi Rapace) and Charlie Holloway (Logan Marshall-Green) have discovered a star map in a cave from an ancient culture which may have clues as to the origins of the Human race. Peter Weyland (Guy Pearce, almost unrecognizable under old man makeup), founder of shadowy Weyland Industries, is so intrigued he agrees to fund the space ship Prometheus for a trip to the distant moon LV-223. Weymouth appoints his cold-blooded lieutenant Meredith Vickers (Charlize Theron at her most fearsome) as head of the mission, with gruff Janek (Idris Elba) as Captain. An android called David (Michael Fassbender with bleached hair and matching blank expression) is the navigator and computer brain of the operation. Along for the ride are botanist Milburn (Rafe Spall) medic Ford (Kate Dickie), navigators Chance and Ravel (Emun Elliott and Benedict Wong) and geologist Fifield (Sean Harris). Fifield is supposed to be the voice of caution and reason, but all caution will be thrown to the wind once the ship lands on the forbidden planet and someone breaks Vickers’ cardinal rule: avoid direct contact with anything that may be an alien. Though this is not exactly a prequel to the original “Alien,” there are many nods to that ground-breaking film. The character of Elizabeth Shaw is a lot like Sigourney Weaver’s heroic Ripley in the original. As much as I admired Noomi Rapace as Lisbeth Salander in the original Stieg Larsson trilogy about a fearless computer-hacking girl, she is not as commanding a presence as was Weaver. However, horrible things happen to poor Dr. Shaw, and there is one alarming scene involving an emergency operation that is every bit as stomach-churning as when the original Alien sprang from John Hurt’s chest. “Prometheus” poses very big questions about the origins of life and the existence of God, but about an hour into this film they are overwhelmed by the mayhem. I think Ridley got carried away with startling special effects that weren’t possible 30 years ago. I must say monsters have come a long way from the puppet-like creatures in the Japanese and low-budget American horror films of my childhood. I’m not sure that’s a good thing. This is a noisy film, and the screening we attended at Cinemark Palace the sound was so loud I spent most of the film with my fingers in my ears. If I sound like an old fart, maybe I am. Sorry. Two and a half stars “Elena” is a melancholy morality tale from contemporary Russia that poses no solution to a haunting question. Directed by Andrei Zvyagintsev with screenplay by Oleg Negin, “Elena” is dark, gloomy and portentous, with ever-present black crows cawing within and without. Elena (Nadezhda Markina) is probably around 60, married to the indifferent Vladimir, a wealthy post-socialist businessman. Elena seems more like a housekeeper than a wife. This may be because she once was Vladimir’s nurse ten years earlier. Since she has no real love at home, Elena dotes on her shiftless, lazy son Sergy (Aleksey Rozin), his slacker teenage son Sasha (Igor Ogurtson), and his infant offspring. Sergy lives in a seedy, crumbling Soviet development on the outskirts of Moscow. Elena shows her mother’s love by regularly doling out money she wheedles from Vladimir to her unappreciative son. When Vladimir suffers a heart attack and is incapacitated, Elena encourages him to make up with his estranged daughter Katerina (Yelena Lyadova), a drug-addled slut. In rich Russian irony, the reconciliation exceeds beyond Elena’s expectation, and Vladimir coldly announces he is cutting Elena out of his will and giving almost everything to Katerina. Meanwhile Sergy has been pressuring Elena to give money to the sullen Sasha go he can go to college rather than the military. Elena is caught between the proverbial rock and a hard place, and she makes a fateful decision that will alter everything. Chekov seems cheerful by comparison to this rancid, depressing vision of modern Russia, with foreboding music by Philip Glass. “Elena” has been hailed as a near masterpiece (“Un Certain Regard” at Cannes), but it sure isn’t much fun. Three stars On a much cheerier note, George Hamilton is back in town to star in the gay musical “La Cage aux Folles” June 12-24 at Broward Center for the Arts. Hamilton stars as Georges, owner of the St. Tropez nightclub of the title. Christopher Sieber is Albin, aka Zaza, star of the show and love of Georges. The lovely score is by University of Miami graduate Jerry Herman and book is by Harvey Fierstein. Tickets start at $25.25 and may be reserved by calling 954-462-0222 or by going to

Friday, June 1, 2012

Positive "Proof" and Disunited Nations
Positive “Proof” at Palm Beach Dramaworks By Skip Sheffield With the apparent demise of Caldwell Theatre Company, we must look to the north for quality stage classics. Happily, Palm Beach Dramaworks moved into a beautiful, larger theater just in time to fill the void left by the bankruptcy of Florida Stage and the subsequent closing of Caldwell Theatre. “Proof” is the current production, up through June 17 at 201 Clematis St., West Palm Beach. It is wonderfully realized by a four-member cast under the direction of William Hayes. “Proof” won the 2001 Pulitzer Prize for playwright David Auburn. It is easy to see why. The play is both about the nature of genius versus madness and the love of a father for his daughter. The father is Robert, played by former Caldwell Theatre educational director Kenneth Kay. The daughter Catherine is played by Katherine Michelle Turner. Roberts is a brilliant but unbalanced University of Chicago mathematics professor who has recently passed away. His daughter Catherine, 25, is also passionate about mathematics. She is a Northwestern University graduate student who may have authored the ground-breaking proof of the title. She may also share her father’s gene for mental instability. There is a romantic notion that there is a fine line between imaginative creativity and madness. Some psychological studies have found a common link between depression, bi-polarism and genius. “Proof” is more about family that it is about madness, and thereby lies its appeal. Catherine has an older sister Claire, played by Sarah Grace Wilson. Claire is a no-nonsense New York City currency analyst who wants Catherine to move in her and her husband. A fourth character is Hal (Cliff Burgess), also a graduate mathematician, whom Robert mentored. There is a certain romantic attraction between Hal and the professor’s daughter, but there is an element of doubt too. Hal does not believe Catherine has the intellect to create the complex proof he can barely understand. “Proof’ is a play of subtlety and nuance, set on a wonderfully realistic set by Michael Amico. Is genius akin to madness? Who knows? We are but mere mortals, but one thing is certain: “Proof” is a most satisfying piece of theater worthy of your notice. Tickets are $55. Call 561-514-4042 or visit A Very Disunited United Nations I used to think people who put down the United Nations were right-wing cranks. After seeing “U.N. and Me” I am not so sure. Ami Horowitz was an investment banker who back in 2006 became so troubled by the U.N. that he gave up his job, raised $2 million, and began traveling the world documenting the shortcomings and downright corruption of the world agency founded 60 years ago to promote peace and understanding amongst the disparate countries of the world. “U.N. and Me” is a funny, sarcastic film, but Horowitz is dead serious. Sometimes the U.N. promotes the exact opposite of peace. Sometimes altruistic programs, such as “Oil for Food,” go to line the pockets of despots and dictators. I can report first-hand that sometimes the U.N.’s presence has a very negative impact on a country. It was the U.N. that inadvertently introduced cholera to Haiti a year ago, resulting in thousands of deaths. Obviously there is no such thing as global consensus, but this wry, clear-eyed analysis of the U.N.’s shortcomings is a good place to start.