Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Let's Hear It for Old Guys


Sam Elliott is “The Hero”

By Skip Sheffield

Sam Elliott is “The Hero.” You know the guy. Tall, deep-voiced and with a big bushy moustache, Elliott has been a staple in Westerns and dramas since his film debut in 1969 with a bit part in “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.”
In “The Hero” Elliott plays a character very much like himself. Writer-director Brett Haley tailored the character of Western star Lee Hayden with his writing partner Marc Basch after the real-life Sam Elliott. Haley and Basch had previously collaborated with Elliott in “I’ll See You in My Dreams,” a post-65 romance with Elliott and Blythe Danner.
The movie begins with Lee Hayden doing a voiceover for “Lone Star BBQ Sauce.” Elliott is a much in-demand voiceover artist.
The scene shifts to a clinic. A biopsy has revealed to Hayden the grim fact he has pancreatic cancer. Lee smokes copious amounts of pot to ease his pain and anxiety.
Charlotte Dylan (Laura Prepon) stops by with cookies and to see how Lee is doing. She is an erstwhile stand-up comedian, but we never get to see her act. She does have a special interest in Lee, despite being half his age.
“You’ve got a thing for sad old guys,” a friend says.
Lee Hayden is being honored with a Western Society Award. He is embarrassed by all the fuss. Charlotte is there for moral support, which leads to a more intimate relationship.
Lee Hayden has a daughter, Lucy Hayden (Krysten Ritter) from whom he is estranged; a wife Valarie, played by Elliott’s real-life wife Katharine Ross, and a manager, played by Nick Offerman.
Through all of this Sam Elliott is the rock-steady foundation of what amounts to an old man’s fantasy.
“Many young women are attracted to Sam,” declares director Brett Haley. “Both Sam and Laura were a dream to work with. There could have been no better person for the role than Laura. She has star quality.”

Haley and Basch are currently working on another collaboration.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Let's Fly Away to Neverland


Fly Away to “Finding Neverland”

By Skip Sheffield

J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan fantasy has been enchanting people for more than 100 years.
“Finding Neverland,” a musical back-story on how Barrie came up with his ideas, runs through June 25 at Broward Center for the Arts.
This is a precision Disney Broadway show with vivid screen projections, clever set pieces and dazzling light design. It is distinguished by particularly strong leads. Foremost of these is Will Ray in the role of J.M. Barrie. Ray has an exquisite tenor voice, but he will be in the role only through June 16 when it will be taken over by Noah Plomgren through June 18 and then Billy Harrison Tighe through June 25. Knowing Disney they will be equally up to the task.
Christine Dwyer has an equally exquisite soprano as Sylvia Llewelyn Davies, who was the model for Mrs. Darling in the finished story. She was the widowed mother of the four boys who inspired Barrie to create his juvenile characters.
James Graham has created a clever book based on historical research on author Barrie, with sly theatrical references which provide the show with much of its humor. It also provides romantic intrigue. Barrie was married to the disapproving Mary (Laol Van Keuren through June 18; Kristine Reese through June 25), who thought his fixation with Mrs. Davies’ boys and the widow herself was unhealthy and immoral. She felt her husband should “grow up,” which is exactly what Peter Pan and Barrie himself never wanted to do.
The songs, by Gary Barlow and Eliot Kennedy, advance the story entertainingly. They are played by a full live orchestra with an amazing sound system. Outstanding are Barrie’s solo “Imagination;” the production number “Believe;” “Sylvia’s Lullaby;” the four-part “Circus of Your Mind;” the duet “What You Mean to Me” and the title song “Neverland.”
A real surprise was Rory Donovan in the role of gruff American producer Charles Frohman, a baritone who unleashes his amazing range in his solo on “Circus of Your Mind.”
Then of course there are the boys and a beautiful shaggy dog. One of the boys, Ben Kreiger, is from Palm Beach Gardens. He has been with the show eight months in rotation with a couple of the boys. At age 12 he has been on the road two years.
“I really excited about returning to normal life when I leave this show,” he said. “But I will be sad I am not performing every night.”
Tickets are $26-$131. Call 954-462-0222 or go to www.browardcenter.org.

Past Lives, Past Sins


The Sins of the Father

By Skip Sheffield

“Past Life” is proudly “Made in Jerusalem” by writer-director Avi Nesher. Set in 1977, it concerns past events in the dark year of 1939 in Poland.
Nana (Nelly Tagar) and Sephi Milch (Joy Rieger) are the daughters of Holocaust survivor Dr. Barach Milch, now a successful gynecologist in Jerusalem. Older sister Nana works for a racy magazine owned by her husband Jeremy Kotler (Tom Avni), but she dreams of being a novelist.
Sephi has even bolder dreams. Though she is still a student at a musical academy and is a featured soloist in its choir, she dreams of being a composer.
The story begins with a concert in which Sephi is featured. At the reception afterward she spots an attractive German boy. Suddenly she is accosted by an older woman who grabs her and screams “You are the daughter of a murderer!”
The German boy subdues the woman. Sephi is shaken. The boy is Thomas Zielinski (Rafael Stachowiak), already a successful composer. The older woman is his mother (Katarzyna Gniewkonska). Thomas apologizes profusely, and when he returns as a visiting professor, he takes a personal interest in Sephi.
When Nana learns of the incident she becomes determined to get to the bottom of the mystery of whether their father was a blameless survivor or a villain.

It is a complex mystery, entailing trips to Poland and Germany, where Barach Milch had vowed never to return. Unlike many Holocaust-related films, this one has a silver lining, but you have to wait for it. It is worth the wait. Oh, and it is based on a true story.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Salma Hayek Cuts Loose in "Beatrz at Dinner"


Salma Hayek Gives a Performance From the Heart in “Beatriz at Dinner”

By Skip Sheffield

Salma Hayek is one of the sexiest women working in the movie business today. But in “Beatriz at Dinner” she totally deglamorizes herself to play the title character, a Mexican immigrant who has made a living working as a masseuse for the ultra-rich in Southern California.
It is at one of these showplace houses that her car breaks down. Her employer Kathy (Connie Britton) invites her to wait in the house and then goes one further by inviting Beatriz to a dinner party later that evening. Reluctantly Beatriz accepts, much to the chagrin of the lord of the house, Doug Strutt (John Lithgow).
The evening begins well enough, with Beatriz remaining meek, quiet and mild while Doug Strutt shamelessly brags about his business conquests and ruthless tactics. After a few glasses of wine Beatriz gets her courage up. When Doug begins bragging about shooting a rhino in Africa, she explodes, to everyone’s amazement.

It is hard not to think of Donald Trump when considering the vain, arrogant character of Doug Strutt. I suspect that’s what Puerto Rican-born director Miguel Arteta (“Youth in Revolt”) and Southern California writer Mike White (“School of Rock,” “Nacho Libre”) had in mind. This movie is billed as a comedy, but it is not so funny when it uncomfortably resembles our current situation of haves and have-nots. The beauty of it is when Mexican-born Salma Hayek explodes with real passion, speaking for downtrodden immigrants everywhere. I think it is her finest performance, frumpy appearance and all. Right-wingers will not like this film, but “bleeding heart liberals” surely will.

