Thursday, August 23, 2012

A Robot and a National Treasure

Frank Langella Superb in “Robot & Frank”

By Skip Sheffield

Actor Frank Langella is a national treasure who has won awards on stage, in television and movies. At age 74 Langella is at the peak of his skills. Exhibit A is “Robot & Frank,” a film that opened this year’s Palm Beach International Film Festival. It opens Aug. 31 at FAU’s Living Room Theaters.
“Robot & Frank” is based on a story by Christopher D. Ford, 31, who wrote it as a thesis as a graduate student at New York University. Ford’s NYU classmate Jake Scheir, 30, directs.
The story is set in the “near future,” which means things are familiar, but there are some technological upgrades. The most significant is the android robot of the title, designed as a caretaker and help mate for Frank Weld (Langella), an ex-con former cat burglar who lives alone in a messy house in upstate New York. The robot is bought by Frank’s concerned adult children Hunter (James Marsden) and Madison (Liv Tyler). The kids have good reason to fear their dad is slipping into dementia. The robot can help and protect him and Frank discovers further practical though illegal uses for his little helpmate, voiced drolly by Peter Sarsgaard.
Like most older people Frank has his good days and his bad. When he is feeling frisky he visits the local library and flirts with pretty Jennifer (Susan Sarandon).
Jennifer’s days as librarian are numbered however, because a rich young entrepreneur (Jeremy Strong) has bought the library building. He plans to digitalize all the books and get rid of the hard copies. One very valuable specimen is a first edition of Cervantes’ “Don Quixote.”
“Robot & Frank” is a comedy with serious theme regarding aging, independence, love and responsibility. Langella is such a consummate actor he pulls off the divergent aspects of his character with ease. He could not have asked for better support than what he gets from Susan Sarandon, Liv Tyler and James Marsden. “Robot & Frank” is a little masterpiece that unites generations in a creative cause. It is proof a movie doesn’t have to be big, expensive noisy or violent to be good.

A Dark But Prescient "Cosmopolis"

A Dark and Gloomy Portrait of One-Percenters

Out Aug. 24, “Cosmopolis” was written before the current Occupy Wall Street ruckus. It was filmed by Canadian director David Cronenberg before the recent battle-of -classes clashes. It now seems prescient.
Cronenberg wrote a screenplay based on Don DeLillo’s 2003 novel and completed filming in July, 2011 in Toronto, Canada.
British actor Robert Pattinson, best known as Edward the vampire in the “Twilight” movies, plays Eric Packer, a 28-year-old financial genius in New York City.
The action, what little there is, largely occurs in Packer’s 30-foot stretch limousine attended by bodyguards, driver and stern guys with phones in their ears.
“I want a haircut,” Packer announces imperially. What he wants, he gets, no matter what is going on in the rest of the world
Eric is arrogant, cruel and ruthless; qualities which are an asset in business and particularly in the volatile currency trading market, which he keeps tabs on via flicking video screens.
“A rat became a unit of currency,” we are told at the outset. The rat in Eric’s case is the Japanese Yen. Eric has made a huge and reckless bet on the currency, and it will come back to bite him, so to speak, over the next few hours.
Rats are a recurring motif in “Cosmopolis.” Protesters carry dead rats. Some dress up like rats and some carry huge rat puppets.
In his long day’s journey into night in quest of haircut, Eric will get turned down for sex by his recently betrothed wife (icy Sarah Gadon). He will have wild and athletic limousine sex with his middle-aged mistress Didi (Juliette Binoche) and a visiting hooker. He will hail his financial advisor (Emily Hampshire) in the middle of her daily jog and demand a meeting then and there. Eric will even get a prostate exam from his doctor in the limo as the outside world boils and protesters trash and spray-paint the white limo.
Eric is detached, deadpan and soulless; qualities which Robert Pattinson is adept at conveying. It is almost as if he needs to experience pain to feel anything. He ultimately will, but the viewer will not feel sorry for him.
There is very little to like, admire or embrace about “Cosmopolis.” If you are one of the angry 99-percenters, this film will confirm your opinion about selfish, greedy, mendacious bankers and titans of Wall Street. I don’t think Cronenberg intended us to like this dark vision of corporate capitalism run amok. I think he wanted us to feel disgust. Consider yourself forewarned.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Ariana Savalas a First-Class Flirt

