Friday, August 29, 2014

Two Funny Brits Eating and Joking Their Way Through Italy


“Trip to Italy” a Delicious Lightweight Comedy

By Skip Sheffield

Take two bright British comedians, give them an unlimited expense account, send them to the most beautiful parts of Italy and let the camera run.
That’s pretty much the total premise of “The Trip to Italy,” starring Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon.
“Italy” is actually a sequel to Michael Winterbottom’s largely-improvised 2010 film, “The Trip.” On that adventure, Coogan and Brydon made a culinary tour of northern England.
Obviously Italy is a lot more appealing visually and gastronomically, and thereby lies the charm of “Trip to Italy.”
The premise is a follow-up to the English tour with added literary references. Steve and Rob will visit the places where famous British expatriate romantic poets lived, worked and died. We are talking Byron, Coleridge, Keats and Shelley. Of these only Samuel Taylor Coleridge lived to what could be called a mature age (61). George Gordon Lord Byron died at 36. Percy Bysshe Shelley made it to 29. John Keats tragically died at age 25.
But “Trip to Italy” is not about death. It is about the good life in world-class resorts, eating wonderful Italian food and being dazzled by exquisitely beautiful scenery. Oh, and it is about laughter. Both Coogan and Brydon are funny, witty performers, adept at improvisation. Brydon is a particularly good mimic and impressionist. In the course of travel Brydon imitates Woody Allen, Al Pacino, Marlon Brando, Gore Vidal, Clint Eastwood and more. The guys will talk of such weighty matters as death and the life of Casanova. They do not analyze the food they are eating. The critical response is usually “Umm, good.”
I have been to Italy only once, when I was a lad of 21. I have wanted to return ever since. A treat for the senses, “Trip to Italy” urges me to do it again while I can.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Not Everything is Perfect in "A Five-Star Life"


Check in to a “Five Star Life”

By Skip Sheffield

Imagine spending each week in a world-class five-star resort, all expenses paid, plus earning a paycheck?
Such is the premise of “Five Star Life,” a lovely Italian film starring Margherita Buy as Irene, a professional “mystery guest” who assesses five-star resorts to see if they are living up to standards of utmost service, comfort and cuisine. The posh resorts depicted are the real thing, and they cooperated fully with the making of this film.
Irene (Margherita Buy) is just one such “Mystery Guest” or inspector. Irene takes her job very seriously. She is not afraid to call out hotel managers for the slightest infractions.
“Five Star Life,” directed by Maria Sole Tognazzi, is also about the emotional life of a late-40s career woman at a crossroads. Irene has broken up with her fiancĂ© Andrea (Stefano Accorsi) who in turn has taken up with a younger woman (Alessia Barela).
Irene has a harried housewife younger sister, Silvia (Fabrizia Sacchi) who has two young daughters and a husband who is a professional musician (Gianmarco Tognazzi).
Because she spends so much time away at the great resorts of the world, Irene is not very close with her sister or her girls, and she is chronically late to family dinners and appointments.
Then Andrea drops a bombshell. He has impregnated his girlfriend and he feels obligated to support her through the birth of the child.
“I don’t want to have a child with a stranger,” Andrea protests. “She’s forcing it on me.”
Irene is not so sure about that, but the fact someone else his having a child with the man she almost married, she is given pause. Is her glamorous life at too great a cost? If she is never a mother can she still be happy and fulfilled?
In an attempt to connect with her nieces Irene takes them with her to a fancy resort in the Alps. The girls don’t quite appreciate her pampered, privileged life.
“Five Star Life” is an ideal film for career woman who worry they may be missing something. The answer is not so simple for Irene.

“This is your journey,” we are told. ”The route you take is up to you.”

Friday, August 15, 2014

If You Care About Free Speech "The Last Sentence" is for You


“The Last Sentence” a Salute to Free Speech

By Skip Sheffield

Sweden was ostensibly neutral during World War II. It was not easy. “The Last Sentence,” playing at FAU’s Living Room Theaters, is a black-and-white movie that illustrates just how hard it was to stay neutral in the face of such overwhelming evil.
“The Last Sentence” is the true life story of crusading Swedish journalist Torgny Segerstedt, directed by noted veteran Swedish filmmaker Jan Troell (“The Emigrants”). In the 1930s Segerstedt was one of the first to recognize the dangers of Adolph Hitler and his fascist Nazi Party. When war inevitably came, Segerstedt refused to knuckle under to pressure to stop ridiculing and criticizing Hitler and his thugs.
Torgny Segerstedt (Jesper Christensen) was far from a perfect man. At the beginning of the story we are told “No human being can withstand close scrutiny.” He was locked in a loveless marriage to a doting Norwegian woman, Puste (Ulla Skoog) and he openly carried on an affair with Maja (Pernilla August), wife of his newspaper boss and friend, Axel Forssman (Bjorn Granath). His also had a morbid fixation on his late mother.

