Susan Granger’s review of “About Last Night” (Screen Gems/Sony Pictures)
The idea of the one-night stand that turns into long-term love has been done again and again, perhaps never better than Edward Zwick’s 1986 hit, starring Demi Moore and Rob Lowe, which was based on David Mamet’s 1974 play, “Sexual Perversity in Chicago.” But who can blame Sony for trying to repeat that success with contemporary African-American singles?
Bernie (Kevin Hart) and Danny (Michael Ealy) work at a restaurant supply company in downtown Los Angeles. One evening in a bar, Bernie and his date Joan (Regina Hall) talk insecure Danny into hooking up with her roommate Debbie (Joy Bryant), a strait-laced executive. Having been hurt in the past, both Danny and Debbie are wary of commitment, yet they wind up in bed. Soon, they’re sharing a communal bath and moving in together. But when Danny decides to change careers and go to work at an Irish pub owned by his late father’s best friend (Christopher McDonald), their relationship is seriously challenged.
Screenwriter Leslye Headland (“Bachelorette”), working off Tim Kazurinsky and Denise DeClue’s original script, and director Steve Pink (“Hot Tub Time Machine“) offer little that’s new and different, ditching all subtlety and reducing the structured calendar concept to a clichéd sitcom. As a result, while the pace is fast, it lacks flow. For example, there’s that scene where Danny barges in on Joan and Bernie while they’re having kooky sex. Wearing a chicken costume, she’s clucking like she’s laying an egg. The direction is so obvious that one expects a canned laugh track to be inserted at any moment. Then there’s all that squabbling – and who needs a montage of texting selfies?
Regina Hall and Kevin Hart, who must be the busiest actor in Hollywood with “Grudge Match,” “Ride Along” and this already under his belt in 2014, delineate such playfully bantering, outrageously vulgar supporting characters that they’re far more interesting than the story’s pivotal couple.
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “About Last Night” is a broader, more serviceable 6, transitioning from risqué to raunchy.
Susan Granger’s review of “Robocop” (M.G.M./Sony/Columbia Pictures)
There has to be a reason to justify a remake, particularly when the original is Paul Verhoeven’s cynical 1987 crime-fighting/greed-corruption satire. What this new version has in its favor is contemporary timeliness.
Jose Padilla’s updated sci-fi fantasy is set in 2028, as law-and-order news commentator Pat Novak (Samuel L. Jackson) reports how OmniCorp is testing its latest robotics technology, keeping the peace by enforcing the law in Tehran, and he bemoans the fact that politicians in the “robophobic” U.S. are adamantly opposed to non-human policing, led by adamant Sen. Herbert Dreyfus (Zach Grenier).
Recognizing the need for a missing ‘moral judgment’ element, OmniCorp’s devious CEO Raymond Sellars (Michael Keaton) inveigles conflicted scientist Dennett Norton (Gary Oldman) and his team in a Chinese lab to interface a human brain into a robot. Its hapless owner happens to be critically injured Detroit cop Alex Murphy (Joel Kinnaman), whose grieving wife Clara (Abbie Cornish) hesitantly grants permission. Within three months, Murphy is reformulated as a powerful, motorcycle-riding cyborg, as Dr. Norton rewires his brain to follow artificial intelligence rather than his own human impulses. “It’s the illusion of free will,” Norton notes. Problem is: Murphy’s humanity gradually begins to dominate his programming, and he’s determined to apprehend his murderer.
Best known for his “Elite Squad” thrillers, Brazilian director Jose Padilla tackles his first English-language feature, incoherently scripted by Joshua Zetumer, with a heavy-hand and mind-numbing, video-game mentality: if you can’t make it good, make it loud. Riffing on Basil Pouledouris’s original score, Pedro Bromfman’s music cleverly utilizes “If I Only Had a Brain” from “The Wizard of Oz.”
Alongside seasoned pros like Gary Oldman and Michael Keaton, Swedish actor Joel Kinnamon of TV’s “The Killing” acquits himself well, as do Jackie Earle Haley as a weasely weapons expert, Jennifer Ehle as a corporate exec and Jay Baruchel as a marketing maven. Abbie Cornish has little to do but cry and look justifiably upset.
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “Robocop” is a frenzied 5, undermining an intriguing, ethically-challenging existential concept with mechanized mayhem.
