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DREAMING OF JOSEPH LEES

Susan Granger’s review of “DREAMING OF JOSEPH LEES” (Fox Searchlight Films)

This Gothic tale of romantic obsession revolves around a young woman named Eva, played by Samantha Morton (“Under the Skin”), who is preoccupied with her second cousin. Eva lives with her teenage sister (Lauren Richardson) and stern, elderly father (Frank Finlay) in the rural English county of Somerset. She works as a clerk but fantasizes about Joseph Lees – that’s Rupert Graves – who has been the unrequited object of her affection since childhood. When her precocious little sister discovers her secret, she plots to get the two together. The fact that the handsome ex-soldier, now a geologist, has lost his leg in a quarry accident in Italy only increases Eva’s fervent fascination. And she’s hardly deterred by the ardent pursuit of a dull local pig farmer, Harry Flyte (Lee Ross), with whom she moves in, which is an inexplicably daring and rebellious move, considering it’s the late 1950s. Her explanation is that she doesn’t want to “make the same mistake” that her divorced parents did. Finally, Joseph Lees actually appears – at a family wedding – and, predictably, real trouble begins. There’s an immediate physical attraction, pure lust, which is soon consummated – much to Harry’s distress. At this point, Harry’s suicidal depression abruptly becomes the dramatic focus, resulting in Eva’s distraught soul-searching. Screenwriter Catherine Linstrum and director Eric Styles concentrate on Eva’s sensuality and character development, leaving Joseph Lees as somewhat of an enigma and ignoring large plot loopholes. In addition, Harry is such a clumsy, unappealing rival that there’s no tension. On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “Dreaming of Joseph Lees” is a confused, conflicted 4. It’s a murky melodrama about emotional repression that remains strange and shallow.

04

THE BACHELOR

Susan Granger’s review of “THE BACHELOR” (New Line Cinema)

There have been a number wedding-theme’d comedies like “Runaway Bride” and “The Best Man” but this is the weakest of the group. Chris O’Donnell plays a billiards heir who realizes that it’s time to give up his beloved bachelor status and make a commitment to the photographer, Renee Zellweger (“Jerry Maguire”), whom he’s been dating for three years. But when the moment to propose occurs, O’Donnell lamely grins at her, offering an engagement ring, saying, “You win.” Offended by his ambivalence and obvious insincerity, she leaves him flat. Shortly thereafter, he discovers he will lose his grandfather’s (Peter Ustinov) $100 million fortune if he’s not married by the age of 30 – which is less than 24 hours away. So, following the advice of the family attorney (Ed Asner) and stock broker (Hal Holbrook), he desperately arranges for a priest (James Cromwell) to wait in the limousine, ready to perform a quickie ceremony, while he rides around San Francisco looking for a bride. Mariah Carey, Brooke Shields, and Jennifer Esposito pop up in cameos as his former girlfriends. His buddy (Artie Lange) spills the dilemma to the newspaper which results in a climactic stampede of 1,000 wannabe brides clad in white gowns. “It’s like Larry King’s living room!” Lange quips. The screenplay by Steve Cohen was adapted from Buster Keaton’s “Second Chances” (1925) with a nod to “Brewster’s Millions” (1945) in which an ordinary guy had to spend $1 million in a month in order to receive a major inheritance. And director Gary Sinyor (“Stiff Upper Lips”) must be an ardent fan of over-acting. On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “The Bachelor” is a totally predictable, pre-feminist 4 until, finally, the bland “hero” realizes the non-materialistic merits of matrimony.

04

THE BONE COLLECTOR

Susan Granger’s review of “THE BONE COLLECTOR” (Universal Pictures)

