"
"

“Three Tall Women”

Susan Granger’s review of “Three Tall Women” (Golden Theater)

 

Glenda Jackson is back on Broadway – more forceful and ferocious than ever!

Joe Mantello’s new production of Edward Albee’s intensely personal drama, which won the Pulitzer Prize back in 1994, features not only 81 year-old Ms. Jackson but she’s matched by two formidable co-stars: 62 year-old Laurie Metcalf and 32 year-old Alison Pill.

Ms. Jackson plays “A”, a querulously ailing, exasperating version of playwright Albee’s adoptive mother, while Metcalf and Pill are her young, idealistic lawyer and jaded, stoical caregiver, respectively, in the first scene and younger, mirrored versions of “A” in the second. Theirs is no intermission.

Outspokenly prejudiced and racist, “A” is demanding and imperious, sneering at anyone who dares to oppose her often forgetful, outrageous edicts and convinced that everyone is conspiring to rob her of whatever money she still has left.

Perched on an elegantly upholstered armchair or reclining in the cream-colored bedroom, accented by French antiques and muted green accessories, she clutches tenuously to what remains of her authority and pride while reflecting on the experiences and caprices that shaped her life.

Referring to her rich husband as a ‘penguin,’ self-centered “A” mocks his short stature and glass eye, the result of a golfing mishap. Although she admittedly didn’t like sex much, she indulged in an adulterous affair with a groom at their stables.

And one of her most memorable reminiscences involves how her naked husband presented her with a ‘wide’ diamond bracelet, dangling it on his eager erection.

Left out of the Playbill is a complicated fourth character, “A’s” homosexual son, played silently by Joseph Medeiros. When he brings flowers to her bedside, it’s one of the play’s most poignant moments.

The production is enhanced by Miriam Buether’s stunning set, Ann Roth’s stylish costumes, Paul Gallo’s effective lighting and Fitz Patton’s subtle sound.

Propelled by Glenda Jackson, this trio of actresses bestow on Manhattan theatergoers the most exciting revival in many years.

FYI: If you wonder where Glenda Jackson has been since her last Broadway appearance, she’s spent the past 23 years in Britain’s House of Commons, elected on the Labour Party ticket, only recently returning to the London stage in the title role in a gender-blind production of “King Lear” at the Old Vic.

“Three Tall Women” is scheduled to play at the Golden Theater through June 24.

“Mean Girls”

Susan Granger’s review of “Mean Girls” (August Wilson Theatre)

 

I must confess that Tina Fey’s slyly caustic dialogue in the “Mean Girls” movie made it one of my coming-of-age comedy favorites – and much of it still remains.

Problem is: the 2004 movie was better than this expanded, big-budget musical adaptation, featuring forgettable songs by composer Jeff Richmond (Fey’s husband) and Neil Benjamin’ barely serviceable lyrics, enlivened by Casey Nicklaw’s direction and choreography and augmented by Scott Pask’s scenic design, backed by Fin Ross & Adam Young’s video wallpaper, representing a nastily annotated “Burn Book.”

Set at suburban Chicago’s North Shore High, it revolves the introduction of naïve Cady Heron (Erika Henningsen) to snarky subversion and social climbing. Raised by biologists in Kenya, Cady is more comfortable with animals on the savanna than people, as evidenced in her first song, “It Roars.”

But then her parents decide to return to the United States – to which Cady chirps, “Maybe I can meet an obese person.”

Despite defiant “Cautionary” warnings from a welcoming committee formed by Goth/artsy Janis (Barrett Wilbert Weed) and her overtly gay buddy (Grey Henson), guileless Cady is invited by the Queen Bee, nasty, self-absorbed Regina George (Taylor Louderman), flanked by insecure Gretchen (Ashley Park) and dimwitted Karen (Kate Rockwell),  to taka a coveted seat at her table in the cafeteria.

They’re known as the “Plastics,” adhering to a strict dress code that includes, “On Wednesdays, we wear pink.” And the song “Where Do You Belong?” skewers the clique-riddled, group stereotyping that incites most adolescent angst.

Complications arise when Cady not only falls for Aaron (Kyle Selig), who happens to be Regina’s ex, but also begins to mimic the Plastics’ bitchy behavior, leaving her charming authenticity far behind.

