Thursday, September 26, 2013

A Wistful, Funny, Wonderful Goodbye


Funny, Wistful “Enough Said”

There is an unmistakable aura of melancholia hanging over the otherwise funny and engaging romantic comedy “Enough Said.” The sadness comes with the realization this was the last major motion picture role for James Gandolfini, who died prematurely and unexpectedly June 19, 2013 at age 51.
You will see a side of Gandolfini you never saw in “The Sopranos” or other tough guy roles he was famous for.
Gandolfini is Albert, a lovable slob of a divorced single father in Los Angeles with joint custody of his college-bound daughter Tess (Eve Hewson) with ex-wife Marianne (Catherine Keener), a famous poet.
Marianne is a new client of massage therapist Eva (Julia Louis-Dreyfus), herself a divorced single mom with a daughter Ellen (Tracey Fairaway) who is preparing to go east to Sarah Lawrence College.
Eva meets Albert at a party and something clicks. Eva confides to her best friend Sarah (Toni Collette) that although he is “not classically handsome,” she finds Albert somehow attractive.
Writer-director Nicole Holfcenter’s script is refreshingly rational, grown-up and wise to the problems divorced parents face.
There is a genuine chemistry between a surprisingly sparkling Gandolfini and the brilliant comic actress Julia Louis-Dreyfus. This becomes apparent when we actually feel sorry for the characters when things do not go as planned.

If ever there was a “date flick’ for divorced people, this is it.

What's the "Rush?"


A “Rush” of Speed and Drama

It is useful to enjoy grand prix-style racing to appreciate “Rush.” Director Ron Howard obviously does. Howard hasn’t had this much fun with motor mayhem since “Grand Theft Auto,” his movie directorial debut in 1977.
“Rush’ is based on the real-life intense rivalry between two polar opposite drivers: rakish British playboy James Hunt (Chris Hemsworth) and nerdy, no-nonsense Austrian expert, Niki Lauda (Daniel Bruhl).
Befitting his character, Chris Hemsworth is an impossibly handsome young man with abundant, flowing blond locks and icy blue eyes.
On the other hand, Daniel Bruhl is “uglied up” with protruding false teeth, halting speech and a matching awkward social manner.
The rivalry/friendship between reckless James Hunt and cautious, calculating Niki Lauda unfolds in the course of the 1976 Formula 1 racing season. Despite his playboy philandering, Hunt attracts a beautiful model, Suzy Miller (Olivia Wilde) who is willing to be his wife. Niki Lauda gains a loving mate in Marlene (Alexandra Maria Lara).
The women are secondary to the men and the men are secondary to the thrilling racing scenes. The culmination is a fiery crash which nearly cost Niki Lauder his life. In a dramatic turn as incredible as any fiction, the horribly burned Lauda recovered enough to race again after only six weeks’ rehabilitation.
If you stick around to the end of “Rush” you will see the real Niki Lauda and gain a sense of how dangerous this sport is.

Deconstructing Don Juan


A Jersey Boy “Don Jon”

