“Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows”

Susan Granger’s review of “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows” (Paramount Pictures)

 

Filled with Michael Bay’s usual high-octane action, this new 3-D sequel in the blockbuster franchise finds Leonardo (Pete Ploszek), Raphael (Alan Ritchson), Donatello (Jeremy Howard) and Michelangelo (Noel Fisher) battling villainous Shredder (Brian Tee) and his henchwoman Karai (Brittany Ishibashi).

When Shredder escapes from a police convoy, he joins forces with mad scientist, Dr. Baxter Stockman (Tyler Perry), and two idiotic ex-cons, Bebop the giant warthog (Gary Anthony Williams) and Rocksteady the rhinoceros (WWE’s Stephen ‘Sheamus’ Farrelly), to open a trans-dimensional portal to another galaxy, where the diabolical, disembodied Commander Krang (voiced by Brad Garrett) plans global domination, utilizing his Death Star-like Technodrome warship.

Tipped off by resolute TV reporter April O’Neill (Megan Fox) and her cameraman Vern Fenwick (Will Arnett), the heroic, hard-shelled quartet – named after famed Renaissance painters – come out of hiding in the sewers, catching the attention of former corrections officer Casey Jones (Stephen Amell), who has become a hockey stick-wielding vigilante, and skeptical NYC Police Commissioner Rebecca Vincent (Laura Linney).

Idiotically scripted, once again, by Josh Applebaum and Andre Nemec, the nostalgic silliness is earnestly directed by Dave Green (“Earth to Echo”), who does the best he can to captivate the attention of youngsters with the motion-capture animated mutant heroes-in-a-half-shell who long for a normal life.

Working with cinematographer Lula Carvalho, Dave Green’s city action sequences and in the Brazilian rainforest are particularly memorable.

FYI: The reptilian-hero concept first surfaced in 1984 as a Mirage Studios comic-book. Its success led to toys, video games and several Saturday morning TV-cartoon series. At one point, the Turtles represented 60% of all movable toy characters sold in the United States. The brand was rebooted in 1990 with Michael Bay’s first MTNT movie.

On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10 “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows” is a fan-friendly 5, another funny-book brought to life.

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“Me Before You”

Susan Granger’s review of “Me Before You” (Warner Bros.)

 

Have you ever wondered why we like to cry at movies? It’s quite simple: when we’re watching a sad story, our brains cannot differentiate between actual people and the flickering images on the screen. And when we are emotionally engaged, we feel empathy, enlightenment, even empowerment.

Since British novelist Jojo Moyes adapted her own best-seller for the screen, this romantic drama, directed by Thea Sharrock, stays remarkably close to the printed page, which tackles the difficult dilemma of euthanasia. That means it’s a real tearjerker.

Debonair London financier Will Traynor (Sam Claflin) is an avid sportsman until a traffic accident leaves him a quadriplegic. Two years later, he’s ensconced in his family’s massive ‘castle’ in the English countryside. In chronic pain, he’s become bitter, rude and jaded – and he needs a caregiving companion.

Cue clumsy, kind-hearted 26 year-old Louisa ‘Lou’ Clark (Emilia Clarke) who desperately needs a job and soon becomes determined to help Will. Conveniently, the ‘heavy lifting’ – bathroom/bathing needs – are handled by his physical therapist (Stephen Peacocke).

While Lou’s chatty, charming exuberance certainly enlivens his life, just as he teaches her to expand her provincial horizons, Will, nevertheless, seems determined to opt for assisted suicide in Switzerland.

And there’s not much his wealthy parents (Charles Dance, Janet McTeer), nor Lou’s working-class family (Brendan Coyle, Samantha Spiro), can do to make him change his mind.

British actress Emilia Clarke is best known as steely Daenerys Targaryen – a.k.a. Khaleesi, Mother of Dragons – in HBO’s “Game of Thrones,” while Sam Claflin scored in “The Huntsman: Winter’s War” and “The Hunger Games.” Tackling these complicated characters, they acquit themselves admirably, although the subplot involving Lou’s self-centered boyfriend (Matthew Lewis) falls flat.

Devotees of Jojo Moyes’ novel note that the author deleted a pivotal scene: the primary reason that Lou is so timid about venturing into the ‘outside’ world is because, years ago, she was sexually assaulted.

On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “Me Before You” is a bittersweet 6, wallowing in the throes of simplistic melodrama.