Susan Granger’s review of “Down and Dangerous” (The Sabi Company)
One of the major dilemmas facing moviegoers these days is caused by something we ordinarily think of as a good thing: democratization. Years ago, it was very expensive to make a movie. Now, anyone with access to a cellphone, digital equipment and investor friends can churn out a standard-length feature film. Utilizing crowd-funding, more than 5,000 movies were made last year, although only 603 were released theatrically. This Kickstarter-subsidized $38,000 crime thriller is one of them.
Smuggler Paul Boxer (John T. Woods) is a seasoned pro. Working alone, refusing to carry a gun and changing names as often as other people change T-shirts, he devises ingenious ways to bring Colombian cocaine to Los Angeles. When one of his dealers is shot in the head, Paul’s investigation leads him to crazed hitman Henry Langlois (Ross Marquand), who works for drug cartel kingpin Rafael Garza (Ernest Curcio). Perhaps it’s pure coincidence that Rafael just happens to be living with Paul’s ex-girlfriend, Olivia Ivarra (Paulie Rojas) – and she’s still pining for Paul. Meanwhile, a DEA agent (Luis Robledo) is on their trail and there’s one more stash to retrieve before Paul can retire. And so it goes.
Based on Robert Sabbag’s non-fiction “Snowblind” about Zachary Swan’s exploits from 1970-72, it’s illogically and incoherently scripted by Zak Forsman and ineptly edited by Jamie Cobb, making for mind-numbing confusion on the part of the viewer. James T. Woods makes an interesting antihero, and it’s remarkable to spot Judd Nelson as his father/advisor in a couple of scenes. Unfortunately, seemingly anorexic Paulie Rojas must have been told once too often that she resembles a young Audrey Hepburn because she takes the gamine impersonation two steps too far, aided and abetted by cinematographer Addison Brock II. While Rojas’ acting is shallow and superficial, her makeup and coiffure are noticeably – and improbably – impeccable.
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “Down and Dangerous” is a tedious 2, even for a low-budget, indie film.
Susan Granger’s review of “The Hunt” (Magnolia Pictures)
This bleak, profoundly disturbing psychological drama delineates the devastating effects of a false accusation of child abuse on the life of an innocent man.
Co-written by Tobias Lindholm and director Thomas Vinterberg (who previously collaborated on “Submarino”), it revolves around a recently divorced kindergarten teacher, Lucas (Mads Mikkkelsen). When one of his pupils, Klara (Annika Wedderkopp), the daughter of his deer-hunting buddy/best friend (Thomas Bo Larsen), asks him to take her home from school, she holds his hand as they walk down the street. The next day, Klara, who has developed an innocent crush on Lucas, makes him a little heart and kisses him on the lips. When he gently reprimands her for such an intimate gesture, she impulsively tells a lie about their encounter. A subsequent interrogation by the children’s center indignant supervisor, Grethe (Susse Wold), makes Klara insecure and defensive. Soon the gossip mill circulates the rumor that Lucas exposed himself and Klara touched his penis. Not only do the townspeople ruthlessly turn on Lucas but they also stigmatize his teenage son, Marcus (Lasse Fogelstrom), who lives with his mother, and alienate Lucas’s new girl-friend (Alexandra Rapaport). Even when confused Klara admits that she made the story up, her mother (Anne Louise Hassling) refuses to believe the truth, reflecting adults’ instinctive belief in the innocence of children.
Perhaps best known in the United States as the villain in “Casino Royale” and the hero of “The Royal Affair,” actor Mads Mikkelsen is an amiable, compassionate protagonist who is quite bewildered by the alleged accusation and its attendant drama, which unfolds from his point-of-view. From the getgo, Thomas Vinterberg makes it abundantly clear that Lucas is completely blameless.
Vinterberg’s previously acclaimed “The Celebration” also dealt with child-abuse, and he is part of the Danish ideological movement known as Dogme 95.
In Danish with English subtitles, on the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “The Hunt” is an engrossing 8 – with a devastating conclusion.
