Thursday, October 30, 2014

Nicole Kidman, Damsel-in-Distress


Nicole Kidman in Distress Again

By Skip Sheffield

Nicole Kidman makes one fine damsel-in-distress. Who can forget her performance in the extremely weird “Eyes Wide Shut?”
Ms. Kidman is in peril once again as an amnesiac wife in the mystery-thriller “Before I Go To Sleep.” Some terrible brain trauma happened to Christine Lucas (Kidman), a British housewife who wakes up each morning with a blank slate. She can’t remember who she is, what she does, where she has been or even if Ben (Colin Firth), the man who cares for her, is really her husband.
If we weren’t treated to extreme close-ups of Kidman’s pretty face and beautiful blue eyes there wouldn’t be much reason to watch “Before I Go To Sleep,” which is directed and adapted for the screen by Rowan Joffe (“The American”) from the 2011 first novel by S. J. Watson.
Amnesia is a flimsy but ever-popular premise for a mystery-thriller. It is easy to shoot holes in the credibility of the plot, but it is fun to watch Nicole Kidman and Colin Firth emoting up a storm. Then there is Mark Strong as Christine’s psychiatrist. Is he a good guy or bad? Does he have ulterior motives?
British novelist Watson has a certain amount of medical training, which enables him to make Christine’s convenient amnesia more believable. Still, there are many “Oh, come on” moments and a “What the..” ending. Yet any movie that quotes A.A. Milne’s “Winnie-the-Pooh” word-for-word gains points in my book.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Every Girl a Princess at "Cinderella"


"Cinderella" To Enchant Miami and West Palm Beach

By Skip Sheffield

You are not likely to find a more gorgeous stage musical than “Cinderella,” playing through Nov. 2 at the Arsht Center in Miami. The production will travel to Kravis Center in West Palm Beach Nov. 11-16.
This is the first national touring production of the Rodgers & Hammerstein musical that first saw light as a 1957 television special, starring a young Julie Andrews. It was at the time the most-watched television show in history.
R&H re-teamed for a stage musical in 1965 starring Leslie Ann Warren. A 1997 revival starred Brandy as Cinderella and Whitney Houston as her Fairy Godmother.
Most of us remember "Cinderella" from the 1950 Walt Disney animated version. The stage version of the story is much simpler, based on a European folk story hundreds of years old and popularized in English by the Brothers Grimm as one of "Grimm's Fairy Tales" in the 19th century.
The national tour boasts fabulous costumes and nifty stage effects, which include a harness that enables Marie (Kecia Lewis) the Fairy Godmother to levitage and soar above the Arsht Center stage. This is not one of R&H's best scores, but the band is live and very good.
Kecia Lewis is one of several delights as one of the sauciest Godmothers you will ever see.
Soprano Paige Faure is so tiny, doll-like and slim she embodies the fairy-like spirit named Ella, called Cinderella by her cruel stepmother named Madame (Beth Glover) and her selfish stepsisters Charlotte (Aymee Garcia) and Gabrielle (Ashley Park).
Prince Charming in this edition is called Topher (Andy Jones), short for Christopher. Jones is a handsome, fine tenor befitting his character.
The manipulative Sebastion, the Prince's chief advisor, is played with gusto and humor by Blake Hammond. The good guy who fights for villagers' rights is Jean-Michel, played by David Andino. One of the best voices in the cast belongs to Antoine L. Smith as Lord Pinkerton, who serves as a kind of herald.
One of the most amazing things about the show is Cinderella's incredibly fast costume changes before our very eyes. One minute she is Ella the cinder girl and the next her dress and even her hair are changed for the enchanting girl who will instantly win the Prince's heart.
If you have young daughters, bring them to "Cinderella." They will feel enchanted too.
For ticket information call the Arsht Center at 305-949-6722 or TicketMaster at 800-745-3000. For Kravis Center call 800-572-8471 or go to

Monday, October 27, 2014

All Song, All Dance, All Joyful "Swing!"


"Swing!" a Singing, Dancing Nostalgiafest.

