“Everything, Everything”

Susan Granger’s review of “Everything, Everything” (Warner Bros.)


There have been so many movies about attractive young people falling in love, while facing potentially fatal illnesses, that there’s now a new sub-genre called Sickness Porn.

Adapted from YA novels – like “The Fault in Our Stars,” “If I Stay,” “Me Before You,” “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl,” among others – its roots can be traced back to “Love Story” (1970).

The illness featured in this romantic drama is severe combined immune deficiency or SCID. Sufferers of this disease can’t make antibodies to protect themselves from infection. It was first popularized in the 1970s with “Bubble Boy” about a lad living in a purified environment.

In this sappy but sweet story – with the tagline “Risk everything…for love” – exuberant, 18 year-old Maddy Whittier (Amanda Stenberg) is an aspiring architect, despite having spent her entire life in a hermetically-sealed glass sanctuary, designed to keep her safe.

“If I went outside, I’d die,” she explains.

Despite continuous monitoring by her overly-protective mother/doctor Pauline (Anika Noni Rose), Maddy is intrigued by Olly (Nick Robinson), the boy-next-door, recently relocated from New York.  As opposed to Maddy’s solid white attire, he dresses in black, rides a skateboard and arrives at the Whittiers’ door bearing a Bundt cake from his mom.

First, there are handwritten signs. Then they shyly text. Finally, there’s a meeting, facilitated by Maddy’s empathetic nurse Carla (Ana de la Reguera), complete with the requisite decontamination protocol. Before long, they’re running away from Los Angeles for a Hawaiian vacation.

That’s where there’s a preposterous plot twist: an episode of myocarditis in Maui alters the diagnosis of Maddie’s condition to Munchausen’s-by-proxy and parental medical abuse, launching a disconcerting “you’re not really disabled” narrative.

Working from Nicola Yoon’s debut YA novel, scripted by J. Mills Goodloe (“The Age of Adaline”), it’s directed by Jamaican-Canadian Stella Megie (“Jean of the Joneses”), who injects several clever gimmicks, like a retro aquamarine-colored diner and Maddie’s imaginary astronaut (Sage Brocklebank).

On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “Everything, Everything” is a facile, foolish 4, completely losing plausibility in the third act.





“Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales”

Susan Granger’s review of “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales” (Walt Disney Pictures)


This is the fifth installment of the floundering franchise which has become a lengthy commercial for the newly revised ‘ride’ at Disney theme parks.

The journey revolves around Henry Turner (Brenton Thwaites), son of Will Turner and Elizabeth Swann, who is determined to find a legendary artifact known as Poseidon’s Trident, which can lift the curse that has trapped his father’s Flying Dutchman on the bottom of the sea.

That involves convincing rapidly decomposing Spanish Capt. Salazar (Javier Bardem), who drowned in the Devil’s Triangle, to spare his life so he can locate down-on-his-luck Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp), a quest that also intrigues Sparrow’s old nemesis, cranky Capt. Hector Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush).

In the meantime, corset-clad Carina Smyth (Kaya Scodelario) is a fair ‘n’ feisty damsel who is accused of witchcraft because of her knowledge of astronomy and horology. Apparently, her father’s diary with its celestial chart holds the key to finding that magical Trident.

So Henry and Carina team up with the swaggering, staggering, perpetually soused buccaneer Jack Sparrow, who’s in the midst of a bank heist on the colonial island of St. Martin since his beloved Black Pearl is still secreted inside a bottle – as the preposterous plot lurches toward its drawn-out conclusion.

Norwegian directors Joachim Ronning and Espen Sandberg, best known for the Oscar-nominated “Kon-Tiki,” are saddled with Jeff Nathanson’s muddled script, filled with incoherent curses and contrived genealogy, so they’re forced to rely on special effects and makeup to propel the sea-faring action.

Along with all-too-brief glimpses of Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley, there’s a pointless cameo by Paul McCartney and a post-credit scene that hints at more adventures to come.

On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales” sails off-course with a soggy 4. It’s a surreal shipwreck – Argh!





Susan Granger’s review of “Baywatch” (Paramount Pictures)


This raunchy, big-screen riff on TV’s ‘90s action-comedy “Baywatch” kicks off the silly summer season with tryouts for the elite team of tanned, toned lifeguards that patrol Emerald Beach.

