Thursday, January 31, 2013

Old Pros, Lame Gags, "Stand Up Guys"


Old Pros, Old Jokes and Preposterous “Stand Up Guys”

By Skip Sheffield

Three old pros team with young actor-director Fisher Stevens and novice screenwriter Noah Haidle for the crazy crime caper comedy “Stand Up Guys.”
Al Pacino is one “stand up guy” named Val. Christopher Walken is his best buddy Doc. Alan Arkin is their former wheel man, Richard Hirsch. The trio was a team of lower-level criminals before a bust 30-odd years ago. Val took the fall for the gang rather than ratting them out, and for his silence he was rewarded with a 28-year stretch in the penitentiary.
Doc picks up Val from the slammer. They go to Doc’s crummy apartment and Val insists they need a big night on the town. Unbeknownst to Val, Doc is under orders to liquidate Val from the vengeful local crime boss Claphands (Mark Margolis), whose son Val rubbed out. The deadline is 10 a.m. the next morning, or terrible things will happen to Doc and his innocent granddaughter (Addison Timlin).
So the guys head out for a night of Viagra, hookers, dancing and booze, springing their old driver Hirsch (Alan Arkin) from a nursing home in the process. To demonstrate how preposterous the story is, the guys handily steal a new Dodge Challenger, which Hirsch drives like Mario Andretti despite having been hooked up to oxygen moments before. Then they set off on a merry chase pursued by half the Los Angeles Police force, eluding them handily, and then continuing the spree as if nothing had happened- never to be bothered by the cops again.
Alan Arkin could make the Real Yellow Pages funny, but sadly his part amounts to only a cameo. After all the old guy jokes peter out (pun intended), we are left with Val, Doc and the inevitable showdown.
Even at their level of fame and acclaim, perhaps actors the caliber of Pacino, Walken and Arkin crave the work regardless of the script. Maybe they just need the money. Whatever the reason, you should save your money- unless you get a kick out of seeing great actors slumming.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Mary Poppins Spreads a Spoonful of Sugar in WPB


By Skip Sheffield

A revved-up, scaled-down version of the musical “Mary Poppins” is enjoying a short stay through Feb. 3 at Kravis Center in West Palm Beach.
This is a kind of jewel box, pop-up-book version of the show, featuring an ingenious revolving, unfolding set designed so scenes can be changed very quickly. Unlike the touring version that visited Broward Center a few years ago, this production does not have the magical Mary Poppins flying over the audience. I’m guessing the much higher ceiling of Kravis makes rigging the flying much more difficult. Mary still flies, but her flying is confined to the stage.
This isn’t “Peter Pan” after all. The fact that Mary can levitate with her umbrella is just one of her many talents.
Mary Poppins changes people for the better, and in Madeline Trumble’s performance that quality shines loud and clear.
There is a clear need for change in the Banks household in London at the turn of the 20th century. Father George (Chris K. Hoch) is a grouch and a tyrant, obsessed with his banking job and old before his time. The Banks children Jane (Madison Mullahey alternating with Julianna Rigoglioso) and Michael (Zachary Mackiewicz alternating with Eli Tokash) are out of control, have driven away six previous nannies. Mother Winifred (Kerry Conte) tries in vain to keep the piece.
Serving as narrator is Bert the chimney sweep (Con O’Shea-Creal, an excellent singer and dancer from the Broadway show), who is also a close friend of Mary Poppins, who suddenly appears one day at just the right time, just as the latest nanny has fled in frustration.
The familiar songs, by Richard M. Sherman and Robert B. Sherman, are augmented by new songs and lyrics by George Stiles and Anthony Crewe. Rest assured your toes will be tapping to such favorites as “Chim Chim Cheree,” “A Spoonful of Sugar” and “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” played by a most spirited orchestra in the pit.
A hallmark of this show is its excellent dancing chorus, with Matthew Bourne’s imaginative, clever choreography.
You could say this is the ideal family show, for really that is what it is all about. “Mary Poppins” provides a much-needed shot of optimism in troubled times.
Tickets are $25 and up. Call 800-572-8471 or go to