By Skip Sheffield

Give your mind a rest and just “Swing!”
The Wick Theatre kicks off its second season with the nostalgic Big Band song and dance revue “Swing!,” continuing through Nov. 16 at the Countess deHoernle Theatre, 5901 N. Federal Highway, Boca Raton.
Most of the song and dance routines in “Swing!” are from the World War II era, but some date back to the 1930s, when the Big Band craze started.
For those of us in the Baby Boom generation, World War II was still fresh when we were growing up. There have been so many wars in the years since World War II seems innocent by comparison.
So yes, "Swing!" is unapologetically nostalgic. What makes it special are the superbly limber, agile, athletic dancers male and female. The stage is set by the 1931 Duke Ellington classic "It Don't Mean a Thing" (If It Ain't Got That Swing), and the action continues non-stop for 24 numbers, with a brief intermission and another 11 numbers concluding with a big all-star finale.
In all there are an even dozen dancers with Lindsay Bell the captain under the overall direction of Kelly Shook. Featured singers are Alix Paige and Michael Ursua and there is an onstage band led by pianist and musical director Paul Reekie. A special tip of the hat to trombonist Jason Pyle, who makes his instrument "talk" with a mute on the showcase number "Cry Me a River" with Amelia Millar and Pyle trading vocal and instrumental licks.
This show transports me back to my formative years when our father, a Big Band fan of the first order, played the music of the Dorsey Brothers, Glenn Miller, Benny Goodman, Woody Herman, Count Basie, Fats Waller and Frank Sinatra at maximum volume, much to the annoyance of our neighbors. There are few things in life as happy and optimistic than music of the Big Band era. If you need a lift, here it is.
Tickets are $58-$62. Call 561-995-2333 or go to

Friday, October 24, 2014

Billy Crudup is "Rudderless"


Billy Crudup a Haunted Soul in "Rudderless"

By Skip Sheffield

In brief, “Rudderless” is playing in only one venue, the Tower Theater in Miami, but this directorial debut by actor William H. Macy is now available by Video on Demand (VOD) if you so desire.
Billy Crudup plays Sam Penning, a high-powered advertising executive whose life blows up when his estranged son Josh (Miles Heizer) inexplicably goes on a rampage, murdering six fellow students at Central Plains State University. Sam immediately starts drowning his sorrows in alcohol. Divorced from his wife Emily (Felicity Huffman) he buys a sailboat and lives aboard, staying drunk most of the time. Sam hits the bottom of the barrel when he is fired from his menial house-painting job. When Emily dumps a load of his son’s effects on him, he discovers a number of CDs with really promising songs. He starts playing his son’s guitar and singing his songs. At the urging of young local musician Quentin (Anton Yelchin), Sam plays at a bar’s open mic night. Quentin enlists some other boys, and soon a full band is playing Josh Penning’s songs to local acclaim. With the help of a local music shop owner (Laurence Fisburne) the band seems poised to tour professionally, but when Josh’s old girlfriend (Selena Gomez) shows up, the gig is up.
Crudup shows what a fine actor he is, and Macy, who plays a small part, shows impressive directorial chops. It doesn’t hurt that co-star Felicity Huffman is his wife. As a struggling musician myself, I found “Rudderless” quite pertinent.

"Blue Room" a Morality Lesson


Sex and Murder Most Foul in “The Blue Room”

By Skip Sheffield

“The Wages of Sin is death.”

That’s what it says in the Bible, Romans 6:23. I doubt that’s what Belgian novelist Georges Simenon was thinking when he wrote his novel “The Blue Room.”
“Blue Room” is the basis for a sexy French murder mystery written by and starring Mathieu Amalric (“The Diving Bell and the Butterfly”). Amalric plays Julien Gahyde, a farm equipment salesman with a lovely wife Delphine (Lea Drucker) and a somewhat fragile daughter Suzanne (Mona Jaffart).
We meet Julien in bed with Esther Despierre (Stenanie Cleau).
“Do you love me Julien?” she says.
“”I think so,” he replies.
We then cut to a police interrogation of Julien. How many times has he enjoyed the carnal company of Esther? Only eight times in 11 months,” he replies.
The entire movie cuts back and forth between events leading up to two suspicious deaths, and the subsequent police investigation and court trial of the suspects. Although there is nudity and implied sex, rarely has an affair been so unsexy.
Why do people stray? In Julien’s case it seems to be boredom accompanied by opportunity. Esther’s ailing husband, a doctor, is rarely around the flat they have above a pharmacy, where Esther works. Suzanne has many allergies and maladies, so Julien regularly visits the pharmacy. Though he professes love for Delphine, it is obvious the thrill is gone, and she knows it. A weekend getaway to the Riviera fails to re-fire the passion of a love dying.
Meanwhile Esther is putting on the pressure for Julien to make a decision: divorce his wife and marry her or end the affair.
Mathieu Amalric is adept at portraying a weak character with a guilty conscience. As the investigation and trail wear on, Esther is interrogated too. Actress Stephanie Cleau co-wrote the screen adaptation with Amalric, so they are literally on the same page.
If you like mysteries with murder most foul, done with a Gallic twist, it is fun trying to second-guess the plot twists. Georges Simenon was after all a master of murder mysteries, and his famous detective, Jules Maigret, is the Gallic equivalent of Sherlock Holmes.

