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Monday, August 28, 2017

Granger at the Movies: ‘Wind River,’ ‘The Only Living Boy in New York,’ ‘Annabelle: Creation’

By Susan Granger

Special to WestportNow

As the suspenseful murder mystery “Wind River” begins, a terrified teenage Native American girl is running across the snowy Wyoming tundra. Barefoot and bloody, she eventually stumbles and falls, dying under the bright light from a full moon.

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According to Cory Lambert (Jeremy Renner), the rugged U.S. Fish & Wildlife Officer who found her as he was tracking a predatory mountain lion, she died of pulmonary trauma, drowning in her own blood, having inhaled too much sub-zero air, causing her lungs to burst.

That’s what both he and the coroner tell rookie FBI Agent Jane Banner (Elizabeth Olsen), who declares her death a homicide. After all, there’s conclusive evidence that the Arapaho girl was not only beaten but also raped - and she was obviously fleeing from someone.

“I’m just trying to do the right thing,” Jane explains, evoking memories of Clarice Starling in “The Silence of the Lambs.”

It turns out the girl was the best friend of Cory’s daughter, who died three years earlier under similar circumstances.

As the plot unfolds, clues lead them to a nearby oil rig, where the resident roughnecks are accustomed to violence-against-women, staging a shocking shootout, reminiscent of Sam Peckinpah’s.

Best known for his “Sicario” (2015) and “Hell or High Water” (2016) screenplays, writer Taylor Sheridan makes his directorial debut, working this gritty, intricately structured thriller with subtle sensitivity and pacing finesse. His utilitarian characters are understated but deliberately delineated.

Even the supporting cast, including Native Americans actors Graham Greene as the Bureau of Indian Affairs police chief and Gil Birmingham as the teenager’s stoic father, who asks only “to sit here and miss her for a minute,” while her mother (Tantoo Cardinal) dissolves in grief.

And kudos to cinematographer Ben Richardson, who captures the savage man vs. nature essence of the desolate, impoverished wasteland known as the Wind River Indian Reservation. It’s visually spectacular.

On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “Wind River” is a powerful, action-packed 8, concluding with the distressing postscript: “There are no records available for tracking missing and murdered Native American women.”

“Something’s missing, and we all feel it…” are words that cryptically introduce “The Only Living Boy in New York,” a coming-of-age story about an aspiring writer who becomes involved with his father’s mistress.

Lifting its title from the famous Simon & Garfunkel 1970 song, the story revolves around Thomas Webb (Callum Turner), the privileged, twentysomething son of artistic, emotionally fragile Judith (Cynthia Nixon) and arrogant Ethan (Pierce Brosnan), a prominent publisher.

While his erudite parents host frequent dinner parties for Manhattan’s literati at their spacious Upper West Side brownstone, preppy Tom prefers to live in a Lower East Side walk-up, pining for artsy Mimi Pastori (Kiersey Clemons), who already has a boyfriend whom she’s planning to join in Croatia.

After some coaxing, lovesick Tom confides his heartache to an inquisitive, garrulous neighbor, W.F. Gerald (Jeff Bridges), an alcoholic author who’s more than willing to offer ambiguous philosophical advice, becoming Tom’s coach/therapist while deriding New York’s gentrification.

Whiny Tom’s equilibrium is further challenged when he inadvertently discovers that his father is having an affair with a sexy British editor, Johanna (Kate Beckinsale). Curious, Tom starts stalking mercurial Johanna and soon they’re also squirming between the sheets.

Screenwriter Allan Loeb and director Marc Webb present a concept that’s distinctly derivative, borrowing liberally from similarly themed films, like “The Graduate,’ “Wonder Boys,” “The Squid and the Whale” - while delivering an implausible third-act twist.

Although the glibly cosmopolitan characters are only superficially developed, pros like Jeff Bridges, Pierce Brosnan, and Cynthia Nixon bring far more to the screen than is on the written page.

On the Granger Gauge, “The Only Living Boy in New York” is a shallow, wryly sordid 6.  It’s serviceable.

With paranormal investigator Lorraine Warren living in nearby Monroe, Connecticut audiences have always had a special place in their psyches for her and her late husband Ed’s collection of occult relics.

The real Annabelle, housed in a protective glass cabinet in the Warrens’ Museum, is a plain-looking, vintage Raggedy Ann-type doll, unlike the film’s garishly painted toy that’s fashioned in a child’s image.

After introducing demonic Annabelle in James Wan’s thriller “The Conjuring” (2013), she earned her own spinoff a year later. Now there’s an origin prequel: “Annabelle: Creation.”

Some 12 years after toymaker Samuel Mullins (Anthony LaPaglia) and his wife Esther (Miranda Otto) lost their 7-year-old daughter Annabelle in a tragic accident, they open their sprawling country house to Sister Charlotte (Stephanie Sigman) and a group of six girls from a local Catholic orphanage.

There’s Janice (Talitha Bateman), partially crippled from polio, and her plucky best friend Linda (Lulu Wilson). Since the other girls are older, they share a communal bedroom, relegating Janice and Linda to bunk beds in the sewing room where Esther created doll costumes.

Although they’re forbidden to enter the locked bedroom that once belonged to the Mullins’ deceased daughter, that’s just where they go, opening a Victorian wardrobe containing a large, wooden doll wearing a white dress.

When that doll inexplicably appears in different places around the house. Janice is panicked although Sister Charlotte and the others aren’t yet convinced of the shadowy doll’s satanic connection.

Scripted by Gary Dauberman and directed by David F. Sandberg, the creepy concept utilizes production designer Jennifer Spence’s architectural layout for the dark farmhouse.

On the Granger Gauge, “Annabelle: Creation” is a spooky, scary 6.

If you want more, the New England Society for Psychic Research is hosting “An Evening With Annabelle” on Oct. 29, with Lorraine Warren in Monroe. Peril is priced at $169 and participants must sign a release form.


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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 08/28/17 at 05:56 PM  Permalink



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