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“Heisenberg”

Susan Granger’s review of “Heisenberg” (Manhattan Theatre Club/Samuel J. Friedman Theatre: 10/16)

 

After stunning audiences with 2015’s Tony-winning adaptation of “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time,” British playwright Simon Stephens is back with this two-hander about a disparate couple who meet in a London train station.

The title, subtly referring to German physicist Werner Heisenberg’s “uncertainty principle” in quantum physics, reflects the randomness of their acquaintance.

Georgie Burns (Mary-Louise Parker) is a loquacious, profane, 42 year-old free-spirit who latches onto imperturbable, 75 year-old Alex Priest (Denis Arndt), an uptight, antisocial butcher.

After that impetuous first encounter, Georgie unexpectedly shows up at Alex’s butcher shop, determined to develop a sexual relationship with him. Which happens shortly afterward.

“Do you find me exhausting but captivating?” she inquires. The answer is obviously, “Yes.”

As their backstories are revealed, we learn that Georgie, an American, has an estranged son, who seems to have taken off for New Jersey, where the final segment of the drama takes place.

Years ago, in an interview, Mary-Louise Parker, who often plays loud, talkative women, said, “I don’t really ever think about whether or not I like the characters I’m playing. I’m more into the minutiae of their behavior or what they’re doing in a certain scene.”

Which explains how Parker overcomes Georgie’s volatile, inherently annoying demeanor to make this role captivating, particularly in contrast with Arndt’s reclusive Irish bachelor, who lives in a large house, holding imaginary conversations with his sister who died when he was a child.

Mark Brokaw’s astute direction is enhanced by Mark Wendland’s minimalist set, Austin R. Smith’s lighting, David Van Tiegham’s sound and Michael Krass’s costumes.

In a bizarre configuration, some audience members are seated in bleachers on-stage, leaving only a narrow strip on which the actors emote. The usher told me that those seats are deeply discounted but, if you’re concerned about being ‘on display’ for 80 minutes with no intermission, it might be wise to ask before purchasing.

“Wild Oats”

Susan Granger’s review of “Wild Oats” (The Weinstein Company/Anchor Bay Entertainment)

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Eva (Shirley MacLaine) is a retired 10th grade social studies teacher who, when her husband dies, accidentally receives a $5 million check from his life insurance policy, instead of the $50,000 that she expected.

Her first impulse is to return it, but then her best friend Maddie (Jessica Lange), whose husband has just left her for his young secretary, suggests that she endorse and deposit the check immediately so they travel to an exotic place and have some well-deserved fun.

As soon as the check clears, Eva and Maddie take off for Las Palmas de Grand Canaria in the Spanish Canary Islands, where they happily settle into the posh Presidential Suite, ready to pamper themselves with food, drink and extravagant resort clothes.

To their delight, Chandler (Billy Connolly), a rather mysterious Scottish businessman, takes an immediate liking to Eva, while adventurous Maddie catches the eye of twentysomething Chip (Jay Hayden).

Back home, realizing their error, the insurance company dispatches Vespucci (Howard Hesseman), a ready-to-retire agent, to try to retrieve their money.  Arriving at Eva’s house, he encounters her disbelieving daughter Crystal (Demi Moore) who agrees to go with him to Grand Canaria.

Meanwhile, Eva and Maddie realize that they’ve been conned by Chandler, who is working for Carlos (Santiago Segura), the local wine baron.

Playing off one another, Shirley MacLaine (“Postcards From the Edge”) and Jessica Lange (TV’s “American Horror Story”) are believable as close friends, but MacLaine seems far more comfortable with comedy than Lange.

Basically, these veteran actresses deserve better material than this predictable, cliché-riddled script by Gary Kanew and Claudia Myers, superficially directed by Andy Tennant.

FYI: Sarah Jessica Parker was originally supposed to play Crystal; she was replaced by Demi Moore.

On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “Wild Oats” is a flaccid 4, well suited for the Lifetime Channel on which it premiere’d.

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“The Accountant”

Susan Granger’s review of “The Accountant” (Warner Bros.)

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Admittedly, screenwriter Bill Dubuque’s original concept is potentially intriguing: an enigmatic mathematical savant becomes an underworld bookkeeper/assassin.