47 Meters Down Pretty Girls in Peril


Pretty Girls in Peril in “47 Meters Down”

By Skip Sheffield

“It’s just like being in a zoo, except you are in the cage,” explains a Mexican beach boy to two pretty American girls he is trying to convince to see sharks up close from the safety of a metal cage hanging by a steel cable.
The movie is “47 Meters Deep,” and it is a real nail-biter. What could go wrong? Just about everything.
For me I had two initial problems. First I like sharks and I have had some close encounters. Second I am highly claustrophobic, so being cooped up in a cage would be torture.
But British writer-director Johannes Roberts knows how to keep an audience on the edge of its seats and make them jump, as he did most recently in 2016 with “The Other Side of the Door.”
Former pop singer Mandy Moore and Australian actress Claire Holt play Lisa and Kate; two sisters who look nothing alike. Dark-haired, brown-eyed Lisa has just been dumped by her boyfriend, so she decides to invite her blond, blue-eyed sister to take his place to a dream vacation to a Mexican resort.
Lisa mopes around at first, but more outgoing Kate convinces her to go out on a night on the town at their seaside resort. There they meet a couple of local guys and begin dancing and kanoodling with them. The next day the guys say they have a friend, Capt. Taylor (Matthew Modine) who has a dive boat and will make them a really good deal- just $100- for the cage diving experience.
The girls should have been a little wary when they were picked up in a rickety rowboat and taken to an even more rickety, age-worn dive ship.
But as in all horror-thrillers, the girls are naïve and trusting. At first their dive is enchanting. Capt. Taylor chums the water with bloody fish guts and they see their first sharks. The cage is just five meters down. Then the winch lets loose and they plummet to the 47 meters of the title. Even for experienced divers that is a long way down; more than 150 feet. At this depth you can’t just pop up to the surface or you will get the bends, or nitrogen narcosis. Suffice it to say the girls endure all manner of peril in their fight to survive. Happily the movie is only 90 minutes long, but in that time Roberts pulls out every trick in the scare book. Mandy Moore proves herself an able screamer and weeper, while Claire Holt isn’t as tough as she thinks she is.
If you enjoy pretty girls in peril, this may interest you. For me, 90 minutes was more than enough

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Beautiful "Beauty and the Beast" at the Wick Theatre


A Beautiful “Beauty and the Beast” at Wick Theatre

By Skip Sheffield

“Beauty and the Beast” goes back, way back to a 1740 French fairy tale.
The Wick Theatre has a thoroughly modern version enhanced with video projections that cuts to the chase. Beauty is beautiful Mallory Newbrough. The Beast is Loren Christopher, a prince cursed by a witch because he turned her away.
This Disney version of “B&B” is highly simplified version for an attention-deficit audience, running through July 9. The score, by Alan Menkin with lyrics by Howard Ashman and Tim Rice, has become quite familiar even if you haven’t seen the stage version or the 1991 Disney animated version on which it is based.
Mallory Newbrough, who was so electrifying as Janis Joplin in the Wick production of “Beehive,” channels her softer, feminine side as Belle, a book-loving girl who lives with her widowed father Maurice (Troy Stanley). Maurice is considered an oddball because of his goofy inventions. Belle is considered odd simply because she loves literature and could not care less about Gaston (Jacob Thompson) the vain town hunk who pursues her relentlessly.
Maurice wanders off into the woods, gets lost, and ends up at the castle of the Beast (Loren Christopher). When Belle tries to free her father, she comes into the clutches of the Beast, who is a sad, lonely and very ugly man.
When the Beast was cursed, so was everyone in his castle. So everyone who was human is turned into a household object. Therefore we have Cogsworth the clock (Kevin Robert Kelly), Lumiere the candelabra (Jonathan Van Dyke), Mrs. Potts the teapot (Angie Radosh) and her son Chip (Alexa Lasanta) and an opera-singing wardrobe (Krystal Bly). Flitting about is Babette (Emily Tarolo), an incurable flirt and temptress to Lumiere.
These characters give the Wick Theatre a chance to show off its costume magic. Combined with ingenious sets by Kelly Tighe and precise lighting by Jose Santiago, “B&B” is the most visually stunning show I have yet seen at The Wick. Its enormous cast includes a half-dozen local high school students who blend quite well thanks to the direction of Dom Ruggiero. Even if you have seen Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast” before, you might want to consider seeing it again for its timeless message that real love overcomes any physical obstacle.
Tickets are $70-$75 adults and $40 children under 13. Call 561-995-2333 or go to www.thewick.org

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

A Girl and Her Dog


Megan Leavey Loved Her Dog Rex.

By Skip Sheffield

Megan Leavey was not just an ordinary dog-lover. She was an upstate New Yorker who found her purpose as a U.S. Marine Corporal. Rex was not just any dog. He was a very aggressive and fearsome German Shepherd who became a bomb-sniffing dog for Marines in Iraq.
“Megan Leavey” is a rah-rah story for dog-lovers and those who support the Iraq War.
Kate Mara plays Megan, based on a real-life character. The year is 2001. Megan is floundering aimlessly. Her divorced mother (Edie Falco) is thinking of marrying a new guy (Will Patton). Megan is the odd person out. On a whim at a local shopping mall she goes to a local USMC recruiter and says sign me up.
Like Goldie Hawn in “Private Benjamin” Megan is an unlikely soldier, but this is not a comedy. A sympathetic Sgt. Gunny Martin (Common) tries to get her into combat shape, but she soon screws up and is punished by being assigned to dog kennel cleanup duty. It is there she meets her destiny: a surly, violent German Shepherd named Rex. Rex is gifted with an extraordinary sense of smell, so he is trained to be a bomb-sniffing dog in the deserts of Iraq.

On one hand Megan and her dog are heroic and self-sacrificing. On the other hand it is hard to romanticize a war so misbegotten, so destructive to both sides with no clear gain either way. “Megan Leavey” and her dog are true heroes, but what happens when they have to go back to civilian life? This movie is directed by Gabriela Cowperthwaite, who made the compassionate documentary “Black Fish.” Its heart is in the right place but I can’t help but feel melancholy about such a pointless, unwinnable war.

"My Cousin Rachel" is a Most Fetching Rachel Weitsz

Rachel Weisz Rules “My Cousin Rachel”

By Skip Sheffield

The choice was between “The Mummy” and “My Cousin Rachel.” I chose “Rachel” because of its star, Rachel Weisz. I have never seen a bad performance from this British-born actress. “Rachel” may be a new benchmark for her. Weisz has a certain look; an exotic beauty, which she uses to good advantage to play Rachel Ashley, a cousin of Philip Ashley (Sam Claflin) a young British nobleman who will come into a ton of money and a beautiful manor house when he turns 25. Philip was orphaned young and adopted by his godfather Nick Kendall (Iain Glen). When Nick Kendall dies suddenly, Philip suspects his young bride Rachel (Weisz) had something to do with it.
The story is based on British mystery master Daphne Du Maurier’s 1951 novel. Du Maurier is better known for “Rebecca” and “The Birds,” but this movie, adopted for the screen by Roger Michell (“Notting Hill”), may prove a boost to her posthumous reputation.
Rachel does not make her appearance until 20 minutes into the film. When she does, Philip, who has been moping about in his magnificent seaside manor house, is intrigued and a little bit frightened. Is this young widow dressed in black truly grieving for her older husband, or does she have designs on the estate and all its riches?

Weisz keeps us guessing. Philip predictably becomes smitten over her. What is in that exotic tea Rachel keeps serving Philip? If you desire an old-fashioned mystery set in stunning beauty in 19th century England and Italy, this is a movie for you. Rachel Weisz is the bonus. You cannot keep your eyes off her.

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Who is Jeremiah Tower? Find out in the movie of the same name.


