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 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.
Susan Granger’s review of “The Kings of Summer” (CBS Films)
Amid the glut of action-packed popcorn pictures and recycled comedy franchises, this refreshingly touching and genuinely funny low-budget, independent dramedy stands tall.
The coming-of-age story revolves around three conflicted teenage boys – Joe (Nick Robinson) and
Patrick (Gabriel Basso), best friends since childhood, and their odd, eccentric tagalong, Biaggio (Moises Arias). School’s out, leaving them in limbo, caught between tantalizing freedom and imprisonment by their overbearing parents. So they decide to run away from home, build their own ramshackle cabin in an idyllic grove, located deep in the nearby woods, and live off the land. It’s not too difficult to borrow tools, scavenge and salvage materials from construction sites and dumpster-dive for scraps, particularly when there’s a Boston Market conveniently within walking distance. Wielding axes and swords, they are intrepid adventurers.
But, while they border on maturity, these naïve adolescents still have some important life lessons to learn. There’s plenty of drama in Chris Galletta’s episodic script. Conflict surfaces most often between gawky Joe and his cranky, still grieving widower father (Nick Offerman), plus there’s an interlude of unrequited love which threatens the boys’ friendship and tests their loyalty, along with quirky Monopoly mayhem.
The film’s vivid, bucolic montages, revealing them racing through pastoral fields, climbing trees,
splashing in the river, jumping off quarry cliffs and staging an impromptu jam session, banging on pipes, were captured when director Jordan Vogt-Roberts (TV’s “Funny or Die”) took his actors into the woods near Chagrin Falls, Ohio, and filmed them – just fooling around, improvising – enhanced by off-tempo music and off-kilter editing.
Reminiscent of “Stand By Me,” “Moonrise Kingdom,” even the similarly-themed “Mud,” it’s a simple, yet timeless, emotionally engaging, irresistibly likeable fantasy with a supporting cast that includes Megan Mulally, Marc Evan Jackson, Mary Lynn Rajskub, Alison Brie, Erin Moriarty and Thomas Middleditch.
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “The Kings of Summer” is a compelling 8, cleverly capturing a poignant, formative interlude.
Susan Granger’s review of “The Internship” (20th Century-Fox)
The line between a legitimate feature film and a product placement-filled infomercial grows
thinner than ever with this underdog comedy set on the Google campus, a techie Mecca often reverently referred to as Eden.
When affable traveling salesmen Billy (Vince Vaughn) and Nick (Owen Wilson) discover that their watch company has folded, they’re in their mid-40s and out of luck in the modern workplace. While Billy takes a temporary job selling mattresses for his sister’s randy boyfriend (uncredited Will Ferrell) in Los Angeles, Nick decides to Google Google and look for a job at the giant of the high-tech world. While a brief Skype interview reveals how little these ‘dinosaurs’ know about the digital world of search engines and social networking, it somehow works in their favor because of Google’s determination to achieve age diversity among its employees.
Soon they’re on their way to a summer-long internship at Google’s corporate headquarters in
Mountain View, California, where they not only discover the free coffee, fruit and bagels but also the coveted nap-pods. But they’re not alone. There are many other aspiring programmers, called Nooglers, many of them prodigies, who yearn to spread the Silicon Valley corporate gospel, including a cynic (Dylan O’Brien), home-schooled shy guy (Tobit Raphael) and Comic-Con geek (Tiya Sircar).
Predictably, Nick flirts with a mid-level exec (Rose Byrne), and Billy trades barbs with a British bully (Max Minghella) – and neither of them comprehends the “X-Man” Prof. Charles Xavier reference. Then there’s the bonding strategy of an awesome Quidditch match, motivated by a “Flashdance” metaphor.
Written by Vince Vaughn and Jared Stern, based on a fish-out-of-water story by Vaughn that was inspired by a “60 Minutes” segment on how Google was one of the best places to work, it’s directed by Shawn Levy (“Night at the Museum”). Although it’s being touted as a sequel to “Wedding Crashers,” it isn’t – except for a brief party scene in a San Francisco strip club.
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “The Internship” is a tame, dreary 5. Bing anyone?
Susan Granger review of “The Purge” (Universal Pictures)
Admittedly, the satirical premise of this sci/fi horror story is provocative. In 2022, when the
unemployment rate is at one percent and the poverty rate below five percent, the US Government under the New Founding Fathers of America has legalized all crime, including homicide, for one 12-hour period a year to serve as a national catharsis for society’s knife-wielding, gun-toting maniacs, allowing them to commit acts of violence with no fear of retribution. So, according to the 28th Amendment, from 7 pm on March 21 to 7 am on March 22, anything goes. It’s “Release the Beast” time in a “nation reborn.” No police calls will be answered; no emergency services provided.
James Sanlin (Ethan Hawie) is his company’s most stellar salesman of home security systems, and he’s installed top-of-the-line surveillance equipment at his own luxurious McMansion within a gated community where the privileged live. While he and his wife Mary (Lena Headley) are prepared for the coming lockdown, hunkering in behind steel shutters, watching the mayhem on television, his family is thrown into chaos, particularly his teenagers, Charlie (Max Burkholder) and Zoey
(Adelaide Kane), when James accidentally kills Zoey’s older boyfriend, mistaking him for an intruder. Then there’s the very real threat posed by a homeless black man (Edwin Hodge), an injured drifter seeking sanctuary, whom Charlie has allowed into the house. When an angry mob comes looking for the man, they demand his release, threatening to ‘purge’ the entire family.
“Things like this aren’t supposed to happen in our neighborhood,” James wails.
Whether consciously or unconsciously, writer/director James DeMonaco (“Assault on Precinct 13,” “The Negotiator”) utilizes the same scary, dystopian, class-warfare concept as “The Hunger Games” but, unfortunately, the sacrificial potential for psychological suspense and tension, revolving around aggression, simply disintegrates into the idiotic gory carnage of a home-invasion thriller. And the macabre masks that the marauding mobs of Freaks wear seem like an obvious homage to “A Clockwork Orange.”
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “The Purge” is an improbable, yet blood-splattered 4. Interesting idea: execrable execution.