50 Years of High Fashion at Boca Museum

You will have plenty of time to see the just-opened “IMPACT: 50 Years of the CFDA Showcases,” for it is on display at Boca Raton Museum of Art through April 13 in Mizner Park.
CFDA stands for Council of Fashion Designers of America and this is the first museum exhibition devoted to the American artistry of the leading fashion trade organization in the United States. The show was spearheaded by CFDA president Diane von Furstenberg and its features costumes, garments and accessories of the past half-century’s most important designers. Interactive touchscreen displays illustrate a timeline of American fashion made by the nearly 600 designers who have been members of the CFDA over the past 50 years. Curators are Patricia Mears, deputy director of the Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York and Fred Dennis, the FIT curator.
Famous names include Donna Karan, Michael Kors, Carolina Hertera, Oscar de la Renta, Zac Posen, Alexander Wang and Thom Browne. The show is sponsored in part by Neiman Marcus.
Call 561-392-2500 or go to for more information.

Skippy's Excellent Cross-Country Adventure


By Skip Sheffield

I never had a close relationship with my father. You could say I had no relationship.

In a perverse way this was a good thing. The great gift my father gave me was the gift of freedom to make my own decisions, and face the consequences good or bad. If the question was something risky or dangerous, I always went to my dad first. If it involved money, he invariably said “If you want it, you pay for it.”

I started making money on my own at age six with a lemonade stand on the boardwalk in New Jersey. By age 11, I graduated to babysitting, which proved to be lucrative. At age 12 I began delivering newspapers -- and ended up spending my entire adult life working in the newspaper business.

Our family visited Jackson Hole, Wyoming in the summer of 1956 for a family reunion. I was enchanted. The sheer splendor of the Grand Tetons was dazzling. The rush of the crystal-clean, ice-cold Snake River; the rustic charm of downtown Jackson and the rugged life of real cowboys all made an indelible imprint. I vowed one day to return.

By the summer of my 13th year I had saved enough money to finance the month-long, nearly 6,000-mile journey, by rail and bus. A child’s round-trip ticket was only $140 and change. I figured $100 would be enough for expenses, because there would be none once I reached my Uncle Jack Huyler’s Rocking H Ranch.

Dad was impressed at my ambition. He even took my part over my mother’s misgivings, and in all fairness the USA was a safer place in 1961 than it is now. Rail was probably the safest mode of transportation for a 13-year-old boy on his own.

I learned straightaway that people tended to be protective of me -- especially the train personnel. Such a trip could not be made today, as it involved four different rail lines, some of which no longer have passenger service or are out of business altogether. In its heyday the Florida East Coast Railway was a lovely way to make the Florida leg of the trip. Less lovely and much longer was the rival Seaboard Air Line, which took an inland route from West Palm Beach via Tampa.

The first day was uneventful until our arrival in Jacksonville, where I had to transfer to the Atlantic Coast Line. A young man had gotten stumblingly drunk in the lounge car and toppled out the door to the tracks, breaking his leg. It was dark by the time the ACL leg began. A young, black woman and her young children boarded the train somewhere in Georgia. A girl age seven or eight settled in the seat next to me.

I have never been good at falling asleep on moving conveyances in awkward positions, so my first night was pretty much sleepless. By dawn’s early light I smelled something unpleasant. The little girl had urinated in her sleep, soaking the seat. I had the sinking feeling that perhaps I had made a foolish, terrible choice. I spoke to a porter, and he said I could ride in the club car.

A family must have noticed my discomfort. It was a husband and wife with a boy a little younger than me -- and a beautiful daughter. She was 21, I learned, because she told me. When I told her I was 13, she replied, “If was 13 again, I could go for you.” Like magic the miserable night was forgotten. The family taught me how to play gin rummy, and I was invited to breakfast and dinner the next day.

Our next destination was Carbondale, Illinois, where there was a layover and a change to the Illinois Central. There was a young Army guy at the station, toting a duffel bag. He asked me where my family was and I told him back in Florida. I explained my quest and he was suitably impressed. He said since we had time to kill, would I like something to eat.

Sure, I said. There was a place named Flo’s Café nearby. He told me to order anything, so I ordered a T-bone steak.

The soldier got off at St. Louis, where there was an even longer (8-hour) layover for the Union Pacific westbound. I started to head out of the huge Union Station when a porter called out and asked where I was going. I told him I wanted to explore a little while waiting for my train. He pleaded with me to stay in the station and not venture out, particularly after dark.

“This is a bad part of town,” he admonished. I was not a fearful kid, but I wasn’t stupid and so heeded his advice.

