“The Promise”

Susan Granger’s review of “The Promise” (Open Road Films/Survivor Pictures)


Because of strong ties with the Turkish government, American presidents have never acknowledged the Ottoman Empire’s systematic annihilation of 1.5 million Armenians between 1915 and 1918 as “genocide.”

So this sprawling, historical epic begins in 1914 as Mikael Boghosian  (Oscar Isaac), an ambitious, young apothecary in Siroun, a small southern Turkish village, is betrothed a local girl so he can use her dowry to attend medical school in Constantinople, promising to marry her once he’s a doctor.

In cosmopolitan Constantinople (now Istanbul), naïve Mikael moves in with his father’s cousin, a local merchant, and meets vivacious, Paris-educated Ana Kasabian (Charlotte Le Bon), who is tutoring his nieces. Since Ana lives with an angry American journalist, Chris Myers (Christian Bale), an ill-fated romantic triangle takes shape.

When Ottoman Turks enter World War I as allies of Germany, a classmate’s bribe gets Mikael a medical school deferment. But when anti-Armenian violence erupts, he’s sent to forced labor on the railroad.

When Mikael escapes, he returns to war-ravaged Siroun, reluctantly marries his fiancée, then hides in a mountain cabin. Meanwhile, inquisitive Chris Myers is chronicling the atrocities inflicted on the Armenian population, dispatching them to American newspapers via the Associated Press.

By this time, the contrived romantic rivalry subplot should be on a back burner. Unfortunately, it isn’t. So the real-life slaughter is trivialized into an awkward, overtly manipulative melodrama.

Weakly scripted by Robin Swicord (“The Curious Case of Benjamin Button”) and director Terry George (“Hotel Rwanda”), it was financed by the late Armenian entrepreneur Kirk Kerkorian – with a distinguished supporting cast: Shohreh Aghdashloo, Jean Reno, James Cromwell, Rede Serbedzija and Angela Sarafyan.

Since the film’s inception, there’s been controversy. “The genocide is burned into the soul of the Armenian diaspora,” explains Terry George “And until they get some kind of recognition, it’s not going to go away.”

On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “The Promise” is an earnestly solemn 6. But it loses its focus, diluting the emotional impact of the harrowing massacre.


“Tommy’s Honour”

Susan Granger’s review of “Tommy’s Honour” (Roadside Attractions)


It’s not easy to make an enthralling movie about golf. Ron Shelton came close with “Tin Cup,” starring Kevin Costner. Now, Jason Connery has come up with this 19th century drama about pioneers of the modern game: Tom Morris, known as Old Tom, and his son, Young Tommy.

Supporting his family of six, Old Tom (Peter Mullan) works as humble greenskeeper, caddy and instructor at Scotland’s renowned Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews, where he’s known as a superb competitor and four-time winner of the British Open.

So it’s not surprising that Young Tom (Jack Lowden) makes his auspicious amateur debut in 1868 at the age of 17. Rebelling against authority, epitomized by the United Kingdom’s stratified class division, he’s determined to become a professional golfer, rather than lugging clubs, teeing up balls and catering to ill-mannered aristocrats.

“Your station in life was set before you were born,” chides the club captain (Sam Neill).

Inspired by Kevin Cook’s 2007 book of the same name, it’s adapted by Cook with (his wife) Pamela Marin and directed by Jason Connery (son of Sean Connery), who utilizes the rugged magnificence of Scotland’s rustic links which form a stark contrast to today’s well-manicured courses.

Challenging Establishment tradition with innovation, they pivot the generational struggles between a dour, deferential father and a willful, ambitious son, throwing in additional conflict when Young Tom falls in love with Meg Drinnen (Ophelia Lovibond), a spunky older woman with a scandalous past.

Neither Mullan nor Lowden are real-life golfers, although Connery tries hard to disguise their ineptitude.

FYI: Old Tom designed 70 courses, including Carnoustie, Muirfield, Prestwick, Royal County Down and Royal Dornoch. Young Tom died at the age of 24 but still holds the title as youngest major champion of all time. Both father and son were inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame.

On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “Tommy’s Honour” scores a slow-paced, sporting 6. Too bad it was released before Father’s Day because that’s when the marketing would have soared.


