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COYOTE UGLY

Susan Granger’s review of “COYOTE UGLY”

Adding a new finale, a flashy musical number at the hip, rowdy bar where the exhibitionistic young women work, caused this Jerry Bruckheimer film to almost miss its August 4th opening date. And – who knows? – perhaps it was the only fitting conclusion to this cinematic amalgam of Hooters, “Cocktail” and “Flashdance,” written by Gina Wendkos and directed by David McNally, a veteran of TV commercials. Newcomer Piper Perabo stars as a naive, 21 year-old aspiring New Jersey singer-songwriter who ventures across the Hudson River to seek fame and fortune as a barmaid in Manhattan’s gritty, high-energy Coyote Ugly bar, strutting her seductive shots-and-beer stuff under the watchful eye of bar owner Maria Bello, who mandates: “You are to appear to be available but never be available. Other tantalizing, dancing “coyotes” include Izabella Miko, Bridget Moynahan and model Tyra Banks. Coyote Ugly’s a treasure chest (pardon the pun!) of unruly, bizarre behavior – like hosing down the crowd if someone orders water, even setting fire to the bar – but that’s about the only interesting thing in this otherwise dull, wretchedly clichŽ-filled movie. Predictably, there’s a skeptical guy Piper falls for – Adam Garcia. Her apartment gets robbed and her nice-guy, widower dad, played by John Goldman, is hospitalized – yawn! There’s a sexual tease with tight, revealing costumes but no nudity. It’s rated PG-13. The sound-track rocks loudly even if it doesn’t exactly roll – with singer LeAnn Rimes dubbing Piper Perabo’s voice and making a cameo appearance near the end of the film. On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “Coyote Ugly” is an undulating, sappy 3. If you want to find the REAL Coyote Ugly watering hole, it’s on 10th Avenue in the East Village.

03

THE EYES OF TAMMY FAYE

Susan Granger’s review of “THE EYES OF TAMMY FAYE” (Lions Gate Films)

A hit at the Sundance Film Festival, this kitschy and affectionate documentary by Randy Barbato and Fenton Bailey chronicles the life and times of Tammy Faye Bakker, ex-wife of evangelist Jim Bakker who – in a spectacular and highly publicized free-fall from grace – lost control of the PTL (Praise the Lord) Ministries to manipulative minister Jerry Falwell and wound up in jail. Narrated by “RuPaul” Charles, it delves beneath the public persona of the teary Tammy Faye and into the storybook life of the couple who had the audacity to make Christian fellowship fun, creating a Heritage USA water park that was the ultimate baptismal font and openly welcoming homosexuals into their PTL Club. Tammy Faye grew up as a humble Christian girl who loved puppets and had such strong faith that she claims a wart on her finger was cured during a Sunday communion. When she was in college, she met and married Jim Bakker, whose faith matched hers. Together, they cultivated the electronic pulpit, building three Christian television networks and becoming arguably the most popular Christian force in the United States. Their dreams were expensive and their money-raising schemes extensive. Then, in the 1980s, scandal rocked Tammy Faye’s life, destroying her reputation and her marriage. Nevertheless, Tammy Faye is once again on her feet, the indomitable survivor, back in the limelight where she feels she belongs. Obviously, the filmmakers are sympathetic and their bias propels the narrative. On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “The Eyes of Tammy Faye” is an ironic, irreverent, comic 7. I suspect that one of the reasons this film resonates so strongly with audiences is that we live in a very judgmental society and, just perhaps, we were wrong about Tammy Faye.

07

AUTUMN IN NEW YORK

Susan Granger’s review of “AUTUMN IN NEW YORK” (M.G.M. Pictures)