The Union Pacific was a big step up over the previous three railways. The cars were newer and cleaner, and had several Vista Dome observation cars as well as a dining car and club car. For various delays the train was behind schedule. By the time we got to Rock Springs, Wyoming, we were too late for me to catch the only bus north to Jackson Hole. I shared my plight with the station master, and he suggested I check in the Park Hotel, which was less than a block away.

The hotel was a grand old, red brick structure that had seen better days, but it still was better than anything else in that dreary and dangerous coal-mining town. I told the desk clerk I wanted the cheapest room, and I went through the now-familiar litany of my trip. The clerk said OK that will be $3.75. The bathroom is down the hall he added, and oh kid, whatever you do, don’t leave the hotel after sundown.

I befriended another family at the Park and again got treated to dinner in the hotel. I felt like a real man of the world checking out of the hotel in the morning with my little suitcase. The bus finally arrived. It was no Greyhound Sceni-Cruiser. It was a battered old Flixible from the 1950s.

For the first time on the trip, and owing to bus fumes and winding roads, I felt nauseous The trip seemed to take forever. The bus could only do about 50 mph flat-out and less on the inclines. Jackson Hole is a mountain valley more than a mile above sea level at its lowest part.

Uncle Jack and Aunt Margaret met me in downtown Jackson. I told Uncle Jack about the Park Hotel and he said good choice.

Rock Springs is one of the roughest towns in America,” he said.

I was assigned a bunk in the “Kids’ Cabin” at the ranch. I was the youngest of five or six guys, all friends of my cousin John Huyler, who was 16. Three years is a big difference when you are 16. I could tell the guys weren’t crazy about having a 13-year-old punk around.

It was hay harvest time. Rocking H ranch still had cattle and a barn full of horses. Because I was the smallest and weakest of the males, Uncle Jack assigned me to drive the hay wagon. The vehicle was a Ford J-8 tractor, vintage 1948. It had a four-speed transmission with a first year so low you could climb mountains with it. I had never driven a stick shift or any real vehicle, for that matter. I learned to avoid the “granny gear” after I dumped the boys and the hay a couple times by letting out the clutch too quickly. This did not endear me to the gang, but it was a valuable learning experience. I have never driven a vehicle as difficult to operate as that old Ford.

The guys liked to brag about romantic exploits; I made the mistake of making some snide remark about “getting something” and got the cold shoulder of disdain instantly. In turn, I realized I would never belong in the guys’ inner circle, so I began to hang out with Cousin Steve, three years younger than me. Steve was a favorite of his grandmother, the matriarch of the ranch. Steve wasn’t much into horses or cowboy stuff. He was fascinated with rocks and had a little polishing machine that he would use followed by spending hours studying the colorful stones.

At the beginning of my visit I had been assigned a horse, a gentle brown mare, I grew to love and trust that horse. When Cousin John suggested I might want to ride bareback, I grabbed the opportunity. I think the horse appreciated not having the heavy western saddle, or the straps cinched around her.

John noticed my progress. He said the real test of human and horse is to ride without bit or bridle -- just a rope halter. I found the horse was happy to be rid of the cold steel bit and the leather reigns to yank her head about.

There was a reason John suggested riding bareback without bit or bridle. That is how he and the other guys took their horses swimming. I was overjoyed to accept their invitation to go swimming with the horses. It is a unique sensation for human and horse, and quite enjoyable for both on a hot summer’s day.

Uncle Jack is a great believer in spurring people on to ever greater challenges. As an early birthday present, he bought me mountain-climbing lessons. I never had the urge to scale a mountain, and from Boy Scouts I knew I was pretty lousy at knot-tying, something essential when your life depends on it.

Cousin John and his friends were nuts about mountain-climbing. They would tie amazingly complex knots with speed and ease. I didn’t want to seem ungrateful or look like a chicken, so I accepted the lesson and hoped for the best.

A day of Climbing 101 climaxes with belaying off a cliff. This means jumping off backward and controlling the release of a rope encircling your waist. I took the proverbial leap of faith and lo and behold it felt great. I think my stock went up considerably amongst the other boys. It was a fitting end to a three-week stay.

After the long bus ride back to Rock Springs I boarded the Union Pacific without delay. In Denver a girl near my age boarded the train. Yes, she was attractive, and yes, she noticed me.