This is yet another urban thriller about a sadistic serial killer. Denzel Washington plays a bedridden, suicidal, quadriplegic forensics expert and best-selling author who teams up with a former fashion model-turned-rookie cop, Angelina Jolie, to capture an imaginative murderer with a penchant for cryptic clues. And each killing is uniquely horrific, just like in “Seven.” Inexplicably, the NYPD uses Washington’s SoHo loft as a base of operations while Jolie acts as his eyes and ears, exploring the grisly crime scenes, describing them to him, and following his instructions precisely. “You’ve got to saw her hands off at the wrist line! I’ve got to have those cuffs for prints!” he barks into her cell phone from his motorized bed. As his devoted nurse, Queen Latifah imbues the role with a special sassy quality, while the stereotypical supporting characters include Ed O’Neill, Mike McGlone, Luis Guzman, and Michael Rooker as Washington’s former boss. Utilizing Jeremy Iacone’s clichŽ-ridden, uneven screenplay, adapted from the novel by Jeffrey Deaver, director Philip Noyce (“Clear and Present Danger,” “Patriot Games”) cleverly keeps the cinematic tension taut as the hapless victims are buried alive, scalded by steam or devoured by rats. But the final confrontation between the immobilized Washington – using “one finger, two shoulders, and a head” – and the deranged killer is utterly preposterous. Angelina Jolie is woefully unconvincing, particularly when she’s crying, and her pouting lips have been so puffed up with some kind of silicone concoction that they look ludicrous. On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “The Bone Collector” is a dopey, diabolical 6. It’s basically a grisly, gruesome whodunnit.

06

DOGMA

Susan Granger’s review of “DOGMA” (Lion’s Gate Films)

A holy war has been waged over this crude, controversial Kevin Smith satire of Catholicism. Financed and developed by Bob and Harvey Weinstein at Miramax, a Disney subsidiary, it was sold to Lion’s Gate after William Donohue’s Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights filed protests with Disney CEO Michael Eisner. The Catholic League previously led a boycott of Disney over Priest, a 1995 Miramax release which depicted a gay priest. Yet, despite all the fuss, Dogma is a surprisingly dull parable. Matt Damon and Ben Affleck play fallen angels who have been sent to everlasting exile in Wisconsin. Using a loophole in Catholic doctrine, they know a way to get back into heaven but their re-entry would negate all existence – at least that’s what abortion clinic worker Linda Fiorentino is told as her help is enlisted by an angel (Alan Rickman). She’s befriended by the black 13th Apostle (Chris Rock) and a spunky stripper-muse (Salma Hayek), while being pursued by an exiled muse (Jason Lee). She encounters a zealous Cardinal (George Carlin), who’s promoting “a buddy Christ”, and discovers God is a woman (Alanis Morissette). So what? Among the long, boring interludes is some particularly repugnant chicanery with an excrement monster. Affleck and Damon are genial dudes but Fiorentino mopes, smirks or snarls, showing no emotional or vocal range. Kevin Smith’s cult fans who enjoyed Clerks and Chasing Amy may be the only audience for this feeble comic fantasy which is too heavy on moralizing and too light on laughter. Smith’s message – that dogmatism is bad, that no one religion is better than any other – is delivered with a thud. The sophomoric jokes basically bomb. On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, Dogma is an uninspired, trifling, muddled 2. It’s a dud.

02

THE INSIDER

Susan Granger’s review of “THE INSIDER” (Touchstone)

Michael Mann’s compelling story, adapted by Mann and Eric Roth from Marie Brenner’s 1996 Vanity Fair article, “The Man Who Knew Too Much,” examines the behind-the-scenes drama and maneuverings that led to the media’s exposure of tobacco industry fraud. Whistle-blower Jeffrey Wigand, former head of research and development at Brown & Williamson, was a corporate officer, the ultimate insider on the skullduggery involved in the business of selling tobacco. His firing comes to the attention of Mike Wallace’s producer, Lowell Bergman, who convinces the reluctant scientist to spill the beans on 60 Minutes, only to have the interview killed by CBS’s corporate lawyer who cites a confidentiality agreement the executive signed with the tobacco company. Three months later, after the Wall Street Journal printed Wigand’s allegations, 60 Minutes aired the segment. So much for fiasco. It’s the Oscar-caliber performances that command attention, primarily the emotional relationship between Russell Crowe, as the conflicted Wigand, and Al Pacino, as the tenacious Bergman. A journalist hasn’t shown this much righteous indignation since All the President’s Men. Christopher Plummer deserves a Best Supporting Actor nod as Wallace, who with Philip Baker Hall, as producer Don Hewitt, come across as cowards, bowing to management on ethics, leaving their source, Wigand, hanging in the wind. The medieval and Middle Eastern music by Lisa Gerrard and Pieter Bourke enhances Dante Spinotti’s dark, eerie imagery. On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, The Insider is a tense, trenchantly topical 10. Subsequent to the shocking events dramatized in the film, the tobacco industry settled the lawsuits filed against it by Mississippi and 49 other states for $246 billion.

