Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Less Magic in "Magic Mike XXL"


“Magic Mike XXL” No Big Improvement

By Skip Sheffield

“Magic Mike XXL” lost some of its magic with the exit of Matthew McConnaghey as the boss stripper guy, Dallas. Original director Steven Soderberg remains as cinematographer and producer, but new director Gregory Jacobs (“Oceans” 11, 12 and 13) does not have as sure a hand.
Besides the fact McConnaghey is one good-looking hombre, he is an actor who never met a role he couldn’t embrace; from the AIDS-infected cowboy in “Dallas Buyers Club” to the redneck outlaw in “Mud” to the long-in-tooth males stripper Dallas in the first “Magic Mike.”
That leaves the title character, played by Channing Tatum, as the leading man. Tatum has a finely chiseled body, but his acting chops are less sharp. Then again Reid Carolin’s script (he wrote the original and “22 Jump Street”) is less than brilliant. There really isn’t a plot. Mike (Channing Tatum) is a struggling contractor in Tampa with one employee (Juan Piedrahita). Mike dropped out of the Kings of Tampa male stripper revue three years earlier. Then he gets a message that former “King,” Tarzan (Kevin Nash) has passed away. Out of respect Mike goes to the wake. The wake was simply a ruse to get Mike back with his Tampa King buddies, throw him in the pool and say hey, let’s do one last big blowout in Myrtle Beach!
Myrtle Beach… slowly I turned… no, that’s a different joke. Myrtle Beach South Carolina is a joke. It makes Tampa looks like Beverly Hills by comparison. But what better place for a male stripper convention?
Enough of the so-called plot. It takes the guys forever to get there, so Mike can hook up with a babe (Amber Heard) on Jacksonville Beach, and so Big Dick Richie (Joe Manganiello) can hook up with the babe’s randy Southern Belle momma (Andie MacDowell, shamelessly slumming)

Matt Bomber has his moment as the doll-like Ken, and comedian Gabriel Igelsias is moderately amusing as Tobias, the driver. Jada Pinkett Smith has a thankless role as the Kings’ M.C. That’s about it ladies. If you want to see some really buff male bodies strutting their stuff, this is the flick for you. For everyone else, ho-hum.

Friday, June 26, 2015

"Ted 2" More of the Same and Less


Not Much to Day About “Ted 2”

By Skip Sheffield

There is not a whole lot I can say about “Ted 2.” As a sequel it is more of the same profanity and crude humor, but less poop and grossness. This is a PG-rated blog; not an R-rated movie comedy, so I can’t quote much from the dialog. I will say it is funny with a few good zingers created by writer-director-producer Seth MacFarlane. Seth also provides the voice of the magic Teddy Bear who came to life to become the best buddy of Johnny Bennett (Mark Wahlberg). John is a grown man in his 30s with a severe case of arrested development. In the first film he falls in love and marries a girl named Laurie, played by Mila Kunis. In the sequel they are already divorced and Johnny is moping around while Ted the randy Bear has fallen in love with Tami-Lynn (Jessica Barth), a gum-snapping floozy from the first film. They get married in a civil ceremony presided over by Flash Gordon (Sam Jones, playing himself in a recurring role). Don’t ask how a fully-grown woman can marry a Teddy Bear. I can just imagine MacFarlane in a bull session with his “Family Guy” co-collaborators Alec Sulkin and Wellesley Wild dreaming up what bizarre scenarios they could conjure for woman and stuffed talking toy. How about artificial insemination so Tami-Lynn can become a mother? How about trying to steal sperm from New England Patriots star quarterback Tom Brady, again playing himself?
When that joke vein peters out (sorry), another plot complication is necessary. How about a scheme by Hasbro Toy Company janitor Donny (Giovanni Ribisi) to have Ted and Tami-Lynn’s marriage declared null and void because Ted is “not a person?” Yeah, and then Donny can steal Ted and rip him apart and discover what makes him so special so he can be reproduced. This way the “voice of God” lawyer played by Morgan Freeman can be introduced, leading to my favorite line in the movie by Ted” “I want to sleep on a bed made of your voice.”
Amanda Seyfriend does yeoman duty as John’s new love interest and Ted’s pro bono lawyer defender, Samantha Jackson. She sings a lovely version of “Mean Old Moon” that charms forest creatures a la Disney. The cameos are the best part of “Ted 2.” Liam Neeson pokes great fun at his macho image furtively buying a box of Trix kids’ cereal at the supermarket. John Slattery is Shep Wild, every slick lawyer you love to hate. John Carroll Lynch is Tom Jessup, every sneaky CEO you ever wanted to hate.