When she went to the Vista Dome car to view the scenery, I boldly asked if the seat next to her was taken. She said no and I introduced myself.

I learned her name was Donna and she was bound for Kansas City, Missouri, where her family lived. When it came time for dinner we went to the dining car together. When night fell we went back to the observation car, bathed in the soft light of a billion stars.

We talked all night and began holding hands, then kissing a bit. I had always liked girls, but nothing like this had ever happened before. In that short space of time I got an inkling of what it was like to really fall for someone.

The next day we pulled into Kansas City and Donna and I said our farewells. She was crying and so was I. We exchanged addresses and I wrote to her, but I never heard from her again.

The rest of the trip was a boring blur, ending at the FEC Railway station in Boca Raton. My family greeted me like a returning hero, and I felt like one.

I entered ninth grade with a new level of confidence and savoire faire. Ninth grade was a triumph from beginning to end, academically and socially. The day I turned 14 I took and passed my restricted driver’s test and much to my mother’s distress, bought a used mo-ped. A new era of freedom had begun. I thank dad very belatedly for giving me permission.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Wicked Good Fun at Arts Garage

Wicked in Both Senses of the Word

By Skip Sheffield

The world premiere of “Gloucester Blue” is some wicked good fun as the second offering of Theatre at the Arts Garage, running through Feb. 17 at 180 NE First St., Delray Beach.
We had the privilege of attending opening night with the great playwright Israel Horovitz in attendance. Horowitz has written some tragic, gripping stuff in his huge (more than 70 plays) output of stage and cinema. Horowitz also has a “wicked’ sense of humor. If you are from New England the word wicked does not necessarily mean evil or nefarious. It is more an adjective that means “extremely” or “very.”
Yes, “Gloucester Blue” is a very funny play, but it is also wicked in the original definition of the word. All four characters are up to no good, for different reasons.
The setting, by Stephen Placido, is an old packing house in the historic blue-collar fishing village of Gloucester, Mass. Gloucester has seen better days, but like so many places gifted with physical beauty, the waterfront is being transformed by wealthy upwardly-mobile types.
Stumpy (David Michael Sirois) is a battered, salt-of-the-earth man who aspires for more. He is a painting contractor who has hired Latham (Stephen G. Anthony), a fellow Massachusetts native with a shady past, as his helper for a rush job for a wealthy couple.
Latham is a loud, outgoing type who loves the raucous local favorites Aerosmith played at high volume. Stumpy prefers the intellectual enrichment of NPR. The men spackle, sand and paint between banter. When the wife of the owner, Lexi (Andrea Conte) makes her entrance, Latham can immediately see there is hanky-panky going on. Sexy Lexi is a Harvard-educated lawyer and daughter of a judge, but she like to walk on the wild side with the gratefully accommodating Stumpy.
Lexi’s husband Bummy (Michael St. Pierre) is the archetypical upper-class twit; born into wealth and privilege, but devoid of ambition or maturity. Bummy also has his shady side, and with his pent-up rage, you just know something is going to pop in this volatile situation.
There is something satisfying in seeing characters who “had it coming” duly punished. “Gloucester Blue” is more farce than drama, but it is highly entertaining highjinks and low-blows by adults who should know better. It is no coincidence that Horovitz is much admired by the French, who appreciate the fine art of farce.
Stephen G. Anthony is a hulking, large-framed actor with keen intelligence; perfect for the role of the devious, dangerous Latham. Andrea Conte is an actress not too shy to exude sex and desire, and Michael St. Pierre is spot-on as a downtrodden soul only too happy to sample forbidden fruit.
Bummy is a straw man impossible to admire or even sympathize with, and Michael St. Pierre makes him as insufferable as possible, short of making him a complete fool.
Louis Tyrrell has directed this agile quartet with deadly accuracy for laughter most foul. As a side benefit, Sirois and Anthony are honing home decorating skills that could come in handy between acting gigs.
Tickets are $30-$40. Call 561-450-6357 or go to

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Love at the End of the Road


Love is Blue yet Beautiful in “Amour”