Susan Granger’s review of “Vampire Academy” (The Weinstein Company)
Think of it as “Twilight” hybrid, set in a “Harry Potter” Hogwarts-like boarding school for bloodsuckers, as teenage girls cope with dating dilemmas while they battle evil supernatural forces. Insofar as exposition goes: there are three tribes of vampires: the full-blooded, mortal Moroi, peaceful folk who don’t kill people when they drink their blood; the half-human, half-vampire Dhampirs, who guard the Moroi; and the evil, undead Strigoi, who are ruthless, vicious marauders, killing and drinking their victims’ blood. Conflict inevitably occurs when the demand for hemoglobin exceeds the supply.
Returned to St. Vladimir’s (a.k.a. Vampire Academy), somewhere in Montana, after running away, 17 year-old Rose Hathaway (Zoey Deutch) is a loyal Dhampir whose mission is to protect her best friend, Vasilisa “Lissa” Dragomir (Lucy Fry), a Moroi princess and the last in her lineage. As Lissa learns how to manipulate the elements (fire, water, air and earth), she and Rose can communicate telepathically. Complicating matters are the inevitable gossip, clique bullying, preparations for the Equinox dance and forbidden romance. Plus there’s Lissa’s older mentor Dimitri Belikov (Danila Kozlovsky), Lissy’s love interest Christian Ozera (former model Dominic Sherwood), Queen Tatiana (Joely Richardson), Headmistress Kirova (Olga Kurylenko) and the elderly, terminally ill Moroi leader, Victor Dashkov (Gabriel Byrne), with his ditsy daughter Natalie (Sarah Hyland), who becomes Rose’s partner-in-crime.
Based on the best-selling tween book series by Richelle Mead, it’s incoherently condensed for the screen by Daniel Waters (“Heathers”) and directed by his brother, Mark Waters (“Mean Girls,” “Freaky Friday”). They shamelessly combine clichéd pop culture references and clunky vampire puns (“The stakes are high…”) with familiar themes, highlighted by Rolfe Kent’s score, featuring Katy Perry, Sky Ferreira, Natalia Kills and Au Revoir Simone.
By far the most engaging actress is Zoey Deutch, daughter of Lea Thompson and her “Some Kind of Wonderful” director Howard Deutch, and “Modern Family” fans will recognize Sarah Hyland.
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “Vampire Academy” is a fast-paced yet flaccid 2, a foolishly fanged fable. As the tagline suggests, “They suck at school.”
Susan Granger’s review of “The Lego Movie” (Warner Bros.)
Totally redefining product placement, this energetic, eye-popping 3D animated comedy/adventure celebrates the childhood experience of creative play with Denmark’s LEGO interlocking plastic construction toys.
In the miniature city of Bricksburg, the benevolent wizard Vitruvius (voiced by Morgan Freeman) confronts power-hungry Corporate CEO President Business (voiced by Will Ferrell) with an ancient prophecy that a Special will someday arise to dismantle the rigid conformity that keeps its citizens confined to their respective realms. Eight-and-a-half years later, Wyldstyle (voiced by Elizabeth Banks), an anti-corporate Goth girl activist, enlightens lowly construction worker Emmet Brikowski (voiced by Chris Platt), who is an obedient conformist, repeating instructions like: always use a turn signal, park between the lines, root for the local sports teams, drink overpriced coffee and don’t forget to smile. When he inadvertently stumbles upon the mysterious ‘Piece of Resistance,’ Wyldstyle misguidedly envisions generic Emmet as the master-builder leader, even though he isn’t “the most important, most talented, most interesting and most extraordinary person in the universe.” Meanwhile, as Business plots total domination, utilizing a secret super-weapon, his henchman, swivel-headed Bad Cop/Good Cop (voiced by Liam Neeson), is determined to catch Emmet, who’s aided by Batman (voiced by Will Arnett) and other cohorts (voiced by Nick Offerman, Alison Brie, and Charlie Day). There’s also Lando Calrissian (voiced by Billy Dee Williams), Green Lantern (voiced by Jonah Hill) and Superman (voiced by Channing Tatum).
Screenwriters/directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller (“Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs”) have created a cleverly satirical allegory, subversively filled with sight gags, amusing jokes, imaginative spectacles, a potent message and an unexpected plot twist at the conclusion. Plus, there are timely references to NSA surveillance, random public shootings, trigger-happy cops and erratic weather conditions. Inspiration comes from “The Truman Show,” as a man suddenly begins to suspect that his perfect life might be manipulated, along with “Toy Story 2” and the “Star Wars” fantasies, among others.
