Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Annette Bening Head "20th Century Women"


Annette Bening as 20th Century Woman

By Skip Sheffield

What to do when mom is a free spirit and the younger people are conservative and confused?
That is the basic quandary of “20th Century Women.” Annette Bening plays Dorthea, the senior member of the gang. The setting is Santa Barbara, CA 1979. Dorthea has bought a 1905 Victorian fixer-upper. How a 55-year-old single mom could afford this huge house in pricey Santa Barbara is a question we dare not ask. It does provide a groovy, offbeat setting, and it provides a reason for three other characters; Dorthea’s hunky resident handyman William (Billy Crudup), and upstairs tenant Abbie (Greta Gerwig), a young cervical cancer survivor and photographer who frets about ever becoming a mother.
Then there is Dorthea’s 14-year-old son Jamie (Lucas Jade Zumann), who is facing the typical challenges of adolescence. Jamie has a crush on sexy neighbor Julie (Elle Fanning), who unwittingly (or maybe intentionally) torments him by sneaking into his bedroom at night to snuggle with him, but no sex allowed.
Jamie is the alter ego of writer-director Mike Mills (“Beginnings”), who has a few issues of his own to work out.
Not a whole lot happens in this rambling reminiscence. Dorthea’s Ford Galaxie catches on fire spontaneously. The fire is extinguished and Dorthea invites the fire chief for dinner. She gets a VW beetle, which is way cuter than a Galaxie.
Abbie gets the hots for much-older William and he succumbs. Though she continues to try to date, Dorthea doesn’t really have the hots for anyone. She’s just trying to fit in with changing times and provide as good a life as she can for her son.
Annette Bening is bravely bereft of makeup, and though lined and wrinkled, still beautiful.

Mills captures a time when we all wondered where we were going. It was the era between Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan. We all know how that went. As we face even more uncertainly, it is comforting to think we will slog through, come what may.

Portman Portrait of "Jackie" as Heroine


Natalie Portman as a Heroic “Jackie”

By Skip Sheffield

Natalie Portman does not look much like Jackie Kennedy. But put her in a form-fitting pink outfit with matching pink pillbox hat and have her reproduce Jackie’s breathy, posh Bouvier accent and you begin to accept Portman as the iconic, courageous First Lady and widow of John F. Kennedy.
Screenwriter Noah Oppenheim sets “Jackie” just before and after the fateful Dallas cavalcade of Nov. 22, 1963 when a sniper with a rifle shot President Kennedy in the head in his open Lincoln Continental convertible. Chilean director Pablo Larrain is quite graphic in his depiction of the blood and brains aspect of JFK’s assassination. That pretty pink outfit is covered with blood and so is Jackie as she tries to hold back the profuse bleeding (and brain fragments) from JFK’s skull.
Natalie Portman isn’t the only one who does not resemble the character played. Peter Sarsgaard looks nothing like Bobby Kennedy. In fact I puzzled for a while wondering if he was supposed to be JFK’s younger brother.
“Jackie” is not a mirror reflection of historic events but an approximation of how the characters felt in time of crisis. Portman depicts Jackie as a strong, determined, sophisticated woman who doesn’t buckle under pressure. In a flashback we see her lead a televised tour of the White House in 1962 and explaining her vision of restoring the presidential residence.
There are other familiar names (but not faces) of era figures. John Carroll Lynch is Lyndon Johnson, who assumed the presidency and Beth Grant is his socialite wife, Lady Bird. Georgie Glen is matriarch Rose Kennedy and Julie Judd is Bobby’s wife, Ethel Kennedy. John Hurt represents Jackie’s devout side as The Priest and Billy Crudup ties things together as The Journalist, interviewing Jackie.
One thing I learned from this movie was that Jackie was a chain smoker. Maybe that helped her keep that imperially slim figure.

None of us will ever know the complete truth of the JFK assassination or how Jackie Kennedy really felt. Natalie paints a portrait of a delicate, resolute heroine, and that is fine with me.

Friday, December 23, 2016

"Sing" Your Little Heart Out


Do you like to sing?

I sure do. Therefore it was a given I would enjoy “Sing,” an animated feature starring a bunch of famous people mouthing animated animal characters.
Buster Moon (Matthew McConaughey), an outgoing koala bear, is desperately trying to save an old theater he calls home. So Buster gets the bright idea of holding a singing competition in the old theater. He plans to offer a $1,000 first prize that he doesn’t have that accidentally get inflated to $100,000.
So we get a cavalcade of stars such as Reese Witherspoon, Seth McFarlane, Scarlett Johansson and John C. Reilly, all singing their hearts out in their own voices.

There is really not a lot more to “Sing.” It is a pleasant 90 minutes or so of favorite songs performed by cute animated animal characters. If that rings your chimes, go for it.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

"Passengers" on a Flight to Nowhere


Space Cadets in Love in “Passengers”

By Skip Sheffield

Is there another actress working today hotter than Jennifer Lawrence? I can’t think of one.
In “Passengers” Lawrence manages look sexy even in a space suit. “Passengers” is set in outer space, but it is basically a boy-meets-girl love story. The boy is James Preston, played by Chris Pratt. James is one of 258 crew members aboard the Starship Avalon. The girl is Aurora Lane, played by Jennifer Lawrence.
Due to some unspecified malfunction, Jim awakes from his sleeping pod with 90 years yet to go on the 120-year flight to Homestead Colony to start a new life with more than 5,000 passengers. Don’t ask the specifics on how a body can be kept alive in suspended animation for 120 years. Screenwriter Jon Spaihts (“Prometheus”) provides no answers. Nor should you question how a luxuriously appointed giant spacecraft could indefinitely provide gourmet food and an open bar tended by a friendly robot named Arthur (Michael Sheen). Just go with it and you will better enjoy the ride.
Jim understandably gets lonely, so he wakes up Aurora from her pod. So begins a (space) shipboard romance between two exceedingly attractive people. When Aurora learns Jim deliberately released her from her pod, she is none too pleased.
As with all spaceship journeys, malfunctions develop. Enter Laurence Fishburne as Capt. Gus Mancuso, furrowing his brow mightily.

I have enjoyed outer space science fiction movies since I was a child. You don’t go to them for credibility or believability. You go for the look and the thrill. Norwegian director Marten Tyldum has provided both, with the added bonus of the sexiest space cadet around, Jennifer Lawrence.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Tripping the Light Fantastic in "La La Land"


“La La Land” Revives the Musical for a New Generation

By Skip Sheffield

Is the movie musical dead? Writer-director Damien Chazelle hopes not. Chazelle is only 31, but his charming musical “La La Land” is a loving tribute to the movie musicals of the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s.
Chazelle is from Providence, Rhode Island, so perhaps his outsider status provided insights into 21st century Los Angeles. The movie begins with a wonderfully silly opening song and dance sequence on an L.A. freeway. Everyone is stuck in his or her vehicle. Why not open a door and dance about on the hoods and roofs of cars? It is totally ridiculous, but it introduces us to the main characters; Mia (Emma Stone) and Sebastian (Ryan Gosling).
Sebastian is not a good sport in traffic. He cuts off Mia to gain maybe one car length. She flips him off with a bird. Obviously they are destined to fall in love.
Sebastian is a purist jazz pianist reduced to playing children’s birthday parties. Mia is an actress who can’t quite find an appropriate role.
Emma Stone is not a drop-dead gorgeous woman, but she has something about her that makes her fascinating.
Ryan Gosling is no Brad Pitt or George Clooney, but he too has an offbeat appeal. Gosling took a crash course in learning to play the piano, and he is quite convincing.
The artist who calls himself John Legend has a small but crucial role as Keith, a band leader who wants Sebastian to gig with him.
To properly appreciate “La La Land” it is helpful to be a romantic who appreciates love against all odds. It is also helpful to have practical experience with performing music and pleasing an audience. A working knowledge of Los Angeles is helpful too.

