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.