Susan Granger’s review of “The Show-Off” (Westport Country Playhouse July, 2013)
Even with the best of intentions, sometimes a play turns out to be less than a sum of its parts. The
current revival of this antiquated dramedy is a case-in-point.
Before he became best known as Grace Kelly’s uncle, playwright George Kelly churned out vintage Americana; other plays include “The Torch Bearers” (1922) and “Craig’s Wife” (1925), for which he received the Pulitzer Prize. Director Nicholas Martin recently won a Tony nomination for Broadway’s hit comedy, “Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike.” Veteran actress Jane Houdyshell has accumulated a long list of theatrical achievements. Will Rogers is a talented young actor. And scenic designer Alexander Dodge knows how to visually encapsulate an era in time.
Yet their efforts are for naught in this tiresome, often repetitious evening of theater. Set in the
parlor of a North Philadelphia home in the 1920s, the story revolves around the trials and tribulations of a middle-class family, the Fishers. When their younger daughter Amy (Clea Alsip) falls in love with Pennsylvania Railroad clerk and Aubrey Piper (Will Rogers) descends upon them. Full of bluster and braggadocio, he’s the titular show-off. Problem is: he’s also an irritating, insufferable
bore, someone with whom you certainly don’t want to spend two-and-a-half hours.
According to Associate Artistic Director David Kennedy, what distinguishes “The Show-Off” is that it prized character over plot and forsook many of the narrative clichés of its time to embrace a depiction of the rhythms and details of life as it is actually lived. Unfortunately, however, Aubrey Piper, as depicted by Will Rogers, is obnoxious. And he doesn’t have to be. Given a different director and/or different actor, there could be an underlying layer of sympathy, or even endearment, with Aubrey.
The supporting cast – including Mia Barron, Nat DeWolf, Robert Eli, Adam Lefevre, Karl Baker
Olson, and Marc Vietor – struggles valiantly against the slowly descending tedium.
Mercifully, “The Show-Off” will play only until June 29 at the Westport Country Playhouse.
Susan Granger’s DVD Update for week of June 21:
“Jack the Giant Slayer” is a family-friendly reworking of the familiar fairy tale, set in the medieval kingdom of Cloister, where earnest Jack (Nicholas Hoult) befriends an adventurous princess (Eleanor Tomlinson) whom he rescues from Giants in therealm of Gantua floating high above the clouds.
Nicole Kidman, Mia Wasikowska and Matthew Goode star in Korean director Park Chan-Wook’s “Stoker,” a sinister black comedy about a mournful teen who becomes infatuated with her uncle.
Reflecting our materialistic culture’s worst instincts, “The Brass Teapot” is a modestly amusing fable about a young suburban couple who buy a mysterious antique that could relieve all their financial angst.
“The Last Exorcism, Part II” is another tale of demonic possession, bringing back Ashley Bell as a
deeply religious Bayou farm girl who tries to put the pieces of her life back together in New Orleans, while “American Mary” is a feminist-themed horror/medical thriller about a demented medical student (Katharine Isabelle) who takes bizarre revenge on the doctor who drugged and raped her.
“21 and Over” is a crude, misogynistic comedy bacchanal by writers/directors Jon Lucas and Scott
Moore, who collaborated on “The Hangover.” It’s only slightly better than the dismal, witless “Movie 43,” the worst picture I’ve seen in many years, despite its star-studded cast of Halle Berry, Richard Gere, Hugh Jackman, Dennis Quaid, Uma Thurman, Naomi Watts and Kate Winslet, among others, who are probably embarrassed.
New documentaries include “Save the Farm” about the need to protect urban green spaces and “The First 70: California’s State Parks Under Threat,” exploring the closing of historic and natural treasures.
Film buffs: TCM’s Greatest Classic Films Legends series now includes Gene Kelly, John Wayne and
Paul Newman, along with Romantic Affairs, featuring Spencer Tracy/Katharine Hepburn.
Kids may enjoy Season 2, Part 2 of “Scooby-Doo! Mystery Incorporated,” the final 13 episodes
of the hit Cartoon Network series.
PICK OF THE WEEK: Astutely directed by Dustin Hoffman, “Quartet” is an endearing, deliciously tart comedy, set in an elegant retirement home for musicians, starring Maggie Smith, Billy Connolly, Tom Courtenay, Michael Gambon and Pauline Collins. It’s a classy, uplifting crowd-pleaser.