I have all three, so I am a perfect target audience. No wonder I loved this film. It is totally fake and totally engaging. I hope there are enough hopeless romantics to make this movie a success.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Will Smith Gets Serious in "Collateral Beauty"


Will Smith Gets Serious in “Collateral Beauty”

By Skip Sheffield

How much do you like Will Smith? Do you like him enough to see him portray a severely depressed man with no super powers or martial arts skills?
Such is the case with Howard, a successful New York advertising executive Smith plays who has retreated from life after the death of his 6-year-old daughter and his subsequent divorce.
“Collateral Beauty” is not a feel-good movie. It is more like a feel-bummed movie. Will Smith plays Howard, a successful New York advertising executive whose agency is in grave peril due to his disconnection. Things have gotten so bad; three of Howard’s friends are hired to represent the three things Howard is obsessed with: Love, Time and Death. They are an impressive lot: Helen Mirren, Keira Knightly and Michael Pena.
Edward Norton gets the most screen time as Whit, second in command to Will Smith’s Howard. Whit and his colleague Claire (Kate Winslet) come up with the scheme to jolt Howard out of his depression.
I know about depression from personal experience. There is nothing funny or logical about it. It can be crippling and even deadly. How director David Frankel or writer Allan Loeb thought they could make a comedy out of it mystifies me. At least this movie lifts up the rug to reveal the people struggling with this disability. That’s good, but it ain’t funny folks.

Friday, December 9, 2016

Be Careful at "Office Christmas Party"


Predictable Highjinks at “Office Christmas Party”

By Skip Sheffield

Office Christmas parties are notorious for getting out of hand. That’s the basic premise of “Office Christmas Party,” by the directing team of Josh Gordon and Will Speck (“The Switch”).
There are no fewer than six writers credited for this comedy-farce, set in Chicago. I imagine everyone came up with gags and threw them against the wall to see which would stick.
The main pleasure of this movie is seeing Jennifer Aniston acting like a total bitch. She is Carol Vanstone, CEO of some nebulous internet company called Zenotek. Her brother Clay (T.J. Miller) runs the Chicago branch. Carol wants Clay to slash his employees by 40 percent and deny all Christmas bonuses. Clay is not very smart, but he comes up with a desperate plan to throw the ultimate Christmas party to impress prospective client Walter Davis (Courtney B. Vance), thereby proving the Chicago branch’s validity.
The second pleasure of the movie is Olivia Munn as Tracey Hughes, work wife of recently-divorced Josh Parker (Jason Bateman) who does the actual running of the branch. Ms. Munn is quite lovely in an understated way, and she radiates intelligence that blows away everyman good-guy Jason Bateman.

The party is an out-of-control bacchanal as you might expect. Jennifer Aniston is clearly slumming, but she gives her character some redeeming value. Kate McKinnon is unexpectedly upstaged as goody HR girl Mary. Randall Park gets in a few digs as the token Asian. That’s about it. Be careful at your Christmas parties and don’t drink and drive.

Friday, December 2, 2016

All is Not Well in "Manchester By The Sea"


“Manchester By The Sea” a Downbeat Tale

By Skip Sheffield

“Manchester By The Sea” is a movie that makes me glad I left New England before it was too late.
In truth I had no part in the decision, as I was only seven years old when my parents bought their first house in Fort Lauderdale. Before that we spent summers in New England and winters in Florida. “Manchester” is the downbeat story of a guy who is stuck in coastal Massachusetts. Lee Chandler (Casey Affleck) is a divorced man with a menial job as custodian in the Boston suburb of Quincy, Mass. Lee is in danger of getting fired for mouthing off at a tenant when he gets a call informing him his older brother Joe (Kyle Chandler) is on the verge of death. Lee hops into his Jeep wagon and races to his home town of the fishing village of Manchester, but he is too late. Joe is already dead. Furthermore, Lee learns Joe had appointed him the guardian of Joe’s 16-year-old son Patrick (Lucas Hedges).
Patrick is popular, a successful athlete and plays guitar in his band, Stentorian. Patrick sees Lee as a loser, and makes no bones about it.
“Why can’t you make small talk like every grownup in the world,” Patrick complains.
Lee can’t make small talk because he is bottled up and depressed. He visits his ex-wife Randi (Michelle Williams) and she tells him to stay away. He also encounters Patrick’s mother (Gretchen Mol), a recovering alcoholic now married to an evangelical Christian (Matthew Broderick in an uncredited role).
So when does the fun begin? It doesn’t. The strongest scene in the film is when Michelle Williams tearfully expresses her love for the ex-husband she could not stay with. Casey Affleck stoically listens. Only his eyes betray his anguish.

Ben’s younger brother is quite an actor. I am sure we will hear of him at Oscar time.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Unleash Your Imagination with "Kurios" from Cirque du Soleil


Explore the Hidden World of “Kurios Cabinet of Curiosity”

By Skip Sheffield

Unlock the gates of your imagination with “Kurios Cabinet of Curiosity,” the 35th production of Cirque du Soleil since its founding in Montreal in 1984. The show runs under a big top (“Grande Chapiteau” in French) next to Miami’s Hard Rock Stadium Dec. 10- Jan. 29.
“Seeing is disbelieving” is the motto of “Kurios,” which is set in an alternate yet familiar past.
“We don’t disappoint you,” promises publicist Amelie Robitaille. “The show was inspired by the 19th century industrial revolution, in a time when people believed anything was possible.”
The central character is called The Seeker, who discovers a magical world beneath the surface of reality. The secret he learns is to close your eyes to see the fantastic creatures and experience the poetry and humor unleashed from the cabinet.
There are 45 circus artists from 15 counties, 20 percent of whom are veterans of Cirque du Soleil. In his imaginary travels The Seeker meets the Curiostanians, who guide him to Mr. Microcosmos, an authority figure; Nico the Accordion Man who is the perfect handyman; Klara, the Telegraph of the Invisible, who has a language of her own; Mini Lili, who at 3.2 foot is one of the smallest women in the world, and The Kurios: Winch and Plunger.
The acts include Rola Bola the Fearless Aviator; Accro Net underwater trampoline act; the Comic Act, in which a woman is invited from the audience to participate; the Aerial Straps, Yo-Yos, The Theater of Hands and Banquine, which consists of 13 artists performing synchronized acrobatics. Weather permitting there is a pre-show with three artists high atop the big top.
“Kurios” is perhaps the Cirque’s most elaborate and complex show to date. It takes six days just to set it up and two days to tear down. There are more than 100 custom-made costumes and 426 props, including the 750 lb. Mechanical Hand. It takes 65 trucks to carry 2,000 tons of equipment.
“We have an eight-piece Gypsy band with accordion, cello and a Greek singer, reveals Robitaille. “There is a head piece on the Gramophone that commemorates the invention of the gramophone. It was a very impressive era. Imagine if we lived without electricity. It’s a beautiful blend of science fiction and fantasy. We have been on the road two and a half years, since April, 2014. The show is so good it makes my life easy.”
Tickets start at $39. Go to

Monday, November 28, 2016

"Sister Act" Some Kind of Miracle


A Miraculous “Sister Act”

