“Boo! A Madea Halloween”

Susan Granger’s review of “Boo! A Madea Halloween” (Lionsgate)


Multimillionaire filmmaker Tyler Perry gets points for timeliness on this holiday-themed comedy, released three years after 2013’s “A Madea Christmas.”

Once again, Perry plays the titular Mabel “Madea” Simmons, a wisecracking, cantankerous grandmother. Perry also plays Madea’s brother/longtime foil, Uncle Joe, along with Brian Simmons, Madea’s nephew/Joe’s mild-mannered son.

The villains are sassy, disrespectful teenagers – typified by Brian’s feisty 17 year-old daughter, Tiffany (Diamond Webb), who talks back to her father when he tells her that he has to work on Halloween so she should remain at home with relatives.

With Madea left in charge, Tiffany and her nervous pal Aday (Liza Koshy) concoct a story about how their house is haunted by a homicidal maniac named Mr. Wilson and the bedrooms are only safe places.

Hovering around are Betty Ann “Aunt Bam” Murphy (Cassie Davis), Madea’s candy-stealing, medical marijuana-card toting cousin, and lusty, lisping Hattie Mae Love (Patrice Lovely), as a Simmons family friend.

After Tiffany and Aday sneak off to a forbidden party at Upsilon Theta fraternity, Madea realizes that they’ve stuffed pillows under their blankets to fool her. That unleashes frumpy Madea’s wrath, not to mention her bodice.

Which arouses the ire of hard-partying pranksters behaving like zombies and demented clowns, furious that their merrymaking got shut down.

After several eerie, supernatural encounters, tough-talking Madea seeks shelter in a church, where she repents her sins, specifically being a “ho” and spending “time on the pole.”

Writer/director/actor/producer Tyler Perry claims the Madea character is based on his own mother and aunt and says the idea for this project originated as a gag in Chris Rock’s “Top Five” (2014).

It’s the eighth in the low-budget Madea series and only the second that wasn’t adapted from a stage play. In an obvious nod to the YouTube audience, Perry features several social media stars, including Tyga (as himself).

On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “Boo! A Madea Halloween” is a frightful 4, filled with vulgar slapstick and a mockery of child abuse disguised as “a good whuppin’.”



“Ouija: Origin of Evil”

Susan Granger’s review of “Ouija: Origin of Evil” (Universal Pictures)


I’ve always been fascinated by the Ouija Board. For the past century, this creepy board game, manufactured by Hasbro, has intrigued players around the world.

Its popularity rose sharply after America’s Civil War, since families lost so many loved ones in battle, many of whom remained unidentified. Using the Ouija Board, grieving relatives often gathered in the parlor to consult the ‘spirits’ for reassurance.

But there’s also been a fear that using the device could lead to demonic possession, which led to admonitions for users, like never play alone, never play in a graveyard or where a terrible death has occurred, and never bid ‘goodbye’ to the entity with whom you are in contact.

So it’s altogether appropriate that a timely Halloween movie revolves around this supernatural concept.

Set as a prequel to “Ouija” (2014), the story revolves around California’s Zander family back in 1967.

Lonely, widowed Alice (Elizabeth Reaser) – a.k.a. “Madame Zander” – runs a fake medium business – creating séances with help from her daughters, 14 year-old Paulina (Annalise Basso) and 9 year-old Doris (Lulu Wilson), who simulate connections with a netherworld.

When Paulina discovers the Ouija Board at a neighborhood party, Alice buys one, thinking it will enhance her sessions. Problem is: young Doris becomes haunted by some malevolent Polish-speaking entity (Doug Jones) that turns out to be a Nazi doctor.

Predictably, Alice realizes that it’s time to summon a priest. In this case, it’s the principal of Doris’s parochial school, Father Tom (Henry Thomas), a widower who joined the seminary after his wife died.

Working with co-writer Jeff Howard and cinematographer Michael Fimognari, writer/director Mike Flanagan (“Oculus,” “Hush”) embraces the time frame wholeheartedly, utilizing the nostalgic Universal logo and old-fashioned place-card, giving these characters creditable backstories and, eventually, establishing a connection to the previous installment.

FYI: Ouija Boards have figured in other horror movies like “The Exorcist” (1973) and “Witchboard” (1986).