The first “Ted” earned $550 million worldwide, making it the best-selling R-rated original comedy ever. It’s hard to argue with those figures. If “Ted 2” doesn’t tank, we’ll probably see “Ted 3.”

Friday, June 19, 2015

Far "Inside Out" plus Pacino as Lovelorn Locksmith


A Journey Through the Emotions of a Little Girl

By Skip Sheffield

Far in man… not far out.

Pixar Animation’s “Inside Out” explores the vast world within the mind of a young girl named Riley. This movie is as much for adults as it is for children; maybe more so. The human brain is one of the most complex systems in the universe. Making it understandable through the magic computer animation is a tall order indeed.
If anyone is up for the challenge it is co-directors Peter Docter (“Up”) and Ronaldo Del Carmen (“Ratatouille,” “Brave,” “Monsters University”), who also co-wrote the original story. Riley is a fairly ordinary Minnesota girl who is crazy about hockey and loves her friends. When her dad gets a new job in San Francisco, Riley’s emotions fall into turmoil. Though Joy (voice of Amy Poehler) is Riley’s dominant emotion, Joy is often at odds with her nemesis Sadness (Phyllis Smith), who means well but drags down everyone and everything she touches. Riley’s dark side, Anger is vividly expressed by acerbic comedian Lewis Black. Bill Hader’s quivering voice expresses Fear and Mindy Kaling curls her lip in Disgust. Riley herself is voiced by Kaitlyn Dias. Mom’s lovely voice is provided by Diane Lane while not-so-dear old dad is Kyle MacLachlan. There are many other characters, all representing emotions and feelings within Riley. The story itself is quite simple. Feeling overwhelmed and disillusioned, Riley concludes the best solution is to buy a bus ticket and go back to Minnesota. Any of us who are still in touch with our inner child know that it can be a scary place. Emotions are so fresh, real and confusing. Here they are presented visually in a great and perilous adventure. Will it fly over the heads of children? I don’t think so.

Al Pacino as a Lovelorn Texas Locksmith?

That’s what Pacino is in “Manglehorn.” Pacino has often been accused of over-acting. As Angelo “A.J.” Manglehorn he is so dialed down he barely has a pulse. Manglehorn is a man of many regrets. The biggest is the love of his life whom he lost to bad choices and a stretch in prison. Now he works and lives alone in a crummy double-wide. His closest friend is a cat. Into his life wanders a pretty bank teller named Dawn (Holly Hunter, looking careworn). Dawn seems as lonely as A.J., and she sees in him something he can’t see in himself. But Paul Logan’s screenplay can’t really be called a romance. Director David Gordon Green (“Pineapple Express”) seems content to stay on the downbeat side of life with his Gloomy Gus non-hero. This one is for hardcore Pacino fans only.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

