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“Churchill”

Susan Granger’s review of “Churchill” (Cohen Media Group/Salon Pictures)

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According to a BBC poll taken in 2002, Winston Churchill is “the greatest Briton that ever lived.”

That being said, working from historian Alex von Tunzelmann’s screenplay, Jonathan Teplitzky imagines the turmoil that may have occurred a few days before D Day, as the Allied Forces prepare to liberate Nazi-occupied France on June 6, 1944.

Still riddled with guilt over his role in the disastrous 1915 Gallipoli campaign in Turkey during the previous war with Germany, Churchill (Brian Cox) is wracked with doubt. He vehemently opposes Operation Overlord’s amphibious attack on the French coastline insisting, “We must fix this broken plan before it ends in tragedy.”

Swilling Scotch and throwing tantrums in an on-going battle with depression, he antagonizes his long-suffering wife, Clementine (Miranda Richardson), along with his frustrated military partners: Britain’s Field Marshall Bernard Montgomery (John Wadham) and Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower (John Slattery), the Allies’ supreme commander.

The most memorable scene occurs between cigar-chomping Churchill and King George VI (John Purefoy), as the King gently but firmly reminds his Prime Minister precisely where their duties lie.

Unfortunately, director Jonathan Teplitsky (“The Railway Man”) creates a distorted, ponderous portrait that is further impaired in this simplistic docudrama by Lorne Balfe’s overbearing musical score.

What’s outstanding is Brian Cox’s performance. Physically resembling Churchill, Cox nails the hulking statesman’s stentorian oratorical skill and surly, jaw-jutting glare.

Cox receives stalwart support from Miranda Richardson and James Purefoy, along with Richard Durden as Churchill’s Boer War colleague/aide Jan Smuts and Ella Purnell as Churchill’s new, reverential secretary, whose fiancé is on one of the D-Day warships.

On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “Churchill” is a talky, repetitive 5, relating a questionable historical footnote.

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“Paris Can Wait”

Susan Granger’s review of “Paris Can Wait” (Sony Pictures Classics)

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Octogenarian Eleanor Coppola – wife of legendary director Francis Ford, mother of Sofia – has written and directed a wish-fulfillment fantasy that was inspired by her own impromptu spree from Cannes to Paris with her husband’s flirty French associate in 2009.

In Cannes on a business trip with her workaholic American film-producer husband (Alec Baldwin), Anne Lockwood (Diane Lane) develops an earache. So she forgoes flying on to Budapest with him and accepts the offer of his colleague Jacques (Arnaud Viardi) to make the seven-hour drive to a friend’s apartment in Paris.

Attentive, fun-loving Jacques manages to stretch their picturesque journey in his vintage Peugeot into a meandering, two-and-a-half day sojourn. He’s a charming raconteur and wily gourmet, who insists that they stop at every superb restaurant and scenic spot along the way, although he has to borrow Anne’s credit card to pay the bills.

Their dining ranges from a leisurely picnic to lavish fare, accompanied by the finest of wines and endless morsels of chocolate.

Anne is dazzled by the lush fields of aromatic lavender and Roman-built aqueducts, but when Jacques becomes so distracted pointing out Provence’s Mont Sainte Victoire, the mountain that inspired several of Cezanne’s paintings, he runs off the road.

Later, when Jacques insists that they visit the birthplace of cinema, Place Lumiere in Lyon, Anne realizes that the docent is one of his many former lovers. That opens up an interesting conversation as they begin to reveal their personal lives.

An avid photographer, Anne digitally documents what interests her and ignites her passion, as she slowly emerges from a dutiful, complacent wife role into a greater understanding of her own individuality and creativity.

Delectable Diane Lane evokes memories of “Under the Tuscan Sun” and Michael Winterbottom’s “The Trip,” along with foodie fests: “Like Water for Chocolate,” “Marie Antoinette” and “Babette’s Feast.”

Although she won an Emmy for the documentary “Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker’s Apocalypse,” this lighthearted romance is writer/director Eleanor Coppola’s first feature film,

On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “Paris Can Wait” is a slight, yet savory 6, serving up sumptuously seductive cuisine.

