Friday, October 23, 2015

A Dismal "Last Witch Hunter"

Two Hours is Too Long With "The Last Witch Hunter"

By Skip Sheffield

What was Vin Diesel thinking?
Diesel is star and title character of “The Last Witch Hunter;” a misbegotten horror film by Beck Eisner (“Sahara,” “The Crazies”). Diesel is Kaulder, an ageless character who has been wandering the earth for 800 years in search of witches to kill. His biggest kill of all was the Queen Witch (Julie Engelbrecht). Before she died, the Witch cursed Kaulder with immortality, separating him from his wife and daughter. How bad was the Queen Witch? She created the Black Plague, which killed as many as 200 million people 1346-1353. The story, by Cory Goodman (“Priest”) and two others, isn’t quite clear on how it happened, but the Queen Witch is somehow resurrected and has threatened to start the Black plague all over again. So it’s up to Kaulder to save the world again, with some help from his priest friend Dolan 36th (Michael Caine), who is knocked out of commission early on by some kind of spell. Replacing him is Dolan 37 (Elijah Wood), who may not be too reliable. At Kaulder’s side is a pretty, plucky young woman named Chloe (Scottish actress Rose Leslie), who is a “Dream-Walker,” whatever that means.

The budget of “The Witch Hunter” is reported to be $90 million. Most of that must have been spent on yucky computer-generated special effects. There are “Boo!” jolts at regular intervals, but Vin Diesel never changes expressions and always speaks in a low guttural monotone. This movie isn’t quite two hours long, but it feels like an eternity. Rarely have I felt such relief at leaving a theater.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

See the Israel You Haven't Seen


“This Place” is the Israel Tourists Rarely See

By Skip Sheffield

See Israel not like a tourist with “This Place,” opening Thursday, Oct. 15 and running through Sunday, Jan. 17 at Norton Museum of Art, 1451 S. Olive Ave., West Palm Beach.
“This Place” is an exhibit of stunning shots of Israel by a dozen art photographers from different parts of the world. French photographer Fredric Brenner invited 11 photographers whose work he admired to participate in an in-depth study of the Israel tourists rarely see. Brenner met with area media Oct. 14 to discuss his $6 million project, which is making its U.S. debut at the Norton.
“It is an art project,” stressed Brenner. “It is an attempt to look beyond the headlines; to see the complexity and dissonance of this place.”
In addition to Brenner of France, photographers represented include Nick Waplington of the U.K.; Jeff Wall of Canada; Martin Kollar of Slovakia; Josef Koudelka of the Czech Republic; Jungjin Lee of South Korea, Gilles Peress of France and Wendy Ewald, Fazal Sheikh, Stephen Shore and Rosalind Fox Solomon of the USA.
“Israel is a place and a metaphor; a place of radical otherness,” said Brenner. “I curated a fragmentary project of paradoxes.”
Brenner has been at work on the Israel project since 2005. Most of the images by the invited photographers were made from 2009 to 2012. Many were taken in the contested West Bank, where Palestinians and Israelis live together in an uneasy truce. There are images of the infamous wall that fences off the West Bank from the rest of Jerusalem. Each photographer had an Israeli art student as guide and interpreter, so “This Place” was not only a work of international cooperation, but of different generations.
“The (Israel) government was not involved in any way,” Brenner reveals. “Most of the donors were American. We didn’t get much (adverse) criticism, not even in Israel.”
Brenner will present a public lecture at 6:30 p.m. Oct. 15 as part of Art After Dark. There is also a companion film series “Many Faces of Israel” for the duration of the exhibit. General admission is $12 adults and $5 for students with I.D. Admission is free for all Palm Beach County residents on Saturdays with proof of residency. Call 561-832-5196 or go to

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Palm Beach Dramaworks Burnishes a Classic "Picnic"