Under the watchful eye of no-nonsense Mitch Buchannon (Dwayne Johnson), the wannabees are narrowed down to pudgy Ronnie Greenbaum (Jon Bass), sassy Summer Quinn (Alexandra Daddario) and cocky Matt Brody (Zac Efron), a disgraced bad boy who thinks his two Olympic gold medals should make him a shoo-in.

Meanwhile, Mitch realizes there’s a drug smuggler in their midst, and he suspects slinky, scheming Victoria Leeds (Bollywood star Priyanka Chopra), who just opened the posh Huntley Club and seems determined to acquire all the nearby coastal real estate.

Since the local policeman (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) won’t take him seriously, Mitch realizes it’s up to him and his squad to preserve the sanctity of their beachfront.

Working from Damian Shannon and Mark Swift’s smart-ass screenplay, director Seth Gordon (“Identity Thief,” “Horrible Bosses”) relies on lots of campy running in slo-mo, and it’s as cheeky as the zippered, red spandex swimsuits worn by Mitch’s sexy cohorts C.J. Parker (model Kelly Rohrbach) and Stephanie Holden (Ilfenesh Hadera).

Showing a snarky streak, Mitch steadfastly refuses to refer to Matt by name, dismissively calling him One Direction, N’Sync, Bieber and High School Musical – as their chiseled ‘bro’ chemistry clicks. Less amusing are the grossed-out male genitalia jokes.

There are a couple of exciting sea-rescue sequences, plus nostalgic cameos by TV stars David Hasselhoff and Pamela Anderson.

Full Disclosure: My son, Don Granger, is one of the Executive Producers.

On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “Baywatch” breezes in with a slyly splashy 6. Skip the sunscreen and stay for the post-credit bloopers.



“War Machine”

Susan Granger’s review of “War Machine” (Netflix)


Over the last few years, Netflix has established itself as a premiere steaming service. Now, Netflix is breaking new boundaries by debuting Brad Pitt’s provocative “War Machine” for home viewing on Friday, May 26, the same day it opens for Oscar-qualifying runs in New York and Los Angeles.

Written and directed by David Michod (“Animal Kingdom,” “The Rover”), it’s a black comedy, loosely based on Michael Hastings’ non-fiction best-seller “The Operators: The Wild & Terrifying Inside Story of America’s War in Afghanistan,” expanded from a 2010 “Rolling Stone” expose that led to President Obama’s dismissal of General Stanley McChrystal.

Pitt plays cocky, charismatic Glen McMahon, the fictional, four-star General who struts in to command US and NATO forces in Afghanistan, deploying a controversial military strategy called counterinsurgency or COIN.

“We are here to build, to protect, to support the civilian population,” he says. “To that end, we must avoid killing at all cost. We can’t help them and kill them at the same time.”

The humor is savage, skewering the absurdity of this particular war – which toppled the Dutch government, forced the resignation of Germany’s president and is propelling both Canada and the Netherlands to withdraw troops.

So Gen. McMahon flies to Paris with his rowdy, booze-soaked entourage (Topher Grace, RJ Cyler, Anthony Michael Hall, John Mangaro, Emory Cohen, Daniel Betts, Anthony Hayes) and a reporter (Scoot McNairy) to reassure the French and, incidentally, celebrate an anniversary with his long-suffering wife (Meg Tilly).

Initially a clownish, clichéd caricature, Brad Pitt develops delusional McMahon into a tragic figure, while Ben Kingsley is farcical as Afghanistan’s President Hamid Karzai and Tilda Swinton scores as a skeptical European politician.

“In the last several decades, we have not been as good at extricating ourselves from wars as we are at waging them,” notes Michod, “so it becomes increasingly messy as wars begin to look perpetual and unwinnable.”

On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “War Machine” is a slyly satirical 7, the first big-budget, day-and-date theatrical release that you can stay home and see.





“Alien: Covenant”

Susan Granger’s review of “Alien: Covenant” (20th Century-Fox: Scott Free Production)


Back in 1979, Ridley Scott helmed the shocking sci-fi thriller “Alien,” starring Sigourney Weaver, and containing one of the most terrifying moments I’ve ever seen on the screen, heralded by the memorable slogan: “In space, no one can hear you scream.”