06

“The Lovers”

Susan Granger’s review of “The Lovers” (A24)

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Middle-aged Michael (Tracy Letts) and Mary (Debra Winger) are mired in a miserable marriage in suburban Los Angeles. So it’s not surprising that they’re both sneaking around, lying to each other, having adulterous affairs with younger partners.

Michael is involved with Lucy (Melora Walters), a grasping, obviously unstable ballet teacher who is repeatedly pressuring him to get a divorce, while Mary is besotted by Robert (Aidan Gillen), an aspiring novelist who wants her to move in with him.

Leading detached lives, neither Michael nor Mary seem willing to commit, either to each other or to their paramours. In fact, the closer they come to separating, the more sexually attracted they are – to each other. Their duplicity is a puzzlement.

In the meantime, their college-age son, Joel (Tyler Ross), comes home to introduce his new girl-friend Erin (Jessica Sula); she’s black, something that no one seems to notice or mention. Instead, Joel and Erin are immediately enmeshed in his parents’ tawdry emotional chaos.

Written and directed by Azazel Jacobs (“Terri,” “Momma’s Man”), it’s plodding, uneven and strangely superficial. Aside from texting and trysting, neither Michael nor Mary has a life. They’re both ostensibly working but they spend little time in their cubicles, paying little or no attention to their jobs.

To them, philandering has become a way of life.

So performances propel the picture. Tracy Letts is the Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright of “August: Osage County” who has become an accomplished actor in the past few years. Decades after “An Officer and a Gentleman” and “Terms of Endearment,” Debra Winger still exudes attitudinal honesty combined with smoldering sexiness.

Unfortunately, Mandy Hoffman’s lush musical score telegraphs every tonal change, undermining any subtlety that would have enhanced the authenticity.

On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “The Lovers” is a self-sabotaging 6, weighing the pros and cons of trading spouses.

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“Wonder Woman”

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

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According to Fandango, “Wonder Woman” is the summer’s most anticipated movie. It’s the fourth – and best – in DC’s Extended Universe, following “Man of Steel,” “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice” and “Suicide Squad.”

I grew up reading “Wonder Woman” comics and watched TV’s kitschy Lynda Carter, so I’ve been eagerly awaiting Princess Diana’s standalone superhero movie. Now she’s here!

On Themyscira, a secret island gifted to the Amazons by Zeus, defiant Diana (Gal Gadot), daughter of Queen Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen), has been trained as a warrior by her aunt, badass General Antiope (Robin Wright), to battle Ares, the God of War.

During the First World War in 1918, American pilot Steve Trevor’s (Chris Pine) plane is shot down near idyllic Themyscira. Rescuing him, Diana gets her first glimpse of a man.

Bound by the Lasso of Truth, Steve confesses he’s on a spy mission to thwart maniacal Gen. Ludendorff (Danny Huston) and his ‘poisoner,’ Dr. Isabel Maru (Elena Anaya), from waging chemical warfare.

Exuding both force and compassion, Diana sails off with charming Steve to London, where his dependable secretary, Etta Candy (Lucy Davis), helps outfit her to blend in with the populace.

With support from Britain’s Sir Patrick (David Thewlis), they travel to war-torn Belgium to broker an armistice, accompanied by three cronies: multilingual Sameer (Said Taghmaoui), former sniper Charlie (Ewen Bremner) and The Chief (Eugene Brave Rock).

Created in 1941 as a feminist icon by William Moulton Marston, Wonder Woman’s origin story is scripted by Allan Heinberg (DC’s “Wonder Woman” comic-book writer, 2006-7) with Zack Snyder and Jason Fuchs.

Adroitly directed by Patty Jenkins (“Monster”), it has humor and heart, along with awesome action – thanks to Matthew Jensen’s cinematography, Damon Caro’s stunts and Bill Westenhofer’s VFX.

My only quibble: Gal Gadot can’t act. She’s strong & sexy, statuesque & stunning. Physically perfect! But her expressionless line readings are rote. Perhaps that’s not too important in a comic-book movie.

