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“The Journey”

Susan Granger’s review of “The Journey” (IFC Films)

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Perhaps better suited to the History Channel, this film imagines a car ride during which Ireland’s sworn enemies, Ian Paisley (Timothy Spall) and Martin McGuiness (Colm Meaney), began to communicate after decades of hostility and violence in Northern Ireland.

In October, 2006, while trying to work out what became known as the St. Andrews Agreement, Rev. Paisley needed to fly from the famed Scottish golf resort to Belfast to celebrate his Golden Wedding anniversary with his wife. For security reasons, McGuiness insists on accompanying him.

As various mishaps and delays lengthen the time it takes to make 50-mile trip to the Edinburgh airport, the lifelong adversaries begin to converse for the first time.

Taking a conciliatory position, garrulous McGuiness, the former Irish Republican Army leader, initiates their interaction. At first, Paisley, the crusading 80 year-old founder of the Democratic Unionist Party, is overtly confrontational, exuding moral superiority. Eventually, his stern countenance softens, along with his vehemently anti-Catholic rhetoric.

What they don’t realizes is that their young Scots chauffeur (Freddie Highmore) is actually an undercover British agent, charged with monitoring their private conversation which is being watched via a secret camera by MI-boss Harry Patterson (John Hurt) and Prime Minister Tony Blair (Toby Stephens).

Scripted by Colin Bateman and directed by Nick Hamm – with memorable performances from both Spall and Meaney – it provides an imaginative look at the background leading up to the assumption of power by First Minister Ian Paisley and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness in 2007.

In reality, Paisley’s wife Eileen was with him at St. Andrews; he and McGuinness did not actually begin to dialogue with one another until six months after the Agreement was signed.

On the Granger Mo vie Gauge of 1 to 10, “The Journey” is a simplistic 6, giving the impression of eavesdropping on a historic conversation.

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“The Hunter’s Prayer”

Susan Granger’s review of “The Hunter’s Prayer” (Lionsgate/Saban Films)

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When her wealthy parents are murdered in their suburban New York, home, teenage Ella Hatto (Odeya Rush) is thousands of miles away at a posh Swiss boarding school, sneaking out to a trendy nightclub with her boyfriend Sergio, unaware that she’s next on the assassin’s hit list.

But he’s no ordinary killer. Conflicted, conscience-stricken Stephen Lucas (Sam Worthington) has gone rogue. Suffering from PTSD and addicted to heroin, he’s filled with regrets over his military past. So Stephen decides not only to spare Ella’s life but also to track down the other gunmen who have been hired to kill her.

Posing as a bodyguard sent by her family, he explains that there’s a contract out on her as punishment for her father’s financial treachery.

As they travel across Europe, eluding a shadowy so-called friend (Veronica Echegui) and corrupt FBI agent (Amy Landecker), Stephen and Ella get to know one another, establishing an unlikely relationship that’s reminiscent of Luc Besson’s subversive “Leon: The Professional.”

“How do you do it?” Ella inquires. “Kill people.”

By the time they reach the imposing 19th century Yorkshire estate that belongs to malevolent Richard Addison (Allen Leech) and serves as a lavish front for his illegal narcotics distribution, they’ve become a team.

Working from a far-fetched, thinly sketched script by John Brancato and Michael Ferris, based on a 2004 novel “For the Dogs” by Kevin Wignall, resourceful director Jonathan Mostow (“U-571,” “Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines,” “Breakdown”) relies on action, rather than exposition and dialogue, to propel this effective thriller. As a result, brawling fight scenes, careening car-chases and brutal shootouts abound.

On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “The Hunter’s Prayer” is a gritty, fast-paced 6, best suited for video-viewing.

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“My Cousin Rachel”

Susan Granger’s review of “My Cousin Rachel” (Fox Searchlight Pictures)

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Daphne du Maurier’s 1951 novel is the epitome of Gothic melodrama, filled with an insidious sense of danger and death.

Orphaned at an early age, Philip Ashley (Sam Claflin) was raised by his bachelor uncle Ambrose on a picturesque country estate on England’s Cornish coast. Content with his horses and dogs, Ambrose “Never had much need for women.”

Yet on a trip to Florence, Italy, elderly Ambrose met and married his distant cousin Rachel (Rachel Weisz). Soon after, he fell ill and died.

Callow, self-centered 24 year-old Philip blames Rachel for his uncle’s death and when she arrives in Cornwall, he meets her with hatred in his heart.

But he’s inexorably drawn to this calm, charming woman who manipulates him with the same sophisticated skill by which she brews her mysterious herbal teas by candlelight.

Soon, peevish Philip is besotted by the beautifully beguiling, black-lace veiled Rachel, much to the dismay of his godfather, Mr. Kendall (Iain Glen), whose sensible daughter, Louise (Holliday Grainger), everyone presumed Philip would eventually marry.

Adapted and directed by Roger Michell (“Notting Hill”) as a costume drama, it lacks the essential emotional menace and momentum of Du Maurier’s narrative which so clearly delineated an irrepressible, independent woman who, despite mid-19th century society’s restrictions, was determined to live life on her own terms.