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “The Lego Mo vie” snaps together with an audacious, awesome 8, proving ordinary can be extraordinary.
Susan Granger’s review of “The Monuments Men” (Columbia Pictures/Fox 2000 Pictures)
Originally intended for Academy Awards consideration, this earnest WW II docudrama-like escapade falls far short of Oscar-caliber.
Hugh Bonneville (Lord Grantham on“Downton Abbey”) delivers one of the most memorable performances as an alcoholic British art historian, seeking noble redemption as part of the small, multi-national squad headed by Fogg Museum curator/conservationist Frank Stokes (George Clooney), who is determined to preserve Europe’s greatest works of art from acquisition and/or destruction in 1944 by the retreating Nazis.
“If you destroy an entire generation of people’s culture, it’s as if they never existed,” Stokes explains to skeptical then-President Franklin D. Roosevelt.
Working within the newly formed Monuments Fine Arts and Archives (MFAA) program, Stokes’ team also includes an art restorer (Matt Damon), architect (Bill Murray), sculptor (John Goodman) and connoisseur (Bob Balaban). They’re charged with advising front-line commanders and recovering masterpieces looted from museums and private Jewish collections, treasures like Michelangelo’s Madonna of Bruges and Flemish masters Hubert and Jan van Eyck’s 12-panel altarpiece “The Adoration of the Mystic Lamb ” – superbly photographed by Phedon Papamichael. They’re aided by a Paris’ Jeu du Paume Museum assistant curator/collaborator (Cate Blanchett), Ecole des Beaux-Arts painting instructor (Jean Dujardin) and German-Jewish teenage driver/translator (Dimitri Leonidas).
Episodically adapted from Robert M. Edsel’s detailed, true-life account, it’s sketchily scripted with too little structure and too many subplots by George Clooney and his producing partner Grant Heslov and directed by Clooney. The diverse characters should be fascinating, but they aren’t – because their individual roles are not properly fleshed out. And Edsel’s riveting recounting of their battlefield bickering with Army brass has been unduly truncated.
Trivia: Cate Blanchett’s character is based on French Resistance leader Rose Valland, whose memoir inspired John Frankenheimer’s “The Train.” George Clooney’s father Nick appears as elderly Stokes in a 1970s epilogue. And composer Alexandre Desplat does a Resistance worker cameo.
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “The Monuments Men” is a tonally shifting, sermonizing 7 – given unexpected timeliness by the recent discovery in Germany of yet another hidden art collection.
Susan Granger’s review of “Labor Day” (Paramount Pictures)
Screened for the press in November, Jason Reitman’s romantic melodrama sinks in a plot quagmire, proving that even the most seductively delicious peach pie goes stale when it sits on the shelf for several months.
Narrated by now-grown Henry Wheeler (Tobey Maguire), it recalls what happened over Labor Day weekend in New Hampshire back in 1987, when precocious, then-13 year-old Henry (Gattlin Griffith) and his depressed, agoraphobic, divorced mother, Adele (Kate Winslet), encounter Frank Chambers (Josh Brolin) on a back-to-school shopping trip. He asks them for a ride and a place to clean up since he’s got blood on his shirt – and there’s more than an implied threat when he adds: “Frankly, this needs to happen.”
So Adele takes him home and tends to the wound on his side. Frank says he jumped out of a window, but she soon learns that he’s actually just escaped from prison, where he was serving a 20-year sentence for murder, and there’s a manhunt to find him. Then, what was originally a hostage situation inexplicably – and improbably – turns into erotic as, during a three-day idyll, Adele seriously considers leaving with him for Canada, where they can make a fresh start in life together.
Based on a pulpy 2009 novel by Joyce Maynard, it’s most memorable for Brolin’s peach pie crust-making sequence. As he and Kate Winslet knead dough, it evokes memories of Patrick Swayze/Demi Moore’s far-better “Ghost.” Food stylist Susan Spungen (“Julie & Julia,” “Eat, Pray, Love”) was charged with making the bakery goods camera-ready and the actors look convincing. But, according to interviews, Josh Brolin was so determined to acquire the necessary confectionary skill, that he created one juicy, homemade pastry after another, dutifully following the recipe in Maynard’s book.
Screenwriter/director Jason Reitman tackles this maudlin fantasy with gusto, filling it with flashbacks and telltale details – in addition to the sugared peaches – leading to a safe, if contrived, compromised conclusion.