Ariana Savalas knows how to please a guy.
You have two more weekends to catch this young, tall, pretty and vivacious and singer Aug. 24 and 25 and Aug. 31 and Sept 1 in the Royal Room Cabaret of the Colony Hotel, 155 Hammon Road, Palm Beach.
I know of what I speak because I saw Ms. Savalas perform opening night Aug. 17.
Ms. Savalas has a good sense of humor like her late father "Who loves ya baby" Telly. She was bemused to note the Colony had her billed as “just 22.” Not that age matters, Ariana is 25, which in Palm Beach is just a kid. However, she has musical tastes that date back to the 1920s. She set the mood with Cole Porter’s “I Get a Kick Out of You” from the 1934 Broadway musical, “Anything Goes.”
Backed by piano, electric and acoustic guitar, stand-up bass and delightful and durable drummer Julie Jacobs, Ariana livened up the party with a list of with a somewhat suggestive songs such as “Peel Me a Grape” and “Making Whoopie.” To boost the charge further, Ariana travels the room and pays attention to every man in the room, regardless of age or physical appearance.
Guys are susceptible to this kind of flattery, and I more than most. Yes Ariana, I would “Like to Swing on a Star.” Thanks for making me feel seven feet tall.
Tickets are $90 for dinner and show or $50 for show only. Call 561-659-8100.

Friday, August 17, 2012

"Timothy Green' Clubs with Inspiration

“The Odd Life of Timothy Green” Too Sappy for Most

“The Odd Life of Timothy Green” is a Disney film fable neither fish nor fowl. It is intended for a young audience, yet it is aimed more at parents. I’m afraid it will please neither group very much.
Jennifer Garner and Joel Edgerton are Cindy and Jim Green, a childless couple who want a child so badly they write down the qualities of a son they don’t have, and bury the notes in a box in their back yard, perhaps expecting a miracle.
 There is a big rain storm- apparently over their house alone because there is a drought everywhere else- and lo and behold in mid-deluge a 10-year-old boy (C.J. Adams) appears at their front door, covered in mud. He is like any other boy except he has leaves attached to his ankles. Yep, Timothy, as the Greens call the boy, has sprung up from the ground (almost) fully-formed.
This premise, based on an idea by Ahmet Zappa (Frank’s son) and fleshed out by writer-director Peter Hedges, is a whopping giant leap of faith. The rest of the story is equally trying, as saint-like little Timothy learns a lot of life’s lessons in a brief time, making everyone better in the process.
On the positive side, CJ Adams is a really appealing kid, and so is Odeya Rush as the misfit girl who befriends him and encourages his artistic side.
“Timothy Green’ is supposed to be inspirational, but it hits you over the head with that intention, losing any subtle charm.

Arabs and Jews as Friends?

“Free Men” Sheds Light on Little-Known Heroes of Nazi-Occupied France

By Skip Sheffield

Arabs and Jews as friends?
Ah oui, that is the unusual scenario of “Free Men,” a film inspired by real events in France in World War II.
Directed by Moroccan-born Ismael Ferroukhi, “Free Men” was a hit at Sundance and Toronto Film Festival and is now playing FAU’s Living Room Theaters.
“Free Men” stars charismatic young French actor Teher Rahim, whose character of Younes represents nameless North African Muslims who cooperated with the French Resistance against the Nazis and saved Jews from death camps.
Like many of his Moroccan countrymen, Younes immigrated to France in the 1930s to find a better life. Younes worked in a factory for two years, but contracted tuberculosis, lost his job, and was forced to make a precarious living as a black marketer.
Younes is arrested by French police, but he is given a chance to avoid jail by spying on parishioners at the Paris Mosque and reporting any suspicious activity.
Occupying German forces suspected the Mosque’s rector, Ben Ghabrit, was aiding and abetting North African Jews by giving them fake passports and papers identifying them as Muslims.
Ben Ghabrit. Played by Michael Lonsdale, is based on a real-life character.
So is Salim Halali, played by Mahmud Shalaby. Salim was a celebrated Moroccan singer of Jewish ancestry and thereby in imminent peril.
It is Younes’ friendship with Salim, and also his budding love for Leila (Lubna Azabal), a fiery Resistance fighter, that changes Younes’ heart and inspires him to join the Resistance as a double agent.
“Free Men” plays out like a thriller, with heroes, villains an exciting car chase and shootout. What adds to the satisfaction is that at film’s end we are told of the fate of the actual characters.
One is left with the thought: if Muslims once risked theirs lives to save Jews, could they not put aside the bitter hatred that divides the world today?