“Jeremiah Tower:” a Celebrity Chef Uncovered

By Skip Sheffield

Who is Jeremiah Tower?
I had no idea, but evidently he is a big-deal chef credited with much of the New American cuisine.
“Jeremiah Tower” is a documentary by Lydia Tenaglia, who previously directed “Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations.”
Anthony Bourdain I have heard of. I enjoy his globe-trotting gastronomic adventures on PBS. Jeremiah Tower is quite reclusive by comparison.
“I have to stay away from human beings” he says early in the film. After emerging as one of the first celebrity chefs in 1970s California, he retreated from the public eye.
Part of the deal was Tower was a gay man, and sensitive about that. He re-emerged in a most public place: New York City’s Tavern on the Green in November of 2014. Tower was a notorious control freak. Tavern on the Green is a huge operation and major tourist attraction.
Throughout the film major celebrity chefs give their testimony on Tower, starting with Anthony Bourdain and including Mario Batali, Martha Stewart and Samantha Talbot.

If you are a “foodie,” this movie will be of interest. If you are not you may find Tower’s conflicted life story interesting. For this weekend it is showing exclusively at FAU’s Living Room Theaters.

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Gal Gadot is not Just Wonderful, She is Stunning


Let’s Hear It for the Girls

By Skip Sheffield

Gal Gadot may well be one of the most beautiful women in the universe. That’s all you need to know about “Wonder Woman,” which stars the Israeli actress.
Most of “Wonder Woman” is back story, starting with the childhood of Diana, who was raised as an Amazonian princess on an all-female island. Who was her father? Who knows? It doesn’t matter because this is a DC Comics- based story, and logic does not apply.
What does apply is that Diana grows up to inhabit the body of Gal Gadot. In Roman mythology, Diana was goddess of the hunt. In this retelling, she is protector of the universe.
After the prelude, an antique plane crashes into the ocean. It contains one Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) who is dressed in German military uniform, but in reality is an American spy who has infiltrated the ranks. The year is 1918 as World War I is reaching its climax. Diana has no knowledge of the outside world, but she despises war. After she nurses Steve back to health, he convinces her to travel to London, which is under threat of imminent German attack.
This is the fun part of a two-hour-plus movie, with beautiful Diana a fish out of water. With Steve a distinct second banana, she comes in contact with Ludendorff (Danny Huston), a typically maniacal German officer; the disfigured Dr. Maru (Elena Anaya), also known as Dr. Poison, and the sneakiest of the lot, Sir Patrick (David Thewlis).
Along with her beauty, Gal Gadot has admirable physical dexterity. Though she has bullet-proof arm shields and an old-fashioned combat shield, her physical moves, though CG-enhanced, are most impressive.

I thought of my own three daughters when seeing this film. They need a female hero and director (Patty Jenkins), and this movie does the trick.

Friday, May 26, 2017

Johnny & the Pirates in Episode 5


Déjà vu on the High Seas

By Skip Sheffield

Haven’t I seen this movie before? Yes I have actually. “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales” is the fifth in a wildly successful series starring Johnny Depp as pirate Capt. Jack Sparrow. In each installment Depp has worn the same hat and the same heavy dark eye makeup. He also clutches a bottle of booze and rambles around drunkenly. How this guy could captain anything is a mystery, which is the one big gag of this series. Depp has one trademark expression: eyes open wide with a look of astonishment as if he was thinking I can’t believe they pay me to do this.
Well they do, and I am sure it is substantial. The saving grace of this new installment is esteemed Spanish actor Javier Bardem. He plays the dead Capt. Salazar, who roams the seas with an equally dead crew. Their skeleton ship sails equally well above or under water. Also returning is Kevin McNally as Jack’s first mate, Gibbs.
Returning from previous Pirates movies is Geoffrey Rush as onetime foe Capt. Hector Barbosa, who is now buddy with Jack Sparrow. There are two new pretty people; Brenton Thwaites as Henry Turner and Kaya Scodelario as Carina Smyth. Kaya is much more buxom than Keira Knightley, who returns in a pointless cameo with Orlando Bloom.

In all this movie is pretty pointless, noisy and rambling, but who cares? As long as people keep paying money to see Capt. Jack Sparrow, they will keep churning these things out.

Is Chuck Wepner the Real Rocky Balboa?


Is “Chuck” Rocky Balboa?

By Skip Sheffield

My late friend, mentor and surrogate father figure Hal Williams used to say “I abhor fisticuffs.”
I do too, which explains why I don’t like boxing and I was a little leery about seeing “Chuck.” The Chuck of the title is Chuck Wepner, the self-styled boxing champion of New Jersey. Chuck is played by Liev Schreiber, an actor I greatly respect. Schreiber must have packed on some pounds and got into combat shape to portray the man whose biggest claim to fame was going 15 rounds with Muhammad Ali.
“I can take a punch,” boasted Wepner, who was also known as “The Bayonne Bleeder.” Wepner was a semi-celebrity in New Jersey simply because he could take a beating. He was also a white man in a sport dominated by black men. That’s why he was chosen March 23, 1975 to battle heavyweight champion Muhammad Ali (Pooch Hall) by his manager, Al Braverman (Ron Perlman).
What cinched Chuck’s fame was the release of the first “Rocky” film in 1976. Although he denied it, Sylvester Stallone (Morgan Spector) modelled his underdog character of Rocky Balboa on Chuck Wepner. The people of New Jersey regarded Chuck as their hero. As so often happens, fame went to his head. Chuck, who was married to Phyllis (Elizabeth Moss) and had a loving daughter Kimberly (Sadie Sink), started messing around with other women; principally pretty bartender Linda (Naomi Watts) and snorting cocaine.

I still don’t much like boxing, but I did like “Rocky” and I am glad I got to see the back story in “Chuck.”

Monday, May 22, 2017

Marry Me, Please


A “Wedding Plan” at All Costs

By Skip Sheffield

“The Wedding Plan” is to get married at all costs. That’s the bottom line on this Israeli comedy about an ultra-orthodox 32-year-old Jewish woman and her quest to find a groom by the eighth night of Hanukah.
Yes, it helps to be Jewish and orthodox at that to appreciate this comedy, written and directed by Rama Burshstein.
I am neither, but the saving grace of this movie is Noa Koler, as the marriage-minded Michal. She has been dating for ten years, but has yet to find a guy willing to make the commitment.
When her latest fiancé jilts her by saying bluntly “I don’t love you,” Michal undertakes a drastic plan: go ahead with the marriage anyway, groom or no groom. God will find a way, she rationalizes.
So at a cost of 15,000 shekels, Michal books a wedding hall for 200 guests. She already has the white wedding dress.
Michal operates a mobile petting zoo. She must do exceptionally well. For a secular Westerner, the thought is, what’s the big whoop? Noa Koler is so appealing, with big, expressive brown eyes; we tend to root for her.

Hey, it’s another romantic fantasy. We’ll do no spoilers here, except to note love can come from the most unexpected places.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Chekhov Visits Bucks County Pennslyvania


Chekov Spoofed at Delray Beach Playhouse

By Skip Sheffield

Vania, Sonia and Masha are all characters in plays by the great Russian playwright Anton Chekhov. Spike is not.
The Delray Beach Playhouse wraps up its 70th season with “Vania and Sonia and Masha and Spike,” a very clever comedy by American playwright Christopher Durang, running through June 4.
Chekhov is known for his gloom and doom. Characters often sit around complaining, but never do anything to change their situation. Such is the case with Sonia (Marcie Hall) and Vanya (Michael DeGrotta). This may be Marcie Hall's greatest performance ever, as she proves when she morphs into Maggie Smith as the Wicked Queen in a spangly dress.
They live in the Bucks County, Pennsylvania house of their childhood, though Sonia is quick to point out she was adopted.
The duo has a glamorous older sister Masha (Dr. Ann Patrice Casale) who foots the bills, and a soothsayer housekeeper Cassandra (Vicki Klein) who cleans up after everyone.
Spike  (Josh Matheney) is the latest boy-toy of five times married Masha, whose movie career is winding down. Then there is Nina (Danielle Tabino), who is an aspiring actress.  In the play’s funniest bit, Vanya stages a reading of his terrible play about the end of the world, with Nina as a molecule.
Yeah, it sounds kinda crazy, but under the sure direction of Randolph DelLago, every vein of humor is mined. Delray Beach Playhouse stands alone not only as South Florida’s oldest community theater, but as its consistently best.
Tickets are $30, and that’s a bargain. Call 561-272-1281, ext. 4.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Love Your Local Cripple


