“The Forgiven”

Susan Granger’s “The Forgiven” (Saban Films)


Based on Michael Ashton’s play, “The Archbishop and the Antichrist,” this intense docudrama examines the (fictionalized) relationship between the iconic South African cleric Desmond Tutu and a notorious, white-supremacist murderer who is seeking clemency.

In the mid-1990s when the Archbishop (Forest Whitaker) was appointed by then-President Nelson Mandela to head the Truth and Reconciliation Committee to confront the atrocities of apartheid, one of the defendants was Afrikaner Piet Blomfeld (Eric Bana), an unrepentantly racist psychopath.

To capture the Archbishop’s attention, Blomfeld wrote him an articulate letter, referencing Plato and Milton. And, according to compassionate Desmond Tutu: “No one is beyond redemption.”

Incarcerated in Cape Town’ brutal maximum-security Pollsmoor Prison, Blomfeld’s past is explored in flashbacks, juxtaposed with a larger investigation of Operation Hacksaw, a police conspiracy that resulted in the disappearance of a black teenager whose grieving mother (Thandi Makhubele) pleads for justice in a climactic courtroom scene.

Burdened by a distracting prosthetic nose, Forest Whitaker delivers a powerhouse performance that’s been enthusiastically endorsed by Desmond Tutu himself – and he’s matched by surly Eric Bana’s charismatic savagery.

In an interview with “Entertainment Tonight,” Whitaker expressed gratitude that he was able to meet Tutu before he took on the role. Noting, “I was trying to understand the man. I knew his laugh and sense of humor. I knew how his felt, his passion, his faith, etc… I was trying to capture the spirit of the man.”

Adapted by playwright Michael Ashton and director Roland Joffe (“The Killing Fields,” “The Mission”), it’s unfocused, slowly paced and overly earnest. In addition, its theatrical origins are obvious, resulting in stilted, overly talky confrontations.

On the other hand, William Wages’ cinematography captures South Africa’s imagery, particularly when it’s augmented by Zethu Mashika’s mournful music.

If the inflammatory subject matter seems familiar, somewhat similar situations were previously depicted in John Boorman’s “In My Country” and Tom Hooper’s “Red Dust.”

On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “The Forgiven” is an overly formal 5, better suited to the stage.



“A Wrinkle in Time”

Susan Granger’s review of “A Wrinkle in Time” (Disney)


For many years, Madeleine L’Engle beloved 1962 sci-fi fantasy was considered too unwieldy, steeped in religious and spiritual concepts, and, therefore, un-filmable.

Nevertheless, Disney backed director Ava DuVernay (“Selma,” “13th”) on this $100 million-plus project, which revolves around rebellious Meg Murry (Storm Reid), a biracial teenager whose adolescent angst is augmented by the disappearance of her physicist father, Dr. Alex Murry (Chris Pine).

“Most days I hate myself,” Meg admits, reflecting what most middle-schoolers feel. The underlying goal is for Meg to learn to let go of her emotional baggage, grow more confident, and accept herself as she is, faults and all.

So Meg embarks on a cosmic journey, ostensibly searching for her father who went missing four years earlier, just as he discovered a breakthrough way of traveling great distances through space, utilizing something called a tesseract.

Meg is accompanied on this celestial quest by her precocious younger brother, Charles Wallace (Deric McCabe), and her admiring, supportive classmate, Calvin (Levi Miller).

They’re led by three ethereal beings: capricious Mrs. Whatsit (Reese Witherspoon), quotation-spouting Mrs. Who (Mindy Kaling) and colossal, all-powerful Mrs. Which (Oprah Winfrey with dazzling, rhinestone-studded eyebrows), who urges Meg to “Be a Warrior.”

The first place they visit is verdant Uriel, populated by talking flowers; it’s a favorite of Mrs. Whatsit, who transforms into a green dragonesque creature, taking them on a galactic ride on her cabbage leaf-like wings.

Then it’s off through another, mind-bending, interstellar portal to find Happy Medium (Zach Galifianakis). Eventually, resilient Meg must match wits on a foreboding, mercurial planet called Camazotz with The It, a giant, disembodied brain (voiced by David Oyelowo).