“The Fate of the Furious”

Susan Granger’s review of “The Fate of the Furious” (Universal Pictures)


The numbers tell the tale: the eighth installment of this long-running series revved up an estimated $532.5 million worldwide, setting a new record for an opening weekend.

Built around muscle cars, drag racing and the importance of family, this high-speed action thriller brings back Vin Diesel as gruff, monosyllabic Dominic Toretto, and it’s filled with spectacular, globe-spanning vehicular destruction.

In Havana, Dom and Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) interrupt their honeymoon so that he can race against the Cuban who tried to heist his cousin’s jalopy. Tinkering with the old car, Dom strips down the engine and installs a dangerous nitrous-oxide canister. You can already visualize what happens next.

Injecting vicious fuel, there’s a sociopathic supervillain, an icy hacker known as Cipher (Charlize Theron), who wants Dom to do a job for her. When he hesitates, she shows him something on her cellphone that changes his mind. What is it? We have to wait to find out.

Meanwhile, on a mission with lawman Luke Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson), his gang (Tyrese Gibson, Ludacris, Nathalie Emmanuel) and Mr. Nobody (Kurt Russell) to retrieve a powerful EMP device, Dom goes rogue and delivers it to Cipher.

So, shifting gears, they recruit Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham), a somewhat implausible twist since he was responsible for the death of original team member Han. Plus, there’s by-the-books Eric Reisner (Scott Eastwood, resembling his clench-jawed father) and Helen Mirren as mysterious Magdalene.

Scripted by Chris Morgan and directed by F. Gary Gray (“Straight Outta Compton,” “The Italian Job”), there’s only one mention of Brian – a.k.a. Paul Walker, who died in a car crash in 2013 – cementing his spirit as an integral part of the gang.

FYI: There are no post-credit scenes so you don’t have to linger.

On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “The Fate of the Furious” is a slick yet shallow 6. So far, the “Fast and Furious” films have earned $4.4 billion worldwide, making it the most successful franchise in Universal’s history and the eighth highest-grossing film series.




Susan Granger’s review of “Gifted” (Fox Searchlight Pictures)


If you’re searching for a fascinating, feel-good, family film with a provocative premise, choose “Gifted.”

Seven year-old Mary Adler (Mckenna Grace), a child prodigy, lives happily in a coastal Florida trailer park with Uncle Frank (Chris Evans) and her one-eyed cat named Fred. But now it’s time for her to go to a real school and, hopefully, make some friends her own age.

Frank, a free-lance boat repairman, has home-schooled Mary. When he’s working or going out for an evening, Mary is cared for by Roberta (Octavia Spencer) a loving neighbor.

From the very first day, Mary’s astounding ability with numbers mystifies her first-grade teacher, Bonnie (Jenny Slade), so the Principal (Elizabeth Marvel) recommends that Frank transfer Mary to an elite private school for gifted children – on full scholarship.

Problem is: Frank turns down the opportunity, saying he wants his young niece to lead have a normal, carefree childhood, unlike her mother/his sister, a brilliant mathematician, who committed suicide.

As the backstory unfolds, Mary’s wealthy grandmother, formidable Evelyn (Scottish actress Lindsay Duncan), from whom Frank has long been estranged, suddenly shows up, determined to take Mary to Boston, where her superior intellectual abilities can be properly challenged and cultivated at MIT. So a custody battle ensures.

Tom Flynn’s refreshingly original, often humorous screenplay is sensitively directed by Marc Webb (“500 Days of Summer”), blending amusement with melodrama, adroitly avoiding sentimentality.

Some scenes are exquisite, like when Mary and Frank existentially discuss religion on the beach while the sun sets; it’s shown in silhouette as Mary climbs all over Frank, like he’s a jungle gym. Kudos to cinematographer Stuart Dryburgh, editor Bill Pankow and composer Rob Simonsen..

Endearing Mackenna Grace shows astonishing talent; she’s also Keifer Sutherland’s daughter on TV’s “Designated Survivor.” Chris Evans wisely jettisons Marvel’s Captain America paraphernalia to display compassionate conflict, while Octavia Spencer oozes warmth.

On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “Gifted” is a perceptively subtle, satisfying 7, packing an emotional punch.



“The Ghost in the Shell”

Susan Granger’s review of “The Ghost in the Shell” (Paramount Pictures)


If you’re into the latest whiz-bang technology, this dystopian sci-fi thriller is a live-action remake of Mamoru Oshii’s 1995 cyberpunk anime, based on Masamune Shirow’s popular 1989 manga series.

