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BULL

Susan Granger’s review of “BULL” (TNT Original Series premiere)

On Tues., Aug. 15, at 10 PM, TNT will premiere its first-ever original drama series. “Bull” is the story of a team of young investment bankers and traders who rock Wall Street when they break away from a major investment bank to start their own company. Their leader, Robert Roberts III, known as Ditto, (George Newbern) is the renegade grandson of the autocratic boss (Donald Moffat) of the family firm; he looks at his inheritance as a curse, not a blessing. With no financing, no clients, and the rivalry of every player on the Street, Ditto enlists several colleagues, each with his/her own reason to bolt the Establishment and strive to succeed in the competitive world of high finance. Corey (Malik Yoba) is an African-American facing a glass ceiling; Marisa (Alicia Coppola) had to fight her way up – but she won’t compromise her principles; Marty (Ian Kahn) is fighting for legitimacy; Alison (Elisabeth Rohm) has a secret which will be revealed later in the series; and Carson (Chris Wiehl) is the naive rookie, right out of business school, who gets caught in the family feud. It’s the classic David vs. Goliath theme with Hunter (Stanley Tucci) as the hard-hitting negotiations shark. The title of the show comes from the literal meaning of a “bull” market – when stocks are rising and consumers are buying. For TV viewers who have been inside the “ER,” enticed by “West Wing” and intrigued by the Mob in “The Sopranos,” “Bull” offers a behind-the-scenes view of the amorality rampant on Wall Street. And the timing seems right with people following the Dow and NASDAQ like they are sports scores. On the Granger TV Gauge of 1 to 10, the IPO or premiere episode of “Bull” floats an 8. TNT has invested in 13 episodes to air weekly on Tuesdays at 10 PM with encores at midnight and the following Monday at 11 PM. It could be a blowout (i.e.: a hot issue).

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HOLLOW MAN

Susan Granger’s review of “HOLLOW MAN” (Columbia Pictures)

The concept of invisibility has intrigued man for centuries. Plato wrote that an invisible person would become intoxicated with the power and abuse it simply because he could get away with it. Plato suggested that he would steal, rape and kill because there is no central moral code inside us that leads us to being good and just. Now, director Paul Verhoeven, working with writer Andrew Marlowe, turns that idea into a suspense thriller, starring Kevin Bacon (“Stir of Echoes”) as a brilliant but arrogant scientist who develops an invisibility serum as part of a top-secret U.S. government research project and, defying Pentagon orders, he experiments on himself. It begins with bio-phase shifting, lifting him out of the visible spectrum layer by layer. As the radiated fluid enters his system, flesh seems to liquefy. Then the muscular system dissolves, leaving a skeleton with major organs. Then that goes. But there’s a problem: the procedure cannot be reversed, although his colleagues (Elisabeth Shue, Josh Brolin) work on an antidote. In the meantime, Bacon’s transformation results in an orgy of selfish pleasure and power since he can operate with all societal constraints lifted. So much for the sci-fi plot which is soon discarded in favor of murder, mayhem and horror. Dutch-born Paul Verhoeven has created some of Hollywood’s most controversial films: “Basic Instinct,” “RoboCop,” “Starship Troopers” and “Showgirls.” Verhoeven obviously delights in disturbing audiences, yet if his challenge in “Hollow Man” was to make the drama as interesting as the mind-boggling digital special effects, he fails because Bacon becomes a mad, evil, puppy-bashing monster. On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “The Hollow Man” is a repulsive, repugnant 3. Remember, hollow means depressed and empty.

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THE FIVE SENSES

Susan Granger’s review of “THE FIVE SENSES” (Fine Line Films)