Fight Racism With Satire


Satirical “Dear White People” Uses Laughter as Weapon

By Skip Sheffield

One of the best ways to fight racism is with humor, and in particular, satire.
“Dear White People” is a satire about racism on the college campus. It won writer/director Justin Simien Sundance Film Festival’s 2014 Special Jury Award for Breakthrough Talent. The timing is certainly right, for the key climactic scene takes place at a Halloween costume party.
The setting is fictitious Winchester University, presumably somewhere in the South. Winchester is a private school filled with wealthy, white snobs, jocks and frat boys. The four main characters are “token” black people admitted to help the school fill its minimum of minority students so donors could pat themselves on the back for being so tolerant.
Samantha “Sam” White (Tessa Thompson) is the most militant, activist member of the group- never afraid to speak out against perceived injustices. Perhaps not ironically she has the lightest skin. In the days before political correctness she would have been known as a mulatto. It can also be an insult.
Sam’s male counterpart is Troy Fairbanks, a handsome, ambitious, seemingly ideal guy who secretly has some bad traits that may get in the way of his desire to be class president.
Colandra “Coco” Conners is a sexy, gregarious woman who makes her views known on a public “Vlog” (video blog).
Lionel Higgins (Tyler James Williams) is the closest thing to an everyman character- that is if everyman had a bushy, towering Afro hairdo straight out of 1968.
In case we miss these characters are types, the director labels and defines them at the start of the story. Then he goes on to confound those stereotypes.
The white characters are for the most part stereotypes too, except for Kurt Fletcher (Kyle Gallner), editorial of the school paper who has liberal tendencies. We will see how liberal as the story unfolds.
The two main authority figures are Dean Fairbanks (Dennis Haysbert), a man who seems equally wise to the ways of white and black people, and President Fletcher (Peter Syvertsen), whose main concern is keeping benefactors happy.
It seems like race relations haven’t improved much since I was a college student, eons ago. At least with this film we have Justin Simien shining a light in dark corners and saying “Hey people, these things still exist,” yet with the beneficial balm of humor.

Monday, October 20, 2014

In Time for Halloween is "Carrie: The Musical"


Just in Time for Halloween: “Carrie: The Musical”

By Skip Sheffield

It’s not exactly the feel-good show of the season, but Slow Burn Theatre’s “Carrie: The Musical,” playing through Nov. 2 at West Boca High School Performing Arts Theater, is nothing if not diverting and entertaining.
Stephen King’s novel of religious zealotry, high school bullying, teenage cruelty and telekinesis seems an unlikely choice for a stage musical. It still is.
That’s why the 1988 Broadway debut of the $8 million production was deemed a “notorious flop.” In fact some audience members booed as the final curtain rang down opening night.
Slow Burn artistic director Patrick Fitzwater has never been one to back down from a challenge. Once again he has met it by adapting an improved script and hand-picking the youngest cast of highly talented performers, aided and abetted by three older pros.
The pedigree of “Carrie: The Musical” is impressive. The book is by Lawrence D. Cohen, who wrote the screenplay for the 1976 movie version of Stephen King’s hit 1974 novel. The music is by Leslie’s younger brother Michael Gore, who won an Oscar for his 1981 “Fame” soundtrack, and Dean Pitchford, who also won an Oscar for collaborating on that film.
Fitzwater and musical director Caryl Fantel have concentrated on the musicality of the show. The ensemble harmonies are virtually flawless, and Fitzwater cast Equity powerhouse Shelly Keeler in her Slow Burn debut in the crucial role of Carrie’s mother, Margaret White.
“Religious zealot” is not really a strong enough description of Margaret White. Her narrow, fundamentalist view of what is sinful and what is good is obsessive and borders on demented. Her husband has understandably left her, adding bile to her bitter, warped view of life.
Her only daughter, poor Carrie (Anne Chamberlain), bears the brunt of her resentments. As a result Carrie is stunted emotionally and even physically. Although she is 17, Carrie has never had a period. When it comes, at the worst possible time in the school shower, it sets in motions a series of events that will end horribly at the high school prom.
Shelly Keeler is far and away the best, strongest singer in the cast. This helps balance the fact she is playing such a disagreeable character. Keeler brings home the pain and anguish of Margaret in the ballad “When There’s No One,” which is also the best song of the score.
Anne Chamberlain holds her own with her monster mom. Her character is described as “not pretty,” but Chamberlain is. This does not detract from her torment.
Jessica Brooke Sanford is the sympathetic Ying of Sue Snell, who attempts to defend Carrie. Cristina Flores is the cruel Yang of Chris, Carrie’s malicious classmate who hatches the plot that goes so horribly wrong.
Alexander Zenoz is most appealing as Tommy, Carrie’s good-guy prom date. Kristian Bikic is appropriately punkish as juvenile delinquent Billy.
Serving yeoman duty as the responsible adults as Anne Marie Olson as gym teacher Miss Gardiner and Matthew Korinko as school principal Mr. Stephens.
The timing of “Carrie: The Musical” couldn’t be better. This show is the perfect setup for the harmless hijinks of Halloween.

