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“Dunkirk”

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

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W.W.II’s Miracle of Dunkirk has never been addressed in American cinema. It details the epic rescue of 338,000 Allied troops from the beaches of Dunkirk, France: the biggest evacuation in military history.

From May 27 to June 4, 1940, the Allies were surrounded on all sides by German forces (never named, just referred to as “the enemy”), while the Luftwaffe repeatedly buzzed and bombarded the beaches.

Since the water was too shallow for destroyers to get close to the beach, brave British civilians volunteered to cross the English Channel in everything from fishing boats to barges to retrieve the troops – while under constant bombardment.

Filmmaker Christopher Nolan (the “Dark Knight” trilogy, “Inception,” “Interstellar”) tells the suspenseful survival story from three meticulously interwoven perspectives, based on fictional characters.

The terrified men on the beach are personified by Tommy (Fionn Whitehead), who joins a fellow soldier (Aneurin Barnard) and an infantryman (Harry Styles) in a desperate fight to make it off the mole, an eight-foot-wide pier that’s overseen by Naval Commander Bolton (Kenneth Branagh).

There’s the aerial perspective of Farrier (Tom Hardy), a senior RAF Spitfire fighter pilot who has only one hour to take out Nazi planes and provide cover for the men on the ground and in the water.

Sailing from England, there’s a small, wooden yacht, resolutely piloted by Mr. Dawson (Mark Rylance) with his teenage son Peter (Tom Glynn-Carney) and tagalong pal George (Barry Keoighan). En route, they save a shivering, shell-shocked soldier (Cillian Murphy) from a torpedoed ship.

Utilizing minimal dialogue and eliminating backstory, Nolan relies on cinematographer Hoyte van Hoytema’s visual imagery, Hans Zimmer’s music and primal sound to propel the visceral drama.

Since Nolan shot with IMAX cameras, try to see “Dunkirk” on a six-story IMAX screen. It’s like virtual reality without the headset.

FYI: Pop heartthrob Harry Styles of the beloved boy band One Direction makes an auspicious acting debut. Because of his presence, his devoted fans around the world will get a much-needed history lesson.

On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “Dunkirk” is a taut, tension-filled 10 – the most intense, immersive war story since “Saving Private Ryan.”

10

“Wish Upon”

Susan Granger’s review of “Wish Upon” (Broad Green Pictures/Orion Pictures)

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One doesn’t often see horror pictures released in the middle of summer, but perhaps filmmakers figured that this $12 million supernatural thriller might turn a profit even before its DVD release in the fall.

Still traumatized by the suicide of her mother (Elizabeth Rohm) when she was a youngster, 17 year-old Clare Shannon (Joey King), along with her friends Meredith McNeil (Sydney Park) and June Acosta (Shannon Purser), is having a tough time in high school.

So when her dumpster-diving dad, Jonathan (Ryan Phillippe), gives her an old, octagonal Chinese music box with an inscription that promises to grant its owner’s seven wishes, she’s intrigued.

Clare’s first wish is that her nasty nemesis, Darcie Chapman (Josephine Langford), would “just go rot.” Sure enough, the next day, mean girl Darcie develops a ghoulish necrotizing fasciitis. Then one of her acquaintances inexplicably dies.

Predictably, Clare goes on to wish for a large inheritance, instant popularity and the affection of a hunky jock, Paul Middlebrook (Mitchell Slaggert), as gruesome deaths mysteriously mount up.

Eventually, Clare asks a nerdy admirer named Ryan Hui (Ki Hong Lee) and then his cousin (Alice Lee) to decipher the Mandarin lettering on the malevolent box. That’s when Clare realizes that her selfish wishes are actually killing people.

Scripted by Barbara Marshall (“Viral”) and directed by longtime cinematographer John R. Leonetti (“Annabelle”), it’s a simplistic adaptation of W.W. Jacobs’ 1902 story “The Monkey’s Paw,” in which a cursed artifact gives its owner three wishes, each of which exacts a dreadful punishment.

On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “Wish Upon” is a twisted 3, proving there’s always a price to be paid.

