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“Poltergeist”

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

 

Back in1982, director Tobe Hooper (“Texas Chainsaw Massacre”) teamed up with screenwriter Steven Spielberg to make what has become an iconic supernatural thriller. Now British director Gil Kenan (“Monster House,” “City of Ember”) has created an updated PG-13 version with iPhones, iPads, GPS devices and an ominous, hi-definition, flat-screen TV.

After John Deere employee Eric Bowen (Sam Rockwell) is laid off, he and his writer wife, Amy (Rosemarie DeWitt), know they have to downsize in order to provide for their three children. So they move to an affordable fixer-upper on the outskirts of the Illinois town where Amy went to college.

Their six year-old daughter, Madison (Kennedi Clements), is enthusiastic, quickly making some new, invisible friends – “the lost people”- with whom she converses through her closet and the flickering TV in the living room. But their ‘fraidy cat middle child, Griffin (Kyle Catlett), is uneasy in his attic bedroom with a menacing willow tree visible through a skylight. Not surprisingly, teenage Kendra (Saxon Sharbino) is unhappy being separated from her school pals.

When Eric and Amy learn from neighbors about their house’s spooky, paranormal past, they rush home, only to find that Maddy has disappeared, leaving Griffin and Kendra traumatized. Seeking help, they consult Dr. Claire Powell (Jane Adams) from the university’s parapsychology department.

After thermal monitoring equipment and a drone camera are set up, a reality-TV ghost-hunter, Carrigan Burke (Jared Harris) – with his hashtag (#thishouseisclean) – concludes that Maddy has been abducted by vengeful spirits – i.e. poltergeists. They’re holding her captive in a shadowy, sinister netherworld that someone must visit to rescue her before she disappears completely.

Screenwriter David Lindsay-Abaire (Rabbit Hole,” “Inkheart”) updated the characters’ names but deleted individual personality traits that allowed us to identify with them. The original film’s key elements have been retained, including the demented clown dolls, the closet doors and the usual scary scenes, augmented by slick, far-too-revealing CGI.

So on the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “Poltergeist” is a creepy, contrived 4, a nostalgic yet totally unnecessary remake.

“Grace of Monaco”

Susan Granger’s review of “Grace of Monaco” (The Weinstein Company)

 

After a disastrous premiere at Cannes in 2014, this “fictional account inspired by real events” sat on the shelf for more than a year before its release.

The simplistic story focuses on the 1962 crisis when France’s President Charles de Gaulle, mired in the costly Algerian War, blockaded Monaco, angered by its status as a tax haven for wealthy French. At the same time, director Alfred Hitchcock made a visit to the palace to tempt Grace Kelly to return to Hollywood to star in his upcoming psychological thriller “Marnie.”

As it unfolds on-screen, when Hitchcock (Roger Ashton-Griffiths) arrives, Princess Grace (Nicole Kidman) is growing restless with her life as wife and mother, living luxuriously in the 235-room Grimaldi palace overlooking the Mediterranean, noting: “The idea of my life as a fairy tale is itself a fairy tale.”

The outspoken, Philadelphia-born Oscar-winner still feels like an outsider amid the manners and mores of European aristocracy. Encouraged by her confidante, Father Francis Tucker (Frank Langella), the Catholic priest who arranged her 1956 marriage to chain-smoking Prince Rainier III (Tim Roth), she works with a protocol expert (Derek Jacobi) to subversively dazzle de Gaulle (Andre Penvern) with diplomacy at the annual Red Cross charity ball.

Barely glimpsed in the background are powerful Greek financier Aristotle Onassis (Robert Lindsay) and his mistress, famed opera singer Maria Callas (Paz Vega).

While Nicole Kidman resembles Grace Kelly, she emanates no depth of feeling, a problem attributable to the banal banter concocted by screenwriter Arash Amel and director Olivier Dahan (“La Vie en Rose”), who even manage to squeeze in a conspiratorial subplot involving Rainier’s duplicitous sister, Princess Antoinette (Geraldine Somerville), and a lady-in-waiting (Parker Posey).

Monaco’s Prince Albert is furious about the portrayal of his father as a weak leader, declaring: “The princely family does not in any way wish to be associated with this film which reflects no reality and regrets that its history has been misappropriated for purely commercial purposes.”

On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “Grace of Monaco” is a trivial 3 – a dull, dreary mishmash.