By Skip Sheffield

“Sister Act” is a silk-purse-out-of-a-sow’s-ear kind of play. That is to say the nun-themed musical that plays the Wick Theatre in Boca Raton through Dec. 23 is an unexpected pleasure.
I saw this show a couple of times previously and thought “meh.” The plot is preposterous and in no way resembles real life. Of course you don’t go to musical theater to experience real life. You go to escape.
Director Michael Ursua had the wisdom to accentuate the cartoon quality of “Sister Act,” while punching up Alan Menken’s faux rhythm-and-blues Motown-flavored music with Paul Reekie, who recorded the orchestrations.
Crucial to the casting is the role of Deloris Van Cartier, which was originated by Whoopie Goldberg in the 1992 movie. Orlando’s Patrece Bloomfield makes her area debut as Deloris, who has the bad luck to witness her hothead gangster boyfriend Curtis Jackson (Don Seward) shoot dead a rival. Deloris’ former boyfriend “Sweaty” Eddie Souther, now a cop, urges her to go into hiding so she can testify in court against Curtis.
What better place to hide than a convent? That is the setup of “Sister Act.” Deloris is a highly unlikely nun, but the Mother Superior (Danette Cuming) is so compassionate she can’t turn Deloris away.
Deloris finds an immediate way to improve life at the convent. The Sisters Choir is woeful. Deloris gets the ladies singing on key and injects some R&B and Motown inflections, complete with costuming. The most satisfying aspect of “Sister Act” is the blossoming of some key players. The Mother Superior proves to have the best voice in the house. Shy postulant Mary Robert (Jessica Brooke Sanford) comes out of her shell and wows the crowd. Curtis Jackson may be a bad guy, but he has a beautiful, powerful voice. “Sister Act” is still not one of my favorite shows, but darned if Wick Theatre didn’t make it shine.
Tickets are $75-$80. Call 561-995-2333 or go to

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Bad Santa Has a Badder Momma

“Bad Santa 2” More of the Same

By Skip Sheffield

“Bad Santa 2” is the kind of movie that makes you feel embarrassed and slightly soiled. But is it funny? Yes it is, very much so, in its own tawdry way.
If you saw the first “Bad Santa” in 2003 you know what to expect. Billy Bob Thornton is laughing all the way to the bank again as William “Willie” Stokes, an unrepentant alcoholic and sex addict who is pressured to don the Santa suit once again by his little friend Marcus (Tony Cox reprising his role) who has just been released from prison. Marcus has a can’t-miss caper. The duo will rob the safe of a Chicago charity on Christmas Eve. Willie isn’t keen on robbing a charity, but he is broke and desperate.
Also reprising his role of bully-bait, naive Thurman Merman is Brett Kelly, who has grown from a chubby little boy into a fat young man (Kelly joined 50 pounds for the role) with curly blond hair. Thurman pesters Willie in Phoenix, then follows him to Chicago to pester some more.
Kathy Bates introduces a new character: Sunny Stokes, Willie’s mother, who is even raunchier and more debauched than Willie.
Kathy Bates is a fine actress who was twice nominated for an Academy Award before winning one for “Misery” in 1990. She throws all dignity to the wind to play tattooed, gin-swilling, foul-mouthed Sunny. She blows away Willie in badness.
Christina Hendricks plays the new character of Diane, who works for the charity Willie and Marcus intend to rob. She is the girlfriend of Regent Hastings (Ryan Henson), the shady head of the charity. Of course she falls for Willie’s dubious charms.

“Bad Santa 2” has no redeeming value other than low, vulgar laughs. Happy Holidays.

Monday, November 21, 2016

Sisters Can Be Scary


“Cuddles” Strange But Fascinating

By Skip Sheffield

“Cuddles” is without a doubt the strangest play I’ve seen in 2016. That is not a bad thing. The play continues through Dec. 11 at Arts Garage, 94 NE Second Ave., Delray Beach.
“Cuddles” is a debut play by young (age 30) British writer Joseph Wilde. You could say Mr. Wilde knocked it out of the park his first time at bat. The play was heralded at its 2012 London debut, and it gained more accolades in its 2015 New York run. The Delray run is directed by Keith Garrison; a guy who likes to shake things up.
“Cuddles” is set up like a fairy tale. It even begins with “Once upon a time.”
It is explained that a King yearned for a son, but got two daughters instead. They are the confident, in-charge Tabby (Vera Samuels) and the insecure, reclusive Eve (Emily Freeman). Eve is in fact a prisoner in her dingy little bedroom. Tabby has raised her while trying to have a life of her own. Eve lives in a fantasy world, and it’s not very pretty. Eve has convinced herself she is a vampire. She can’t go outside because sunlight will kill her. She can’t look into a mirror. To satisfy Eve’s craving for blood, Tabby lets her feed upon her.
Clearly this is not a normal or healthy relationship. In the course of 80 short minutes without intermission, we learn the root of Eve’s trauma.
The role of Eve is an actress’s dream, and Emily Freeman does it full justice. She plays the entire role in her underwear, crawling and writhing around; scary one moment, lovable the next.
Tabby is a stone-cold bitch; foul-mouthed and vindictive at work and abusive of pathetic Eve. But Tabby truly loves Eve, and would love to have her come outside and experience the real world. When Tabby meets a suitor named Steve, the wish becomes an imperative.
Unlike most fairy tales, this one does not have a happy ending. It will leave you pondering the meaning of family, dependence, the responsibility of love and the possibility of change. Yes it is weird, but it is nothing if not fascinating. If this play were rated, it would be a hard R, so take note.
Tickets are $45. Call 561-459-6357 or go to

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

What Price Ambition and Fame?


The Sad Story of “Christine”

By Skip Sheffield

“If it bleeds, it leads” was the cynical rallying call of news outlets in the 1970s.
To a great extent it remains true today. That’s what makes the small, independent feature “Christine” so relevant today.
Opening an exclusive engagement at FAU’s Living Room Theaters Nov. 18, “Christine” is not to be confused with Stephen King’s demon-possessed Plymouth. It is about a very real and very tragic figure named Christine Chubbuck. Chubbuck shocked the nation when she committed suicide live on the air on July 15, 1974 at a small television station in Sarasota, Florida.
Christine is played by British actress Rebecca Hall, daughter of Royal Shakespeare Company founder Peter Hall.
Screenwriter Craig Shilowich has written a slightly fictionalized account of the real events that led up to Christine’s drastic action, directed by Antonio Campos. She had failed to progress at a couple of previous stations, and now she finds herself relegated to a tiny market at a station ruled by a gruff, tyrannical manager (Tracey Letts). Christine wanted to do stories of substance and depth. Mike, her boss, wanted her to do crowd-pleasing human interest stories.
Though Christine is co-anchor at tiny WZRB with handsome George Ryan (Michael C. Hall), she yearns to return to a larger market. To make matters worse, at age 29 she lives with her mom Peg (J. Cameron Smith), who often treats her like a child. To make matters even worse, she is still a virgin and has never had a real boyfriend, though she clearly has a crush on handsome George. When George finally asks her to dinner it is not what she expected. Worse, he drops the bombshell he has been picked up by a station in Baltimore. Worse still, he is taking the pretty sports girl with him instead of Christine.

Depression is a terrible thing. Christine struggled with it all her life. Choosing the highly volatile, insecure career of TV newscaster just made matters worse. Rebecca Hall does a masterful job depicting the anger, frustration and sadness that led Christine to her fate. Ironically, Sarasota made national news. Christine’s character has been cited as partial inspiration for the movie “Network,” and continues to be a subject of fascination. In death, Christine Chubbuck achieved the fame she never realized in life.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Amy Adams Learns to Face Bad Choices in "Nocturnal Animals"


Amy Adams Scores Again in “Nocturnal Animals”
(With Strong Assist from Jake Gyllenhaal)

