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Granger at the Movies: ‘Onward,’ ‘Portrait of a Lady on Fire,’ ‘Dark Waters’

So they pile into Barley’s beat-up van, named Guinevere — with a winged Pegasus decal on its side — to embark on a ticking-clock mission to find another Phoenix gem to complete what they started.

Their chaotic adventure begins with a visit to a medieval tavern-turned-theme restaurant run by the Manticore (voiced by Octavia Spencer), who describes herself as “a winged lion scorpion lady.” From her, they acquire the map that leads them to a mysterious cavern with indicative runes, shifting stone floors and a deadly gelatinous cube.

While the brothers’ perseverance and courage are being tested, their road trip is monitored by worried Laurel and her boyfriend, Officer Colt Bronc (voiced by Mel Rodriguez), a centaur cop.

Superficially scripted by director Dan Scanlon (“Monsters University”) with Jason Headley and Keith Bunin, it’s less inventive and more blandly generic than previous Pixar films like “Toy Story,” “WALL-E,” “Ratatouille,” “Up” and “Coco.”

Because of the mourning death/loss theme and some violent scenes, it’s PG and recommended for children ages 8 and up.

On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “Onward” is a bittersweet, emotionally satisfying 7, combining silly slapstick with the supernatural.

Celine Sciamma’s sensuous 18th century romantic drama “Portrait of a Lady on Fire” revolves around two women reacting to the pressures society places on them insofar as perceiving marriage as a form of security in exchange for lifelong servitude.

In Brittany near the Atlantic coast, Marianne (Noemioe Merlant) arrives at the seaside château of young noblewoman, Heloise (Adele Haenel), to paint her portrait which will be immediately dispatched to a potential suitor in Milan. (Since there was no photography back then, portraits were exchanged for marital matchmaking purposes.)

Working as an apprentice to her well-known painter father, Marianne often travels to paint subjects on commission. But defiant Heloise, who previously spurned a male artist who tried to paint her, has little interest in posing, which is why her widowed Countess mother (Valeria Golino) asks Marianne to base the portrait on casual observations.

The film’s title has multiple meanings. Obviously, it’s about the painting. It also refers to how Heloise’s flowing frock literally goes up in flames, as if their forbidden carnality makes her gown spontaneously combust.

And there’s a subtle subplot involving the maid Sophie (Luana Bajrami), whose artistic outlet is her embroidery hoop; she introduces Marianne and Heloise into a group of welcoming women.

According to director/screenwriter Sciamma (“Girlhood”), the reason why there’s no score, aside from two musical interludes, is because she wanted to emphasize the rhythms in the body movements through cinematographer Claire Mathon’s camera. In the festival scene, the women chant “non possunt fugere,” which is Latin for “they cannot escape.”

Off-screen, Sciamma and Adele Haenel are ex-lovers who split amicably before filming. “Celine and I are interested in the same thing,” Haenel explains. “We are fighting for ideas and looking for beauty, but we are also playing all the time.”

And Marianne’s portraiture is actually the artwork of Helene Delmaire.

In French with English subtitles, on the Granger Gauge, “Portrait of a Lady on Fire” is an erotic 8, an exquisitely articulated lesbian love story.

Now that the Trump Administration has rolled back federal clean water protection, the legal drama “Dark Waters,” inspired by true events, has immediate relevance. Too bad it gets bogged down in dull procedural trivia.

Back in 1998, Cincinnati corporate environmental defense attorney Robert Bilott (Mark Ruffalo) was approached by a desperate West Virginia farmer, Wilbur Tennant (Bill Camp), who told him that toxic waste from DuPont was either causing disastrous birth defects and/or killing his cows.

Ironically, Bilot had just been promoted to partner in a conservative law firm that represented chemical companies, and he was not only familiar with Parkersburg, where DuPont was the biggest employer, but also his grandmother lived nearby.

Fortunately for Bilot, his supervising partner at the law firm, Tom Terp (Tim Robbins), was sympathetic, allowing Bilot to spend, literally, years investigating.  What Bilot discovered involved a nearly 50 year-old synthetic polymer called PFOA, used in making Teflon products, which DuPont had been dumping onto the local landfill.

Meanwhile, as his career is in jeopardy and family funds dwindle as a result of four pay cuts, Bilot’s wife, Sarah (Anne Hathaway), a former lawyer who gave up her career to raise their family, is running out of patience.

Eventually, DuPont was forced to pay the largest fine in EPA’s history: $16.5 million and an additional $671 million to the 3,535 innocent West Virginians who filed personal injury lawsuits.

Based on Nathaniel Rich’s 2016 New York Times Magazine article, “The Lawyer Who Became DuPont’s Worst Nightmare,” it’s painstakingly adapted by Mario Correa and Matt Carnahan and methodically directed by Todd Haynes (“Safe,” “Far From Heaven,” “Carol”).

FYI: DuPont and other American companies have phased out using PFOA (perfluorooctanoic acid), as the EPA is working on legal standards for its use.  But PFOA and other compounds are called “forever chemicals” because it could take hundreds or thousands of years for them to breakdown.

On the Granger Gauge, “Dark Waters” is an all-too-conventional 6, revolving around a sincere social activist. It’s now available on DVD, Blu-ray and streaming.