“The senses are elemental, and in connecting us to the world, they connect us to each other,” says Canadian writer/director/producer Jeremy Podeswa. In this compelling urban story, he delicately interweaves five separate crisis situations that intersect in a poignant drama involving a missing child. There’s Ruth (Gabrielle Rose), a grief-stricken, recently widowed massage therapist who is unable to touch her rebellious daughter emotionally, and the troubled teenager Rachel (Nadia Litz) who became distracted while vicariously watching lovers in the park when the adorable toddler in her care wandered off. Their neighbor Rona (Mary Louise Parker) is a cynical, indecisive baker whose cakes are beautiful to the eye but bland to the taste until her passionate Italian lover (Marco Leonardi), a chef, arrives in Toronto. Rona’s best friend (Daniel MacIvor) is a sardonic bisexual who believes he can identify the scent of true love, noting: “The nose knows.” Another neighbor, an opera-loving French ophthalmologist (Philippe Volter), discovers he’s going deaf and is determined to build a “library of sounds,” something to fall back on. Each of the characters is infatuated with one of the five senses while going through a trauma or hardship, and they’re all lonely, searching and afraid of something. Essentially, this is an episodic, fragmented ensemble piece about relationships – and the choice of whether to give up or to keep going. Because of the editing, some subplots work better than others, while cinematographer Greg Middleton balances the definitive essence of time and place. On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “The Five Senses” is a stylish, intimate, spiritual 7. It’s an intriguing example of the elegant art of cinematic craftsmanship.

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TIME CODE

Susan Granger’s review of “TIME CODE” (Screen Gems)

British writer/director Mike Figgis (“Leaving Las Vegas,””Miss Julie”) enjoys breaking “out of the box,” and this dark comedy is his most innovative concept. The “timecode” is the cinema technology that allows an editor to synchronize sound and picture so that when a character’s mouth moves, the words come out. But Figgis uses it to show four different versions of 93 minutes in the lives of people at a Los Angeles exploitation-film production company, displayed simultaneously on a quadruple-split screen. What also makes this film unique is that it was shot entirely in one day on high-definition digital video, combining spontaneity with surveillance. Figgis also composed the jazz music score which combines multiple melody lines. That’s the plus. On the minus side, the largely improvised story is an aimless, clichŽ-filled glimpse of the relationships that exist among drug-abusing, philandering gonzo film-makers, ambitious actresses and a revenge killer, all jostled by some earthquakes. Figgis diverts our attention from one section of the screen to another by raising and lowering the vocal volume level. For example, while we’re listening to a psychiatrist (Glenne Headley) with a depressed patient (Saffron Burrows), there’s also a fight ensuing in a limo between two lesbians (Salma Hayek, Jeanne Tripplehorn). Then there are the studios execs (Holly Hunter, Steven Weber) and their movie mogul boss (Stellan Skarsgard) who’s having a nervous breakdown, plus a British masseuse (Julian Sands) with other things on his mind. Confusing, even dizzying, with four simultaneous images, this is novel cinematic experiment. On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “Time Code” is an inventive, surreal 6. Granted, it’s an edgy, odd gimmick but – for adventurous moviegoers – it works.

06

GROOVE

Susan Granger’s review of “GROOVE” (Sony Pictures Classics)

A favorite of the Sundance Film Festival, first-time writer/director Greg Harrison’s “Groove” explores San Francisco’s underground rave scene. As I understand it, the difference between a dance club and a rave is that raves are parties that spring up almost spontaneously in different locations. Someone puts out the word on the Internet, via e-mail, and it spreads. Others get a voice mail message and pass it along. Participants gather, illegally, at the designated place at the appointed time, pay an entrance fee, and the celebrated DJs take turns, working in shifts to provide the music. This film supposedly chronicles in pseudo-documentary tone one night at a rave. It begins on Friday with an e-mail, announcing tomorrow’s event. By Saturday night, a crowd of 200 has assembled at an abandoned Bay Area warehouse, many of whom are, want to be and/or will be high on the drug Ecstasy. There’s the naive, aspiring writer David (Hamish Linklater) from the Midwest who meets Leyla (Lola Glaudini), a worldly New Yorker who advises him to take Ecstasy with lots of water to avoid dehydration. And David’s brother Colin (Denny Kirkwood) who surprises his girlfriend (MacKenzie Firgens) on her birthday with something she didn’t expect. Real-life DJs with names like Digweed and Dimitri vary the pace and mood by changing the tempo and tone of the music. Humor is injected by the efforts of the promoter (Steve Van Wormer) to divert the suspicions of a cop (Nick Offerman). The writing is sketchy, relying on the art of improvisation which these unskilled actors, and others, have yet to master. On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “Groove” is a throbbing, feeble 4. I suspect there’s less than meets the eye in this manic, all-night, psychedelic celebration

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GONE IN 60 SECONDS

Susan Granger’s review of “GONE IN 60 SECONDS” (Touchstone Pictures)

