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X-MEN

Susan Granger’s review of “X-MEN” (20th Century Fox)

Based on the best-selling comic books, this live-action allegory about persecution and tolerance revolves around an awesome team of black leather-clad mutants who become reluctant superheroes. For the X-uninitiated, wheelchair-bound Prof. Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart) is the world’s greatest telepath who runs a secret school where gifted youngsters are taught by Storm (Halle Berry), Cyclops (James Marsden) and Jean Grey (Famke Janssen). Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) and Rogue (Anna Paquin) are the newcomers. The adversarial evil Brotherhood – Sabretooth (Tyler Mane), Mystique (Rebecca Romjin-Stamos), Toad (Ray Park) – is led by the strongest and most powerful mutant ever known, Magneto (Ian McKellen), who captures a conservative U.S. Senator (Bruce Davison) in his determination to get respect by whatever means necessary. Director Bryan Singer (“The Usual Suspects,” “Apt Pupil”) enjoys dark character studies, keeping the comic-book action taut. And he’s obviously been influenced by “Matrix” effects. The Cerebro, a chamber in which Xavier’s psychic abilities are enhanced, is fascinating, as is Magneto’s Lair and the Map Room, where a six-foot diameter table made of steel pins rises to form a 3-D topographical map of New York City. The Rogue Effect, which drains a person’s life-force, is impressive and there’s an incredible, high-energy, destructive sequence at the Statue of Liberty. With her scaly blue skin and red hair, Mystique is eye-candy as a shape-shifter, transforming herself, including fingerprints and voice, into anyone with whom she comes in contact. On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “X-Men” is a cool, mythic 7. Die-hard Marvel Comic fanatics may quibble with these movie mutants but fans are out there and they will come.

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BLOOD SIMPLE: Director’s Cut

Susan Granger’s review of “BLOOD SIMPLE: Director’s Cut” (USA Films)

First shown at film festivals in 1984, “Blood Simple” was the first feature film by brothers Joel and Ethan Coen, who went on to make not only “Fargo” but also “The Hudsucker Proxy,” “Barton Fink,” “Miller’s Crossing,” and two of my favorites, “Raising Arizona” and “The Big Lebowski.” This is the newly restored and re-edited Director’s Cut of their stylish crime thriller, introduced by enigmatic Mortimer Young, a pseudo-film restoration expert who inanely informs us that this version takes advantage of technological breakthroughs made possible in recent years. It seems writer Dashiell Hammett originated the slang phrase, “blood-simple,” meaning the state of fear and confusion that follows the confusion of murder, as in “He’s gone blood simple.” So the grim, sleazy story begins in Texas, where a jealous saloon owner (Dan Hedaya) hires a cheap divorce detective (M. Emmet Walsh) to kill his wife (Frances McDormand) and her lover, a bartender (John Getz). But the detective gets a better idea….and I’m not going to tell you what happens and ruin the greed, lust, double-cross and betrayal plot if you never saw the original. So how does this so-called Director’s Cut differ? Not much. The running time is still almost the same, so whatever revisions were made are subtle. In fact, in the “New Yorker” magazine, Ethan Coen irreverently quips, “A pace that was once glacial is now merely slow. Scenes that were once inept are now merely awkward.” Nevertheless, on the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “Blood Simple: Director’s Cut” still scores an 8, remaining an amazing, ironic debut thriller. I suspect its re-release is a marketing device to whet our interest in their new film, “O Brother Where Art Thou?” starring George Clooney, which will be released this fall.

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WHAT LIES BENEATH

Susan Granger’s review of “WHAT LIES BENEATH” (DreamWorks)