A Classy "Picnic" Revival

By Skip Sheffield

“Picnic,” a 1953 American classic play by William Inge, is enjoying a very classy revival at Palm Beach Dramaworks, 201 Clematis St., West Palm Beach, through Nov. 8.
Director William Hayes has brought out the humor in Act One to a degree I’ve never seen before. I had always thought of “Picnic” as a rather dour portrayal of small-town life in the Midwestern heartland of the early 1950s. Not so with this approach. Sure, Act Two turns serious as consequences are paid, but one is left with an upbeat feeling of hope that these characters will surmount their limiting circumstances.
The plot of “Picnic” hinges on Hal Carter (Merlin Huff), a handsome, buff drifter who drops in to a small Kansas town and shakes the status quo to its foundation.
Newcomer Merlin Huff plays most of Act One sans shirt, which shows off his admirably sculpted upper body. Hal has chosen this particular town because an old college buddy, Alan Seymour (Taylor Miller) lives there.
Hal was a college football hero who flunked out, but never failed with the ladies. Alan is a cautious, nerdy sort who is informally engaged to Madge Owens (Kelly Gibson), the “prettiest girl in town.”
Being the prettiest girl in town has certain drawbacks. Everyone thinks Madge has it made. Her Tomboy younger sister Millie (Maren Searle) is jealous. Her mother Flo (Patti Gardner) is afraid some no-account bum will take advantage of her.
All these things are simmering when Hal Carter comes to town and books a room at nice Helen Potts’ (Elizabeth Dimon) house. Hal has agreed to do some chores in exchange for rent. This entails the removing of the shirt, which will stay off for most of Act One. This does not escape the notice of “old maid” schoolteacher Rosemary Sydney (Margery Lowe) or her nosy schoolmarm friends (Julie Rowe and Natalia Coego). The picnic of the title occurs later that same day. By nightfall things will change. By daybreak some things will change forever.
“Picnic” is so well-crafted each character gets his or her moment in the spotlight. Some, like Howard Bevans’ (Michael McKeever) grudging agreement to finally marry Rosemary Sydney, are funny. Some, like Rosemary’s sorrowful, aching need, are touching. This production is so well-cast there is never a dull moment. It’s a matter of personal preference which character will move you most. I’ve never seen Hal so sensitively portrayed as by Merlin Huff. I’ve never seen a Madge as young, vulnerable and well, pretty, as Kelly Gibson. If you’ve seen “Picnic” before, you will see it with new eyes. If you haven’t, it will be a revelation.
Tickets are $64. Students are just $10. Call 561-514-4042. Or go to

Saturday, October 10, 2015

A Funny Thing Happened at the Wick Theatre


Tragedy Tomorrow, “Comedy Tonight” at Wick Theatre

By Skip Sheffield

Ken Jennings certainly earns his paycheck as the star of “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum,” playing through Nov. 1 at the Wick Theatre, 7901 N. Federal Highway, Boca Raton.
Before the curtain even raises Jennings is out in the audience, shaking hands, greeting people and saying “Welcome to Rome.” It’s a nice personal touch from a tireless veteran Broadway performer who never takes a break during the two-hour (including intermission) show.
Make no mistake about it, “Forum” is “Comedy Tonight,” as it is declared in the opening number and reprised at the finale. This is a door and shutter-slamming 1962 farce by Burt Shrevelove and Larry Gelner, with clever tunes by Stephen Sondheim.
The story is supposedly inspired by the work of ancient Roman playwright Plautus (251-183 B.C.), but it more resembles old-fashioned American vaudeville. Ken Jennings plays the lead role of Pseudolus, a slave in the house of Senex (Michael Scott). Pseudolus yearns for his freedom, but randy Senex has problems of his own with his shrewish wife, the aptly-named Domina, played by Erika Amato in a Bride of Frankenstein wig. Also in the house are the excitable slave Hysterium (resident musical director Michael Usura) and a naïve son named Hero (Chris Brand). The house next door is a house of ill repute owned by Marcus Lycus (Dennis Settedlucati). The house is filled with alluring, scantily-clad women with intriguing names like Vibrata (Alexa Barray), Gymnasia (Samantha Leibowitz), Tintinabula (Amelia Millar), Panacea (Elizabeth Morgan) and the Geminae twins (Lauren Kay and Kelly Ziegler)
The main plot, such as it is, involves Hero and the equally naïve (and not too bright) Philia (Whitney Winfield), who evidently is the only virgin in town. Alas Philia has been bought sight unseen by the vainglorious soldier Miles Gloriosus (Jim Ballad). Many chases and cases of mistaken identity ensue. Through it all dodders Erronius (Troy Stanley), in search of his lost children captured by pirates and determined to walk the Seven Hills of Rome.
Trying to describe “Forum” is futile. Played out on a deliciously cartoonish set by Bruce Walters and directed lickety-split by Bob Walton, “Forum” is at the least good for some hearty laughs, and that is a good thing.
Tickets are $70-$80. Call 561- 995-2333 or go to

Friday, October 9, 2015

A Boy on the Run From the Holocaust


By Skip Sheffield

There are at least 8 million stories about the Holocaust. Very few are told from the point of view of a child.