Adapted by Jennifer Lee (“Frozen”) and Jeff Stockwell (“Bridge to Terabithia”), it’s loaded with bold feminism and multi-racial/multi-culturalism. But it’s also burdened by a diffuse, often confusing storyline and too many garish, overbearing visuals which quickly become disconcerting.

On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “A Wrinkle in Time” is a family-friendly, yet frustrating 5, a psychedelic, self-empowering trip.



“Death Wish”

Susan Granger’s review of “Death Wish” (M.G.M.)


There’s little to recommend director Eli Roth’s reboot of Michael Winner’s 1974 vigilante thriller in which a mild-mannered architect, played by Charles Bronson, utilizes his military training to become a vengeful killer after thugs invade his home, kill his wife and assault his daughter.

Moving the location from New York to Chicago, we’re introduced to Dr. Paul Kersey (Bruce Willis), who lives in posh suburbia. That’s where his wife Lucy (Elisabeth Shue) is murdered and his college-age daughter Jordan (Camilla Morrone) is left comatose in a bungled burglary.

Which is ostensibly why this trauma surgeon becomes a vigilante, donning a discarded Trayvon Martin-style hoodie and toting a Glock that he takes from a gang-banger in the ER. Armed and angry, he’s determined to hunt down the three masked culprits and, thereby, avenge his family.

So when Paul sees a nasty carjacking in process, he shoots the thieves in cold-blood. When a bystander captures the entire encounter on a phone video, sociopathic Paul becomes a celebrity, famous on social media as the “Grim Reaper.”

What about the police? According to two detectives (Dean Norris, Kimberly Elise), there are just too many homicides – 48 in just one weekend.

Working with screenwriter Joe Carnahan (”The Grey,” “Narc”), violence-relishing director Eli Roth (“Hostel,” “Cabin Fever”) veers from the original concept, based on Brian Garfield’s 1972 anti-vigilantism novel, updating it to the amoral transformation of a man who saves lives to someone who takes them, justifying righteous violence and pandering to the N.R.A.

Alternately smirking and scowling, Bruce Willis milks this exploitative, antihero revenge fantasy until it’s dry, while Len Cariou appears briefly as his rifle-toting father-in-law Ben and Vincent D’Onofrio quietly scores as Frank, his troubled, younger brother.

On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “Death Wish” is a tepid, ill-timed, trigger-happy 3. Bury it.


“Every Day”

Susan Granger’s review of “Every Day” (Orion Pictures)


Based on David Levithan’s YA best-seller, this angst-filled, adolescent fantasy revolves around someone who awakens every morning in a different body.

While the novel took place through the eyes of A, a sensitive soul who temporarily occupies the bodies of unsuspecting teenagers for a period of 24 hours, this dramedy shares the focus with 16 year-old Rhiannon (Angourie Rice) who is taken for granted by her cocky, chain-smoking boyfriend Nathan (Justin Smith).

One day, A awakens in Nathan’s body. He immediately becomes the attentive beau Rhiannon always wanted, urging her to ditch school to spend a romantic afternoon with him, strolling on the beach, singing “This is the Day,” and sharing their thoughts, hopes and dreams.

But the following day, Nathan is back to his callous, egocentric self, as A’s consciousness moves into another body. Problem is: guileless Rhiannon has fallen in love with A’s shape-shifting spirit, which continues to try to relate to her although it’s encased in a different gender, skin color, etc. each time they hook up. 16, in all.

“Would you love me if I looked like somebody else?” A earnestly inquires because, “The day we met, I felt something I’ve never felt before.”

Adapted by Jesse Andrews (“Me and Earl and the Dying Girl”), it’s directed by Michael Sucsy (“Grey Gardens,” ”The Vow”), who, unfortunately, dilutes the relevant themes of sexual identity, ambiguous diversity and conventional labelling.

But the complex, supernatural premise remains intriguing, although it poses more questions than it answers. Like: How did this happen to disembodied A? Is a secret government agency involved? And why is actress Maria Bello wasted as Rhiannon’s adulterous mother, cheating on her dysfunctional father (Michael Cram)?

On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “Every Day” is a strange, bittersweet 6, examining the poignant limits of possibility.