On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “Wonder Woman” is an entertaining, empowering 9 – with no post-credit scenes.

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“The Wedding Plan”

Susan Granger’s review of “The Wedding Plan” (Roadside Attractions)

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You don’t have to be Jewish to enjoy “The Wedding Plan,” but it wouldn’t hurt…

When her evasive fiancé breaks off their engagement a month before their nuptials, 32 year-old Michal (Noa Koler), who was raised non-religious but has devoutly embraced Orthodox Judaism, refuses to cancel the guests’ invitations or relinquish the reception venue and date which, significantly, falls on the last night of Hanukkah.

Enrolling her family and friends, energetic, independent Michal, who owns a mobile petting zoo for children, is determined to find an appropriate groom. To that end, she enlists the help of the Almighty, although her rabbi warns her against “counting on miracles.”

Matchmakers set her up with a variety of unsuitable Orthodox suitors, including one who is deaf and another who won’t even look at her, explaining that he is only willing to gaze upon the woman he will marry because – to him – she will be the most beautiful woman in the world.

Then there’s her unlikely encounter with a charismatic pop star (Oz Zehavi of “Yossi”) whom she meets on a pilgrimage to Ukraine to pray at the grave of Rabbi Nahman, founder of the Breslov Hasidic sect.

While Michal seeks companionship, along with love, she’s also determined to achieve social acceptance in a community that traditionally not only pities single women but also tends to denigrate them.

Exuding an irresistible enthusiasm, tempered with inner conflicts and self-doubt – reminiscent of Britain’s Bridget Jones – Noa Koler won an Israeli Academy Award for her screwball performance.

This is ultra-Orthodox Israeli filmmaker Rama Burshtein’s second film, following “Fill the Void” (2013) about a reluctant, 18 year-old Hassidic Jewish woman in Tel Aviv being pressured to marry her deceased sister’s fiancé, an older widower with an infant son. Obviously, weddings are a Burshtein theme.

In Hebrew with English subtitles, on the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “The Wedding Plan” is a spirited, surreal 6, meaning that this existential romantic comedy concludes with cosmic ambiguity.

06

“Everything, Everything”

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

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There have been so many movies about attractive young people falling in love, while facing potentially fatal illnesses, that there’s now a new sub-genre called Sickness Porn.

Adapted from YA novels – like “The Fault in Our Stars,” “If I Stay,” “Me Before You,” “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl,” among others – its roots can be traced back to “Love Story” (1970).

The illness featured in this romantic drama is severe combined immune deficiency or SCID. Sufferers of this disease can’t make antibodies to protect themselves from infection. It was first popularized in the 1970s with “Bubble Boy” about a lad living in a purified environment.

In this sappy but sweet story – with the tagline “Risk everything…for love” – exuberant, 18 year-old Maddy Whittier (Amanda Stenberg) is an aspiring architect, despite having spent her entire life in a hermetically-sealed glass sanctuary, designed to keep her safe.

“If I went outside, I’d die,” she explains.

Despite continuous monitoring by her overly-protective mother/doctor Pauline (Anika Noni Rose), Maddy is intrigued by Olly (Nick Robinson), the boy-next-door, recently relocated from New York.  As opposed to Maddy’s solid white attire, he dresses in black, rides a skateboard and arrives at the Whittiers’ door bearing a Bundt cake from his mom.

First, there are handwritten signs. Then they shyly text. Finally, there’s a meeting, facilitated by Maddy’s empathetic nurse Carla (Ana de la Reguera), complete with the requisite decontamination protocol. Before long, they’re running away from Los Angeles for a Hawaiian vacation.

That’s where there’s a preposterous plot twist: an episode of myocarditis in Maui alters the diagnosis of Maddie’s condition to Munchausen’s-by-proxy and parental medical abuse, launching a disconcerting “you’re not really disabled” narrative.

Working from Nicola Yoon’s debut YA novel, scripted by J. Mills Goodloe (“The Age of Adaline”), it’s directed by Jamaican-Canadian Stella Megie (“Jean of the Joneses”), who injects several clever gimmicks, like a retro aquamarine-colored diner and Maddie’s imaginary astronaut (Sage Brocklebank).