Tickets are $40. Student and Theater League discount tickets are available at the door. Shows are 8 p.m. Thursday-Saturday and 5 p.m. Sunday. Call 866-811-4111 or go to

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Reese Witherspoon Does a Good Deed in "Good Lie"


Reese Witherspoon Does a Good Deed with “The Good Lie”

By Skip Sheffield

Reese Witherspoon did a good thing when she agreed to star in and promote “The Good Lie.” The title is taken from a term in Mark Twain’s “Huckleberry Finn.”
This truth-based movie, written by Margaret Nagle and directed by Philippe Falardeau (“Monsieur Lazhar”) dramatizes the plight and flight of the “Lost Boys” from civil war-torn Sudan. We meet the “boys” (and one girl) as children. Ruthless militia invades their village, kill the adults and torch the huts.
A half-dozen children flee blindly. When a soldier spots one of them hiding in tall grass, the eldest,Theo (Okawr Jale), stands up and surrenders himself, saving the other children.
The group encounters a mass march and learns they are heading for safer territory in Kenya. After walking almost 800 miles and losing one of the boys to illness, the remaining four make it to a refugee camp. They are issued clothes and food by Red Cross volunteers. After putting their names on a waiting list, the quartet is overjoyed to learn they have been accepted in a program to take them to the USA to gain asylum. The joy is tempered by sorrow when the boys learn their sister Abital (Kuoth Wiel) cannot go with them to Kansas City because of some arbitrary immigration regulation. Abital is sent to a foster family in Boston. The boys continue to Kansas City, where they are picked up at the airport by a somewhat scatterbrained employment agency counselor, Carrie Davis, played by Reese Witherspoon. Though Witherspoon is top-billed in movie ads, she does not make her appearance until 35 minutes into the film, and her entrance is not grand. If anything dark-haired Carrie is the anti-“Legally Blond” glamour girl. Carrie wears sloppy clothes and has an even sloppier apartment. She curses, drinks beer and has temper tantrums, but at heart she is a good soul. So is her tolerant boss, Jack (Corey Stoll).
There are many comical fish-out-of water scenes when the boys encounter American technologies, customs, and attempt to be gainfully employed.
Aspiring doctor Mamere (Arnold Oceng) is the natural leader of the group and literally a Chief since his older brother Theo was seized.
Tall, lanky Jeremiah (Ger Duany) is a spiritual person and sensitive soul who learns some harsh lessons about America’s materialist ways.
Paul (Emmanuel Jai) is the more rebellious and resentful of the group, which will cause problems.
All the African characters are played by real Sudanese refugees, which adds authenticity to an otherwise fictional plot. There is a strong but unobtrusive Christian message in the story. The only book the group has is a Bible, and the people who save them are professed Christians.

If you in need of a feel-good, we-are-the-world kind of movie, this is one for you. The situation in all of Africa has only worsened since Sudan refugees were cut off after 9/11, but for the 3,600 “Lost Boys’ who made it to the USA, there are heartwarming messages at film’s end.