On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “Ouija: Origin of Evil” is a spooky 6 – for those who enjoy being scared.



“Keeping Up With the Joneses”

Susan Granger’s review of “Keeping Up With the Joneses” (20th Century-Fox)


“Dying is easy. Comedy is difficult.”

Just after Jeff and Karen Gaffney (Zach Galifianakis, Isla Fisher) pack their children off for summer camp, mysterious new neighbors move into a house in their secluded cul-de-sac in an Atlanta suburb.

They’re Tim and Natalie Jones (Jon Hamm, Gal Gadot). He claims to be a travel writer, a master of many languages who blows glass for a hobby; she’s an Israeli social-media consultant, enmeshed in food blogging and charity work.

But it’s obvious from the get-go that the glamorous, sophisticated Joneses aren’t who they pretend to be.

So Jeff, who works as a Human Resources counselor at MBI, an aerospace defense corporation, and Karen, who dabbles as a home-design consultant, are determined to unmask their real identities.

That involves suspicious Karen following Natalie to the mall on a lesbian-tinged, lingerie-buying mission – and amiable Jeff lunching with Tim, attempting to bond at a secret, underground Chinese restaurant that specializes in serving live snakes.

Once it’s established that the Joneses are, indeed, covert operatives, the wannabe satirical action/spy caper goes nowhere at a tedious pace.

Formulaically scripted by Michael LeSieur (“You, Me and Dupree”) – with only one topical joke, involving Caitlyn/Bruce Jenner – and lethargically directed by Greg Mottola (“Adventureland,” “Superbad”), it’s a dud.

Zach Galifianakis (“The Hangover”) aces dorky, while Isla Fisher (“Wedding Crashers”) remains perky. But roguish Jon Hamm (TV’s “Mad Men”) and statuesque Gal Gadot (“Wonder Woman”) seem to be in another film entirely, never really connecting to their nosy neighbors, the flaccid plot or supporting players like Patton Oswalt and Matt Walsh.

On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “Keeping Up With the Joneses” is a tepid, tedious 3. Don’t bother.



“Jack Reacher: Never Go Back”

Susan Granger’s review of “Jack Reacher: Never Go Back” (Paramount Pictures/Skydance)


Full Disclosure: My son, Don Granger, produced this film.

When British novelist Lee Child’s stoic hero, ex-Military Police Major Jack Reacher (Tom Cruise), learns that Army Maj. Susan Turner (Cobie Smulders), who heads his old investigative unit, has been arrested for espionage, causing the death of two US soldiers in Afghanistan, he knows she’s innocent.

But trying to prove that is another matter. When he appeals to a Judge Advocate in Washington D.C., Reacher discovers a paternity claim against him, revealing that he may have a delinquent teenage daughter, Samantha (Danika Yarosh).

Basically a lone wolf, a laconic, hitchhiking vigilante who lives off-the-grid, Reacher must work with Susan Turner, whom he breaks out of a high-tech military prison, and rebellious Samantha to unravel a nefarious government conspiracy, involving a sneering contractor (Patrick Heusinger) and smarmy General Harkness (Robert Knepper).

Reacher’s search for a mysterious munitions supplier called Parasource takes them to New Orleans, where there’s a climactic rooftop chase, high above a Halloween parade in the French Quarter.

Adrenaline-propelled Cruise is renowned for doing his own stunts – and he doesn’t disappoint, particularly when he uses a salt shaker to punch through a car window.

Adapted by Richard Wenk, Marshall Herskovitz and director Edward Zwick from the 18th of Child’s “Jack Reacher” books, this crime thriller introduces two kick-ass women. Formidable Maj. Susan Turner proves she can fight in fierce, hand-to-hand combat alongside muscular Reacher, while resourceful Samantha turns out to be a quick learner.

Like Cruise, sinewy Cobie Smulders did her own stunts, catapulting her alongside Cruise’s previous cohorts Rebecca Ferguson (“Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation”) and Emily Blunt (“Edge of Tomorrow”).

FYI: In the first “Jack Reacher” (2012), author Lee Child was a police officer; this time, he’s a TSA agent, scanning Reacher’s ID. “A theme is developing,” he notes. “I’m always in uniform, and I’m always somewhat suspicious of what’s going on with Cruise.”

