Susan Granger’s review of “The 13th Warrior” (Touchstone Pictures)
For more than two years, this clich?-ridden action adventure has gathered dust on the shelf at Disney’s Buena Vista Pictures. No one knew quite when to release it or how to market its blood ‘n’ guts content to the public. Antonio Banderas (“The Mask of Zorro”) plays Ahmed Ibn Fahdlan, an urbane Muslim poet-diplomat banished from his Egyptian homeland during the 10th century, along with elderly Omar Sharif, who acts as his translator. Fleeing from Baghdad in a caravan after Banderas has indulged in a foolish sexual liaison, they join up with some growling, swaggering, blond Nordic warriors with names like Helfdane the Large (Clive Russell), Skeld the Superstitious (Richard Bremmer), and Herger the Joyous (Dennis Storhoi), among others. They’re led by Buliwyf (Vladimir Kulich) on a quest to liberate a kingdom across the sea from a mysterious, marauding tribe of bear-like savages who have been terrorizing everyone – at least when it gets foggy. (They filmed it in British Columbia where the mists obviously rise on cue.) Based on Michael Crichton’s 1976 novel, “Eaters of the Dead,” it combines rowdy, swashbuckling brutality with a hint of the supernatural as they pursue the ferocious “terror that must not be named.” Director John McTiernan did this long before “The Hunt for Red October” and he would be wise to leave it off his resume. On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “The 13th Warrior” is a ridiculously bloodthirsty 3, proving grisly gore has no limits.
Susan Granger’s review of “THE ASTRONAUT’S WIFE” (New Line Cinema)
Writer/director Rand Ravich came up with an intriguing premise for this sci-fi tale: What would happen if an astronaut was, somehow, changed after he returned from a supposedly routine space journey? Who would know? Good idea, right? So, Johnny Depp – newly blond with a Southern drawl – plays a NASA shuttle pilot, one of two crew members who are nearly killed when a satellite explodes and ground control mysteriously loses contact with them for two minutes. His companion (Nick Cassavetes) flips out soon after their return to Earth. But Depp doesn’t. Instead, he announces his decision to quit the space program and impregnates his beautiful wife, played by Charlize Theron (“Mighty Joe Young,” “The Devil’s Advocate”), with twins. But then strange things begin to happen. First, Cassavetes dies from “a severe insult to the brain” (i.e.: a stroke). Then Theron’s confidante, played by Donna Murphy, is electrocuted. Nevertheless, the now-former astronaut and his now-fearful wife leave Florida and move to New York, where she’s befriended by the wife (Blair Brown) of her husband’s new corporate boss (Tom Noonan) in the aerospace industry. Are there any surprises? Only when British actress Samantha Eggar turns up as an obstetrician with a thick German accent. Otherwise you can probably guess what happens. On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “The Astronaut’s Wife” is a fumbling, formulaic 4. Think of a sluggish “Rosemary’s Baby” with an extra-terrestrial twist.
Susan Granger’s review of “THE CHILL FACTOR” (Warner Brothers)
In this wannabe action-thriller, the mid-August tranquillity of a tiny tropical atoll in the South Pacific is shattered when a covert scientific military research operation, code name “Elvis,” goes terribly wrong. As a result, only the scientist who invented the formula and a disgraced Army officer remain alive. Skip ahead ten years to a hot summer day in the tiny town of Jerome, Montana, where two young men – Cuba Gooding Jr. (Oscar winner for “Jerry Maguire”) and Skeet Ulrich – are in the wrong place at the wrong time. When the guilt-stricken scientist (David Paymer) is murdered by the villainous Major (Peter Firth), these two hapless guys must transport the toxic and potentially combustible chemical weapon and safely deliver it to Fort Magruder, 90 miles away. Only, they have to keep it frozen, and the only refrigerated vehicle available is Gooding’s ice-cream truck. Of course, the Major’s tactical team is in hot pursuit of “Elvis on ice.” Kind of reminds you of the concept “Speed,” doesn’t it? Plus a French thriller called “Wages of Fear” with much the same plotline. The profanity-laden screenplay by Drew Gitlin and Mike Cheda is dumb and derivative, and novice Hugh Johnson’s directing is by-the-numbers, relying on violent hand-to-hand combat, macho gunplay, and loud explosions. And how is it that everyone seems to know everyone else’s cell-phone number when I can’t even remember my own? On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “The Chill Factor” is a numbingly stupid 3. It’s toxic, all right.