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“The Angry Birds”

Susan Granger’s review of “The Angry Birds” (Columbia Pictures/Rovio Animation)

 

How do you turn an app-based video game into a successful animated movie? Not a good movie, perhaps, but one that has box-office appeal.

First, producer John Cohen (“Despicable Me”) concocted a simple story on which Jon Vitti (“The Simpsons Movie”) wrote the silly, birds vs. pigs script. Then Finland’s Rovio Animation’s Fergal Reilly and Clay Kaytis took over as directors.

When he fails to deliver a “hatchday” treat and rebels against the happy camaraderie of Bird Island, Red the sardonic Cardinal (voiced by Jason Sudeikis) is sentenced to an anger-management classes conducted by Matilda (Maya Rudolph), a calm, free-range chicken who urges her students to therapeutically “paint your pain.”

Other rebellious misfits include Chuck (voiced by Josh Gad), the manic yellow canary; hulking Terence, whose guttural grunts supplied by Sean Penn; and the literally explosive blackbird Bomb (voiced by Danny McBride), complete with an orange ‘wick’ on his head.

Their ire is aroused when a pair of seemingly friendly singing-and-dancing green pigs – leader Leonard (voiced by Bill Hader) and his sidekick Ross (voiced by Tony Hale) – come ashore, snort around and steal the birds’ precious eggs to take home for a feast.

So furious Red and his feathered friends consult the once-Mighty Eagle (voiced by Peter Dinklage) and Judge Peckinpah (voiced by Keegan-Michael Key).

Vengeance is key as they flock to Pig Island, where the flightless birds devise a giant slingshot to catapult themselves at the oinking porkers to rescue their unborn chicks.

Amid the fast-paced, cartoony fun, bathroom humor, puns and pop culture visual gags abound – like a poster for Kevin Bacon in “Hamlet,” a book titled “50 Shades of Green,” and an obtuse glimpse of twin pigs, instead of girls, from “The Shining.” Unfortunately, it’s not interactive.

On the Granger Movie Gauge, “The Angry Birds” is a fitfully floppy 5, but Sony profits are flying high.

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“Love and Friendship”

Susan Granger’s review of “Love and Friendship” (Roadside Attractions/Amazon Studios)

When Jane Austen was very young, she scribbled the novella “Lady Susan,” an archly observant satire of 18th century epistolary novels in the form of letters from the hyper-articulate heroine.

It’s perfectly suited for writer/director Whit Stillman (“Damsels in Distress,” “Last Days of Disco,” “Metropolitan,” “Barcelona”), who has demonstrated a fondness for the witty banter that harks back to the Restoration comedy of manners.

So it’s not surprising that Stillman uses clever captions to introduce his large “Dramatis Personae,” characters from the landed English gentry.

The plot revolves around the devious manipulations of beautiful, recently widowed Lady Susan Vernon (vivacious Kate Beckinsale) who, admittedly, has “no money and no husband.”

But she does have a trusted confidante/conspirator, Alicia Johnson (Chloe Sevigny), an American exile married to an imperious aristocrat (Stephen Fry), who threatens to ship her back to the wilds of Connecticut if she sides with “the most accomplished flirt in all England.”

Arriving at Churchill, the lavish country estate of her late husband’s brother Charles Vernon (Justin Edwards) and his wary wife, Catherine (Emma Greenwell), scheming Lady Susan immediately beguiles Catherine’s wealthy younger brother, Reginald DeCourcey (Xavier Samuel, channeling a young Hugh Grant).

But before she can explore her own options, narcissistic Lady Susan must marry off her teenage daughter Frederica (Morfydd Clark), who spurns the proposal of obliging Sir James Martin (Tom Bennett) simply because he’s a blithering idiot or, as they put it, “a bit of a rattle.”

Diverse emotional entanglements abound, despite strict societal rules regarding acceptable behavior. One husband is deliciously dismissed as “too old to be governable, too young to die,” a hapless wife skewered with “If she were going to be jealous, she never should have married such a charming man.”

And so it goes until the surprisingly bawdy conclusion. Filming in Ireland, cinematographer Richard Van Oosterhout, production designer Anna Rackard and costumer Eimer Ni Mhaoldomhnaigh make the most of the exquisitely elegant settings.

On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “Love and Friendship” is a snappy, snarky 7, appealing primarily to women and indefatigable Austen fans.

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“The Lobster”

Susan Granger’s review of “The Lobster” (A24 Pictures)

 

Without doubt, this is one of the most bizarre films I’ve ever seen!