“Red Sparrow”

Susan Granger’s review of “Red Sparrow” (20th Century-Fox)


When Russian prima ballerina Dominika Egorova (Jennifer Lawrence) suffers a devastating injury, the Bolshoi will no longer pay for her Moscow apartment and care for her ailing mother (Joely Richardson). That’s when her lecherous Uncle Vanya (Matthias Schoenaerts), deputy director of Russia’s external intelligence agency SVR, makes her an offer she cannot refuse.

Her first assignment is to entice and betray an oligarch, luring him to her hotel room. What she doesn’t realize is that she’ll be raped and he’ll be assassinated. Ivan then tells her she knows too much and will be killed if she doesn’t work full-time for his agency.

She’s then referred to State School 4, where the sadistic Matron (Charlotte Rampling), utilizing ritual degradation and humiliation, teaches male and female recruits how to become a “sparrow,” adroit in psychological manipulation and seduction.

“You sent me to whore school,” defiant Dominika accuses Uncle Vanya, who looks alarmingly like Vladimir Putin.

Meanwhile, American spy Nate Nash (Joel Edgerton) is sent to Budapest to contact his secret asset, a high-ranking mole within the Russian government, code-named “Marble.” Steely, highly disciplined Dominika is dispatched there to weave a web of deception, earning his trust and discovering the mole’s identity.

Bearing tinges of “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy,” along with “Atomic Blonde,” it’s confusingly scripted by Justin Haythe, based on the 2013 best-seller by ex-CIA operative Jason Matthews, and voyeuristically directed by Francis Lawrence (“Hunger Games” franchise), who indulges in far too much brutal, gratuitous violence in the torture sequences.

Grim and gruesome, it’s nevertheless made palatable by fearless Jennifer Lawrence’s audacious performance, plus stalwart support from Jeremy Irons, Ciaran Hinds and Mary-Louise Parker.

FYI: Jennifer Lawrence’s coach was Kurt Froman, the former New York City ballet dancer who worked with Natalie Portman and Mila Kunis on “Black Swan.” While you see Ms. Lawrence’s face and upper body, the American Ballet Theater’s Isabella Boylston serves as her dance double.

On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “Red Sparrow” is a skewed 7, an exploitative espionage thriller.



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


Following “Ex Machina,” writer/director Alex Garland has concocted an ominous sci-fi thriller drenched with a pervasive sense of foreboding and dread.

It begins as a professor of cellular biology at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, Lena (Natalie Portman), is interrogated by Lomax (Benedict Wong) in a hazmat suit. Displaying no emotion, she calmly explains how her military husband, Kane (Oscar Isaac), was dispatched on a secret mission and disappeared.

Almost a year passes before he returns, looking bizarrely catatonic and experiencing convulsions. When Lena summons an ambulance, she’s mysteriously kidnapped along with her now-comatose, dying husband, who is placed in quarantine by federal authorities.

According to psychologist Dr. Ventress (Jennifer Jason Leigh), after a meteorite strike, the swampland around a lighthouse on the Florida coastline has been surrounded by a glistening, inexplicable force field called the Shimmer, which is rapidly expanding. Although other teams have been sent in, Kane is the only one who ever emerged.

Suspecting some kind of alien abduction/extra-terrestrial intervention, Lena, who has Army experience, joins an expedition of intrepid female scientists (Gina Rodriguez, Tessa Thompson, Tuva Novotny) who are determined to reach the symbolic lighthouse and find out what’s really going on.

Equipped with assault weapons, they infiltrate the luminescent Shimmer, encountering a horrifying series of violent, mutated creatures, like a shark-toothed alligator and screaming bear. Needless to say, many of them do not survive.

Based on the first book on Jeff VanderMeer’s best-selling “Southern Reach” trilogy, it’s compelling, even if what passes for a complicated, metaphysical plot is often incoherent.

Working with production designer Mark Digby, cinematographer Rob Hardy, visual effects wizard Andrew Whitehurst, and utilizing Glenn Freemantle’s soundscape, Alex Garland has created a weirdly cerebral dome, a confounding biosphere filled with bizarre vegetation, crystalline trees and iridescent, metallic clones.