Not the Stars, the Fault is in the Internet


The Fault is in the Internet, Not the Stars

By Skip Sheffield

Everyone is messed up in “Men, Women and Children.”
That’s all you need to know about this latest offering from Jason Reitman, who brought us the superior “Juno” and “Up in the Air.”
Yes, everyone is messed up, and it’s the fault of the Internet. That’s the short version of the novel by Chad Kultgen, on which the screenplay is based.
We follow a representative group of Texas high school students and their parents as they navigate the perils of the Internet age.
It’s not exactly news that most teenagers keep their eyes trained on handheld devices, and that they would rather text than talk.
I feel like an old fart because I do not have an Iphone and I refuse to text, but there are some people my age who don’t even have a computer.
Don Truby (Adam Sandler in a relatively straight role) and his wife Helen (Rosemarie DeWitt) are plugged in and turned on, but not to each other. That’s where the trouble begins.
Patricia Beltmeyer (Jennifer Garner frumped up with glasses and a severe hairdo) is an uptight control freak who insists on knowing where her daughter Brandy (Kaitlyn Dever) is every minute of the day. You know the type, and it rarely turns out well
Kent Mooney (Dean Norris) is a recently-divorced, basically decent guy who is clueless as to how to get back into dating or how to deal with his teenage son Tim (Ansel Elgort, of “The Fault in Our Stars”), who is falling for a nice girl named Allison (Elena Kampouris).
Then there is Brooke (Katherine C. Hughes), a beautiful girl whose mom Donna (Judy Greer) wants her to succeed in show business so badly she is almost like her pimp.

Well it goes on; video game addiction, porn on the Internet, the dangers of chat rooms, anorexia, infidelity, inability to appreciate the simple, natural things in life. “Men, Women and Children” has its merits, a few laughs and some somber moments, but mostly it is things we already know, acted out by good-looking people.

General Sherman Said It Best


War is Hellacious in “Fury”

By Skip Sheffield

“War is Hell!” General William Techumseh Sherman famously declared.
Sherman knew only too well. He was an early advocate of “Total War,” which he demonstrated with a vengeance with his infamous, devastating “March to the Sea” through Georgia in the War Between the States.
“Fury” puts the viewer in the center of a “Total War.” The story is set in the desperate last days of World War II in Germany, April 1945. Allied forces are attempting to conquer Germany, town by town, and the Nazis have desperately pressed into service every man, woman and child to fight back. Those who refused were hanged as traitors.
Don “Wardaddy” Collier (Brad Pitt) is a scarred veteran of the war who commands a Sherman tank (note the name) which has the hand-painted word “Fury” on its cannon barrel.
Contrasting with courageous, confident Collier is a new recruit named Norman Ellison (Logan Lerman), who has been pulled out of a typing pool and pressed into service as a tank gunner.
In a plot device that echoes Stephen Crane’s “Red Badge of Courage,” Norman will spend the rest of the story ridiculed and shunned until he mans up and becomes the killing machine he is ordered to be.
There is nothing pretty or light about “Fury.” There is some rough humor amongst the rag-tag tank crew, which includes Michael Pena as driver Trini “Gordo” Garcia, Jon Bernthal as obnoxious good old Georgia boy Grady “Coon-Ass” Travis, Jim Parrack as the level-headed Sgt. Binkowski and Shia LaBoeuf as the religious, moral voice, Boyd “Bible” Swan.
There are only two women of note in the story. As the tank presses further inland it encounters a bombed-out village in which two women are hiding in a building. Collier and Norman Ellison scout the building and encounter a German woman named Irma (Anamaria Marinca) and her pretty young niece Emma (Alicia von Rittberg). It is love at first sight for Norman and Emma, but it is a sadly brief interlude.

The main problem with “Fury” is that most of us have already heeded Sherman’s warning. You don’t have to be a veteran to know war is a terrible thing, but perhaps people need to be reminded again and again. Remember “The Alamo.”

King Versus Cub in "The Judge"


A Young Lion and The King of The Jungle Square Off in “The Judge”

By Skip Sheffield

There is a reason Robert Downey, Jr. is the highest paid actor in movies today.
“You are the best,” admitted Robert Duvall simply.
Spoiler alert: Duvall was speaking as his character of Judge Hank Palmer in “The Judge.” Downey plays his estranged son, Joseph Palmer.
Joe returns to his small Missouri home town from Chicago, where he is a hotshot lawyer, when he receives word his mother has died. Joe’s pugnacious attitude is established in a brief, funny scene in a men’s room early in the movie.
Joe hasn’t really dealt with his old man since he went off to college. In fact he has not returned home since that time.
Hank Palmer has a reputation has a reputation as a tough but fair judge. His confidence is shaken with the passing of his beloved wife, but there is something else bothering him. His entire reputation is put to the test when a young man on a bicycle is killed by a motorist. Circumstantial evidence points to blood of the victim and damage on Hank Palmer’s vintage 1971 Cadillac.
A young lawyer named C.P. Kennedy (Dax Shepard) is hired to defend Hank Palmer, but Joe Palmer knows from the outset Kennedy is no match for shark-like lawyer Dwight Dickham (Billy Bob Thornton, in fine form) as the prosecutor. Dickham wants no less than a first-degree murder charge.
Director David Dobkin brings out a fair amount of humor, much of it raunchy, but it is the father-son battle that is the heart of Nick Schenk’s (“Gran Torino”) screenplay.
There is plenty of dysfunction in the Palmer family. Older brother Glen (Vincent D’Onofrio) was a champion baseball player in college, but a car accident with a 17-year-old Joe Palmer at the wheel put an end to that career.
Younger brother Dale (Jeremy Strong) is evidently mentally disabled and dependent on his family for care.
Providing strong support as Joe’s high school sweetheart, Samantha Powell, is Vera Farminga. Intriguing as Sam’s alluring daughter Carla is Leighton Meester.