When M.G.M. refused to screen this tear-jerking May-December romance for critics, it was an ominous sign because studios usually hide the star-laden stinkers, hoping to get at least one solid weekend before reviews come out. But it’s not that bad. It’s also not that good. Richard Gere plays a 48 year-old, hotshot Manhattan restaurateur with a reputation as a notorious womanizer and whose picture is on the cover of NEW YORK magazine. Winona Ryder is a giggly, free-spirited, Emily Dickinson-quoting, 22 year-old millinery designer who informs him, shortly after their affair begins, that she’s suffering from an extremely rare and probably terminal tumor which affects her heart. So is it going to be the “Love Story” of the millennium year? Probably not. Heavy-handed screenwriter Allison Burnett is no Erich Segal. First of all, too much is made of the age difference. In fact, according to her cackling grandmother (Elaine Stritch), Gere even dated Ryder’s late mother. Plus, he has an illegitimate daughter (Vera Farmiga) who is Ryder’s age, and bartender (Anthony La Paglia) keeps warning him. Even Ryder bluntly quips, “You’ve got to look on the bright side. In a year or so, I’ll be this sob story you can use to bag more chicks.” Then there’s the soggy dialogue: “We have no future. All I have to offer you is this – until it’s over” and “What should we do with this moment we’re in?” On the other hand, director Joan Chen and cinematographer Changwei Gu create such intoxicatingly beautiful visuals that you forget they’re clichŽ-ridden – like the closer you come to dying, the more luminous and beautiful you become. On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “Autumn in New York” is a sentimental, predictable, melodramatic 4, but this glossy, two-hankie weeper at least deserved to find its niche.

04

BLESS THE CHILD

Susan Granger’s review of “BLESS THE CHILD” (Paramount Pictures)

There’s a problem casting Kim Basinger. Since winning an Oscar for “L.A. Confidential,” she’s attempted two protagonist roles – “I Dreamed of Africa” and this – and neither has worked. Kim’s pretty but emotionally passive. Which just isn’t appropriate for this supernatural thriller in which a psychiatric nurse, a lapsed Catholic, discovers that her strung-out junkie sister’s child, Cody (Holliston Coleman), whom she’s cared for since birth, is “special”. Not only can the six year-old cause objects to spin and the snow inside a paperweight form a cyclone, she revives a ‘dead’ bird in the school yard. And that’s just the beginning of the girl’s spiritual power, at least according to runaway informant Christina Ricci and censured Jesuit Ian Holm, who reveal that Cody’s birth coincided with the reappearance of the Star of Bethlehem after two millennia – and the devil is after her soul. His missionary is creepy looking Rufus Sewell, whose unfocused eyes are as disconcerting as a leering gargoyle. Predictably, Cody is abducted by his black-clad Satanists and threatened continuously to renounce God for the forces of darkness before Black Easter. “She will be ours!” vows Sewell. Only Jimmy Smits, as a former seminarian-turned-FBI agent specializing in the occult, is willing to help Basinger. (For this, Smits quit “NYPD Blue”?) Reminiscent of “Stigmata,” “The Exorcist,” “The Omen” and “The Sixth Sense,” the stilted screenplay, credited to three writers, strips novelist Cathy Cash Spellman’s plot down to its sinister mystery-child essentials. Chuck Russell’s direction is lackluster and the special-effects are limited to computer-generated rats and demons. On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “Bless the Child” is an ominous, apocalyptic 4. Good vs. Evil? You guess who wins.

04

THE CELL

Susan Granger’s review of “THE CELL” (New Line Cinema)

Cinema is defined as “the art of motion pictures” and, for director Tarsem Singh (best known for R.E.M.’s “Losing My Religion” music video), the emphasis is on art. Jennifer Lopez stars as a pediatric psychotherapist who is involved in an experimental research program, working with a youngster in deep coma, when she’s recruited by an FBI agent (Vince Vaughn) to delve inside the mind of a schizophrenic serial killer (Vincent D’Onofrio) in hopes of saving his most recent victim (Tara Subkoff). It seems the diabolical, voyeuristic killer kidnaps young women, tortures them in an underground tank, drowns them, and finally bleaches, slices and dices their corpses while watching videotapes of their suffering as he’s suspended by hooks in his back, simulating weightlessness. This gruesome, thoroughly repulsive journey inside the landscape of a perverted patient’s mind is made even more perilous since the empathetic therapist risks losing contact with reality. The sadistic, repetitive child abuse theme of Mark Protosevich’s screenplay lacks psychiatric plausibility. And with her seductive, whispery voice and gallons of pink lip gloss, pop-culture diva Jennifer Lopez is hardly credible as a virtual reality expert, serving instead as a shallow, ultra-chic fashion model doing perfunctory posing in a chaotic dream-world. But the daring, obsessive fantasy is amazing. Tarsem Singh’s vision combines David Cronenberg with Salvador Dali, Federico Fellini with Heironymous Bosch – with a bit of “Hellraiser” thrown in. On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “The Cell” is a visually arresting but deeply disturbing 6. If digital design and stylized symbolism intrigue you, go to this unpleasant but meticulous mindtrip. But be aware that it’s style over substance, amounting to less than meets the eye.