By Skip Sheffield

Joseph Gordon-Levitt tells it like it is in his triple-threat directorial debut. “Don Jon.” It is not pretty. The truth often is not.
“Don Jon” is a contemporary retelling of the Don Juan myth of literature, theater and music. A “Don Juan’ is a master of seduction, licentious, stubborn and proud. He is also doomed to eternal damnation.
Jon Martello is the “Don Jon” character created by writer Joseph Gordon-Levitt and played by Gordon-Levitt as actor.
Jon lives comes from a blue collar family in New Jersey. Although he has his own nice apartment, Jon is still very close with his dad Jon, Sr. (Tony Danza) and mother Angela (Glenne Headley). He is less close with younger sister Monica (Brie Larson), who rarely looks up from her Smartphone. The family regularly gets together over noisy Italian dinners and Sunday mass at the local Catholic Church.
Jon is given his nickname by his best buddies, who admire his studliness and winning ways with women. Jon has a deep, dirty secret, however. He finds online pornography more stimulating than real women. No wonder he can love ‘em and leave ‘em.
Then Jon meets an absolute “10.” Barbara Sugarman (Scarlett Johansson) is beyond a scale of ten in her hotness. She has curves in all the right places, an absolutely beautiful face, and though she is no pushover, she is attracted to Jon.
Mom is overjoyed. Perhaps Jon will finally settle down with the right girl instead of settling for endless one-night stands.
It is true that Jon has never felt this way about a woman before. When Barbara begins to make noises about shaping up and improving his lot in life, Jon goes along. Commitment comes with strings. Sometimes they are more like ropes or chains, and Jon has a monkey on his back. It is a monkey that cannot live in Barbara's romantic fantasy dreams.
Jon Martello is a miserable excuse of a marriage prospect. He is all about habit, pleasure and surface appearances. He knows he can always be absolved of his sins at confession. Barbara is not a priest however, and when she finds out what Jon does behind her back, she recoils in horror and disgust.
As writer and director, Joseph Gordon-Levitt loves to make Gordon-Levitt the actor squirm. Jon is offered a kind of redemption when he befriends Esther (Julianne Moore), an older college classmate. Esther is a widow with boundless sorrow. She is also a real woman with compassion for immature Jon, but there are no quick, easy answers for Jon.
“Don Jon” shows how we objectify people and fail to realize and appreciate the joy of life. It is not a cheerful movie, but it does have some harsh, cutting truths that may be of help to other Don Juans of the world. Joseph Gordon-Levitt is brave to expose himself so willingly.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

A Warm, Wonderful Sound of Music at Wick


A Warm and Wonderful “Sound of Music” at the New Wick Theatre

By Skip Sheffield

For its inaugural show, Wick Theatre presents one of the most beloved musicals of all time, “The Sound of Music,” through Oct. 20 at the former Caldwell Theatre Company facility at 7901 N. Federal Highway, Boca Raton.
This 1959 Rodgers and Hammerstein classic (their last collaboration before Hammerstein’s death) could be called a “safe choice,” but there is a downside to that. “Sound of Music” has been performed so many times by so many groups and in so many different ways it had better be a good production, or suffer by comparison.
Happily Wick’s “Sound of Music” is a wonderful production. The show is anchored by the professional husband-and-wife team of Krista Severeid as impetuous young postulant Maria and Tony Lawson as the formidable Austrian Navy Capt. Von Trapp. The Boca Raton production has the added value of an outstanding local performer, Lourelene Snedeker, as the Mother Abbess.
I have seen two-time Carbonell Award-winning actress Lourelene Snedeker perform many time through the years in a variety of roles in both musicals and straight plays. Never before have I witnessed the level of perfection Ms. Snedeker brought to the wise, compassionate Mother Abbess, who is indeed a mother figure to all the nuns in her convent. Ms. Snedeker is a woman of a “certain age” but she sings like a young woman, with thrilling power and range. This is most evident on the score’s perhaps most popular song, “Climb Ev’ry Mountain.”
Director Michael Ursua (who is also resident musical director) has cast with care the rest of the ensemble, with a fine ear for singing voices. These include the morally ambiguous family friend Max Detweiler, played by Jeffrey Bruce, Palm Beach actress Mia Matthews as Capt. Von Trapp’s ill-suited fiancĂ©e Elsa Schraeder, Gail Byer as the protective housekeeper Frau Schmidt, and Joshua S. Roth as Rolf, the suitor of  “16 Going on 17” eldest child, Liesel (Kate Hensley).
The real scene-stealers are the adorably dressed-alike younger von Trapp children, with irresistible Alexa Lasanta, 6, as the youngest, tiniest: Gretl.
The sets, by Tom Hansen, are efficiently portable and nicely evocative of the Abbey, the Austrian Alps, the growing Nazi menace and the von Trapp mansion.
The only thing one could wish for would be a live orchestra, but costs and logistics are prohibitive, and the recorded accompaniment by Gerald Michaels works just fine complimenting the voices.
The rebirth of the dormant Caldwell is a bit of a miracle. I can’t help but admire producer Marilynn Wick and her daughters Kimberly and Stacey for taking on this considerable challenge. It’s a win-win situation for audiences who crave good old-fashioned musical theater.
Single tickets are $58. Matinees are at 2 p.m. and evenings are 7:30 p.m. Call 561-995-2333 or go to

Friday, September 20, 2013

Let Me Out of This Prison(ers)