“The Cripple of Inishmaan” May Win Your Heart

By Skip Sheffield

The witty and wonderful Irish play “The Cripple of Inishmaan” continues through June 4 at Palm Beach Dramaworks, 201 Clematis St., West Palm Beach.
The Irish have a love of language and tall tales. Playwright Martin McDonaugh is the poet laureate of recent plays. Palm Beach Dramaworks staged his “Beauty Queen of Leenane” in 2011.
There is a beauty queen in “Cripple,” though she has no such title. Her name is Helen McCormick and she is played by Adelind Horan in her PB Dramaworks debut. Helen is a feisty red-haired lass and object of affection of the play’s title cripple, Billy Claven.
Adam Petherbridge is also making his Dramaworks debut as Crippled Billy. His performance is nothing short of astounding. Petherbridge turns his right foot out at an impossible 90-degree angle to simulate Billy’s disability. Billy may be crippled, but he is shooting for the stars. A center plot device is his trip to the USA to do a screen test as what else?, a cripple.
Director J. Barry Lewis, at his 34th time at the helm, has called upon an outstanding cast of supporting players, including Elizabeth Dimon and Laura Turnbull as gossiping aunties; Colin McPhillamy as the self-styled town crier; Wesley Slade as Helen’s somewhat dim brother; Jim Ballard as the kindhearted but volatile Babbybobby Bennett; Dennis Creaghan as kindly Dr. McSharry and Harriet Oser as whisky-loving Mammy O’Dougal.
The play is set in the remote Aran Islands in 1934. Scenic artist Rebecca Pancoast and dialect coach Ben Furey lend much to the Irish authenticity. Not a whole lot happens in “The Cripple of Inishmaan,” but it is enough to move your heart.
Tickets are $66. Call 561-514-4042 or go to www.palmbeachdramaworks.org.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Love is "Everythin Everything"


Young Love is “Everything Everything”

By Skip Sheffield

“Everything Everything” is a young adult romantic movie based on the 2015 young adult novel of the same name by Nicola Yoon.
Director Stella Meghie has cast two exceptionally attractive leads: Amandla Stenberg as Maddy Whittier, a 17-year-old girl who has severe combined immunodeficiency (SCID) and is allergic to everything, and Nick Robinson as Olly Bright, the proverbial boy next door.
Maddy has been a virtual prisoner in her own home due to her over-protective mother, Pauline (Anika Noni Rose). Pauline is either a nurse or a doctor. She must be a doctor and a well-paid one at that, because her house is an amazing dream pad in pricey Los Angeles. The house has been customized with sliding glass doors and many windows that enable Maddy to see the world outside.
Believability is not a strong suit of “Everything Everything.” Maddy and Olly, who has an abusive, alcoholic father, establish an e-mail correspondence, and with the secret cooperation of Maddy’s nurse Carla (Ana de la Reguera), they finally meet in Maddy’s house. When Pauline learns her daughter has been secretly meeting the boy next door, she angrily fires Carla and hires a severe nurse Maddy calls Nurse Ratched.
What’s a girl to do? In Maddy’s case it is flee to Hawaii where she enjoys a few idyllic days with Olly. Don’t ask how they afford all this, because this is a romantic fantasy.

There is a plot turn and a final reveal, which we won’t. As a date flick, “Everything Everything” is pretty good for the young and gullible. It’s harmless fizzy fun far removed from the harsh reality of everyday life.

Friday, May 12, 2017

The Lighter Side of Death in Israel


A Comedy About Death?

By Skip Sheffield

“One Week and a Day” is a curious little film from Israel opening May 12 at FAU’s Living Room Theaters, Regal Shadowood and Movies of Delray. Considering our large Jewish population and its warm reception in Israel it may attract an audience looking for something offbeat.
Writer Asaph Polonsky, who also directs, has essentially written a comedy about death. The title refers to the traditional Jewish shiva, or week of mourning. The deceased, Ronnie Spivak, we never meet, but we learn he died young, of cancer.
Eyal Spivak (Shai Avivi), the boy’s father, is not taking his son’s death well. We first see him playing ping-pong with Zooler (Tomer Kapon), a neighbor boy and friend of the deceased. When Zooler’s parents drop by to deliver a salad (friends traditionally drop off food during shiva), Eyal tries to lock them out. Eyal’s wife Vicky (Evgenia Dodina) intervenes and accepts the salad. Later she finds Eyal has thrown it into the garbage can.
Vicky urges Eyal to get on with his life. Eyal seems determined to prolong his mourning. Zooler comes up with an alternate plan. He scores a bag of marijuana and shows Eyal how to roll a joint. Evidently there is good weed in Tel Aviv. Eyal finds great solace in being stoned, and spends the rest of the film in a dope haze. As you can imagine, this causes some practical problems. Eyal and Zooler are an odd comic duo. Shai Avivi is a fine deadpan comic. Tomer Kapon is a puppy-dog foil to a man his father’s age.
The movie takes a serious yet hopeful turn toward the end. As a goy I do not understand all Jewish traditions, but I do know about death and mourning. Because of this I find “One Week and a Day” oddly uplifting.

Writer-director Asaph Polonsky will be present at screenings at 12:30, 3 and 5 p.m. Saturday, May 14 at Movies of Delray and 7 p.m. Saturday at Shadowood. He will also be at Living Room Theaters at 7:20 p.m. Saturday and 11:45 a.m. Sunday, May 15. 

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Warner Bros Hatches a Turkey With "King Arthur"


A Re-booted King Arthur Fights Dazzling Special Effects

By Skip Sheffield

In the various incarnations of King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table, I do not remember a flaming devilish character; nor do I remember giant elephants, slimy snakes or repulsive reptiles.
You will see all of this and more in “King Arthur: Legend of the Sword,” which is a reboot of an English folk story myth that has been around for more than 800 years, ever since Geoffrey of Monmouth committed the legend to parchment.
British-born Guy Ritchie is director of this bombastic spectacle. He also co-wrote the screenplay with a committee of four other writers. He was more effective with his reboot of “Sherlock Holmes” and even more so with his gritty “Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels.”
Like “Kong” so recently, “King Arthur” is short on story but long on ferocious beasties, endless battles and fiery special effects. Charlie Hunnam plays Arthur, who knows nothing of his regal birth after his evil uncle Vortigern (Jude Law) murdered his father and seized the throne of England. Infant Arthur is spirited away and raised in a brothel.
Following Arthur about is The Mage (Astrid Berges-Frisbey), who is a sorceress who goes into trances to bestow super-human powers to Arthur. He is already a super-tough street kid. If we don’t get the point it is hammered in repeatedly as Arthur kicks bad guys’ butts.
The one readily recognizable part of the story is the magical sword Excalibur, embedded deeply in a boulder. As a trial of strength, young men are required to try to yank the stone out of the rock. The losers get to keep their lives. Then along comes Arthur, and with help from eyeball-glowing Mage, the sword is released from its prison. From then on, Arthur is a marked man, as his legend grows.
Jude Law seems to be enjoying himself as a shameless villain with no redeeming qualities. Dijimon Hounsou is strong as Arthur’s allie Bedivere, as is Aiden Gillen as his buddy Bill.