Susan Granger’s review of “Before Midnight” (Sony Pictures Classics)
This third chapter in Richard Linklater’s emotionally vibrant examination of a constantly evolving
romantic relationship follows “Before Sunrise” (1995), in which an American novelist, Jesse (Ethan Hawke), met a spunky Frenchwoman, Celine (Julie Delpy), on a train, and “Before Sunset” (2004), in which the star-crossed lovers reunited a decade later.
Nine years later, Jesse and Celine are now in their 40s, living together in Paris. Jesse is seeing his adolescent son Hank (Seamus Davey-Fitzpatrick) off at Kalamata Airport in Greece, returning him to his hostile ex-wife in Chicago after summer vacation with Jesse, Celine and their twin daughters. Then – after dropping the girls off with friends – Jesse and Celine spend what’s supposed to be an idyllic, festive night at a picturesque seaside hotel in Messinia. But a marital crisis erupts. Jesse feels guilty that he can’t spend more time with Hank – but that would involve moving back to the United States – and Celine, an environmental activist, has been offered an exciting, career-changing
opportunity. They’re both feeling the pressures not only of family but also of work. Add to that, the inevitable challenges, resentments and disappointments of raising children and facing middle age.
As with the first two installments, this is about two fully-developed characters talking with one
another, communicating their deepest feelings and frustrations. Written by director Richard Linklater, Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy, it rings painfully true, particularly since Jesse and Celine, while not making a commitment to marriage, have, nevertheless, taken on added responsibilities which curtail their creativity and their freedom. And make no mistake – the teasing, taunting dialogue is carefully scripted, not improvised, and delivered with impeccably naturalistic timing in long, uncut takes.
FYI: while they’re good friends/collaborating partners, Delpy has been in a relationship with
composer Marc Streitenfeld since 2007 and they have a son, while Hawke has two young children with his second wife, Ryan, and two from his first marriage to Uma Thurman.
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “Before Midnight” is an awesome, authentic 10 – a
definite “must see.”
Susan Granger’s review of “Man of Steel” (Warner Bros.)
The challenge for director Zack Snyder (“300,” “Watchmen”) was to re-envision the classic
Superman legend and make it relevant in the contemporary light of the 21st century: combining fantasy with reality, making familiar things new and new things familiar.
The origin story begins on Krypton, a disintegrating planet. In hopes of saving his species, renegade scientist Jor-El (Russell Crowe) places his newborn son Kal-El in a space capsule and launches him towards Earth, infuriating General Zod (Michael Shannon) who has staged a military coup. Kal-El is adopted and given the name Clark by Jonathan (Kevin Costner) and Martha (Diane Lane) Kent, who insist that he control his incredible powers, knowing that chaos would erupt if people realized that an alien was living on a farm in Smallville, Iowa. As he grows up, Clark’s (Henry Cavill) subterfuge isolates him from his peers, turning him into a drifter, hiding from the world. Eventually, an intrepid, yet often imperiled, newspaper reporter, Lois Lane (Amy Adams) learns the truth. When she tries to ‘scoop’ the story, her editor (Laurence Fishburne) refuses to publish it. So she leaks it on the Internet before realizing the consequences. Just then, megalomaniacal General
Zod, who’s been searching for Kal-El, and his troops launch an invasion of Earth. So Kal-El/Clark Kent must make some fundamental choices.
Flashbacks punctuate the tightly focused, adroitly written screenplay by David S. Goyer from a story by Goyer and producer Christopher Nolan (“Dark Knight” trilogy), and it’s stylishly directed by by Zack Snyder. Casting is perfection, particularly Cavill (TV’s “The Tudors”). My only
quibbles are with the overly frenetic pace, sudden jump cuts and shaky camerawork.
Redefining the essential mythology and filled with awesome, eye-popping action, this is an innovative, amazing incarnation, worthy of the world’s most iconic superhero, whose “S” is a symbol of hope. And seeds are discreetly planted for future Justice League/DC Universe pictures.
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “Man of Steel” soars with a fun-filled 9 – the most exhilarating comic book movie of the summer.
Susan Granger’s review of “This Is the End” (Columbia Pictures/Sony)
This crass, raunchy, ribald comedy begins with co-writer/director Seth Rogen picking up his
long-time friend and fellow Canadian Jay Baruchel at Los Angeles International Airport. As they walk through the terminal, a paparazzo approaches them, quizzing Seth: “Why do you play the same character in every movie?”