The greatest mystery in this psychological thriller is why the trailer gives away so many of the carefully designed plot twists and turns. After all, isn’t a suspense story supposed to be full of surprises? That having been said, compliments are due to director Robert Zemeckis (“Forrest Gump”) who uses technology to enhance his craftsmanship, rather than substitute for it; to Harrison Ford who has the courage and conviction to play a believably flawed, obsessed hero; and to Michelle Pfeiffer who manages to be wet and wild at the same time. They’re a supposedly happily married couple – he’s a respected geneticist and she was a concert cellist – who live in a beautiful house on a lake in bucolic Vermont next to some provocative neighbors. She has a daughter (Katharine Towne) from a previous marriage whom they’ve just packed off to college when she hears mysterious, whispering voices and spies a wraithlike ghost in their home. Is it a poltergeist or her repressed anxieties? “Something is happening in our house,” she wails, oozing paranoia and vulnerability. Indeed it is. It seems her husband had an affair with a suicidal woman that may have come back to haunt him. But why? And what lies beneath? Obviously influenced by Alfred Hitchcock’s penchant for scary elements that emerge credibly, Robert Zemeckis adds complicated camera moves and a unique ability as an illusionist, which he uses to full advantage during the final half-hour. While Harrison Ford conveys his usual stalwart strength which, in this case, has creepy overtones, it’s Michelle Pfeiffer who carries Clark Gregg’s somewhat predictable screenplay, adapted from his story with Sarah Kernochan. On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “What Lies Beneath” is a menacing, ominous 6 – if you like the strange and supernatural.

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POKEMON THE MOVIE 2000

Susan Granger’s review of “POKEMON THE MOVIE 2000″ (Warner Bros.)

There’s a sequel to last fall’s “Pokemon” phenomenon revolving around the Pokemon universe. While the first, “Mewtwo Strikes Back,” introduced all the participants, this has more adventure as a terrible force threatens all life on Earth and the only one who can stop it is a young trainer named Ash Ketchum, who proves that one person can really make a difference. There are six new Pokemons, including Lugia, a great hero who plays a key role in helping Ash restore balance to the world. The plot revolves around a villainous, unscrupulous pokemon collector who is after Lugia, who is rare and, therefore, quite valuable to collectors. Legend has it that when three Pokemon – Zapdos, Articuno and Moltres – are assembled, Lugia will appear. But, as each globe is captured, the balance of nature is disrupted and bizarre weather patterns emerge. Ash, Misty and their cohorts are alerted to this danger when a sudden storm forces them to crash into an island and soon setting the ecology of the planet to right becomes everyone’s quest. In Japan, where it was released last year, this film was called “Poketto monsutaa: Maboroshi no Pokemon X: Lugia bakudan.” The rudimentary animation resembles the TV show and many familiar characters from that series make an appearance, plus there’s a music score by Ralph Schuckett and John Loeffler. As an added bonus, there’s “Pikachu’s Exploration Party,” a cartoon short that precedes the feature, much like “Pikachu’s Summer Vacation.” On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “Pokemon the Movie 2000″ is a formulaic 4 – appealing to those children who are crazy for Pokemons and quite boring to those who aren’t. Warner Bros. Pictures is once again collaborating with Nintendo of America, so be aware that there are lots of new toys to accompany this film.

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THOMAS AND THE MAGIC RAILROAD

Susan Granger: “THOMAS AND THE MAGIC RAILROAD” (Destination Films)

For almost two decades, Britt Allcroft’s imaginative Thomas the Tank Engine has intrigued youngsters on television and video – and now Thomas chugs off on a feature-film adventure. The plot is ridiculously complicated but, basically, Thomas and his friends on the magic railroad live on the Island of Sodor while humans live in a happy village called Shining Time. Using sparkling gold-dust that he sprinkles with his whistle, a miniature man known Mr. Conductor (Alex Baldwin) travels between the two worlds but he’s losing his gold-dust supply. “My universe is in danger!” he wails, adding: “I think you’re going to help me and Thomas sometime in the story.” This sets up an inter-active premise with the audience that is never fulfilled as the live-action characters function in an animated world. Instead, we meet a somber, resourceful 12 year-old (Mara Wilson) who is going to visit her grumpy grandpa (Peter Fonda), who spends his days tinkering with Lady, an enchanted steam engine he’s hidden in Muffle Mountain. Mr. Conductor needs to find the long-lost Lady in order to get more gold-dust. Meanwhile, there’s a subplot involving the efforts of nasty Diesel to relegate Thomas and his shiny cohorts to the roundhouse, and Mara befriends a local lad (Cody McMains). Curiously, the trains speak with British accents while the Conductor’s slacker cousin (Michael E. Rodgers) has a Scottish brogue and the other humans are distinctly American. Alec Baldwin smiles relentlessly, looking silly, while Peter Fonda seems befuddled. On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “Thomas and the Magic Railroad” is a stiffly tedious, awkwardly fragmented 4. Pre-schoolers – two, three, four year-olds – may enjoy this fantasy about being “useful,” but I suspect anyone older will be squirming. Wait for the video.