"Jurassic World" Biiger, Louder, More Teeth


“Jurassic World” Bigger, Louder and More Teeth

By Skip Sheffield

“Bigger, louder, more teeth.” Those are the bywords of “Jurassic World.”
This is a re-boot of a franchise begun by Steven Spielberg 22 years ago in “Jurassic Park” as a revolutionary first-time blending of computer-generated images with animatronics (life-size robots created by special effects genius Stan Winston). The result was realistic-looking prehistoric dinosaurs that blew away Godzilla, Rodan and Mothra to create a new level of realism for monster movies.
“Jurassic Park” was a huge success, spawning a sequel 14 years ago and a re-release of the original in 3-D. It’s now 2015 and the disaster that befell Isla Nublar, a fictional island off the Pacific coast of Costa Rica, is but a distant memory. Jurassic World is a full-tilt theme park not unlike Disney World or Universal Studios, with rides and attractions designed to extract cash from visitors.
The story, written by Rick Jaffa (“Rise of the Planet of the Apes” and its sequel) and director Colin Trevorrow (“Safety Not Guaranteed”) is seen through the eyes of two children: girl-crazy Zach, 16 (Nick Robinson) and brainy Gray, 11, (Ty Simpkins). The boys are bid a tearful airport farewell by their mom Karen (Judy Greer), who is facing an imminent divorce.
The boys are supposed to be looked after by Karen’s sister Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard), operations director of the park. Claire is so uptight and career-focused she hires a British nanny to look after the kids, because she's too busy. In her rah-rah speeches to shareholders, Claire admits there have been a few “speed bumps” for Jurassic World. Now there is a new CEO, Masani (Infan Khan), who wants more, more. Research scientist Dr. Hendry Wu (BD Wong) is willing to give him just that; a genetically-blended monster dinosaur dubbed Indominus Rex.
Owen (Chris Pratt) is a fearless ex-Navy guy who has a way with animals. He has such a rapport with the island’s Velocirprators, he is able to communicate with them.
Add to this mix high-powered corporate honcho Hoskins (Vincent D’Onofrio), who sees additional profit potential in the genetically-engineered raptors. He thinks they would make a dandy substitute for human soldiers.
Jurassic Park harkens back to famous monster movies all the way back to “King Kong” in 1933, with nods to “Godzilla,” “Rodan” and others. You just know the antagonism between prim, proper Claire and rough-and-ready Owen will melt away under duress, much the same as Claire’s business dress is shredded away in crisis, like a modern-day Fay Wray menaced by King Kong.
As expected, the C-G effects are spectacular. The combat between raptors of various sizes is gruesomely realistic. The film makes fun of its corporate sponsorships with obvious product placement. Yes, “Jurassic World” is bigger, louder and with more teeth, but in the end it is nothing new. Still, it is a well-done thrill ride.

Sexy “Gemma Bovery”

If you want violence there is “Jurassic World.” If you want sex, there is “Gemma Bovery,” director Anne Fontaine’s luscious nod to Flaubert’s notorious 1856 novel, “Madame Bovary.”
British actress Gemma Arterton plays the title character; a young woman married to Charles Bovery (Jason Flemying) a rather fussy and dull furniture restorer who has decided to move to Normandy and an old farmhouse in the very location Gustave Flaubert set “Madame Bovary.”
Gemma is admired from afar by Martin Joubert (Fabrice Luchini), a well-off former Parisian who has taken over an old bakery. We see Gemma through Martin’s eyes and feel his fantasies- inspired by Flaubert’s novel. They remain just that, because Gemma’s eye catches Hervede (Niels Schneider), a wealthy young student who lives with his mother on a nearby estate. A romp ensues, uder the nose of poor Charles.
“Gemma Bovery” toes the line between comedy and drama. What Gemma is doing is wrong and we know she will pay a price, but like Martin we can’t help but stare at her adoringly. Gemma Arterton is that exquisitely beautiful.

Monday, June 8, 2015

Slow Burn Goes Out With a Bang in Boca

Last Chance for “Little Shop” at Slow Burn

By Skip Sheffield

Slow Burn Theatre bids a fond farewell to Boca Raton with the riotous musical “Little Shop of Horrors,” continuing through June 28 at West Boca Raton High School Performing Arts Auditorium. Starting in October Slow Burn will be resident theater company of Broward Center for the Arts.
Slow Burn began very modestly five years ago in an out-of-the-way location for South Florida theatergoers, specializing in little-known or little-performed theater pieces. “Little Shop” is an exception. Based on a 1960 Roger Corman cult classic, Little Shop was rewritten for the stage in 1982 by Howard Ashman, with catchy 1950s-1960s style pop music by Alan Menkin. It ran for five years Off-Broadway.
The mood is set by the title song opener “Little Shop of Horrors,” sung by a close harmony female trio named after famous girl-groups: Ronette (Nicole Dikon), Crystal (Christina Alexander) and Chiffon (Elisa Dannielle).
Seymour Krelborn (Mike Westrich) is a born loser, literally. He was born and abandoned by his parents on Skid Row, USA (every city has one). A flower shop owner named Mr. Mushnik (Slow Burn co-founder and executive director Matthew Korinko) took pity on hapless Seymour and hired him as an assistant- though not a very good one.
Audrey (Amy Miller Brennan) makes her grand entrance into Mushnik’s shop (another wonderful design by Sean McClelland) at 2 p.m., apologizing for her tardiness. Seymour, who secretly adores Audrey, can’t help but notice she has a black eye. Audrey says she has had an accident. Seymour knows better. Most likely she has been hit by her abusive boyfriend, Orin Scrivello, D.D.S. (Shane Tanner). Orin is a sadist who wears a black leather jacket and rides a motorcycle.
Orin (and more than a half-dozen others, including Life magazine publisher Claire Boothe Luce) is the real-life husband of Amy Miller Brennan, all tarted up in tight, low-cut dresses and a platinum wig. Perhaps this real chemistry helped Amy deliver her best performance ever at Slow Burn. Her powerful voice is a natural wonder. She sells Audrey’s anguish in an uproariously funny over-the-top manner.
Audrey is the namesake of Audrey II, the infamous plant that thrives on human blood, nurtured by Seymour. The role calls for a deep male voice and director/choreographer Patrick Fitzwater found it in Geoffrey Short. The larger Audrey II puppets are manipulated by Rick Pena, who designed the period costumes as well. Andrew Gilbert leads an onstage but unseen band that includes Caryl Fantel on keyboards, Roy Fantel on percussion, Guillermo Gonzalez on guitars and Pat Ward on bass. This outfit plays rock-solid in late-1950s, early-1960s style, though most were not even born yet.
The original film was more silly than scary. That’s why the stage show is even sillier. Fitzwater has the good sense to whip through the proceedings in about 90 minutes. Clever as it is, “Little Shop” does not inspire deep thinking. It’s strictly for laughs, and laughs it delivers.
Tickets are $40 general admission and $25 students. Call 866-811-4111 or go to www.slowburntheatre.org.