WestportNow.com 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 www.susangranger.com.)

So they pile into Barley’s beat-up van, named Guinevere — with a winged Pegasus decal on its side — to embark on a ticking-clock mission to find another Phoenix gem to complete what they started.

Their chaotic adventure begins with a visit to a medieval tavern-turned-theme restaurant run by the Manticore (voiced by Octavia Spencer), who describes herself as “a winged lion scorpion lady.” From her, they acquire the map that leads them to a mysterious cavern with indicative runes, shifting stone floors and a deadly gelatinous cube.

While the brothers’ perseverance and courage are being tested, their road trip is monitored by worried Laurel and her boyfriend, Officer Colt Bronc (voiced by Mel Rodriguez), a centaur cop.

Superficially scripted by director Dan Scanlon (“Monsters University”) with Jason Headley and Keith Bunin, it’s less inventive and more blandly generic than previous Pixar films like “Toy Story,” “WALL-E,” “Ratatouille,” “Up” and “Coco.”

Because of the mourning death/loss theme and some violent scenes, it’s PG and recommended for children ages 8 and up.

On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “Onward” is a bittersweet, emotionally satisfying 7, combining silly slapstick with the supernatural.

Celine Sciamma’s sensuous 18th century romantic drama “Portrait of a Lady on Fire” revolves around two women reacting to the pressures society places on them insofar as perceiving marriage as a form of security in exchange for lifelong servitude.

In Brittany near the Atlantic coast, Marianne (Noemioe Merlant) arrives at the seaside château of young noblewoman, Heloise (Adele Haenel), to paint her portrait which will be immediately dispatched to a potential suitor in Milan. (Since there was no photography back then, portraits were exchanged for marital matchmaking purposes.)

Working as an apprentice to her well-known painter father, Marianne often travels to paint subjects on commission. But defiant Heloise, who previously spurned a male artist who tried to paint her, has little interest in posing, which is why her widowed Countess mother (Valeria Golino) asks Marianne to base the portrait on casual observations.

The film’s title has multiple meanings. Obviously, it’s about the painting. It also refers to how Heloise’s flowing frock literally goes up in flames, as if their forbidden carnality makes her gown spontaneously combust.

And there’s a subtle subplot involving the maid Sophie (Luana Bajrami), whose artistic outlet is her embroidery hoop; she introduces Marianne and Heloise into a group of welcoming women.

According to director/screenwriter Sciamma (“Girlhood”), the reason why there’s no score, aside from two musical interludes, is because she wanted to emphasize the rhythms in the body movements through cinematographer Claire Mathon’s camera. In the festival scene, the women chant “non possunt fugere,” which is Latin for “they cannot escape.”

Off-screen, Sciamma and Adele Haenel are ex-lovers who split amicably before filming. “Celine and I are interested in the same thing,” Haenel explains. “We are fighting for ideas and looking for beauty, but we are also playing all the time.”

And Marianne’s portraiture is actually the artwork of Helene Delmaire.

In French with English subtitles, on the Granger Gauge, “Portrait of a Lady on Fire” is an erotic 8, an exquisitely articulated lesbian love story.

Now that the Trump Administration has rolled back federal clean water protection, the legal drama “Dark Waters,” inspired by true events, has immediate relevance. Too bad it gets bogged down in dull procedural trivia.

Back in 1998, Cincinnati corporate environmental defense attorney Robert Bilott (Mark Ruffalo) was approached by a desperate West Virginia farmer, Wilbur Tennant (Bill Camp), who told him that toxic waste from DuPont was either causing disastrous birth defects and/or killing his cows.

Ironically, Bilot had just been promoted to partner in a conservative law firm that represented chemical companies, and he was not only familiar with Parkersburg, where DuPont was the biggest employer, but also his grandmother lived nearby.

Fortunately for Bilot, his supervising partner at the law firm, Tom Terp (Tim Robbins), was sympathetic, allowing Bilot to spend, literally, years investigating.  What Bilot discovered involved a nearly 50 year-old synthetic polymer called PFOA, used in making Teflon products, which DuPont had been dumping onto the local landfill.

Meanwhile, as his career is in jeopardy and family funds dwindle as a result of four pay cuts, Bilot’s wife, Sarah (Anne Hathaway), a former lawyer who gave up her career to raise their family, is running out of patience.

Eventually, DuPont was forced to pay the largest fine in EPA’s history: $16.5 million and an additional $671 million to the 3,535 innocent West Virginians who filed personal injury lawsuits.

Based on Nathaniel Rich’s 2016 New York Times Magazine article, “The Lawyer Who Became DuPont’s Worst Nightmare,” it’s painstakingly adapted by Mario Correa and Matt Carnahan and methodically directed by Todd Haynes (“Safe,” “Far From Heaven,” “Carol”).

FYI: DuPont and other American companies have phased out using PFOA (perfluorooctanoic acid), as the EPA is working on legal standards for its use.  But PFOA and other compounds are called “forever chemicals” because it could take hundreds or thousands of years for them to breakdown.

On the Granger Gauge, “Dark Waters” is an all-too-conventional 6, revolving around a sincere social activist. It’s now available on DVD, Blu-ray and streaming.


WestportNow.com 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 www.susangranger.com.)

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