Has your car ever been stolen? Have you ever experienced that queasy, sinking feeling when you walked to where you left it, only to find…no car? That may be why I had a perverse curiosity about this new Jerry Bruckheimer action/thriller. Written by Scott Rosenberg (“Con Air”) and directed by TV-commercial veteran Dominic Sena (“Kalifornia”), it stars Nicolas Cage as “Memphis” Raines, a master car thief. Back in his heyday, there was no vehicle he couldn’t heist in 60 seconds. He’s ostensibly retired until his kid brother Kip, played by Giovanni Ribisi, is in mortal danger. That brings him back into the grim world of crime and fear for one last, intense high-stakes heist. He and his hastily re-assembled gang of seasoned experts, teamed up with Kip’s younger crowd, must steal 50 prized cars – as Robert Duvall does the tally. Angelina Jolie plays a tough, Ferrari-loving mechanic who was romantically involved with Memphis. Delroy Lindo is the L.A. police auto-theft detective who’s determined to arrest Memphis, while Christopher Eccleston is the vicious villain. The inventive car chases with expert stunt drivers are amazing, particularly on the bridge linking Long Beach and San Pedro. Car thieves give their prey girl’s names so the mythical star is “Eleanor,” a pewter 1967 Shelby Mustang GT 500 with black stripes. In the original “Gone in 60 Seconds” (1974), best known for its 40-minute chase, Eleanor was a yellow 1973 Mach 1 Mustang. (Remember the green ’68 Shelby fastback Steve McQueen drove in “Bullitt”?) On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “Gone in 60 Seconds” accelerates to a fast-paced 4. It may push the pedal to the metal for car-and-action aficionados but it left me still wondering where my stolen car wound up.

04

PASSION OF MIND

Susan Granger’s review of “PASSION OF MIND” (Paramount Classics)

After suffering the slings and arrows of “G.I. Jane,” “Striptease,” and “The Scarlet Letter,” it’s understandable why Demi Moore fled to the shelter of artsy, low-key European cinema. But this tepid drama, the first English-language film by Belgian director Alain Berliner (“My Vie en Rose”), is forgettable – at best. Written by Ron Bass and David Field, it’s about a woman with two lives. In one, she’s Marie, a widowed American book critic with two daughters, living lavishly in the south of France. Marie’s courted by a passionate, older writer (Stellan Skarsgard) to whom she once gave a bad review, although she observes, “You commit beautifully.” And, as her girl-friend notes, “He’s a chance to love again.” In a less idyllic but parallel universe, she’s Marty, a high-powered, hard-working Manhattan literary agent, courted by a shy, sensitive, erotic accountant (William Fichtner). In each life, she falls asleep and awakens as the other person and, in both worlds, she visits a psychiatrist who confirms that she’s, indeed, got delusionary problems. But at least, this time she keeps her clothes on. Marty’s consultant (Peter Riegert) bluntly observes that she’s “as mad as a hatter,” while Marie’s therapist (Joss Ackland) is more tactful, saying, “You are riding two horses, and the mind isn’t built for that.” Obviously, the concept is a ludicrous, heavy-handed metaphor about the choices facing contemporary women today, and Alain Berliner awkwardly tries to convince us that either world could be real. On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “Passion of Mind” is a sumptuous but shallow 4. With Demi Moore, more is less.

04

SHAFT

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

When Samuel L. Jackson learned that director John Singleton was doing “Shaft,” his first reaction was, “Why do we need a remake?” – which was mine, too. Gordon Parks’s 1971 original, based on Ernest Tidyman’s novel, starring Richard Roundtree, was emblematic of the vitality of the blaxploitation genre, plus Isaac Hayes’ thematic music. But Roundtree is back as the original Shaft, 29 years older – and so’s the theme. Jackson plays his nephew, NYPD detective John Shaft, a different hero for a different time, fighting against hate crimes and drugs. His character’s more volatile, ruthless and violent. And he views violence in a different way. When things get dangerous, Jackson’s Shaft kind of smiles, indicating, “I can handle this.” The plot revolves around a racially motivated homicide. Walter, a spoiled young college kid (“American Psycho’s” Christian Bale), kills a young black student, skips bail, and flees the country for two years – after hiring a tattooed thug (Jeffrey Wright) to kill the only witness (Toni Collette) to the murder. When Walter sneaks back home, Shaft finds him – but his father, once again, posts bail, so Walter’s back on the streets only, this time, he’s after Shaft – along with two corrupt cops (Dan Hedaya, Ruben Santiago-Hudson) and a Dominican drug lord (Jeffrey Wright). Shaft’s only allies are a colleague (Vanessa Williams) and a streetwise buddy (Busta Rhymes). Director John Singleton and writer Richard Price delve into the usual urban crime scene, predictably punctuated by street-smart profanity, and come up with a disappointing conclusion. On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “Shaft” is a stylish, slick 6. It’s hip and cool – if you dig that “It’s my duty to satisfy the booty” action. And a sequel’s already in the works.