“King Arthur” rambles on for over two hours, with Daniel Pemberton’s music blaring. The finale is a forgone conclusion, yet Ritchie embellishes it with even more over-the-top touches. This movie is a prime example of wretched excess.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Emily Dickinson Harbors "A Quiet Passion"


Emily Dickinson in a “Quiet Passion”

By Skip Sheffield

Why do poets have to die before they are recognized and honored?
Emily Dickinson has only become more celebrated since her death in 1886 at age 55. She was the subject of an award-winning play, “The Belle of Amherst,” brilliantly portrayed by Julie Harris. Now comes “A Quiet Passion,” which is a tour de force by actress Cynthia Nixon.
British director Terrence Davies delves into the soul of America’s most famous female poet. To say Emily did not have it easy is a gross understatement.
“I could not stop for death,” she wrote in one of her later poems. “He kindly stopped for me.” She thought about death a lot.
Emily Dickinson was very shy. You could call her a recluse. Yet she is perhaps the finest female poet America ever produced. She did most of her writing late at night. For that she had to ask permission from her harsh, disapproving father, played by a scarcely recognizable Keith Carradine.
Director Terence Davies (“The Deep Blue Sea”) obviously has great admiration for Emily. He begins with scenes of her as a child (Emma Bell), enrolled in a women’s seminary. The religious life was not for Emily. She was often accused of blasphemy. She was egged on by her very progressive friend Vryling Buffam (Catherine Bailey), who was an early feminist.
“When there is nothing, there is God,” Emily muses. She had an inferiority complex too.
“I am a kangaroo among beauties,” she bemoaned.
Her brother Austin (Duncan Duff) was dismissive of her literary talent. His wife Susan (Jodhi May) sniffed “hers is the literature of misery.”
Emily became afflicted with something called Bright’s Disease, which is incurable and affects the kidneys. In her lifetime she was published only in a small local paper, the Springfield (Mass.) Republican. Her true riches were found in manuscripts discovered after her death- nearly 1,800 poems.

Creative originality is a gift few people have. This movie is of most interest to English majors like me. Others may find it overly long and tedious.

Viewing the Iraq War From "The Wall"


War is Hell By “The Wall”

By Skip Sheffield

“The Wall” hits like a ton of bricks in a literal sense. Two American GIs are trapped behind a wall in Iraq, targeted by an unseen sniper. The tension does not let up for one hour, 21 minutes, which is the length of the movie. Director Doug Liman keeps us on the edge of our seats as sharpshooter Allen “Eyes” Isaac (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) and Staff Sgt. Shane Matthews (former WWE star John Cena) attempt to take out an expert Iraqi sniper in a middle of nowhere desolate desert. The men are huddled behind an ancient, crumbling wall, nervously bantering buddy-buddy small talk. On the other side are several bombed out vehicles. Sgt. Matthews, in a macho maneuver, makes a run to the other side of the wall. He is soon answered by gunfire. One of the bullets makes contact. Immediately a bad situation is made worse.
There is a third, unseen character named Juba (Laith Nakli). He taunts the men in almost perfect English by pretending he is part of a rescue force. In reality he is the hidden Iraqi sniper.
For those of us who opposed our intervention in Iraq over “weapons of mass destruction” that never existed, “The Wall” confirms our worst suspicions.
“The Wall” was written by Dwain Worrell, who wrote the 2015 cop drama “Operator.” Worrell was born in Barbados, but he has a brother who served in the US Army, who provided him some insights. Nicholas Irving, a former US Ranger sniper, served as tech advisor.

Why two soldiers are stranded in the middle of a desert with no support makes no sense. The Iraq War itself makes no sense. If you are looking for mood uplift, this is no movie for you. For the rest of us it is a grim reminder that war is Hell, no matter where it is or for what purpose.

Saturday, May 6, 2017

Israel By The Bite


Get a Taste of Israel

By Skip Sheffield

When I visited Israel for the first and only time in the spring of 2008, the thing that surprised me most was how doggone good the food was.
“In Search of Israeli Cuisine” is about the wonders of food you will find all over Israel.
Israelis are big on fresh, locally produced food. The State of Israel is small; approximately the same size as our State of New Jersey. Ah, but what a wide variety of culinary delights. Much of Israel is desert-like, but they have instituted revolutionary irrigation techniques that literally make the desert bloom.
“Israeli Cuisine” is largely told by Michael Solomonov, who was born in Israel but raised in the USA and runs a restaurant in Philadelphia. Michael’s older brother was killed in combat in Israel. The tension between Palestinian and Jewish Israelites is unavoidable. Yet much of this documentary celebrates the contribution of Arab-Palestinian cuisine.
“Food is not political,” says one of the chefs interviewed. The key to Israeli cuisine is local ingredients, including olive oil, bread, seafood and lemon.

There is probably no person more goy than me; as an obvious northern European, but I bow to the culinary wonders of the Promised Land. If you want to learn more about the delicious delights of Israel, this is a good place to start.

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

"The Dinner" Not Altogether Delicious


The (Endless) Dinner

By Skip Sheffield

Have you ever been to a dinner party you thought would never end? “The Dinner” is one such party. This movie by Oven Moverman, based on a novel by Herman Koch, sports some A-list actors, including Richard Gere, Laura Linney, Steve Coogan, Rebecca Hall and Chloe Sevigny.
The dinner of the title is being held in a high-class restaurant. The movie is divided into segments as you would experience at a fancy dinner. It starts with an Aperitif, in which the couples meet and are served a very expensive wine menu. Then there is the Appetizer, which hints of turmoil to come. Katelyn Lohman (Rebecca Hall) is upset her husband Paul (Steve Coogan) didn’t warn her about the possibly unhinged adopted son of Paul’s brother Stan (Richard Gere).
Michael Lohman (Charlie Plummer) is up to mischief of his own, having pilfered money from his dad’s company.
Paul (Coogan) is a lowly school teacher. His brother Stan (Gere) is a big deal success. The drama continues through the Cheese Course. Stan urges his younger brother to seek psychiatric help. Paul is so upset he is almost thrown out of the restaurant.

During the Digestif course, Stan’s wife Barbara (Sevigny) loses her cool and threatens to leave him. If this weren’t enough, Michael Lohman (Plummer) is up to some malicious mischief involving a smelly homeless woman. Is your appetite whetted yet? “The Dinner” plays very much like a play- a very unpleasant one. It is not one I want to see again.

Friday, April 28, 2017

"Aida" as Told by Disney Through Slow Burn Theatre


All Hail “Aida” at Broward Center

By Skip Sheffield

Slow Burn Theatre Company brings out all the bells and all the whistles for its production of Elton John and Tim Rice’s “Aida” for its season finale, running through May 7 at Broward Center for the Arts.
The qualification of Elton John and Tim Rice is important, because “Aida” bears little resemblance to the opera of the same name by Giuseppe Verdi. This version, written by Linda Woolverton, Robert Falls and David Henry Hwang, was based on a children’s storybook version of the opera, which was acquired by the Walt Disney Company with the aim of creating a stage musical. In short this is a simplified story that boils down to a love story that takes a tragic turn.
The star-crossed lovers are Aida (Khalifa White), a Nubian princess who is captured and forced into slavery in Egypt, and Radames (Stephen Millet), an Egyptian army captain who is engaged to Amneris (Amy Miller Brennan), daughter of the Pharaoh (Matthew Korinko). Slow Burn director-choreographer Patrick Fitzwater had to go to Orlando to find Khalifa White, who is delicately beautiful with a powerhouse soprano.