On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “Everything, Everything” is a facile, foolish 4, completely losing plausibility in the third act.

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“Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales”

Susan Granger’s review of “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales” (Walt Disney Pictures)

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This is the fifth installment of the floundering franchise which has become a lengthy commercial for the newly revised ‘ride’ at Disney theme parks.

The journey revolves around Henry Turner (Brenton Thwaites), son of Will Turner and Elizabeth Swann, who is determined to find a legendary artifact known as Poseidon’s Trident, which can lift the curse that has trapped his father’s Flying Dutchman on the bottom of the sea.

That involves convincing rapidly decomposing Spanish Capt. Salazar (Javier Bardem), who drowned in the Devil’s Triangle, to spare his life so he can locate down-on-his-luck Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp), a quest that also intrigues Sparrow’s old nemesis, cranky Capt. Hector Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush).

In the meantime, corset-clad Carina Smyth (Kaya Scodelario) is a fair ‘n’ feisty damsel who is accused of witchcraft because of her knowledge of astronomy and horology. Apparently, her father’s diary with its celestial chart holds the key to finding that magical Trident.

So Henry and Carina team up with the swaggering, staggering, perpetually soused buccaneer Jack Sparrow, who’s in the midst of a bank heist on the colonial island of St. Martin since his beloved Black Pearl is still secreted inside a bottle – as the preposterous plot lurches toward its drawn-out conclusion.

Norwegian directors Joachim Ronning and Espen Sandberg, best known for the Oscar-nominated “Kon-Tiki,” are saddled with Jeff Nathanson’s muddled script, filled with incoherent curses and contrived genealogy, so they’re forced to rely on special effects and makeup to propel the sea-faring action.

Along with all-too-brief glimpses of Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley, there’s a pointless cameo by Paul McCartney and a post-credit scene that hints at more adventures to come.

On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales” sails off-course with a soggy 4. It’s a surreal shipwreck – Argh!

04

 

 

“Baywatch”

Susan Granger’s review of “Baywatch” (Paramount Pictures)

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This raunchy, big-screen riff on TV’s ‘90s action-comedy “Baywatch” kicks off the silly summer season with tryouts for the elite team of tanned, toned lifeguards that patrol Emerald Beach.

Under the watchful eye of no-nonsense Mitch Buchannon (Dwayne Johnson), the wannabees are narrowed down to pudgy Ronnie Greenbaum (Jon Bass), sassy Summer Quinn (Alexandra Daddario) and cocky Matt Brody (Zac Efron), a disgraced bad boy who thinks his two Olympic gold medals should make him a shoo-in.

Meanwhile, Mitch realizes there’s a drug smuggler in their midst, and he suspects slinky, scheming Victoria Leeds (Bollywood star Priyanka Chopra), who just opened the posh Huntley Club and seems determined to acquire all the nearby coastal real estate.

Since the local policeman (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) won’t take him seriously, Mitch realizes it’s up to him and his squad to preserve the sanctity of their beachfront.

Working from Damian Shannon and Mark Swift’s smart-ass screenplay, director Seth Gordon (“Identity Thief,” “Horrible Bosses”) relies on lots of campy running in slo-mo, and it’s as cheeky as the zippered, red spandex swimsuits worn by Mitch’s sexy cohorts C.J. Parker (model Kelly Rohrbach) and Stephanie Holden (Ilfenesh Hadera).

Showing a snarky streak, Mitch steadfastly refuses to refer to Matt by name, dismissively calling him One Direction, N’Sync, Bieber and High School Musical – as their chiseled ‘bro’ chemistry clicks. Less amusing are the grossed-out male genitalia jokes.

There are a couple of exciting sea-rescue sequences, plus nostalgic cameos by TV stars David Hasselhoff and Pamela Anderson.

Full Disclosure: My son, Don Granger, is one of the Executive Producers.

On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “Baywatch” breezes in with a slyly splashy 6. Skip the sunscreen and stay for the post-credit bloopers.

