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“Home”

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

 

There’s obviously such a thirst for family-friendly animated that even this lackluster diversion attracts crowds at the multiplex.

When their planet is threatened by the dreaded Gorg, the Boovs decide to move to Earth. In preparation for this diversionary tactic, Earthlings are vacuumed up by giant Boov spaceships and relocated to a candy-colored theme park, dubbed “Happy Humantown,” in the Australian desert.

But 13 year-old Gratuity Tucci (Rihanna) – a Bahamian immigrant called “Tip” – and her Calico cat were able to avoid capture. Desperate to find her mother, Lucy (Jennifer Lopez), plucky Tip goes looking for her.

Meanwhile, there’s this bumbling young Boov named “Oh,” as in “Oh, no” or “Ohhhh.” Oh (voiced by Jim Parsons) becomes a fugitive after he inadvertently hit “send all” on a galaxy-wide housewarming party invitation that reveals the terrestrial location of the new Boov habitat.

Tip and Oh ‘meet cute’ when they’re spied by a security camera in the same convenience store. Trapped in a freezer, Oh promises to help Tip. Utilizing his advanced technology, he transforms her mother’s car into a Slushy-powered hovercraft – equipped with Rihanna’s Caribbean-infused music tracks.

Off they go – only to discover that the entire threat was caused by a small Gorg rock mounted on the “shusher” scepter belonging to the Boov’s egotistical leader, Captain Smek (Steve Martin), who stole it.

Based on Adam Rex’s popular children’s book, “The True Meaning of Smekday” (2007), it’s adapted for the screen by Tom J. Astie and Matt Ember (“Epic”) and directed by Tim Johnson (“Antz”).

While Tip is the first black protagonist in a DreamWorks Animation feature, the plot bears an uncanny resemblance to “Lilo & Stitch,” which was filled with Polynesian kitsch.

Jim Parsons (a.k.a. Sheldon Cooper on TV’s “The Big Bang Theory”) and pop singer Rihanna make welcome debuts in voice-over animation, but it’s disconcerting is how much the Boov creatures look like blue-hued Minions with stubby tentacles.

On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “Home” is a familiarly fanciful 5, featuring the most benign aliens ever to invade Earth.

“Get Hard”

Susan Granger’s review of “Get Hard” (Warner Bros.)

 

When fabulously wealthy hedge-fund manager, James King (Will Ferrell) faces a 10 year prison term after being convicted on 76 counts of fraud and embezzlement, he hires Darnell Lewis (Kevin Hart), an African-American car-washer whom he assumes is an ex-con, to toughen him up for what lies ahead.

Steadfastly maintaining his innocence, Harvard-educated King has just been made partner at the Los Angeles investment firm run by Martin (Craig T. Nelson), and he’s has a sexy, gold-digging fiancée, Alissa (Alison Brie), who gets John Mayer to serenade him at their engagement party.

But when his lawyer (Greg Germann), predicts, “He’ll be chokin’ on a mouthful of balls,” King absolutely panics.  He has 30 days of house arrest before he’s shipped off to San Quentin to become someone’s “bitch.”

What he doesn’t realizes is that Darnell is a working-class family man with a pushy wife, Rita (Edwina Findley Dickerson), and young daughter, Makayla (Ariana Neal).  Desperately needing $30,000 for a home mortgage so they can move out of crime-riddled South Central, Darnell gamely pretends to have a gangsta past, enlisting the help of his cousin (T.I. Harris) as the boss of the ‘hood.

Scripted by Jay Martel, Ian Roberts and first-time director Etan Cohen (co-writer of “Tropic Thunder”) – it’s a one-joke premise, pivoting around King’s fear of rape and enforced fellatio, including an explicit scene of King staring at a man’s penis while contemplating oral sex at a bathroom urinal in a gay bar.

Crude, R-rated jabs at race, gender and homosexuality abound – from a white supremacist motorcycle gang to the Crenshaw Kings. But the dumb jokes are stale and the result is uneven and tiresome, even though it occasionally evokes tinges of the far-better “Trading Places.”

Basically, it’s an embarrassment and waste of two talented comedians: Will Ferrell and Kevin Hart.

On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “Get Hard” is an atrocious 2. One may be patient with raunchy stupidity – but not with those who are proud of it.