The main attraction is the two leads: a young lion and an aging king of the jungle. Duvall looks older than his 72-year-old character, but there is a reason for that two. “The Judge” is a quality movie for mature adults.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Gay and Union "Pride"


Unlikely Allies Feel “Pride”
By Skip Sheffield
“Pride” is another fact-based story inspired by the highly unlikely alliance between the striking National Union of Mineworkers and a ragtag group of London gay and lesbian activists in the United Kingdom in 1984, when ultra-conservative Margaret Thatcher was Prime Minister.
Thatcher was known as the “Iron Lady,” and she didn’t intend to knuckle under to Welsh miners who wanted increased pay and better working conditions. One would assume she was even less in favorite of flamboyant, noisy homosexuals.
Written by Stephen Beresford and directed by Matthew Warchus (“God of Carnage”), “Pride” is essentially a comedy- a colorful one at that- with a social conscience. It has a young and eclectic cast, with Ben Schnetzer as the heterosexual Northern Irish champion of both groups. Old pros include Imelda Staunton and Bill Nighy.

“Pride” is a word often used by gay and lesbian activists who will love this movie. This little film may make straight people better understand that pride, for if burly, begrimed macho miners can find common ground with flouncy, prancing homosexuals, who cannot learn to get along?

Jeremy Renner Kills in "Kill the Messenger"


Jeremy Renner Hits Hard in “Kill the Messenger”

By Skip Sheffield

Journalism can be a dangerous business. It can even get you killed.
That’s the big message of “Kill the Messenger,” starring Jeremy Renner as crusading Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter Gary Webb.
Renner has twice been nominated for Academy Awards. This time he may well win for his impassioned performance as the hothead, incautious, rough-mannered San Jose Mercury News reporter who virtually single-handedly discovered a link between the CIA and Nicaraguan Contra rebels.
The story starts in 1996. Webb had left Washington, D.C. with his family after some personal unpleasantness to get a fresh start in California. He was hired by the San Jose paper as a local stringer, but Webb’s ambitions went far beyond that. When Coral Baca (Paz Vega), a beautiful, mysterious girlfriend of a cocaine trafficker handed Webb a sheaf of classified documents, Webb began to shadow shady types, lawyers and U.S. officials alike to assemle pieces of a puzzle that asked how so much crack cocaine was flooding the streets of poverty-stricken South Central Los Angeles and other impoverised cities. The search led him to crack kingpin lawyer Alan Fenster (Tim Blake Nelson) and his client, crack boss “Freeway” Rick Ross (Michael Kenneth Williams), Webb was able to convince his wary editor Anna Simons (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) and even more cautious executive editor Jerry Ceppos (Oliver Platt) to allow him to travel to Nicaragua to grill imprisoned drug baron Norwin Menses (Andy Garcia). Webb came to the inescapable conclusion the CIA had been turning a blind eye to the scheme of supplying weapons to anti-Communist Nicaraguan rebels in exchange for cocaine, in a misguided attempt to unseat the leftist Sandinista government during the Administration of Ronald Reagan and later George Bush.
When “Dark Alliance” was published in the Mercury News, the response was swift and overwhelming. Webb was criticized by the Washington Post, Los Angeles Times and New York Times of exaggeration, sloppy reporting and insufficient evidence. Webb was busted down to a bureau 150 miles away in Cupertino.
The negative impact was not only felt by Webb and his newspaper, but his family and in particular his long-suffering wife Sue (Rosemarie DeWitt) and son Eric (Matthew Lintz) who idolized him.

Working from a script by Nick Schou, who wrote a book on Webb’s “Dark Alliance,” and screenwriter Peter Landesman, director Michael Cuestra (“Homeland”) has devised a fast-paced thriller and given Jeremy Renner free reign to create a flawed but fearless action hero of freedom of the press.