Susan Granger’s review of “OUTSIDE PROVIDENCE” (Miramax Films)
Don’t expect another “There’s Something About Mary,” just because this contemporary comedy is made by Peter and Bobby Farrelly. Instead of gross silliness, there’s gloppy sentiment, as Shawn Hatosy portrays a pot-smoking slacker teen, circa 1974, in the blue-collar town of Pawtucket, Rhode Island. After a fender-bender with a parked police car, he’s packed off to a fancy Connecticut prep school, Cornwall Academy, where he’s outnumbered, outclassed, and definitely out of place. But he gets little sympathy from his beer-guzzling, loud-mouthed, deadbeat dad (Alec Baldwin) whose idea of affection is to nickname the boy “Dildo.” “It ain’t easy being Ozzie when you ain’t got a Harriet,” dad explains. Predictably – and somewhat unimaginatively – Hatosy not only ends up with the prettiest girl around (Amy Smart), protects his wheelchair-bound younger brother (Tommy Bone), and takes revenge on a repressive dean. Directed and co-written by Michael Corrente (“American Buffalo”), there are quirky touches like a three-legged dog and some crude slapstick antics, but there’s nothing to make your hair stand on end about this prosaic coming-of-age story set. Not surprising since the script was recycled from long before the Farrelly brothers had hits like “Dumb and Dumber.” And the edgy comedy “Rushmore,” released early this year, covered the same territory far better. On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “Outside Providence” is a flimsy 5. It’s bittersweet nostalgia – wait the video.
Susan Granger’s review of “RUNAWAY BRIDE” (Paramount Pictures)
Ever since “Pretty Woman,” Julia Roberts, Richard Gere, and director Garry Marshall have been looking for another project, and this screwball romantic fantasy seems to fit the bill. No, it’s not a sequel. It’s an entirely different story. Roberts plays Maggie, a small-town charmer who has left three grooms at the altar – a fact that is exaggerated in USA TODAY by a cynical New York columnist, Ike Graham (think Jimmy Breslin) – that’s Gere – who bitterly dubs her a “man-eater.” She complains to his editor (Rita Wilson), who is also his ex-wife, citing just cause for a defamation lawsuit. He promptly gets fired for exploitive journalism. Determined to vindicate himself and uncover the “real story” for GQ magazine, Ike shows up in bucolic Hale, Maryland, just as Maggie is preparing to marry groom #4, the high-school physical education teacher/coach. “Shazam! It’s Mayberry,” he mutters just before the barbershop quartet starts. Ike’s acerbic; Maggie’s defensive. They spar and spat with incredible finesse. But will she bolt once more? No one knows, even her widower father (Paul Dooley) who notes, “Maggie may not be Hale’s longest running joke, but she’s certainly the fastest.” Eventually, Maggie realizes “there’s a distinct possibility that I’m profoundly, irreversibly screwed-up.” The screenplay by Josann McGibbon, Sara Parriott, and Audrey Wells leaves little doubt in your mind about the outcome but it’s deliciously amusing getting there. On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “Runaway Bride” is a glowing, breezy 8. It’s not as quirky and witty as “Notting Hill,” Roberts’ most recent romantic comedy, and not in the same league as “Pretty Woman.” But Gere’s glossy and gorgeous, and it’s flirty, feel-good fun from beginning to end – a date movie or chick’s flick.
Susan Granger’s review of “EYES WIDE SHUT” (Warner Bros.)
Do you remember the fable: “The Emperor’s New Clothes”? Because this film was made by the late Stanley Kubrick, because two of Hollywood’s top stars devoted two years of their lives to its creation, because the “hype” has been so carefully orchestrated…few have dared to call this exquisitely photographed film what it is: shallow soft-core pornography. Despite Kubrick’s meticulous direction, it’s a wretchedly written, clich?-filled dirge about sexual obsession, based on Arthur Schnitzler’s “Traumnovelle” (1926). The slow-paced story begins with Tom Cruise, as a Manhattan physician, and his wife, played by Nicole Kidman, preparing to attend a lavish Christmas party, hosted by Sydney Pollack. That evening, as she flirts with a suave Hungarian, he’s hit on by two giggly models – until he’s called upstairs by the host to revive yet another model who has overdosed. Later, while stoned, Kidman taunts Cruise with an erotic tale about a naval officer in Cape Cod. Reeling with jealousy, he indulges in his own angst-filled fantasy, involving a kinky tryst with a hooker and a sinister, masquerade orgy. And he flashes his doctor’s ID card more often than an FBI agent. Why Kidman and Cruise chose to indulge in this heavy-handed, exhibitionistic carnal endeavor is best left to their personal therapists – and the gossip columnists. Sure, the color-drenched cinematography is stunning but, having said that, it’s like leaving a Broadway musical singing the scenery. In evaluating Jocelyn Pook’s moody score, a friend put it best commenting: “The music sounds as if were composed by a piano tuner, pounding on one note.” On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “Eyes Wide Shut” is a perverted, pretentious, numbing 3. It may be deliberately depraved but you won’t be deprived if you wait for the video.
