Susan Granger’s review of “ILLUMINATA” (Artisan Entertainment)
After “Shakespeare in Love,” this sumptuously presented but overly long story of behind-the-scenes actors pales in comparison. But you have to credit it as a labor of love by John Turturro, who co-wrote, directed, and acted in it. Set amid a flamboyant turn-of-the-century New York repertory company, it revolves around a failing resident playwright, John Turturro, whose claim to fame is his marriage to the troupe’s leading lady, played by Katherine Borowitz, Turturro’s real-life wife. The playwright yearns to shelve the heavy-handed melodramas of the period as he aspires to a more naturalistic style of theater, but no one believes in him. “Illuminata” is both the title of a play-within-the-movie and what he eventually calls his wife after they survive treachery, back-biting, and intrigue – not to mention the on-stage death of the leading man mid-performance on opening night. Susan Sarandon is glorious as the promiscuous, aging diva who glances at a young actress and murmurs, “That is how I shall look years from now. I’m beginning to be able to play ingenues.” But Christopher Walken steals the picture as a smug, gay critic – think Oscar Wilde – who relishes the cruelty he liberally dishes out, and Bill Irwin is amusing as the wretchedly reluctant object of his affections. Their characterizations are particularly bawdy. Beverly D’Angelo, Ben Gazzara, and the late Donal McCann complete the supporting cast, along with Turturro’s son and cousin. On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “Illuminata” is an art-house 6, exploring the durability of love with enough dramatic lulls to catch a quick snooze.
Susan Granger’s review of “JAKOB THE LIAR” (Columbia Pictures)
I suspect that if “Life is Beautiful” had not won last year’s Oscar, this Holocaust film would be more appreciated. Unfortunately, the similarities are superficially apparent – revolving around a whimsical, imprisoned Jew who keeps hope alive and shields a small child amidst the Nazi atrocities. In this adaptation of Jurek Becker’s 1969 best-seller by French writer/director Peter Kassovitz, Robin Williams plays Jakob, the latke (pancake) maker, who lives in a Polish ghetto. He’s a widower who gets caught, allegedly after curfew, and sent to Gestapo headquarters where he overhears a radio bulletin indicating that Russian forces are advancing on Warsaw. Cautiously making his way home, he encounters a ten year-old girl (Hannah Taylor Gordon), an Anne Frank look-alike, whose parents were taken to a concentration camp and, sympathetically, shelters her. The next morning, Jakob is so excited about the war news that he confides it to one friend who tells another, who tells another, who tells another. Soon the gritty ghetto is humming, and the assumption is that Jakob has a forbidden radio on which he heard the broadcast. Suddenly Jakob becomes a celebrity, a reluctant hero because of his wishful thinking. “My crowning achievement: latkes and lies,” he moans. But it’s this dark joke, a sunny day, and a hopeful rumor that helped a few doomed Jews survive in 1944. Despite an awkward, indulgent screenplay, Robin Williams delivers a solid, restrained characterization, supported by Liev Schreiber, Alan Arkin, Armin Mueller-Stahl, and Bob Balaban. On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “Jakob the Liar” is a serio-comic 7. Curious side-note: Kassovitz sent the script to Robin Williams because he thought Williams was Jewish. He isn’t, but he found the concept intriguing.
Susan Granger’s review of “THE APARTMENT COMPLEX” (SHOWTIME TV)
On Sunday, October 31, at 8 PM on Showtime TV, horror maestro Tobe Hooper presents a quirky, psychological mystery, “The Apartment Complex,” starring Chad Lowe as a young grad student who has just moved from the Midwest to study psychology at UCLA. Broke and living out of his car, he’s hired by Jon Polito, as the malevolent Dr. Caligari, to manage the Wonder View Apartments in Hollywood in exchange for rent, despite warnings from Obba Babatunde, playing a homeless philosopher who lurks on the front curb. Inspired more by Stephen King than Frank Lloyd Wright, there’s something very strange about the Wonder View Apartments. Certainly the tenants are an oddball assortment of neurotics and psychotics, ideal specimens for a master thesis on abnormal psychology. There’s Faye Masterson, a haunted-looking beauty with her hot-tempered, insanely jealous boyfriend, Patrick Warburton; Amanda Plummer, an over-sexed psychic; Tyra Banks and Gina Mari, stunt actresses who dabble in martial arts; R. Lee Ermey, a paranoid, reclusive ex-government agent; creepy twins Jimmy and David Schuelke; and Charles Martin Smith as the agoraphobic with a dark, terrible secret. The horror starts when Lowe discovers a dead body in the murky swimming pool. Detectives Ron Canada and Miguel Sandoval figure he’s their only suspect, tormenting and bullying him as other strange events plague the tenants. All the psycho-babble he’s been learning in grad school comes in handy as the wise-beyond-his-years student begins doling out free therapy as he zeros in on the real killer. On the Granger Made-for-Television Gauge, “The Apartment Complex” is a sinister 6. It’s Halloween hell in exchange for free rent.