Amneris is the very definition of spoiled princess whereas Aida is naturally noble. This is a welcome return to the stage for Amy Miller Brennan, who took off time to have a daughter. While her character is not sympathetic, Brennan finds the pathos in the haughty, materialistic princess with a stunning singing voice. In fact she starts the show with “Every Story is a Love Story,” which is a capsule definition of the plot.
Every story needs a villain. In this case it is Zoser (Larry Buzzeo), who is slowly poisoning the Pharaoh for his own gain. Every chorus needs a ringer. Kendra Williams is that person, exciting with her gospel-charged voice.
Viewers may have a sense of “déjà vu” with the music, especially if they have seen “Evita” and “The Lion King,” both of which had lyrics by Rice. Elton John favors show-stopping anthems, which makes this show as much concert as play. “The Gods Love Nubia” is one such anthem. It closes both Act One and Act Two. Close-harmony duets are also big, with “Written in the Stars” sung by Radames and Aida the best of the lot.
The bells are the elaborate sets by Sean McClelland and beautiful costumes by Rick Pena. The whistles are the unseen live band directed by ever-creative Manny Schvartzman. In short “Aida” is grade-A Disney entertainment as interpreted by our own Slow Burn Theatre. Tickets are $47-$60. Call 954-462-0222 or 800-745-3000.

Monday, April 24, 2017

RE-Live the 60s in Color and Black and White in "Beehive"


“Beehive” in Living Color at the Wick Theatre

By Skip Sheffield

Talk about a colorful show; “Beehive” is it, playing through May 14 at the Wick Theatre, 7901 N. Federal Highway, Boca Raton.
“Beehive” is more a musical revue than a full-on musical, directed by Jonathan Van Dyke. However the Wick production has so many bells and whistles, including split-second costume changes by seven enormously talented women, early 60s vintage television set pieces, video screen projections to accompany songs, and an onstage live band on a riser in the back to remind you this is live theater, not a recording.
Agent and producer Larry Gallagher created “Beehive” in the mid-1980s partly in answer to the popular male group revue, “Forever Plaid.” The show covers the decade from the innocent dawn of the 1960s to its turbulent finale amidst Vietnam War protests. The journey is enabled through popular “girl group” songs as well as emerging solo artists.
The show begins cleverly with a giant TV picture back drop with the seven stars of the show appearing in black-and-white as if on a 1960s variety show. A scrim is parted and the women appear in living color, in the first set of Technicolor costumes created by the theater’s own Kimberley Wick. You don’t have to be of a certain age to appreciate the show’s vintage hits, because they have become part of America’s soundtrack. The opening number is one of the few crafted especially for the show. Few people remember the name Shirley Ellis, but almost everyone recognizes her big hit “The Name Game.” This novelty tune serves as introduction to the seven cast members: Sarah Amengual, Amitria Fanae, Kristina Huegel, Shelley Keelor, Trisha Jeffrey, Mallory Newbrough and Leah Sessa. As the show unfolds each woman will reveal a special talent. Trisha Jeffrey is in the spotlight first, but it is with “Academy Award” that Trisha unveils her secret weapon: a thrilling gospel-powered wail that will amaze.
Kristina pays tribute to the late, great Leslie Gore with “It’s My Party” with Shelley, Leah and Mallory.
Amitria honors Motown with “Where Did Our Love Go” followed by “Come See About Me,” with Sarah and Trisha.
Adorable Leah commands the stage with “Walking in the Rain” and a cheeky “My Boyfriend’s Back.”
Shelley reveals her torch singer prowess with Carole King’s “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow,” and she moves effortlessly to pop with “Then He Kissed Me.”
“Beehive Dance” is a one-off number that showcases the dancing talent of the ladies, choreographed by Angela Mordano-Taylor and the director.
In Act Two, Amitria channels Tina Turner with “River Deep Mountain High” and John Fogarty’s “Proud Mary.”
The mood turns more somber with headlines screaming the assassination of John F. Kennedy, then moves to the later 60s with Sarah’s salute to Aretha Frankin’s “Chain Of Fools” and Kristina’s tribute to Grace Slick in “Somebody to Love.”
Out of left field comes Mallory, paying tribute to tortured Janis Joplin, starting with a rafter-shaking “Cry Baby.” I am old enough to have seen Janis live once. By then her voice was ravaged. Mallory’s is not, but she shares Joplin’s passion and despair. It is a show-stopping moment.
“Beehive” has one show-stopping moment after another, finishing with Leah leading the parade with “Make Your Own Kind of Music,” backed by a crack ensemble led by Caryl Fantel. “Beehive” solves no world problems, but it lets you forget them for two hours or so.
Tickets are $75-$80. Call 561-995-2333 or go to www.thewick.org.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Katherine Heigl Gets Her Bitch On in "Unforgettable"


Katherine Heigl Ex-Wife From Hell in “Unforgettable”

By Skip Sheffield

Katherine Heigl is a first-class bitch. That is meant as a compliment.
Her hair bleached a ghostly white, Heigl plays Tessa Connover, the ex-wife from Hell in this movie by producer-turned director Denise Di Novi.
Tessa’s ex-husband David (Geoff Stults in perpetual stubble) has fallen for Julia Banks (Rosario Dawson) and has decided to marry her. Tessa is having none of it. Using her daughter Lily (Isabella Kai Rice) as a pretext, Tessa barges in regularly to her former home to needle and harass her successor. Then she gets really crazy.
Yes, Christina Hobson’s story goes off the deep end when Tessa breaks into David’s house and steals stuff to incriminate Julia. It is fun watching Katherine Heigl’s increasing madness. You just know Julia will finally pop and there will be an ultimate cat fight. “Unforgettable” is so over the top it becomes a comedy. Do real people act this way? Sadly, sometimes yes. Don’t ask me how I know.

Much has been written about how difficult and unlikeable actress Katherine Heigl is. That may well be true, but when she channels it into a screen role, she is a force to be reckoned with. “Unforgettable” is an unapologetically melodramatic film. It also answers the question “Whatever happened to Cheryl Ladd?” She plays Tessa’s mom.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Finding "The Lost City of Z" in the Heart of Darkness


“The Lost City of Z” a Masterpiece in the Jungle

By Skip Sheffield

“The Lost City of Z” sheds light on a legendary British explorer who is otherwise little-known outside of England.
The explorer was Lt. Col. Percy Fawcett, played by Charlie Hunnam.
Fawcett was the very picture of intrepid, fearless explorer. In 1906 the Royal Geographic Society enlisted him to map the uncharted territory bordering Peru, Bolivia and Brazil. Fawcett responded with gusto, earning the approval of the Geographic Society and interesting the world press. In 1911, despite the fact he was happily married to Nina (Sienna Miller) and had two sons, he returned to the jungle with a new sidekick, Henry Costin (Robert Pattinson). In the depths of the jungle, Fawcett found shards of pottery and other clues there may have been an advanced society where “savages” now dwelled.
After volunteering for service for World War I, Fawcett returned to South America with Costin and a wealthy patron, James Murray (Angus Macfeyden). Murray proved no match for the jungle and its hardships. Fawcett sent him packing on his last surviving horse, prompting controversy back in England.
The back story of “The Lost City of Z” is as dramatic as the original. New York writer David Grann became obsessed with the story of Fawcett, who disappeared without a trace in 1925, along with his son Jack (Tom Holland). Grann tried to retrace Fawcett’s route. With additional research he had the basis for a feature he published in New Yorker magazine in 2005. He expanded it into a book in 2009.
Director James Gray caught the fever too, and proposed a shoot in the jungle using 35 mm film rather than digital. Fawcett’s route had been ruined by lumbering and development, but Gray shot in the still-pristine Colombian jungle.