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A HOUSE DIVIDED

SUSAN GRANGER’S REVIEW OF “A HOUSE DIVIDED” (SHOWTIME TV)

Based on historical events surrounding Amanda America Dickson, a bi-racial woman who is the daughter of a wealthy plantation owner (Sam Waterson) and his slave (Lisagay Hamilton), “A House Divided” is an adult drama of secrets, lies, and deception. Born with fair skin, Amanda (“Flashdance” Jennifer Beals) has been raised and educated near Sparta in ante-bellum Georgia as if she were white. Under the watchful eye of her grandmother (Shirley Douglas) and convinced that her mother died during childbirth, she grows up in privileged circumstances. But when her devoted father dies and leaves his estate to Amanda, her uncle contests the Will, convinced that she is not legally entitled to this inheritance. The young lawyer (Tim Daly) who drew up the document pursues the case in court. During the trial, through the use of flashbacks, Amanda understands her mother’s sacrifice, comes to terms with their relationship, and finds her true identity. Directed by John Kent Harrison, Amanda’s story was inspired by the book, “Woman of Color, Daughter of Privilege,” written by Kent Anderson Leslie for a Ph.D. dissertation and adapted for the screen by Paris Qualles. Viewed from the vantage point of the 21st century, what’s most fascinating is the bizarre psychological climate that existed in the South between white and black families who were living side-by-side, often in intimate circumstances, as in this case. The production values are first-class, as viewed through the sepia-colored prism of designer Susan Longmire and costumer Resa McConaghy. On the Granger Made-for-TV Movie Gauge, “A House Divided” is a slow-paced but hopeful 6, particularly appealing to those who have been estranged from their parents for any reason. It’s on Showtime TV, Sunday, July 30, at 8 P.M.

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LOSER

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

Give credit for honesty in advertising: the title becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy, as writer- director Amy Heckerling lifts elements from the brilliant Billy Wilder film, “The Apartment” and transfers them to college students in New York City. Jason Biggs (“American Pie”) plays an earnest, shy scholarship student from a small upstate town. In his plaid hunter’s cap with his kind, good-natured personality, he doesn’t fit in with the big-city pseudo-sophisticates, particularly his odious, rich roommates (Thomas Sadoski, Zak Orth, Jimmi Simpson) – but he’s not a really a loser. Escaping from dorm life, he finds refuge in a downtown veterinary clinic, where he falls for another penniless student, Mena Suvari (the rose-petal fantasy of “American Beauty”), whom he rescues from an overdose of a date-rape drug. She works as a waitress in a strip club and is having an affair with their cynical English lit professor, Greg Kinnear (“As Good As It Gets”), who’s more into manipulation than marriage. Do the hero and heroine finally fall in love? You guess. Perhaps the most idiotic moment occurs when Kinnear says: “I’m sure if she were alive, Betty Friedan would applaud your epiphany.” It’s a line that may stun the very-much-alive feminist, Ms. Friedan. Misspelling “financial aid” as “aide” is another blooper. The message is supposed to be: trust yourself, take a chance and turn your back on people who take advantage of you – but the cinematic sizzle just isn’t there. There are cameos from Steven Wright, David Spade, Andy Dick, Andrea Martin and Everclear, plus a trendy soundtrack filled with ’90s hits. On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “Loser” is a tepid, lackluster 4. If you want to see good Amy Heckerling teenage romantic comedies, rent “Clueless” and “Fast Times at Ridgemont High.”

04

ONE KILL

Susan Granger’s review of “ONE KILL” (SHOWTIME TV MOVIE – Sunday, Aug. 6th)

