Susan Granger’s review of “Scatter My Ashes at Bergdorf’s” (eOne Films)
Inspired by the caption on a 1990 Victoria Roberts’ “New Yorker” cartoon, this is a predictably reverential yet amusing and informative documentary about Bergdorf Goodman, the mythic Fifth Avenue department store, located between 57th and 58th Streets.
Produced by Andrew Malloy, a Denver-based grandson of the original founder, Edwin Goodman, it chronicles the transformation of a modest, turn-of-the-century tailor shop to a revered Manhattan emporium, erected in 1928 on the site of what was once the Vanderbilt mansion. Circumventing the building code by listing themselves as janitors, Edwin Goodman and his wife, Belle, lived in the opulent, 16-room penthouse for many years. Eventually, the Goodman family sold the store to the Neiman Marcus Group, although they retained ownership of the physical premises.
As part of Bergdorf’s 111th anniversary celebration, literary agent-turned-director Mathew Miele was granted access to the premises, interviewing employees, including fashion director Linda Fargo, vetting the work of young designers like Ally Hilfiger; window-dresser/decorator David Hoey, creating a Christmas fantasy; and candid personal shopper Betty Halbreich.
Let’s not forget the celebrities: Giorgio Armani, Candice Bergen, Manolo Blahnik, Dolce & Gabanna, Marc Jacobs, Michael Kors, Karl Lagerfeld, Lauren Bush Lauren, Susan Lucci, Christian Louboutin, Isaac Mizrahi, the Olsen twins, Oscar de la Renta, Vera Wang, Jason Wu and others. There are anecdotes about the extravagance of Elizabeth Taylor, sending mink earmuffs to all her friends, and John Lennon, who bought 70 fur coats to give as gifts – and clips from a 1965 Barbra Streisand special.
Plus Joan Rivers, who declares, “People who take fashion seriously are idiots!”
This is just the latest fashion documentary, following “Diana Vreeland: The Eye Has to Travel,” “The Tents,” “Valentino: The Last Emperor,” “The September Issue,” “Ultrasuede: The Search for Halston,” and “Unzipped.” Andrew Malloy and Matthew Miele’s next venture is a behind-the-scenes look at Tiffany & Company, which last year celebrated its 175th anniversary.
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “Scatter My Ashes at Bergdorf’s” is a stunning 7, even if the obvious indulgence crosses the ‘informercial’ line.
Susan Granger’s review of “Tyler Perry’s Temptation” (Lionsgate)
Madea’s fun has long gone and it’s all moralistic preaching in Tyler Perry’s disappointing new picture.
Marriage counselor Judith (Jurnee Smollett-Bell) works for an upscale Washington, D.C. millionaire match-making service. She’s a dutiful Christian woman married to Brice (Lance Gross), who was her high school sweetheart and now works as a pharmacist in a drug store. But their life together has become boring. So when her boss, Janice (Vanessa Williams), introduces her to Harley (Robbie Jones), a social-media magnate whom Janice covets as an investor, Judith is intrigued.
Astutely realizing her vulnerability, playboy Harley plies Judith with flattery, vintage champagne, rides in his Rolls Royce and red Ferrari and even arranges a jaunt in his private jet with intent to join the Mile High Club. At first, cuckolded Brice doesn’t grasp the situation – except that Judith’s not spending much time in their kitchen, cooking his dinner – particularly since he’s distracted by Melinda (R&B singer Brandy), a new assistant who’s escaping from an abusive boyfriend. But Judith’s Bible-quoting minister mother, Sarah (Ella Joyce), realizes exactly what’s happening and reprimands her daughter.
Adapted by writer/director Tyler Perry from his 2008 stage play, “The Marriage Counselor,” this is a sluggish, stilted cautionary tale about wanting what you haven’t got. To make his point about the sin of adultery, Perry predictably tosses in alcoholism, cocaine addition, domestic abuse and the heavy-handed threat of HIV infection as punishment for the promiscuous.
While Vanessa Williams’ amusingly fake French accent is diverting, TV’s reality show “Keeping Up with the Kardashians” celebrity Kim Kardashian, the middle sister with the infamous sex tape, proves – indisputably – that she has zero acting talent, although she’s been astutely typecast as Ava, a rude, gold-digging office assistant who disses primly dressed Judith with bitchy remarks like: “Is your fashion icon Delta stewardess?”