On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “Annihilation” is a sinister, shimmering 6, challenging audiences with cosmic molecular science.


“Susan’s Oscar Predictions”

The Upcoming 90th Annual Academy Awards by Susan Granger

Oscars 90th Academy Awards

Oscars 90th Academy Awards

Sunday, March 4, marks Oscar’s 90th birthday – and “Out with the old, in with the new!” is the message the Academy has sent to its voters this year, as Jimmy Kimmel once again hosts.

Jordan Peele (“Get Out”) is the first African-American ever nominated as writer, director and Best Picture producer in the same year, while Dee Rees (“Mudbound”) is the first African-American woman honored for an adapted screenplay and Rachel Morrison is the first female nominated for Best Cinematography.

Greta Gerwig (“Lady Bird”) is the fifth woman ever nominated in the directing category, and “Logan” is the first live-action superhero saga ever nominated for its screenplay.

This change is directly connected with then-Academy President Cheryl Boone Isaacs’ dismay over 2016’s #OscarsSoWhite. After inducting 1,700 new members in the past three years, the pool of 7,258 Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences voters has been altered. It’s younger and more diverse, truer to America.

Hollywood has always reflected the tenor of the times, and Donald Trump’s election probably influenced why racial/gender-bending “Moonlight” won over lighthearted “La La Land.” If you look closely at the Oscar-nominated films, they’re far from simplistic depictions of good v. evil.

But Oscar’s walking on eggshells this year. More than half of the nine Best Picture nominees featured female-centric stories. Women were among the producers on six of those nine, and women had a hand in writing four of the 10 nominated screenplays.

The three most popular 2017 movies in theaters were “Star Wars: The Last Jedi,” “Beauty and the Beast,” and “Wonder Woman,” each driven by female characters.

#MeToo and #TimesUp movements could push the Academy to favor female-empowering films like the revenge drama “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri,” the wry coming-of-age story “Lady Bird,” along with “Mudbound” and “I, Tonya.” Yet women still make up only 28% of Academy voters.

Hollywood’s spin doctors used to be masterful at pushing disgraceful conduct under the rug but – with the sheer volume of scandals this year many – many men are still reeling from the accusations that torpedoed the careers of Harvey Weinstein, Kevin Spacey and Matt Lauer, among others. There’s no doubt that Hollywood is under scrutiny as never before.

While women are activated and thrilled with the long-overdue progress, some male industry players think there’s a witch hunt and feel the pendulum is swinging too far. Should voters celebrate ‘the work,’ or consider the person’s behavior beyond the work?

The Oscars have always been, in part, a popularity contest – and they’re quite volatile this year. Millions of dollars are at stake, along with massive egos. In an ideal world, the work should speak for itself, but we don’t live in an ideal world. So your guess may be as good as mine.

BEST PICTURE nominees are “Call Me By Your Name,” “Darkest Hour,” “Dunkirk,” “Get Out,” “Lady Bird,” “Phantom Thread,” “The Post,” “The Shape of Water” and “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.”

The Best Picture vote, unlike any other category, is preferential. Academy members rank their choices among the nine nominated films. The lowest scoring films are eliminated and votes re-allocated, until a majority of voters backs a single feature, making gauging later rounds very difficult since consensus overrides passion.

Given the divided field, it’s almost unimaginable that one film will get 50% of the 1st place votes needed to win outright. So the film that gets lots of 2nd place votes has an advantage over a divisive, more polarizing film, an “anything but that” movie.

With 13 Oscar nominations, odds overwhelmingly favor the luminous fantasy “The Shape of Water,” which is original, inspiring and uplifting, as a lonely, mute janitor abandons convention and finds a soulmate in a creature that society deems a monster.

“Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” practically swept the Screen Actors Guild and has garnered a fervent following, yet Martin McDonagh was left out of the Director race – and voters either love this film or hate it.

“Dunkirk,” “Darkest Hour,” “Lady Bird” and “The Post” may not have enough support. Gay-themed “Call Me By Your Name” is problematic and “Phantom Thread” is pretentiously boring.