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“An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power”

Susan Granger’s review of “An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power” (Actual Films/Participant Media/Paramount Pictures)

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Not long after President Donald Trump announced that the United States would withdraw from the historic 2015 Paris Climate Agreement, a crack in Antarctica’s ice shelf caused a 1.1-trillion-ton block of ice to calve, forming a colossal iceberg which is already breaking into huge chunks.

Couple that with the increasing threat of mega-fires, worsening floods, deeper droughts and worldwide temperatures hitting a record high for the third year in a row. So to call this documentary follow-up to 2006’s Oscar-winning “An Inconvenient Truth” timely is an understatement.

Former Vice-President and Nobel Peace Prize-recipient Al Gore updates his observations with advances in climate science, encompassing enlightened global energy policies and the latest in technology.

“Mother Nature is telling us, and people are noticing it,” Gore maintains.

According to Gore, global warming is the most threatening part of our ecological crisis because the thin shell of atmosphere surrounding our planet is the most vulnerable part of the Earth’s system.

More than increasing population and advanced technology, the one factor that may determine Earth’s future is our way of thinking and the values on which we base the decisions we make.

As the late economist Rudi Dornbusch observed, “Things take longer to happen than you think they will, and then they happen faster than you thought they would.”

Because of that, Gore believes that President Trump’s decision to leave the Agreement has isolated the United States in the world community – with China trying to step in to assume a leadership role.

Gore points out that the real risk is that other countries will retaliate by trading among themselves as they create advances in solar and wind energy. And they have the legal right to place barriers on U.S. products that contribute to carbon pollution.

On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power” is an effective, impassioned 6, as environmentally-conscious citizens and their governments struggle to cope with consequential challenges.

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“The Big Sick”

Susan Granger’s review of “The Big Sick” (Amazon Studios/Lionsgate)

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With comic book adaptations and animation crowding the multiplexes, this surprisingly witty, sweet-natured romantic comedy is a welcome change.

Based on the real-life courtship between Kumail Nanjiani and his wife Emily V. Gordon, it relates how a struggling Pakistani/American comedian (Nanjiani) in Chicago connects with flirtatious grad student Emily (Zoe Kazan), as what they both thought was a one-night stand develops into a real relationship.

Kumail’s devoutly Muslim family expects him to enter into a traditional, arranged marriage with an eligible Pakistani woman. So he avoids telling them about his growing affection for Emily because he knows his parents would disown him if he married a Caucasian.

It’s the classic dilemma of a trying-to-assimilate, second-generation immigrant caught between two worlds, and Kumail’s cross-cultural deception leads to their eventual breakup.

But when Emily develops a mysterious infection and is placed in a medically induced coma, distraught Kumail rushes to the hospital and steadfastly stays by her side.

That’s where he meets her frazzled parents, Terry and Beth (Ray Romano, Holly Hunter), who are wary of Emily’s ex-boyfriend hovering around during their family vigil, particularly since they’re having their own marital issues.

Scripted by Emily V. Gordon and Kumail Nanjiani (best known as the downtrodden computer programmer on HBO’s “Silicon Valley”) who pick the scabs off painful themes, it’s adroitly directed by Michael Showalter (“Hello, My Name is Doris”), showcasing Kumail’s sardonic comic timing.

What makes it extraordinary is the detailed delineation of each character, including Kumail’s family (Anupam Kher, Zenobia Shroff, Adeel Akhtar, Shenaz Treasury) and his comedy club buddies (Bo Burnham, Jurt Braunohler, Aidy Bryant).

On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “The Big Sick” is an endearing 8. Kumail describes this crowd-pleasing date movie as “a romantic coma-dy.”

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“Despicable Me 3″

Susan Granger’s review of “Despicable Me 3” (Universal Pictures)

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Gru and his mischievous yellow Minions have conquered the Chinese box-office! According to China’s tracking company Entgroup, this third installment opened as the biggest animated hit in that country’s cinematic history.