 

 

“Welcome to New York”

Susan Granger’s review of “Welcome to New York” (Sundance Selects/Wild Bunch)

 

Remember when French politician/former International Monetary Fund chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn was arrested in Manhattan? On May 14, 2011, he allegedly forced himself sexually on a Guinean housekeeper, Nafissatou Diallo, at the Sofitel Hotel. That misadventure is fictionalized by director Abel Ferrara, who changed the names for obvious reasons.

The opening montage depicts Washington, D.C.’s historical landmarks, specifically including American currency rolling off the presses at the Bureau of Engraving and Printing, accompanied by Paul Hipp’s musical strains of “America the Beautiful.” In addition, it’s established early in the narrative that financier George Deveraux (Gerard Depardieu) relishes his uninhibited, over-privileged, hedonistic lifestyle.

During his one-night stay at New York’s Carlton Hotel, Deveraux enjoys the carnal company of several prostitutes – before pressing himself, naked, on a chambermaid (Pamela Afesi) in his suite. Then it’s off to a lavish lunch with his daughter, Sophie (Marie Moute), and her boy-friend, Josh (JD Taylor), where he orders bouillabaisse, joking that the seafood dish is “like a sex party with the fishes.”

Later that day, as he’s attempting to board a plane to Paris, Deveraux is arrested, interrogated and incarcerated. Then comes his home detention at the $60,000/month Tribeca townhouse, paid for by his furious, long-suffering wife Simone (Jacqueline Bisset).

Although Ferrara (“Bad Lieutenant”) and co-screenwriter Chris Zois (“New Rose Hotel”) altered names to avoid lawsuits, it’s obvious that slobbering, grunting Gerard Depardieu is playing Dominique Strauss-Kahn and Jacqueline Bisset is  his then-wife, the ambitious French-American socialite heiress/journalist Anne Sinclair, who had once harbored hopes that he would be elected President of France.

According to press notes, Ferrara filmed in the same Franklin Street mansion where DSK served out his time and cast some of NYPD officials to reprise their real-life roles on-screen.

For the record: while criminal charges were eventually dropped due to inconsistencies in Diallo’s testimony, a subsequent civil trial ended in an undisclosed settlement payment.

In English and French, on the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “Welcome to New York” is a sordid 6, recreating a notorious scandal.

“The 100 Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared”

Susan Granger’s review of “The 100 Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared” (Music Box Films)

 

Sweden’s highest-grossing film of-all-time revolves around irrepressible, unflappable Allan Karlsson (comedian Robert Gustafsson), who is about to celebrate his 100th birthday when he decides to climb out of the window of the retirement home where he lives and travel around a bit.

Arriving at a nearby transit station, he boards a bus with someone else’s suitcase, not realizing that it belongs to a vicious biker dude (Simon Seppanen) and is stuffed with millions in stolen drug money.

As Allan ambles about, the events of his picaresque life are revealed in surreal flashbacks that show how fanciful misadventures have placed him in the midst of some major historical occasions. It’s an amusing plot device that makes him look like a Scandinavian cousin of “Zelig” or “Forrest Gump.”

Working as an explosives expert, young Allan gets entangled in the Spanish Civil War, the Manhattan Project, and other definitive events of the 20th century, including ludicrous encounters with U.S. Presidents Harry Truman and Ronald Reagan, Russia’s Stalin and Gorbachev, and an elephant named Sonya.

Plus there’s his geezer buddy Julius (Iwar Wiklander), their perpetual student/driver Benny (David Wilberg) and Gunilla (Mia Skaringer), the feisty ex-girlfriend of a biker gang member.

Based on Jonas Jonasson’s international best-selling novel of the same name, it’s been inventively adapted by Hans Ingemansson and director Felix Herngren as a black comedy/road movie, as Allan heeds his mother’s wise advice: “You shouldn’t talk too much,” “One thing leads to another,” and “Life is what it is – and what it does.”

And the ungainly length of the title rivals “The Englishman Who Went Up a Hill But Came Down a Mountain” and “A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence.”

On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “The 100 Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared” is an irreverent, slapstick 6, an absurdist comic fable.

“Saint Laurent”

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

 

There are two cinematic biographies about infamous French fashion designer Yves Saint Laurent, who died in 2008. Directed by Bertrand Bonello and featuring Gaspard Ulliel in the title role, this version is France’s official submission for the foreign-language Academy Award.