“Effie Gray”

Susan Granger’s review of “Effie Gray” (Adopt Films)

 

Since proper Victorian society would not tolerate homosexuality or divorce, it was truly scandalous when young Euphemia “Effie” Gray left her husband, influential art critic John Ruskin, after a loveless six-year marriage for Pre-Raphaelite painter John Everett Millais.

Teenage Effie’s (Dakota Fanning) story begins in Scotland in 1848, when she marries Ruskin (John Wise). Arriving in London, Effie discovers to her dismay that they’re to live with his prim, domineering parents (Julie Walters, David Suchet).

Worse yet, after viewing lovely Effie’s naked body, Ruskin coldly refuses to consummate their marriage.

At a Royal Academy of Arts dinner, Ruskin supports the new Pre-Raphaelite movement, convincing the President of the Academy, Sir Charles Eastlake (James Fox), to allow young artists, like John Millais (Tom Sturridge), to exhibit there.

That same night, rejected Effie is befriended by Eastlake’s outspoken wife, Elizabeth (Emma Thompson), who recognizes Effie’s naïveté and angst, eventually serving as her confidante.

As time goes by, the Ruskins travel to picturesque Venice, as chaste Effie rebuffs an ardent Italian; then to rain-soaked, rural Scotland, where Millais paints Ruskin’s portrait. That sexually suppressed, still-virginal Effie and sympathetic Millais will wind up together seems inevitable.

(Although it’s not depicted on-screen, Effie and Millais married and had eight children.)

Written by Emma Thompson (“Sense and Sensibility”) and directed by Richard Laxton (BBC’s “Burton and Taylor”), it’s a dreary historical costume drama that never probes into repressed Ruskin’s obviously dysfunctional sexuality, except to indicate that he masturbates in their marital bed.

John Wise (Emma Thompson’s real-life husband) is far too old to play Ruskin, who was only nine years older than Effie. Middle-aged Wise is 23 years older than still child-like Dakota Fanning, who adopts an upper-class British accent although Effie reportedly spoke with a Scottish brogue.

Adding to the intrigue, the film’s release was delayed by lawsuits, alleging that the script was plagiarized from earlier dramatizations of the same story; eventually, Thompson won in court.

On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “Effie Gay” is a stultifying 6. It’s far too timid and tasteful for its own good.

“GETT: The Trial of Viviane Amsalem”

Susan Granger’s review of “Gett: The Trial of Viviane Amsalem” (Music Box Films)

 

For Orthodox Jews in Israel, divorce is decided not in civil court but by a triumvirate of rabbinical judges.

In order for a wife to obtain one, her husband must consent – and the ordeal of Viviane Amsalem vividly illustrates this patriarchal tyranny.

After bearing four children and enduring decades of an unhappy marriage, Viviane (Ronit Elkabetz) has left her home and moved in with her brother and overbearing sister-in-law.

For three years, she has attempted to obtain a “gett,” which is permission to dissolve her marriage, but her taciturn, religiously devout husband Elisha (Simon Abkarian) steadfastly refuses.

Since childhood, Viviane has been trained to obey authoritarian men, and Elisha’s stalling tactics delay her agony as weeks and months turn into years. Ignoring one summons after another, he’s intractable as she becomes more embittered.

Filmed exclusively in the claustrophobic courtroom and its stark antechamber, Viviane is represented Carmel Ben Tovim (Menasche Noy), the son of a distinguished rabbi who has broken with family tradition, while Elisha is represented by his older brother, Rabbi Shimon (Sasson Gabay).

Eventually, various inept and/or hypocritical witnesses are called to testify about their marital relationship, facing a judicial trio, called Beth din, headed by Rabbi Salmion (Eli Gorstein).

Utilizing countdown title cards and extreme close-ups, this bitter farce and heart-wrenching drama focuses on Viviane, representing the basic women’s rights issue in Israel, which is supposedly a democracy.

Born in Beersheba, Israel, actress/director/writer Robit Elkabetz, working with her writer/director brother Shlomi Ekabetz, conceived this thought-provoking feature as the conclusion to a trilogy, which includes “To Take a Wife” and “7 Says,” films ostensibly inspired by the life of their mother. It was a Golden Globe nominee and Israel’s submission for the Foreign Language Academy Award.