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “Tyler Perry’s Temptation” is straitlaced, sermonizing 3, condemning those who deviate from righteous church teachings.
Susan Granger’s review of “At Any Price” (Sony Pictures Classics)
In the competitive world of modern, high-tech agriculture, ambitious, third-generation farmer Henry Whipple (Dennis Quaid) is in a bind. With his elder son off climbing mountains in South America, he wants his younger son Dean (Zac Efron) to help grow the family’s 3,700-acre, Iowa seed-farming empire.
Repeating the capitalist mantra, “Expand or die,” Henry routinely visits local funeral parlors and cemeteries, ruthlessly determined to buy the deceased’s land at bargain prices from grieving children who are uninterested in pursuing their parents’ hardscrabble life. But sullen, rebellious Dean hopes to become a professional stock car driver, racing on the NASCAR circuit. Yet when an accident sidelines Dean’s dreams and a Liberty Seed investigation into Whipple’s unscrupulous practice of cleaning and re-selling patented seeds is exposed, father and son are pushed into an unexpected crisis that threatens the future of their business.
After “Man Push Cart,” “Chop Shop,” and “Goodbye Solo,” this is the fourth film that New York-based, Iranian-American writer/director Ramin Bahrani has made about an individual’s attempts to achieve the American Dream. Bahrani collaborated with Hallie Elizabeth Newton on this cliché-riddled, contrived and not-entirely-credible script, developing not only the two primary characters but also subsidiary ones, including Whipple’s neighbor and hated rival, Jim Johnson (Clancy Brown) and his son (Ben Marten), Whipple’s hard-working wife Irene (Kim Dickens), his unyielding father (Red West), along with son Dean’s savvy girl-friend Cadence Farrow (Maika Monroe) and the town’s restless ‘hotie,’ Meredith Crown (Heather Graham). Indeed, Bahrani subtly evokes memories of Willy and Biff Loman in Arthur Miller’s classic “Death of a Salesman”
While there are not-so-subtle references to the debates surrounding the ownership of genetically modified seeds developed by corporations like Monsanto, oddly enough, there’s no mention of either global warming or the persistent drought that currently threatens the troubled Midwestern heartland.
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “At Any Price” is a stressed, struggling 6, exploring the moral and social consequences of corruption and the high-stakes economic pressures in the contemporary business world.
Susan Granger’s review of “The Great Gatsby” (Warner Bros.)
F. Scott Fitzgerald’s famous 1925 American novel, set in the sizzling, sexy bacchanal of Jazz Age New York, is now in the cinematic realm of Australian auteur Baz Luhrmann, who turned Paris’s Belle Epoque into “Moulin Rouge” and transformed “William Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet.”
Narrated by wannabe writer Nick Carraway (Tobey Maguire), who ambivalently serves as observer and moral compass, the story revolves around the colossally illusionary, yet ever-hopeful attempts by his mysterious, party-giving, Long Island neighbor, self-made millionaire Jay Gatsby (Leonardo DiCaprio), to convince his first love, Daisy Buchanan (Carey Mulligan), to leave her philandering, polo-playing, elitist husband, Tom (Joel Edgerton), and marry him. Flashing an insolent smile is Daisy’s socialite friend, pro-golfer Jordan Baker (Elizabeth Debicki), and there’s the Jewish ‘gambler,’ Meyer Wolfsheim (Bollywood star Amitabh Bachchan).
On a deeper level, “Gatsby” explores inherited wealth, income inequality, social mobility and the tenacious pursuit of the American dream – issues that are even more relevant today as we seem to be constantly re-inventing ourselves. Baz Luhrmann’s adaptation follows the 1974 production starring Robert Redford and Mia Farrow, an obscure 1949 Alan Ladd vehicle, and a lost 1926 silent with Warner Baxter.
Co-written with Craig Pearce, Luhrmann’s vividly intoxicating, 3-D version remains true to Fitzgerald’s original concept, intricately exploring human nature in many ways, but it’s far more glamorous and visually opulent than ever before, an exquisitely gaudy spectacle that’s musically punctuated by Jay-Z’s contemporary, hip-hop-fueled soundtrack. Production designer Catherine Martin’s lavish Art Deco style sets and haute couture costumes are awesomely ostentatious eye-candy embellishments, reflecting a comment Fitzgerald is said to have made to Ernest Hemingway about the rich being “different from you and me.”