Monday, October 6, 2014

"Marvelous Wonderettes" at Broward Center


Slow Burn “Wonderettes” at Broward Center

By Skip Sheffield

Slow Burn Theatre of Boca Raton has taken a giant step forward with its debut production of “The Marvelous Wonderettes” at Broward Center for the Arts.
The musical comedy revue, which has a long run through Nov. 23, will not be the first of Slow Burn productions at Broward Center. It’s just the beginning of a relationship that will eventually make Slow Burn the house theater company at Broward Center.
“Marvelous Wonderettes” is an eye-catching crowd-pleaser with fabulous, funny costumes by Rick Pena. It’s a kind of a female version of “Forever Plaid,” written and created by Roger Bean. There is hardly any plot. We meet the four girls of the title at their high school senior prom in Springfield, USA in 1958. In act two ten years have passed and the girls are having a tenth anniversary reunion.
Director/choreographer Patrick Fitzwater was chosen his “girls” well by physical type, comedy chops and vocal ability.
Abby Perkins is Missy, the somewhat quirky, offbeat character with silly 1950s glasses. Amy Miller Brennan (Cindy Lou) is a much-honored South Florida actress/singer who most recently won the Carbonell award for Best Actress Musical in the Actors’ Playhouse production of “Ruthless.”
Julie Kleiner (Betty Jean) is a local polished pro whose first professional gig was as Annie in “Annie Warbucks” at Broward Center. She even had her Bat Mitzvah in the same space that is now the Abdo New River Room Theater.
Bubbly blond, voluptuous Suzy is played by Lindsey Corey, originally from Chattanooga, TN. She was one of the skating actresses in the Slow Burn production of “Xanadu.”
Basically the songs are grouped by the decade, from solos to four-part harmonies. Act one has such 1950s girl group hits as “Lollipop,: “Born Too Late,” “I Only Want to be with You” and “Heatwave,” as well as pop hits such as “Allegheny Moon,” “All I Have to Do is Dream” and “Hold Me, Thrill Me,” “Kiss Me.”
Act two has 1960s favorites such as “It’s My Party,” “Rescue Me,” “Respect” and “Wedding Bell Blues.”
New at Broward Center is a New River Bistro on-site restaurant for the convenience of theater-goers. Prix fixe and a la carte dinners are offered two and  half hours before evening curtain times and a 10 a.m. Sunday Brunch. Call 954-522-5334.
Tickets for “Marvelous Wonderettes” show-only are $45 and may be reserved by calling TicketMaster at 800-745-3000 or online at

Simon Bolivar is "The Liberator"

Simon Bolivar Celebrated as “The Liberator”

By Skip Sheffield

Want a history lesson with plenty of violence and a side order of sex?
“The Liberator,” open at FAU’s Living Room Theaters, is a fictionalized account of South America’s “Great Liberator” Simon Bolivar. The script is by Timothy J. Sexton (“Children of Men”) and it is directed by Alberto Arvelo. The film is Venezuela’s official Best Foreign Language submission for the 2015 Academy Awards.
Dashing, handsome Edgar Ramirez (“Carlos,” “Zero Dark Thirty”) plays Bolivar and Maria Valverde is his ill-fated wife Maria Theresa, whose death from Yellow Fever was a turning point in Bolivar’s life.
Anyone with a passing education of South America knows Simon Bolivar was an important figure. This movie dramatizes the man’s ambition, bravery and magnetic appeal to both sexes.
Bolivar was from an aristocratic family. His detractors called him a rich boy and dilettante. Venezuelan director Alberto Arvelo depicts Bolivar as a true hero who believed in the freedom of all peoples.
The story is prefaced by the fact Bolivar fought more than 100 battles, travelled more than 70,000 miles on horseback and was the liberator of former Spanish colonies that became Venezuela, Colombia (including Panama), Ecuador, Peru, and the country named after him, Bolivia. All this was accomplished in just 47 years.
The story begins in 1828 with what was one of many attempts on Bolivar’s life, and then it flashes back to the idyllic time of Bolivar’s courtship and winning in Europe of the love of his life, Maria Theresa (Maria Valverde).
Bolivar brought Maria Theresa back to South America, but their idyll was short-lived. She died, perhaps pregnant, of Yellow Fever after only six months of marriage.
Bolivar returned to Paris to drown his sorrows. His conscience is reawakened by his mentor Simon Rodriguez (Francisco Denis) who called Bolivar a “Noble Savage” and encouraged him to adhere to the ideals of Washington, Jefferson and Rousseau and fight for freedom.
Danny Huston plays a small but pivotal recurring role as a cynical British banker who is willing to back Bolivar’s revolution if it profits him.
Bolivar never remarried, but he was satisfied emotionally and physically by an aristocratic mistress, Manuela Saenz (Juana Acosta).