Although “Get Out” failed to land film editing and cinematography nods, which are the usual indicators, but I have an inkling that the timely, original, $4.5 horror-satire will triumph, perhaps closing the gap between popularity with movie audiences and acceptance by movie-makers.

It would be the third black-directed film to cop Best Picture in the last decade, following “12 Years a Slave” and “Moonlight” – and neither of those won Best Director.

And if you remember last year’s “La La Land” and “Moonlight” mix-up, it won’t happen again. PriceWaterhouseCooper’s has new protocols that ban the use of phones/social media backstage so their briefcase-toting accountants will not be distracted when handing out envelopes.


BEST DIRECTOR nominees are Christopher Nolan (“Dunkirk”), Jordan Peele (“Get Out”), Greta Gerwig (“Lady Bird”), Paul Thomas Anderson (“Phantom Thread”) and Guillermo del Toro (“The Shape of Water”).

Veteran director Christopher Nolan has his first nomination, along with Greta Gerwig and Jordan Peele. I’m eliminating Paul Thomas Anderson, who, frankly, doesn’t stand a chance; how he snagged a nod and Steven Spielberg didn’t is beyond my comprehension.

If Guillermo del Toro wins, he’d join Alfonso Cuaron and Alejandro G. Inarritu as the third Mexican-born director to win in the last decade. Oscar voters often like to split the Picture and Director awards so that both get honored. Will that will happen this year?

MY PREDICTION: Guillermo del Toro

BEST ACTOR nominees are Timothee Chalamet (“Call Me By Your Name”), Daniel Day-Lewis (“Phantom Thread”), Daniel Kaluuya (“Get Out”), Gary Oldman (“Darkest Hour”) and Denzel Washington (Roman J. Israel, Esq.).

Gary Oldman was nominated only once before – for “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy,” so I think it’s his year. His Winston Churchill was beyond brilliant.


BEST ACTRESS nominees are Sally Hawkins (“The Shape of Water”), Frances McDormand (“Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”), Margot Robbie (“I, Tonya”), Saoirse Ronan (“Lady Bird”) and Meryl Streep (“The Post”).

This is Meryl Streep’s 21st nomination and talented 23 year-old Saoirse Ronan will someday win an Oscar, just not this year. The closest contenders are feisty, fiery Frances McDormand and empathetic Sally Hawkins, who dazzled earlier last year in “Maudie.”

MY PREDICTION: Frances McDormand

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR nominees are Willem Dafoe (“The Florida Project”), Woody Harrelson (“Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”), Richard Jenkins (“The Shape of Water”), Christopher Plummer (“All the Money in the World”) and Sam Rockwell (“Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”).

Willem Dafoe’s hotel manager is a shot of warmth in an otherwise cold story, but I suspect Sam Rockwell’s bumbling, utterly despicable cop is more impressive, along with Woody Harrelson’s hapless Sheriff. Christopher Plummer’s last-minute replacement of Kevin Spacey is amazing, and Richard Jenkins’ portrayal tugged at my heart strings. Any man could win in very tough category.


BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS nominees are Mary J. Blige (“Mudbound”), Allison Janney (“I, Tonya”), Lesley Manville (“Phantom Thread”), Laurie Metcalf (“Lady Bird”) and Octavia Spencer (“The Shape of Water”).

In our youth-oriented culture, it’s interesting that the average age of these five nominees is 55; the youngest is 47 year-old Mary J. Blige. Both Allison Janney and Laurie Metcalf are best known for their TV and stage work, and they both play combative mothers who undermine their daughters while trying to help them.

MY PREDICTION: Allison Janney

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY nominees are “The Big Sick,” “Get Out,” “Lady Bird,” “The Shape of Water” and “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.”

While the thriller “Get Out” is ostensibly about a black photographer who must flee from his white girlfriend’s family, its scope transcends the horror genre with a compelling script that wastes no words or images, exposing deep racial unease in post-Obama America.

MY PREDICTION: Jordan Peele for “Get Out”

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY nominees are “Call Me By Your Name,” “The Disaster Artist,” “Logan,” “Molly’s Game” and “Mudbound.”

MY PREDICTION: James Ivory for “Call Me By Your Name,” continuing the acceptance of LGBT-themed films.