In 2012, he made the mythology-heavy prequel “Prometheus,” introducing Michael Fassbender as the enigmatic British “synthetic” – a.k.a. android – David, created by Peter Weyland (Guy Pearce).

Fast-forward 10 years later to 2104, as a massive spaceship called Covenant – transporting 2,000 human passengers and 1,140 embryos – is headed on a couples’ colonization mission to terraform a planet that’s still seven years away.

An American android update named Walter (Fassbender) is at the controls when a violent stellar flare jolts the crew of 15 out of their cryo-sleep pods. The Captain (James Franco) is immediately killed, leaving Daniels (Katherine Waterston), his widow, to cope with this catastrophe and survive on her own, instead of settling down in a cabin on a lake.

Out of necessity, the religious First Mate, Christopher Oram (Billy Crudup), assumes command, immediately making a grievous mistake by diverting the Covenant to Origae-6, where the Prometheus disappeared, when he hears a distress signal containing a plaintive John Denver song.

On this vast, verdant but seemingly uninhabited planet, they encounter ruthless David, who lures them into a cavern that turns out to be trap, filled with those vicious, ravenous creatures called Xenomorphs, designed by Swiss artist H.R. Giger, that burrow into human bodies as spores and then burst forth in quasi-humanoid form with an eyeless helmet-head and a mouth dripping with slime.

Working from a script by John Logan, Dante Harper, Jack Paglen & Michael Green, Ridley Scott, who will be 80 later this year, adroitly frames existential speculation about the creation of human life and projections for its survival. But, aside from the hyper-intelligent androids, the human characters lack both delineation and development.

On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “Alien: Covenant” is a splattering 6, another slithery creature-feature.




“The Women’s Balcony”

Susan Granger’s review of “The Women’s Balcony” (Menemsha Films)


The highest-grossing film in Israel in the past three years, this good-hearted, yet provocative comedic drama is about the power of women in a battle against modern religious fundamentalism.

Set in an older Orthodox Jewish community in Jerusalem, it begins with a celebration as Etti (Evelin Hagoel) and Zion (Igal Naor), along with the rest of their close-knit congregation, parade from their homes through the streets to the synagogue for the Bar Mitzvah of their grandson.

Suddenly, during the service, the synagogue’s sex-segregated balcony for female worshippers, collapses. The wife of elderly Rabbi Menache (Abraham Celektar) is hospitalized in a coma, leaving him confused and depressed.

Awkwardly gathering in the only space available, the male members of the Mizrahi congregation don’t have the 10 men needed for a minyan when, seemingly out of nowhere, appears Rabbi David (Avraham Aviv Alush) with some of his seminary students.

Soon fanatically zealous Rabbi David is not only supervising the reconstruction of their synagogue but also reprimanding the women for their immodesty, urging them to cover their hair, and insinuating that the accident occurred because of the sins of the women.

When the women realize that there’s no place for them in the newly rebuilt synagogue, they raise money for a new balcony, only to discover that patriarchal Rabbi David intends to spend their funds on a new Torah scroll.

That incites a female rebellion, bravely led by determined Etti – reminiscent of Aristophanes’ Lysistrata. Plus, there’s a romantic subplot involving Etti’s niece (Yafit Asulin) who falls in love with Rabbi David’s assistant (Assaf Ben Shimon).

Screenwriter Shlomit Nehama grew up in a religious family in Jerusalem and was inspired by the women in her neighborhood.  And according to director Emil Ben-Shimon: “This film raises questions about whether every believer can choose his or own path of faith…and the price of extremism.”

In Hebrew with English subtitles, on the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “The Women’s Balcony” is a celebratory 6, offering a revelatory glimpse into a compelling dilemma.




“The Dinner”

Susan Granger’s review of “The Dinner” (The Orchard/Protagonist Pictures)


When teenagers commit a heinous crime, how should their parents react?

That’s the ethical dilemma propelling writer/director Oren Moverman’s meandering morality play/meditation, based on Dutch novelist Herman Koch’s controversial bestseller, first published in the Netherlands in 2009.