06

GODZILLA 2000

Susan Granger’s review of “GODZILLA 2000″ (Toho Films/Tri-Star Pictures)

Good grief! Another Godzilla movie? The legendary lizard is back in this low-tech, sci-fi fantasy from Japan’s Toho studio – one that seems better suited to the video screen than a theatrical release. Actually, it’s the 24th Godzilla picture – and much like the rest. Directed by Takao Okawara, the story follows Godzilla as he leaves his underwater home off Japan’s coast, destroys a submarine and seaside restaurant, and heads for a nuclear power plant. A sympathetic scientist and his daughter, along with an eager reporter, want to study Godzilla – forming a Godzilla Prediction Network – but the military, as usual, has other explosive plans and Tokyo gets trampled in the process. The twist this time comes from a shape-shifting, radio-active, 6,000 year-old flying rock from outer space, an alien Orga, who tries to gobble the fire-breathing Godzilla. No effort has been made to try to synchronize the silly Japanese dialogue with the cheesy, dubbed-over Americanized English, and the results can only be called ludicrous. “Ah, the damn teriyaki is cold again!” says a diner when the big, green lizard lands near a noodle shop. “Great Caesar’s ghost!” exclaims another character. There’s also little attempt to disguise the actor who’s wearing a cleated rubber suit. Originally conceived as a cautionary tale, “Godzilla, King of the Monsters” made its debut in 1954 and, fittingly, the current Godzilla’s size has been scaled down from 328 feet (1991-1995 versions) to a mere 170 feet, closer to the original concept of 168 feet, as detailed in the earlier incarnations. On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “Godzilla 2000″ is a tedious 2 – for die-hard fans only – because “Maybe because Godzilla is inside each one of us.”

02

THE SANDY BOTTOM ORCHESTRA

THE SANDY BOTTOM ORCHESTRA

Susan Granger’s review of “THE SANDY BOTTOM ORCHESTRA” (SHOWTIME TV)

On Sunday night, August 27, at 8 PM, Showtime TV premieres this sugar-coated drama about an eccentric family struggling to belong in a small town in Northern Wisconsin. Based on the novel, “The Sandy Bottom Orchestra,” by husband-and-wife Garrison Keillor and Jenny Lind Nilsson, it’s constructed as a reminiscence, narrated by 14 year-old Rachel (Madeline Zima), a talented violinist, who lives in Sandy Bottom and studies at Amidore’s Music School. Her mother Ingrid (Glenne Headley) gave up a promising career as a classical pianist to marry Norman (Tom Irwin), a local dairy farmer who dreams conducting an orchestra. Determined to bring culture to their provincial, little town, Ingrid tackles community “causes,” like introducing sophisticated hymns to the recalcitrant members of the Zion Methodist Church choir, along with its troubled minister (Richard McMillan), and fighting to preserve a magnificent historical building which the Mayor wants to demolish to make way for a pizza parlor. Her closest friend is an 80 year-old widow (Jane Powell), who not only understands Ingrid’s frustration but seems to be her only ally. Two pivotal crises occur when Norman, playing the impresario, decides to forgo the traditional marching and oom-pah bands to present a classical concert at the annual Dairy Days celebration and when Rachel’s parents decide she should apply to Interlochen Music School in Michigan – but neither is explored in enough depth to be emotionally effective. Under the direction of Bradley Wigor, the actors rise above the bland superficiality of Joseph Maurer’s script and the cinematography is beautiful. On the Granger Made-for-Television Movie Gauge, “The Sandy Bottom Orchestra” is a slow-paced, syrupy, sentimental 6, as it answers Ingrid’s question: “I wonder what it would be like to feel you were part of something important.” Additional playdates are Aug.30 at 9:35 AM, Sept. 2 at 8:15 AM, Sept. 22 at 11:15 AM, and Sept. 25 at 6:15 PM.