At its core “The Lost City of Z” (the Brits pronounce it “Zed”) is a story about obsession. Obsession can border on madness, but it can accomplish miracles. Joseph Conrad explored such an obsession in “The Heart of Darkness,” set in Africa in 1899. “The Lost City of Z” is a “Heart of Darkness” for our time. It is a gorgeous, old-fashioned epic.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Anyone For Golf?


“Tommy’s Honour” and the Game of Golf

By Skip Sheffield

Like golf?
If you do you may like “Tommy’s Honour,” set in the birthplace of golf, Scotland, in the 19th century.
There are two Tommys in this historical film by Jason Connery: Tom senior (Peter Mullan) and Tommy junior (Jack Lowden).
Tom Morris was one of the originators of golf, but he was reduced to being a greens keeper for the rich men who kept the game going.
Tommy junior was a golf prodigy; a natural. As a boy Tommy was proving his prowess on the golf course enough to attract the attention of Alexander Boothby (Sam Neill), the wealthy, snooty, head of the golf association. Tommy gained national attention when he won the Scottish Open of 1868 with a hole-in-one, no less. Tommy is offered a position as a professional, but his dad thinks he is getting uppity, drinking too much and hanging out with shallow society types.

“Tommy’s Honour” covers his meteoric rise to legendary figure in the game of golf, first winning the Caddies’ Open and then the British Open in 1875. In the process he won the hand of a fair lass, Meg Drinnen (Ophelia Lovibond) who would become his wife at age 23. Tommy's triumph was not without its hardships and a short-lived tragic ending. Tom senior lived on and designed 70 golf courses. Both men have become a part of Scottish folklore that happens to be true. This is their story.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

More Crashes Explosions and Mayhem in "Fate of the Furious"


By Skip Sheffield

Bam! Pow! Screech! Ka-boom!

That’s just about all you need to know about “Fate of the Furious.” This is chapter eight in the continuing saga of illegal street racers, starring Vin Diesel and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson as rival racers who are forced to work together.
Vin Diesel has been with the franchise since its beginning in 2001. He has also been producer of chapters four through eight. A unique fact about this film is that it is the first American film shot on location in Cuba in 50 years. In Chris Morgan’s sixth script, Vin Diesel’s character of Dominic “Dom” Toretto is newly-wed to his longtime girlfriend Letty Ortiz (Michelle Rodriguez). The honeymoon is interrupted when Dom is challenged to a race by a Cuban local. The race seems a mismatch. Dom is in a ramshackle 1950 Chevy versus a souped-up 1956 Ford. Ah, but Dom is resourceful. The franchise is based on amazing car stunts, each one more outrageous than the last. Dom and the CGI-enhanced car stunts never disappoint.
Dom is momentarily distracted from his racing and his honeymoon by a mysterious beautiful woman who coerces him into going in in cahoots with her. Turns out Dom has a son he never knew about, and the woman known only as Cipher (Charlize Theron) has him and his mother imprisoned.
Charlize Theron is one of the most beautiful villains in cinematic history. Her first lieutenant is a red-bearded madman known as Rhodes (Kristopher Hivju). The action shifts to Iceland, where Dom is ordered to steal a suitcase filled with codes for nuclear weapons. Production notes tell me the tech team set up the most spectacular explosion ever filmed in Iceland. I believe it.
In between there is a diversion and yet another spectacular car race on the streets of Manhattan.
Director F. Gary Gray (“Straight Out Of Compton”) has the good sense to punch up the humor in the ridiculously far-fetched script. Dom has an able foil in Luke Hobbs, played by the massive Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. Jason Statham returns for a few yucks as Deckard as do Ludacris and Tyrese Gibson as members of Dom’s merry band.

These F&F yarns always end inconclusively. Producer Diesel has stated there will be two more chapters before the cars go into the garage for good. We can look forward to them in 2018 and 2019. “Fast & Furious” became Universal Pictures most successful franchise of all time by 2015. Why would they kill a good thing?

Friday, April 7, 2017

All Is Not Calm "After The Storm"


See Real Japanese People in “After the Storm”

By Skip Sheffield

We Americans tend to think of Japanese people as orderly, conformist, polite and precise.
Japanese are fallible human beings after all. “After the Storm” captures the misadventures of one such imperfect man.
Shinoda Ryota (Hiroshi Abe) is an underachiever and a screw-up. After an early book success, he still thinks he can make it as a novelist, but meanwhile he is working at a small detective agency and blowing most of his earnings on gambling. Hiroshi Abe is taller than the average Japanese man and quite good-looking. This is a two-edged sword, because he can get by on his charm but he falls short on the followup. It is interesting to note that writer-director Hirokazu Kore-eda originally intended to be a novelist.
Inevitably Ryota has gotten behind in his child support payments and his ex-wife (lovely Yoko Maki) is at the end of her patience. Ryota can only be with his young son (Taiyo Yoshizawa) once a month. Despite a typhoon approaching (the storm of the title) Ryota insists on picking up his son and taking him to his elderly mother’s (Kirin Kiki) humble abode to ride out the storm.
At work Ryota’s boss (Lily Franky) is losing patience with his bright but irresponsible employee. Ryota gets an offer to write for a cheap comic magazine but he refuses, convinced he is destined for better things.
On the fateful night of the typhoon’s landing, Ryota’s ex-wife shows up at her ex mother-in-law’s place. Although she has moved on with another man, Ryota points out they will always be in each other’s life as parents to their son.

Playing at FAU’s Living Room Theaters, “After the Storm” offers a rare glimpse at how ordinary Japanese people live. They are not a whole lot different from you or me.

Sunday, April 2, 2017

ChallengeYour Brain in "Arcadia"


Ponder “Arcadia” Through April 30 at Palm Beach Dramaworks

By Skip Sheffield

Playwright Tom Stoppard is one clever chap… maybe too clever for his own good.
Palm Beach Dramaworks has bravely mounted Stoppard’s Olivier Award-winning “Arcadia” through April 30 at 201 Clematis St., West Palm Beach. This play is complex, dense and sometimes confusing. Yet it has moments of high humor and style to burn.
It helps to have a passing knowledge of how things work in academia. A knowledge of English literature is helpful too, as is a familiarity with England’s class system that persists to this day.
“Arcadia” is set both in 1809-1812 and the present day in an English manor house, beautifully rendered by first-timer Anne Mundell. This can be a bit disorienting, because scenes change from more than two hundred years ago to present day in alternating fashion, except in the final scene when most all the characters appear together.
Costumes (Brian O’Keefe), lighting (Don Thomas) and sound (Steve Shapiro) are of paramount importance in this sensory experience. In some ways the characters are stock Brits, both in the past and the present.
In the past it is the characters of Thomasina Coverly (Caitlin Cohn) and her tutor Septimus Hodge (Ryan Zachary Ward) who are of primary interest. Thomasina at age 13 years and 10 months is both precocious and brilliant. Actress Caitlin Cohn is tiny and appears childlike, but with a resume of more than 25 productions, a membership in Actors’ Equity and Screen Actors Guild and an education at New York University, I’ll wager she is an adult very adept at playing much younger. At any rate she is totally believable as Thomasina, and she works in perfect concert with Ryan Zachary Ward, who realizes he has a prodigy on his hands.
Playing the thankless role of foolish third-rate poet Ezra Chater is Cliff Burgess, who does the fop thing well. James Andreassi is properly pompous as landscape architect Richard Noakes, whose plan to redo the gardens of stately Sidley Park from Classical to Romantic has the lady of the house, Lady Croom (Margery Lowe) in a swivet.
In the 21st century we have imperious Hannah Jarvis (Vanessa Morosco), who is undertaking a definitive history of Sidley Park, but clashes with the pompous, foppish professor Bernard Nightingale (Peter Simon Hilton), who is convinced Ezra Chater was killed in a duel by the renowned Romantic poet, Lord Byron.
In this segment we have another smart girl, Chloe (Arielle Fishman) and her even smarter brother Valentine (Britt Michael Gordon), who is undertaking an exhaustive study of the grouse population of Sidley Park. A younger brother Gus (Casey Butler) is mute.
Listening to the various dissertations and intrigues of the inhabitants of Sidley Park, I was reminded of the relatively modern “chaos theory,” which posits before any intellectual breakthrough there is a moment when the brain goes haywire. I suspect playwright Stoppard is familiar with this theory and he put it to good use in parodying the peccadilloes of Great Britain past and present.
At any rate “Arcadia” is a cerebral adventure with some sensuous delights.
Tickets are $66. Call 561-514-4042, ext. 2 or go to www.palmbeachdramaworks.org.