The story opens in Paris in 1974, when depressed, melancholy YSL agreed to a disastrous phone interview in which he admits he has “disorders” before flashing back to 1967, when his fame was at its height, as he prepares an elegant haute couture collection. Lea Seydoux and Aymeline Valade play his emotionally supportive muses Loulou del la Falaise and Betty Catroux, respectively.

That’s also when YSL’s giddy, intoxicating, celebrity lifestyle disintegrated into debilitating drug abuse and dangerous debauchery, particularly his infatuation with Karl Lagerfeld model Jacques de Bascher (Louis Garrel), which deeply wounded YSL’s longtime business partner/lover and friend, Pierre Berge (Jeremie Renier).

Wearing YSL’s signature oversized glasses, Gaspard Ulliel (“Hannibal Rising”) not only bears a strong physical resemblance but also conveys YSL’s self-destructive tendencies, along with his hedonistic sensibility and neurotic sensitivity, including insight into the clash between commerce and culture, as dresses evolve from sketches to the runway.

FYI: YSL was the first major designer to launch a pret-a-porter line, making French fashion accessible to the general public.

The biopic concludes in Saint Laurent’s later years, when he’s played by Helmut Berger, utilizing Ulliel’s ineptly synched voice.

Episodic in structure and lavish in production design, the somewhat cumbersome screenplay was written by Thomas Bidegain (“Rust and Bone,” “Our Children”) and director Bertrand Bonello (“House of Pleasures,” “The Pornographer”).

Curiously, there’s little mention of YSL’s youth in Algeria and early apprenticeship with Christian Dior. And it’s only fair to note that Pierre Berge threw his support behind Jalil Lespert’s rival bio-pic, “Yves Saint Laurent,” granting that production access to YSL’s estates in Paris and Marrakech.

In French and English, with English subtitles, on the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “Saint Laurent” is a shallow, ill-fitting 5. Running 2 ½ hours, it gets truly tedious – unless you’re a fashion junkie.

“Every Little Thing”

Susan Granger’s review of “Every Secret Thing” (Hyde Park Entertainment)

 

When a toddler disappears, two teenage girls are held responsible in this eerie psychological mystery about the consequences of the secrets we keep.

Eight years ago, these troubled 11 year-olds were convicted of kidnapping and murdering the infant granddaughter of their upstate New York town’s first African-American judge.

When they’re released, obese Alice Manning (Danielle Macdonald) becomes a sullen shoplifter, consistently lying to her overbearing, protective schoolteacher mother, Helen (Diane Lane), that she’s searching for a job, while her bitter, socially withdrawn partner-in-crime Ronnie Fuller (Dakota Fanning) works in a bagel shop.

In this small community of Orangetown, they do their best to avoid one another since their incarceration. But when another mixed-race three year-old disappears, these young women become the prime suspects of Detective Nancy Porter (Elizabeth Banks) and her partner, Detetective Jones (Nate Parker).

Complicating matters, resentful Alice claims that this missing child is actually hers, the bi-racial baby she bore in juvenile detention and gave up for adoption. And there’s little time devoted to the abducted toddler’s distraught mother (Sara Sokolovic) and her boyfriend (Common).

Based on an unsettling 2004 novel by Laura Lippman, it’s adapted by Nicole Holofcener (“Enough Said”), executive produced by Frances McDormand, and directed by documentarian Amy Berg (“West of Memphis,” “Deliver Us From Evil”).

Flawed by under-written subplots and superficiality, this police procedural utilizes flashbacks to delve into the angst of obesity, mother-daughter issues, inter-racial tension and the murky inequities of the criminal justice system, culminating in a twist ending that isn’t conclusive.

On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “Every Secret Thing” is a flimsy, foreboding 5, a female-centric crime thriller.

 

“Tomorrowland”

Susan Granger’s review of “Tomorrowland” (Disney)

 

If you’ve ever visited Disney World’s EPCOT theme park, you’ve had a glimpse of what Walt Disney and his “imagineers” envisioned as the influence of science and technology on the future of mankind. That’s the basis for this tale, which begins with disillusioned scientist Frank Walker (George Clooney)…

When he was a youngster, Frank (Thomas Robinson) brought a jet pack he’d invented to enter in a contest at the 1964 New York World’s Fair. While he didn’t amaze contemptuous judge David Nix (Hugh Laurie), a young British observer named Athena (Raffey Cassidy) was so impressed by his optimistic ingenuity that she slipped him a small lapel pin marked with the letter “T.”