Its publicity campaign has focused on Scarlett Johansson’s appearing to be ‘almost’ naked, dashing around a futuristic cityscape in a flesh-colored, skin-tight casing; she’s a cyborg law-enforcement officer known as the Major. The gimmick is that when she dons this “thermoptic” suit, she is basically invisible.

Major Mira Killian is the first of her kind: a military-designed robot with a human brain. She’s an integral part of a counter-cyberterrorist task force, known as Public Service Section 9, operating under Chief Daisuke Aramaki (Takeshi Kitano).

They’re pursuing a villain known as Kuze (Michael Carmen Pitt), who has been eliminating Hanka Robotics scientists by hacking into the consciousness of different accomplices to make them commit murder.

Problem is: Kuze’s warnings about the company begin to dovetail with glitches in Major’s brain that make her more self-aware and increasingly curious about discovering her true identity – which is amplified by the insistence of her creator, Dr. Ouelet (Juliette Binoche), that memory is irrelevant.

Director Rupert Sanders (“Snow White and the Huntsman”) pays homage to the original film and many scenes – like a cigarette-smoking surgeon in a sterile lab, a detective with eye implants that look like binoculars, and a fight scene in a shallow pool of water – come directly from the comic-book source.

Obviously, the Major’s nude-effect attire demanded the most attention. Textured in a puzzle-like pattern, the eye-catching camouflage suit was created by costume designers Kurt Swanson and Bart Mueller, along with the CGI experts at Peter Jackson’s New Zealand-based Weta Workshop.

FYI: Scientists are already working on an ultra-thin invisibility cloak that manipulates particular wavelengths of light in order to blend an object into the background.

Problem is: miscast Scarlett Johansson is never convincing in her struggle to discover her humanity. And the uproar over casting a Caucasian actress in an iconic Japanese story is understandable.

On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “The Ghost in the Shell” is a frenetic 5, favoring style over substance.


“T2: Trainspotting”

Susan Granger’s review of “T2: Trainspotting” (Columbia/Sony)


Back in 1996, Scottish filmmaker Danny Boyle celebrated sneering, rebellious, drug-drenched youth in “Trainspotting.” In this sequel, Ewan McGregor and the Leith lads trip into middle-age.

Re-visiting the same characters 20 years later, it recalls how Mark Renton (McGregor) ripped off his friends in a lucrative drug deal. Apparently, he took the money and fled to Amsterdam, where he kicked his heroin habit and plunged into respectability, including a failed marriage.

When Renton returns to Edinburgh after his mother’s death, only the sniveling junkie, Spud (Ewen Bremner), who is estranged from his wife and child, welcomes him. Spud’s best scene is when he explains to a support group why he feels that the biggest obstacle to sobriety is daylight savings time.

Feigning friendship, Simon (Jonny Lee Miller) – a.k.a. Sick Boy – remains furious about Renton’s betrayal. Attempting to atone for his sins, Renton tries to help him and his Bulgarian prostitute partner, Veronika (Anjela Nedyalkova), turn the decrepit family pub into an upscale brothel by scamming a small European Union development grant.

And the ill-tempered, impotent psychopath, Begbie (Robert Carlisle), has escaped from prison, determined to wreak revenge.

Scripted by Johnny Hodge and directed by Danny Boyle as a character study, it’s filled not only with striking images, inducing nostalgia, but also a contemporary commentary on urban gentrification, noting the uneasy rise of the populist movement that fueled Brexit.

Although they’d toyed unsuccessfully with Irvine Welsh’s 2002 follow-up book “Porno,” the idea of a reunion ignited in mid-2015, when Boyle bumped into Ewan McGregor in a London pub, where they began patching up a feud that began when Boyle cast Leonardo DiCaprio, instead of McGregor, in his big budget adaptation of “The Beach.”

“I decided enough is enough,” admits McGregor. “And I wanted to work with Danny again.”

Not to disappoint, Boyle revives Renton’s “choose life” speech, focusing the rant on the brutality of social media and the dispiriting economy.

On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “T2: Trainspotting” is a bitterly cynical 5, redundantly evoking regret and acceptance.