Set in the near future in an alternate universe, it’s an existential allegory about the determination within every culture to pair people off. Whether heterosexual or homosexual, conforming means being part of a couple.

When his wife leaves him for another man, David (Colin Farrell) has only 45 days to find another partner or face ‘Transformation’ into the animal of his choice. Most people want to be a dog, which is why there are so many of them. But David chooses to be re-embodied as a lobster.

To facilitate finding a prospective mate, David checks into a spa-like Hotel, where the Manager (Olivia Coleman) sternly explains the regimented schedule required of him  and other newcomers – there’s one who lisps (John C. Reilly), another who limps (Ben Whishaw), a woman prone to nosebleeds (Jessica Barden) and one who is heartless (Aggeliki Papoulia).

While a maid facilitates sexual arousal, masturbation is forbidden. Not surprisingly, the guests grow increasingly desperate under the pressure to find a compatible companion. When a match is made, there’s a party and ‘honeymoon’ of sorts. If couples subsequently disagree, children are pressed upon them.

“It usually helps,” declares the Manager.

With his crustacean reincarnation looming, David flees into the forest, joining ‘The Loners,’ a resistance group. Their militant leader (Lea Seydoux) enforces her own set of Kafkaesque rules, forbidding any relationships.

Then David meets his real soulmate (Rachel Weisz) – but is it too late?

Greek writer/director Yorgos Lathimos first garnered recognition with his Oscar-nominated “Dogtooth” (2009) about three grown children raised in seclusion by their parents. His follow-up “Alps” (2012) explored the grieving process. Co-written with Efthimis Filippou, this is his first English-language film.

Weird to the extreme, it’s, perhaps, the opposite of a melodrama. The acting is almost forcibly restrained as the grim, unconventional situation grows increasingly more primitive and punitive.

On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “The Lobster” is a strange, surreal 7, an audacious, absurdist satire.

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“Alice Through the Looking Glass”

Susan Granger’s review of “Alice Through the Looking Glass” (Disney)

 

Bearing little resemblance to Lewis Carroll’s literary sequel, this live-action fantasy begins in 1874 with Alice Kingsleigh (Mia Wasikowska) as an intrepid sea captain, cleverly evading pirates en route back to London – as though she’d been taught by Capt. Jack Sparrow.

Arriving home, Alice must choose between losing the Wonder, her late father’s merchant vessel, or leaving her widowed mother (Lindsay Duncan) homeless. Familial business dealings grow tedious until the familiar blue butterfly, Absolem (voiced by Alan Rickman), leads Alice through a large mirror…a.k.a. Looking Glass.

Back in Underland, Alice finds her eccentric friend, the Mad Hatter (Johnny Depp), deeply depressed, mourning the loss of his Hightopp family. If she can travel back through the “Sea of Time,” Alice might be able to save them from the Jabberwocky, but that involves stealing the whirling Chronosphere belonging to Time (mustache-twirling Sacha Baron Cohen).

That cues a myriad of verbal and visual gags about the nature of time. Seconds are tiny mechanical creatures that turn into larger minutes as “Time waits for no man” and “Time is not on your side.”

As part of her quest, Alice discovers how a sinister childhood deception triggered the huge-headed Red Queen’s (Helena Bonham Carter) petulant anger toward her sister, the White Queen (Anne Hathaway).

While screenwriter Linda Woolverton (“Maleficent”) has endeavored to create backstories for many of Lewis Carroll’s classic characters – with a nod to Victorian-era feminism, James Bobin (“The Muppets”), taking over from Tim Burton as director, injects too many steampunk distractions from the implausible, incoherent plot.

Tilting a bit too far toward the bizarre, Johnny Depp, his pupils dilated to psychedelic proportions, is almost unrecognizable under creepy clown makeup, topped with a shock of orange hair.

But the lavish, candy-colored CGI visuals are dazzling, particularly glimpses of Tweedledum and Tweedledee (Matt Lucas voices both), White Rabbit (voiced by Michael Sheen) and Cheshire Cat (voiced by Stephen Fry).

On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “Alice Through the Looking Glass” is a curiously confusing, simplistic 6, an expensive extravaganza.

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“My Paris”

Susan Granger’s review of “My Paris” (Long Wharf Theater)

 

It was fascinating watching one of the final performances of this dazzling new musical about Belle Epoque artist Henri Marie Raymond de Toulouse-Lautrec because, around us, were potential ‘investors’ considering moving it to Manhattan.

