Susan Granger’s review of “MAN ON THE MOON” (Universal Pictures)
Don’t miss the beginning – it’s the most imaginative and hilarious part. Facing the camera, Jim Carrey establishes immediately that he’s completely captured the eye-bulging essence of the late comedian Andy Kaufman. His impersonation is nothing short of brilliant, even Oscar-worthy. That having been acknowledged, the movie itself leaves a lot to be desired. First, it’s not really a movie. It’s simply the embodiment of an objectionable character whom people either adored or loathed. Director Milos Foreman and screenwriters Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski, the trio who did The People vs. Larry Flynt, don’t attempt an analysis or even offer psychological insight into the complex, enigmatic nature of this definitely unhinged, obviously neurotic, and perhaps psychotic performer. Instead, we simply watch his progress from comedy clubs, like the Improv, to Saturday Night Live, to TV’s Taxi along with his relentless self-destruction, aided and abetted by his writer/sidekick Bob Zmuda (Paul Giamatti). Danny DeVito’s superb as his agent, observing: “You’re insane – but you might also be brilliant.” Kaufman meets his girlfriend (Courtney Love) in a wrestling challenge but she too is a cipher. They have only one revelatory moment together when he whines, “You don’t know the real me.” And she replies, “There isn’t a real you.” And then, at age 35, cancer strikes. On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, Man on the Moon is a strange, shallow 6. Who was this Andy Kaufman – and why did he love to provoke people? That’s never answered in this uneven, two-hour compilation of comedy shtick. Even DeVito asks, “What’s the point?”
Susan Granger’s review of “STUART LITTLE” (Columbia Pictures)
It’s family entertainment that’s unabashedly sentimental but it’s difficult not to fall under the spell of this fanciful adaptation of E.B. White’s classic children’s tale. In the book, of course, a mouse was inexplicably born to a Manhattan family but, in the movie, artfully written by M. Knight Shamalyan and Gregory J. Brooker, directed by Rob Minkoff, teeny Stuart (cheerfully voiced by Michael J. Fox) is adopted by Mr. and Mrs. Little (pensive High Laurie, perky Geena Davis). They find him adorable, much to the consternation of their older son, George (Jonathan Lipnicki, memorable from Jerry Maguire), and the family feline Snowbell (hilariously voiced by Nathan Lane), who has been warned that Stuart is now family “and we don’t eat family members.” Affable and helpful, Stuart soon recruits George as a friend but Snowbell’s a different matter. After all, no one has ever seen a chipper rodent with a fluffy cat as a pet! Chagrined, Snowbell consults the local alley cat (Chazz Palminteri) who enlists a couple of malicious mice (Bruno Kirby, Jennifer Tilly) to pose as Stuart’s biological parents and claim him as their long-lost son, thus kidnapping him and providing, for the cats, a picnic in the park. Their comedic portrayals are eerily reminiscent of two similar sleazy characters in the musical Annie. Obviously, resourceful Stuart is eventually reunited with his loved ones and the dastardly “bad guys” get a well-deserved dunking in a cold stream. Technically, the blend of the digital characters with humans is seamless and superb. Stuart is minutely etched, along with his magnificently tailored clothes and emotionally expressive whiskers. On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, Stuart Little is an engaging 8. This wee mouse could roar, stealing your heart for family fare this weekend.
Susan Granger’s review of “GALAXY QUEST” (DreamWorks)
Glory, Hallelujah – this is the Christmas action comedy you’ve been waiting for! Tim Allen, Sigourney Weaver, Alan Rickman, Tony Shalhoub, and Daryl Mitchell play five actors who – 20 years ago – starred on a popular television series that was canceled. For four seasons, from 1979 to 1982, they played the crew of the NSEA Protector – now they earn their living appearing in costume at sci-fi conventions and chain-store openings. However, far in deep, outer space, the Thermians, a race of aliens from the Klatu Nebula, have intercepted Earth’s TV transmissions and, having no knowledge of fiction or drama, they have mistaken the sci-fi shows for valid historical documents. So when they’re faced with a deadly adversary, the ruthless Roth’h’ar Sarris of Fatu-Krey (Robin Sachs), the Thermians abduct the characters – Comdr. Peter Quincy Taggert, Lt. Tawny Madison, Dr. Lazarus, et al – not realizing they’re really out-of-work actors. With no script, no director, and no clue about real space travel, the actors must turn in the performances of their lives to become the intergalactic heroes they’ve convinced everyone they are, as they encounter cannibalistic Blue Demon children, a giant Rock Monster, and a Pig Lizard. As the vain, self-serving commander, Tim Allen has never been better. Sigourney Weaver is a sexy, shameless babe, and Alan Rickman is outrageous as a Shakespearean-trained Brit who has been reduced to playing a half-human/half reptile. On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, Galaxy Quest is an exuberant, enormously funny 8. Aptly directed by Dean Parisot from a cleverly ironic screenplay by David Howard and Robert Gordon, it’s a bright, shiny holiday package of pure enjoyment, destined to blast into one of the big hits of the season.