By Skip Sheffield

There has been a lot of critical buzz about “Amour,” which won the Palme D’Or at Cannes and is up for an Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film. It features two of France’s best, oldest actors, Jean-Louis Trintignant and Emmanuelle Riva, directed by Michael Haneke, who also wrote the story.
To say this is a sad love story would be understating the fact. Now in their 80s, Georges and Anne are still very much in love, living in their grand old, shabby-elegant Paris apartment. But as so often happens in old age, one of them suffers mental degeneration, and the other must become caretaker, with ever increasing difficulty.
“Amour” is infused with lovely, melancholy classical music, as both characters are musicians, as is their daughter Eva, played by Isabelle Huppert. Eva has problems of her own. She is separated from her husband, also a classical pianist.
“Amour” unflinchingly shows what happens when love is put to its ultimate test. Wonderfully acted, it is both sad and wistfully beautiful. Happy endings are never guaranteed, but love is worth savoring as long as it lasts.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

A Bloody Good Time at Parker Playhouse


Bloody Good Fun at “The BBC Murders”

By Skip Sheffield

Bloody good fun is afoot through Feb. 3 at Parker Playhouse in Fort Lauderdale.
“Agatha Christie’s The BBC Murders” is part history lesson, part variety show, and wickedly good fun throughout.
“The BBC Murders” marks the return of longtime South Florida theater impresario Zev Bufman to the local scene. Bufman produced Broadway-caliber theater for three decades starting before Parker Playhouse’s grand opening in 1967.
Bufman pulled out all the stops for opening night of “The BBC’ murders, with the Fort Lauderdale Highlanders bagpipers, vintage British cars, and costumed period British characters mingling about the opening reception.
The production is based on actual BBC radio scripts dating back as far as 1937, adapted by Judith Walcutt and David Ossman.
The set-up is Dame Agatha contemplating writing her autobiography at age 75 in 1965. The Christie character is played by Melinda Peterson, a Los Angeles-based actress who has been seen in a number of South Florida productions.
The large cast is a mix of talented local professionals and Broadway, TV and road show professionals Bufman has worked with before. Top-billed Gary Sandy is best-known for his role of Andy Travis in “WKRP in Cincinnati,” but he has appeared in more than 100 theatrical productions worldwide. His characters in this show are either pompous, lecherous or both, Phil Proctor was first known as a founder member of the innovative Firesign Theatre comedy troupe. His extensive credits include co-starring with Bob Cummings 50 years ago at Parker. Richard Fish has worked in audio theater since 1970. Leslie Staples was classically trained in London and is a veteran of the British stage.
Angie Radosh is a familiar face to South Florida audiences, as is Elizabeth Dimon.
Younger players include Alex Jorth, Orson Ossman, Christopher Swan, Amy Walker and the multi-talented ingénue, Cassie Post.
The first piece is “Butter in a Lordly Dish,’ first performed by the BBC Jan. 13, 1948. We learn from Dame Agatha the title is a biblical quote (Judges 5:25) which figures in a plot of murder most foul.
The Bible was a frequent source of inspiration for Dame Christie, as were old nursery rhymes. It was “Three Blind Mice’ that inspired Christie’s most successful play, “The Mousetrap,” which is the longest-running play running play in history.  The original was first performed May 30, 1947, and we see it in its entirety.
Part of the fun of “BBC Murders” is its recreation onstage of a live radio studio, with Tony Brewer and Lauren Allison twisting dials and making sound effects.
Zev Bufman says “The BBC Murders” is a trial balloon for possibly more shows at the beautiful but under-used Parker Playhouse. I hope the public supports this new venture.
Tickets are $26.50-$66.50 and may be reserved by calling 954-462-0222.

Idealism and Hot Romance in “The Royal Affair”

Set in 1766, “The Royal Affair” is the true story of the childish, eventually mad Danish King Christian VII (MikkelBoe Folsgaard) and his young, headstrong, lonely Queen Caroline Mathilda (Alicia Vikander) and Johann Friedrich Struensee (Mads Mikkelson), hired as the royal physician and advisor, but evolving into something much more, including lover of the Queen and fomenter of a democratic revolution.
“Royal Affair’ is a ripping good romance and tale of political intrigue in a time when royalty ruled as absolute despots. It is never dull, visually beautiful and often quite sensual, with a poignant, bittersweet finale.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Portrait of a Modest Holocaust Hero