The story follows former bad-guy-turned-secret agent Gru (Steve Carell) and his fellow agent wife Lucy Wilde (Kristen Wiig), along with their three adopted daughters – maturing Margo, unicorn-obsessed Agnes and playful Edith – who travel to Freedonia to meets his long-lost, ostentatiously wealthy twin brother, Dru (also voiced by Carell), who wants Gru to return to villany.

Having been unceremoniously fired by the new Anti-Villain League boss (Jenny Slate) and deserted by his sinister Minions, reformed Gru and clumsy Dru take on Balthazar ‘Evil’ Bratt (Trey Parker).

Bratt is a resentful ‘80s-obsessed child TV star-turned-diamond thief, who has a sassy robot on-call, a trusty keyboard guitar, a penchant for Rubik’s Cube and a fervent desire to destroy Hollywood. Tossing bubble-gum bombs, Bratt endlessly repeats his tagline: “I’ve been a baaaad boy!”

Too bad that most of this is in the theatrical trailer.

Franchise screenwriters Ken Daurio and Cinco Paul, working with co-directors Kyle Balda and Pierre Coffin (who also voices the babbling, nonsensical Minions), maintain a frantic, if disjointed pace, filled with inoffensive jokes and colorful sight gags.

‘Back in 2015, Coffin confirmed that the Minions, clad in goggles and dungarees, are all male, noting, “Seeing how dumb and stupid they often are, I just couldn’t imagine the Minions being girls.”

FYI: Julie Andrews vocalizes Gru and Dru’s rotten mother Marlene, while Trey Parker is better known as the co-creator of TV’s “South Park.”

On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “Despicable Me 3” is a silly 6, leading audiences to expect more innocuous sequels in the future.

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“The House”

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

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A strong contender for the Worst Picture of the Year, this new Will Ferrell/Amy Poehler comedy fails on almost every level.

In suburban Fox Meadow, Scott (Farrell) and Kate (Poehler) Johansen are justifiably proud of their accomplished daughter Alex (Ryan Simpkins), who just got into Bucknell, the college of her choice, earning a full, town-funded scholarship.

Problem is: sneaky Bob (Nick Kroll), the corrupt Councilman, decides to divert the designated funds to build an elaborate municipal swimming pool, leaving no money for Alex. Since neither Scott nor Kate ever thought about saving for their daughter’s education, they’re panicked.

But their best friend Frank (Jason Mantzoukas), whose estranged wife (Michaela Watkins) dumped him because of his gambling addiction, comes up with what they think is a brilliant idea: Why not open an illegal, secret casino in Frank’s spacious, almost-empty house?

Frank assures them that over the summer, they can make at least a half-million dollars. The Johansen’s split will be more than enough money for Kate’s tuition.

Where do they get the working capital to finance this elaborate fully-staffed casino, complete with a blackjack table, craps tables, a roulette wheel, surveillance cameras, dealers and bartenders?

And why does bumbling Officer Chandler (Rob Huebel) represent the only law-enforcement around?

Working from an absurdly implausible script he wrote with Brendan O’Brien, Andrew Jay Cohen (“Neighbors”) makes an inauspicious directing debut.

In this stale, sophomoric farce, the charmless Johansens behave like middle-aged dorks – with Kate re-experiencing her love of weed and Scott inadvertently getting a macho ‘fix’ by becoming an enforcer known as The Butcher. That leads to a cameo by Jeremy Renner as a ruthless mobster.

The depravity gets worse when two foul-mouthed females (Lennon Parham, Andrea Savage) square off in a “Fight Club” brawl while townspeople bet on the outcome.

On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “The House” is an atrociously tedious 2. What a terrible waste of time and talent!

02

 

“Spider-Man: Homecoming”

Susan Granger’s review of “Spider-Man: Homecoming” (Columbia Pictures/Marvel Studios)

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Are you ready for the on-going Spider-Man origin story? This one finds the webslinger joining Marvel’s Cinematic Universe, cavorting with the Avengers like Iron Man and Captain America.

