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HERE ON EARTH

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

Teenybopper alert: this picture is made just for you. Forget about the rest of us. We’ve seen it before in “Love Story,” but you haven’t so, here goes. Leelee Sobieski is a feisty waitress from the wrong side of the tracks. Josh Hartnett is her townie boy-friend, and Chris Klein is a cocky, Princeton-bound, Boston-bred prep-school kid who takes his shiny new Mercedes out for a drive in rural Massachusetts. A dangerous car race brings their lives together when it results in the destruction of a local diner called Mabel’s Table, owned by Sobieski’s mom (Annette O’Toole). In fitting punishment, Klein and Hartnett are forced to rebuild the family-run restaurant as community service during the summer. That involves snobby Klein boarding with Hartnett’s working-class family and falling for Sobieski. But that’s a minor trauma compared with the tragedy that happens later – when Sobieski discovers that her old track injury to her knee has developed into cancer. After “Eyes Wide Shut,” TV’s “Joan of Arc,” and “A Soldier’s Daughter Never Cries,” Leelee Sobieski basks in the teenage mainstream, while amiable Chris Klein goes sulky and serious after “American Pie” and “Election.” They do their best with the material they’re given. It’s just too bad that Michael Seitzman’s soap-opera script is so lame, Mark Piznarski’s direction so slow-paced and prosaic, and Andrea Morricone’s score so schmaltzy. On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “Here on Earth” is a pubescent, tear-jerking 4. The title comes from poet Robert Frost’s musings about the beautiful Berkshire woods where the lovers discover “a little bit of heaven, here on earth.”

04

PRICE OF GLORY

Susan Granger’s review of “PRICE OF GLORY” (New Line Cinema)

Jimmy Smits has a lot riding on this picture; it’s the movie for which he killed off his character in TV’s “NYPD Blue.” Written by sports columnist Phil Berger and directed by Carlos Avila, who developed the concept at the Sundance Institute, it’s the story of a Mexican immigrant, Arturo Ortega (Smits), a pushy retired boxer who is trying to instill the prizefighting spirit in his three sons, Sonny (Jon Seda), Jimmy (Clifton Collins Jr.), and Johnny (Ernesto Hernandez). Like Don Corleone and his three sons in “The Godfather,” it’s a cultural heritage saga – with boxing being the primary way for Latinos to break out of the Arizona barrio. The film opens with the ill-fated match that dashed Arturo’s dreams of being a champion in the late ’70s. Then there are glimpses of the boys growing up, being trained to be boxers, so the scene is set for the primary drama, which takes place in the present. According to Arturo’s plans, two of his sons will fight; the third will go to college. Only things don’t always go as planned. Jimmy Smits captures the universality of the well-intentioned but ill-advised father-figure (“Everything I’ve ever done is for you boys!”) with Maria Del Mar as a persuasive counter-balance as the mother. In melodramatic, clichŽ-ridden characterizations, Clifton Collins Jr. is cocky and rebellious, while Ernesto Hernandez is obedient and eager-to-please. But it’s Golden Gloves alum Jon Seda (TV’s “Homicide”) who delivers the knockout performance as a man whose dreams extend far beyond the ring. In supporting roles, Ron Perlman is a ruthless promoter with Paul Rodriguez as a greedy insider. On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “Price of Glory” is a solemn, sweat-stained 6. Essentially, it’s an old-fashioned, tough-love family drama set within the realm of boxing.

06

TOPSY-TURVY

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 risque 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.