On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “GETT: The Trial of Viviane Amsalem” is an embattled, infuriating 8, epitomizing the concept of male entitlement.

 

“Rocket to the Moon”

Susan Granger’s review of “Rocket to the Moon” (Theatre at St. Clement’s)

 

Set in New York City during the Great Depression, this rarely performed play by Clifford Odets is a moralistic drama, revolving around a middle-aged dentist who falls in love with his naïve, idealistic assistant. With his career and loveless marriage in shambles, he must decide whether to “Take a rocket to the moon. Explode!”

Directed by Dan Wackerman, this revival by the Peccadillo Theater Company at the Theatre at St. Clements on West 46th Street is set in the sweltering summertime in dreary waiting room of an office shared by two dentists. Dr. Ben Stark (Ned Eisenberg), who is dominated by his wife Belle (Marilyn Matarrese), and money-strapped Dr. Phil Cooper (Larry Bull).

When Stark hires a new, 19 year-old dental assistant, Cleo Singer (Katie McClennan), she quickly makes herself indispensable not only to him but also to his wealthy father-in-law, Mr. Prince (Jonathan Hadary). Plus there’s the wolfish choreographer, Willy Wax (Lou Liberatore). Stark’s multi-leveled inner conflict propels the play.

While filled with good intentions and capable, if not memorable, performances, “Rocket to the Moon” seems to be missing the intimate, emotional connective tissue between the characters. It skims the surface while exploring the power and pain of love, along with the need for psychic freedom, which dilutes the ultimate effect of the problematic conclusion.

The stagecraft by Harry Feiner, David Thomas and Amy C. Bradshaw serves to authenticate this play as a time capsule to the past.

Historically, playwright Clifford Odets (“Golden Boy,” “Awake and Sing!”) is perhaps best remembered for his appearance before Joseph McCarthy’s infamous House Un-American Activities Committee in 1952, when he named Elia Kazan as a card-carrying Communist.  Reportedly, he regretted making that accusation until his premature death in 1963 at the age of 57.

Originally produced on Broadway in 1938 by the Group Theater, “Rocket to the Moon” starred Morris Carnovsky, Ruth Warrick, Luther Adler, Eleanor Lynn and Sanford Meisner. In 1986, it was adapted for television by the BBC with John Malkovich, Judy Davis, Eli Wallach, William Hootkins and Connie Booth.

“Lives of the Saints”

Susan Granger’s review of “Lives of the Saints” (Primary Stages, the Duke on 42nd Street)

 

David Ives is one of the most inventive, off-beat playwrights in the American theater today. With “All in the Timing” and “Venus in Fur,” among others, to his credit – he’s now assembled an evening of six one-act skits.

But the collection is disjointed, despite a versatile five-person performing ensemble – Arnie Burton, Carson Elrod, Rick Holmes, Kelly Hutchinson and Liv Rooth – expertly directed by John Rando (“On the Town,” “Urinetown”).

It begins with “The Goodness of Your Heart” in which a neighborly friendship is threatened when one asks the other to buy him a new big-screen TV with all the newest technology. “Why?” he inquires. “’Cause you like me” is the reply.

“Soap Opera” finds a washing machine repairman (Carson Elrod) grappling with a snobbish maitre’d as he tries reserve a table at a fancy French restaurant for himself and his new love, a ‘Maypole’ appliance, who observes, “In my experience, everything is a cycle.”

Double identity-themed jokes are rampant in “Enigma Variations,” in which a woman goes to see a doctor with both characters represented by identical dopplegangers to act and speak in perfect unison. Remember Doublemint gum?

In “Life Signs,” a son discovers that his recently deceased mother (Kelly Hutchinson) may not be dead. To his utter chagrin, she begins a vividly candid discussion of her sexual past.

“It’s All Good” depicts an encounter between a New York-based writer (Rich Holmes) and a friendly stranger who invites him home for dinner after they meet on a train bound for Chicago. As it turns out, the hospitable host’s wife turns out to be the writer’s old girlfriend.

The titular piece concludes the evening; it’s a sweetly touching diversion featuring two church ladies preparing a post-funeral collation.

Despite its obvious appeal for people with short attention spans, it’s a far-from satisfactory sampler that’s only intermittently amusing.