Leonardo DiCaprio embodies the naively idealistic, obsessively romantic cipher known as Gatsby, who annoyingly calls everyone “old sport,” while Carey Mulligan’s frivolously fickle, golden girl flapper is more sensual and seductive than any previous Daisy.
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “The Great Gatsby” is a sumptuous 7, emphasizing style over substance, filled with extravagant parties to which we wish we’d been invited.
Susan Granger’s review of “The Dining Room” (Westport Country Playhouse/May ,2013)
Playwright A.R. Gurney’s cultural observational comedy is an affectionate, yet acerbic, homage to the place that this privileged and important room – filled with its own rituals and decorum – has had in the homes of many generations of New England WASPs.
In this revival, under the witty, warm and wise direction of Mark Lamos, six actors – Heidi Armbruster, Chris Henry Coffey, Keira Naughton (James’ daughter), Jake Robards (Jason’s son), Charles Socarides and Jennifer Van Dyck – play a more than 50 roles, ranging from the very old to the very young. Moving on and off Michael Yeargan’s subtly elegant set, marked by a long, formal wooden table with its six matching chairs in the pale blue hues of Stephen Strawbridge’s lighting design, the characters tell their often-poignant stories – beginning with a real estate agent and her client.
There’s the father dawdling over his morning coffee, ignoring his son’s plea to drive him to school. An elderly woman with Alzheimer’s is unable to remember her children. A wife plops a typewriter on the table to work on her master’s degree thesis. Adulterous parents flirt during a child’s birthday party. Teenagers raid the liquor cabinet. A domestic servant is determined to quit. An adult daughter returns home, hoping to rebuild her life and a dutiful grandson asks for money for college. And so it goes until, finally, an architect, haunted by bitter childhood memories, tries to convince a psychiatrist to turn the family dining room into his office.
Gradually, it becomes obvious that, as the more casual eating habits of the younger generation conflict with those of their parents, the concept of even having a specific room devoted to dining is slowly inching toward obsolescence.
What an auspicious way to begin the summer season! Running 90 minutes with no intermission, this irresistibly involving and profoundly touching production of “The Dining Room” will be at the Westport Country Playhouse thru May 19. For tickets/information, call 203-227-4177. Don’t miss it!
Susan Granger’s DVD Update for week of Fri., May 10:
Creepy scares abound in “Mama,” a spooky, supernatural creature feature, starring Jessica Chastain and Nikolj Coster-Waldau, about two feral children who were abandoned in the woods and cared for by an evil, vengeful presence known as Mama.
The screen adaptation of Nicholas Sparks’ “Safe Haven” follows a distraught young woman (Julianne Hough) who flees from a suburban crime scene and seeks refuge in a small, sleepy community on the picturesque North Carolina coastline, where she’s wooed by a recent widower (Josh Duhamel).
Actor/writer/director Martin Papazian’s “Least Among Saints” is a touching, true-to-life drama about a combat veteran’s journey to redemption through his service to his troubled 10 year-old neighbor.
Julian Farino’s “The Oranges” is a relationship dramedy in which Leighton Meester plays a free-spirited twentysomething who reluctantly moves back in with her suburban New Jersey parents (Alison Janney, Oliver Platt) and begins an affair with her dad’s best friend (Hugh Laurie).
In “Starlet,” newcomer Dree Hemingway (great granddaughter of Ernest and daughter of Mariel) is an aspiring actress who befriends an elderly woman (Besedka Johnson) in California’s San Fernando Valley.
In Spanish with English subtitles, “The Condemned” is a chilling psychological thriller about the dark and terrible secrets hidden in an old mansion that stir back to life when the original owner returns.
Based on Joann Sfar’s best-selling graphic novel, “The Rabbi’s Cat” – in French with English subtitles – tells the story of a rabbi and his talking cat, a sharp-tongued feline philosopher brimming with scathing humor.
“Superman: Unbound” is the new entry in the ongoing series of DV Universe Animated Original movies with a stellar vocal cast led by Matt Bomer, John Noble, Stana Katic and Molly Quinn.
For tiny tots, “Elmo The Musical” contains Sesame Street’s newest imaginative and math skill-enhancing lessons.
PICK OF THE WEEK: Tom Cruise plays Lee Child’s cool, quirky character in “Jack Reacher,” a fast-paced, action-packed thriller about the search for a sniper who shoots what appears to be five random pedestrians on a Pittsburgh waterfront promenade. Reacher, a former military policeman, suspects there’s more to the mysterious murders.