Three and a half stars

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Laughs and thrills

“The Campaign” Lampoons Dirty Politics

By Skip Sheffield

If you are as sick as I am about the vicious attacks on both ends of the political spectrum over the coming elections, you may appreciate as I did the crude, over-the-top R-rated satire “The Candidate.”
“The Candidate” does for politics what Austin Powers did for British secret agents: it’s a total spoof of what is worst about both genres. It is no small coincidence that director Jay Roach also directed “Meet the Parents’ and its sequel and “Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery” and its sequel.
Will Ferrell stars as Cam Brady, the smug, firmly-entrenched four-term Congressman from the diddly-squat 14th District of North Carolina. Brady seems to be a shoe-in for a fifth term, but he screws up royally by leaving a salacious voice mail intended for his mistress on the home phone of a family of his pious, ultra-conservative constituents.
Seizing the opportunity, the ultra-rich, manipulative and amoral Motch (rhymes with Koch) brothers (Dan Aykroyd and John Lithgow) feel they can buy themselves a docile Congressman who will enable them to outsource local jobs to China for maximum profit. Marty Huggins (Zach Galifianakis), a meek tourism bureau guide, is tapped as the perfect patsy.
The Motch brothers hire the utterly ruthless Tim Wattley (Dylan McDermott) as Marty’s campaign manager, and the mud fights begin.
The script by Chris Hency and Shawn Harwell has a haphazard quality to it, but it does have some real zingers. It seems that everything political boils down to sex or money or a combination of the two, with both sanctimonious characters wrapping themselves in the cloak of professed religion.
Will Ferrell is a fearless farceur, and his slapstick gaffes are the hallmark of his performance. Galifianakis is more subtle as the fey, slow-to-burn Marty, but given enough humiliation he rises to the occasion and finally begins to fight.
Much of the movie is crass and cruel, making fun of fat people, religious hypocrites and devout people alike, but there are plenty of gross laughs. Sarah Baker should get some kind of reward for swallowing her pride so completely as Marty’s pudgy, gullible wife.
“It’s a mess!” is Marty’s campaign slogan. “The Campaign” is nothing if not messy, but it sure has some laughs.

“Bourne Legacy” Goes On With Mas Macho New Hero

Matt Damon is gone but his spirit lingers on in “The Bourne Legacy.” This is the fourth in a series based on Robert Ludlam’s Jason Bourne novels and the first not to star Damon as the intrepid super-agent. Bourne went MIA after dismembering the black op Operation Blackbriar in the last installment, but he is referred to and we even see a poster-sized picture of him. Returning in reduced roles are David Strathairn, Albert Finney, Scott Glenn and Joan Allen. Tony Gilroy wrote a new story with his brother Dan only just inspired by Ludlam’s characters. He also directs.
Aaron Cross is the new guy, played by Jeremy Renner. The movie opens with Aaron toughening up in Alaska in freezing cold. Like Bourne, Aaron is a special operative with the CIA, but it doesn’t take him long to realize they want him terminated after he narrowly escapes a missile that blows up the cabin he was in.
Then a doctor freaks out at a laboratory in Washington and begins to shoot fellow doctors.
Cowering in fear is Dr. Marta Shearling (Rachel Weisz), a research scientist who has worked on mind-altering virus drugs at the sinister Outcome labs.
Aaron happens to be on one of these drugs, and his supply is running out. Without the drug he will lose his mind, die or both.
In one of many spectacular escapes, Aaron is able to bust Marta out of the lab, and so begins a worldwide chase with CIA assassins in close pursuit. Marta tells Aaron the only was she can make an antidote is to go to the lab in Manila, The Philippines, where it was created.
Jeremy Renner is one fine physical specimen. The stunts he pulls off are amazing yet somehow believable. My favorite is the craziest, most thrilling motorcycle chase I’ve ever seen, filmed in the teeming streets of Manila, with Aaron and Marta astride an off-the-road dirtbike, chased at breakneck speed by a thug on a stolen police bike.
Renner and Weisz are an attractive couple and they have good chemistry. Weisz has a winning combination of brains, beauty and understated sexiness to match Renner’s brawn and bravado.
I have no doubt we’ll be seeing more of Mr. Renner as Aaron Cross. Whether or not he’ll be paired again with Ms. Weisz we don’t know, but it’s a strong bet it will be a good show.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Cathy Rigby Takes Flight in West Palm Beach