You May Feel Like One at “Prisoners”

By Skip Sheffield

“Prisoners” makes the viewer feel like one. This muddled, thoroughly unpleasant film is a showcase for actor Hugh Jackman, but this is not the charming, debonair Jackman of Broadway shows and action movies. This is a dour, obsessive, fanatical, survivalist Pennsylvania home builder named Keller Dover in a violent, tense drama directed by French-Canadian Denis Villeneuve (“Incendies”) and written by Aaron Guzilkowski (“Contraband”).
It is Thanksgiving, and the devout Catholic Keller family is sharing dinner with neighbors Franklin (Terrence Howard) and Nancy Birch (Viola Davis) and their children.
In a foreshadowing scene, we see a beat-up RV cruise the neighborhood and park nearby.
The next thing we know, 6-year-old Anna Dover (Erin Gerasimovich) and Joy Birch (Kyla Drew Simmons) are discovered missing, and a frantic search ensues.
We cut to another scene with the RV, and we see some police closing in on the parked vehicle. The man inside inexplicably stomps on the gas and peels out, only to crash into a tree.
The driver is one Alex Jones (Paul Dano), a quiet, dim-witted young man with huge, thick glasses. We are told Alex has the “intelligence of a 10-year-old.” This is one of the many problems I had with Guzilkowski’s twisty, illogical, red herring-strewn plot. I have known many 10-year-olds who are pretty darn intelligent.
Be that as it may, when Keller (Jackman) shows up at the scene he is convinced Alex has kidnapped his daughter and her friend. Keller has all the fire and conviction of a zealot, and when mild-mannered Police Detective Loki (Jake Gyllenthaal) has to let Alex go for lack of evidence, Keller goes ballistic.
That’s all we will say about the plot, except to add if you liked the torture scenes in “Zero Dark 30,” you will love what Keller does to poor, befuddled Alex.
“Prisoners” is quite well-acted all the way around, but other than Jackman, Gyllenthaal and Dano, supporting actors are given short shrift. Terrence Howard and Viola Davis are hardly there. Maria Bello’s character of Keller’s wife Grace is zonked on sleeping pills most of the time, so she might as well not be there. Melissa Leo has a bravura moment as Holly Jones, aunt of Alex, but it comes almost at the end of a two-hour, 40-minute trudge through the dregs of humanity, and it is not pretty.
“Prisoners” may well be remembered at Oscar time, but unless you are masochistic, you might want to pass on this one.

No "Thanks For Sharing"


“Thank You For Sharing”

“Thank You For Sharing” is another pun title with a double meaning, written and directed by Stuart Blumberg (“The Kids Are All Right”).
The “sharing” of the title refers to confessions addicts make to the group in 12-step programs. It also refers to sharing as in a loving relationship.
Affable Mark Ruffalo plays Adam, a New York City environmental consultant who is “five years sober” from a sexual addiction.
Sexual addiction is a concept much more difficult to grasp than alcoholism or drug addiction because there is no chemical cause. It is, to use an old-fashioned term, “all in your head.”
Adam’s sponsor is Mike (Tim Robbins), himself an ex-addict. Ex addicts can be judgmental and overbearing. Mike is both with his wife Katie (Joely Richardson) and son Danny (Patrick Fugit).
Mike encourages Adam to get back into the dating game and take a chance on love. He finds that with Phoebe (Gweneth Paltrow), a strong, self-sufficient survivor.
Neil (Josh Gad), an emergency room doctor, is a “newbie” who has been in denial of his sexual compulsions. When he gets arrested for groping a woman in the subway, Neil is given the choice to get help or kiss his career goodbye.
On one hand “Thank You For Sharing” wants to be a comedy. Chubby Josh Gad is a good physical comedian who makes his inappropriate compulsions funny.
On the other hand the film wants to be a drama about the demons of addiction. Those demons haunt Adam in his tentative relationship with Phoebe, who has secrets of her own.
Mike’s demons have made him insufferable to the rest of his family.
Neil doesn’t quite know how to behave when he finds himself physically and mentally attracted to Dede (Alecia Moore, aka pop singer Pink), a gregarious hairdresser.