Susan Granger’s review of “MICKEY BLUE EYES” (Warner Bros.)
Just imagine you’re a suave, proper British auctioneer who’s madly in love with an exuberant New York schoolteacher you’ve known for only three months, so in love, in fact, that you propose marriage – only to have her burst into tears and run away. That’s what happens to Hugh Grant at the beginning of the story. Jeanne Tripplehorn refuses to marry him because she’s worried about what will happen if he joins her dysfunctional Mafia family. Undaunted, he goes to Little Italy to find her father – that’s James Caan – at his restaurant, “The La Trattoria,” where the song “We Are Family” plays in the background as he meets the wiseguys. Sure enough, before the bumbling Brit knows it, his auction gallery is being used for mob money laundering and the FBI is paying a visit. The scene where the gregarious Caan tries to teach the refined Grant the goombah enunciation of “fuhgeddaboutit” is a gem. One complication leads to another and soon he becomes known as “Mickey Blue Eyes” by all the wrong people. Screenwriters Adam Scheinman and Robert Kuh and director Kelly Makin deliver the humorous, if clich?-ridden set-ups, but what makes the frenzied farce work is Hugh Grant, who seems to have inherited Cary Grant’s ability to maintain an unflappable charm and graceful dignity no matter how humiliating the circumstances. Whether he’s a boyish “Notting Hill” book seller who falls for a movie star or a proper, innocent Englishman who behaves with aplomb when finds himself with a bloody corpse, Grant handles his fish-out-of-water roles with witty, sophisticated charm, adept at both verbal sparring and physical antics. On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “Mickey Blue Eyes” is a funny, funny 8. This engaging romantic comedy is perfectly timed for late summer laughs.
Susan Granger’s review of “THE MUSE” (USA Films release of an October Films movie)
Sharon Stone is an irresistible comedienne in Albert Brooks’ slightly surreal send-up of the motion picture business. Taking a whiny cue from Woody Allen, Brooks plays a skewed version of himself – a neurotic middle-aged screenwriter, comparing his job with “a eunuch at an orgy – except that the eunuch can, at least, watch, while the screenwriter is not even allowed on the set.” When he receives a Humanitarian Award, he facetiously describes a “humanitarian” to his daughter as “someone who has never won an Oscar.” But when he’s fired by a weaselly studio exec who claims he’s “lost his edge,” even his agent agrees. Desperate to save his career, he consults his successful buddy (Jeff Bridges) who admits he owes everything to a Muse – that’s Sharon Stone. As a daughter of Zeus, she gets people in touch with their creativity. But she’s a pampered muse – demanding a suite at the Four Seasons Hotel ($10,000 a week), limo, and dutiful attendance to her desires. Frantically, Brooks tries to satisfy her capricious whims – as does his wife, earnestly played by Andie MacDowell, whom the Muse encourages to pursue her cookie dream of being the next Mrs. Fields. And it’s funny as Martin Scorese, James Cameron, Rob Reiner, and Wolfgang Puck pay Tiffany tributes to the divine diva. Albert Brooks (“Mother,” “Defending Your Life,” “Lost in America”) is an acute and adept observer of the nutty, ruthless Hollywood scene, skewering its self-absorption and gullibility, but his ironic concept fizzles out as he misses some screwball opportunities with the Muse’s legendary use of the magical power of sex – and his riff on Steven Spielberg falls flat. On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “The Muse” is a droll, satiric 7. It’s wryly amusing, pointing out that people are who you think they are.