Cathy Rigby Flies High as “Peter Pan”

By Skip Sheffield

What an amazing phenomenon is the winsome little woman named Cathy Rigby.
Former Olympic gymnast Cathy Rigby is the star of a revitalized “Peter Pan,” playing just through Sunday, Aug. 5 at Kravis Center in West Palm Beach.
The petite (4-foot-11) nimble and ageless Rigby will turn 60 Dec. 12, but you would never know it. Rigby leaps, dances, aggressively sword fights and soars as Peter Pan. Rigby has been perfecting her performance as the orphaned little British boy who refuses to grow up since 1974 (since 1990 on Broadway). You could safely say she has it down, but what is most engaging about her performance is her sheer joy in bounding about the stage and flying through the air.
It’s a pretty good bet you already know the story of Peter Pan, as it has been an all-time children’s favorite since it was first published by J.M. Barrie in 1904. So let’s cut to the chase. This production, directed by Glenn Castle, is distinguished by amazing dance numbers (choreographed by Patti Colombo), hearty renditions of a beloved score and nifty stage tricks.
There is a touring stage orchestra in the pit that provides a full sound from a minimum of players, with new dance music by Keith Levenson.
This is most evident in the hilarious “Pirate March,” which is led by Captain Hook (Brent Barrett, who also plays Mr. Darling) in an all-male tango. Later there will be a pirate tarantella, complete with tambourines.
Speaking of dancers, special notice should be made of Jenna Wright, who plays the Neverland Indian maiden Tiger Lily. This is Jenna’s second national tour with the show. It is obvious why she was invited back. She is sensational.
In this compact travelling show, produced by Rigby’s own McCoy Rigby Entertainment, cast members play multiple roles. For example, Kim Crosby plays Mrs. Darling, a Mermaid and the gown-up Wendy (Krista Buccellato). Rod Roberts gets the all-purpose award for energetically portray the Darling family dog Nana, Capt. Hook’s nemesis the Crocodile, and male swing dancer and dance captain.
“Peter Pan” has earlier start times to accommodate a younger audience. Whatever you do, stay until the final curtain. If you leave early you will miss Cathy Rigby’s spectacular finale.
Tickets start at $25. Call 800-572-8471 or go to

Hope Springs, Total Recall & Farewell My Queen


“Hope Springs” a Funny, Serious Look at Marriage

By Skip Sheffield

Some comedies are a joke-a-minute laugh riots. Some comedies balance laughs with pathos and even pain. “Hope Springs” is that kind of comedy.
The title is a double entendre that cites the homily “Hope springs eternal in the human breast” and the fictitious Maine town of Great Hope Springs.
Meryl Streep and Tommy Lee Jones star as a middle-aged Omaha, Nebraska couple who has just celebrated their 31st wedding anniversary.
“Celebrate” is not the right word, because there is no joy or zest in the relationship of Kay (Streep) and Arnold Soames. In fact there is hardly any affection or communication at all.
Fretting about what to do about her wilted romance, Kay happens upon an infomercial touting the book “You Can Have the Marriage You Want” and its author, Dr. Bernard Feld (Steve Carell), and his one-week “Intensive Couples Counseling” sessions in the seaside town of Great Hope Springs, Maine.
A no-nonsense accountant, Arnold wants no part of counseling, marriage or otherwise. Kay takes matters in her own hands, pays the $4,000 fee up front and tells Arnold he is going.
When you think of Tommy Lee Jones you don’t automatically think “barrel of laughs,” but Jones, with his creased, mournful hangdog face, has a wonderfully subtle touch at deadpan comedy.
Likewise Meryl Streep is best-known for her highly dramatic, tragic roles, but she too has a deft comic touch, as she proved in “The Devil Wears Prada,” directed by David Frankel, who also directs this film.
Steve Carell specializes in playing nice guys. It is unlikely there could be a nicer, more insightful psychologist than the Bernie Feld created by screenwriter Vanessa Taylor.
Dr. Feld has his work cut out for him with stubborn tightwad Arnold and repressed, emotionally frigid Kay. That where the laughs come, from the fumbling attempts of the couple to carry out Dr. Feld’s suggested “exercises.”
There is a very serious side of the story too. If you have been through the breakup of a marriage, you will know it only too well.
Parts of “Hope Springs” are awkward and uncomfortable. Some are downright painful.
In the end this is a thoughtful if idealized adult romantic comedy performed by professionals who know their business.