Despite Baruchel’s distasteful reluctance, they move on to James Franco’s housewarming party,
where they mix and mingle with TinselTown’s Michael Cera, Paul Rudd, Kevin Hart, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Jason Segel and Aziz Ansari – until the cataclysmic Biblical apocalypse – as described in the Book of Revelation – hits, an earthquake followed by a sinkhole. Many are killed, leaving Rogen, Baruchel, Jonah Hill, Craig Robinson, and uninvited Danny McBride trapped inside Franco’s
fortress-like mansion, isolated as horned demons and zombies roam the acrid Hollywood Hills while True Believers ascend into Heaven in The Rapture. The survivors turn out to be exaggerated sociological archetypes of any group of male friends, even when their caricatured conversation delves into selfishness, stoner excess, selling out and entitlement in our contemporary celebrity culture.
Unevenly written and indulgently directed by collaborators Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg (“Superbad,” “Pineapple Express,” “The Green Hornet”), it’s, basically, a sustained series
of sketches of boorish frat-pack lunacy – with Rihanna, Mindy Kaling and axe-wielding Emma Watson as token females amid the “rapey vibe.” FYI: although it’s ostensibly set in LA, for financial reasons, it was filmed in New Orleans.
As the story goes, when Rogen and Goldberg submitted their directors’ cut to the MPAA ratings board, they expected an NC-17 rating, not only because of the vulgar profanity and drug use but also
because of the graphic, often perverted sex scenes, including one between a human and a satanic beast with a phallus larger than Mark Wahlberg’s Dirk Diggler in “Boogie Nights.” To their amazement, they got an R, which even they admitted was ludicrous.
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “This Is the End” is a subversive, self-deprecating, sexist
6, a horror zonk-fest designed to blow a guy’s mind.
Susan Granger’s review of “Maniac” (IFC Midnight)
Slasher films have gotten more grisly, grimy and gruesome– but few earn the three R’s: repulsive,
repugnant and rank.
In this remake of a 1980 film by the same name, diminutive Elijah Wood takes the role of psychopathic serial killer, Frank Zito, who systematically stalks his prey: Caucasian women
between the ages of 20 and 30. He scalps them and then affixes their hair to his collection of mannequins. One morning, when he’s opening the mannequin store in downtown Los Angeles that he inherited from his deceased mother, he discovers Anna (French actress Nora Arnezeder), a photographer taking pictures of his window display. She’s staging an exhibit and wants to borrow some of the antique mannequins that he’s meticulously restored. As they work together, virginal Frank falls in love with Anna but discovers she has a boyfriend, Jason. He also meets Anna’s mentor, Rita, an older woman who mocks and teases him, accusing him of being homosexual. Eventually, it becomes obvious that Frank’s twisted childhood memories of his prostitute mother turning tricks has totally unhinged him. Even his ‘migraine headache’ meds cannot control his homicidal urges.
Working from a screenplay by Alexandre Aja and Gregory Levasseur, it’s directed by Franck
Khalfoun, capitalizing on the twist that almost the entire story is shown from the murderer’s point-of-view. Each slaughter is graphically depicted in all its ghoulish horror. At first, it’s a curious, technical gimmick but the voyeuristic visuals soon grow stale, despite the efforts of stylish cinematographer Maxime Alexandre, the repeated use of unconventional reflections and the synthesizer score.
Based on information from Khalfoun’s filmography, he previously worked as an actor in
co-scriptwriter/producer Alexandre Aja’s 2005 French horror movie “High Tension.” At a screening in Los Angeles, Khalfoun allegedly said that he considered it a compliment when viewers vomited and fainted, stating that his objective was creating nauseating fear.
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “Maniac” is an atrocious, sadistic, misogynistic 1. Consider it safe to say that Elijah Wood has left Frodo and “Lord of the Rings” far behind.
Susan Granger’s DVD Update for week of Fri., June 14:
Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson uses brains, not brawn to protect his son in “Snitch,” playing a
trucking company owner who cuts a deal with an ambitious D.A. (Susan Sarandon) to go undercover as an informant and help the DEA catch a drug kingpin in exchange for his son’s freedom.