Susan Granger’s review of “THE END OF THE AFFAIR” (Columbia Pictures)
What a disappointment! Writer/director Neil Jordan, who gave us The Crying Game, Mona Lisa, and In Company of Wolves, totally misses the mark with this soggy romantic tale, grimly adapted from one of Graham Greene’s most autobiographical novels. Looking like a leftover from the ’50s, it’s a staid, stodgy drama set during W.W.II, when the Nazis were bombing London and adulterous couples carelessly cavorted in bed instead of seeking shelter during the air-raids. One such couple is Ralph Fiennes and Julianne Moore. He’s a moody novelist, tortured by jealousy, and she’s a troubled married woman, trapped by circumstance in a dull, loveless marriage to a career civil servant, glumly played by Stephen Rea. They enjoyed many lusty encounters until, inexplicably, she broke off with him. The story explores how that happened and why. It would be helpful if we cared but we don’t, because neither character is even remotely interesting and, without revealing too much, suffice it to say that the explanation revolves around Catholicism, the power of prayer, the existence of miracles, and the virtue of sacrifice. Julianne Moore spends considerable screen time cavorting naked, having shocked audiences with her full frontal nudity in Robert Altman’s Short Cuts. She’s actress who obviously enjoys anatomical revelation and seeks roles in which she can show her body off. Delicate, skinny Ralph Fiennes, on the other hand, suffers when his clothes are removed; plus, he seems totally self-absorbed which renders the love scenes lifeless, even depressing. This same story was filmed unsuccessfully before in 1955 with Deborah Kerr, Van Johnson, and John Mills. On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “The End of the Affair” is a plodding, dreary 4. It’s a murky, misguided melodrama.
Susan Granger’s review of “THE HURRICANE” (Universal Pictures)
Denzel Washington delivers an intense, Oscar-worthy performance of overwhelming power and humanity as Ruben “Hurricane” Carter, whose dreams of winning the middleweight boxing title were destroyed when he was arrested for a triple murder in a New Jersey bar. Wrongfully convicted and sentenced to three life terms in prison, Carter channels his frustration and despair into writing his story, The 16th Round, saying: “Writing is a weapon more powerful than any fist can ever be.” Although he’s vowed to withdraw from the outside world, Carter’s touched when a alienated American youth, Lezra Martin (Vicellous Shannon), living in Canada, buys his book and sends him a letter. “Sometimes we don’t pick the books we read, they pick us,” Carter notes. As a friendship evolves, the determined 15 year-old enlists his guardians (Deborah Unger, John Hannah, Liev Schreiber) to mount a full-time campaign to prove Carter’s innocence. “Hate put me in prison,” Carter declares. “Love’s gonna get me out.” Writers Armyan Bernstein & Dan Gordon with director Norman Jewison weave a rich, eloquent tapestry, revealing the racism that overcame reason, the concealment that prevented full disclosure. Dan Hedaya is brutal as the corrupt prosecutor, and Rod Steiger is effective as the federal judge. Two quibbles: (1) at 2 hours, 20 minutes, it’s repetitious and (2) I wanted more about Lezra’s social activist guardians. Nevertheless, on the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, The Hurricane is a chilling, compelling 10 – a triumph of the human spirit and one of the best movies of the year. Although they evoke a shameful past, we need movies like these to remind us about the injustice and racial prejudice that has been and still remains an integral part of America.