While Rachel Weisz (“Denial”) embodies the duality of du Maurier’s inscrutable, yet irresistible Rachel, unfortunately, Sam Claflin (“Me Before You”) never quite grasps impetuous Philip’s essential dilemma.

FYI: After Greta Garbo and Vivien Leigh turned down the titular role, the first “My Cousin Rachel” (1952) starred Olivia de Havilland and Richard Burton; it was nominated for four Academy Awards.

On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “My Cousin Rachel” is a stylish, seductive 6, leaving us to wonder: Did she? Didn’t she?

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“The Mummy”

Susan Granger’s review of “The Mummy” (Universal Pictures)

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This fantasy-adventure was designed as the first entry in an upcoming Universal franchise to be called the “Dark Universe,” featuring interconnected classic horror monsters from the 1920s, ‘30s and ‘40s

Opening with an Egyptian proverb that specifies “we never die” but, instead, reincarnate again and again, it introduces a pharaoh’s treacherous daughter, Princess Ahmanet (Sofia Boutella), who murdered her father, his second wife and their infant son after making a pact with Set, god of the dead.

Mummified and buried alive for her sins, Ahmanet’s tomb is ‘discovered’ in Iraq by antiquity-hunting Army Sergeant Nick Morton (Tom Cruise), his buddy Chris Vail (Jake Johnson) and archeologist Dr. Jenny Halsey (Annabelle Wallis).

Disregarding Jenny’s warning about an ancient curse, cocky Nick releases exotic, tattooed Ahmanet from imprisonment. This ancient enchantress subsequently sucks the life out of her victims with a deadly kiss, transforming them into zombies, while her spirit inhabits and confuses Nick, her “chosen” host.

Eventually, they all wind up in London, where Nick confronts maniacal Dr. Jekyll (Russell Crowe) and his alter-ego Mr. Hyde, who heads Prodigium, a clandestine organization that monitors evil entities around the world, as they search for the mystical Dagger of Set and its missing ruby finial.

Skimpily scripted by a team of writers that includes David Koepp, Christopher McQuarrie, Dylan Kussman, Jenny Lumet, John Spaihts and inexperienced director Alex Kurtzman (“People Like Us”), it’s filled with nonsensical action as thieving, impulsive, amoral Nick works his way toward some sort of dubious redemption.

Lacking originality – except in bestowing two glowing irises in each of Ahmanet’s eyes – even the CGI is disappointing, making one yearn for previous “Mummy” pictures that starred Boris Karloff, Lon Chaney, Christopher Lee or even genial Brendan Fraser.

Without a sense of mystery, danger or fun, the superficial concept plays like an elaborate, expensive prologue for future films with the Invisible Man (Johnny Depp) and Dr. Frankenstein’s Monster (Javier Bardem).

FYI: British actress Annabelle Wallis (Henry VIII’s third wife Jane Seymour in Showtime’s “The Tudors”) is a niece of the late Richard Harris, best known to Millennials as Dumbledore in “Harry Potter.”

On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “The Mummy” is a frantic 4, a monstrous flop.

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“Megan Leavey”

Susan Granger’s review of “Megan Leavey” (Bleecker Street)

 

While “Wonder Woman” celebrates a fantasy hero, “Megan Leavey” reveals the true story of a real woman, a Marine in combat, and the bomb-sniffing German Shepherd who becomes her constant companion.

Growing up in suburban Valley Cottage, New York, Megan Leavey (Kate Mara), admittedly, doesn’t connect with people very well, nor does Rex, the large, aggressive, allegedly uncontrollable Military Working Dog dog with whom she’s paired in Marine K-9 training at Camp Pendleton.

They soon become inseparable and, when they’re deployed to Iraq, their bond is forged even deeper. After more than 100 missions from 2003 to 2006, Megan is wounded by an IED (Improvised Explosive Device) and sent home, leaving Rex behind with a series of different handlers.

Suffering from PTSD, stoic Megan descends into a deep depression, much to the annoyance of her ne’er-do-well, divorced mother Kathy (Edie Falco). And it isn’t until her empathetic father Bob (Bradley Whitford) questions what would make Megan’s life worth living, that she realizes that the answer is Rex.

So Megan launches her own four-year quest to adopt Rex when he’s injured and duly retired after his military service, battling a stubborn veterinarian who deems Rex “too ferocious” and, publicly, enlisting help from New York Sen. Chuck Schumer (Andrew Masset).

The uplifting screenplay is sensitively crafted by Pamela Gray, Annie Mumolo and Tim Lovestedt and deftly directed as a docudrama by Gabriela Cowperthwaite (“Blackfish,” the SeaWorld expose), who elicits nuanced performances not only from Kate Mara but also Common, as Megan’s no-nonsense sergeant, and Ramon Rodriguez, as her romantic interest.

Kudos also to cinematographer Lorenzo Senatore and editor Peter McNulty, whose restrained depiction Megan and her cohorts patrolling the desert war zones of Fallujah and Ramadi seems accurately harrowing.

On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “Megan Leavey” is a subtly satisfying 7, celebrating our soldiers’ canine comrades.

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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.

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“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.

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