On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “Jack Reacher: Never Go Back” is a gritty, suspenseful 7, filled with intense action.




Susan Granger’s review of “Heisenberg” (Manhattan Theatre Club/Samuel J. Friedman Theatre: 10/16)


After stunning audiences with 2015’s Tony-winning adaptation of “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time,” British playwright Simon Stephens is back with this two-hander about a disparate couple who meet in a London train station.

The title, subtly referring to German physicist Werner Heisenberg’s “uncertainty principle” in quantum physics, reflects the randomness of their acquaintance.

Georgie Burns (Mary-Louise Parker) is a loquacious, profane, 42 year-old free-spirit who latches onto imperturbable, 75 year-old Alex Priest (Denis Arndt), an uptight, antisocial butcher.

After that impetuous first encounter, Georgie unexpectedly shows up at Alex’s butcher shop, determined to develop a sexual relationship with him. Which happens shortly afterward.

“Do you find me exhausting but captivating?” she inquires. The answer is obviously, “Yes.”

As their backstories are revealed, we learn that Georgie, an American, has an estranged son, who seems to have taken off for New Jersey, where the final segment of the drama takes place.

Years ago, in an interview, Mary-Louise Parker, who often plays loud, talkative women, said, “I don’t really ever think about whether or not I like the characters I’m playing. I’m more into the minutiae of their behavior or what they’re doing in a certain scene.”

Which explains how Parker overcomes Georgie’s volatile, inherently annoying demeanor to make this role captivating, particularly in contrast with Arndt’s reclusive Irish bachelor, who lives in a large house, holding imaginary conversations with his sister who died when he was a child.

Mark Brokaw’s astute direction is enhanced by Mark Wendland’s minimalist set, Austin R. Smith’s lighting, David Van Tiegham’s sound and Michael Krass’s costumes.

In a bizarre configuration, some audience members are seated in bleachers on-stage, leaving only a narrow strip on which the actors emote. The usher told me that those seats are deeply discounted but, if you’re concerned about being ‘on display’ for 80 minutes with no intermission, it might be wise to ask before purchasing.

“Wild Oats”

Susan Granger’s review of “Wild Oats” (The Weinstein Company/Anchor Bay Entertainment)


Eva (Shirley MacLaine) is a retired 10th grade social studies teacher who, when her husband dies, accidentally receives a $5 million check from his life insurance policy, instead of the $50,000 that she expected.

Her first impulse is to return it, but then her best friend Maddie (Jessica Lange), whose husband has just left her for his young secretary, suggests that she endorse and deposit the check immediately so they travel to an exotic place and have some well-deserved fun.

As soon as the check clears, Eva and Maddie take off for Las Palmas de Grand Canaria in the Spanish Canary Islands, where they happily settle into the posh Presidential Suite, ready to pamper themselves with food, drink and extravagant resort clothes.

To their delight, Chandler (Billy Connolly), a rather mysterious Scottish businessman, takes an immediate liking to Eva, while adventurous Maddie catches the eye of twentysomething Chip (Jay Hayden).

Back home, realizing their error, the insurance company dispatches Vespucci (Howard Hesseman), a ready-to-retire agent, to try to retrieve their money.  Arriving at Eva’s house, he encounters her disbelieving daughter Crystal (Demi Moore) who agrees to go with him to Grand Canaria.

Meanwhile, Eva and Maddie realize that they’ve been conned by Chandler, who is working for Carlos (Santiago Segura), the local wine baron.

Playing off one another, Shirley MacLaine (“Postcards From the Edge”) and Jessica Lange (TV’s “American Horror Story”) are believable as close friends, but MacLaine seems far more comfortable with comedy than Lange.

Basically, these veteran actresses deserve better material than this predictable, cliché-riddled script by Gary Kanew and Claudia Myers, superficially directed by Andy Tennant.

FYI: Sarah Jessica Parker was originally supposed to play Crystal; she was replaced by Demi Moore.

On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “Wild Oats” is a flaccid 4, well suited for the Lifetime Channel on which it premiere’d.



“The Accountant”

Susan Granger’s review of “The Accountant” (Warner Bros.)