"Total Recall" Remake

For get a trip to Mars. The new “Total Recall” finds plenty of trouble right here on Earth.
Like the 1990 original, this is based on a 1966 Philip K. Dick short story and set in the future in 2084. Even the names are the same. Colin Farrell has taken over the Arnold Schwarzenegger role of factory worker Doug Quaid, who also becomes known as Hauser. Kate Beckinsale plays his wife Lori, formerly played by Sharon Stone. Alluring Jessica Bale plays the feisty freedom fighter Melinda, previously essayed by Rachel Ticotin.
The setting is completely different. Instead of a real or imagined trip to Mars through an artificial memory implanted by a sinister company called Rekall (Slogan: "We can remember it for you”), the hero stays on Earth, which has been ravaged by chemical warfare with only two population centers remaining: United Federation of Britain, which looks like a futuristic, post-holocaust London, and The Colony, which looks like the worst rotting slums of Hong Kong.
A critic friend of mine asked me when I thought “Total Recall” went over the top.
“The first few frames,” I replied, and it stayed that way.
“Total Recall” is even noisier and more bullet and explosion-ridden than the earlier summer reboots “Spider-Man” and “Batman: Dark Knight Rises.” What the three films have in common is a doomsday, totalitarian scenario. The message seems to be you can’t trust the government, the police or the armed forces.
Hmm, are the movie-makers trying to tell us something?
What director Len Wiseman lacks in subtlety he makes up which sheer action and mayhem. I get a little tired of hearing the rat-a-tat-tat of automatic weapons firing bullets that just miss the mark every time, and action heroes that take pounding after pounding with no broken bones. Ah, but Colin Farrell is a much better actor the Schwarzenegger ever was. We really do believe he is either losing his mind or the victim of some wickedly sinister plot. The sets and gadgets are incredible and the ladies are nice to look at as they go through their gymnastic action scenes. Sometimes that’s all you need ask of a summer action flick.

"Farewell My Queen"

For this week’s “Masterpiece Theatre” kind of historical film we have “Farewell My Queen,” set in the last days of the French monarchy at the Palace of Versailles.
It’s ironic that this film comes out at the same time as “Queen of Versailles,” a contemporary American documentary about the let-them-eat-cake moral bankruptcy of the super-rich and the gaudy mansion they intend to construct.
The year is 1789 and Paris is in turmoil, but debauchery and excess continues as usual at the court of Marie Antoinette (Diane Kruger) and King Louis XIV (Xavier Beauvois).
Based on a novel by Chantal Thomas, “Farewell” is told from the point of view of Sidonie Laborde (Lea Seydoux), one of the Queen’s “readers.” Why the Queen can’t read for herself is just one of the questions about an indolent, indulgent, indifferent ruling class.
Yet Marie Antoinette is not totally indifferent. She is passionately in love with one of her ladies-in-waiting, Gabrielle (Virginie Ledoven). We get the feeling she wouldn’t mind a fling with young Sidonie, who is not as innocent as she presents itself.
Acting as the voice of reason and reality is the elderly cleric Jacob (Michel Robin), who knows exactly what is coming to pass.
Yes there is intrigue in Versailles, set against the gathering storm of revolution. As with the contemporary American documentary, it is hard to feel sorry for these privileged, selfish people. If you know your history, these figures paid a most terrible price. In this sense this is a melancholy portrait of a bygone era that fascinates, but should not be mourned.