Inspired by French singer/songwriter Charles Aznavour’s short-lived “Lautrec” concept, it was workshopped at Goodspeed’s Norma Terris in Chester, then moved to Long Wharf in New Haven, and the potential is certainly there.

With a book by Alfred Uhry (“Driving Miss Daisy,” “The Robber Bridegroom”) and English lyrics/additional music by Jason Robert Brown (“The Bridges of Madison County”), it’s expertly staged by Tony Award-winner Kathleen Marshall, utilizing four talented on-stage musicians.

The only son of a swaggering nobleman (Tom Hewitt) who was disappointed that he was born with a congenital disease that crippled his legs, little Henri (Bobby Steggert) always loved to draw. When he grew up, he moved to his family’s apartment in Paris where, briefly, he studied art with Leon Bonnat.

But it was a chance visit to a seedy nightclub in bohemian Montmarte that changed his life. Settling into a tiny studio, he began to earn a living, sketching colorful advertising posters of street performers and can-can dancers even the club’s owner (Jamie Jackson). Henri’s favorite model was aspiring artist Suzanne Valadon (Mara Davi), whom he deeply loved.

While subtly savvy Bobby Steggert is waiflike, director/choreographer Kathleen Marshall cleverly utilizes Derek McLane’s multi-tiered set to emphasize his deformed, diminutive stature.

What’s most impressive is how Paul Tazewell’s costumes, Donald Holder’s lighting and Olivia Sebesky’s projections create a vivid tableau, showcasing Lautrec’s most famous posters and the models who posed for them: La Goulue (Nikka Graff Lanzarone), Jane Avril (Erica Sweany), May Milton (Anne Horak), Yvette Guilbert (Kate Marilley), Valentin  (Timothy Hughes), Clown (Tiffany Mann), and le Chocolat (Darius Barnes). Magnifique!

So what doesn’t work?

The lamenting of Lautrec’s smothering Maman (Donna English) quickly becomes tedious, and the wraithlike Green Fairy (Erica Sweany), representing Lautrec’s toxic addiction to absinthe, is obtuse.

In addition, Suzanne Valadon’s alluring muse character needs to be fleshed out; in real life, she was the mother of artist Maurice Utrillo – as do the bland roles of Henri’s three art-school cohorts (John Riddle, Josh Grisetti, Andrew Mueller) who excel in the rousing “We Drink!” number.

I eagerly await the next incarnation of “My Paris” – with, perhaps, a more haunting, bittersweet title.

“Weiner”

Susan Granger’s review of “Weiner” (Sundance Selects)

 

Perhaps it’s not surprising that in this tumultuous political season, disgraced former Brooklyn-Queens Congressman Anthony Weiner is the topic of a new documentary by his ex-chief-of-staff Josh Kriegman.

In 2011, Weiner resigned from his seven-term House of Representatives seat because of an infamous sexting scandal. Two years later, ever-ambitious Weiner, seeking rehabilitation, decides to enter the New York City Mayoral race.

When then-supporters Josh Kreigman and Elyse Steinberg propose chronicling Weiner’s run for occupancy of Gracie Mansion, they’re given unprecedented access, staying with him once a second wave of sexting revelations broke.

Central to the salacious story is Anthony Weiner’s wife, Hillary Clinton’s top aide Huma Abedin, a steely- self-possessed woman who obviously wanted to be New York’s First Lady.

“She was very eager to get her life back that I had taken from her,” he confesses, taking full blame for the harm he caused.

“If Huma can forgive, who am I to hold a grudge,” says one supporter.

But once the campaign gets underway, bawdier transcripts and lewd crotch pictures surface under Weiner’s pseudonym “Carlos Danger.” Those revelations, coupled with his abrasive, confrontational volatility, torpedo his chances.

As Marshall McLuhan said, “The name of a man is a numbing blow from which he never recovers.”

Since Anthony Weiner obviously brought this on himself, one cannot help but feel for Huma Abedin as she endures a second round of public humiliation, retreating to their $12,000-a-month Park Avenue South apartment.

Although the filmmakers were inexperienced, their collaboration with editor Eli B. Despres (“Blackfish”) is revelatory, particularly when Weiner sneaks through a McDonald’s and up a back stairway to avoid contact with sexting pal/porn star Sydney Leathers, lurking outside, before making his concession speech on Election Night, 2013. After conceding, Weiner arrogantly gives the finger to photographers.

And Donald Trump declares, “We don’t want perverts elected in New York City. No perverts!”

On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “Weiner” is a shame-filled 7, relating an excruciating political suicide.