By Skip Sheffield

Amy Adams has really been on a roll recently. After playing a brainy linguist who saves the world in “Arrival,” she now shows her glamour side as a successful avant garde art gallery owner in “Nocturnal Animals.”
Avant garde fashion designer Tom Ford adapted the screenplay from the novel “Tony and Susan,” by Austin Wright and directed with arty flair. "Nocturnal Animals” is both a thriller and a very twisted love story. It could also be seen as a satire of high-end modern art and the upper-crust social world.
This is apparent from the first few frames, as we see a grossly obese naked women dancing and writhing about. We see the women again on display as part of an opening show at the high-end Los Angeles art gallery owned by Susan Morrow (Amy Adams). The naked fat women may seem gross and revolting, but people are fawning over the “art,” calling it brilliant and congratulating Susan for curating it.
In reality Susan has come to hate what she does. She lives in a huge glass mansion overlooking L.A., but it is lonely and sterile. Her handsome second husband Hutton (Armie Hammer) has made some bad business deals and squandered most of the couple’s wealth. He snubs Susan’s request for a beach getaway because he has a “business trip” to New York. We see him there with another woman.
A package arrives for Susan. It is a manuscript proof for a novel written by her first husband, Edward Sheffield (Jake Gyllenhaal). Susan has not seen Edward in 19 years. She dumped him because he was “too weak” and not ambitious enough. The novel, titled “Nocturnal Animals,” is dedicated to Susan. It is a violent, horrific story set in the badlands of West Texas. Tony Hastings, also played by Jake Gyllenhaal, and his wife Laura (Isla Fisher) and teenage daughter India (Ellie Barber) are traveling to Tony’s family home in his vintage Mercedes-Benz. In the middle of nowhere they are menaced by two cars full of rednecks. Their car is damaged, forced off the road, and then it really gets bad.
The story flashes back and forth between Tony in Texas and Susan in L.A. There are also flashbacks to Susan and Edward’s initial romance and breakup. Susan had discouraged Edward from being a writer. The novel can be seen as his ultimate revenge.
The movie is meticulously cast, with Michael Shannon riveting as a cancerous Texas detective who tries to help Tony bring to justice the three creeps who raped and killed his wife and daughter. Aaron Taylor-Johnson is creepy-scary as the main thug. Providing comic relief is Michael Sheen as Carlos, a gay trophy husband to a glittery socialite (Andrea Riseborough). Laura Linney is chilling as Susan’s icy mom.

“Nocturnal Animals” is certainly not for everyone. The violence is sickening, and so is the modern art. The visuals by cinematographer Seamus McGarvey are spellbinding. So is Amy Adams, coming to the realization of the horrible life mistakes she has made. Jake Gyllenhaal delivers the most powerful performance of his career in the dual role of Edward/Tony. One thing for sure, “Nocturnal Animals” is never boring- if you can take it.

Monday, November 14, 2016

Searching for Purpose on Avenue Q


“Avenue Q” a Puppet Musical for Searching Minds

By Skip Sheffield

“The Muppets” were never like this. “Avenue Q,” a very funny show that plays through Sunday Nov. 20 at Broward Center for the Arts, has distinctly Muppet-like puppets and an urban setting much like the beloved PBS show “Sesame Street,” but Muppets never talked or acted like these puppets, created by Rick Pena for Slow Burn Theatre Company when the show was produced at West Boca Raton High School in 2012. Pena not only designed the puppets and costumes, he plays two principal roles: the lead of Princeton, a recent 22-year old college graduate whose song lament is “It Sucks To Be Me,” and Rod, a conservative young man who makes a discovery about his desires and sexuality while searching for his “Purpose.”
Nicole Piro was also in the Boca production, and she is better than ever, playing Kate Monster, Lucy the Slut, and others.
Another Boca veteran is Christian Vandepas, who plays Princeton’s roommate Nicky and manipulates half of Trekkie Monster, while providing the hilarious gruff voice of a porn addict.
Ann Marie Olson was also a veteran of the Boca production. While she doesn’t look the slightest bit Asian as Christmas Eve, she has a killer voice which powers the ballad “When You Ruv Someone.”
Newcomers are elfin Lissa Grossman Comess who plays multiple characters, including half of Trekkie Monster, one of the Bad Ideas Bears and burned-out educator, Mrs. Thistletwat.
Andrew Rodriguez-Triana is the sad sack failing comedian and boyfriend of Christmas Eve.
Then there is little Juanita B. Green as Gary Coleman, the washed-up child TV star- turned building superintendent, who really runs with the role.
This time the catchy music by Robert Lopez and Jeff Marx is recorded by Manny Schvartzman, but the cast is so well rehearsed by director-choreographer Patrick Fitzwater, the loss of live music is hardly felt.
“Avenue Q” is going on the road to Aventura Dec. 1-4 and the Crest Theatre in Delray Beach Dec.16-18. Bring an open mind and enjoy the angst of a gang who “Wish I Could Go Back to College.”

Tickets are $45. Call 954-462-0222 for the Broward production or 561-243-7922, ext. 1 for Delray Beach.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Amy Adams Shines in "Arrival"

“Arrival” is Amy Adams’ moment to shine.

By Skip Sheffield

I have always admired Amy Adams as an actress, but never has she been asked to carry an entire movie on her slim shoulders.
Adams plays Dr. Louise Banks, a linguist at an unnamed college. Ms. Banks is approached out of the blue by Col. Weber (Forest Whitaker), who is trying to make sense of an invasion by 12 oval-shaped spaceships that are now hovered in 12 locations around the world.
Dr. Banks drops everything to do this mission. In the real world one might protest, wait a minute, what about her classes? One might also wonder how she scored such a dreamy seafront apartment on a teacher’s salary.
But this is not real life. This is science fiction, written by Eric Heissener from a story by Ted Chang, and directed by Denis Villeneuve (“Sicario”).
Science fiction has come a long way since “The Day The Earth Stood Still” (1951), with its deathless pronouncement “klaatu barada nikto.” Dr. Banks is charged with figuring out what the aliens, who look like giant octopi, with extra tentacles, want from us humans. The answer is surprising, and not scary.
Science fiction movies are often cautionary tales. Humans tend to fear the unknown. Certainly these weird creatures are not warm and cuddly. Dr. Banks is a linguist who seems to know every current language. The aliens communicate not with words but inky blotches. Jeremy Renner is along for the ride more for moral support than anything else. Dr. Banks needs it. She still mourns the death of her daughter to a rare, fatal disease. Tzi Ma plays the hawkish Chinese Gen. Chang, who thinks the answer is to blow the critters into oblivion.
“Arrival” is the best science fiction movie I have seen in many years. It makes you think, which is a good thing.

Friday, November 4, 2016

Not-So Marvelous Mumbo-Jumbo


“Dr. Strange” Mysterious Mumbo-Jumbo

By Skip Sheffield

Marvel mumbo-jumbo. That pretty much describes “Doctor Strange,” starring Benedict Cumberbatch.
“You need to read the comic book,” said Al, my friend and fellow reviewer.
It would be difficult to get my hands on a 50-year-old Marvel Comics issue featuring the doctor with strange powers. My notes were as incomprehensible as the story itself. Suffice to say, I never read “Doctor Strange” or any other Marvel Comic, so I am at a distinct disadvantage of making heads or tails of this fantastic story.
Dr. Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) is a celebrated neurosurgeon. Early on he is in a horrendous auto accident. His hands, which are the tools of his trade, are badly damaged. After moping around, he travels to Katmandu (of course) and encounters the mystical Mordo (Chiwetel Ejiofer) and the even more mystical Ancient One, played by Tilda Swinton with a clean-shaven head. The Ancient One bestows magical powers upon Dr. Strange. Sparks fly out from his now healed hands. It helps him fight the bad guy, played by Mads Mikkelson. Dr. Strange gets help from the ever-lovely Rachel McAdams as a fellow doctor.