It begins with the narrator, Paul Lohman (Steve Coogan), as he and his wife Claire (Laura Linney) prepare to join Paul’s older brother Stan (Richard Gere), and his wife Katelyn (Rebecca Hall) at a pretentiously elite and outrageously expensive restaurant for dinner.

Since their sibling rivalry has left them estranged since childhood, the brothers rarely socialize, but their three sons (Charlie Plummer, Seamus Davey-Fitzpatrick, Miles J. Harvey) have grown up together. Now 16, two of the teenagers commit a callous hate crime in an ATM booth that’s shocked the country.

While their sons’ identities have not yet been discovered, although a video was posted on YouTube, their parents must decide what action to take.

Pragmatic, politically ambitious, yet principled Stan Lohman seemingly has the most at stake, since he’s a popular U.S. Congressman who is launching a campaign for Governor, an exalted position his trophy second wife has set her sights on.

Troubled Paul is a former high-school history teacher whose incipient rage ripples just below his superficial calm, while patient, supportive Claire is a cancer survivor.

The narrative debate is structured around the epicurean feast’s successive courses, but Moverman (“Time Out of Mind”) and cinematographer Bobby Bukowski take us away from the posh restaurant setting momentarily by intercutting disconcertingly fragmented flashbacks of the children’s childhoods and the brothers’ trip to the Civil War battlefield at Gettysburg, where so many lives were sacrificed.

The central psychological carnage is overly complicated and self-consciously clever, but Steve Coogan’s agonizing grasp of acerbic Paul’s frustration is stunning. Richard Gere falls back on his usual grace and charm, while Laura Linney and Rebecca Hall convincingly embody their respective roles.

On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “The Dinner” is an ominously unbalanced, undercooked 4, culminating in an infuriatingly enigmatic conclusion.






Susan Granger’s review of “Snatched” (20th Century Fox)


Goofy comedienne Goldie Hawn (“Overboard,” “Bird on a Wire”) hasn’t made a film in 15 years, so I was really looking forward to her return to the silver screen, particularly teaming up with fearlessly funny Amy Schumer.

Reviving her obnoxiously neurotic “Teamwork” persona, Schumer plays Emily Middleton, a potty-mouthed loser whose rock-star boyfriend (Randall Park) dumps her just after she’s splurged on a ‘nonrefundable’ vacation-for-two at a resort in exotic Ecuador.

Since no one else will accompany her, Emily convinces her uptight, over-protective, divorced mom Linda (Hawn) to go, whining, “Put the fun back in nonrefundable,” leaving her nerdy, agoraphobic brother Jeffrey (Ike Barinholtz) at home.

Venturing out to the pool, they’re immediately befriended by “strictly platonic” Ruth (Wanda Sykes) and Barb (Joan Cusack), who caution them about the kidnapping that’s about to occur when Emily convinces Linda to go on a ‘sight-seeing’ jaunt through the Amazon jungle with a handsome stranger named James (Tom Bateman) whom she met swilling cocktails at the bar.

Once they’re abducted by Morgado (Oscar Jaenada), a stereotypical Latino villain, and thrown into a filthy cell, the mother/daughter comedy grinds to a halt, as Emily learns to be less self-centered and stodgy Linda opens up to taking risks.

Throw in a chivalrous pseudo-adventurer/explorer (Christopher Meloni) and a disgusting tapeworm which takes center stage for far too long. Taking a jab at the ineptitude of the US State Dept., there’s also an ineffectual bureaucrat (Bashir Salahuddin) whose only advice to the victims is: “Get to Bogota.”

Scripted by Katie Dippold (“The Heat,” “Ghostbusters” remake) and directed by Jonathan Levine (“50/50,” “Warm Bodies”), it’s crude and vulgar – and only fitfully amusing. Perhaps because Levine lets some vacation-from-hell scenes go on too long and there’s little fractious, familial chemistry between Hawn and Schumer.

At 91 minutes, if feels interminable.

On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “Snatched” is a flashy, flimsy 5. Cancel this trip.




“King Arthur: Legend of the Sword”

Susan Granger’s review of “King Arthur: Legend of the Sword” (Warner Bros.)