Susan Granger’s review of “TEACHING MRS. TINGLE” (Dimension/Miramax Films)
Filmed under the title “Killing Mrs. Tingle,” this demented teen comedy is about high-school students who kidnap and torture their nasty history teacher. But, after shooting incident at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado, in April, the title was quickly changed. Kevin Williamson wrote the screenplay before “Scream” and long before TV’s “Dawson’s Creek,” but he couldn’t sell it until he became famous. Now he’s using it to make his directing debut. The plot revolves around a bitchy, sarcastic, sadistic schoolmarm (flamboyant Helen Mirren) who terrifies everyone, even the principal (Michael McKean) – whom she pointedly rebukes for his alcoholism problem. Her students’ anger boils over when Mrs. Tingle unfairly thwarts a college scholarship for her most ambitious, over-achieving student (Katie Holmes) by accusing the girl of stealing a copy of the final history exam. The theft was actually arranged by another student (Marisa Coughlan) and her boy-friend (Barry Watson). When the trio go to the teacher’s house in hopes of clarifying the situation, they’re mocked by terrible Mrs. Tingle (think of Margaret Hamilton as the cruel, cackling Wicked Witch in “The Wizard of Oz”) and the confrontation gets out of hand. Mrs. Tingle winds up tied to the headboard of her Victorian bed as the enraged students make macabre mayhem. Will they kill her or won’t they? Obviously not – since this is a PG-13 movie – and clever Mrs. Tingle can outwit the dumb, childish clods with mind games even when she’s in bondage, but that’s still no excuse for plodding caricatures rather than sympathetic characters. On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “Teaching Mrs. Tingle” is a tedious, tawdry 1. There’s simply nothing amusing about this mean-spirited glorification of violent revenge.
Susan Granger’s review of “THE SIXTH SENSE” (Touchstone Pictures)
It’s very important that you be in your seat for the beginning of this psychological thriller and stay all the way through to the end to comprehend the nuances of the twisting plot. Bruce Willis plays a renown child psychologist who is emotionally torn between spending time with his lovely wife (Olivia Williams) and helping desperately needy eight year-old named Cole (Haley Joel Osment), who is haunted by dark visions that terrify him. He sees dead people, restless spirits. These eerie ghosts appear everywhere – at home, at school, on the street – and they reach out, trying to communicate. Often they actually wound him. Cole lives with his stressed-out single mother (Toni Collette), who is empathetic, but he is terrified to tell her his secret, to reveal his unexplainable paranormal powers. Then Willis comes on the scene. Slowly, the young boy opens up to him. A trust develops, as the psychologist wrestles with how the fragile child can cope with the harrowing, unresolved problems that surround him. Philadelphia-based, 28 year-old writer/director M. Night Shyamalan (“Wide Awake”) and cinematographer Tak Fujimoto (“The Silence of the Lambs”) create an intriguing, elliptical visual style, building a melancholy aura of suspense and creating a tense, slowly building menace. Combining his spiritual and mystical Indian roots with his American upbringing, Shyamalan achieves a subdued, provocative balance between what’s real and what’s imagined. Bruce Willis drives the story with a strong, poignant performance but it’s Haley Joel Osment whose talent is an amazement. On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “The Sixth Sense” is an ominous, unsettling, subtle 9. Only after the film’s chilling conclusion will you be able to fit the pieces of this ingenious supernatural puzzle together.