Susan Granger’s review of “The Reluctant Fundamentalist” (IFC Films)
Mira Nair’s perceptive psychological thriller is perhaps the first film to examine the ripple effect that the tragic events of 9/11 had on Middle Eastern people of the Muslim faith who are living in America. It’s a concept that’s particularly timely in the aftermath of the Boston Marathon bombings.
Changez Khan (Riz Ahmed) is Pakistani. After graduating from Princeton, he was hired by his Wall Street mentor, Jim Cross (Kiefer Sutherland), and became a financial analyst with a bright corporate future. He also became romantically involved with a recently bereaved photographer, Erica (miscast Kate Hudson), who happened to be his boss’s niece. But Changez’s dreams began to crumble after the terrorist attack on Sept. 11, 2001, which altered the way he was perceived, particularly in New York.
Now a professor at Lahore University, disillusioned Khan is eloquently explaining his radicalization to an expat American journalist, Bobby Lincoln (Live Schreiber). “Looks can be deceiving,” Changez tells Bobby at their first meeting. “I am a lover of America, a soldier in your economic army.”
But suspicions about both men gradually arise. Has Changez become a dangerous Muslim militant? Is gun-toting Bobby really an undercover CIA operative?
Based on Mohsin Hamid’s intimate, introspective, inscrutable 2007 novel, it’s been somewhat clumsily adapted for the screen by William Wheeler and Ami Boghani, opening with the kidnapping of an American professor by an al-Qaeda-like political group. That slick framing device serves as a distraction from the essential, thought-provoking vision of Indian director Mira Nair (“Monsoon Wedding,” “Mississippi Masala,” “The Namesake”), who obviously feels an affinity for cultural diversity, focusing on minorities who are trying to assimilate in America, and examining the roots of extremism.
Charismatic Riz Ahmed delivers a totally convincing, nuanced performance, while Michael Andrews’ exotic score is notably effective. FYI: The name Changez Khan is an alternative to Genghis Khan.
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “The Reluctant Fundamentalist” is a serious 7, rich in suspenseful, subversive complexities that should appeal to international audiences.
Susan Granger’s review of “Renoir” (Samuel Goldwyn Films)
Set on the French Riviera in the summer of 1915, Gallic Gilles Bourdos’ domestic drama revolves around the renowned impressionist painter Pierre-Auguste Renoir (Michel Bouquet), an ailing widower at age 74, and his middle son, 21 year-old Jean (Vincent Rottiers), who returns to the family estate at Cagnes-sur-Mer on crutches to convalesce after being wounded in World War I.
The arrival of a radiant, free-spirited teenager, Andree Heuschling (Cesar-nominated newcomer Crista Theret), invigorates the elder Renoir and intoxicates young Jean, who is in his formative years and destined to make acclaimed films like “Grand Illusion” and “Rules of the Game.” As the observational story evolves, beautiful Andree – with flame-colored hair and porcelain skin that “soaks up light” – becomes the father’s last model and the son’s first wife.
Based on a novelized biography by Jacques Renoir (the great-grandson of Pierre-Auguste and the grandson of Jean’s actor brother, Pierre), it’s respectfully co-written by Jerome Tonnerre (“The Women on the 6th Floor”) and director Gilles Bourdos (“Afterwards”). Exquisitely photographed by Taiwanese-born cinematographer Mark Ping Bing Lee, it’s punctuated with lyrical music by composer Alexandre Desplat.
Although they look remarkably authentic, the 73 Renoir paintings shown are by the convicted French art forger Guy Ribes. A colorful, controversial character in his own right, Guy Ribes was born in a brothel to a prostitute mother and gangster father. After serving in the French Foreign Legion, Ribes sold his stylish simulations of famous masters to a criminal cartel who passed them off as genuine. Sentenced to three years in prison, Ribes was released in December, 2010, and was then hired by Gilles Bourdos in May, 2011, to create the art work for this film and allowed to study the Musee d’Orsay’s extensive Renoir collection to perfect his technique. And when the camera focuses on the elder Renoir’s bandaged, arthritic hand apply paint to canvas, it’s actually Ribes’ hand.
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “Renoir” is a sensual, sophisticated, visually sumptuous 7 – that should particularly appeal to an older audience of art-lovers.