Like the oft-bantered term “fetch,” it’s self-consciously playful, pandering to the lowest common denominator and becoming increasingly vapid and tedious, despite Tina Fey’s perceptive, social media updates.

Given the sky-high Broadway ticket prices, unless you’re toting determined teenage fans, I’d advise picking another show over “Mean Girls.”

“The House of Tomorrow”

Susan Granger’s review of “The House of Tomorrow” (Shout! Studios)

 

Adapted from Peter Bognanni’s best-selling novel, this is the coming-of-age story of Sebastian Prendergast (Asa Butterfield) who, after his parents died in an automobile accident, has been raised by his dictatorial Nana, Josephine (Ellen Burstyn), in one of visionary Buckminster Fuller’s geodesic domes.

Sheltered and home-schooled, polite, 16 year-old Sebastian helps conduct tours and maintain the retro-futurist premises as a Minnesota tourist attraction and woodsy educational center. But when a stroke sidelines Nana, Sebastian finds a whole, new world opening to him.

Befriended by bible-thumping Alan Whitcomb (Nick Offerman), whose Lutheran church youth group was visiting when Josephine was stricken, Sebastian gets to know Alan’s rebellious teenage son Jared (Alex Wolff), whose recent heart transplant must be constantly monitored.

At first tentative on both parts, an unlikely friendship begins to grow between awkward Sebastian and insolent Jared, who encourages Sebastian to ‘steal’ a bass guitar from the church’s youth center and learn to play, so they can form a punk rock band, dubbed “The Rash.”

Adding to the intrigue, Sebastian feels an attraction toward Jared’s flirtatious older sister, Meredith (Maude Apatow), and then there’s a discordant interlude with Jared’s estranged, alcoholic mother (Michaela Watkins).

Music plays an integral part not only of the plot but also of the pacing. Sebastian’s initial revelation comes when he hears the blasting sounds of Germs on Jared’s earbuds. That’s followed by angry snippets from Black Flag, Stiff Little Fingers, Reckless Eric and The Stranglers, among others, contrasting with Rob Simonsen’s more nuanced original score.

In his first feature film, writer/director Peter Livolsi adroitly intersperses archival footage of futurist Buckminster Fuller with Fred Armisen doing voiceover narration. And since Ellen Burstyn was actually friends with ‘Bucky’ Fuller, the videotape of them together, sailing on his yacht, is authentic. Fuller died at age 87 in 1983.

FYI: Maude Apatow’s parents are Judd Apatow and Leslie Mann.

On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “The House of Tomorrow” is an insightful 7, an intriguing comedic drama.

07

“Finding Your Feet”

Susan Granger’s review of “Finding Your Feet” (Roadside Attractions)

 

Audience Award Winner for Best Narrative Feature at the 2018 Palm Springs International Film Festival, this charming British comedy is aimed specifically at a senior citizen audience, like “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.”

When snobbish, straitlaced ‘Lady’ Sandra Abbott (Imelda Staunton) discovers that her soon-to-retire police commissioner husband (John Sessions) has been having an affair with her best friend (Josie Lawrence), she flees from social humiliation in suburban Surrey to seek refuge with her estranged, older sister Elizabeth (Celia Imrie), known as Bif.

Showing little sympathy for Sandra’s self-absorbed moping around her cluttered East London flat, eccentric, activist Bif urges her to join a dance class at the local community center. That’s where Sandra meets Charlie (Timothy Spall), a cheery Cockney furniture restorer who lives on a houseboat, having sold his home to pay for his Alzheimer’s-addled wife’s care in a posh nursing home.

Recalling her childhood love of dancing, Sandra learns to relish this new pastime, joining other class members (Joanna Lumley, David Hayman) in a charity-related, flash-mob performance in Piccadilly Circus. That leads to an invitation to perform in Rome, where a coin tossed in the Trevi Fountain leads to – all sorts of complications.

Weed-smoking, never-married Bif is a hedonistic hippie who chastises Sandra saying, “It’s one thing being scared of dying, it’s a whole other thing being scared of living.”

Formulaically scripted by Meg Leonard and Nick Moorcroft, it’s directed by Richard Loncraine (“Wimbledon”) who relies on his cast of veterans to find more in their nebulously sketched characters than was ever on the written page. And they don’t disappoint.