“Doctor Strange” is CGI special effects dominated, including some really cool scenes when streets of Manhattan are accordioned up and folded. What it all means I haven’t the slightest idea. I have failed on my mission Captain, but check it out if you are of the Marvel Universe,

Moonlight in Miami


A Made-in-Miami Masterwork: “Moonlight”

By Skip Sheffield

“Moonlight” made me feel melancholy, but not for the usual reasons of story or presentation.
“Moonlight” was shot entirely in Miami, in the blighted Liberty City neighborhood. Because of our short-sighted Florida legislators, the tax incentives that helped Florida reach number three in film and television production in the nation were eliminated last June. There was an immediate mass exodus of film and TV production people. Most went to Georgia, which has some of the most industry-friendly incentives in the country.
“Moonlight” is a small, intimate film, shot on a shoestring budget. Furthermore it has a subject matter that is not mass audience-friendly.
It is about a black boy called “Little” (Ashton Sanders). Little, whose given name is Chiron, is bullied and tormented by his classmates. At his young age he is branded a “faggot.”
Chiron grows into a teenager played by Alex Hibbert. Finally he grows into a young man played by Trevante Rhodes. Similarly Chiron’s best friend Kevin is played by three different actors in various stages of life.
It is bad enough Chiron is poor, black and gay. To compound matters his mother Paula (Naomie Harris) is a crackhead with an abusive boyfriend (Mahershala Ali).

“Moonlight” is no romp about sun and fun in Miami. It shines a light on people we don’t see or choose not to see. As such this movie is a compassionate glimpse on those on the margins of society, so close but so far away from the wealth and privilege of South Florida.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

A Hot Korean Costume Drama


Hot Romantic Intrigue in “The Handmaiden”

By Skip Sheffield

“The Handmaiden” is a kind of Asian Masterpiece Theatre filled with intrigue, twists, sumptuously beautiful sets, costumes and a healthy dollop of torrid girl-on-girl sex.
If that got your attention, read on. The story is set in Korea in the 1930s during the brutal Japanese occupation. The handmaiden of the title is Sook-Hee (Kim Tae-Vi), a bright and pretty orphaned Korean girl who got her education in the streets as a pickpocket. Sook-Hee is recruited by a con man who calls himself Count Fujiwara (Jung-Woo Ha). The bogus Japanese Count wants Sook-Hee to become handmaiden to the beautiful, lonely heiress named Lady Hideko, who is legitimate Japanese royalty and quite wealthy. Count Fujiwara wants Sook-Hee to ingratiate herself with Lady Hideko so that she may plant seeds of desire in the lady for the alleged Count. Then Fujiwara would sweep in, sweep Lady Hideko off her feet, marry her, then have her declared mad and committed to an asylum so he can steal her fortune. But first he must get past Hideko’s controlling Uncle Kouzuki (Jin-wong Jo), who has his own designs on her fortune.
Count Fujiwara is a villain of the lowest sort, so when his plan goes off the rails, it is quite satisfying.

Director Chan Wook Park co-wrote the screenplay, based on Sarah Waters’ 2002 novel “Fingersmith.” He previously directed the violent, intriguing “Oldboy” and “Lady Vengeance.” “The Handmaiden” is in both Korean and Japanese. To help keep things straight, the Japanese subtitles are in yellow. Be prepared to invest some time. The movie is two hours 24 minutes long. This movie could be considered a feminist triumph, Korean-style. I have been to both Korea and Japan, and I know the cultures are quite different. Let’s just say the Koreans are a lot more hot-blooded. It doesn’t get much hotter than when the women turn the tables on the scheming men.

A Condo Commando in Sweden


Sweden Has Condo Commandos Too

By Skip Sheffield
In America, “A Man Called Ove” would be called a condo commando.
Ove (Rolf Lassgard) is a bitter 59-year-old Swedish widower whose position as former block association president enables him to make life miserable for all around him. “Ove,” based on Fredrik Backman’s novel and directed by Hannes Holm, is the official Swedish selection for this year's Academy Awards.
Fifty-nine is not really that old, but life has beaten Ove down. He has lost his longtime job with the railroad. The death of his wife Sonja (Ida Engvoll) was the final straw in his disillusionment. Every day Ove puts flowers on Sonja’s grave, then reacts with a vengeance against any infraction of block association rules. A new couple moves in with their two daughters, and promptly flattens Ove’s mail box with their car. It’s not an auspicious introduction. Making matters worse is the pregnant mother, Parvaneh (Bahar Pars) is Persian (Iranian) and the father Patrick (Tobias Almborg) is Swedish. Ove was brought up to believe things should be a certain way. We see his development through flashbacks as a young Ove (Filip Berg).
“A Man Called Ove” is a parable of coexistence in a fractured, changing world. In what amounts to a dark running gag, Ove is repeatedly interrupted attempting to hang himself. If you guess Parvanah and her charming girls will bring new life to Ove, you guessed right. Ove even adopts a stray cat, though he loathes felines. He saves a man’s life, then refuses to take any credit for his heroism.

Rolf Lassgard is a Swedish actor whose mastery transcends all languages. The dialogue is Swedish, with English subtitles, but they are hardly necessary, as the actions and emotions are so well-expressed. Yes the story is predictable, yet it is still uplifting. If you want to feel a little better about the world, see this movie.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Slow Burn Theatre Hits a Peak With "Hunchback of Notre Dame"


A “Hunchback” for The Ages at Broward Center

By Skip Sheffield

Slow Burn Theatre Company has reached a new peak with “The Hunchback of Notre Dame,” onstage through Nov. 6 in the Amaturo Theatre of Broward Center for the Arts.
This complicated Swiss watch of a production has Slow Burn’s largest cast, most beautiful voices, best orchestra intricate set and amazing lighting. Even a major sound glitch in the middle of the aptly-named “Topsy Turvy” failed to derail the show’s power.
Director-choreographer Patrick Fitzwater simply came onstage and said “We need to reboot.”
In today’s computer-controlled shows, when a crash occurs it is best to stop, fix the problem and continue where you left off.
“Hunchback” is based upon the 1996 Disney animated musical movie, which in turn was based on Victor Hugo’s 1831 novel. This new version (only one of five in the USA) features new songs by Alan Menkin (“The Little Mermaid”) and Stephen Schwartz (“Wicked,” “Godspell”).
The year is 1482, but there are eerie parallels to our current political and sociological climate. Instead of Muslims, the accursed people are Gypsies. One of them, the elderly Clopin (Trey Whittaker) sets the tale of two brothers; one wild and one pious. The pious brother grows up to be Frollo (Matthew Korinko), the head priest of Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris. Frollo is rigid and authoritarian. When he learns his wayward brother had a deformed son, he grudgingly accepts the boy as his charge and names him Quasimodo (Bobby Cassell).
Quasimodo is a virtual prisoner in the bell tower of Notre Dame, but he will have one chance to romp on the “Feast of Fools,” when even Gypsies are allowed to come out and dance. It does not turn out well for Quasimodo, but he does meet enchanting Esmeralda (Shenise Nunez), whose allure also enchants stalwart Capt. Phoebus (Landon Summers) and unfortunately stirs forbidden thoughts in pious Frollo.
This version hews more closely to the original Victor Hugo story, so it is much darker (and more realistic) than the sanitized Disney cartoon. The score is quite sumptuous, combining churchly Latin masses with pop songs to advance the story. The already rich onstage singing is enhanced by a choir, housed in boxes stage right and left. The orchestra, led by Caryl Fantel, is unseen in a pit, hence the emergency when the actors could no longer hear the music. Shenise Nunez must have had the music in her head, because she kept on dancing “The Rhythm of the Tambourine” as if nothing were wrong.
Bobby Cassell is the all-around utility player, playing Quasimodo with a disconcertingly beautiful voice and even serving as fight choreographer with Landon Summers. One could go on for several more pages lauding the various players, but my advice is to see it for yourself. This is regional theater at its very best.
Tickets are $47, $52.50 and $60. Call 954-462-0222 or 800-745-3000 or go to

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Can The Holocaust Unite Unruly Youth?


Can the Holocaust Bring Kids Together?