06

SAVING GRACE

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

If you loved “The Full Monty” and “Waking Ned Devine,” this is the gentle summer comedy for you! Set in the Cornish city of St. Isaacs, it’s about Grace Trevethan (Brenda Blethlyn), an ostensibly comfortable, conservative middle-aged widow who discovers she’s, literally, penniless. Her late husband, who died while parachuting, had mortgaged their manor house to the hilt, not to mention philandering in London with another woman who had the gall to show up at his funeral. Hounded by creditors, she has no recourse but to utilize her only talent – gardening – to grow something that will make her enough money to pay off her debts. So when her Scottish handyman (played by Craig Ferguson, who co-wrote the script with Mark Crowdy) admits he’s been struggling with some sickly marijuana sprigs hidden behind the vicarage, she concludes: “No light, no buds.” But once Grace gets them into her greenhouse, using some hydroponics, the plants thrive. Soon she’s off to the city to find a buyer – and winds up in the clutches of a shady French drug dealer (Tcheky Karyo) who has more on his mind than her bumper crop of cannabis. In the meantime, Grace’s proper garden club ladies are intrigued with her new “tea plants,” sampling several with hilarious results. The psychedelic story takes an unexpectedly discordant and contrived twist at the end but, nevertheless, director Nigel Cole keeps the naughty shenanigans in high gear and you find yourselves rooting for gentle Grace to pull the hip, hemp caper of a lifetime. Like “The Full Monty” and “Waking Ned Devine,” it’s about ordinary people who find they must compromise their values in extraordinary circumstances. On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “Saving Grace” is a warm, wry, whimsical 9. It’s outrageously good fun!

09

SOLOMON & GAENOR

Susan Granger’s review of “SOLOMON & GAENOR” (Sony Pictures Classics)

Oscar nominated as Best Foreign Language Film, the love story called “Solomon & Gaenor” is set in the Welsh Valleys around 1911. Solomon (Ioan Gruffudd) is a young Orthodox Jewish boy whose parents run a pawnshop and drapery business. For added income, he trudges through the gray mist of the muddy, wet valleys selling cotton fabric door-to-door. That’s how he meets gentle Gaenor (Nia Roberts), whose father and elder brother are miners. They’re immediately attracted to each other but Solomon – painfully aware of the rampant anti-Semitism of the period and rebelling against his heritage – conceals his Jewish identity, telling her his name is Sam. After surprising her with a pretty dress of red calico that he made himself, they become clandestine lovers. In a deliciously awkward scene, he meets her family. “Now I want to meet your family,” Gaenor pleads. “I want to make it right.” But Solomon, ashamed, knows his devoutly religious family will not accept her, nor him if he chooses to stay with her. Meanwhile, his sister becomes suspicious, Gaenor gets pregnant and is denounced in chapel, and there’s a strike at the coal mine. The ensuing scandal spells tragedy in director/writer Paul Morrison’s confident, well-directed screenplay. And what etches “Solomon & Gaenor” indelibly in your mind is the beautiful photography the evokes the time, the place, and the mood. On the minus side, is the low-key, uneven way the story unfolds slowly, utilizing a measured, meandering pace. English subtitles translate the Welsh and Yiddish. On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “Solomon & Gaenor” is a tough, uncompromising 7. It’s “Romeo and Juliet” in Wales, capturing the exquisite pleasure and unbearable pain of first love.

07

THE CREW

Susan Granger’s review of “THE CREW” (Touchstone Pictures)

First “Space Cowboys,” now another quartet of cranky, old geezers gear up for a final mission. No, they’re not saving the planet; they’re saving their sanity. It’s been too many years since Bats (Burt Reynolds), Brick (Dan Hedaya), Mouth (Seymour Cassel) and Bobby (Richard Dreyfuss) had anything to do but sip slurpees and ogle bikinis from the verandah of the Raj Mahal, a ratty retirement hotel in South Beach, Florida. Once they had it all – money, power, women and respect – but now they’re facing eviction from the semi-squalor of their suddenly trendy, ocean-view apartments when Bats comes up with a plan. They steal an unclaimed corpse from the mortuary where Brick works and shoot the dead guy in the lobby of their hotel. Predictably, their anti-gentrification scheme works. Squeamish yuppies flee the crime scene and their landlord relents, offering a rent reduction and hefty bonus for signing long-term leases. They’re into heavy-duty celebration until they discover the corpse was the senile father of a paranoid South American drug lord (Miguel Sandoval) – and that Mouth spilled the story to a stripper/hooker (Jennifer Tilly) who threatens to blab unless the wiseguys bump off her wealthy, widowed step-mother (Lainie Kazan). Chaos reigns when this crime caper goes sour, much to the consternation and confusion of a police detective (Carrie-Ann Moss) who has more than a passing interest in Bobby. While I didn’t find the gang-whiz along the side of the road particularly funny, Barry Fanaro’s screenplay, directed by Michael Dinner, contrives to elicit chuckles if not belly-laughs. And why not? Fanaro used to write and produce TV’s “The Golden Girls.” On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “The Crew” is a satirical 5, a genial geriatric Goodfellas.

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