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Tuesday, August 02, 2016

Granger at the Movies: ‘Café Society,’ ‘Bad Moms,’ ‘Ice Age: Collision Course’

By Susan Granger

Special to WestportNow

“The Rockies may crumble, Gibraltar may tumble…” but Woody Allen continues to churn out one movie each year. From classic Manhattan comedies (“Annie Hall”) to memorable character studies (“Blue Jasmine”) to stylish crime-capers (“Match Point”), that’s something moviegoers can count on.

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Set in the 1930s, “Café Society” is a bittersweet coming-of-age tale, as eager, earnest Bobby Dorfman (Jesse Eisenberg) moves from the Bronx to Hollywood, where he goes to work for his pretentious Uncle Phil (Steve Carrell), a name-dropping, big-time talent agent.

Not surprisingly, Bobby immediately falls in love with Phil’s pretty secretary, Vonnie (Kristen Stewart), who drives him to see movie stars’ mansions in Beverly Hills.

“Menial errands are my specialty,” Bobby guilelessly explains, “but I don’t see a great future in it.” Trying not to be intoxicated by the shallow glitz and schmoozing gossip, he, nevertheless, marvels, “I’ve never mixed Champagne with bagels and lox.”

Narrated by Woody Allen, romantic complications abound, so brokenhearted Bobby returns to his working-class Jewish family in New York, where he goes into the nightclub business with his gangster brother Ben (Corey Stahl), marries a blonde socialite, also named Veronica (Blake Lively).

Jesse Eisenberg (“The Social Network”) comes as close to channeling Woody Allen’s neurotic nebbish as anyone ever has. He propels the plot, as his character’s romantic dreams mature into sophisticated melancholia, while Kristen Stewart is convincingly caught between two men who adore her.

FYI: when Bruce Willis dropped out, Steve Carrell stepped in. And the superb supporting ensemble (Parker Posey, Ken Stott, Anna Camp, Jeannie Berlin and Paul Schneider) turns what could be caricatures into relatable characters.

Aided by production designer Santo Loquasto, Italian cinematographer Vittorio Stororo evokes the nostalgic glamour of Tinsel-Town’s Golden Age and the excitement of Manhattan’s swanky, Depression-Era cabaret scene, known as “the wrong place for the right people.”

On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “Café Society” is a vintage, wistful 7 - with a jazzy soundtrack worth savoring.

Believing that you’re the absolute center of your child’s universe can lead to helicopter parenting - and being a smothering mother causes incredible stress – just ask those “Bad Moms.”

Just ask exhausted 32 year-old Amy Mitchell (Mila Kunis). Living in suburban Chicago with a man-child husband (David Walton) and two spoiled preteens (Oona Lawrence, Emjay Anthony), she’s juggling the demands of family and working with millennials at a hip coffee company.

When she catches her husband having cyber-sex with a naked woman, she orders him out of the house. And as if she wasn’t frazzled enough, Amy’s being systematically terrorized by fascistic PTA president Gwendolyn (Christina Applegate) and her malicious minions (Jada Pinkett Smith, Annie Mumolo).

Monitoring the upcoming Bake Sale, Gwendolyn cautions against using essential ingredients like butter, sugar, eggs and nuts, threatening police action for any infraction of her dietary rules.

Desperate, Amy dives into a bar, where she’s joined by two other burnt-out moms: slovenly, outspoken divorcee Carla (Kathryn Hahn) and Kiki (Kristen Bell), the beleaguered, meek-and-mousy mother-of-four.

“We’re killing ourselves to be perfect and it’s making us insane,” Amy wails. Determined to be “bad moms,” they defiantly trash a super-market to Icona Pop’s “I Love It.”

The next day, Amy stops hovering over her kids’ homework, refuses to make them breakfast and claims the keys to her husband’s vintage, red muscle car. Boozy brunches with Carla and Kiki lead to an invigorating encounter with Jesse (Jay Hernandez), a hunky widower whose daughter attends the same school.

From the creators of “The Hangover” trilogy, Jon Lucas and Scott Moore, comes this rude, raunchy, R-rated comedy, aimed at upper middle-class moms.

The highlight is a crude sequence in which Carla uses Kiki’s hoodie to demonstrate how to handle an uncircumcised penis - that must be seen to be believed. And crucial to the closing credits are unexpected cameos of the actresses and their real-life mothers.

On the Granger Gauge, “Bad Moms” is a surprisingly satiric 6. Its intrinsic feminism is a lot funnier than either “Absolutely Fabulous” or “Ghostbusters.”

Unless you’re truly desperate to get the kids out of the house and into an air-conditioned theater, forget “Ice Age: Collision Course,” the fifth installment in the animated franchise, which seems headed for its own extinction.

It begins, as usual, with a Paleolithic prologue in which Scrat the neurotic Squirrel is chasing that elusive acorn. But, this time, he discovers a frozen UFO and catapults into space, inadvertently sending a huge, destructive asteroid hurtling toward Earth.

That spurs the perpetually bickering Wooly Mammoth family - Manny (voiced by Ray Romano), his wife Ellie (voiced by Queen Latifah), and grown-daughter Peaches (voiced by Keke Palmer), along with her betrothed Julian (voiced by Adam Devine) - into action, propelled by their old friend Buck the weasel (voiced by Simon Pegg), who has a clever plan to avert the inevitable catastrophe.

Also on-board are Sid the sloth (voiced by John Leguizamo), his sassy Granny (voiced by Wanda Sykes) and the saber-tooth tigers, Diego (voiced by Denis Leary) and his wife Shira (voiced by Jennifer Lopez).

There’s a cameo by astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson as scientist Neil deBuck Weasel and a yoga-loving guru, Shangri Llama (voiced by Jesse Tyler Ferguson), who dabbles in crystals, plus a trio of “dino-birds” whose leader is voiced by Nick Offerman.

It quickly becomes obvious that screenwriters Michael Wilson, Michael Berg and Yoni Brenner have run out of original ideas and are now into re-cycle mode, rhyming words with “duty,” “poop” and “butt,” giving co-directors Mike Thurmeier and Galen T. Chu little substance and an overabundance of tiresome characters to work with.

On the Granger Gauge, “Ice Age: Collision Course” is a colorful but tepid 3, making one wish for a cataclysmic disaster to melt all of them.


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( Editor’s Note: Westport resident Susan Granger grew up in Hollywood, studied journalism with Pierre Salinger at Mills College, and graduated from the University of Pennsylvania with highest honors in journalism. In addition to writing for newspapers and magazines, she has been on radio/television as an anchorwoman and movie/drama critic for many years. See her reviews at www.susangranger.com.)

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Posted 08/02/16 at 03:19 PM  Permalink



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