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EYE OF THE BEHOLDER

Susan Granger’s review of “EYE OF THE BEHOLDER” (Destination Films)

It’s strictly surrealistic style over substance in this weird, wannabe psychological thriller about a man’s journey into obsession. Ewan McGregor (Star Wars: The Phantom Menace) plays a lonely British intelligence agent, known as The Eye, whose wife has left him, taking their daughter, whom he adored. His current mission is to track a woman – that’s Ashley Judd (Double Jeopardy) – who is suspected of blackmailing the son of a prominent official in Washington D.C.. He locates her, plants the kind of sophisticated, high-tech surveillance equipment that would make James Bond drool with envy, and starts his spy mission – only to observe her brutally stab the young man in question to death. Instead of apprehending her, however, The Eye follows her as she subsequently lures more men to their gruesome deaths. He becomes totally obsessed with her, even protecting her from arrest on several occasions. His ludicrous, deranged, stalking behavior is inexplicable and writer/director Stephan Elliott (The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert) doesn’t give us many clues – except astrology and numerology symbols. Yeah, The Eye’s haunted by his little daughter whose apparition appears often during the first half of the film, pleading “Let her go, Daddy.” But then, even the child-ghost disappears – without an explanation. And The Eye’s only human contact seems to be with a telephone supervisor named Hilary (k.d. lang – also heard on the soundtrack, along with Chrissie Hynde) and a psychiatrist (Genevieve Bujold), who knew Judd ‘way-back-when. And Ashley Judd’s sexy, slashing serial killer is desperately looking for the “Daddy” she never had. On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, The Eye of the Beholder is a moody, murky 4. Incoherent is an operative word. So’s bizarre.

04

SIMPATICO

Susan Granger’s review of “SIMPATICO” (Fine Line Features)

Jeff Bridges, Nick Nolte, Sharon Stone, and Albert Finney try valiantly but even their compelling performances can’t effectively elevate this somber, slowly paced screen adaptation of Sam Shepard’s 1994 play about friendship and betrayal set against the backdrop of high-stakes horseracing. Written by David Nicholls and Matthew Warchus, a British theatrical director who makes his debut as a screen director, it’s deeply symbolic, filled with bitter, rambling ruminations about corruption. Jeff Bridges plays a multi-millionaire horse-breeder in Lexington, Kentucky, who – in the midst of selling a champion thoroughbred stallion named Simpatico – is interrupted by a phone call from a boozy bar-fly, an old friend, Nick Nolte, who threatens to expose a racetrack scam they pulled when they were young, involving Bridges’ now-dissolute, unhappy wife, Sharon Stone, and Albert Finney, as a former horse-racing commissioner whom they slandered and vilified. Catherine Keener (Being John Malkovich) emerges as the most likable character, playing a supermarket check-out clerk who serves as an awkward, reluctant intermediary between the overwrought antagonists who share this gritty, guilty secret. There are lots of flashbacks, skillfully integrated by editor Pascquale Buba, in which Liam Waite, Shawn Hatosy and Kimberly Williams play the trio of principals in the ’70s, their ambitious, younger years. On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, Simpatico is a sly, melancholy, bittersweet 6, revolving around vindication and vengeance.

06

PLAY IT TO THE BONE

Susan Granger’s review of “PLAY IT TO THE BONE” (Touchstone Pictures)

From writer/director Ron Shelton we’ve come to expect good sports movies like Bull Durham (baseball), Tin Cup (golf), and White Men Can’t Jump (basketball) but this flimsy, raunchy story about over-the-hill boxers doesn’t measure up. Woody Harrelson plays a bald, tattooed eccentric who has found Jesus – but hasn’t worked in years. Neither has his rival and best-buddy, Antonio Banderas, who happens to be dating his ex-girl-friend, Lolita Davidovich when, suddenly, they get the chance of a lifetime. It seems two middleweight fighters have canceled and a sleazy promoter (Tom Sizemore) asks them to be the opening card of a Mike Tyson bout at Vegas’ Mandalay Bay Hotel. The job promises big money – $50,000 each – plus a bid for the middleweight championship, but there’s a catch: they have to get there immediately. Fortunately, Davidovich has a grass-green 1972 Olds 442, so they take off from L.A. scrambling through the sizzling desert. Now, right away, one wonders why the hotel didn’t send a jet – or at least plane tickets – but that’s part of the problem if the underwritten script. Besides, half the film is spent on the road trip in which we learn more than we ever wanted to know about the bickering threesome, plus there’s Lucy Liu as a free-spirited hitchhiker. By the way, the title refers to the commitment of not quitting until you’ve achieved your goal. Finally, the fighters get into the ring but, by that time, I was ready to throw in the towel. On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, Play It To The Bone is a fumbling, flat-footed, formulaic 3, filled with foul language. In one scene, Harrelson says: “Any guy with any gal is a mismatch – we’re just not equipped to go the distance.” Neither is this movie.