This limited engagement runs through March 27 at Primary Stages at The Duke on 42nd Street,

 

“The Gunman”

Susan Granger’s review of “The Gunman” (Open Road)

 

Since Sean Penn’s name is above the title – and he’s also credited as co-writer and producer – this globe-trotting thriller qualifies as a vanity project, designed to propel him into Liam Neeson territory as another aging-but-tough action hero.

Set in 2006, the prologue introduces ex-Special Forces mercenary Jim Terrier (Penn) and his idealistic doctor girlfriend Annie (Jasmine Trinca), living in the Democratic Republic of Congo. When his supervisor Felix (Javier Bardem), who has the hots for Annie, dispatches Jim to kill the DCR’s Minister of Mining (Clive Curtis), he’s forced to flee the country, leaving Annie behind.

Eight years later and suffering from head trauma, Jim wearily returns to Africa on a water project and discovers that now he’s been targeted for assassination. The obvious suspect is Felix, now married to Annie, but it could also be his former boss Cox (Mark Rylance), as dangerous hitmen pursue him London to Gibraltar to Barcelona.

(While there’s a climactic showdown at a bullfighting ring, the closing-credits acknowledge that bullfighting has been banned in Catalonia since 2012.)

Based on Jean-Patrick Manchette’s 2002 novel, “The Prone Gunman,” it’s been adapted by Don MacPherson, Pete Travis and Penn. French director Pierre Morel (“Taken,” “Transporter”) makes sure that it reeks with an all-too-familiar, mucho macho reality. Not surprisingly, scantily clad Italian actress Jasmine Trinca is given a purely ‘reactive’ role. It’s a gritty, generic ‘guy’ thing from the get-go.

In recent years, two-time Oscar-winner Sean Penn – for “Mystic River” (2003) and “Milk” (2008) – has devoted himself to social activism – a politically-aware passion made obvious with topical tirades on the plight of refugees, atrocious corporate-government collaboration and a plea for a global humanitarian awareness.

But he’s not above stripping for showering and surfing, deliberately revealing bulging biceps and an impressively buff torso.

On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “The Gunman” is a predictably tiresome 5, filled with bloody fistfights, formulaic shoot-outs and picturesque chases, signifying very little.

“The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel”

Susan Granger’s review of “The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” (Fox Searchlight Pictures)

 

If you liked “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” (2012), you’ll enjoy the sequel.

As it begins, the exuberant proprietor Sonny Kapoor (Dev Patel) and resident-turned-partner Muriel Donnelly (Maggie Smith) are in San Diego, pitching company called Evergreen, run by Ty Burley (David Strathairn), for financing to expand the residential facilities.

Meanwhile in India, elaborate plans are underway for Sonny to marry his fiancée Sunaina (Tena Desae). Enterprising Evelyn (Judi Dench) has become a successful textiles buyer and is ardently pursued by shy, lovelorn Douglas (Bill Nighy), who turns out to be Jaipur’s most inept tourist guide.

At the same time, affection-starved Madge (Celia Imrie) is torn between two wealthy lovers, while Norman (Ronald Pickup) is trying to stabilize his relationship with Carol (Diana Hardcastle).

Adding to the confusion, there are two new guests: Lavinia Beach (Tamsin Greig) says she’s checking-out the facilities as a retirement home for her mother, while Guy Chambers (Richard Gere) claims to be a novelist. But ambitious, entrepreneurial Sonny suspects that he’s really an inspector sent by Evergreen. And when Guy starts courting Sonny’s widowed mother (Lillete Dubey), chaos reigns.

Expanding his original adaptation of Deborah Moggach’s novel about financially-challenged British pensioners who have “outsourced” their remaining years, Ol Parker’s segmented screenplay juggles so many diverse characters, contrived storylines and picturesque glimpses into colorful Indian culture that sometimes it’s hard to keep track.

But John Madden’s direction stirs the subplots – emotionally and physically – resulting in an amicable, feel-good diversion for audiences of a certain age.

True to form, Maggie Smith gets the best lines, including giving an American tart instructions about how to make a proper cup of tea and uttering succinct put-downs like, “Just because I’m looking at you when you talk, don’t think I’m listening – or even interested.”

On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” is a satisfyingly soapy 7, culminating in a gloriously pseudo-Bollywood dance spectacle.