Friday, March 31, 2017

Love and Lies in "Frantz"


“Frantz” a Lovely, Melancholy Reflection on War, Love and Death

By Skip Sheffield

Ah, the French. They have such a beautiful sense of melancholy.
“Frantz” revels in melancholia. Writer-Director Francois Ozon has set the story, adapted from Ernst Lubitsch’s 1932 anti-war film “Broken Lullaby,” in Germany and France in 1919, just after World War I. Anna (Paula Beer, just 21 and luminous) is a young German woman whose fiancé Frantz Hoffmeister (Anton von Lucke in flashbacks) died in the “War to end all wars.” We see Anna placing flowers on the grave of Frantz. One day a stranger shows up at the cemetery and puts his own flowers on the grave.
He is Adrien (Pierre Niney), a French veteran of the bitter war. Adrien tells Anna Frantz was his best friend before the war tore them apart. He regales her with their times together; in particular a visit to the Louvre in Paris, where Frantz admired a Manet painting with “a young man with his head thrown back.” For this brief episode the black-and-white film becomes color.
The German townspeople don’t take too kindly to Adrien. He is shunned and even spat upon. Dr. Hans Hoffmeister (Ernst Stotzner) refuses to treat him or even let him in his house. Anna, who has no family, lives with Dr. Hans and his wife Magda (Marie Gruber).
“Every Frenchman is my son’s murderer,” Dr. Hans fumes.
Despite the ill will, Anna is intrigued by the handsome, morose Frenchman. Soon her adopted family comes around. But all is not what it seems. Mistruths and outright lies intersect with reality. The Manet painting so admired by Frantz and Adrien is called “The Suicide.” Adrien is not the simple, poor French boy he professed to be.
Enigmatic as well as melancholy, “Frantz” is ultimately hopeful that the wounds of war can be healed. When Anna beholds the Manet painting in color at the Louvre, a young man admiring it remarks, “You like it too?”

“Yes,” Anna says. “It makes me want to live.”

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Love Theater But Hate Shakespeare? "Something Rotten" is for You


Brush up on Your Shakespeare with “Something Rotten”

By Skip Sheffield

“Something Rotten” is a theater geek’s delight. Maybe that’s because it was written by two self-professed theater geeks: brothers Karey and Wayne Kirkpatrick, who wrote the music.
This extremely silly mock Shakespearean spoof runs through April 2 at Broward Center for the Arts. The script, written by Karey Kirkpatrick and John O’Farrell, could make a good trivia contest. How many references to other shows can you identify?
The Kirkpatrick brothers played their stage counterparts, Nick and Nigel Bottom, for the show’s 2015 Broadway debut. Rob McClure and Josh Grisetti, who originated the Bottom brothers in the national touring production, are featured in the Fort Lauderdale show. Adam Pascal, who originated the role of writer-genius Shakespeare, is in this production as well.
The year is 1595 in England, when Shakespeare was at his peak of creativity. The Bottom brothers are struggling in the shadow of Shakespeare, who is portrayed as a strutting rock star by Pascal, who originated the lead role of Roger Davis in the Broadway and London productions of “Rent.”
The brothers’ latest show is “Richard II,” which is completely overshadowed by Shakespeare’s tragedy “Romeo and Juliet.” Furthermore the brothers learn Shakespeare’s next play is “Richard II.” No wonder Nick Bottom is jealous of the towering figure who is considered by many the greatest writer in the English language. This is a comedy- a farce really- so it sets up Nick to sing “God, I Hate Shakespeare.” This is a sentiment shared by many students who consider Shakespeare a pompous bore. Nick enlists the help of Nostradamus (Blake Hammond), a renowned soothsayer, to look into the future and swipe some ideas from Shakespeare. This couldn’t have been the actual Nostradamus, for he died in 1566, but who's counting?
Nick is married to Bea (Maggie Lakis), a thoroughly modern Renaissance woman. Bea dresses as a man so she can get work, since Nick isn’t much of a provider.
Nigel is not married, but he becomes entranced with Portia (Autumn Hurlbert), the daughter of strict Puritan magistrate Brother Jeremiah (Scott Cote). Cote makes comic gold out of Jeremiah’s repressed homosexual tendencies.
“Something Rotten” is a laugh a minute romp, lampooning theatrical conventions. The show’s comic pinnacle is a ridiculous “Omelet: The Musical,” complete with tap-dancing chorus line.
You don’t have to be a Shakespearean scholar to recognize one of the Bard’s most quoted maxims, “To thine own self be true.” The line is from “Hamlet,” but in this case it is the poetic inspiration of Nigel (who has a beautiful tenor voice), which prompts the show’s most endearing number. On the other side of the coin is “Make an omelet,” which is one of the craziest production numbers ever conceived in American musical theater; chockablock with pointed theatrical references.
Any show that can make a production number out of “The Black Death” has to be a flat-out farce. “Something Rotten” is as clever as it is funny, but it helps to have a passing knowledge of theater history to fully appreciate it.
Tickets are $35-$150. Call 954-462-0222 or go to www.browardcenter.org.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Kristen Stewart Gives All To "Personal Shopper"


Kristen Stewart Takes Center Stage in “Personal Shopper”

By Skip Sheffield

See Kristen Stewart as you have never seen her in “Personal Shopper.”
That is known as a grabber. Kristen shows a lot of flesh in “Personal Shopper,” but otherwise this small French indie movie is a baffler.
Stewart previously worked with writer-director Olivier Assayas in “Clouds of Sils of Maria" (2014), with the incomparable Juliet Binoche.
This time Stewart takes center stage as Maureen Cartwright, the personal shopper of the title to Paris fashion model/designer Kyra (Nora von Waldstatten). Kyra gives Maureen a literal blank check to buy high-fashion clothes and expensive jewelry as she flits around the globe.
Maureen prefers dressing in jeans and T-shirts. She gets around Paris on a scooter. Lately she has taken to staying overnight in Kyra’s luxurious apartment and trying on her expensive clothes.
Meanwhile there is a moldering old mansion outside Paris where Maureen and her twin brother Lewis grew up. Lewis died young in that house of a rare heart disease, which also afflicts Maureen. A young couple is considering buying the old place, but they worry it might be haunted. Among her other talents Maureen is a medium in contact with the spirit world. Evidently her spirits can text.
Yes, “Personal Shopper” is a ghost story, but it also is a murder mystery. That mystery is never solved and just left hanging.

In short “Personal Shopper” is hard to categorize. If you believe in ghosts and the afterlife, you may lend more credence to this tale. If you are a skeptic you may wonder what’s the big whoop? The one thing on which I think we can all agree is that Kristen Stewart gives her all for this role.