To his amazement, when Frank touched the pin, he was miraculously transported to an alternative dimension known as Tomorrowland, a shiny, shimmering, serenely futuristic utopia where the impossible becomes possible…

After that prologue, it’s present-day Cape Canaveral, Florida, where too-bright-for-her-own-good Casey Newton (Britt Robertson) lives with her soon-to-be-out-of-work NASA engineer father (Tim McGraw) and little brother (Pierce Gagnon). She, too, mysteriously receives one of those magical “T” pins, catapulting her into Tomorrowland’s hologram.

When Athena, who turns out to be a Tomorrowland recruiter, warns curious, idealistic Casey she’s in great danger, she finds now-pessimistic, paranoid Frank (Clooney), who is living an embittered, hermit-like existence in a secluded farm house. Apparently, he discovered that mankind might not have the bright future he’d envisioned and was banished.

Co-scripted by Damon Lindelof (TV’s “Lost”), Jeff Jensen and director Brad Bird (“The Incredibles,” “Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol”), it’s a generic condemnation of current social and cultural cynicism, epitomized by our enthusiasm for dystopian, post-apocalyptic entertainment.

There are several surprises (which I will not reveal) and delightfully nostalgic moments, like Casey’s playful visit to “Blast from the Past,” a movie memorabilia store run by Ursula (Kathryn Hahn) and Hugo (Keegan-Michael Key) – with nods to Gustave Eiffel, Jules Verne, Thomas Edison and Nikola Tesla.

But the film is at least 20 minutes too long with a preachy conclusion – and less wondrous than one might expect.

On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “Tomorrowland” is a spiritually simplistic 7, a family-friendly sci-fi adventure-fantasy.

“Pitch Perfect 2″

Susan Granger’s review of “Pitch Perfect 2” (Universal Pictures)

 

Set three years after its 2012 surprise-hit predecessor, Anna Kendrick, Rebel Wilson and the other Barden University Bellas return for another try at a cappella harmony.

But disaster strikes when Fat Amy’s (Wilson) spandex outfit splits during a ‘live’ television performance at Washington, D.C.’s Kennedy Center in front of President and Mrs. Obama, revealing she’s gone ‘commando,’ resulting in an embarrassing media scandal.

As part of the suspension and punishment handed down by podcast pundits Gail (Elizabeth Banks) and John (John Michael Higgins), the Bellas are barred from holding auditions, but they can recruit ‘legacy’ members, like eager freshman Emily (Hailee Steinfeld), whose mother (Katey Sagal) was a Bella.

So under the leadership of Beca (Kendrick) and Chloe (Brittany Snow), the Bellas seek redemption at the world competition in Copenhagen, Denmark, where they’re awed by the reigning champions, the arrogant Teutonic titans – Das Sound Machine – led by the icy Valkyrie, Kommissar (Brigitte Hjort Sorensen) and Pieter (Flula Borg), duly dubbed “Deutschebags” by scene-stealing Fat Amy.

Along the way, there are several sing-offs, including one sponsored in the mansion of a caftan-clad music enthusiast (David Cross) who rides around on a scooter. But, fittingly, the most memorable is the finale: an original song called “Flashlight,” written by Sia and Sam Smith.

Loosely based on Mickey Rapkin’s non-fiction book “Pitch Perfect: The Quest for Collegiate A Cappella Glory,” it’s scripted by Kay Cannon and directed by co-star/producer Elizabeth Banks, resulting in zany, fast-paced fun, chock-full-of-stereotypical, often snarky, mean-spirited jests. In addition to celebrity cameos, there are too many subplots

Albeit superficially, it even touches on the angst felt by college graduates who must eventually cope with the demands of the job market. And, nearing 30, Anna Kendrick is too old to play a college student.

On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “Pitch Perfect 2” is a silly, sassy 6, going for slicker, sharper sequel sisterhood.

“Finding Neverland”

Susan Granger’s review of “Finding Neverland” (Lunt-Fontanne Theater: 2014-15 season)

 

While theatrical politics often propel Broadway’s Awards season, Peter Pan can crow because “Finding Neverland” sprinkles its own fairy dust, becoming one of the season’s most fanciful musicals.

