Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Let's Hear It for Old Guys

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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

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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

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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"

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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

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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 na├»ve 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

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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

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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

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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.

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“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.