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.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Fritz Bauer: Unheralded Nazi-Hunter


Light Shed on Little-Known Nazi Hunter in “Fritz Bauer”

By Skip Sheffield

What happened to all those Nazis after Germany surrendered World War II in 1945?
A lot of them fled to South America; Argentina in particular. Some stayed in Germany, hiding in plain sight as members of the German government.
“The People vs. Fritz Bauer” is the story of one man’s crusade to bring ex-Nazis to justice and have them tried for war crimes.
Dr. Fritz Bauer (Burghart Klaussner) is Attorney General in postwar Germany circa 1957. A Jewish man, Dr. Bauer had been imprisoned in a concentration camp in the 1930s and went into exile in Denmark. His return to Germany was not exactly triumphant. For the past 12 years he has been hunting Nazis, with the supreme prize Adolph Eichmann, who was engineer of Hitler’s “final solution” for the extermination of Jews. Eichmann had been rumored to be hiding out in Argentina under an assumed name, but there are people there and within Germany who have been preventing his arrest and extradition.
Directed and co-written by Lars Kraume, the movie begins with footage of the real Fritz Bauer making an impassioned speech about Germany as the land of Goethe on one hand and the Nazi Party on the other. “We must provide young people the truths their parents avoided,” he declared.
The film cuts to Dr. Bauer in a bathtub, slipping below the water, a glass of wine nearby. He is saved by young Prosecutor Karl Angermann (Ronald Zehrfeld) a composite character representing those sympathetic to Dr.  Bauer’s fight.
Dr. Bauer’s near death is called a suicide attempt by his nemesis Paul Gebhardt (Jorg Schuttlauf), a government official sympathetic to the ex-Nazis. Later he will have real death threats.
“The People vs. Fritz Bauer” plays like a psychological mystery and a political thriller. Fritz Bauer is little known outside Germany, but it was his courageous and potentially treasonous act that finally brought down Eichmann. Bauer had hoped to have him tried in Germany, but he was captured by Israelis who insisted he face judgment there. Dr. Bauer had a secret which he shared with his young colleague Karl Angermann that put him in jeopardy of Germany’s Nazi-written morality laws and reduced the effectiveness of his fight.

At the very least this is a fascinating history lesson, and at the same time it is crackling good entertainment.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

A Heartwarming Miracle on the Hudson


“Sully” Accomplishes a “Miracle on the Hudson”

By Skip Sheffield

Tom Hanks is a good guy who excels at playing good guys on the big screen.
“Sully” is a prime example. Hanks went gray and grew a moustache to play veteran pilot Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger, who calmly landed U.S. Airway flight number 1549 in the Hudson River Jan. 15, 2009 after losing power to both engines after takeoff from LaGuardia Airport in Queens, New York. If you have ever flown into or out of LaGuardia, you know it is a white-knuckle experience. The airport is antiquated and surrounded on three sides by developments and the other side by a bay.
I mention this because the main thrust of the story of “Sully” is not on the heroism of the pilot but the second-guessing on the alternatives to his drastic choice, which saved the lives of 155 people.
Chesley Sullenberger was a veteran pilot with 42 years experience. Those who were questioning his judgment had never done air time themselves. They relied on computer simulations that indicated Sully could have returned to LaGuardia after his engines were disabled by a flock of Canadian geese, or gone to the nearby Teeterboro, New Jersey Airport. Teeterboro was seven miles away. LaGuardia was behind the skyscrapers of Manhattan. How a jet airliner, gliding without power could have made either of those destinations is nearly impossible. It is clear that director Clint Eastwood is on the side of Sully, versus the desk jockeys of the NTSB (National Transportation Safety Board). But an action movie needs conflict, and Sully and First Officer Jeff Skiles’ (Aaron Eckhart) resolute stand against government bureaucrats gives the movie a satisfying us-against-them feeling.

In the final analysis, what Sully accomplished is truly a miracle, which he goes out of his way to call a group effort among New York ferry captains, fire department and police. Some people think New York is a cold, uncaring place, but in a crisis, everyone pulls together, which makes “Sully” an ultimate feel-good movie.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

"Mia Madre" and "Little Men"


“Mia Madre: and “Little Men” Open Sept. 2.