When we first meet Christian Wolff, he’s a troubled youngster, working on a jigsaw puzzle. Rather than cater to his autism/Asperger’s diagnosis, his sadistic, domineering military father (Robert Treveiler) forces him to confront it, training him in martial arts combat and survival skills, bizarrely shifting his developmental disorder from a liability into an asset.

As a result, now-adult Wolff (Ben Affleck) launders money for various criminal organizations, deftly disguising himself as a mild-mannered CPA with a nondescript office in rural Illinois strip mall.  Socially awkward, he’s a loner who finds solace in routine and ritual.

Ostensibly dwelling in a suburban tract house, Wolff keeps his valuables – original paintings by Renoir and Jackson Pollock, along with cash and an armory of weapons – in an old Airstream trailer, hidden in storage locker.

But soon-to-retire U.S. Treasury Agent Raymond King (J.K. Simmons) is determined to unmask the mysterious accountant, enlisting the help of Marybeth Medina (Cynthia Addai-Robinson), a savvy financial Analyst whose dogged determination is propelled by a need to hide her own felonious past.

Their paths cross when Wolff’s hired to balance the books by robotics CEO Lamar Blackburn (John Lithgow) after his company’s over-eager accounting clerk Dana Cummings (Anna Kendrick) discovers a discrepancy involving millions of dollars – which makes Wolff a target for brawny Braxton (Jon Bernthal), a hired killer.

Unfortunately, as the cryptic, character-driven saga unfolds, via numerous flashbacks, it becomes increasingly complicated, as director Gavin O’Connor, cinematographer Seamus McGarvey and editor Richard Pearson seemingly disregard several pretentious subplot distractions to chronicle the violent carnage.

On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “The Accountant” is a fragmented 5. It doesn’t add up.

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“American Honey”

Susan Granger’s review of “American Honey” (A24)

 

British filmmaker Andrea Arnold finds cinematic inspiration in a group of young American drifters, those tattered, tattooed, often defiant, yet seemingly aimless teenagers that lurk around places like Walmart.

One of them is abused, 18 year-old Star (Sasha Lane) who deposits her two younger half-siblings in the care of their disaffected mother before blasting out of Muskogee, Oklahoma, with a group of hard-partying rowdies who drift around in a white van, hustling questionable magazine subscriptions.

Catching her eye, charismatic Jake (Shia LaBeouf) is the alpha male, who explains, “We don’t only sell magazines. We explore America.”

He travels separately in a convertible with “mean girl” Krystal (Riley Keough, Elvis Presley’s granddaughter), who manages the eclectic, almost-feral crew: Corey (McCaul Lombardi), a surfer-dude who whips out his penis for kicks, and “Star Wars”-obsessed Pagan (Arielle Holmes).

In perhaps the most strange, yet memorable scene, Star courts danger, taking off with three wealthy, middle-aged Texans, wearing white Stetsons, in their fancy car to rake in some quick cash.

Like her Oscar-winning short “Wasp” (2003) and “Fish Tank” (2009), writer/director Andrea Arnold works closely with cinematographer Robbie Ryan to create a Diane Arbus-like, cinema-verite atmosphere, displaying a somewhat disconcerting fixation on bugs.

For two hours and 42-minutes, Arnold focuses on these disaffected misfits, traveling through the Midwestern heartland, taking the title from a song by Lady Antebellum and featuring singalongs with Rihanna and Ludacris.

Discovered by Andrea Arnold on a beach, Texan newcomer Sasha Lane exudes sexuality, eager to viscerally explore all of her senses and experience intoxicating sensations, while Shia LaBeouf personifies the sleazy, hotheaded con artist who will, inevitably, disappoint.

On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “American Honey” is a subtly scrappy 6, a rambling, often repetitive road picture depicting a slice of Americana.

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“Holiday Inn”

Susan Granger’s review of “Holiday Inn” (Roundabout Theater/Studio 54: Oct., 2016)

 

Unseasonably early but definitely most welcome, this “new” Irving Berlin musical is the stage adaptation of the lighthearted 1942 movie, starring Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire, with a revised book by director Gordon Greenberg and Chad Hodges, costumes by Alejo Vietti, and choreography by Denis Jones.