BEST FILM EDITING: “Baby Driver,” “Dunkirk,” “I, Tonya,” “The Shape of Water” and “
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.”

Odds favor “Dunkirk’s” Lee Smith who intercut three narratives to shape the harrowing story of survival and resistance with stunning precision.


BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY nominees are “Blade Runner 2049,” “Darkest Hour,” “Mudbound,” “Dunkirk,” and “The Shape of Water.”

Rachel Morrison (“Mudbound”) is the first woman ever nominated in this category; she also did the cinematography for the current hit “Black Panther.”  Odds favor Roger Deakins, who has been nominated for an Academy Award 14 times, yet never won an Oscar.

MY PREDICTION: “Blade Runner 2049”

BEST VISUAL EFFECTS nominees are “Blade Runner 2049,” “Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2,” “Kong: Skull Island,” “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” and “War for the Planet of the Apes.”

Four-time Oscar winner Joe Letteri of Weta Digital enhanced the emotional depths of Andy Serkis’ performance as Caesar, while leveraging depth of field to sculpt his realistic journey.

MY PREDICTION: “War for the Planet of the Apes”

BEST PRODUCTION DESIGN nominees are “Beauty and the Beast,” “Blade Runner 2049,” “Darkest Hour,” “Dunkirk” and “The Shape of Water.”

MY PREDICTION: “The Shape of Water”

BEST COSTUME DESIGN nominees are “Beauty and the Beast,” “Darkest Hour,” “Phantom Thread,” “The Shape of Water” and “Victoria and Abdul.”

MY PREDICTION: “Phantom Thread”

BEST MAKEUP & HAIRSTYLING nominees are “Darkest Hour,” “Victoria & Abdul” and “Wonder.”

It took Kazuhiro Tsuji three hours each day to mold Gary Oldman into Winston Churchill, using a combination of prosthetics along with makeup and a finely crafted wig.

MY PREDICTION: “Darkest Hour”

BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM nominees are “A Fantastic Woman” (Chile), “The Insult” (Lebanon), “Loveless” (Russia), “On Body and Soul” (Hungary), and “The Square”(Sweden).

Real-world events could again tilt the scale, as “Foxtrot” examines the continuing conflict between Palestinians and the Israeli soldiers who man security check-points, while “The Insult” is a legal drama about Lebanon’s sectarian divide between Christians and Muslims. The current standoff with Vladimir Putin might eliminate Russia’s “Loveless,” and “In the Fade” looks at the rise of racist violence through a neo-Nazi who murders a German woman’s Kurdish husband a child. Which leaves the art world satire “The Square,” “A Fantastic Woman” about a Chilean transgender (played by transgender Daniela Vega), and “On Body and Soul,” the surreal love story of an autistic woman and an emotionally and physically crippled man.

MY PREDICTION: “A Fantastic Woman”

BEST DOCUMENTARY nominees are “Faces Places,” “Icarus,” “Last Men in Aleppo,” “Abacus: Small Enough to Jail” and “Strong Island.”

I favor 89 year-old French filmmaker Agnes Varda who received an Honorary Oscar at the Governors Awards. Her prime competitor is “Icarus,” a timely look at state-sanctioned steroid use by Russian Olympians. Plus, there’s “Abacus” about a small family-owned bank in New York’s Chinatown; “Last Men in Aleppo” honors civilian rescuers known as White Helmets; and “Strong Island” about the 1992 murder for an unarmed teacher.

MY PREDICTION: “Faces Places”

BEST ANIMATED FILM nominees are “The Boss Baby,” “The Breadwinner,” “Coco,” “Ferdinand” and “Loving Vincent.” Previously, only animators nominated in this category but, this year, the Academy opened nominations to members who had seen a majority of the 26 eligible movies, indicating when and how they viewed each film.

“Loving Vincent’ is perhaps the most unusual nominee, since each frame is hand-painted in oils in the style of Vincent Van Gogh, while Pixar’s poignant “Coco” explores death as a Mexican affirmation of remembering the past; its theme song “Remember Me” melts the heart.