Frantic 15 year-old, high-school sophomore Peter Parker (Tom Holland) is frustrated because, although he’s been given an awesome high-tech suit by billionaire Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.), he’s told not use his superpowers except on a local level, reporting to Stark’s flunkie, Happy Hogan (Jon Favreau).

“Can’t you just be a friendly neighborhood Spider-Man?”

Although he’s supposed to keep mum about his alter-ego, in chemistry class Peter thoughtlessly tinkers with his web-fluid formula in chemistry class, blowing his cover to his quintessentially geeky best bud Ned Leeds (Jacob Batalon) and, eventually, to his bewildered Aunt May (Marisa Tomei).

While Peter’s grades are suffering at the Midtown School of Science and Technology, his hormones are ranging over a flirtatious senior (Laura Harrier), who’s running the Homecoming celebration.

She’s the daughter of Adrian Toomes (Michael Keaton), a villainous salvage contractor-turned-contraband alien-arms merchant. Flying with huge metallic wings, he’s known in the comics as The Vulture.

Riffing on the iconic comic-book character created by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko, it’s a fragmented collaboration between team of six screenwriters and Jon Watts (“Cop Car”), whose direction is uneven.

Filled with running gag references to other Marvel movies, there’s a segment in which Captain America (Chris Evans) figures not only in Peter’s history class, as the teacher lectures about conflict over the Sokovia Accords, but also in gym, saying, “So you body’s changed. I know how that feels.”

There are also amusing cameos from Zendaya (as Mary Jane, a.k.a. MJ), Donald Glover (as burglar Aaron Davis), and Stan Lee (as an irate Queens neighbor). But I felt the final post-credit scene with Cap chiding the audience for its patience fell flat, although a Spidey sequel is obviously in the works.

On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “Spider-Man: Homecoming” is a scrappy 7, evoking fond memories of the adolescent angst in John Hughes’ “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.”

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“The Hero”

Susan Granger’s review of “The Hero” (The Orchard)

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Sam Elliott has never stopped working in films, ever since he made his debut with Paul Newman and Robert Redford in “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” (1969).  And – in real life – it’s Sam Elliott who eventually married their co-star Katharine Ross.

In “The Hero,” Elliott plays veteran actor Lee Hayden, whose biggest hit was a cowboy film in the 1970s. Lee’s only job these days is doing voice-overs – in his distinctive, smoky baritone – for commercials, like “Lone Star Bar-Be-Cue sauce, the perfect partner for yer chicken…”

Living alone in a small house in Malibu, Lee is turning 71 – and has just been told that he’s got pancreatic cancer. Divorced and alienated from his resentful, now-adult daughter Lucy (Krysten Ritter), Lee spends time with his drug-peddling neighbor/friend/former co-star Jeremy (Nick Offerman).

That’s where he meets flirtatious 35 year-old Charlotte (Laura Prepon), who immediately latches onto Lee, explaining that she has a ‘thing’ for older men, along with the poetry of Edna St. Vincent Millay.

So Lee asks Charlotte to accompany him to a banquet at which he’ll receive a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Western Appreciation and Preservation Guild.

Mixing Ecstasy in their champagne in the back of the limo en route to the dinner, they both get high, which explains why Lee gives a perplexing acceptance speech which, inexplicably, “goes viral” on the Internet, leading to an onslaught of offers and a potentially big audition.

Empathetically co-written by Marc Basch and director Brett Haley (“I’ll See You in My Dreams”), it’s about resilience in the face of mortality, and it has a special resonance for those who have ever tried to succeed in mercurial show business.

Propelling every scene, Sam Elliott delivers an understated, yet Oscar-caliber performance, and it’s fun to spot Katharine Ross in a small part as Lee’s ex-wife.

On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “The Hero” is a compassionate 7, drenched with melancholy.

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“War for the Planet of the Apes”

Susan Granger’s review of “War for the Planet of the Apes” (20th Century-Fox)

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Following “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” (2011) and “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” (2014), this third installment begins two years after the fight for existence between enhanced primates and humans.