Set in 1946, the crooner Jim Hardy is played by Bryce Pinkham, while Corbin Bleu is Ted Hanover, the dancer. They do a nightclub turn with vampy, mercurial Lila Dixon (Megan Sikora).

But the act folds when Jim buys a farm in rural Connecticut, which – with a scrappy, wisecracking handywoman (Megan Lawrence) and sweet soprano schoolmarm (Lora Lee Gayer) – he turns into an Inn that’s open only on holidays.

In addition, Lee Wilkof, as their talent agent, and Morgan Geo, as a delivery boy, give comic support.

Beginning with New Year’s Eve (“Let’s Start the New Year Right”), there are lavish seasonal celebrations: Easter (“Easter Parade”), Fourth of July (“Let’s Say It With Firecrackers”/”Song of Freedom”), Thanksgiving (“I’ve Got Plenty To Be Thankful For”) and Christmas (“White Christmas”).

Plus Berlin songbook classics like “Heat Wave,” “Shaking the Blues Away,” “Stepping Out With My Baby,” “Cheek to Cheek,” “You’re Easy to Dance With,” “Blue Skies,” etc.

Curiously, with all the recognizable Irving Berlin tunes, the one I found myself humming afterwards is “Be Careful, It’s My Heart,” his homage to Valentine’s Day.

Delving into the Berlin archives, most people don’t realize that his firstborn and only son died on December 25, 1928, long before he wrote the poignant “White Christmas,” which won the Oscar for Best Song. As the best-selling single of all time, it was toppled in 1997 by Elton John’s “Candle in the Wind” tribute to England’s Princess Diana.  And “Blue Skies” is said to have commemorated the birth of Berlin’s first daughter, Mary Ellin Berlin Barrett, who wrote a 1994 memoir about her father.

FYI: In a remake, “White Christmas” (1954), Crosby teamed up with Danny Kaye, Rosemary Clooney and Vera-Ellen.

Filled with timeless, feel-good fun, the Roundabout’s nostalgic “Holiday Inn” is simply joyous!

 

“Meteor Shower”

Susan Granger’s review of “Meteor Shower” (Long Wharf Theater: Oct., 2016)

 

Once known as the “wild and crazy guy,” Steve Martin’s sensibility hasn’t changed, judging from his new, outrageously quirky comedy about love and marriage, life and death.

Set in 1993, it revolves around an upwardly mobile, agonizingly self-aware married couple – Norm (Patrick Breen) and Corky (Arden Myrin) – who are expecting guests, Gerald (Josh Stamberg) and Laura (Sophina Brown), to view an upcoming meteor shower from the patio of their suburban home in Ojai, California.

Designer Norm invited Gerald, hoping that it might lead to new business, but it quickly becomes apparent that garrulous Gerald and his passive-aggressive wife Laura have their own playful agenda. They enjoy using sexual temptation and psychological ploys to manipulate people for their own selfish amusement.

Although steadfast in their New Age marriage, Norm and Corky seem, at first, to be vulnerable but then the fiery stars seem to align with destiny in their favor. But one never knows – for sure – because Martin presents so many bizarre possibilities in this alternative universe.

The edgy, underlying menace is playfully directed by Gordon Edelstein on Michael Yeargen’s stylish turntable set. And there’s lots of audience laughter although, admittedly, many weren’t quite sure what was going on – since it veers toward caustic, cosmic confusion.

As playwright Steve Martin’s gently earnest Everyman, Patrick Breen strives for normalcy, which serves as wordplay on his character’s name, perfectly paired with Arden Myrin, whose overly-sensitive, often delirious character suffers from “brain explosions,” presumably caused by youthful cannibalism.

Completing the quartet, Josh Stamberg is mucho macho as obnoxious Gerard, well-matched with overtly sexy, slinky Sophina Brown as the femme fatale.

Crowd-pleasing “Meteor Shower” plays at New Haven’s Long Wharf Theater through Oct. 23, 2016. For tickets, visit www.longwharf.org or call the box-office at 203-787-4282.

“The Girl on the Train”

Susan Granger’s review of “The Girl on the Train” (Universal Pictures)

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If you were expecting an enticing psychosexual thriller, like “Gone Girl,” forget it!