In “A Bullet to the Head,” Sylvester Stallon plays a gritty, grizzled New Orleans hitman teaming up with a young, techno-savvy detective (Sung Kang) to bring down a hulking killer (Jason Momoa from “Game of Thrones”), sleazy lawyer (Christian Slater) and real estate developer (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje).
“Knife Fight” is a savvy contemporary thriller, starring Rob Lowe as a manipulative political strategist, delivering a satirical message about the end justifying the means.
“Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters” is a preposterous, blood-splattering, campy horror/action/comedy with Jeremy Renner and Gemma Atherton as revenge-seeking vigilantes.
Michael Landon Jr. directs “Beverly Lewis’ The Confession,” a heartwarming, inspirational drama
about a young Amish woman (Katie Leclerc) searching for her identity.
But don’t bother with “Wrong,” in which writer/director Quentin Duplex strings together a surrealist litany of episodic absurdities centered around a man trying to find his lost dog.
Jerry Aronson’s “The Life and Times of Allen Ginsberg” documents American activist counterculture, as epitomized by the iconic poet, visionary and outspoken champion of human rights, while “Honor Flight” follows four elderly Wisconsin veterans who visit the WWII Memorial in Washington, D.C. And “Hellbound” is Vancouver-based Kevin Miller’s thought-provoking debate about the Christian doctrine of hell.
Foreign film aficionados: French superstar Vincent Cassel plays a 17th century Capuchin preacher who struggles with temptation in Domink Moll’s sexy French thriller “The Monk,” adapted from Matthew Lewis’ cult classic gothic novel.
PICK OF THE WEEK: “Oz the Great and Powerful” is a spirited, family-friendly prequel to “The Wizard of Oz,” delving into the charlatan-behind-the-curtain’s origin story. James Franco stars as
Oscar “Oz” Diggs, a conniving carnival magician who’s transported to a fantastic realm, where he meets a trio of Witches (Mila Kunis, Rachel Weitz, Michelle Williams) and is befriended by a wisecracking, winged monkey and a tiny China Doll.
Susan Granger’s review of “Much Ado About Nothing” (Lionsgate/Roadside Attractions)
When Joss Whedon, the prolific writer/director/producer of “Marvel’s The Avengers,” “Buffy the
Vampire Slayer,” “Firefly,” “Dollhouse” and“Angel,” makes a home movie, you can bet it’s much ado about something.
Filmed in black-and-white in 12 days at his sprawling Spanish-style home in Santa Monica,
California, it’s a frothy, low-budget adaptation of William Shakespeare’s ribald, robust comedy “Much Ado About Nothing” about falling in love and arranged marriages. According to Whedon, the idea has been germinating for many years – ever since he started inviting actors to his home for impromptu readings of “Hamlet,” “Macbeth” and “Othello.” A communal camaraderie was established as Whedon’s stock company was gradually formed.
While the setting has been moved from 16th century Sicily to 21st century Southern California, Whedon utilizes the original – if trimmed and tailored – Elizabethan text, albeit in modern dress and eschewing the iambic pentameter. Filled with lies, deception and betrayal, the cheeky, playful plot revolves around the celebratory visit of suave Prince Don Pedro (Reed Diamon on “Dollhouse”) and his villainous brother, Don John (Sean Maher), along with their retinue, to the home of Messina’s Governor Leonato (Clark Gregg in “The Avengers”) for a garden party weekend that’s filled with charming romantic intrigue. Alexis Denisof (“Buffy the Vampire Slayer”) and Amy Acker (“Angel”) play ex-lovers, marriage-averse Benedick and tart-tongued Beatrice, while Fran Kranz (“Dollhouse”) and Jillian Morgese (who was an ‘extra’ on “The Avengers”) are the troubled younger lovers Count
Claudio and virtuous Hero. Nathan Fillon (“Firefly”) and Tom Lenk (“Buffy”) bring comic relief as the dimwit neighborhood constable Dogberry and his slapstick sidekick Verges.
Apparently, Joss Whedon did the filming – with cinematographer Jay Hunter utilizing multiple
cameras – in the contractually required two-week break between principal photography and post-production on “The Avengers.” It’s how he spent his enforced vacation, working with his architect wife Kai Cole, who co-produced the ensemble effort.
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “Much Ado About Nothing” is an enjoyably amusing,
screwball 7, but Britain’s Royal Shakespeare Company doesn’t have to worry.