 “Nicky’s Family” a Truly Moving Documentary

For something even more uplifting and downright inspirational this week we submit the 2011 Czech documentary “Nicky’s Family.”
Sir Nicholas Winton is living proof the good don’t always die young. Through ingenuity, bravery and persistence as a 29-year-old Winton left his banking job in England to rescue hundreds of Jewish children in imminent peril as the Nazis tightened their grip on Czechoslovakia in early 1938.
“This old man saved my life,’ marveled survivor Joe Schlesinger. “I knew nothing about him or that he even existed. He insisted it was nothing to make a fuss about.”
“Nicky’s Family” amounts to 669 Czech children spirited away under the very noses of the Nazis and relocated with British foster families. Winton had to work fast. He began in March of 1938 and by Sept. 1 World War II had broken out, ending his diplomatic efforts. “Nicky’s Family” blends dramatic recreations with real vintage movies, newsreels and photographs of the inexorable march of Hitler’s armies over Europe, including the horrific blitz that pounded London and its innocent civilians.
Amazingly, Sir Nicholas is still alive at age 103. This film is a series of testimonies from the great (The Dalai Lama) to the merely grateful survivors who owe their lives to his selflessness. If there ever were a ‘righteous gentile” it is Sir Nicholas Winton.

Wounded Love in "Rust and Bone"


“Rust and Bone” a Very Unusual Love Story

For something considerably more uplifting, consider the unusual, touching love story “Rust and Bone” from prolific French writer-director Jacques Audiard.
Matthias Schoenaerts stars as Alain “Ali” van Versch, who leaves Belgium and a dysfunctional wife with his 5-year-old son Sam (Armand Verdue) in tow to try and make a go of it in Antibes, France, where his sister Anna (Corinne Masiero) lives a precarious existence as a part-time grocery cashier.
Ali is a tough guy who aspired to be a professional kick-boxer. Because of his boxing expertise he gets a job as a bouncer at a local nightclub. Late one night he rescues a drunken young woman from a brawl. He chivalrously drives her home in her car and does not take advantage of her.
Stephanie (Marion Cotillard) is a star trainer at a Marineland attraction where she coaxes killer whales to do amazing tricks. In the middle of the act one of the whales leaps out of the water and lands on Stephanie, who is knocked out. When she awakens in a hospital bed she learns to her horror both legs have been amputated below the knee.
Sinking into depression, she gives Ali a call. Ali is not fazed by Stephanie’s injuries. In fact he invites her to go swimming and carries her to the water. So begins Stephanie’s healing.
Meanwhile through another job Ali meets a shady character named Martial (Bouli Lanners) who convinces him he can make quick cash fighting in brutal underground matches without referees or rules.
“Rust and Bone” is about painful injuries to the body, but it is also about the healing power of love; both of a father for his son and of an independent-minded man and woman who ultimately realize they need each other. You could call this a “tough love” story. Audiard has cast just the right actors for the job. Cotilliard is equally convincing as a tough chick and a proud, vulnerable woman.
Schoenaerts exudes machismo, but there is an achingly tender side to this tough guy, as we see with little Armand Verdure. This movie is a dandy one to share with your Valentine.

"Gangster Squad" Ups the Violence Quotient

Crime, Treachery and Butchery in 1940s Los Angeles

By Skip Sheffield

“Gangster Squad” makes “Chinatown” look like child’s play.
“Chinatown” if you remember was a dark tale of crime and civic corruption in late 1930s Los Angeles.
“Gangster Squad” is an even darker tale of high-level crime and political corruption in late-1940s Los Angeles. Scarier still, it is based on real-life characters.
Sean Penn plays the chief bad guy, the treacherous, despicable, murderous mob leader, Mickey Cohen. Penn does not hold back. He is like a rabid dog.
Director Rueben Fleischer establishes the ruthless, sadistic character of Cohen in the first few frames of the film. As he begs pitifully for mercy, a Chicago gangster is chained to two cars facing opposite directions. With one last desperate scream from the mobster, Cohen orders the two drives to floor it. The victim is ripped in half.
“Gangster Squad” is the kind of film that makes you cringe, flinch and maybe cover your eyes. The film is so violent it was delayed in the wake of the Aurora massacre because one of the key violent scenes took place in a movie theater. It is now an equally violent scene set in Chinatown.
Square-jawed Josh Brolin stars as Sgt. John O’Mara, the ultimate tough-guy Los Angeles Police Department cop.
O’Mara is hand-picked by Police Chief Bill Parker (Nick Nolte, more gravelly than ever) to put together an undercover police unit charged with fighting Mickey Cohen with his own violent, vengeful tactics.
“No names, no badges, no mercy,” the Chief says.
O’Mara is married to pretty, very smart Connie (Mirielle Enos), who is pregnant with their first child. When her pleas to not take on the challenge are disregarded, she elects to help her husband by suggesting the best candidates possible for a squad of a half-dozen Dirty Harrys. One of them is Sgt. Jerry Wooters (Ryan Gosling), an absolutely fearless and incorruptible cop. How fearless? Jerry makes a pass at Cohen’s favorite girlfriend Grace Faraday (Emma Stone, trying to look tough) and she takes him up on it.
We don’t get to know the other cops as well as they are pretty stereotypical. Three who stand out are Giovanni Ribisi as the brainy family man Conway Keeper, Robert Patrick as the self-styled cowboy Max Kennard and Michael Pena as the obligatory Latino, Navidid Ramirez.
There really was a mobster named Mickey Cohen who tried to take over L.A. for evil purposes, and there really was an LAPD Chief named Bill Parker, who organized an elite squad to fight fire with fire. This is simply that true story amped up with violence and gore. You could say it is a sign of the times.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Impossible But True