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“X-Men: Apocalypse”

Susan Granger’s review of “X-Men: Apocalypse” (20th Century Fox)

 

Helming his fourth “X-Men” movie, Bryan Singer once again wrangles Marvel’s mutants through another adventure, set 10 years after “Days of Future Past” (2014).

This time, the super-villain is Apocalypse (Oscar Isaac), supposedly the world’s first and most powerful mutant, known as invincible/immortal En Sabah Nur, who ruled ancient Egypt circa. 3600 B.C. before being entombed in an immense pyramid – until he awakens in 1983 at the height of the Cold War in the Reagan era.

After hibernating for 5,500 years, the petulant Pharaoh is not a happy camper, now that “the weak have taken over.”

Vowing to “wipe clean this world,” he solicits disillusioned Erik Lensherr/Magneto (Michael Fassbender) and his colleagues Warren Worthington/Archangel (Ben Hardy), Elizabeth Braddock/Psylocke (Olivia Munn), and Ororo Munroe/Storm (Alexandra Shipp) into becoming his legendary “four horsemen.”

Working with Hank McCoy/Beast (Nicholas Hoult) and CIA agent Moira McTaggert (Rose Byrne), Raven/Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) enlists rejuvenated Charles Xavier/Professor X (James McAvoy), who supplies younger versions of psychic Jean Grey (Sophie Turner, a.k.a. Sansa Stark in TV’s “Game of Thrones”) and laser-eyed Scott Summers/Cyclops (Tye Sheridan) from his School for Gifted Children, along with Kurt Wagner/Nightcrawler (Kodi Smit-McPhee), Peter Maximoff/Quicksilver (Evan Peters) and Jubilation Lee/Jubilee (Lana Condor).

Working with screenwriters Simon Kinberg, Michael Dougherty, and Dan Harris, director Bryan Singer utilizes his 16 years of experience with this franchise as he desperately tries to blend multiple time-shifting, semi-coherent plotlines with remarkable CGI, particularly those of Quicksilver and Nightcrawler.

Problem is: there’s no character development, which means no emotional investment. Previous installments focused on the love/hate relationship between Erik Lensherr and Charles Xavier; there’s too little of that here.

Plus, Singer mixes and matches so many spandex-clad mutants with a myriad of mystical powers that it’s confusing. Even Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) does a clawed cameo.

On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “X-Men: Apocalypse” is a fatiguing 5, filled with a mediocre multitude of mutants.

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“Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising”

Susan Granger’s review of “Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising” (Universal Pictures)

 

This comedy sequel tackles the provocative question of whether sororities still lack the basic American freedom to party that Greek fraternities have enjoyed for decades.

“In the United States, sororities are not allowed to throw parties in their own houses,” lectures Phi Lambda’s president (Selena Gomez), “Only frats can.”

When pot-smoking freshman pledge Shelby (Chloe Grace Moretz) hears this, she decides to start her own independent sorority, Kappa Nu, recruiting a rebellious gang of renegade misfits, including Beth (Kiersey Clemons) and Nora (Beanie Feldstein).

Perplexed by the dilemma of paying $5,000 in rent, she consults dim-witted, former beefcake fratboy Teddy Sanders (Zac Efron), who is having his own “quarter-life crisis” since his Abercrombie & Fitch employers expect him to wear a shirt, concealing his chiseled abs.

Problem is: the rented Kappa Nu mansion is located next-door to Mac (Seth Rogen) and pregnant-again Kelly Radner (Rose Byrne) who desperately want to move away. The Radner home is currently in escrow, so the new owners have 30 days to make random inspections and back out of any reason.

Although the quiet-loving Radners politely ask the Greek girls to quell the partying for a month, it’s impossible to curb their enthusiastic pranks. So, eventually, Mac and Kelly have to discard diplomacy and call in Sanders to help them drive the sorority sisters out.

Scripted by Andrew J. Cohen, Brandan O’Brien, Seth Rogen, Evan Goldberg and director Nicholas Stoller, it’s a raw, raunchy re-tread. Predictably, the gross-out gags, ribald humor and action pieces don’t work as well as in its 2014 predecessor.

“When we started researching how sororities work, we were shocked at how sexist the system was,” Goldberg said. As Canadians, he and Rogen assumed sororities gave parties just like the frats did. That’s when they discovered that the National Panhellenic Conference prohibits drinking in its 26 member sororities. No alcohol means no parties, unless they’re co-hosted with fraternities.

On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising” is a feminist 5, reflecting a frustrating, gender-based double standard.

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