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GUN SHY

Susan Granger’s review of “GUN SHY” (Hollywood Pictures)

It’s got Sandra Bullock and Liam Neeson but something went terribly wrong with the incomprehensible script and lame direction of this silly mob comedy. Neeson plays a legendary undercover DEA agent who suffers from post-traumatic stress syndrome after a failed sting operation. That’s why he seeks psychiatric help and winds up in group therapy and takes up with a spunky nurse, Sandra Bullock, who gives him an enema. Meanwhile, the nasty DEA chief (Mitch Pileggi of TV’s X-Files) assigns him to complete one final covert operation wherein he must escape the wrath of a hot-tempered, trigger-happy Mafia leader – known as “the Jeffrey Dahmer of hitmen”- played by Oliver Platt, and his vulgar, no-nonsense wife, Mary McCormack, who are involved with Colombian drug dealers in a complex money-laundering scheme. Sound like Analyze This? Sound like The Sopranos? The producers should be that lucky! Just because TV writer/director Eric Blakeney worked on Moonlighting, Wiseguy, and Max Headroom does not mean he can pull off this kind of unconventional feature film, particularly when he presents a colonic irrigation as a romantic encounter and relies on feeble poop jokes for laughs. Remember Grosse Pointe Blank? It explored much the same ironic territory – far better. On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, Gun Shy misses the target with a fumbling 4. Few laughs, little suspense and several talented actors who surely could have found a better picture.

04

THE BEACH

Susan Granger’s review of “THE BEACH” (20th Century-Fox)

It’s a teeny-bopper’s fantasy: Utopia with Leonardo DiCaprio. Let’s hope those teenagers who flocked to Titanic are now old enough to get into this R-rated idyll because they’re the target audience. Leo plays an American backpacker in Thailand, eager to escape from the touristy, pop culture, digital world of today. Travel, he says, is the search for experience, the quest for something different. That’s just what he finds when he and a young French couple (Guillaume Canet, Virginie Ledoyen) follow a map given to him by a manic, crazed Brit (Robert Carlyle) who commits suicide. To get to “the perfect beach,” they swim across open sea from one island to another, crawl through cannabis fields past armed guards, and jump from the top of a 120′ waterfall. Exhilarated, they discover a small, international community of young travelers under the leadership of ruthless Tilda Swinton, who has vowed to keep their unspoiled hideaway secret, an exclusive enclave – no matter what the consequences. “In the perfect beach resort, nothing is allowed to interrupt the pursuit of pleasure, not even dying,” Leo learns. Filmmaker Danny Boyle (Trainspotting, A Life Less Ordinary) and cinematographer Darius Khondji have captured Alex Garland’s parable of modern life and distilled it into a weird, ironic glimpse of paradise, particularly when the temporarily deranged Leo runs through the jungle as a character in a video game. Problem is: the characters are too thinly drawn and much comes across as pretentious poppycock, particularly the glib, happy, very commercial ending with Leo back in a cyber-cafe, downloading a photographic memento of his exotic misadventure. On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, The Beach is a cinematically sweeping 5 – the vivid saga of a Club Med gone awry.

05

BOILER ROOM

Susan Granger’s review of “BOILER ROOM” (New Line Cinema)

If you’ve ever responded to a telephone solicitation, be prepared for an eye-opener! This disturbing, cautionary story about a stock scam takes you into the infamous “boiler room” where twentysomething millionaires are made overnight. They’re Gen-Xers who want the adrenaline rush of easy money. So when Seth, a 19 year-old college dropout played by Giovanni Ribisi (Saving Private Ryan), realizes that his father, a judge (Ron Rivkin), has caught onto the illegal casino he’s been running out of his Queens apartment, he’s recruited into the inner sanctum of a fly-by-night Long Island brokerage firm named J.T. Marlin (a name chosen because it sounds like J.P. Morgan) by Ben Affleck (Dogma). After a glimpse of his boss’s 355 canary-yellow Ferrari and an eye-popping indoctrination, he becomes a stockjock-in-training, learning how to hustle unsuspecting investors over the phone. “Never pitch the bitch,” he’s instructed, meaning that women ask too many questions. Seth’s a money-hungry natural – glib and greedy. And he enjoys hanging out with his foul-mouthed cohorts – “They could sell bubble-gum in the lock-jaw ward in Bellevue” – not to mention the firm’s enigmatic receptionist, Nia Long, his “chocolate love.” But soon his insatiable curiosity gets him into trouble with the law, as he discovers exactly how his colleagues are getting richer as their customers are getting poorer. First-time writer/director Ben Younger was intrigued by the remarkable statistic that one out of every 36 working Americans is a millionaire, so he created this timely, high-wire drama about today’s mega-fortune-hunters. On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, Boiler Room heats up to a searing, shocking 7. Just remember: when a stranger calls, trying to sell you stock, hang up!

07

MAN ON THE MOON

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?”

06

STUART LITTLE

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.

08

GALAXY QUEST

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.

08

THE END OF THE AFFAIR

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.

04

THE HURRICANE

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.

10

GIRL, INTERRUPTED

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!

05

ANY GIVEN SUNDAY

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.

08