Susan Granger’s review of “Iron Man 3” (Disney/Marvel)
Opening with a narration by Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.), this chapter in the lucrative billionaire-turned-superhero franchise starts with a flashback to his earlier life as a brash-but-brilliant playboy, spending New Year’s Eve, 1999, in Berne, Switzerland with scientist Maya Hansen (Rebecca Hall), while giving an arrogant brush-off to her partner, nerdy geneticist Aldrich Killian (Guy Pearce).
Moving into the present, Stark stuffers from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) after his near-death experience in “The Avengers” and is obsessed with his ever-growing assemblage of multi-colored, metallic suits, each with different weaponry. His new Mark 42, for example, is modular and can be remotely-piloted.
This time ‘round, the threat comes from an evil extremist known as The Mandarin (Ben Kingsley). Filmed long before the Boston Marathon, The Mandarin’s seemingly random, terrorist bombing attacks, nevertheless, strike a discordant note. Meanwhile, Stark’s CEO and long-suffering/neglected girl-friend, Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow), rebuffs devious entrepreneur Aldrich Killian with his game-changing, nanobot serum technology known as Extremis. But then Stark’s security chief, Happy Hogan (Jon Favreau), is hospitalized and his magnificent Malibu beachfront compound is obliterated in a helicopter attack. Stark is presumed dead until he surfaces in Tennessee, where he’s befriended by a resourceful youngster (Ty Simkins). As inventive Stark rebuilds his high-tech suit and adjusts the priorities in his life, his buddy James Rhodes (Don Cheadle) – a.k.a. the Iron Patriot – pursues The Mandarin, discovering that duplicity and double-identity twists abound.
The imaginative screenplay by Drew Pearce and director Shane Black (“Kiss Kiss Bang Bang”) contains surprisingly clever, whimsical dialogue and wisecracking one-liners. The jet-propelled CGI action sequences are awesome, including a free-fall in which an Iron Man transforms 13 passengers into an airborne daisy chain and escorts them to safety – and having armor-clad, super-powered Pepper Potts bashing the bad guy in the explosive finale. Above all: irreverently droll Robert Downey Jr. is terrific!
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “Iron Man 3” soars with an exciting, hugely entertaining 8, an eye-popping spectacle that culminates in a post-credits surprise.
Susan Granger’s DVD Update for week of Fri., May 3:
In “The Guilt Trip,” Barbra Streisand plays the widowed mother of an organic chemist/inventor (Seth Rogen) who has a new product he’s trying to pitch to manufacturers/distributors. Sensitive to his mother’s loneliness, he invites her to join him on a road trip while he secretly schemes to reunite her with a lost love, a man she adored before she met and married his father.
Tobey Maguire is a self-effacing, suburban doctor in Jacob Estes’ dark, existential comedy, “The Details,” setting off a chain of events that puts him at odds with his wife (Elizabeth Banks), gets him involved with nosy neighbors (Laura Linney, Ray Liotta) and tangled in a bizarre mess of extortion, infidelity and organ donation.
Russell Crowe and Mark Wahlberg become adversaries in “Broken City,” a mundane melodrama that unravels the dense web of criminal conspiracies in New York City Mayoral politics.
Having achieved remarkable success creating HBO’s “The Sopranos,” David Chase makes his writing/directing debut with the nostalgic, coming-of-age drama “Not Fade Away” about a garage band caught the rock ’n’ roll shift that took place during the 1960s.
A bright, ecologically concerned 13 year-old (Perla Haney-Jardine) in rural Illinois tries to spread the word about global warming in Jenny Deller’s powerful, heart-wrenching drama “Future Weather,” featuring supporting performances by Amy Madigan, Lily Taylor, Marin Ireland and William Sadler.
In Hebrew with English subtitles, Eytan Fox’s “Yossi” is a follow-up to “Yossi and Jagger,” the poignant love affair between two officers in the Israeli army; it revolves around a dedicated cardiologist whose solitary existence as a closeted gay man in Tel Aviv is shaken by the arrival of a middle-aged woman (Orly Silbertsatz)from his past.
In Spanish with English subtitles, “The Queen of the People” is a political documentary about an unlikely beauty pageant in Caracas in 1944 that became the first universal election in Venezuela.
PICK OF THE WEEK: Jennifer Lawrence, Bradley Cooper and Robert De Niro star in “Silver Linings Playbook,” a quirky, off-beat, romantic dramedy, set in Philadelphia, which explores engaging, if dysfunctional relationships between unstable, psychologically damaged people.