Susan Granger’s review of “GIRL, INTERRUPTED”
Back in the ’60s, 17 year-old Susanna Kaysen wound up in Claymoore, an upscale psychiatric hospital in Massachusetts, for more than a year and used that experience to write a novel which fascinated doe-eyed actress Winona Ryder enough to option it and make it into this movie – in which she, of course, plays the dour, dreamy title role. It’s an episodic memoir, at best, showcasing the acting acumen of Ms. Ryder as the passive, indecisive Susanna and, even more, Angelina Jolie as a ferociously vicious sociopath, along with Clea DuVall as a pathological liar, Elizabeth Moss as a severely scarred burn victim, and Brittany Murphy as a pampered, rich girl with an eating disorder and an overly attentive father. Vanessa Redgrave is impressive as the chief psychiatrist. Problem is, Susanna Kaysen’s confused mental state, diagnosed as Borderline Personality Disorder, is much like that of a lot of female adolescents – confused about her self-image, uncertain about her long-term goals, and struggling to make sense of a rapidly changing world around her. Directed by James Mangold (Heavy, Cop Land) from a script co-written by him, Lisa Loomer and Anna Hamilton Phelan, the implausibly detached, humorless narrative examines the boundaries between confinement and freedom, friendship and betrayal, madness and sanity, evolving into a female version of One Few Over the Cuckoo’s Nest with no group dynamic. As a result, there’s no emotional involvement. On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, Girl, Interrupted is a sappy, superficial, frustrating 5. At one point, Whoopi Goldberg, as her no-nonsense nurse, tells whiny Susanna Kaysen, “You are a lazy, self-indulgent little girl who is driving herself crazy.” Right on, Whoopi!
Susan Granger’s review of “ANY GIVEN SUNDAY” (Warner Bros.)
It may be the classic story of the aging coach on a losing streak, the meddling owner, the injured veteran quarterback, and the rookie punk who’s itching to be a stadium star – but Oliver Stone adds a high-charged adrenaline rush and a few new twists. Al Pacino plays Tony D’Amato, longtime coach of the Miami Sharks; he’s sacrificed his wife and kids to his job and now he realizes he’s not relating to the younger guys on the team, particularly an amazing third-string quarterback, Jamie Foxx, who’s so nervous that he barfs on the field. “This game’s about more than winning,” D’Amato passionately insists, yet he’s antagonized by Cameron Diaz, as the team’s ruthless owner. Her father left her the franchise and she’s determined to prove she’s tough enough to run it. While sweet-talking the league commissioner (Charlton Heston), she even tries to blackmail Miami’s mayor (Clifton Davis) into building her a new stadium. Dennis Quaid’s the aging quarterback and LL Cool J’s a wide receiver with gridiron greats Lawrence Taylor as the top linebacker and Jim Brown as defensive coordinator. James Woods and Matthew Modine are the team’s battling team physicians. Once again, women in Oliver Stone’s movies turn out to be boozers (Ann-Margret), bimbos (Elizabeth Berkley), or bitches (Lauren Holly). This testosterone-laden football drama spews visual and auditory barrages. Sometimes the split-screen holds two, three, even four images, and there’s chaotic, rapid-fire cutting throughout. Rock and rap songs blare, almost masking the formulaic pigskin clichŽs, penned by Stone and John Logan. On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, Any Given Sunday is a stylish, hyperkinetic 8, a manic, visceral cacophony of sights and sounds – and as close as you’re ever gonna get to playing pro football.