A Disaster of Impossible Proportions

There are disasters and then there is “The Impossible,” a Spanish film from the makers of the chilling thriller “The Orphanage.” They include director Juan Antonio Bayona and screenwriter Sergio G. Sanchez, working with real-life survivor Maria Belon.
The family’s nationality is changed from Spanish to British. Maria is played by Naomi Watts. Her husband Henry Belon is played by Ewan McGregor.
The couple is on a Christmas vacation at a posh seaside resort in Thailand. The stage is set with festive holiday trappings and carefree sun and fun. Unbeknownst to anyone, one of the worst natural disasters of recent time is about to happen. A tsunami, spawned by earthquakes far away, hit Asia with a massive wall of water on Dec. 26, 2004.
“The Impossible” is a saga of relentless, pitiless destruction of everything in the tsunami’s path. When the wave hits, Maria is separated from her husband, but she miraculously finds her eldest son Lucas (Tom Holland), and the two literally cling together for survival.
Both Watts and McGregor are powerful professionals, but the real surprise is young Tom Holland in a star-making turn.
“The Impossible” gets a bit relentless and mired literally in the mud and debris, but it is one of the best-made, most convincing disaster movies of all time.

So You Want to be a Rock 'n' Roll Star?


A Treat for Garage Band Members of a Certain Age

By Skip Sheffield

If you were in a band back in the 1960s, you will really relate to “Not Fade Away.”
I was and I did. However my companion, a woman 15 years younger than I, couldn’t see what the big deal was.
“Not Fade Away” is a highly personalized memoir by “Sopranos” creator David Chase, 67.
Chase, who is two years older than I, dreamed of being a star drummer in a rock ‘n’ roll band. As a teenager he played the sock hops, keggers and teen clubs of suburban New Jersey.
As a teenager I did the same thing, only in South and Central Florida. Like Chase I was strongly influenced by the “British Invasion” bands such as the Beatles, Kinks, Animals and Rolling Stones.
The latter group did a version of the Buddy Holly song “Not Fade Away,” which gives the film its title. Wouldn’t you know my most successful group played that very song. It was a showcase song with me up front singing and shaking my maracas like Mick Jagger.
Neither Chase nor I became rock stars, but we still have a profound love for the music of our high school and college era. In my case I continue to play, more for love than money.
So I am a big sucker for Chase’s story of a garage band’s struggles, dreams and disappointments. The main character is Douglas (John Magaro), an ambitious curly-haired drummer who discovers he is more valuable as a singer.
Douglas’ best girlfriend and No. 1 fan is the willowy, winsome Grace (Bella Heathcote), who looks like a cross between Jean Shrimpton and Twiggy. Those were “Mod Era” fashion models for those too young to know. If Grace weren't based on Chase's real-life wife I would say she is too good to be true.
The band has its typical squabbles, rivalries, misunderstandings and betrayal by music promoters. Some band members always dream bigger than others and some are more single-minded in their career pursuit. Then there are the inevitable objections of parents, played by James Gandolfini and Molly Price, who can’t understand why their nice boy wants to be such a noisy ruffian.
This is probably not so interesting for those who have never been there, but believe me, Chase’s fable rings true in a fleeting, melancholy way. No, it will not fade away for me either, forever.