By Skip Sheffield

Imagine if the Holocaust could bring together a multiracial, alienated, antagonistic group of high school youth in a French suburb, and go on to win a national prize?
That is the premise of “Once in a Lifetime,” and the best part is it is true.
The script was co-written by director Marie-Castille Mention-Schaar with Ahmed Drame, who plays one of the students, Malik, an aspiring filmmaker. Drame was a 10th grade student at Lycee Leon Blum in 2009. He was a participant in a class project proposed by History and Art teacher Anne Gueguen (Ariane Ascaride). The subject was a heavy one: the child victims of the Holocaust in Nazi concentration camps.
To set the stage, we see a Muslim girl being refused to receive her diploma because she insisted in wearing her Habib.
“I’m proud to be a Muslim,” she declares.
On top of the usual teenage rivalries, there is an undercurrent of anti-Muslim, anti-Jewish sentiment in what was once a mostly Christian student body. The influx of refugees from the Muslim former French colony of Algeria has greatly taxed France’s infrastructure, and nowhere is it felt more keenly than among the young. We see everyday acts of cruelty and brutality between the ethnic types.
Calmly and methodically, Mrs. Gueguen tends her unruly herd; setting ground rules: no caps, no headphones in class. We see the subtle power Mrs. Gueguen wields when she takes a day off to attend her mother’s funeral. The class goes wild under the poor substitute teacher. When Mrs. Gueguen returns (after being reprimanded by the school principal), she shocks with a dose of reality when she invites a Holocaust survivor to speak to the class. Leon Zyguel speaks with such passion and eloquence he moves the students to tears. Finally they are willing to work in small groups as part of a larger team to compete in the National Contest for Resistance and Deportation.

For those who despair about the youth of today, this movie provides a beacon of hope. If it can work in an unruly, multicultural school in France, perhaps it could in the USA.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Love, Sex and Sorrow in American Pastoral.


A Troubling “American Pastoral”

By Skip Sheffield

If you have read any of Phil Roth’s work, you know you will be in for some sex and suffering. In “American Pastoral” you get both, plus some bitter laughs.
“American Pastoral” is the debut as director of Ewan McGregor, the Scottish actor who also stars as sports hero and all-American boy, Seymour “Swede” Levov; a fair-haired Jew who passes as goy. In a fairy-tale romance, Swede married a gorgeous former Miss New Jersey, Dawn Dwyer (Jennifer Connelly). Swede worked for his gruff father Gus (Peter Riegert, bringing much-needed comic relief) in the family glove factory in Newark, NJ. Swede became so prosperous he bought a small farm 30 miles west of Newark to indulge his wife, who contented herself raising cows and tending her house and gardens.
The story begins in 1968 with the Vietnam War raging. The Levuvs have a beautiful blond, blue-eyed daughter named Merrie, played by Ocean James at age 8, Hannah Nordberg at 12 and Dakota Fanning as a teenager.
The narrative flashes forward to 1991 and the 40th anniversary of Swede’s high school graduation. Philip Roth’s alter ego, Nathan Zuckerman (David Strathairn) is introduced. For those familiar with Roth, Nathan Zuckerman has grown up in the fiction of the author; from bumbling teenager in “Portnoy’s Complaint” to the aging, broken character of Swede. Nathan has not come to attend his high school reunion but to attend the funeral of its star. Through a series of flashbacks we learn how his fate came to be. It is not a pretty story. That’s Philip Roth.
“American Pastoral” is an actor’s showcase for its leads. No one emotes more deeply than the star himself, though Jennifer Connelly is a close second. Dakota Fanning is rather flat and one-dimensional as rebellious Merrie while Uzo Abduba is warm and solid as Swede’s loyal right-hand woman at the factory. The liveliest (and sexiest) character is Rita Cohen (Valorie Curry), a renegade hippie friend of Merrie who provides the story with its requisite sex scene.

No two-hour movie can capture the historical, psychological and sociological intricacies of Roth’s 1997, which won him the 1998 Pulitzer Prize. Screenwriter John Romano (“The Lincoln Lawyer”) has done his best to whittle down Roth’s sprawling story, but those who read the book are bound to be a bit disappointed- but good try. Philip Roth has retired from writing after 31 books. We can only appreciate what he has accomplished.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Laughter, Love & Music at Wick Theatre

James Clow and Andrea McArdle Photo by Amy Pasquantonio

Laugh and Love at The Wick Theatre

By Skip Sheffield

“They’re Playing Our Song” is a lot funnier and livelier than I remembered. The Wick Theatre production of the show, which runs through Nov. 6, is greatly enhanced by the presence of Andrea McArdle in the female lead of lyricist Sonia Walsk.
Sonia Walsk is an exaggerated version of real-life lyricist Carole Bayer Sager. The male lead of Vernon Gersch (James Clow) is likewise an exaggerated version of composer Marvin Hamlisch. The songs and lyrics are by Hamlisch and Bayer-Sager. The book is by that clever old pro, Neil Simon.
The staging of this show is ingenious. The 8u-piece band is perched on a movable riser, which is stage center and up front at the beginning for the overture. The band is rolled back for Scene One, which is set in Gersch’s posh 14th story apartment overlooking Central Park. Walsk had written lyrics for Gersch’s consideration and a possible collaboration. In what becomes a running gag, Walsk is 20 minutes late and dressed in a costume from “The Cherry Orchard.” Walsk wears a different costume from a different show each time she meets Gersch. The show is very New York-centric while telling a reluctant love story between two high-strung, highly creative people.
“Collaboration is a nasty business,” cracks Vernon.
A fun gimmick in director Norb Joeder’s staging is a three-man, three-woman “Greek Chorus” dressed like the main couple and expressing their inner thoughts.
There are really very few songs in this musical. The only song I remembered from previous viewings is the title song, which is played in Act One and repeated at the finale. “If he/she really knew me” is lovely as a solo, duet or with chorus. The loveliest of all is McArdle’s solo, “I Still Believe in Love.”
My favorite moment came when they wheeled out a shiny black MG TD. There were a couple good cracks about the unreliability of British sports cars. I know, believe me.
I came away with newfound respect for this sassy show. Good job kids.

Tickets are $80. Call 561-995-2333 or go to

Friday, October 14, 2016

"American Honey" Not So Sweet


“American Honey” is Anything but Sweet

By Skip Sheffield

If you think America’s youth is up to no good, “American Honey” will confirm your worst suspicions.
Written and directed by Briton Andrea Arnold, “American Honey” is an almost 3-hour long rambling trip across the USA with a group of young, disaffected youth allegedly trying to sell magazine subscriptions.
I say allegedly because this gang spends more time drinking, getting high and having sex than any legitimate salespeople. As a child I tried to sell magazine subscriptions door-to-door, and I can tell you it is next to impossible.
It is even worse now that the printed word has diminished in value. So I don’t condemn these kids for their misdeeds, but neither do I understand their cultish behavior.
A teenage girl who calls herself Star (Sasha Lane) one day packs up her meager belongings and joins a tribe of kids, who travel from town to town in the Midwest. Star is lured by Jake (Shia LaBeouf), who is the alpha male of the tribe, but the real boss is Krystal (Riley Keough), who keeps a percentage of all the profits.
There is no particular plot to “American Honey.” The gang just wanders from town to town. Sometimes they engage in sex with lonely homeowners. Sometimes they rip them off. Where is this going?, I wondered. The answer is nowhere.