“Insurgent”

Susan Granger’s review of “Insurgent” (Lionsgate/Summit)

 

This highly-anticipated sequel to last year’s “Divergent” is set in a dystopian futuristic Chicago, where society is rigidly divided into five factions, according to skill and aptitude: Amity (peaceful), Abnegation (selfless), Candor (honest), Dauntless (brave) and Erudite (intelligent) – with the dispossessed Outsiders, known as Factionless.

They’re supervised by megalomaniacal Jeanine (Kate Winslet), who discovered a mysterious, five-sided box containing information from the founders of the new civilization. She’s sure it’s the answer to what she perceives as the Divergent dilemma. Divergents are considered dangerous because they have attributes of multiple factions. Problem is: she needs a Divergent to open it.

Meanwhile, the reluctant Divergent heroine, Beatrice “Tris” Prior (Shailene Woodley), is on the run with other rebels. Having lost her parents (Ashley Judd, Tony Goldwyn) in a recent battle, she’s haunted by nightmares, filled with guilt and grief.

Along with a new, short haircut, Tris has a seemingly meek brother. Caleb (Ansel Elgort), whose allegiances are shifting; Candor pal Christina (Zoe Kravitz); conniving frenemy Peter (Miles Teller); and hunky protector, known as Four (Theo James), whose murky past is revealed as part of the plot.

Adapting Veronica Roth’s derivative YA trilogy, three screenwriters (Brian Duffield, Akiva Goldsman and Mark Bomback), along with director Robert Schwentke (“The Time Traveler’s Wife,” “R.E.D.”), have crafted a meandering, action-packed sci-fi saga – that’s perhaps too kinetic. SIMs (hallucinatory simulations) and breathless chase scenes abound, including a memorable one involving train-hopping.

Formidable Naomi Watts and Octavia Spencer make cameo appearances, perhaps foreshadowing bigger roles in the third and fourth movies that split the concluding novel, “Allegiant” into two parts.

And there are new additions: British model-turned-actress Suki Waterhouse, Rosa Salazar, Emjay Anthony, Jonny Weston and Keiynan Lonsdale. And a techno soundtrack.

But it’s Shailene Woodley (“The Spectacular Now,” “The Fault in Our Stars,” “The Descendants”) whose angst-riddled close-ups propel the obvious plot, along with intense stunt work and visual effects. Plus there’s that huge, electric fence that surrounds the entire city.

On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “Insurgent” is a fast-paced 5 – a “Hunger Games” wannabe.

“Run All Night”

Susan Granger’s review of “Run All Night” (Warner Bros.)

 

Now that the “Taken” series has run its course, Liam Neeson is back with this action-packed saga of an aging enforcer for the Brooklyn Mob, a tough guy once known as “The Gravedigger.”

“I’ve done some terrible things in my life,” admits conscience-stricken Jimmy Conlon (Neeson), an alcoholic loner whose estranged son Mike (Joel Kinnaman) is a family man with two daughters and a third child on the way.

Jimmy’s only friend is his ruthless boss, Shawn Maguire (Ed Harris). They grew up together – with Shawn now rich, respectable and ready to retire.

Problem is: working as a limo driver, Mike is an innocent bystander when Shawn’s cokehead son Danny (Boyd Holbrook) commits a reckless drug-related murder. When Danny is killed in a subsequent shootout, Shawn blames Jimmy, so he and Mike are forced to go on the run from corrupt NYPD cops, the Albanian gangsters and Shawn’s hired hitman, Price (hip-hop artist Common).

Vincent D’Onofrio appears periodically as a homicide detective who has spent the past 30 years trying to put Jimmy behind bars for various crimes. And grizzled Nick Nolte plays Jimmy’s brother, another professional killer.

Collaborating again with Spanish filmmaker Jaume Collet-Sera (“Unknown,” “Non-Stop”), Liam Neeson does his best with the contrived, improbable script by Brad Ingelsby (“Out of the Furnace”) which formulaically unfolds during one single night.

Filmed on location in New York, the frantically-edited chase goes from Madison Square Garden during a Rangers vs. Devils game through the subway and trains systems into different boroughs, utilizing tracking and aerial panning.

On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “Run All Night” is a gritty, fast-paced 4 – that’s quickly forgettable.