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Thursday, January 29, 2015

Susan Granger at the Movies: ‘Violent Year,’ ‘Strange Magic,’ ‘Wedding Ringer’

By Susan Granger

Set in New York City during the winter of 1981, statistically the most dangerous year in the city’s history, J.C. Chandor’s intense noir-thriller “A Most Violent Year” combines political intrigue with industrial corruption. Image

Ambitious, idealistic Hispanic immigrant Abel Morales (Oscar Isaac) started as a fuel truck driver for a heating oil distributor. When he married the mob-connected boss’s daughter Anna (Jessica Chastain), taking over the family business, he discovers it’s not easy being honest in the crime-riddled city.

After making a deal to purchase a waterfront storage facility, Morales is faced with a series of brutal anonymous attacks.  His drivers are hijacked and his fuel is stolen.

Egged on by Anna and his lawyer (Albert Brooks), he turns to desperate measures to protect his property, his family and his chunk of the American Dream.

Oscar Isaac (“Inside Llewyn Davis”) conjures up memories of Al Pacino’s Michael Corleone, and the scene where he explains to new salesmen how to act classy and close a deal is a gem.  There’s also a chase on an elevated train and shootout on the 59th Street Bridge between Manhattan and Queens.

Jessica Chastain is formidable foil and the strong supporting cast includes David Oyelowo (“Selma”), Eyles Gabel, Alessandro Nivola and Jerry Adler.

Writer/director J.C. Chandor (“Margin Call,” “All is Lost”) was writing the script when the tragic shooting occurred at Sandy Hook Elementary School, not far from his home.

“It made me think of this idea of escalation –- how in act of violence ripples on society,” he recalls. And this taut, richly atmospheric crime drama obviously takes inspiration from Sidney Lumet’s “Prince of the City,” also set in 1981.

Chandor’s next film tackles the explosion and sinking of the British Petroleum offshore oil platform in the Gulf of Mexico, sparking the worst oil spill in U.S. history.

On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “A Most Violent Year” is a gritty, savvy 7. Impeccably crafted, it evokes a turbulent time.

Supposedly inspired by Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” George Lucas’s animated “Strange Magic,” filled with fairies, elves and goblins, is grotesquely weird.

His enchanted world is divided into two parts. The happy, colorful Fairy Kingdom is ruled by a King (Alfred Molina) with two daughters.

When the eldest (Evan Rachel Wood) catches her betrothed (Sam Palladio) cheating on her, she vows she’ll never fall in love again.

Meanwhile, her flighty younger sister (Meredith Anne Bull) remains an incorrigible flirt, oblivious that her best friend, a tiny, troll-like elf (Elijah Kelley), has a serious crush on her.

Presiding over the Dark Forest is the gnarled, bitter Bog King (Alan Cumming), who loathes the concept of love.

Only the Sugar Plum Fairy (Krisin Chenoweth) knows how to make love potions from the primrose flowers that separate the lands, but she’s been kidnapped and incarcerated by the Bog King.

Merry mischief ensues, filled with garish, photo-realistic imagery. But the mixtape of pop covers that were meant to tell the hackneyed story quickly becomes an annoying distraction.

So on the Granger Gauge, “Strange Magic” is a bizarre 4. Let’s just say it’s a bad “Dream.

Even more disappointing is “The Wedding Ringer.”

As his wedding draws close, a financially successful tax attorney (Josh Gad) realizes he has no friends to serve as groomsmen. So he hired a professional best man (Kevin Hart), and this buddy-for-hire becomes a bromance.

The best parts are in the coming attractions trailer. What’s left are profanity and contrived jokes about rape and child molestation.

In addition to humiliating Cloris Leachman, writer/director Jeremy Gerelick wastes the talents of Ken Howard, Mimi Rogers and Olivia Thirby.

FYI: Notice the now-defunct Miramax logo. Written back in 2002, the screenplay was stored in a New Jersey warehouse with 18,000 boxes of detritus when Disney sold Miramax in 2010.

When producer Adam Fields acquired the rights to unproduced Miramax properties, this was included under the title “The Golden Tux.” It was originally intended for Vince Vaughn, who opted to star in “The Wedding Crashers” (2005) instead.

On the Granger Gauge, “The Wedding Ringer” fumbles with an un-funny 3. Decline to attend. Image

( 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


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