“Run Boy Run” is based on a novel by Uri Orlev, which we are told is based on a true story that occurred in Poland in World War II. Srulik (Andrzej Tkacz as young Srulik and Kamil Tkacz as an older Srulik) is an 8-year-old boy from the Polish Jewish ghetto whose entire family is wiped out in the Nazi invasions of 1942. Srulik flees Warsaw and hides out in the snowy, freezing woods. He finds a friendly Christian farm woman who takes him in out of pity and tells him to change his name to the more Catholic-sounding Jurek Stanlak. Srulik adapts well to his new Christian identity, but there is peril at every corner. As the title implies, “Run Boy Run” is a series of narrow escapes by the plucky, resourceful boy. The story is not without a certain amount of humor leavening the terror, for Srulik suffers terribly. The Tkacz brothers are enormously appealing and emotive. The movie amounts to an exciting adventure that sees the terror of the Holocaust from a fresh young viewpoint.

A Pakistani Girl Who Rocked the World


A True Heroine is “Malala”

“He Named Me Malala” is a documentary by Davis Guggenheim (“An Inconvenient Truth”) about the fiercely courageous Malala Yousafzai.
At age 15 Malala was targeted for death by the Muslim extremist group Taliban for daring to speak out in favor of education for females. Since the Taliban came into power in Pakistan, they destroyed 400 schools and forbade females from any education. Such an extreme attitude seems absurd to those of us who believe in freedom of religion, thought, expression and knowledge, but sadly it exists in the 21st century.

Malala was shot in the head and gravely injured, but she survived to defy the Taliban and went on to even greater risk to address the United Nations. She was rewarded for her courage with the Nobel Peace Prize. If you have a pulse, you will surely be inspired by this amazing young woman.

A Compelling Argument for Same-Sex Relationships


Ladies in Love

By Skip Sheffield

“Freeheld” is based on the true story of Laurel Hester, a New Jersey police woman. Laurel was the very definition of good cop in the bad world of northern coastal Seaside Heights, New Jersey. Laurel’s partner was Dane Wells (Michael Shannon), a gruff, tough, but compassionate cop who relished bringing down bad people.
We first see Laurel and Dane in action, busting chops on the boardwalk. Then we see Laurel in a bar that obviously caters to homosexual people. Laurel is a lesbian, still in the closet. When she spies Stacee Andree (Ellen Page), something clicks. Stacee is half the age and almost half the size of Laurel, but she is one feisty, charmingly butch chick.

Ellen Page came out publicly in 2014. She is a producer of this film, and she specifically requested Julianne Moore play the role of Laurel Hester. She made the right choice. Julianne Moore is one of the finest actresses of our time. It doesn’t hurt that she is exquisitely beautiful. Moore does doomed characters like no other woman. Though she is hetero, she is absolutely convincing as lovelorn Laurel Hester, who meets the woman of her dreams only to be dealt a death sentence of lung cancer. Written by Ron Nyswaner (“The Painted Veil”) and directed by Peter Sollet (Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist”), “Freeheld” is one of the most caring, compassionate arguments for legal same-sex marriages ever. Laurel Hester was denied assigning her pension benefits to her partner, although the State of New Jersey recognized domestic partnerships in 2005, the year before Laurel Hester died. “Freeheld” is about doing the right thing, regardless of one’s personal beliefs. Some people won’t like this, but they are unlikely to go to this movie anyway.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