BEST ORIGINAL SCORE nominees are “Dunkirk,” “Phantom Thread,” “The Shape of Water,” “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” and “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”

MY PREDICTION: ”The Shape of Water”

BEST ORIGINAL SONG nominees are “Mighty River” (“Mudbound”), “Mystery of Love” (“Call Me By Your Name”), “Remember Me” (“Coco”), “Stand Up for Something” (“Marshall”) and “This Is Me” (“The Greatest Showman”).

Last year, Justin Paul and Benj Pasek won for “City of Stars” from “La La Land.” If they win again, they’ll be the first songwriters to score consecutive victories since Henry Mancini & Johnny Mercer won for “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” (1961) & “Days of Wine and Roses” (1962).

MY PREDICTION: Justin Paul and Benj Pasek for “This Is Me.”

BEST SOUND EDITING nominees are “Baby Driver,” “Blade Runner 2049,” “Dunkirk,” “The Shape of Water” and “Star Wars: The Last Jedi.”


BEST SOUND MIXING nominees are “Baby Driver, “Blade Runner 2049,” “Dunkirk,’ “The Shape of Water” and “Star Wars: The Last Jedi.”

MY PREDICTION: “Baby Driver”

BEST ANIMATED SHORT FILM nominees are “Dear Basketball,” “Garden Party,” “Negative Space,” “Lou” and “Revolting Rhymes.”

MY PREDICTION: “Dear Basketball”

BEST LIVE ACTION SHORT FILM nominees are “The Eleven O’Clock,” “My Nephew Emmett,” “The Silent Child,” “Watu Wote: All of Us” and “Dekalb Elementary.”

MY PREDICTION: “DeKalb Elementary”

BEST DOCUMENTARY SHORT FILM nominees are “Edith & Eddie,” “Heroin(e),” “Knife Skills,” “Traffic Stop” and “Heaven is a Traffic Jam on the 405.”

Issue-oriented “Heroin(e)” grapples with the grim epidemic of drug addiction in Huntington, West Virginia, while “Knife Skills” outlines a Cleveland-based program teaching culinary skills to former convicts at a French restaurant doubling as a training facility. Tackling elder abuse, “Edith & Eddie” focuses on a Washington D.C-area couple, fighting to remain together. “Heaven is a Traffic Jam” profiles artist Mindy Alper, who loves sitting in her car in bumper-to-bumper traffic. And “Traffic Stop” reveals the ordeal of a 26 year-old black schoolteacher in Austin, Texas.

MY PREDICTION: “Edith & Eddie”


“Pete Rex”

Susan Granger’s review of “Pete Rex” (59E59 Theatre – Off-Broadway)


Opening with a video projection of a primitive homo sapiens battling a dinosaur, this inventive play explores man’s inner feelings, showing how our species hasn’t progressed much over the eons.

Surrounded by empty beer cans, thirtysomething slacker Pete (Greg Carere) lives in his own man-cave in West Kensington, PA, watching football marathons of “Madden 07” on his Xbox and eating Little Debbie Zebra Cakes. He’s depressed because his girl-friend Julie (Rose Sowa) is moving to New York City, and he’s simply not ready to grow up and join her.

Suddenly, Julie bursts in, informing Pete and his soon-to-be-devoured buddy Bo (Simon Winheld) that dinosaurs have invaded their town. At first, they don’t believe her but, when her assertion is confirmed on TV, Pete, who once wanted to be a paleontologist, claims to be an expert, referring to Dr. Adam Grant and “Jurassic Park.”

The authentic presence of these giant, primal reptiles is established by eerie shadows created by lighting designer Remy M. Leelike and thumping generated by sound designer Megan Culley.

The next thing you know, Julie and Pete have found an enormous egg and are incubating it under the couch. When it hatches, it turns out to be a caustic, anthropomorphic Tyrannosaurus Rex who – in a distinctly British accent – calls himself Nero (Simon Winheld) and enjoys playing prehistoric Trivial Pursuit before he consumes his next meal.

“I am a huge fan,” Pete gushes, “You’re like the coolest thing that ever lived.”

Eventually, it becomes obvious that Nero is a sophomoric projection of a toy T-Rex that angst-riddled Pete once considered his protector against the evil forces of the adult world.

“We’re together again, just like old times,“ Nero tells him.