There’s a brutal attack by troops under the command of a renegade Colonel (Woody Harrelson), causing peace-loving Caesar (Andy Serkis) to realize that his tribe must leave their forest habitat and find a new homeland – like a Biblical epic.

Although he organizes their journey, bereft Caesar is determined to find the Colonel and wreak vengeance, recognizing – to his chagrin – that he’s becoming more and more like human-hating Koba (Toby Kebbell) and his thuggish followers who serve as “donkeys” for the humans, acting as trackers.

Caesar is accompanied the orangutan Maurice (Karin Konoval), who serves as his moral compass, and two cohorts. Riding horseback across the snowy mountains, they pick up a mute, orphaned girl, Nova (Amiah Miller), whose family was killed by the Colonel’s troops, and a precocious zoo chimpanzee, self-named “Bad Ape” (Steve Zahn), obviously mimicking his human captors.

When they finally track down the shaven-headed Colonel in his fortified compound, his mysteriously fanatic demeanor evokes memories of Marlon Brando in “Apocalypse Now.”

Caesar then discovers that the ruthless Colonel is forcing the apes he’s captured to build a mysterious wall, a concept which is connected to a rapidly spreading virus that robs humans of their ability to speak.

Derived from Pierre Boulle’s 1963 novel and based on characters created by Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver, it’s scripted as a character-driven action adventure by Mark Bombeck and director Matt Reeves, deftly augmented by Michael Seresin’s evocative cinematography and Michael Giacchino’s stirring score.

What’s most amazing are the detailed, intricate, motion-capture visual effects, epitomized by Andy Serkin’s empathetic performance. Motion capture involves an actor wearing special censors as his movements are captured by surrounding cameras. The effects artists then create a digital character from the 3D computerized images of the actor’s actions and facial expressions.

On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “War for the Planet of the Apes” is an awesome, elegiac 8, as humanity is reflected back through the apes. A “must see” for lovers of this franchise.

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“The Beguiled”

Susan Granger’s review of “The Beguiled” (Focus Features)

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Stylish filmmaker Sofia Coppola (“Marie Antoinette,” “Lost in Translation”) has adapted Don Siegel’s lurid 1971 Clint Eastwood western, based on the pulpy 1966 Thomas P. Cullinan novel.

Set in war-ravaged Virginia in 1864, it begins as a badly wounded Union solder, Corporal John McBurney (Colin Farrell), collapses near Miss Farnsworth’s Seminary for Young Ladies, where he’s spotted by a youngster, curious Miss Amy (Oona Laurence), who is collecting mushrooms in the moss-draped woods.

Since the onset of the Civil War, the inhabitants of the plantation house have been not been able to leave the premises and have not laid eyes on a man.

“You are a most unwelcome visitor,” declares matriarchal Miss Martha (Nicole Kidman).

Indeed, Cpl. McBurney’s predatory presence immediately ignites a toxic brew of desire and jealousy, particularly between the gullibly romantic teacher, Miss Edwina (Kirsten Dunst), and the saucy teenager, Miss Alicia (Elle Fanning).

As all the young ladies vie for his attention, Miss Martha observes: “It seems like the soldier being here is having an effect.”

Tackling the vengeful headmistress role originated by Geraldine Page, Kidman slyly embodies the simmering, repressed sexuality of the period, as do the rest of the ensemble. Christian women of the Confederacy were raised in a rigorously puritanical sisterhood, schooled in prim ‘n’ proper artifice, disguising their destiny as decorative ornaments.

Collaborating with cinematographer Philippe Le Sourd, production designer Anne Ross, and costumer Stacey Battat, writer/director Sofia Coppola tastefully captures the muted, candle-lit Southern Gothic atmospheric style, filming in and around New Orleans.

Interestingly, author Thomas Cullinan conceived the scheming soldier as Irish, so Colin Farrell’s Dublin accent makes him even more exotic, sexy and charming. In this manipulative melodrama, he’s believable as a mercenary who deserted when faced with the horrors of battle.

On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “The Beguiled” is a savory, estrogenic 7, a subtle potboiler that empowers the feminist perspective.

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