Susan Granger’s review of “BOWFINGER” (Universal Pictures)
Are you in the mood to laugh? ‘Cause you gotta be when you see this spoof of the movie industry in which Steve Martin plays Robert “Bobby” Bowfinger, a down-and-out director who’s crazy about a script, “Chubby Rain,” about tiny aliens who ride raindrops down to Earth. Problem is: the only way to get the movie made is to get a bankable A-list star – which he cannot afford. Illustrating his frustration, there’s a hilarious scene in which Robert Downey Jr. is a prominent producer, “a player,” whom he spots at a restaurant. So Bowfinger decides to stalk TinselTown’s hottest actor, Kit Ramsey – that’s Eddie Murphy, and surreptitiously capture him on celluloid, editing the surreptitious footage into his low-budget ($2,814) movie. The angry, already paranoid Ramsey goes nuts when he finds himself interacting with Christine Baranski and other actors from “Rain” who accost him, reciting their lines. Seeking tranquillity, Ramsey retreats to a posh haven called MindHead, run by manipulative Terence Stamp. Is this a riff on certain stars’ devotion to Scientology? When he was writing the screenplay, Steve Martin originally envisioned a wimpy, spiritual actor, “a Keanu Reeves type,” but adapted him into a black action star with Murphy’s help. Directed by Frank Oz, Martin’s elegant goofiness blends with Murphy’s hip cynicism and the result is a deliriously outrageous combination. Plus, Murphy plays another role as his nerdy stunt double/errandboy. And, if you think Heather Graham’s ambitious ingenue-who-runs-off-with-a-lesbian role resembles Anne Heche, you’re not alone. Martin dated Heche for several years before she jilted him for Ellen DeGeneres. On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “Bowfinger” is an amusing, inventive, entertaining 8. It’s a funny, funny satire that skewers Hollywood.
Susan Granger’s review of A STIR OF ECHOES (Artisan Entertainment)
If you enjoyed “The Sixth Sense,” you’re gonna want to see this supernatural thriller starring Kevin Bacon as a Chicago telephone lineman who discovers horror lurking under his own roof after he’s hypnotized by his sister-in-law (Illeana Douglas) at a neighborhood party. At first, Bacon’s skeptical. He doesn’t believe in mental games, nor in ghosts. But when he hears his five year-old son (Zachary David Cope) casually say, “Does it hurt to be dead?” to an unseen apparition, he knows something’s wrong. Then he “sees” a deathly pale, terrified teenage girl who “disappeared” months earlier; she’s a vision, not real, but how did this tortured soul get on his living-room sofa? And who will believe him? Certainly not his just-pregnant wife (Kathryn Erbe), who finds his bizarre behavior and obsession with spooky, otherworldly things quite disturbing. Not even his defensive sister-in-law, who insists she only planted an innocent post-hypnotic suggestion into his subconscious. Based on a 1958 novel by Richard Matheson (“Somewhere in Time,” “What Dreams May Come”), screenwriter/director David Koepp cleverly builds the suspense slowly, through character development not carnage, keeping the action low-key and quite plausible. But many clues are revealed too early, and it’s quite reminiscent of Bacon’s earlier film, “Flatliners,” along with “The Amityville Horror,” even “The Shining.” On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “A Stir of Echoes” is a creepy 7. It’s an eerie, intriguing early Fall chiller.
Susan Granger’s review of “GUINEVERE’ (Miramax Films)
What do you do when you’re 20 years old, the youngest in a wealthy San Francisco family of over-achieving attorneys, and you’ve just been accepted at Harvard Law School? If you’re awkward, insecure and confused like Harper Stone, played by Sarah Polley (“The Sweet Hereafter”), you run off with a passionate photographer more than twice your age. Especially if he’s a carefree, charming, ruggedly attractive Irish bohemian like Stephen Rea (“The Crying Game”). But Harper’s not the first naive young girl he’s seduced. No, there are a bevy of “Guineveres,” as he dubs them. But this is not the usual May-September romance in which the worldly guy boosts his sagging ego by recapturing his youth with an inexperienced girl – despite what Harper’s urbane mother (Jean Smart) says in a scathing, devastating, accusatory encounter. Instead, it offers a sensitive insight into what the nubile girl gets out of such a rite-of-passage relationship – things like self-confidence, knowledge, and experience, even if the mentor’s an alcoholic. Writer Audrey Wells (“The Truth about Cats and Dogs”) makes her directing debut with this $2.6 million independent feature that juxtaposes the formal elegance of snobbish Pacific Heights with the impoverished yet exuberant existence of the grungy inner city with its scruffy intellectual and artistic community. While it’s hard to take an aspiring photographer-who-never-takes-a-picture seriously, the conclusion, which contrives to reunite the Guineveres, seems too fanciful and out of context. On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “Guinevere” is a fresh, vibrant and engaging 8, commanding attention from start to finish.