Graduates of the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts, Imelda Staunton and Timothy Spall are familiar to “Harry Potter” film fans as headmistress Dolores Umbridge and nasty Peter Pettigrew a.k.a. Wormtail.

On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “Finding Your Feet” is a high-spirited 7, relying on sassy, solid performances and a stunning final shot.

07

 

“I Feel Pretty”

Susan Granger’s review of “I Feel Pretty” (STX Entertainment)

 

Certainly no one knew that Amy Schumer’s ‘empowerment’ comedy would be released the same week that intrepid Southwest Airlines pilot Tammi Jo Shults safely landed her crippled aircraft. But timing is everything.

In the aftermath, no one asked Ms. Shults about her dress-size or brand of make-up. That’s irrelevant in a world where a woman’s training, skill and intelligence are valued far above her physical appearance.

But not in insecure Renee Bennett’s world, where a woman is judged only by how she looks. So when Renee (Schumer), wearing a bra and spanx, sees herself in a full-length mirror, she’s filled with self-loathing.

Renee’s only wish is to be beautiful. Working in Chinatown in the squalid, tech-support office of a global cosmetics company (think Estee Lauder/Revlon), she’s too timid to apply for a receptionist’s job in the fancy Fifth Avenue headquarters.

Then she falls off a bike in a SoulCycle class, suffering a concussion. Suddenly, Renee is delusional, convinced that she’s not only gorgeous but irresistible to men.

Miraculously self-confident and energetic, Renee not only lands that receptionist’s job but also becomes an integral part of the company’s new Target marketing program under the aegis of CEO Avery LeClair (Michelle Williams). Plus, she brazenly picks up a boy-friend (Rory Scovel) at the dry cleaners.

Unfortunately, after that early powerhouse scene in front of the mirror, first-time directors Abby Kohn and Marc Silverstein, writers of “Never Been Kissed” and “How To Be Single,” deliver clunky, visually ill-timed, rom-com skits and condescending platitudes instead of plausible scenes and clever dialogue.

As for the traumatic head injury that Renee suffers not once but twice, no one seems concerned about a brain hemorrhage, certainly not the clueless SoulCycle staff.

Bottom line: the message about low self-esteem is worthwhile but its execution is muddled, squandering Amy Schumer’s exuberant talent, along with supporting players Michelle Williams, Lauren Hutton, Adrian Martinez, Busy Phillips and Aidy Bryant.

On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “I Feel Pretty” is a fantastical 5. It’s shallow, superficial sludge.

05

“Rampage”

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

 

If “A Quiet Place” could be considered sublime horror, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson’s new monster movie, based on a 1986 arcade game, falls into the ridiculous category.

Back in 1993, there was breakthrough bio-engineering technology, known as CRISPR, which gave scientists a way to treat incurable diseases through genetic editing. In 2016, fearing its misuse, the U.S. Intelligence Community designated genetic editing a “Weapon of Mass Destruction and Proliferation.”

Cut to the explosion of an American spaceship. Its cargo was a genome experiment gone awry, and three CRISPR vials fall to earth, much to the consternation of nefarious brother-and-sister execs (Malin Akerman/Jake Lacy) at a Chicago company called Energyne.

At San Diego Wildlife Preserve, primatologist Davis Okoye (Johnson), who prefers animals to people, has formed a strong bond with an albino silverback gorilla named George that he rescued from poachers and with whom he communicates in sign language.

Suddenly, overnight, once-docile George becomes hyper-aggressive and grows to gigantic proportions. Obviously, he’s become infected by a pathogen from one of the vials. And there are two other mutations: an agile 30-foot-long Rocky Mountain wolf and an immense Everglades crocodile.

These enhanced predators wreak terror and destruction on Chicago, where an Energyne sonar beacon beckons them – with Okoye and former Energyne scientist Dr. Kate Caldwell (Naomie Harris) trying to administer an antidote to George as a wily government agent (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) runs interference.

BTW: George isn’t just Weta Digital CGI. He’s based on 6’9”-tall motion capture performer Jason Liles, who spent hours watching gorilla footage, joining mo-cap actors like Andy Serkis (“Planet of the Apes”) and Doug Jones (“The Shape of Water”).