As relevant as today’s headlines, this thriller, which airs on SHOWTIME Sunday at 8 P.M., exposes the double standard women face in the military. A highly decorated Marine Corps Captain (Anne Heche), a single mother, discovers she’s up against the “good ole boy” network when she’s awakened at gunpoint by an intruder, wrestles free, then shoots and kills her assailant. While a local court rules the incident justifiable homicide, the military views it differently since the man (Sam Shepard) she killed was a Major and a war hero. A military prosecutor calls it “premeditated murder” when it’s disclosed that the Captain and the married Major had an affair. So her future is in the hands of an attorney (Eric Stoltz), the son of a highly regarded military officer. Through flashbacks, we learn what really happened and the chain of events that led up to it. “One Kill” presents a true moral dilemma – one that viewers will find quite provocative. Writer Shelley Evans and director Christopher Menaul reveal that the Captain was in an untenable position. The Major was opposed changes in military policies that allow women to lead battle units, yet in a rigged special training exercise, the Captain’ s unit wins. Intrigued by her courage and stamina, the obsessed Major begins his own personal assault, even stalking her, although it’s against regulations for them to fraternize. One quibble: physically, Anne Heche is too tiny and thin; her size works against her believability. On the Granger Made-for-TV Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “One Kill” is an intelligent, stylish, suspenseful 7. As proven with the recent case of Lt. Gen. Claudia Kennedy vs. Maj. Gen. Larry Smith, military women have come to realize that if you have the courage to report sexual harassment, you can expect to be doubted and persecuted.

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NUTTY PROFESSOR II: THE KLUMPS

Susan Granger’s review of “NUTTY PROFESSOR II: THE KLUMPS” (Universal)

When audiences went wild for the “Nutty Professor” dinner-table sequences in which Eddie Murphy played various members of the Klump clan, the idea for a sequel was born. So, although heavy-set Professor Sherman Klump remains the central character, his dysfunctional family is fleshed out, literally, each member with his/her own subplot. Last time, Sherman Klump came up with a way to lose weight; this time, he discovers a youth serum. Annoyingly neurotic Dean Richmond (Larry Miller) wants to sell the formula to a drug company, while romance comes in the form of Janet Jackson as a shy, sweet professor who’s in love with Sherman. Aggressive, skinny Buddy Love is still in Sherman’s system, bursting out unexpectedly, until Sherman extracts him from his body. It’s like Jekyll and Hyde separating. Buddy is no longer a sexist, mischievous alter-ego; he’s an evil ego trying to steal Sherman’s “youth juice”. The clash between Buddy and Sherman as separate entities gives the plot tension because, when Buddy’s DNA goes so do Sherman’s IQ points. With the help of make-up genius Rick Baker, Eddie Murphy is chameleon-like. Mama holds the family together; she’s the most like Sherman. Papa and Ernie Jr. are more alike. And Grandma’s sexually voracious. What’s amazing is the seamless interaction of all Eddie’s characters: how the eyeline movement of one is combined with physical action of another in a complicated digital ballet. But, despite four writers and director Peter Segal, it’s is incoherent. Clever, yes. Funny, no. The visual gags and crude jokes are stale and predictable, and the ‘space dream’ scene is downright stupid. On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “Nutty Professor 2: The Klumps” is a raunchy, gimmicky, forced 4. It’s tour-de-force Eddie – all over the screen!

04

THE IN-CROWD

Susan Granger’s review of “THE IN-CROWD” (Warner Bros.)

The kindest way to describe this teensploitation movie is to call it “a time waster.” Violence-prone nymphomaniac Adrien Williams (Lori Heuring, looking just like Madonna) has spent time in a psychiatric hospital learning to come to terms with “erotomania” and her troubled past. Nearly recovered and on the recommendation of her physician (Daniel Hugh Kelly), she emerges to build a quiet, anonymous, new life as a lowly cabana-girl at an exclusive seaside country club. But she’s too lovely not to be noticed by “the in-crowd,” a privileged clique led by perky, psychopathic Brittany Foster (Susan Ward, looking just like Denise Richards), whose lip gloss glows for the tennis pro (Matthew Settle) who, predictably, flirts with Adrien. Amidst the simmering feuds, there are lethal secrets that threaten to emerge. Is this world-shaking, or what? Directed by Mary Lambert (“Pet Sematary”), this wannabe girl-on-girl thriller is definitely a hard-bodied loser with great credit going to the imbecilic, homo-erotic screenplay by Mark Gibson and Philip Halprin. Even the climactic cat-fight between Adrien and Brittany isn’t clearly delineated since it’s photographed by Tom Priestley in a storage room with gloomy, dim lighting. The message of the movie: appearance isn’t everything…i.e: all that glitters is not gold. Duh! On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “The In-Crowd” is a sluggish, ludicrous, barely tolerable 1. It gives melodrama a bad name – and it’s not gonna get better on video.

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