06

 

“War Machine”

Susan Granger’s review of “War Machine” (Netflix)

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Over the last few years, Netflix has established itself as a premiere steaming service. Now, Netflix is breaking new boundaries by debuting Brad Pitt’s provocative “War Machine” for home viewing on Friday, May 26, the same day it opens for Oscar-qualifying runs in New York and Los Angeles.

Written and directed by David Michod (“Animal Kingdom,” “The Rover”), it’s a black comedy, loosely based on Michael Hastings’ non-fiction best-seller “The Operators: The Wild & Terrifying Inside Story of America’s War in Afghanistan,” expanded from a 2010 “Rolling Stone” expose that led to President Obama’s dismissal of General Stanley McChrystal.

Pitt plays cocky, charismatic Glen McMahon, the fictional, four-star General who struts in to command US and NATO forces in Afghanistan, deploying a controversial military strategy called counterinsurgency or COIN.

“We are here to build, to protect, to support the civilian population,” he says. “To that end, we must avoid killing at all cost. We can’t help them and kill them at the same time.”

The humor is savage, skewering the absurdity of this particular war – which toppled the Dutch government, forced the resignation of Germany’s president and is propelling both Canada and the Netherlands to withdraw troops.

So Gen. McMahon flies to Paris with his rowdy, booze-soaked entourage (Topher Grace, RJ Cyler, Anthony Michael Hall, John Mangaro, Emory Cohen, Daniel Betts, Anthony Hayes) and a reporter (Scoot McNairy) to reassure the French and, incidentally, celebrate an anniversary with his long-suffering wife (Meg Tilly).

Initially a clownish, clichéd caricature, Brad Pitt develops delusional McMahon into a tragic figure, while Ben Kingsley is farcical as Afghanistan’s President Hamid Karzai and Tilda Swinton scores as a skeptical European politician.

“In the last several decades, we have not been as good at extricating ourselves from wars as we are at waging them,” notes Michod, “so it becomes increasingly messy as wars begin to look perpetual and unwinnable.”

On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “War Machine” is a slyly satirical 7, the first big-budget, day-and-date theatrical release that you can stay home and see.

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“Alien: Covenant”

Susan Granger’s review of “Alien: Covenant” (20th Century-Fox: Scott Free Production)

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Back in 1979, Ridley Scott helmed the shocking sci-fi thriller “Alien,” starring Sigourney Weaver, and containing one of the most terrifying moments I’ve ever seen on the screen, heralded by the memorable slogan: “In space, no one can hear you scream.”

In 2012, he made the mythology-heavy prequel “Prometheus,” introducing Michael Fassbender as the enigmatic British “synthetic” – a.k.a. android – David, created by Peter Weyland (Guy Pearce).

Fast-forward 10 years later to 2104, as a massive spaceship called Covenant – transporting 2,000 human passengers and 1,140 embryos – is headed on a couples’ colonization mission to terraform a planet that’s still seven years away.

An American android update named Walter (Fassbender) is at the controls when a violent stellar flare jolts the crew of 15 out of their cryo-sleep pods. The Captain (James Franco) is immediately killed, leaving Daniels (Katherine Waterston), his widow, to cope with this catastrophe and survive on her own, instead of settling down in a cabin on a lake.

Out of necessity, the religious First Mate, Christopher Oram (Billy Crudup), assumes command, immediately making a grievous mistake by diverting the Covenant to Origae-6, where the Prometheus disappeared, when he hears a distress signal containing a plaintive John Denver song.

On this vast, verdant but seemingly uninhabited planet, they encounter ruthless David, who lures them into a cavern that turns out to be trap, filled with those vicious, ravenous creatures called Xenomorphs, designed by Swiss artist H.R. Giger, that burrow into human bodies as spores and then burst forth in quasi-humanoid form with an eyeless helmet-head and a mouth dripping with slime.

Working from a script by John Logan, Dante Harper, Jack Paglen & Michael Green, Ridley Scott, who will be 80 later this year, adroitly frames existential speculation about the creation of human life and projections for its survival. But, aside from the hyper-intelligent androids, the human characters lack both delineation and development.

On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “Alien: Covenant” is a splattering 6, another slithery creature-feature.

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