Segerstedt ran up against his newspaper publisher, the Swedish Prime Minister Per Albin Hansson (Kenneth Mildoff) and even the King of Sweden. Through it all Segerstedt never backed down, even when threatened with job termination and the threat of death. If you care at all about the First Amendment and free speech, this is a reminder of how precious and difficult it is to stand for what is good and right even while everyone around you is compromising.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

"Calvary" a Modern Parable Set in Ireland


“Calvary” Challenging, Disturbing, Bleakly Funny

By Skip Sheffield

“Calvary” is a provocative, disturbing, yet at times darkly funny movie anchored by a bravura performance by the brilliant Irish actor Brendan Gleeson.
The title should have been a dead giveaway. Brenden Gleeson plays Father James Lavelle, a truly good priest in this parallel parable about the contemporary Catholic Church by writer-director John Michael McDonagh. John Michael’s brother Martin McDonagh wrote and directed “In Bruges,” which also starred Brendan Gleeson, and John Michael’s previous film, “The Guard,” also starred Gleeson.
Father James is no ordinary priest. He was married and has a lovely, troubled daughter Fiona (Kelly Reilly) whom he is trying to lift from the depths of depression. Father James became a priest when his wife died.
The fate of Father James is foreshadowed at the outset. Father James hears the confession of a man who says he was sexually abused by a priest when he was a boy. Father James listens attentively, and then the man gets to the point.
“I am going to kill you,” he says. “I am going to kill you not because you are a bad priest but because you are a good priest. You have one week to get your affairs in order.”
So begins a countdown with each day denoted. It seems that everyone in this beautiful little seaside village near Sligo in the west of Ireland is mightily messed up. Butcher Jack Brennan (Chris O’Dowd) is a cuckold whose wife Veronica (Oria O’Rourke) is, to put it bluntly, a slut. Her current lover is an African auto mechanic named Simon (Isaach De Bankole).
The younger parish priest, Father Leary (David Wilmot) is a callow, shallow man. Michael Fitzgerald (Dylan Moran), the richest man in town, is a mean, miserable drunk, whose wife and children have abandoned him. The constable, Inspector Stanton, carries on with young male prostitutes. The town physician, Dr. Frank Harte (Aiden Gillen) is a bitter atheist with contempt for victims. The token American is an expatriate writer (M. Emmet Walsh) who is old and at the end of his career and contemplating suicide.

If this is a comedy it is as dark as it can get. If you have even a passing knowledge of The Bible, you know who Father James represents. With sin, chaos and wickedness all around him, Father James is as calm, serene and dignified as that figure. One thing for certain, Brendan Gleeson is nothing short of an Irish national treasure.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

A Family Reconnects in "The Discoverers"


Flirting With Disaster on a Family Trek

By Skip Sheffield

“The Discoverers” wins points for originality. I know there are all sorts of history re-enactor groups, but I never knew there was one for the Lewis and Clark Expedition of 1805.
That is the off-the-beaten-path premise dreamed up by writer-director Justin Schwartz for his feature film debut. “Discoverers” was shot in 2012, but it is only just now making it our way.
Griffin Dunne stars as Lewis Birch, a rumpled, frustrated academic who teaches history at a small college in the East. Birch’s magnum opus is a massive manuscript on the Lewis and Clark Expedition he has been laboring on for 20 years. Birch has finally found a publisher at the academic press of tiny, obscure Eastern Kentucky State University. The school has arranged for Birch to unveil his masterpiece, or at least talk about it, at an academic conference in Oregon. Birch is pinning his hopes on interesting some real, prestigious university in his talents as teach and author.
There are problems. The manuscript is 6,862 pages long and they only want about 500. Birch is about to be divorced by his never-seen wife. He is disconnected from his children, moody Zoe (Madeleine Martin of “Californication”) and alienated Jack (Devon Graye of “American Horror Stories”). Birch gets the ill-conceived idea of taking his kids on a transcontinental road trip to the conference in hopes of reconnecting with them and renewing his inspiration. There are more problems. The biggest one is that Birch’s mother dies suddenly and his father Stanley is catatonic with grief, and then wanders off.
Stanley Birch participates in a costumed Lewis and Clark reenactment every summer. His shrink Dr. Salter (Todd Susman) thinks it might be good therapy for Stanley to participate as usual in this year’s trek.
Stanley is played by Emmy Award-winning actor Stuart Margolin, who proves you don’t need a lot of dialogue to convey emotion.
The kids are grudgingly dragged into this fiasco, in which their IDs, money, and means of communication are confiscated for historical accuracy.
It isn’t all misery on the trail. Lewis meets Nell (Cara Buono), a simpatico woman who befriends him. Jack meets Abigail (Dreama Walker) and sparks fly, with dangerous results.