“Marie’s Story” a French Helen Keller

If you are looking for something a lot more serious and heart-moving, there is the lovely French film “Marie’s Story,” directed and co-written by Jean-Pierre Ameris, and recipient of numerous awards in Europe.
The film is based on the true story of Marie Huertin, born deaf and blind in 19th century France. Unlike Helen Keller, Marie was also a savage; subject to fits of uncontrollable rage. In desperation her parents sent her to Larnay Institute near Poitiers, France, run by the Catholic Sisters of Wisdom.
Larnay was a school for deaf girls. Since Marie was also blind and violent, the Mother Superior (Brigitte Catillon) did not want to admit her. Marie found an ally in young Sister Marguerite (Cesar Award-winner Isabel Carre), a woman of infinite patience. Sister Marguerite found a key to communicate with a 14-year-old girl locked in her world of silence and darkness. It was a small pen knife; her most cherished possession. If you need a dose of inspiration, Marie’s Story” is playing at FAU’s Living Room Theaters.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Melissa McCarthy Becomes a Star in "Spy"


Melissa McCarthy a Large Hit in “Spy”

By Skip Sheffield

Now we know. Actress/comedian Melissa McCarthy can carry a movie all by herself. You can see her in action in “Spy.” McCarthy plays a mousy, overweight security analyst in the bowels of The Central Intelligence Agency in Langley, Virginia who is allowed to go to Europe to fight villains way out of her league.
Writer/director Paul Feig worked with McCarthy in the hit 2011 comedy “Bridesmaids.”  He had the good sense to recognize an outsized talent to go along with the versatile performer’s pleasingly plus-size.
Let us count the ways Melissa McCarthy is funny. She may look demure, but she has an outrageous potty mouth. Evidently Feig encouraged her co-stars to match McCarthy F-bomb for F-bomb. This works particularly well with elegantly beautiful, refined, imperially slim Australian actress Rose Byrne, who plays bad girl Rayna Boyanov and curses like a longshoreman. The movie has a richly-deserved R-rating on language alone.
In “Spy” McCarthy is called upon to don a series of ridiculous disguises and wigs. She starts out as Susan Cooper, dowdy, dutiful drone of the CIA with a hopeless crush on hotshot agent Bradley Fine (Jude Law, cheerfully making fun of himself).
Fine goes missing early in Feig’s tall tale; on the trail of a purloined nuclear device that is said to be up for sale to the highest bidder. Susan volunteers to go undercover to recover the bomb and determine the fate of Fine.
An even more hotshot agent, Rick Ford (Jason Statham), minces no words in his contempt for Susan Cooper and the very idea she could be capable of doing what he routinely does fearlessly against all odds.
There is a whole platoon of stunt people credited at the end. No doubt many of them were assigned to cover Susan’s character, who fights like a mixed martial arts expert; pilots cars and motor scooters like Evel Knievel; clings to the landing gear of a helicopter; and flies through the air to land unscathed at sea or on land, to say nothing of dodging bullets from all manner of weapons. Susan is greatly aided in her escapades by Nancy, a fellow CIA analyst who shows up in the nick of time to save Susan’s life.
Nancy is played by Miranda Hart, a star in her own right in her native England. Hart is listed as 6-foot-1, but she appears even taller paired with relatively short McCarthy. If Feig thinks he has found a contemporary female comedy duo to emulate the comical mismatch of Laurel and Hardy, he may be on the right track.