Written by Alexander V. Thompson and directed by Brad Raimondo, it’s an existential, absurdist comedy, a Dreamscape Theatre NYC premiere that provides plenty of surprises, becoming an intriguing, if immature diversion.

“Pete Rex” plays at 59E59 Theater through March 3.

“Party Face”

Susan Granger’s review of “Party Face” (City Center Stage II – Off-Broadway)


Oscar-winning actress Hayley Mills (“The Parent Trap,” “Pollyanna”) stars in Isobel Mahon’s Irish comedy about a festivity that’s full of surprises.

Set in the newly remodeled kitchen of a flat in Dublin, Mollie Mae (Gina Costigan) is hosting her first cocktail party after spending three weeks in a psychiatric hospital.  Mollie’s husband left her six weeks earlier after 16 years of marriage, causing her to suffer a nervous breakdown in the cereal aisle of a supermarket.

Melancholy, morose Mollie’s guests include her elegant mother, Carmel (Hayley Mills), her acerbic sister Maeve (Brenda Meaney), her obsessive-compulsive psych ward roommate Bernie (Klea Blackhurst) and her slyly nasty neighbor Chloe (Allison Jean White).

Shallow, status-conscious Carmel arrives first, clad in pink silk capri pants and high heels, taking a quick look around and immediately undermining Mollie, noting: “Lovely flowers…in my day, you never saw a lily outside of a funeral parlor, but, sure, that’s progress…”

While critical, controlling Connie holds center-stage throughout most of the forced gaiety that includes a conga line, the guest mix and mingle, trading barbs about men, marriage, mental health…and an unusual topiary.

Now almost 72 years old, beguiling Ms. Mills deserves a better vehicle than this trifling two-act, occasionally clever cluster of clichéd canapes, directed by Amanda Bearse, designed by Jeff Ridenour, lit by Joyce Liao and costumed by Lara de Bruijn.

“Party Face” plays at Stage II, New York City Center, 131 West 55th Street, until April 8.

“The Pirates of Somalia”

Susan Granger’s review of “The Pirates of Somalia” (SP Releasing)


After newspaper headlines and Tom Hanks’ “Captain Phillips” stirred interest in piracy and hijackings of cargo ships on the Indian Ocean off the Horn of Africa, this dramedy delves into the culture of Somalia and its precarious democracy.

Tired of receiving rejection letters from leading magazines, wannabe Canadian journalist Jay Bahadur (Evan Peters) relishes a chance encounter in Toronto with his idol, revered newspaperman Seymour Tobin (Al Pacino), who urges him to find a crazy, compelling story and pursue it.

Having once written a term paper on Somalia, Bahadur borrows money from his mother (Melanie Griffith) to travel there, hoping to meet with its newly-elected President in Puntland in order to understand the complex socio-economics of the region, once known as a “land of poets,” where people resolved their disputes with language.

At the airport, Bahadur is met by his translator Abdi (Barkhad Abdi, Oscar-nominated for “Captain Phillips”), who advises him not to follow up on CBS News’ offer of $1,000 to anyone who can get hostage footage from a ship that’s been captured by Somali pirates.

So Bahadur begins his research by scheduling interviews with various Somali bigwigs, all of whom expect to be bribed with the local drug called khat, a chewable narcotic plant which can be easily purchased in the open marketplace. Since Bahadur’s a stoner, he understands this all too well.

Which is the film’s weakness. As portrayed by Evan Peters (TV’s “American Horror Story”), Bahadur is an annoying wiseass and, therefore, not as likeable and sympathetic a protagonist as one might wish, even though he eventually becomes an acknowledged ‘authority’ on Somalia.

Based on Jay Bahadur’s non-fiction “The Pirates of Somalia: Inside Their Hidden World,” it’s written and directed as a first-feature-film by Bryan Buckley, who nabbed an Oscar nomination for his short “Asad,” featuring Somali refugees.

While Buckley’s effectiveness often gets sidetracked by simplistic subplots and superfluous characters, his casting is authentic, even listing each actor’s Somali refugee status in the end credits.

On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “The Pirates of Somalia” is a simplistic 6, enhanced by another superb performance by Barkhad Abdi.