Comedy is nicely balanced with real drama as it appears Stanley may indeed be going mad. “Discoverers” is more about family dynamics than American history, and that is what makes it ultimately worthwhile.

Life Goes on After 65


An Upbeat Look at Getting Older

By Skip Sheffield

Afraid of old age? Let “Land Ho” ease those fears.
“Land Ho” is a comedy with purpose, directed by two young directors (Aaron Katz and Martha Stephens) and starring two older guys you probably have never heard of.
They are Mitch (Earl Lynn Nelson), a good ol’ boy medical doctor from New Orleans and Colin (Paul Eenhoorn), an immigrant from Australia.
The two men were connected by marriage by each marrying a sister. Now they are both divorced. Colin is retired and Mitch is soon to be, as we learn later.
Mitch is an impulsive, outgoing guy who bangs on Colin’s door and announces, “I bought us two tickets to Iceland.”
“You didn’t ask me,” Colin protests. “I would have said no.”
“Why can’t I spend money on my favorite brother-in-law,” Mitch counters, settling the case.
And so the elderly chums are off for adventure in icy, rocky Iceland. As if to flaunt their status as ugly Americans, they rent one of its least politically-correct vehicles, a Hummer.
Little by little we learn about the two men. Mitch’s real name is Leslie, and he is not still practicing medicine. He was forced out.
Along the way they pick up a couple young girls- which is not what it sounds like. Ellen (Karrie Crouse) is a young cousin of Mitch’s. Ellen (Elizabeth McKee) is her friend.
The old men clearly enjoy being with a couple of babes, and Mitch lavishes them with food, drinks and new clothes. The girls in turn accompany the men to a disco. There is no hanky-panky and the girls go on their merry way.
Toward the end the chance of romance with a more age-appropriate woman comes when the man encounter a Canadian photographer named Nadine (Alice Olivia Clarke) at a hot springs park.
“Land Ho” is deliberately fashioned along the lines of a 1980s road trip movie, only with senior citizens rather than actors in their 20s and 30s. It is in fact endorsed by AARP, but the two stars don’t like to dwell on that.
“It’s also endorsed by the National Board of Review,” Early Lynn Nelson points out. “I don’t feel old.”
“This is not for retirement parties,” Paul Eenhoorn chimes in. “We’ve been getting a hell of a response from kids in their 20s at movie festivals.”
Nelson and Eenhooron have been on the road with the “Earl and Paul Show” since the movie made its acclaimed debut at Sundance Film Festival. The men admit the location shooting was difficult and challenging, but the two entirely different men have become fast friends, just as in the film. Nelson, 72, is a real-life ocular surgeon in Kentucky who still practices. Eehorn, 65, is a lifelong, Australian-born actor.
“We hope the film will appeal to the same audience that enjoyed Marigold Hotel,” says Nelson. “Although I think it might also appeal to the Pineapple Express gang.”

“They are talking about a sequel,” reveals Eenhoorn. “Maybe we could tour Australia.”

A Less-Filling, Less-Satisfying 100-Foot Journey


A Pretty, Romantic, but Less Satisfying “100-Foot Journey”

By Skip Sheffield

“The 100-Foot Journey” is the third food-oriented movie that has opened in our area in the past two months. Despite high hopes and an endorsement by producers Steven Spielberg and Oprah Winfrey, I found it the least satisfying.
“Journey” stars the great British actress Helen Mirren as Madame Mallory, the snooty owner-chef of a one Michelin star French restaurant in the south of France.
Hassan Kadam (Manish Dayal) and his family have fled their native Mumbai, India when Papa (Om Puri) decides maybe life in France could be more productive.
Why France? Well, this is a gastronomic fairy tale, based on Richard C. Marais’s 2010 novel, and rich, refined French cuisine is about as far removed from pungent, spicy Indian as possible.
Noted Swedish director Lasse Hallstrom (“Chocolat”) makes the best of food imagery in the kitchen and in the market, but he tends to linger too long in a movie that goes for more than two hours.
Hassan’s family leases a failed restaurant right across the street, 100 feet, from Madame Mallory’s Le Saule Pleurer. Madam Mallory is a widow and quite frankly prejudiced against brown-skinned people she considers inferiors.
However there is nothing inferior about Hassan’s cooking talent. This is first recognized by Marguerite (Charlotte Le Bon), Madame Mallory’s pretty sous chef. Not only does Marguerite admire Hassan’s instinctive way with spices, she finds the handsome young man quite attractive.
A parallel attraction of opposites happens between adversaries Madam Mallory and craggy, proud Papa.
So it’s a small world after all. “The 100-Foot Journey” is as much a romance as it is a fable of cultural blending. It is lovely to behold but rather too long and not quite satisfying.