Admittedly, screenwriter Bill Dubuque’s original concept is potentially intriguing: an enigmatic mathematical savant becomes an underworld bookkeeper/assassin.

When we first meet Christian Wolff, he’s a troubled youngster, working on a jigsaw puzzle. Rather than cater to his autism/Asperger’s diagnosis, his sadistic, domineering military father (Robert Treveiler) forces him to confront it, training him in martial arts combat and survival skills, bizarrely shifting his developmental disorder from a liability into an asset.

As a result, now-adult Wolff (Ben Affleck) launders money for various criminal organizations, deftly disguising himself as a mild-mannered CPA with a nondescript office in rural Illinois strip mall.  Socially awkward, he’s a loner who finds solace in routine and ritual.

Ostensibly dwelling in a suburban tract house, Wolff keeps his valuables – original paintings by Renoir and Jackson Pollock, along with cash and an armory of weapons – in an old Airstream trailer, hidden in storage locker.

But soon-to-retire U.S. Treasury Agent Raymond King (J.K. Simmons) is determined to unmask the mysterious accountant, enlisting the help of Marybeth Medina (Cynthia Addai-Robinson), a savvy financial Analyst whose dogged determination is propelled by a need to hide her own felonious past.

Their paths cross when Wolff’s hired to balance the books by robotics CEO Lamar Blackburn (John Lithgow) after his company’s over-eager accounting clerk Dana Cummings (Anna Kendrick) discovers a discrepancy involving millions of dollars – which makes Wolff a target for brawny Braxton (Jon Bernthal), a hired killer.

Unfortunately, as the cryptic, character-driven saga unfolds, via numerous flashbacks, it becomes increasingly complicated, as director Gavin O’Connor, cinematographer Seamus McGarvey and editor Richard Pearson seemingly disregard several pretentious subplot distractions to chronicle the violent carnage.

On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “The Accountant” is a fragmented 5. It doesn’t add up.



“American Honey”

Susan Granger’s review of “American Honey” (A24)


British filmmaker Andrea Arnold finds cinematic inspiration in a group of young American drifters, those tattered, tattooed, often defiant, yet seemingly aimless teenagers that lurk around places like Walmart.

One of them is abused, 18 year-old Star (Sasha Lane) who deposits her two younger half-siblings in the care of their disaffected mother before blasting out of Muskogee, Oklahoma, with a group of hard-partying rowdies who drift around in a white van, hustling questionable magazine subscriptions.

Catching her eye, charismatic Jake (Shia LaBeouf) is the alpha male, who explains, “We don’t only sell magazines. We explore America.”

He travels separately in a convertible with “mean girl” Krystal (Riley Keough, Elvis Presley’s granddaughter), who manages the eclectic, almost-feral crew: Corey (McCaul Lombardi), a surfer-dude who whips out his penis for kicks, and “Star Wars”-obsessed Pagan (Arielle Holmes).

In perhaps the most strange, yet memorable scene, Star courts danger, taking off with three wealthy, middle-aged Texans, wearing white Stetsons, in their fancy car to rake in some quick cash.

Like her Oscar-winning short “Wasp” (2003) and “Fish Tank” (2009), writer/director Andrea Arnold works closely with cinematographer Robbie Ryan to create a Diane Arbus-like, cinema-verite atmosphere, displaying a somewhat disconcerting fixation on bugs.

For two hours and 42-minutes, Arnold focuses on these disaffected misfits, traveling through the Midwestern heartland, taking the title from a song by Lady Antebellum and featuring singalongs with Rihanna and Ludacris.

Discovered by Andrea Arnold on a beach, Texan newcomer Sasha Lane exudes sexuality, eager to viscerally explore all of her senses and experience intoxicating sensations, while Shia LaBeouf personifies the sleazy, hotheaded con artist who will, inevitably, disappoint.

On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “American Honey” is a subtly scrappy 6, a rambling, often repetitive road picture depicting a slice of Americana.


“Holiday Inn”

Susan Granger’s review of “Holiday Inn” (Roundabout Theater/Studio 54: Oct., 2016)


Unseasonably early but definitely most welcome, this “new” Irving Berlin musical is the stage adaptation of the lighthearted 1942 movie, starring Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire, with a revised book by director Gordon Greenberg and Chad Hodges, costumes by Alejo Vietti, and choreography by Denis Jones.