“The Boss Baby”

Susan Granger’s review of “The Boss Baby” (20th Century Fox/DreamWorks Animation)


Somewhere in the clouds above, Baby Corp. runs an adorable newborn assembly line, where babies are manufactured and families formed.

That’s according to the overactive imagination of seven year-old Tim Templeton (voiced by Miles Christopher Bakshi), who is totally content as the only child of doting parents (voiced by Jimmy Kimmel, Lisa Kudrow) who read him endless bedtime stories and sing the Beatles’ tune “Blackbird” as his lullaby.

But then Tim’s perfect little world is disrupted by the arrival of a baby brother named Theodore. In Tim’s mind, the demanding infant is a tiny tyrant, dispatched by Management, arriving in a business suit, wearing a Rolex and carrying a briefcase. And he can talk.

Theodore manages to remain infantile by gulping a magic formula and sucking on a psychedelic pacifier. “One thing was clear,” now-grown Tim (voiced by Tobey Maguire) recalls. “He was the boss.”

When his cohorts arrive in the guise of a ‘play date,’ which is actually a business meeting, the titular tot explains that, since their parents both work at Puppy Co, they need to infiltrate the company to eliminate the inherent threat of its newest product: an adorable Forever Puppy that will never grow up.

Based on Marla Frazee’s charming 36-page picture book, it’s adapted by screenwriter Michael McCullers (“Austin Powers” sequels) and director Tom McGrath (“Madagascar” trilogy), delving into competitiveness and jealousy.

Oddly enough, its high-concept is aimed at grown-ups, not children, particularly casting Alec Baldwin whose distinctive voice evokes memories of “30 Rock” and his “Saturday Night Live” caricature of Donald Trump.

Among the many pop culture references, there’s a running gag about “Lord of the Rings” Wizard Gandalf, embodied in Tim’s Wizzie alarm clock, and the line “Cookies are for closers,” referencing Alec Baldwin’s seminal scene in “Glengarry Glen Ross.”

FYI: Young Miles Christopher Bakshi is a grandson of pioneer “Fritz the Cat” animator Ralph Bakshi.

On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “The Boss Baby” is an intermittently funny 5, skewering sibling rivalry.



“Going in Style”

Susan Granger’s review of “Going in Style” (Warner Bros./New Line Cinema/Roadshow Pictures)


Bill Gates once said, “Banking is necessary, banks are not.” Which may be why bankers and banks have become popular cinematic villains.

Like the hapless brothers in last year’s “Hell or High Water,” three Brooklyn-based seniors suddenly realize that – because of a nefarious local bank – they’re going to be broke and homeless.

Joe (Michael Caine) comes up with the idea of an armed robbery after conferring with a sleazy Williamsburg Savings Bank manager (Josh Pais) about his adjustable mortgage that has suddenly tripled, threatening him, his divorced daughter and beloved granddaughter with foreclosure and eviction.

Joined by longtime friends Willie (Morgan Freeman) and Al (Alan Arkin), Joe then discovers that the Wechsler Steel Company, where they’ve all worked for years, has outsourced to Vietnam and their pensions will be confiscated by the same Williamsburg Savings Bank.

Retribution seems to be the only answer. What have they got to lose? Suffering from renal failure, Willie needs a kidney transplant, and cantankerous Al, a jazz saxophonist, is fed up with teaching music to talentless kids – like the son of a saucy grocery store clerk (Ann-Margret).

Viewing “Dog Day Afternoon” as a cautionary tale, the retirees decide to seek advice from a professional thief (John Ortiz). After several ‘trial runs,’ they work out a watertight alibi and disguise themselves in rubber masks depicting the Rat Pack (Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and Sammy Davis Jr.), unaware that they’ve aroused the suspicions of an FBI agent (Matt Dillon).

Adapted by Theodore Melfi (“Hidden Figures,” “St. Vincent”) and directed by actor Zach Braff (“Garden State”), this crime caper is actually a remake of Martin Brest’s 1979 movie, starring George Burns, Art Carney and Lee Strasberg.

FYI: Ironically, President Donald Trump’s Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin was as an Executive Producer of this gibe at corporate greed.

On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “Going in Style” is a salty 6, a mildly amusing, slapstick comedy that’s filled with scrappy banter.