10

ANYWHERE BUT HERE

Susan Granger’s review of “ANYWHERE BUT HERE” (20th Century-Fox)

In this mother/daughter spin on Thelma and Louise, Susan Sarandon and Natalie Portman, as Adele and Ann August, respectively, take off from Bay City, Wisconsin, for Beverly Hills, California. They’re on the road in a 1978 Mercedes, heading for what flamboyant Adele envisions as a better life. Ann’s more than reluctant; she’s bitterly rebellious about leaving her small-town friends and family. When they reach the promised land, their first stop is the opulent Beverly Hills Hotel where their financial reality dawns on Ann, if not Adele. In fact, reality plays a minuscule part in any of Adele’s decisions – the most disastrous of which is a one-night stand with a recently-separated dentist whom she meets on the beach. Over a period of two years, mother and daughter adjust to a poverty-plagued life in a series of tacky, sparsely furnished, one-bedroom apartments in the flats of Beverly Hills. Ann is the resourceful realist, making friends and adjusting; Adele, ever the dreamer, just outside Nirvana, looking in, considering an ice cream cone as the solution to every crummy problem. Of course, in the end, Ann realizes how indebted she is to her mother not only for her creative juices but also for her spirit of adventure. Directed by Wayne Wang, Natalie Portman delivers a subtle, nuanced performance as a teenager desperate for normalcy, particularly in contrast to Susan Sarandon’s persistent, over-the-top kookiness. Alvin Sargent’s screen adaptation of Mona Simpson’s novel amounts to little more than a series of vignettes, leaving you emotionally uninvolved. On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, Anywhere But Here is a touching, sentimental 6. Make no mistake – it’s a woman’s picture. And, if you enjoy it, why not rent last year’s Slums of Beverly Hills, a similar but far edgier comedy?

06

THE OMEGA CODE

Susan Granger’s review of “THE OMEGA CODE” (Providence Entertainment)

Onward, Christian filmmakers! Heavily promoted by the Trinity Broadcasting Network, the largest Christian TV organization in the country, this religious thriller is an end-of-the-world suspense story based on the book of Revelation. Written by Stephan Blinn and Hollis Barton, it manages to be a non-violent story about Armageddon, crediting to Hal Lindsey (The Late Great Planet Earth) as “prophecy consultant.” The muddled plot revolves around Casper Van Dien as a Tony Robbins-like motivational speaker who, along with European Union Chairman, played by Michael York, seems to be trying to secure a world peace agreement. Only, a secret Biblical code falls into the wrong hands, putting the world’s future at stake. Not surprisingly, Van Dien will have to accept Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior in order to save civilization as we know it. Produced by Matthew Crouch, son of TBN’s president, Paul Crouch, the film is designed to alert Hollywood that there’s an audience for clunky spiritual entertainment. They may be right from a religious perspective but film-making is an art that these zealots have yet to master. Casper Van Dien (Starship Troopers) is handsome but unconvincing, as is Catherine Oxenberg as a talk show host. Michael York’s such an obviously sleazy megalomaniac that it’s not credible that he’s a trusted diplomat. Only Michael Ironside emerges with dignity intact. Rob Marcarelli’s direction is flat and unimaginative, the computer graphics are juvenile, and the delusional absurdity includes having Van Dien discover his house is bugged and then verbally discuss his “secret” plans. On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, The Omega Code is a timely but ploddingly dull 3. I’d advise you not to pay for this preachy, blatant brain-washing; instead, tune in – free – to TBN.