This grim screen adaptation of Paula Hawkins’s best-selling novel dissatisfies in every way, except one: Emily Blunt delivers a powerhouse performance as the pathetic protagonist, Rachel Watson.

Lonely Rachel Watson is a deeply depressed alcoholic who rides Metro North train back and forth from suburban Ardsley-on-Hudson to Manhattan’s Grand Central Station, pretending she still has a job.

A bleary-eyed divorcee sipping cheap vodka from a designer water bottle, Rachel projects her vicarious fantasies onto suburbanites living in the stylish houses that run along the tracks near her old home.

She’s fascinated by one golden couple in particular: beautiful, blonde Megan Hipwell (Haley Bennett) and her handsome husband, Scott (Luke Evans). “She’s what I lost,” Rachel convinces herself.

Not really. Deeply discontented as a Stepford housewife, Megan is flagrantly promiscuous, even trying to seduce her psychiatrist, Dr. Kamal Abdic (Edgar Ramirez).

Adding to the intrigue, Rachel’s ex-husband Tom Watson (Justin Theroux) lives up the block; he’s now married to Anna (Rebecca Ferguson). They have a baby girl, and Megan was their nanny.

When Megan suddenly goes missing, Rachel becomes obsessed, reporting to a suspicious detective (Alison Janney) that – from the commuter train – she once spied Megan embracing another man on her upstairs balcony.

Problem is: Rachel suffers from boozy blackouts, so she’s not really sure what she remembers, except that – after one drunken night – she woke up bloodied and bruised.  Matters get worse when Megan’s dead body is found.

Clumsily scripted by Erin Cressida Wilson (“Secretary”) and directed by Tate Taylor (“The Help”), it’s more like a tediously cheesy soap-opera than a murder mystery. And since the sneering, sleazy villain skulks around like a thug, it’s not difficult to guess who he is.

On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “The Girl on the Train” derails with a flimsy, fragmented 4, – quite frustrating.

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“Denial” (Bleecker Street)

Susan Granger’s review of “Denial” (Bleecker Street)

 

Until the late 1980s, British historian David Irving (Timothy Spall) enjoyed respectability among his peers, even though his best-known book “Hitler’s War” (1977) claimed that Hitler had no knowledge of the Holocaust. But then Irving began to deny the existence of the Holocaust, ridiculing claims that there were gas chambers.

When a strident American academic from Queens, New York, Deborah Lipstadt (Rachel Weisz), accused him of anti-Semitism in “Denying the Holocaust: The Growing Assault on Truth and Memory” (1993), it never occurred to her that she – and Penguin Books – could be sued for libel – or that the ensuing court cast would put acceptance of the Holocaust on trial.

Under British law, the burden of proof lies on the defendant. In America, it lies with the plaintiff. So Lipstadt, a history professor at Emory University in Atlantic, could either settle out of court, which Irving would claim as a personal victory, or proceed; she chooses the latter.

Solicitor Anthony Julius (Andrew Scott), who represented Princess Diana in her divorce against Prince Charles, prepares the case which dour Scottish barrister Richard Rampton (Tom Wilkinson) presents at London’s Royal Court of Justice on Lipstadt’s behalf.

Patching together actual transcripts and meticulously researched recordings, screenwriter David Hare (“Wetherby,” “The Hours”) and director Mick Jackson (“The Bodyguard,” TV’s “Temple Grandin”) proceed as the eight-week courtroom drama evolves. As a result, sneering, smarmy David Irving was not only discredited but also disgraced.

Too bad the filmmakers didn’t try for more of an emotional connection with Deborah Lipstadt, comparable, perhaps, to “Woman in Gold” (2015), in which Helen Mirren played Jewish refugee who went back to Vienna to reclaim a Klimt painting stolen from her family by the Nazis.

In the current political climate, the release of this film couldn’t be timelier, examining concepts like fact-checking, conspiracy theories, and the need for concrete evidence when making claims.

On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “Denial” is a somber, suitably shaming 6, yet without a satisfying showdown moment.

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“Camelot” at the Westport Country Playhouse

Susan Granger’s review of “Camelot” (Westport Country Playhouse: Oct., 2016)

 

Artistic director Mark Lamos concludes the Westport Country Playhouse season with a freshly inventive, far more intimate take on the timeless Alan Jay Lerner/Frederick Loewe musical, focusing on the characters, not the grandiosity, delivering a carefully crafted interpretation of the Arthurian legend, filled with noble ideals and forbidden romance, with considerable insight and emotional impact.