The laughs are nearly continuous, with some groaners. Another Brit comic, Peter Serafinowicz, is hilarious as Italian rake Aldo, who can’t get enough of Susan Cooper’s ample charms. If you are looking for a no-brainer comedy that sets James Bond on his ear, this is a movie for you.

Heroes and Villains Haunt Brian Wilson's Life


Brian Wilson: The Man Behind Beach Boys Music

By Skip Sheffield

Lucky me, I got to see the Beach Boys in their original lineup, with Brian Wilson onstage playing bass and singing most of the leads. It was one of my first outdoor concerts, in Fort Lauderdale, 1964, at Lockhart Baseball Stadium. The guys wore matching white pants and striped shirts and sang their hits thus far. Little did I know it was the end of an era.
Brian Wilson, principal songwriter, lyricist and visionary of the popular California pop group, quit performing in public soon after. Glen Campbell, then a studio musician, replaced him onstage until Bruce Johnston took over on a semi-permanent basis.
You can learn why Brian Wilson left his family group in the new pseudo-documentary, “Love & Mercy.” If you were never convinced what a towering talent Brian Wilson was and is, this sympathetic take should persuade you.
Directed by Bill Pohlad (“12 Years a Slave,” “The Tree of Life”), “Love & Mercy” was made with the full cooperation of Brian; the only surviving Wilson family Beach Boy, and his second and his current wife, Melinda Ledbetter.
It has often been proposed that great intelligence and fierce creativity can also be accompanied by mental problems. When a mind refuses to shut down it is difficult to sleep or even relax. Solace is often sought in alcohol and drugs to dull the senses. Brian Wilson did it all and was a lost soul for several years until he was “rescued” by an unorthodox psychotherapist named Dr. Eugene Landy. The cure proved worse than the disease. Brian was a virtual prisoner of super-controlling Landy. I hate to call him “doctor,” because he was eventually discredited and barred from practicing.
Landy is played by Paul Giamatti in a silly shag wig. It is a measure of Giamatti’s effectiveness that you just want to give him a slap.
Landy was not the only villain in Brian Wilson’s psycho-drama. First and foremost was his own father Murry, played by Bill Camp. Murry was also abusive and a control freak, and he drove his eldest son Brian relentlessly. Even after the Beach Boys had achieved great success, Murry tried to tell them how to run things; claiming his way was better. The original title of the script was “Heroes and Villains,” which is also a song by Brian Wilson. The two main heroes were Melinda Ledbetter (Elizabeth Banks), who became Brian’s second wife, and youngest brother Carl (Brett Davern), who agreed to sue Eugene Landy for custody of his big brother.
Sadly both of Brian’s younger brothers are dead. Drummer Dennis (Kenny Wormald) drowned in a freak boating accident in 1983 at just 39. Brian took his death very hard. Screenwriter Oren Moverman implies the death of Dennis accelerated Brian’s loss of reality. Lead guitarist Carl succumbed to lung cancer in 1998 at age 51. Carl Wilson assumed musical leadership of the group’s onstage performances when Brian withdrew.
Surviving singer Mike Love (Jake Abel) is not an out-and-out villain, but he discouraged Brian’s adventurous, experimental ideas. Al Jardine (Graham Rogers), who is alive and well and still performs as a Beach Boy, basically went along with majority rule.
In the end it is the music that endures. The most curious thing about “Love & Mercy” is that director Pohlad chose two actors to play Brian. Paul Dano is the young Brian and John Cusack is the older self. Dano somewhat resembles young Brian. Cusack does not, though he certainly is a fine actor. Screenwriter Oren Moverman was even more radical with “I’m Not There,” in which six actors of both sexes played another musical icon: Bob Dylan.

This is a minor quibble. Enjoy hits like “Surfer Girl,” “In My Room,” “God Only Knows” and “Good Vibrations,” but stay until the end to hear the real Brian Wilson sing the haunting title song.