"Once" Upon a Time in Love

Go Early and See It With Someone You Love

By Skip Sheffield

Go to “Once” early and mingle with the cast onstage. The exuberant Irish musical continues through Oct. 18 at Broward Center for the Arts.
An Irish pub is the setting for “Rush,” so a working bar is set up onstage, where the audience is invited to belly up to the bar and perhaps sing along with the musicians.
“Once” began as a 2007 low-budget musical film set in Dublin, Ireland. Glen Hansard played an itinerant street musician whose day job was working with his dad repairing Vacuum cleaners. One day a Czech immigrant flower girl (Marketa Irglova) heard ‘The Guy” (he is not given a name) play. In order to get to know him better, she asks for him to fix her Hoover vacuum cleaner. So begins a mutual attraction that blossoms into love. The songs that were in the movie and the subsequent Broadway show that won eight 2012 Tony Awards, including Best Musical, were written by Hansard and Irglova.
The national touring production that is visiting Broward Center stars British actors Stuart Ward as “The Guy” and Dani de Waal as “The Girl.” A multi-national supporting cast sings and plays various instruments. This makes the show uniquely organic, as if it were being made up on the spot. There are two female fiddlers (Erica Spyres and Claire Wellin)  and additional musicians doubling on various instruments including piano, guitar, banjo, accordion, concertina, mandolin, ukulele, electric bass and percussion. Stuart Ward plays guitar and Dani de Waal plays piano and they harmonize beautifully on the score’s best song, “Falling Slowly.”
“Once” is a musician’s delight, and its book, by Irish playwright Enda Walsh, is a romantic parable that appeals to anyone who has ever been in love or has loved and lost. That pretty much is all of us, which explains the universal appeal of “Once.”

Tickets are $35-$125 at TicketMaster. Call 800-745-3000 or 954-462-0222.

Friday, October 2, 2015

Romantic Irish Fable "Once" Visits Broward Center


“Once” Upon a Time in Ireland

By Skip Sheffield

Dani de Waal is a young British woman born in Germany to a South African father. She co-stars with Stuart Ward in the Irish musical “Once” as a Czech girl in love with an Irish street musician. The musical fable “Once” runs Oct. 6-18 at the Broward Center for the Arts.
Dani de Waal has been playing the role of “The Girl” for more than two years and will stay with the show until it finishes its national tour leg in December.
“It’s been a long haul,” she says cheerily. “The show is about more than just the feelings between two people. It is about going for your dreams and pushing for all it’s worth.”
“Once” is based on a 2007 Irish musical film by John Carney, with a new book by Irish playwright Edna Walsh. The film stars were Glen Hansard playing a 33-year-old Irish street musician and Marketa Irglova as a 17-year-old Czech girl and aspiring pianist-singer. Irglova was the same age as her character and she collaborated with Hansard on writing, singing and performing the songs. She also fell in love with Hansard in real life, which made the movie all the more romantically convincing. Such fairy tale romances don’t always last, but the songs of once, especially the hit ballad “Falling Slowly,” are forever.
“The important thing is that these two people have changed each other’s lives,” offers de Waal. “It is less important that they stay together. It is not the end of their life’s journey.”
“Once” is performed by a large cast, each singing and playing their own instruments onstage.
“The beauty of the show is it is real,” says de Waal. “Love is complicated but the music is beautiful.”

Tickets for “Once” are $35-$125 at TicketMaster. Call 800-745-3000 or 954-462-0222.

"Sex With Other People" Not So Hot


Can’t We Just Be Friends?

By Skip Sheffield

If you think the title “Sleeping With Other People” sounds salacious and sexy, think again. This rom-com, written and directed by Leslye Headland (“About Last Night,”) is more ironic than erotic.
Lainey (Alison Brie) and Jake (Jason Sudekis) are college students when we first meet them. Lainey has a fight with her boyfriend, and she is comforted by Jake in his room. The comfort soon leads to seduction and they have the proverbial one-night stand.
The story vaults ahead 12 years. Jake has been dumped yet again by his latest girlfriend because of his chronic infidelity. Lainey guiltily confesses to her boyfriend (Adam Brody) that she has cheated on him. She gets dumped and Lainey and Jake reunite and conclude they need to go to sex addiction meetings.
The rest of the film is a cat-and-mouse game. Can Lainey and Jake “just be friends?” Can any woman and man be close friends without sex entering to complicate things?

At this point I foresaw the obvious conclusion and lost interest. If you enjoy clever banter, you might like this for awhile. For me even 95 minutes was too long.