Collaboratively scripted by Ryan Engle, Carlton Cuse, Ryan J. Condal and Adam Sztykiel, it’s formulaically directed by Brad Peyton (“San Andreas”). And apparently, charismatic Johnson wields enough clout to insist that the original sad ending be more optimistic.

On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “Rampage” rumbles in with a foolish 5, it’s Godzilla on steroids.

05

“Beirut”

Susan Granger’s review of “Beirut” (Bleecker Street)

 

Charismatic Jon Hamm (TV’s “Mad Men”) is such a good actor that it’s a shame his considerable talents are wasted on this disjointed political thriller, set in war-torn Lebanon in 1982.

Hamm plays Mason Skiles, a top U.S. diplomat, happily married to Nadia (Leila Bekhti) and living in Beirut. Having no children of their own, they’ve taken in Karim (Yoav Sadian Rosenberg), a 13 year-old Palestinian refugee, treating him like “part of the family.”

At a cocktail party, Mason discovers that Karim’s older brother, Abu Rajal (Hicham Ouraqa), is a terrorist suspected in the massacre of the Israelis at the 1972 Munich Olympics – and Mossad agents want to question Karim.

Without warning, Karim’s brother and his cohorts barge in, guns blazing and grab Karim. Nadia is killed in the chaos, and Mason is bereft.

Cut to Boston 10 years later. Perpetually depressed Mason has become a union negotiator and a bona fide alcoholic. One night in bar, he’s approached with an offer he cannot refuse.

His close friend/CIA colleague Cal Riley (Mark Pellegrino) is being held hostage by now-grown Karim (Idir Chender), who demands the return of his brother from the Israelis.

But the Israelis don’t have his brother, forcing Skiles to deal with the PLO. Milling around are three other key players: cultural attaché Sandy Crowder (Rosamund Pike), CIA agent Donald Gaines (Dean Norris), and the Embassy’s Gary Ruzak (Shea Whigham).  Each has his/her own agenda.

Jon Hamm’s bleary Mason Skiles is totally believable, even if the convoluted plot isn’t – perhaps because it’s based on a 27 year-old script, written by Tony Gilroy (“Bourne” franchise), and loosely inspired by CIA Station Chief William Buckley’s 1984 kidnapping.

Director Brad Anderson (“The Machinist”) and editor Andrew Hafitz seem unable to twist the pieces together coherently, and the lighting is so dark and murky that it looks as if it was filmed in a bunker, making it difficult to distinguish one actor from another.

On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “Beirut” is a frustrating 4, losing suspense along the way.

04

 

 

“A Quiet Place”

Susan Granger’s review of “A Quiet Place” (Paramount Pictures)

 

Some moviegoers absolutely love to be scared, frightened out of their wits. If so, this dystopian horror thriller is for you.

Emily Blunt and her husband John Krasinski play Evelyn and Lee Abbott, a married couple, living on a secluded farm in upstate New York. It’s Day 89 – after most of the civilized world has been decimated by an alien invasion of hideously hungry creatures who detect their prey by super-sensitive sound.

Knowing that silence is absolutely essential to survival, the Abbotts, always barefoot and alert, are determined to protect their three young children: Beau (Cade Woodward), Regan (Millicent Smmonds) and Marcus (Noah Jupe).

Regan is deaf, so they communicate primarily through sign language with only occasional whispers. And when – just for an instant – their vigilance fails, tragedy occurs.

Amid the constant peril, Lee is desperately trying to locate other survivors and devise an effective hearing-aid for adolescent Regan (Millicent Simmonds), who always feels a bit neglected.

FYI: Deaf in real life, expressive Ms. Simmonds scored solidly last year in “Wonderstruck.”

As time goes on, Evelyn must cope with the complications of pregnancy – like planning to make use of a soundproofed barn bunker for the birth and a tiny oxygen mask to stifle the newborn’s cries.

But things don’t often go as planned, particularly in cases like this, when stepping on a rusty nail can prove as deadly as an explosive device.

It’s a tour-de-force for actor/producer/director John Krasinski, who also co-wrote the taut screenplay with Bryan Woods and Scott Beck. Working with cinematographer Charlotte Bruus Christensen and composer Marco Beltrami, Krasinski cleverly employs the absence of sound to intensify the relentless terror.