Director Guy Ritchie diminishes the magnificent Arthurian legend and the mythology of the sword known as Excalibur to brutal butchery in this indecipherable medieval muddle.

Intended as an origin story, it begins as King Uther Pendragon (Eric Bana) and his Queen are killed by his treacherous younger brother, Vortigern (Jude Law), who sacrificed his own wife to Dark Forces, led by the evil sorcerer Mordred, in order to seize the Crown.

Tucked in a basket and sent downriver in a skiff (like Moses, one supposes), their young son is rescued by kindly prostitutes and raised in a brothel in bustling Londinium – with no idea of his Celtic heritage and birthright.

But once hunky Arthur (Charlie Hunnam) pulls the sword Excalibur from the stone, a moment sabotaged by a David Beckham cameo, his quest is clear.

Despite the presence of loyal friends (Djimon Hounsou, Aiden Gillen, Tom Wu) and a supernatural assist from a prescient Mage (Astrid Berges-Frisbee), there are many obstacles in his way, prompting Arthur to note (echoing Donald Trump): “I thought leading a revolution against that evil wizard would be easier.”

Working from the simplistic, almost unintelligible screenplay he wrote with Joby Harold and Lionel Wigram, based on a story by Joby Harold and David Dobkin, Guy Ritchie opts for style over substance, relying on swashbuckling swordplay, mumbled dialogue, rock music and a plethora of special effects, including gigantic, fantastical elephants used as war machines and lots of slithering snakes.

Obviously, Ritchie (“Snatch,” “Sherlock Holmes”) was aiming at establishing a new Camelot franchise, perhaps telling the tales of all the Knights who sit at the Round Table but I doubt that will ever happen, particularly since there isn’t even a glimpse of the essential character of Merlin., let alone Lancelot or Guinevere.

If you’re curious, perhaps you should view John Boorman’s far superior “Excalibur” (1981).

On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “King Arthur: Legend of the Sword” is a fumbling, fractured 4, unfolding like a frantic video game.





“Norman: The Moderate Rise and Tragic Fall of a New York Fixer”

Susan Granger’s review of “Norman” (Sony Pictures Classics)


The satirical subtitle says it all: “Norman: The Moderate Rise and Tragic Fall of a New York Fixer,” as New York-born Israeli writer/director Joseph Cedar fashions a dryly witty character study.

Norman Oppenheimer (Richard Gere) is a prescient, if nebbishy con man who befriends an up-and-coming Israeli politician, Deputy Minister of Trade Mischa Eshel (Lior Ashkenazi), impulsively buying him a pair of expensive shoes, costing a whopping $1,200.

Three years later, when Eshel has become the Prime Minister who may be able to bring peace to the Middle East, he remembers Norman, extending a gesture of recognition, which briefly elevates Norman’s influential status among New York Jewry.

Now 67, Richard Gere proves he’s become a first-rate character actor, embodying likeable, lonely Norman Oppenheimer, who – as the title cards testify – bet on “the right horse.”

Operating with nothing more than business cards, a cell phone and chutzpah, he’s a “hondler,” a master manipulator who insinuates himself into the proximity of power, making promises that he’s hard-pressed to deliver.

While Lior Ashkenazi is one of Israel’s leading stage, film and television actors, this is his first major role in an American film. His energetic Eshel evolves from an insecure wannabe to a near-messianic statesman. Not surprisingly, Ashkenazi’s next role is playing a young Yitzhak Rabin in the upcoming action-adventure “Entebbe.”

The supporting cast includes Steve Buscemi, as a rabbi, and Hank Azaria as a “nooj,” a pest, a well-intentioned “mensch” – like characters in the stories of Sholem Aleichem, Isaac Bashevis Singer and Saul Bellow.

Plus, there’s Michael Sheen as Norman’s Wall Street lawyer nephew, Josh Charles as an elusive tycoon and Charlotte Gainsbourg as an Israeli government investigator, reporting to the Knesset.

In short: Norman Oppenheimer is a pathetic, shamelessly name-dropping cipher, a political Zelig, seemingly desperate to make himself a superficial footnote to history.

On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “Norman” is a schmoozing 6, a challenging, cautionary tale about ambition gone awry.