A lot of history is crammed into a movie just under two-hours long. Think of this as a kind of Cliff Notes version of the life of the man who more than anyone else freed South America from the oppression of Spanish rule.

Friday, October 3, 2014

Rosamund Pike Does a Star Turn in "Gone Girl"


Gone Girl” a Star-Making Role for Rosamund Pike

By Skip Sheffield

Fearless prediction: “Gone Girl” is going to make British actress Rosamund Pike a star.
Ben Affleck already is a star, and “Gone Girl” should burnish his dramatic reputation further.
Stage actress Pike is mostly known in her native England, where she studied English Literature and graduated with honors from Oxford University. Due to extensive travels with her parents, who are both performers, she is fluent in French and German and obviously highly intelligent. She has a delicate, striking, singular beauty which makes her role as the mysterious “Gone Girl,” Amy Dunne, all the more alluring.
Novelist Gillian Flynn adapted her best-selling book for the screen, under the directorship of inventive David Fincher (“Fight Club”).
If you have ever endured the miseries of a crumbling marriage, you will surely relate to “Gone Girl.”
Nick Dunne (Ben Affleck) and wife Amy (Rosamund Pike) have recently lost their magazine jobs in New York City. A Nick’s suggestion they have relocated to Nick’s Missouri home town to attend to his mother, who has a terminal illness. With the financial backing of his wife, who has a trust fund, and his sister Margo (Carrie Coon) have opened an Irish bar.
On the eve of their fifth wedding anniversary Nick arrives home to discover his house ransacked and his wife missing. As police investigate, circumstantial evidence begins to incriminate Nick. When gossip TV show TV personality Ellen Abbott (Missy Pyle) begins to speculate out loud on the possibility of Nick murdering his wife, Nick is forced to hock everything and hire the best lawyer money can buy: Tanner Bolt (Tyler Perry).
One of the revelations of this film is what a good actor Tyler Perry is. We are used to seeing him in drag as the comic elderly black woman, Medea, but in business clothes Perry radiates a fierce intelligence and ingenuity.
Another revelation is Neil Patrick Harris, who plays a polar opposite character to that of his real-life personae.
Part of the fun of “Gone Girl” is the shifting allegiances we feel as both husband and wife are explored further. In short neither one is a saint, but the big reveal is that one of them is much worse than we could ever could have imagined.

“Gone Girl” is a cracking good mystery with a shocking dollop of ultra-violence. Surely it will be remembered at Academy Awards time.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Love Hurts "The Skeleton Twins"


Laugh and Cry With Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig

By Skip Sheffield

Kristen Wiig and Bill Hader made us laugh in their years with “Saturday Night Live.” They may well make you cry with “The Skeleton Twins.”
“Maybe we were doomed from the beginning,” goes the voiceover at the film’s beginning. We know this will not be a cheerful walk in the park, in Mark Heyman’s (“Black Swan”) script, directed and co-written by Craig Johnson.
The fraternal twins are Maggie (Kristin Wiig) and Milo Dean (Bill Hader). Milo is an unsuccessful actor in Los Angeles. In a depressed state, he slashed his wrists and slumped in a bathtub, only to be saved at the last minute.
Maggie (Kristen Wiig) lives in New York with her possibly too-good-to-be-true husband Lance (Luke Wilson). Maggie is notified as next-of-kin, and agrees to take in her brother to help get his life back in order. They have not seen each other in ten years, and they have a lot of catching-up to do.
That’s pretty much it for plot. “The Skeleton Twins” is all about nuance. Milo is a fish out of water; a gay fish who still isn’t over the teacher (Ty Burrell) who seduced him as a teenager.
Milo is proudly gay, but he is despondent that his career hasn’t gone any better.
Maggie is happy on the surface, married to rugged, good-looking landscape architect Lance (Wilson), but she too feels something lacking in her life.
It is revealed that brother and sister are haunted by the suicide death of their father when they were only 12.
Mom Judy (Joanna Gleason) has gone on to re-marry, have more kids, and become an insufferable New Age guru.
“The Skeleton Twins” has good laughs between harsh truths. Hader and Wiig have wonderful chemistry, and nothing shows it better than their lip-synch version of Jefferson Starship’s “Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now.”

But make no mistake. This is a serious movie with a heartfelt message that family ties can overcome the worst situations. You will laugh, and you may well cry.