With music and lyrics by Gary Barlow and Eliot Kennedy and book by James Graham (based on the movie and Allan Knee’s “The Man Who Was Peter Pan”), it’s the somewhat idealized but, nevertheless, engrossing story of how playwright James M. Barrie came to write his beloved masterpiece, “Peter Pan.”

In 1904, London, Barrie (Matthew Morrison) is coping with an overbearing American producer, Charles Frohman (Kelsey Grammer), who’s demanding a new drawing-room comedy. Frustrated and bereft of ideas, Barrie goes to the park, where he’s intrigued by four mischievous lads playing games. That inspires him to jot down ideas about a mythical place called Neverland, where boys never grow up.

Much to the dismay of his social-climbing wife (Teal Wicks), Barrie becomes enamored of the lads’ ailing, widowed mother, Sylvia Llewelyn Davies (Laura Michelle Kelly), although their relationship remains properly chaste, despite the suspicions of her strait-laced mother, Mrs. DuMaurier (Carolee Carmello).

Artfully directed by Diane Paulus (“Pippin,” “Hair”) and athletically choreographed by Mia Michaels, it’s enchanting – with much credit going to Scott Pask’s set, Jon Driscoll’s projections, Kenneth Posner’s imaginative lighting, Paul Kieve’s illusions, Suttriat Anne Larlab’s costumes, Richard Mawbey’s hair/makeup and Daniel Wurtzel’s “air sculpting” with flying effects by ZFX, Inc.

Playing Barrie marks Matthew Morrison’s first return to Broadway since 2008’s “South Pacific”; for the past six seasons, he’s been starring as Will Schuester on TV’s “Glee” – and Kelsey Grammer was last seen on-stage in the revival of “La Cage aux Folles.” The roles of the children – Peter, George, Jack and Michael – are shared by multiple talented kids.

FYI: J.M. Barrie gave all the “Peter Pan” rights to London’s Great Ormond Street Hospital in 1929, which was confirmed when he died in 1937. Since then, the hospital has received royalties every time the play is performed, as well as from the sale of Peter Pan books and other merchandise. Barrie requested that the amount should never be revealed – and the hospital has honored his wishes.

The original Broadway cast recording of “Finding Neverland” will be available on June 23.

“The Liar”

Susan Granger’s review of “The Liar” (Westport Country Playhouse)

 

If you’re yearning for a witty, sophisticated comedy, see “The Liar” at the Westport Country Playhouse.

David Ives’ contemporary adaptation of Pierre Corneille’s 17th century romantic romp about a compulsive liar is filled with mischievous sparkle.

Set in Paris in 1643, it revolves around Dorante (Aaron Krohn), a charming cad who arrives in the Tuileries Garden, where he meets Cliton (Rusty Ross), a manservant who cannot tell a lie. While audaciously spinning tales of his military adventures, Dorante falls in love with vivacious Clarice (Kate MacCluggage), not realizing she’s secretly engaged to his pugnacious friend, Alcippe (Philippe Bowgen).  Although Clarice’s more reserved friend Lucrece (Monique Barbee) is aware of Dorante’s glib duplicity, she’s intrigued by him and would make a far better match.

Adding to the fanciful, farcical fun, there’s Dorante’s gullible father (Brian Reddy) and Cliton’s befuddlement with identical twin maids (Rebekah Brockman): one saucy, the other strait-laced.

Commissioned by the Shakespeare Theatre Company in Washington, D.C., where it was originally staged in 2010, it’s meticulously composed in rhyming verse – iambic pentameter – by David Ives (“Venus in Fur”) and propelled by Penny Metropulos’ adroit direction.

In the demanding leading role, Aaron Krohn exhibits dazzling linguistic panache, delving into every nuance of David Ives’ imaginative puns and silly jokes in fluid couplets. Indeed, every member of the cast delivers crystal-clear vowels and crisp consonants.

Kristen Robinson’s superb set, consisting of four stylized trees, is minimalistic, in contrast with costumer Jessica Ford’s frilly gowns and satin trousers, illuminated by lighting designer Matthew Richards.

Fittingly, the play concludes with, “How liars are punished by their own lies!/Was not the moral of this exercise. But rather how, amidst life’s contradictions,/Our lives can out-fick the finest fictions.”

You can catch “The Liar” at the Westport Country Playhouse through May 23. For tickets and information, call 203-227-4177 or go to www.westportplayhouse.org.