While there are some mild laughs here, there are also uncomfortable moments. Mark Ruffalo anchors the film quite well dramatically, but “Thank You For Sharing” is neither profound nor a laugh riot.

Good Fun, Cute Kids in "The Short Game"


“The Short Game” Has Big Appeal

By Skip Sheffield

Like golf?
Even if you don’t you may like “The Short Game,” which features two Palm Beach County children who are star golfers.
Allan Kournikova, 7, of Palm Beach, and Alexa Pano, 7, of Lake Worth are two of eight world-class golfers aged 7 or 8 competing in the youngest class of champion golfers at Pinehurst, North Carolina in a documentary film by Emmy Award-winner Josh Greenbaum.
The title is a pun of course. These kids are equally good at short, middle and long games, and they are so darn cute. The others are Zamokuhle Nxasana, 8, of South Africa; Kuang Yang, 7, of China; Jed Dy of the Philippines; Augustin Valery, 8, of France; Sky Sudberry, 8, of Texas and Amari “Tigress” Avery of Riverside, California.
Greenbaum introduces us to each of the children, then shows them competing, under pressure.
Allan Kournikova and Alexa Pano get a lot of camera time, as do their home courses in Florida. The astounding thing about “Short Time” is how good these kids are, and how graceful under pressure. They are a virtual United Nations of golf, yet they are still children and subject to childish emotions. Sky Sudberry is so tiny she looks 4 or 5-year-old rather than 8. If she tires of the game of golf she could be a beauty queen.
Greenbaum also shows the parents and coaches and their roles in the grooming and training of the young athletes. Some of the parents are distinctly pushy. Others have superstitious quirks. A couple are completely clueless about the game of golf. To put the game in perspective we hear from old pros Gary Player, Jack Nicklaus, Chi Chi Rodriguez and John Nieporte and Bob Toski, who coached in Boca Raton.

The culmination of “The Short Game” is the final day of three days of the annual world competition at Pinehurst. I will not spoil the plot by revealing the winners. It is safe to say getting there is 90 percent of the fun. This short (100 minutes) fast-moving film is a wonderful advertisement for the challenges and joys of golf. You may leave with a mad desire to take up the game.

Monday, September 9, 2013

A Wholesome and Naughty Film, Neither Very Good


“Tio Papi” Wholesome as a Slice of White Bread

Movies don’t come much more wholesome than “Tio Papi,” which made its debut at the 2012 Fort Lauderdale International Film Festival and opens Sept. 6 at Shadowood Theaters.
How wholesome? “Tio Papi” received the Dove Seal of Approval from the Dove Foundation for entertainment that encourages positive values.
Joey Dedio, a prostate cancer survivor who divides his time between New York City and Miami, co-wrote (with Brian Herskowitz) and stars as Ray Ray Dominguez, a hard-working but carefree Brooklyn bachelor of Latin heritage whose life changes radically when his sister and her husband are killed in a car crash, leaving six children ages 6 to 16 orphans.
When stern and strict social worker Elizabeth Warden (a nearly unrecognizable Kelly McGillis) threatens to make the children wards of the state if he doesn’t get his act together within 30 days, Ray Ray rises to the occasion and says he will serve as a “Tio Papi” (Uncle Daddy).
Comedy and drama ensue as Ray Ray ineptly copes with the demands and responsibility of fatherhood on a very limited budget, with some help from his estranged girlfriend Cheeky (Elizabeth Rodriguez).
Miami native Fro Rojas directs this improbable farce. It is definitely not for the cynical. Yes it is wholesome, but also tediously bland.

Cougars “Adore” in Australia

On the other side of the coin we have “Adore” from the other side of the world: Australia.
Naomi Watts and Robin Wright play middle-aged mothers- cougars if you will- each with a hunky teenage son (Xavier Samuel and James Frecheville).
These lifelong friends live in an improbably perfect seaside retreat. Dramatic conflict ensues when each of the moms begins to mess around with the other’s son.
Directed by Anne Fontaine and based on a novella by Nobel Prize-winner Doris Lessing, “Adore” is more melancholy than titillating, as all the players resign themselves to more age-appropriate partners or living alone. The scenery sure is gorgeous though.
“Adore” opens Sept. 6 at Living Room Theaters.