On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “A Quiet Place” is an eerie, angst-riddled 8, an unsettling, totally different kind of creature feature.

08

“Blockers”

Susan Granger’s review of “Blockers” (Universal Pictures)

 

Three Chicago high-school girls make a pact to lose their virginity on Prom Night, while a trio of parents band together to stop them.

Their story begins on the first day of elementary school, when the girls become instant BFFs. Fast-forward to high school, and the teenagers are still thick-as-thieves.

Julie (Kathryn Newton) is the light of her overly-clingy, single mom Lisa’s (Leslie Mann) life. Still suffering because her wise-cracking dad, Hunter (Ike Barinholtz), disappeared after cheating on her mom, sweet, bespectacled Sam (Gideon Adlon) suspects she’s gay. And athletic, adventurous Kayla (Geraldine Viswanathan) was raised in the image of Mitchell (John Cena), her softie/jock dad.

Before they take off for the Prom, Julie declares to Sam and Kayla that she’s planning to have sex with her longtime boyfriend Austin (Graham Phillips), filling them in on all the salient details. Her determination inspires both Sam and Kayle to plan their own deflowering.

Problem is: when Julie leaves on Prom Night, she inadvertently leaves a message app running on her laptop. Vigilant Lisa spies the somewhat bewildering, emoji-riddled group texting, which concludes with the unmistakable #sexpact2018. And she’s determined to prevent Julie from making the same mistakes she did.

Springing into ‘helicopter’ parental action, Lisa, Mitchell and Hunter anxiously embark on their own overly-protective pursuit, encountering myriad mishaps along the way.

Writer of the “Pitch Perfect” movies, Kay Cannon makes her directorial debut, working from a script by five men: brothers Brian & Jim Kehoe, Jon Hurwitz, Hayden Schlossberg and Eben Russell. With that many collaborators, it’s no wonder that the concept loses emotional grounding because there’s no consistent tone, although there are strong messages about female empowerment.

On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “Blockers” is a sporadically bawdy 6, a sloppy, sanitized sex comedy in which the young women make their own decisions.

06

“Unsane”

Susan Granger’s review of “Unsane” (Fingerprint Releasing)

 

Determined to prove that he could make a creditable, horror film on an iPhone 7, prolific Steven Soderbergh (“Magic Mike,” “Logan Lucky,” “Traffic,” and the “Oceans” trilogy) took a cast, headed by Claire Foy (“The Crown”), and small crew to a dingy, abandoned hospital north of New York City.

Shooting during the day and editing on his laptop at night, he managed to make this $1.5 million movie in 10 days. Problem is: the all-too-familiar, cat-and-mouse plot by James Greer and Jonathan Bernstein (“Larry the Cable Guy: Health Inspector,” “The Spy Next Door”) is clumsy, cliché-riddled and underwhelming.

The wannabe psychological thriller revolves around a snarky financial analyst Sawyer Valentini (Claire Foy), who has moved from Boston to a town in Pennsylvania as she deals with residual trauma from an obsessed, deluded stalker, David Strine (Joshua Leonard).

“Rationally, I know my neuroses are colluding with my imagination,” she admits. “But I’m not rational.”

After visiting a psychiatric counselor, candidly expressing suicidal ideations and stupidly signing a consent form, Sawyer is involuntarily committed to Highland Creek Behavioral Center, a mental-health facility, ostensibly for 24 hours.

“This is all a terrible mistake,” she maintains.

But then Sawyer’s sanity is called into question after she spies a creepy orderly who looks just like her stalker – which prolongs her incarceration, alongside mentally disturbed, shiv-carrying, tampon-tossing Violet (Juno Temple) and opioid-addicted Nate (SNL’s Jay Pharoah).

Technical details: As cinematographer, Soderbergh used three iPhone 7 Plus phones, shooting in 4K video with an app called FiLMiC Pro controlling the shutter speed, color and focus. He also utilized clip-on Moment lenses and a hand-held DJI Osmo stabilizer, which is, basically, a selfie stick.

FYI: Actually, Sean Baker’s “Tangerine” (2015) was the first notable film shot on an IPhone.

On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “Unsane” is an experimental, absurdly contrived 6, evoking a creepy kind of claustrophobic suspense.

06