WEEKEND MOVIES: Granger reviews the holiday flicks
HERE'S SUSAN GRANGER'S TAKE ON THE LATEST MOVIES IN AREA THEATERS:
After John Wilkes Booth's assassination of President Abraham Lincoln on a Good Friday, April 15, 1865, the search was on for the Southern sympathizers who not only planned his murder but also attempts on the lives of Vice President Andrew Johnson and Secretary of State William H. Seward.
Among those arrested and placed on trial is Mary Surratt (Robin Wright), a widow at whose boarding house the conspirators hatched their dastardly plot. Maryland's Senator Reverdy Johnson (Tom Wilkinson) recruits idealistic attorney Frederick Aiken (James McAvoy), a former Union Army captain and Civil War hero, to defend her. Reluctant at first, Aiken gradually becomes convinced of Mary's innocence, particularly after getting to know her daughter Anna (Evan Rachel Wood) and learning about the treachery of her Confederate courier son John (Johnny Simmons).
But the deck is stacked against Mary at Washington's Fort McNair in a military tribunal where the concept of `innocent until proven guilty' is not the case. In the political climate of post-Civil War Washington, individual rights were subverted by `national security.' Quoting Cicero, someone notes: "In times of war, the law falls silent." What's particularly relevant and timely is that Obama's administration has reversed its earlier position, deciding that Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and four others will be tried by a military tribunal at Guantanamo for their alleged participation in the Sept. 11th World Trade Center attack.
Working from James Solomon's exhaustively researched, yet heavily verbose script, visually astute director Robert Redford does his best to inject suspense and create an emotional arc for the primary characters in what is, essentially, a historical reconstruction of an adversarial melodrama. Utilizing numerous flashbacks, deftly edited by Craig McKay, the plot unfolds slowly, very slowly, despite persuasive performances from the entire cast, including Kevin Kline, Danny Huston and Justin Long.
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, "The Conspirator" is a convoluted, courtroom-centric 6.
Father knows best takes on a whole new meaning when a teenage warrior - played by ethereal-looking Saoirse Ronan ("The Lovely Bones," "Atonement") - ventures out into the cold, cruel world, where she's forced to fight for her life.
Spending her isolated childhood in a cabin in the rugged, remote forests of northern Finland, Hanna has been trained as an assassin/spy by her widower, rogue CIA-agent, father, Erik (Erica Bana), learning not only to defend herself but also to get what she wants. Now 16, she has strength, stamina and determination -- plus appealing innocence that's coupled with insatiable curiosity about music. So Hanna and her father go their separate ways, promising to meet in a specific location in Germany.
After purposely igniting a signal that's intercepted by ruthlessly malevolent CIA operative Marissa Wiegler (Cate Blanchett), Hanna is captured by heavily-armed storm-troopers and held for interrogation and observation in a bunker beneath the Moroccan desert.
"Did she turn out as you'd hoped?" inquires one of Weigler's henchmen. "Better," she replies.
Outwitting her abductors, Hanna escapes, joining a friendly British hippie family on vacation while cleverly eluding a wily team of pursuers. In the meantime, much is revealed about Hanna's increasingly mysterious origin and lineage, culminating in an intriguing chase through a decaying Grimm Brothers-themed amusement park and violent, climactic confrontation with menacing Marissa Wiegler.
Wirtten by Seth Lockhead and David Farr and directed by Joe Wright ("The Soloist," "Atonement," "Pride and Prejudice"), this humorless pursuit thriller was filmed on location in Morocco and Germany, specifically the now-defunct Spree Park in eastern Berlin. Much credit goes to cinematographer Alwin Kucher for the enticing impact of Hanna's travails, along with the striking score by the Chemical Brothers. And, in preparation, Ronan trained in martial arts, including stick and knife fighting, five to six hours a day for six weeks.
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, "Hanna" sprints in with an action-packed 7.
Saoirse (pronounced SEER-shah) Ronan plays another adolescent assassin, teaming with "Gilmore Girls" Alexis Bledel, in the upcoming "Violet & Daisy."
If Hollywood executives wonder why box-office receipts are down, this $50 million unmitigated disaster explains a lot. Reminiscent of Halle Berry's transitioning from an Oscar-caliber role to Catwoman, Natalie Portman follows her Academy Award-winning "Black Swan" with this dreadful adolescent fantasy. And if you thought James Franco looked dazed and confused as an Oscar-host, it may have been leftover lethargy from this R-rated stoner comedy.
Set in medieval times, it begins: "Prepare yourself for one twisted tale from the Golden Age of Knights." Around the palace, irresponsible Prince Thaddeous (Danny McBride) is known an impudent slacker, particularly when compared with his dashing older brother, Prince Fabious (Franco). But he's pressed into joining the heroic quest when Fabious' virginal bride, Belladona, (Zooey Deschanel) is kidnapped by an evil wizard (Justin Theroux). So much for the lamentable plot that revolves around twin moons and a sword made from a unicorn's horn.
Apparently, Danny McBride used to brainstorm zany ideas with director David Gordon Green when they were boozed-up undergrads at the North Carolina School of the Arts, and James Franco previously worked with Green on "Pineapple Express." They thought the picture of McBride in a chain-mail leotard with a joint in one hand and a sword in the other was hilarious, particularly when paired with the slogan, "Put this in your pipe and smoke it." So, working on the screenplay with another college friend, Ben Best, they elaborated on the concept. And Natalie Portman joined the weed-fueled project as an agile, Xena-like warrior after pitching Green about a possible remake of "Suspira," the Dario Argento horror movie set at a ballet academy -- but that was before she made the more serious "Black Swan."
Shot primarily on a soundstage in Belfast, Ireland, in 2009, it's filled with profanity, vulgarity and reefer gags, along with a creepy, perverted, hookah-puffing, Yoda-like wizard purring, "Breathe deeply of these herbs and share a vision with me."
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, "Your Highness" sinks to a lowly 2. Fractured fairytale? Half-baked is more accurate.