03

A MAP OF THE WORLD

Susan Granger’s review of “A MAP OF THE WORLD” (First Look Pictures)

There’s no greater tragedy than being responsible for the death of a child, and that’s just the first blow Sigourney Weaver suffers at the beginning of this complex, dramatic portrait of a woman in emotional agony. Then, still reeling with guilt, she’s falsely accused of child abuse, an offense which sends her to jail to await trial. Based on the novel by Jane Hamilton and adapted by Peter Hedges and Polly Platt, it’s an implausible yet harrowing story of victimization. Weaver plays Alice Goodwin, a devoted mother of two daughters who works part-time as a school nurse in a rural Wisconsin town. She and her wimpy, taciturn husband (David Strathairn), a farmer, are a curiosity. They’re relative newcomers who painted their barn blue. But, above all, the bright, fiercely independent Alice arouses people’s ire with her cynical, sarcastic attitude towards the complexities of life. Her only friend is a gentle neighbor (Julianne Moore) who also has two little girls. Her nemesis is a tarty welfare mom (Chloe Sevigny) whom outspoken Alice openly accuses of neglecting her young son. When suspicion focuses on Alice after an accidental drowning in a pond on her property, the town turns on her with self-righteous fury, preferring to believe the flimsy, bogus charges of child molestation brought against her rather than seek the truth. Oddly, the unflappable Alice seems to relish her martyrdom, openly enjoying her predicament. Whether it’s because that’s her perverse way of coping with the bizarre situation or she’s temporarily insane is not made clear by director Scott Elliot, who makes it into a masochistic, maudlin melodrama. On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, A Map of the World is a dense, disturbing, depressing 4, made tolerable only by Sigourney Weaver’s intelligent, vivid performance.

04

DIAMONDS

Susan Granger’s review of “DIAMONDS” (Miramax Films)

Kirk Douglas is still the Champion. In fact, this affectionate story begins with photographs and clips from that 1949 film which catapulted him to stardom. In recent years, not only has Douglas survived a helicopter crash that nearly cost him his life but also a crippling stroke which left him with slurred speech. Now he’s back with vigor, delivering a courageous, inspirational performance as irascible Harry Agensky, a former boxing champ known as the “Polish Prince.” Resolutely practicing his facial and vocal exercises, Harry’s recovering from a stroke, along with the death of his beloved wife of 45 years. But he’s still feisty and ferocious, especially when it comes to how he’s going to spend the rest of his days. He’s been living uneasily with his dutiful older son (Kurt Fuller) in the Canadian wilderness but, instead of an old-age home, he wants his own place – with a companion to take care of him. The only way he can swing it financially is to retrieve a cache of “magic diamonds” he recalls hiding in the wall of a mobster’s kitchen in Reno after he threw a fight. Harry convinces his estranged younger son (Dan Aykroyd) and teenage grandson (Corbin Allred) to take him on a life-changing road trip that they both consider to be a fool’s errand. Written by Allan Aaron Katz and directed by John Asher, the touching but two-dimensional story is corny, clichŽ-filled and contrived, particularly when the trio make an improbable visit to a bucolic bordello run by Lauren Bacall, who hasn’t been paired with Douglas since Young Man With a Horn (1950. On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, Diamonds is a sentimental 7 with Douglas proclaiming, “Live each day as if it were your last – and never give up!” It’s an optimistic, engaging comedy-adventure, particularly for the geriatric crowd.

07

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.

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