Susan Granger’s review of “TOPSY-TURVY” (USA Films)
When the New York Film Critics voted it as Best Film of 1999, this unconventional, music-laden biopic of Gilbert & Sullivan by Mike Leigh took on a surprising, new status. By definition, the term “topsy-turvy” means inverted or confused, both of which apply to the life and times of Britain’s operetta maestros William Schwenk Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan, who worked together from 1871 to 1896, concocting delights like H.M.S. Pinafore, The Gondoliers and The Pirates of Penzance. The story, covering 14 months in the mid-1880s, finds the ailing, aristocratic composer Sullivan (Allan Corduner) deeply discontented with his collaboration with the somewhat boorish librettist Gilbert (Jim Broadbent) after the tepid reception of their Princess Ida. Depressed and despondent, Sullivan decides to turn his attention from “light” to “serious” opera, much to Gilbert’s dismay, not to mention the chagrin of the manager (Ron Cook) of the Savoy Theater. That is – until Gilbert’s wife (Lesley Manville) takes him to a Japanese exhibition in London which sparks a fanciful idea – namely The Mikado, which became one of Gilbert & Sullivan’s greatest hits. Then the rest of the film concentrates on the meticulous preparation of this witty, new operetta – focusing on the rehearsals, primarily on the prickly, temperamental actors (Timothy Spall, Martin Savage, Kevin McKidd, Shirley Henderson). Leigh’s pacing, unfortunately, is uneven. There’s a middle section with tepid musical numbers from The Sorcerer that gets quite tedious. And the including of some risquŽ nudity seems gratuitous, earning an R-rating when the content should have been suitable for teenagers. On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, Topsy-Turvy is a deftly performed, frothy, delightful 8, particularly for Gilbert & Sullivan fans.
Susan Granger’s review of “ALL ABOUT MY MOTHER” (Sony Pictures Classics)
This is the foreign language picture you’ll be hearing about in the coming awards season. It’s the 13th film and best work so far from Spanish film-maker Pedro Almodovar, who gave us unconventional fare like The Flower of My Secret, Live Flesh, and Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown. This baroque, non-judgemental film about femaleness – what it means to be female – tells the story of Manuela (Cecilia Roth), whose teenage son is killed by a car. Honoring her son’s wish to learn more about the father he never knew, she goes she goes back to her native Barcelona to locate the man she fled from nearly 20 years earlier – a man now known as Lola. Finding herself amidst drug addicts and transvestite hookers, she befriends another former companion, Agrado (Antonio San Juan), who introduces her to Sister Rosa (Penelope Cruz), a nun whose own secret connection to Manuela is cleverly interwoven into the criss-crossing fabric of coincidences and interconnections as she comes to reconcile with ghosts from her past. For inspiration in creating these characters, Almodovar draws on many sources: A Streetcar Named Desire, echoing Blanche Dubois’ famous line: “I’ve always depended on the kindness of strangers…”, All About Eve, from which the title and character comes, and, primarily, John Cassavetes’ Opening Night, in which a Broadway actress (Gena Rowlands) is haunted by the accidental death of an idolatrous young woman. But Almodovar creates a fascinating, often hilariously funny work that stands on its own, evolving into a magnificent, if melodramatic, meditation on female solidarity. Almodovar calls it a “screwball drama.” On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, All About My Mother is a poignant 10. It’s 1999’s best foreign language film.
Susan Granger’s review of “HOLY SMOKE” (Miramax Films)
With last year’s Hideous Kinky and now Holy Smoke, Kate Winslet seems determined to reach beyond her classic Titanic heroine. In this psychosexual drama, Kate plays Ruth Barron, a young, vulnerable Australian tourist in India who succumbs to the spiritual “enlightenment” of a charismatic guru. Ruth thinks she’s found salvation and transcended into bliss, but her horrified parents are sure she’s lost her mind. So they lure her back home to a Sydney suburb and hire an American “cult exit counselor,” P.J. Waters, played by Harvey Keitel, to deprogram her. Dressed in black from his dyed hair to shiny cowboy boots, the tyrannical P.J. is a jaded, slick, persuasive brain-washer who demands to be left alone with sari-clad Ruth in an abandoned shack in the Outback for three days. There, they play brutal mind-games while exploring their carnal lust, engaging in a fierce battle of wills and, oddly, reverse roles. Ruth uses her voluptuous body to sexually dominate and mentally control P.J., dressing him in drag and then savagely humiliating him, leaving him whimpering. Australian writer/director Jane Campion (The Portrait of a Lady, The Piano, Sweetie) collaborated on the script with her sister, Anna Campion (Loaded) and, despite a few moments of comic relief from Ruth’s grotesque family of wackos, they’re heavily into the provocative issues of religion, sex and power. Brooding tough guy Harvey Keitel is simply overmatched by willful, outspoken Kate Winslet. You know from the beginning that he doesn’t stand a chance against her, particularly when cinematographer Dion Beebe exquisitely bathes her nude body in sensual, shimmering light. On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, Holy Smoke is a bizarre 4, presenting a frustrating battle of the sexes that seems unfairly matched.