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “Labor Day” is a soggy, often silly 6, a problematic choice for Valentine’s Day.
Susan Granger’s review of “That Awkward Moment” (Focus Features)
The premise is simple: three twentysomething buddies find themselves at that confusing time in every relationship when their casual sex partner suddenly asks, “So…where is this going?”
Jason (Zac Efron), Daniel (Miles Teller) and Mikey (Michael B. Jordan) are enjoying the good life in Manhattan. Jason and Mikey are both single, designing book covers at the same trendy downtown publishing company, while Mikey is an Emergency Room doctor. But after Mikey wakes up one morning to discover that his wife Vera (Jessica Lucas) has cheated on him – with her lawyer – and is serving him with divorce papers, he and his callow, commiserating friends make a pact that they will not ‘date’ women. Instead, they plan to mate and vacate, guilt-free, and they vow to avoid serious entanglements for a year.
But then Jason glibly connects with smart ‘n’ sexy Ellie (Imogen Potts), rescuing her from an insistent suitor at a bar, and Daniel turns to their longtime “wing-woman” platonic friend Chelsea (Mackenzie Davis). Predictably, both of these supposed one-night stands develop into something more emotionally substantial, while Mikey covertly tries to reconcile with his ex.
Debuting writer/director Tom Gormican, whose previous credit is as producer on the dreadful “Movie 43,” sets up a crude, immature male version of the dating experience, often substituting frenetic pace for intelligent insight on the sensitive issue of commitment. So it’s not surprising that the female characters are sketchily underwritten and ill-served, while an inordinate amount of screen time is devoted to male genitalia: Viagra-induced, extended erections, a discolored penis, and urinating horizontally. In addition, the dialogue can only be described as dopey, and the contrived Thanksgiving Day scene falls flat with a resounding thud.
What’s in Gormican’s favor is his casting: three hot young actors. Zac Efron has been a heartthrob since “High School Musical,” while Miles Teller scored with “The Spectacular Now” and Michael B. Jordan with “Fruitvale Station.”
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “That Awkward Moment” is a bawdy 4, concluding with a familiar sequence of bloopers.
Susan Granger’s review of “I, Frankenstein” (Lionsgate Films)
Since it was published in 1818, Mary Shelley’s classic literary creation has had many screen incarnations but few as ridiculous as Stuart Beattie’s convoluted concept of using him as an invaluable pawn in the perennial battle between good and evil, represented by gargoyles and demons.
Beginning with the monster (Aaron Eckhart) burying his creator, the story catapults forward to the present-day. Wandering the world alone and pursued by demons, he’s dubbed Adam and offered shelter in a massive, medieval Gothic cathedral by Gargoyle Queen Leonore (Miranda Otto), who recognizes him as a fellow outsider, noting, “Humans think of us as mere decoration.”
What the fiery-eyed demons covet is the book that Adam carries with him. It’s Dr. Victor Frankenstein’s handwritten journal, detailing exactly how to create life. Their leader, nefarious Prince Naberius (Bill Nighy), has been collecting an army of soulless human corpses which he plans to re-animate to obliterate mankind. To that end, he has created an impressive, high-tech laboratory run by an attractive electrophysicist, Terra (Yvonne Strahovski). Not surprisingly, she eventually allies with Adam, who spends an inordinate amount of time skulking in the shadows.
Humorlessly adapted by Australian writer/director Stuart Beattie from a graphic novel by Kevin Grevioux (one of the creators of the “Underworld” franchise), it was filmed two years ago and set for release last February. Then it got pushed back to September and, eventually, dumped into a 2014 slot. Significantly, critics were excluded from all pre-release screenings.
Filled with reams of expository dialogue, choppily-edited fights, an invasive musical score and lots of CGI-enhanced transformations, it resembles an incoherent video game. When demons die, they descend in spiraling fireballs, while defeated gargoyles ascend directly into heaven through rapturous blue lights. Aside from his glowering, grimacing and growling, Aaron Eckhart has obviously spent endless hours at the gym to achieve his admirably ripped physique, and it’s apparent that Bill Nighy is just collecting a paycheck.
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “I, Frankenstein” is a mind-numbing 2. Mary Shelley must be spinning in her grave.