“American Honey” is a movie that makes me glad I am not a teenager anymore. If you want to get mildly bummed-out, see this movie. Otherwise avoid it.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Attention Must Be Paid to "Denial"


Rachel Weiscz Giver Her All in “Denial”

By Skip Sheffield

Rachel Weiscz is one formidable actress. She pours her body and soul into her role of a lifetime in “Denial.”
Weiscz plays Deborah Lipstadt, upon whose 1993 book the David Hare screenplay is based.
Lipstadt was a professor of Jewish Studies at Emory University in Atlanta. David Irving (Timothy Spall) was a self-styled British historian and avowed admirer of Adolph Hitler. Furthermore he had published books claiming that the Holocaust never happened; that there were no gas chambers or crematoriums.
The Nazis covered their tracks very well in World War II. The most notorious concentration camp, Auschwitz, was leveled. We meet Irving in Atlanta, interrupting Lipstadt’s class and defiantly offering anyone $1,000 cash if they could prove the Holocaust happened. Lipstadt responded by branding Irving a charlatan and bogus historian. He responded in 1996 by suing her for libel and defamation of character.
The legal system is different in England. For one thing judges wear those silly silver wigs. More importantly the burden of proof is on the accused, not the accuser. To save her reputation and discredit Irving and others like him, Lipstadt would have to provide solid proof the Holocaust happened.
A courtroom- particularly a British one- is not very exciting. “Denial” builds its case slowly and methodically, with Tom Wilkinson’s Scottish lawyer Richard Rampton as the star player.

Timothy Spall usually plays lovable buffoons. In this case he is a buffoon all right, but a reprehensible lying villain. Evil comes in many forms. Sometimes it is from the jovial guy next door. David Irving had to be brought down. His positions on the Holocaust were indefensible. That Deborah Lipstadt had to prove the obvious shows what a brave woman she was. For that reason “Denial” is an important film.

Saturday, October 8, 2016

A Supercharged "Rent" 20th Anniversary


A Memorable, Supercharged “Rent” at Broward Center

By Skip Sheffield

“Rent” is back for a very limited time in a supercharged 20th anniversary edition through Sunday. Oct. 9 at Broward Center for the Arts.
“Rent” had a unique, star-crossed genesis as a creation of Jonathan Larson, who died of an aortic dissection the night before the musical’s opening Off-Broadway in 1996. The show won the Tony Award for Best Musical and eventually a Pulitzer Prize. It ran for 12 years on Broadway and had multiple national and international tours.
Loosely based on Puccini’s tragic 1896 opera “La Boheme,” “Rent” is an early 1990s time capsule of would be artists, drag queens and dreamers who are squatting in a tenement on New York’s Lower East Side. The show began in 1988 as a collaboration with playwright Billy Aronson as a “musical for the MTV generation.” In 1991 Larson took sole control of the show.
The two main characters are Roger Davis (Kaleb Wells), a struggling songwriter who is HIV positive, and Mark Cohen, a struggling Jewish filmmaker from a prosperous family in Scarsdale. Roger’s girlfriend is the sickly but alluring “exotic dancer” Mimi (Skyler Volpe). Mark has a girlfriend named Maureen (Katie Lamark) who will leave him for a woman named Joanne (Jasmine Easler).
The most flambouyant scene-stealer is a petite drag queen named Angel (David Merino), who loves Tom Collins (Aaron Harrington), a large black man who is a part-time teacher at NYU. The nemesis of this ragtag bunch is Benjamin Coffin III Christian Thompson), who owns the building and would like to redevelop it. The action takes place over a year, from Christmas Eve to Christmas Eve.
“Five Hundred Twenty-five Thousand Six Hundred Minutes… Moments so dear, How do you measure a year?,” go the lyrics of the most memorable song, “Seasons of Love.” Seeing “Rent” is a memory you will cherish.
Call 954-462-0222 or go to for ticket information.

Friday, October 7, 2016

All Your Favorite Older Actors in "Silver Skies"


Golden Years in “Silver Skies”

By Skip Sheffield

“Silver Skies” is the name of an older adult rental complex in Los Angeles. It is also the title of a movie written and directed by Rosemary Rodriguez (“The Good Wife” TV series 2009-2016).
This movie was the centerpiece attraction at the 2016 Fort Lauderdale International Film Festival. The choice was appropriate, because we certainly have plenty of retirees in our area.
“Silver Skies” also afforded work to actors who are past their prime. The principal one is George Hamilton, who plays an actor named Phil who is entering early stages of Alzheimer’s dementia. Phil lives with Nick (Jack McGee), who works at a local horse race track.
I initially assumed Phil and Nick were a gay couple, but no. Nick develops a crush on Ethel (Valerie Perrine).
The essential dilemma of “Silver Skies” is that the building is being sold to be converted to condos. Residents can either purchase (at a greatly increased price) their apartments, or get out. They have just 30 days to make a decision.
One tenant, Harriett (Mariette Hartley) has the wherewithal to solve the problem. But the building’s attorney (Heather McComb) and its seedy manager (Micah Hauptman), are rigid.
Just when you think all is lost, there is a last-minute plot twist that saves the day.

It is great fun seeing actors we grew up with, such as Alex Rocco, who died July 18, Howard Hesseman, Barbara Bain and Dick Van Patten (playing himself). The Boca Raton/Delray Beach market is ideal for this film, but younger people might learn a thing or two if they give it a look.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Seeing "The Birth of a Nation" From the Other Side


“Birth of a Nation” From an Opposite point of view.

By Skip Sheffield

Nate Parker didn’t just remake the notorious film “The Birth of a Nation.” The writer, director and star totally re-envisioned it, and did a 180-degree turn from the 1915 silent film, which glorified the Ku Klux Klan and vilified African-American slaves.
“Birth of a Nation” is told from the point of view of Nat Turner (Nate Parker), a black slave in Virginia in 1831. Nat was a supremely intelligent young man who knew how to read in a time when black people were denied an education. Nat had a teacher in Elizabeth Turner (Penelope Ann Miller), wife of plantation owner Samuel Turner (Armie Hammer) who was relatively enlightened compared to most Southern slave owners and The Bible as a textbook.
Make no mistake; “Birth of a Nation” is hard to endure. It is quite graphic in its depiction of the hate, violence and hypocrisy of “genteel” Southerners. Nat is allowed to preach to fellow slaves with the hope he can keep them calmed down.
Instead as witness to repeated atrocities, Nat became a radical abolitionist, who recruited a small band of slaves to rise up against their masters, and slaughter them.

This is not a made-up story. Nat Turner really existed, and it was his sad story that fired abolitionists nationwide to abolish the institution of slavery. While this movie is bloody and violent, it is only a foreshadowing of the War Between the States, aka the Civil War. Violence begets violence. This movie is as biased as the original “Birth of a Nation,” only from the opposite point of view. It is an impressive debut by first-time director, writer, star and producer Nate Parker.

Friday, September 30, 2016

"Tanna" Romeo & Juliet in the South Pacific


“Tanna” is Romeo and Juliet in the South Pacific

By Skip Sheffield

In an increasingly “civilized” world, it is getting harder and harder to find indigenous people who live their traditional ways.
“Tanna” is about a remote civilization of indigenous people who live on an island off the coast of Australia. “We resisted colonials, we resisted Christians,” declared the tribal chief. “But we must find a way to make love marriage part of Kastom,”
“Tanna” is a kind of Romeo and Juliet story set on a remote South Pacific jungle island. Wawa (Marie Wawa) and Dain (Mongou Dain) are from opposing tribes on their island. The tribes have a tradition of arranged marriages. Dain is the grandson of one of the tribal chiefs. Wawa is a member of the opposing tribe. For diplomatic reasons Wawa’s chief has matched her with a member of the opposing tribe, but not Dain. Instead of going through with the marriage, Wawa flees with Dain into the jungle.