Susan Granger’s review of “The Bling Ring” (A24 Films)
If ever a movie was designed to induce parental anxiety, this is it – as acquisitive Southern
California teenagers go on an intoxicating, guilt-free burglary spree in the Hollywood Hills, excitedly chirping, “Let’s go shopping!”
Dazzled by the luxurious excess they see on television and in fashion magazines, the group is
headed by ringleader Rebecca (Katie Chang), who befriends shy, socially awkward Indian Hills High School newcomer Mark (Israel Broussard), along with nervy Chloe (Claire Julien) and Nicki (Emma Watson), her younger sister Emily (Georgia Rock) and their ‘adopted’ sister Sam (Taissa Farmiga); the latter three are home-schooled by their ditsy mom (Leslie Mann) whose curriculum draws from the self-help best-seller “The Secret.” After consulting stalker websites, they target the palatial and surprisingly un-protected homes of indulgent fashionistas Paris Hilton, Lindsay Lohan, Audrina Patridge, Megan Fox, Rachel Bilson, Miranda Kerr and Orlando Bloom, among others. Apparently, none of these high-profile celebrities ever installed a burglar-alarm, and Hilton conveniently left her house key under the front-door mat. The teen intruders’ haute-couture haul in glittery designer loot was said to exceed three million dollars.
Based on a real-life crime spree which sparked the 2010 Vanity Fair article, “The Suspects Wore
Louboutins,” by Nancy Jo Sales, the flimsy, atmospheric script by director Sofia Coppola should be a cautionary caper, a societal fable about materialism and amorality. Problem is: as evidenced by “Marie Antoinette,” “Lost in Translation” and “Somewhere,” Coppola seems not only blatantly besotted with the idle rich but also enticed and titillated by their vacuous extravagance. As a
result, there’s too little about the consequences of inept parenting and cocaine addiction.
Nevertheless, Coppola elicits clueless, yet convincing performances from her tweeting,
texting cast, particularly Israel Broussard, prancing in fuchsia stilettos, and Emma Watson, shedding her “Harry Potter” Hermione persona. Not surprisingly, publicity-hungry hotel heiress Hilton allowed Coppola to film her lavishly decorated home and her chocked-full, candy-box closet.
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “The Bling Ring” is a shallow yet scary 6, superficially
documenting a banal youth culture of self-surveillance.
Susan Granger’s review of “The East” (Fox Searchlight Pictures)
Former FBI agent, Sarah (Brit Marling) is now a hotshot operative for Hiller/Brood, a secretive security firm that specializes in espionage for pharmaceutical and corporate clients. When her no-nonsense boss (Patricia Clarkson), dispatches her to infiltrate a radical environmental group that
calls itself The East, she tells her live-in boyfriend Tim (Jason Ritter) she’s traveling in Dubai.
But instead of boarding an international flight, steely Sarah adroitly exits the D.C. airport, dyes her hair, changes into grubby clothes, dons a backpack and hops a freight train, going off the grid to find this anarchist collective. Sure enough, one of her traveling companions turns out to be a member of the creepy, cult-like cell she’s seeking. Despite some initial mistrust, she’s taken to their headquarters, a burnt-out house in the woods and gets on with their scruffy, strangely taciturn leader, Benji (Alexander Skarsgard from TV’s “True Blood”), and his cohorts, including Doc (Toby Kebbell) and Izzy (Ellen Page). Before long, she’s embedded herself in their vengeful, punitive “jams” or calculated retaliations against smarmy corporate executives.
“Spy on us, we’ll spy on you,” they vow. “Poison us, we’ll poison you.”
Written by Brit Marling and director Zal Batmanglij, the story’s filled with curious communal rituals – like having the group’s members wear straitjackets to dinner, symbolically forcing them to feed each other off big wooden spoons that they grip between their teeth, followed by an awkwardly childish spin-the-bottle game and submissive baptism. Soon, the Stockholm syndrome sets in, as now-radicalized Sarah feels a growing empathy for their anti-Establishment missions and becomes more and more conflicted about being an informant. How will she cope with this moral dilemma?
Brainy actress/writer Brit Marling epitomizes the initiative of the New Hollywood, working in collaboration with Zal Batmanglij to create relevant projects for themselves, including “Another Earth” and “The Sound of My Voice.”
On the Granger Movie Gauge of to 10, “The East” is a shrewd, suspenseful 7, a low-tech, cerebral thriller that raises your social consciousness while oozing a pervasive sense of conspiracy and danger.