Set in 1946, the crooner Jim Hardy is played by Bryce Pinkham, while Corbin Bleu is Ted Hanover, the dancer. They do a nightclub turn with vampy, mercurial Lila Dixon (Megan Sikora).

But the act folds when Jim buys a farm in rural Connecticut, which – with a scrappy, wisecracking handywoman (Megan Lawrence) and sweet soprano schoolmarm (Lora Lee Gayer) – he turns into an Inn that’s open only on holidays.

In addition, Lee Wilkof, as their talent agent, and Morgan Geo, as a delivery boy, give comic support.

Beginning with New Year’s Eve (“Let’s Start the New Year Right”), there are lavish seasonal celebrations: Easter (“Easter Parade”), Fourth of July (“Let’s Say It With Firecrackers”/”Song of Freedom”), Thanksgiving (“I’ve Got Plenty To Be Thankful For”) and Christmas (“White Christmas”).

Plus Berlin songbook classics like “Heat Wave,” “Shaking the Blues Away,” “Stepping Out With My Baby,” “Cheek to Cheek,” “You’re Easy to Dance With,” “Blue Skies,” etc.

Curiously, with all the recognizable Irving Berlin tunes, the one I found myself humming afterwards is “Be Careful, It’s My Heart,” his homage to Valentine’s Day.

Delving into the Berlin archives, most people don’t realize that his firstborn and only son died on December 25, 1928, long before he wrote the poignant “White Christmas,” which won the Oscar for Best Song. As the best-selling single of all time, it was toppled in 1997 by Elton John’s “Candle in the Wind” tribute to England’s Princess Diana.  And “Blue Skies” is said to have commemorated the birth of Berlin’s first daughter, Mary Ellin Berlin Barrett, who wrote a 1994 memoir about her father.

FYI: In a remake, “White Christmas” (1954), Crosby teamed up with Danny Kaye, Rosemary Clooney and Vera-Ellen.

Filled with timeless, feel-good fun, the Roundabout’s nostalgic “Holiday Inn” is simply joyous!


“Meteor Shower”

Susan Granger’s review of “Meteor Shower” (Long Wharf Theater: Oct., 2016)


Once known as the “wild and crazy guy,” Steve Martin’s sensibility hasn’t changed, judging from his new, outrageously quirky comedy about love and marriage, life and death.

Set in 1993, it revolves around an upwardly mobile, agonizingly self-aware married couple – Norm (Patrick Breen) and Corky (Arden Myrin) – who are expecting guests, Gerald (Josh Stamberg) and Laura (Sophina Brown), to view an upcoming meteor shower from the patio of their suburban home in Ojai, California.

Designer Norm invited Gerald, hoping that it might lead to new business, but it quickly becomes apparent that garrulous Gerald and his passive-aggressive wife Laura have their own playful agenda. They enjoy using sexual temptation and psychological ploys to manipulate people for their own selfish amusement.

Although steadfast in their New Age marriage, Norm and Corky seem, at first, to be vulnerable but then the fiery stars seem to align with destiny in their favor. But one never knows – for sure – because Martin presents so many bizarre possibilities in this alternative universe.

The edgy, underlying menace is playfully directed by Gordon Edelstein on Michael Yeargen’s stylish turntable set. And there’s lots of audience laughter although, admittedly, many weren’t quite sure what was going on – since it veers toward caustic, cosmic confusion.

As playwright Steve Martin’s gently earnest Everyman, Patrick Breen strives for normalcy, which serves as wordplay on his character’s name, perfectly paired with Arden Myrin, whose overly-sensitive, often delirious character suffers from “brain explosions,” presumably caused by youthful cannibalism.

Completing the quartet, Josh Stamberg is mucho macho as obnoxious Gerard, well-matched with overtly sexy, slinky Sophina Brown as the femme fatale.

Crowd-pleasing “Meteor Shower” plays at New Haven’s Long Wharf Theater through Oct. 23, 2016. For tickets, visit www.longwharf.org or call the box-office at 203-787-4282.