Friday, March 01, 2024

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Granger at the Movies: ‘Where’s My Roy Cohn?,’ ‘Maleficent: Mistress of Evil,’ ‘The Adams Family’

By Susan Granger

Special to WestportNow

If you’re trying to understand today’s amoral political landscape, Matt Tyrnauer’s documentary “Where’s My Roy Cohn?” explains a great deal about that dirty trickster.

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In 1973, when brash young real estate mogul Donald Trump met Roy Cohn, one of New York’s most ruthless and powerful power broker, Trump was completing the Grand Hyatt Hotel near Grand Central Terminal.

And when the Justice Department claimed that Trump family apartment buildings discriminated against black applicants, attorney Cohn advised him to countersue the Justice Department for $100 million.

“Donald calls me 15 to 20 times a day,” Cohn bragged. “He’s always asking, ‘What’s the status of this … and that?’”

When Cohn hosted Trump’s 37th birthday party, he declared: “Donald is my best friend.”

Best known as chief counsel to crusading anti-Communist Sen. Joseph McCarthy during 1954’s Army-McCarthy hearings, Cohn became Trump’s mentor, training him in transactional power laundering and hardball deal-making, involving scaring potential adversaries/accusers with shamelessly inventive fabrication, hollow threats and imitating lawsuits.

Gossip columnist Liz Smith once observed, “Donald lost his moral compass when he made an alliance with Roy Cohn.” And the film’s title stems from what Trump said during his frustration with then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

What’s perhaps most surprising about Tyrnauer’s documentary is how Manhattan socialites embraced openly repugnant Roy Cohn. Known as a deeply closeted homosexual, Cohn claimed to have been engaged to Barbara Walters and befriended by Andy Warhol as a Studio 54 ‘regular.’

Eventually, smooth-talking Cohn was disbarred for cheating his clients. Unable to practice law, he continued to advise the rich, famous and unscrupulous until his death from AIDS in 1986.

Assembling insightful archival footage and conducting detailed interviews, Tyrnauer felt it was time to “connect the dots, to show how one of the darkest figures in our modern history created the worst — and most dangerous — president.”

On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “Where’s My Roy Cohn?” is an incisive, informative 8. “Had it not been for Donald Trump’s election, Roy Cohn would have been a footnote in American history.”

Five years after the revisionist “Maleficent” (2014), “Maleficent: Mistress of Evil” finds lovely Aurora (Elle Fanning) as Queen of the Moors, surrounded by fairies, sprites and woodland creatures that adore and adorn her. It’s taken awhile, but Price Phillip (Harris Dickinson) of Ulstead has finally proposed marriage.

Still distrustful of humans, the dark sorceress Maleficient (Angelina Jolie) initially forbids her adoptive daughter’s union but, eventually, she agrees to accompany Aurora to a celebratory feast at the palace of King John (Robert Lindsay) and Queen Ingrith (Michelle Pfeiffer).

Smiling, small talk and enforced cordiality ceases when Queen Ingrith coldly announces that she now considers Aurora to be her own daughter, inevitably incurring haughty Maleficent’s fanged wrath.

An added element is the introduction of the Dark Fey that — over the eons — have been driven into the caverns beneath the ocean. Their vulture-winged, goat-horned leaders — Conall (Chiwetel Ejiofor) and Borra (Ed Skrein) — are debating geopolitics and whether to wage war against the humankind, accompanied by misunderstood Maleficent.

As it turns out, Maleficent is not really evil, just alienated, while Aurora’s scheming, manipulative adversary hides her brutal malignance beneath glittering silvery glamour, Swarovski pearls and diamanté crystal.

Scripted with far too many complications by Linda Woolverton (“Maleficient,” “Beauty and the Beast”) with Noah Harpster and Micah Fitzerman-Blue (“A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood”), its muddled mythology is helmed by Norwegian director Joachim Ronning (“Kon-Tiki,” “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales”).

Great credit should go to the inventive collaboration among production designer Patrick Tatopoulos, costumer Ellen Mirojnick and special effects makeup/prosthetics designer David White.

Most memorable among the fantastical CGI creatures are the Aurora’s devoted pixies — Knotgrass (Imelda Staunton), Thistlewit (Juno Temple) and Flittle (Leslie Melville) — Queen Ingrith’s goblin weapons maker Lickspittle (Warwick Davis), along with Maleficent’s raven companion Diaval (Sam Riley).

On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “Maleficent: Mistress of Evil“ is a sumptuous 7. “At the end of the day, if there’s one word I want this movie to be about, it’s kindness,” declares director Ronning.

With Halloween around the corner, the animated, sinister sequel “The Addams Family” with its snap-happy theme song has timing in its favor.

In the ‘origin’ prologue, Gomez (voiced by Oscar Isaac) and Morticia (voiced by Charlize Theron) Addams are being married. Part of the ceremony involves putting a lime in a coconut and drinking it, like the 1971 Harry Nilsson song, as they vow to make each other unhappy for the rest of their lives.

After infuriated, torch-carrying townspeople chase them off with pitchforks, the newlyweds disappear into the night. In their getaway, their car strikes straitjacketed Lurch (voiced by Conrad Vernon), who ostensibly escaped from an abandoned mental hospital, where they decide to homestead.

It’s a cobweb-covered, gothic mansion in suburban New Jersey, where “Nobody in their right mind would be caught dead in.”

Thirteen years later, Gomez and Morticia have settled into family life with two children: homicidal teenage Wednesday (voiced by Chloe Grace Moretz) and her pyromaniac younger brother, Pugsley (voiced by Finn Wolfhard).

As the time approaches for Pugsley’s coming-of-age, mastery- of -swordplay ritual — ‘saber mazurka’ — the Addams’ relatives assemble witness the bar-mitzvah-like celebration, including outspoken Grandma (voiced by Bette Midler), Uncle Fester (voiced by Nick Kroll) and Cousin It (voiced by Snoop Dogg).

Their presence poses problems for the “Design Intervention” town-planner of nearby Assimilation, Margaux Needler (Allison Janney), who is chagrined that her landscape assemblage of identical, cookie-cutter houses is dominated by these bizarre neighbors.

Further subversive complications arise as Wednesday befriends Margaux’s rebellious daughter Parker (Elsie Fisher) in junior high school.

Blandly written by Matt Lieberman & Pamela Pettler and formulaically directed by Greg Tiernan and Conrad Vernon (“Sausage Party”), it’s aimed at 8-12 year-olds.

FYI: the first Charles Addams cartoons depicting this macabre, modern Goth family appeared in The New Yorker magazine in the 1930s, followed by six TV series, three films and a Broadway musical.

On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10,. “The Addams Family” is a family-friendly, yet frighteningly forgettable 4. Trick or treat? It depends on your age and tolerance for trite


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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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