“Tanna” reminds me of the National Geographic documentaries I used to see as a child. All the females are bare-chested. The men are naked except for a penis sheath. Life revolves around animal sacrifice and drinking a brew made with Kava, which is a mild psychedelic. Life continues much as it did when Capt. James Cook discovered the islands in 1774. Dain and Wawa’s defiance of the tribal elders shakes the very foundation of Kastom, or tradition. None of the actors are professionals. Filmmakers Martin Butler and Bentley Dean spent seven months living among the natives to make this movie. It is not exciting but it is beautiful; including the active volcano which dominates the island. The story is based on actual events that occurred in 1987. The main lesson learned is that all tradition is not right or just. It sometimes takes sacrifice to break out of that straitjacket.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

"Deepwater Horizon" a Disaster Movie That Could Have Been a Cautionary Tale


“Deepwater Horizon” a Disaster for all Living Creatures

By Skip Sheffield

“Deepwater Horizon” dramatizes the disastrous explosion and subsequent oil spill of the oil rig of the same name, off the coast of Louisiana in April of 2010.
“Deepwater” concentrates on events leading up to the big bang; not on the even more horrendous after effects of one of the largest oil spills in history, polluting the Gulf of Mexico from Louisiana to Florida.
Mark Wahlberg plays our everyman, Mike Williams and Kate Hudson is his concerned wife, Felicia. Kurt Russell is the senior rig worker and safety officer, “Mister” Jimmy Harrell.
The rig has a crew of 126. It is located about 40 miles off the coast of Louisiana. Workers are transported by helicopter. For dramatic effect you need villains. In this case it is BP (British Petroleum) officials who pressure the workers to keep drilling on the floating rig; despite the fact the integrity of the cement is unknown. The project is $53 million over budget and more than a month behind schedule. Head BP official Vitrine (John Malkovich) insists the men press on; despite ominous warnings this is “the well from Hell.”
That pretty much it in the way of plot, based on news articles by Matthew Sand and Stephanie Saul. What is not covered in this movie is the number of casualties (11), though the number of injuries (17) is inferred.

What is not covered was the aftermath of this disaster, which amounted to the worst oil spill in the history of the world. People on the Gulf Coast of the USA are still dealing with the consequences. “Deepwater Horizon” is a disaster movie, but it could have been more. In our mania to drill for oil, the consequences are daunting. In this sense this movie could be a call for clean, renewable energy sources.

A Mass Exodus in "Come What May"


War Invades France in “Come What May”

By Skip Sheffield

There are approximately 8 million stories of the Holocaust. If I live long enough I may learn about of all of them.
“Come What May” is another entry in the genre. It is set in France, just prior to the German invasion in the summer of 1939. On Sept. 3, 1939, France declared war on Germany. It was a rather futile gesture, as Germany was geared up to conquer all of Europe. “Come What May” is the story of ordinary French people and their desperate attempt to flee south to safety in Dieppe.
Writer-director Christian Carion grew up in the north of France. His mother grew up and survived the German invasion. This movie is a fictional account of the mass exodus. It centers on a German boy, Max (Joshio Marlon), whose father (August Diehl) opposed the Nazi regime. Paul, (Olivier Gourmet), the Mayor of the small town of Pas de Calais, urged his people to drop everything and follow him south to safety.
Acting as a scout for the troop and protector of Max is a schoolteacher named Suzanne (Alice Isaaz). Since this is a movie, she is extraordinarily pretty.

The movie features a score by Oscar-winner Ennio Morricone. The action doesn’t really crank up until the final half-hour, but it reminds us as Gen. U.S. Grant so succinctly noted, that war is Hell, and World War II was one of the most hellish of them all.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Jerry Lewis is Back as "Max Rose"


“Max Rose” Marks Return of Jerry Lewis After 20 Years

By Skip Sheffield

Don’t go to “Max Rose” expecting the goofy, zany Jerry Lewis of yore. This is Lewis’s first film in 20 years, and it is not a comedy. It is not a tragedy either. It is Lewis’s acknowledgment that he is now an old man.
“Max Rose” was written and directed by Daniel Noah. The part written for Lewis is Max Rosenblume, aka Max Rose. Max was a semi-successful jazz pianist. We meet him in the hospital where his beloved wife of 65 years, Eva (Claire Bloom) has just died. Max is devastated. He is devastated more when he finds a makeup case in his late wife’s possessions. It is inscribed “Eva, you are the secret in my heart: Ben, Nov. 5, 1959.”
You could say Max overreacts to the thought his wife might have been untrue to him. You would not be wrong. At the memorial for Eva he blurts, “I Failed my wife, my family, myself.” Are we laughing yet?
Max has a most solicitous granddaughter Annie (Kerry Bishe) who tries to best to cheer gramps, but he is beyond cheering. Faring even worse is Max’s son Christopher (Kevin Pollak), who has been estranged from his dad for years.
Nevertheless Christopher takes charge and orders Max to go to an assisted living facility. Max fights but surrenders to the inevitable, and this is where “Max Rose” has some fun with a bunch of old pros including Mort Sahl, Rance Howard, Lee Weaver and Fred Willard.
The dramatic conclusion arrives when Max decided to confront Ben Tracey (Dean Stockwell) in his home. The former adversaries find they have something in common apart from being old.

“Max Rose” debuted at Cannes Film Festival in 2013. It has taken this long for it to get American distribution. Jerry Lewis is still alive and kicking at age 90. This film is a fitting tribute to his indomitable will to live and to perform.

A Neo-Traditional Western for a New Generation


“Magnificent Seven” a Traditional Western For a New Generation

By Skip Sheffield

The first, last and only time I saw “The Magnificent Seven” I was 12-years-old.
Therefore I am ill-prepared to compare the beloved 1960 Western by John Sturges to the 2016 remake by Antoine Fuqua (“Training Day,” “Olympus Has Fallen”). The new version is a Western on steroids. It begins literally with a bang, with stuff blowing up all over a frontier town called Rose Creek in the year 1879.
The explosions were ordered by a greedy gold mine owner named Bartholomew Bogue, played by a dead-eyed Peter Sarsgaard. Bogue and his goons storm into a church service. Bogue delivers a threatening service equating free-will Capitalism with the love of God. Bogue wants to buy the entire town of Rose Creek so he can strip mine it for gold. He offers residents an insulting $20 each to get out of town.
“You are standing in the way of God,” Bogue thunders. Outside the church he randomly shoots dead a man who dares to protest, rendering his feisty wife, Emma Cullen (Haley Bennett) a widow.
So it is thoroughly established Bogue is a true villain who deserves to be brought down. But who will have the courage to do it?
Enter Sam Chisholm (Denzel Washington), a bounty hunter (he insists he is a licensed Federal Marshal). Chisholm is dressed in black, riding a black horse. He swaggers into the local saloon. The music stops and everyone turns to stare. Chisholm intimidates the bartender and it doesn’t go well. Soon there is a blaze of gunfire and it is established Chisholm is one bad hombre and a quick, deadly shot.
There are many familiar Western conventions given the nod. Chisholm is the lone fearless stranger. Washington plays the character with quiet, steely resolve, quite admirably filling the boots formerly worn by Yul Brynner. When the widow Cullen offers Chisholm a bag of money that is all the town has to offer to fight back at Bogue, Chisholm replies, “I am not for sale.”
Emma Cullen is very persuasive however, and it doesn’t hurt she sure is purdy. So Chisholm reluctantly agrees to form a posse and fight back. He has three weeks to prepare for the big showdown.
The big change from the 1960 movie is the racial diversity of Chisholm’s gunslingers. Washington is African American. His right-hand man is hard-drinking card sharp Josh Faraday (Chris Pratt). Goodnight Robicheaux (Ethan Hawke) is a Cajun former Confederate soldier. Jack Horne (Vincent D’Onofrio) is a bible-quoting bear of a man who carries a scalping hatchet. Billy Rocks (Byong-hun Lee) is a diminutive Asian man with a deadly assortment of darts, swords and knives. Red Harvest (Martin Sensmeier) is a Comanche Indian played by a real Native American. When he runs out of arrows, he is a deadly shot.

Like so many Westerns before it, everything leads up to a big showdown. With spectacular stunts and CGI-augmented mayhem, the big payoff is noisier and more violent than ever. I have been a fan of Westerns since I was a kid; therefore I am gratified to see a new generation take a whack at the genre. I fear most people don’t feel the way I do, but the box office will tell. In the end Akira Kurosawa’s 1954 “Seven Samurai” still rules.