03

LIBERTY HEIGHTS

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

Filmmaker Barry Levinson says: “If I knew things would no longer be, I would have tried to remember better.” And this expertly crafted coming-of-age tale is Levinson’s fourth semi-autobiographical film set in Baltimore – like “Diner,” “Tin Men,” and “Avalon.” Focusing on the changing times of the mid-1950s, it tackles the provocative issues of race, religion and class distinction. A wry and enormously touching remembrance, it spans exactly one year in the life of an insular, middle-class Jewish family. With segregation coming to an end, they struggle with the poignant dilemmas evoked by ethnic diversity. One son finds himself attracted to a young black woman whose family is as appalled by their friendship as is his own, while the other son is dazzled by a luminous blue-eyed, blonde gentile who wields a magic wand, offering him a tantalizing glimpse into a lifestyle that’s a marked contrast to everything he’s ever known. Each boy pursues his passion with a manic edge that’s filled with pathos and amusement. Plus, there’s the traumatic upheaval caused by their father’s involvement in staging an illegal lottery that draws the attention of the F.B.I.. Headed by Joe Mantegna, the superb ensemble cast features Adrien Brody and Bebe Neuwirth, along with Justin Chambers, Vincent Guastaferro, Orlando Jones, David Krumholz, and Kiersten Warren. On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “Liberty Heights” is an evocative, nostalgic 8. It’s funny, feisty, and full of life, as laughter and tears mix and mingle, characterizing the human condition that Barry Levinson captures so deftly. Don’t miss it – and take your parents.

08

THE WORLD IS NOT ENOUGH

Susan Granger’s review of “THE WORLD IS NOT ENOUGH” (MGM/UA)

When you go to a James Bond film, you’re looking for escapist fantasy – and that’s what you get in this 19th installment in the long-running, most successful film franchise in cinema history. Directed by Michael Apted, the adventure begins with a sensational, action-packed opening sequence in Bilbao, Spain, where Bond (Pierce Brosnan) is attacked by a sexy sniper, setting the plot into motion. Bond’s mission, this time, is to find the notorious international terrorist (Robert Carlyle) responsible for the death of a British oil tycoon in an explosion in M16 headquarters. This formidable villain has a bullet lodged in his brain, rendering him unable to feel pain. To track him down, Bond is assigned as a bodyguard for the tycoon’s beautiful daughter, Elektra (Sophie Marceau), who is building an oil pipeline through some of the most dangerous territory on the globe. And his only ally in remote Azerbaijan and the Caspian Sea is a nuclear weapons expert, Dr. Christmas Jones (Denise Richards), whose name leads to one of the funniest last lines of a movie in years. Suave Pierce Brosnan embodies 007, delving into the emotional depth of his relationships, and Denise Richards is amusingly absurd as a scantily clad rocket scientist. Desmond Llewelyn returns as Q, with amazing high-tech gadgets, including a speed-boat and BMW, and John Cleese is introduced as R, his inept assistant. Judi Dench is back as M with Samantha Bond as Moneypenny. “Orbis non sufficit,” Latin for “The world is not enough,” is the Bond family motto (On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, 1969). For James Bond fans, on the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, The World Is Not Enough is a spectacular, fun-filled 10, packed with all the excitement you expect – and more. It’s a jaw-dropper, so buckle up for a wild ride!

10

LIGHT IT UP

Susan Granger’s review of “LIGHT IT UP” (20th Century-Fox)

There’s this neglected high school in Queens, New York, where a favorite teacher is suspended. In protest, six students barricade themselves inside the school, reluctantly taking a police officer (Forest Whitaker) hostage after he’s accidentally shot. And the simplistic, clichŽ-ridden story predictably evolves. But there’s a difference. After Columbine and other school shootings, this is a surprisingly effective civics lesson about the dangers of stereotyping. The six students are disparate personalities. There’s the sensitive graffiti artist (Robert Ri’chard) and the school’s star basketball player (R&B singer Usher Raymond), along with a purple-haired, pregnant wise-cracker (Sara Gilbert), a sardonic wheeler-dealer (Clifton Collins Jr.), a angry gang member (rap musician Fredro Starr) with an itchy trigger finger and a brainy beauty (Rosario Dawson) who tries to rationalize the impending chaos. Written and directed by Craig Bolotin, it was supposedly “inspired” by “The Breakfast Club,” even casting Judd Nelson as the caring, sensitive teacher. Vanessa L. Williams is the hostage negotiator, and Glenn Turman is the school’s beleaguered principal. The “Stop Racism!” signs that pop up among the crowd of spectators, along with the students’ demands – the windows fixed, more textbooks, and a Career Day – deliver the message of the danger of repressed rage. However, there’s little excuse for dialogue like one student’s observation: “There was a quiet riot in all of us” or another’s self- description: “a chalk-mark waiting to happen.” On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “Light It Up” is an irresponsible but well-intentioned 4. It’s a flawed but plausible hostage thriller, another R-rated movie aimed at teens.

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