Susan Granger’s review of “THE WOOD” (Paramount Pictures)
“The Wood” refers to Inglewood, California, where three friends reminisce about their 13-year friendship on the day when one is about to get married. The story opens as Omar Epps explains, directly into the camera, that his pal, the groom, has turned up missing. Epps and Richard T. Jones are sent to find Taye Diggs, who is drunk at the home of an old girl-friend, overcome with pre-nuptial jitters. As the boyz drive around, trying to sober up Diggs so he can take his wedding vows, they pass various locales around the ‘Wood and recall memories from their shared adolescence. That’s the simple, somewhat contrived plot and the three actors deliver solid performances. First-time writer-director 25 year-old Rick Famuyiwa evokes a remarkably fresh pop ’80s nostalgia, complete with a spinning vinyl record and finger-snapping music. Until now, most African-American films have fallen into one of four categories: “booty” pictures, violent “hood” chronicles, female-oriented comedy/dramas, or serious ghetto stories, aimed at an older audience. This movie is different in that it delves into the honest camaraderie, as well as the various comic aspects of puberty, and its appeal should extend beyond the boundaries of the African-American community. On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “The Wood” is an amusing, appealing 5. In a summer of coming-of-age films, comparisons are inevitable but – while much of the narrative involves a trio of young guys trying to get laid – “The Wood” has little of the gross, vulgar humor of “American Pie.” Instead, it opts for good-natured charm, poignancy and sentimentality.
“STARGATE” (Showtime TV) review by Susan Granger
Sci-fi fans alert: if you were blown away by the ancient and alien magic of “Stargate” (1994), tune in Showtime TV on Friday nights for the new, original “Stargate SG-1,” which takes up where the Roland Emmerich/Dean Devlin movie ended, following the exploits of a military team that travels to other worlds instantaneously through a mysterious portal known as a stargate. Think of space travel and combat integrated with intellectual detective work, or “The Outer Limits” combined with “Sliders.” As the expedition leader, Richard Dean Anderson (“MacGuyver”) is no Kurt Russell but he makes up in competence and an acerbic comic cynicism what he lacks in charisma. Nor is Michael Shanks any James Spader, as the eccentric Egyptologist, but he’s joined by Amanda Topping, as a no-nonsense astrophysicist. There will be 44 of these supernatural action/adventures initially in this expensive new series with each episode running about $1.3 million and filmed in Vancouver. Some of the snake-headed aliens are quite grotesque and, since Showtime has wisely slotted this new series at 10 PM, there is occasional nudity and some horror elements, definitely not aimed at a juvenile audience.
“12 ANGRY MEN” (Showtime- Aug. 17 premiere) review by Susan Granger
The most compelling drama you’re likely to see this weekend will be the premiere of a new version of “12 Angry Men” at 9 PM on Sunday on Showtime Television. This tense, powerful courtroom drama features a stellar cast including Jack Lemmon, Courtney B. Vance, George C. Scott, Ossie Davis, Mykelti Williamson, Tony Danza, Armin Mueller-Stahl and Hume Cronyn. Based on Reginald Rose’s 1957 screenplay, updated to 1997 with a racially-mixed cast, the story revolves around 12 men on a jury who have been charged by the judge to deliver a verdict on what appears to be an open-and-shut, first-degree murder case involving a New York City youth whom eye-witnesses have fingered for killing his father. But one soft-spoken juror believes the young Latino might be innocent of the crime and his “reasonable doubt” prevents him from declaring “guilty as charged.” Thus begins an exhilarating war of words and actions that will not only reveal each juror for the man he is but will determine the fate of the accused. Director William Friedkin keeps the tension taut in the hot, sweltering jury room where the air-conditioning doesn’t function – and kudos to him for not giving in to “political correctness” and turning it into “12 Angry People,” which would have changed the tone of the testosterone-driven concept. This classic American drama, which ranks up there with “Death of a Salesman” and “Streetcar Named Desire,” has been done many times but never better than this. And it speaks to the sad state of big-budget feature films and network programming that only cable television is willing to risk this kind of intimate, character-driven material.
Susan Granger’s review of “Safe House” on Showtime TV (premiere on 1/24/99)
Quite often, particularly this time of year, the best new “movies” are those made-for-TV, and this character-driven action-adventure is one of them. Patrick Stewart (Jean Luc-Picard of “Star Trek: The Next Generation”) plays Mace, a retired government official, suffering from Alzheimer’s disease, who believes a retired Admiral, now a Presidential candidate, is trying to kill him because he’s the last remaining member of an elite, “dirty tricks, hit squad” of the Pentagon. As a result of his suspicions, Mace has become a paranoid recluse living in an impenetrable home in Los Angeles. To protect himself, he’s surrounded by the ultimate in state-of-the-art weaponry and hi-tech surveillance equipment. And to keep himself mentally and physically alert, he deliberately stages terrifying “drills” with his poolman. Realizing that the keen mind of this once-elegant and refined gentleman is deteriorating, his daughter hires a perpetually perky, professional in-home caregiver (Kimberly Williams) to look after her father and insists that he regularly visit a psychiatrist (Hector Elizondo) who specializes in gerontology. Initially resentful of the young woman, Mace slowly warms to her but, when he mistakenly shoots at a neighbor’s car, he realizes that he’s soon going to be “put away” in a locked-care facility. In a race against time, Mace thinks he’s prepared for what happens next…but is he? Writer/director Eric Steven Stahl has concocted a highly imaginative, edge-of-your-seat thriller. On the Granger Made-for-TV Movie Gauge, “Safe House” is a suspenseful 7. Don’t miss the premiere on Sunday night, January 24, at 8 PM on Showtime TV.