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TITAN A.E.

TITAN A.E.

Susan Granger’s review of “TITAN A.E.” (20th Century-Fox)

Apparently, Bill Mechanic, chairman of 20th Century Fox, wanted an animated movie for 13-14 year-old boys, a group that hasn’t shown much interest in cartoons other than comic books. So this is the result. Set in the year 3028, the Earth has been blown apart by a vicious alien race made of pure energy called the Drej. The hero, predictably, is a cynical teenager (voiced by Matt Damon), a rebellious drifter who works on a grungy salvage station. His life is changed when he finds his father, a brilliant scientist who built the Titan (a mysterious spaceship that has the power to create a planet), has left him a genetically encoded ring with a map. With “I happen to be humanity’s last hope,” he’s off on an adventure on the Valkyrie with its captain Korso (Bill Pullman), who once worked with his father, along with fighter pilot Akima (Drew Barrymore), plus the sarcastic First Mate Preed (Nathan Lane) and Gune (John Leguizamo), the Peter Lorre-like navigator – with the ruthless, villainous Drej in hot pursuit. There are plot-holes enormous enough to fly a space craft through, perhaps because so many writers were involved – and the formulaic concept reminded me of the old TV series “Battlestar Galactica” with a touch of “Wing Commander” thrown in. And what’s with Stith (Janeane Garofalo), a kangaroo-like weapons expert? Animator Don Bluth combines 3-D and 2-D which is visually disconcerting – except for two sequences. One involves the Ice Rings of Tigrin where one spaceship chases another through giant, reflective crystals and the other with vibrating, brightly colored hydrogen trees. On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “Titan A.E.” is a weird, action-packed 4 – unless you’re a teenager. Then, perhaps, it might just be a cool sci-fi trip set to edgy, electronic rock music.

04

THE FLINTSTONES IN VIVA ROCK VEGAS

Susan Granger’s review of “THE FLINTSTONES IN VIVA ROCK VEGAS” (Universal)

Hey, if George Lucas can do a “Star Wars” prequel, why not The Flintstones? This prehistoric, live-action prequel goes back to the bachelor days of Fred Flintstone (Mark Addy) and Barney Rubble (Stephen Baldwin), showing how they court and marry Wilma Slaghoople (Kristen Johnston) and her room-mate, Betty O’Shale (Jane Krakowski), respectively. It turns out that curvaceous Wilma’s the daughter of doddering Col. Slaghoople (Harvey Korman) and snooty, snobbish Pearl Slaghoople (Joan Collins) who want her to marry Chip Rockefeller (Thomas Gibson), the suave, sneaky scion of a respectable old-money family who wants to use the Slaghoople fortune to pay off a mob debt. But Wilma loves blue-collar Fred, who has just secured a job at the rock quarry in Bedrock. Chip invites everyone, including Fred and Barney, to be his guests at the opening of a new resort hotel in Rock Vegas. Based on the animated Hanna-Barbera TV series, the collaborative screenplay, credited to four writers, utilizes every known prehistoric clichŽ, while Brian Levant’s direction desperately underscores each sight gag and pun. Alan Cumming plays two roles: The Great Gazoo, a tiny, wisecracking alien who was sent to Earth to observe the mating rituals of humans, and Mick Jagged, one of Betty’s suitors, while Ann-Margret warbles on the soundtrack. Problem is: it’s too talky for kids – they get really restless – and too tacky for adults. At 90 minutes, it seems excruciatingly long. On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “The Flintstones in Viva Rock Vegas” is an exaggerated, frantic, cornball 3. If you really, really, really love the Flintstones, you’re gonna enjoy this movie. If not, yabba-dabba-don’t bother with this fossil.

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