“The Assignment”

Susan Granger’s review of “The Assignment” (Lionsgate/Saban Films)


In the pantheon of schlocky B-movies, Walter Hill’s psycho-sexual thriller scores on star-power alone.

This pulpy saga begins with a gratuitous, full-fontal nude scene involving a nasty hitman named Frank Kitchen, who is hiding out in a sleazy San Francisco hotel after a bumping off a San Francisco gangster named Honest John (Anthony LaPaglia).

Suddenly, Frank is confronted by thugs who deliver him to a megalomaniacal plastic surgeon, Dr. Rachel Kay (Sigourney Weaver), whose medical license has been revoked. Because Frank killed Rachel’s debt-riddled, playboy brother (Adrian Hough), she’s determined to wreak her own deviant kind of revenge.

When Frank (Michelle Rodriguez) awakens some time later, he discovers that he’s undergone a sex change. Without embarrassment, Frank examines his pert female breasts and is furious about the surgical removal of his penis. Which doesn’t seem to deter his blossoming relationship with flirtatious nurse (Caitlin Gerard) with whom he previously had a one-night stand.

When Dr. Kay is subsequently committed to a mental institution, a psychiatrist, Dr. Ralph Green (Tony Shalhoub) is assigned to evaluate her sanity. Calm and confident, despite being confined in a straitjacket, she flaunts her Intellectual superiority, quoting Shakespeare and Edgar Allen Poe.

Collaborating with co-screenwriter Denis Hamill, veteran director Walter Hill (“The Warriors,” “48 Hours”) subversively taps into the provocative topics of plastic surgery and gender re-assignment, subjects he delved into back in 1989 with “Johnny Handsome.”

Several sequences conclude with a freeze frame, followed by what looks like a comic-book illustration, subtly alluding to the story’s recent publication as a graphic novel in France.

Admittedly bisexual Michelle Rodriguez (“Girlfight”) is never quite convincing as the raspy-voiced tough guy and she denied in a Huffington Post article that it’s her body in the nude scenes.

FYI: Sigourney Weaver and Michelle Rodriguez previously co-starred in James Cameron’s “Avatar” (2009).

On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “The Assignment” is a titillating, trashy 3, an audacious excuse for a lurid killing spree.


“The Zookeeper’s Wife”

Susan Granger’s review of “The Zookeeper’s Wife” (Focus Features)


As years go by, more and more poignant survival stories that have been buried in Holocaust history are surfacing.

This one begins on a beautiful day in 1939 at Poland’s Warsaw Zoo, where Antonia Zabinska (Jessica Chastain) is helping her husband Jan (Belgian actor Johan Heldenberg) tend the animals. That afternoon, she resuscitates a newborn elephant calf who cannot breathe – with its distraught mother’s at her side.

But then German aircraft appear overhead, and bombs reign down, killing many of the terrified beasts, while others escape to roam the city’s streets.

Led by Berlin’s chief zoologist, sinister Lutz Heck (Daniel Bruhl), the Nazis commandeer the grounds, saving only “prize specimens” for selective breeding, savagely slaughtering the rest.

Meanwhile, within the city, the Jewish population is being herded into a ghetto, locked behind barbed wire to starve or, later, be loaded on boxcars and sent to concentration camps.

Appalled at the brutality, Antonia and Jan come up with defiant plan. Since the German soldiers love pork, they’ll turn the zoo into a pig farm, feeding the animals garbage from the ghetto.

While Antonia cares for their dwindling menagerie, Jan drives his truck into the ghetto, where he hides Jews in bins, covering them with refuse and smuggling them into his human sanctuary, where they hide until the Resistance forges papers and transports them to safety.

Since Lutz Heck often makes unexpected visits to the zoo, it’s up to Antonia to keep him distracted, as jealous Jan observes from a distance.

While Jessica Chastain (“Miss Sloane,” “Zero Dark Thirty”) radiates beatific compassion, Angela Workman’s perfunctory script is a flaccid, almost antiseptic adaption of Diane Ackerman’s haunting 2007 non-fiction book.

Sensitively helmed by New Zealand director Niki Caro (“Whale Rider”), the most memorable moments include Antonia’s empathy with a traumatized Jewish teenager (Shira Haas) who was raped by German soldiers – as the tension mounts.

On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “The Zookeeper’s Wife” is nobly stoic 7, heralding one brave couple’s unobtrusive heroics.