Opening in limited release this Friday, Sept. 2 are two small independent films. My favorite is “Mia Madre” 
(My Mother) an Italian film by Nanni Moretti, and the other is “Little Men,” set in Brooklyn, New York, starring two fresh-faced kids.
“Mia Madre” stars Margherita Buy as a movie director named Margherita. She is in the middle of shooting a film about worker unrest and rebellion in Italy. Nothing is going right. To add to Margherita’s problems her mother Ada (Giulia Lazzarini) is hospitalized with a mysterious malady. Margherita is also having problems with her teenage daughter Livia (Beatrice Mancini) and her son-to-be ex-husband Vittoria (Enrico Lanniello).
If that weren’t trouble enough, her Italian-American star, Barry Huggins (John Turturro) proves to be insufferable and incompetent.
Yes, this is a comedy, but it is also a drama, for poor old Ada is dying. If you like the Italian hyper-dramatic view of life, you may appreciate this movie, which plays exclusively at FAU’s Living Room Theaters.

"Little Men"

“Little Men” is about two Brooklyn teenagers who aspire for something better; namely a place at the La Guardia School for the Performing Arts, the school that inspired “Fame.”
Jacob or Jake Jardine (Theo Taplitz) already shows promise as an artist at age 13. His best friend Tony (Michael Barbieri) wants to be an actor.
Jake’s grandfather has just died, leaving his father Brian (Greg Kinnear) with the challenge of suddenly becoming a landlord in a neighborhood that is gentrifying.
Tony’s mother, Leonor Cavelli (Paulina Garcia) is a longtime tenant in one of Brian’s buildings. It is hinted she had an especially cozy relationship with Brian’s father.
The bottom line is Leonor has been paying far less than market value for her little sewing shop. Brian’s wife (Jennifer Ehle) urges him to adjust the rent to reflect true value. Thereby hangs the conflict. Leonor simply can’t afford the rent.

Jake and Tony are dealing not only with the challenges of growing up, but enduring economic changes that challenge their friendship. Ira Sachs (“Love is Strange”) wrote and directs this modern parable of life in the big city.

Alicia Vikander is "The Light Between Oceans"


Alicia Vikander is the Light of “The Light Between Oceans”

By Skip Sheffield

The world is falling in love with Alicia Vikander. The beautiful 27-year-old actress co-stars with Michael Fassbender in “The Light Between Oceans,” based on the 2012 M.L. Stedman novel of the same name.
Alicia Vikander is from Sweden, but she does not fit the stereotype. Petite, slight, with brown hair and luminous brown eyes, she looks younger than her physical years. She is an actress of uncommon power, as she proved as the alluring robot girl in “Ex Machina” and the stalwart wife in “The Danish Girl.”
Michael Fassbender is from Germany. He has excelled in macho roles in “Inglourious Basterds” and “X-Men,” but his Tom Sherborne is a most sensitive sort. It is December of 1918, and Tom is a shell-shocked World War I veteran. He just wants to be alone, and the remote island of Janus Rock in New Zealand is about as quiet as you can get. The lighthouse keeper at Janus Rock has quit under murky circumstances, and Tom agrees to give the job a try.
In town he meets a beautiful young woman named Isabel Graysmark (Alicia Vikander). Isabel is not shy. When Tom says he is allowed no visitors at his lighthouse job, Isabel blurts, “Then marry me.”
And so they marry and enjoy each other’s company on the remote rock. Isabel desperately wants to become a mother, but after two miscarriages, she resigns herself to childlessness. Then miraculously Tom spots a rowboat floating in the stormy seas. He retrieves the boat and discovers within it a dead man and a living baby girl.
Isabel immediately wants to raise the girl as her own. Tom thinks he should report the incident to proper authorities, but in the end he bows to the wishes of his wife.
Sadly, Tom harbors a sense of guilt, and when he discovers the girl’s birth mother, Hannah Roennfeldt (Rachel Weisz), the guilt gets the best of him.

“The Light Between Oceans” is an unabashed tearjerker. There is no happy ending; just a sense of completion. The film is beautifully shot by Adam Arkapa and directed by the same man who brought us the dark gems “The Place Beyond the Pines” and “Blue Valentine.” But the best reason to see this movie is to see Alicia Vikander; one of the hottest actresses in the world not just for her good looks, but for her ability to convey heartfelt emotion.