Striding on-stage Robert Sean Leonard embodies the perennially conflicted, newly crowned King Arthur, voicing his nervous concern in “I Wonder What the King Is Doing Tonight?”

Yet from the moment Britney Coleman, as feisty Guenevere, begins to warble “The Simple Joys of Maidenhood,” you can’t take your eyes off her. With a lilting, lyrical soprano, reminiscent of Julie Andrews (who originated the part), this lithe actress moves with seductive delicacy of someone wired with explosives.

That enhances this shorter, sexier version, highlighted by her taunting and teasing the virtuous French Knight, Lancelot du Lac, portrayed by Stephen Mark Lukas, whose commanding presence and utter lack of humility are obvious in “C’est Moi.

Their adulterous attraction becomes fodder for smarmy, suspicious Mordred (Patrick Andrews), who exposes their tryst, condemning the lovers.

The production is well served by a stalwart supporting cast, including Michael De Souza, Mike Evariste, Brian Owen and Jon-Michael Reese, while local actor Sana Sarr acquits himself admirably as young Tom of Warwick.

Based on T.H. White’s “The Once and Future King,” it’s adapted by David Lee and choreographed by Connor Gallagher with Michael Yeargan’s austere/abstract scenic design, Wade Laboissonniere’s Middle Ages costumes, Robert Wierzel’s bold lighting, Domonic Sack’s textured sound, and Wayne Barker’s eight musicians utilizing new orchestrations by Steve Orich.

Viewed at a preview performance, it’s a sure-fire heart-tugger and marvelously entertaining for longtime fans and newcomers alike.

“In short, there’s simply not a more congenial spot for happ’ly ever-after’ing than here in Camelot!”

Indeed, “Camelot” has already been extended through November 5. Call the box-office at 203-227-4177 or go to www.westportplayhouse.org

“Queen of Katwe”

Susan Granger’s review of “Queen of Katwe” (Disney/ESPN)

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Based on a true story, this film chronicles how talented Phiona Mutesi (Madina Nalwanga) from the poverty-stricken streets of Katwe, a township that’s south of Kampala, the capital of Uganda, became a world-class chess champion.

Her journey begins when resilient nine year-old Phiona meets Robert Katende (David Oyelowo), who runs a sports outreach program of the local church’s youth ministry, teaching scrappy slum kids, struggling to survive, how to play chess – bribing them with a free cup of porridge.

Like Phiona, he’s suffered deprivation and hardship. Because of class discrimination, even with an engineering degree, Katende cannot get a proper, full-time job without family connections.

In chess, Phiona is told, “The small one can become the big one.”

Phiona’s enthusiasm for the new game infuriates her hard-working, widowed mother, Nakku Harriet (Lupita Nyong’o), whose income depends on Phiona and her brother Brian (Martin Kabanza) selling maize in the marketplace.

But when compassionate Katende realizes that illiterate Phiona is truly a prodigy, he finds ways to help her not only to learn to read but also overcome the many obstacles thrown in her path.

Based on Tim Crothers’s 2012 non-fiction book, William Wheeler’s melodramatic, triumph-of-the-underdog script follows a predictably biographical, sports story formula – with far too many platitudes.

With extraordinary sensitivity, Indian-American Mira Nair (“Mississippi Masala,” “Monsoon Wedding”) depicts the harsh, almost unimaginable squalor in which the family lives, often without food, shelter, schooling or medical care, and directs Ugandan newcomer Madina Nalwanga with utmost delicacy.

Her debut performance is richly enhanced by the supporting cast, headed by David Oyelowo (“Selma”) and Lupita Nyong’o (Oscar-winner for “12 Years a Slave”).

Great credit should also go to cinematographer Sean Bobbitt for capturing the authentic African shantytown atmosphere, along with production designer Stephanie Carroll, costume designer Mobotaji Dawodu and editor Barry Alexander Brown.

And the charming closing credits feature the actors standing alongside their real-life counterparts.

On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “Queen of Katwe” is an inspirational 7, concluding that being a winner can be a mixed blessing.

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