Following are Susan Granger's reviews of the latest movies playing in area theaters:
Tina Fey has become one of America's comedic treasures, which is why she deserves much better material than Paul Weitz's relationship dramedy. But the spring timing is perfect, since it will strike a resonant chord for thousands of highly pressured college applicants and their cohorts.
As gatekeeper for one of the Ivy League's most prestigious universities, Portia Nation (Fey) works in the Princeton Office of Admissions, headed by Dean Clarence (Wallace Shawn), who has just announced his intention to retire. The likeliest candidates to succeed him are meticulous Portia and competitive Corinne (Gloria Reuben). Stressed by personal turmoil, exasperated Portia has been living uneasily with Mark (Michael Sheen), a philandering English professor, and coping with her free-spirited, avidly feminist mother, Susannah (Lily Tomlin), author of "The Masculine Myth."
On a recruiting visit to New Quest, a newly accredited, highly experimental and utopian high school in New Hampshire, she reconnects with her former Dartmouth classmate, idealistic teacher John Pressman (Paul Rudd), who confides that he has reason to believe that 18-year-old Jeremiah Balakian (Nickelodeon star Nat Wolff), a gifted yet awkward and very unconventional student, might well be the son that Portia secretly gave up for adoption many years ago. Jeremiah is applying to Princeton; while his test scores are incredible, he's an autodidact (aka, self-taught) and his grades just aren't good enough -- which places efficient, yet vulnerable Portia in an ethical pickle as she attempts to plead his case, bending inflexible rules in his favor among the 20,000 applicants for Princeton's Class of 2016.
Scripted by Karen Croner ("One True Thing"), based on Jean Hanff Korelitz's novel, and directed by Weitz ("About a Boy," "In Good Company," Being Flynn"), the inconsistent, anti-elitist comedy seems forced and contrived, although Rudd oozes charm and Fey's smart, snappy, screwball timing is unparalleled. Together, they rise above the borderline obnoxious material, as does irrepressible Lily Tomlin.
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, "Admission" is a savvy, serio-comic 7, an amiable diversion.
"HELLO I MUST BE GOING"
Sponsored by the Westport Cinema Initiative, there will be a special showing at 4 p.m. Sunday, March 24, of this low-budget, independent film written by Westport native Sarah Koskoff, a 1985 Staples High School graduate, and directed by her husband, Todd Louiso.
Taking its title from a routine in the Marx Brothers comedy "Animal Crackers," the story revolves around recently divorced and despairing 30-something Amy Minksy, who has moved back in with her indulgent, well-to-do Westport parents (Blythe Danner, John Rubenstein), who are coping with problems of their own. If her father's firm can sign a lucrative new client, he can retire, which will enable her frustrated, art-collecting mother to participate in an extensive travel program called Gallivanting the Globe.
At a pivotal suburban dinner party, Amy unexpectedly connects with angst-riddled, 19-year-old Jeremy (Christopher Abbott), whose slavish attention not only boosts her self-esteem but also allows her to regain emotional equilibrium with an added insight into her dependence and complicity in her own privileged life.
A familiar face from "Seeking a Friend for the End of the World," "Ever After" and the TV sitcom "Two and a Half Men," Melanie Lynskey exudes sad vulnerability, while the intensity of Abbott's sweet infatuation provides soothing reassurance as the story unfolds.
While it's fun to spot familiar scenes shot around Fairfield County, including Sherwood Island State Park, Compo Beach, Tavern on Main, Saugatuck Yacht Club, Norwalk Inn and Vineyard Vines clothing store, it's obvious that Koskoff would not have been able to film back in 2011 -- in the aftermath of Tropical Storm Irene -- without out the support of her family and friends, many of whom are listed in the concluding credits.
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, "Hello I Must Be Going" is a sensitive 6 -- traveling from its auspicious debut at Sundance to a limited release and now a fundraising screening at Westport Town Hall.
Oscar-nominated as Best Documentary, Dror Moreh's astonishing glimpse inside Shin Bet, the agency that took over Israel's internal security service, offers an illuminating, insider's view of the Arab-Israeli conflict since the Six-Day War in 1967, when 1 million Palestinians came under Israeli control in the West Bank, Gaza and the old city of Jerusalem.
As six eloquent, introspective former heads of Shin Bet explain the situation, using archival footage, their feelings of hopelessness and helplessness are pervasive. These are tough intelligence operatives who have never before publicly discussed their beliefs. Indeed, during their leadership years, they staunchly maintained their anonymity, even to their fellow citizens; in Hebrew, the name Shin Bet translates as the "defender that shall not be seen."
Their controversial revelations encompass opinions and perceptions about terrorism and its effects, along with the cultivation of informers who spoke flawless Arabic, the uses of interrogation and torture, targeted assassinations, and the inability of their countrymen to compromise.
"In the war against terror, there is no morality," observes Avraham Shalom, who ran Shin Bet from 1980 to 1986.
Israeli cinematographer-turned-filmmaker Dror Moreh ("Sharon") credits documentarian Errol Morris's "The Fog of War" as inspiration for his candid, challenging interviews, uncovering `truth,' as interpreted by each of these influential men. Each spymaster came to power during a different era, working under a variety of Prime Ministers, making diverse historical decisions.
Provocatively, the Israeli Army's occupation of Palestinian territory is compared with Nazi Germany during World War II and Africa's apartheid.
Back in 2003, four of these Gatekeepers -- Ami Ayalon, Carmi Gillon, Yaakov Peri and Avraham Shalom -- warned of "catastrophe" unless an enlightened two-state solution to the Palestinian issue was implemented.
"The tragedy of Israel's security debate is that we don't realize that we face a frustrating situation, in which we win every battle, but we lose the war," Ami Ayalon concludes.
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, "The Gatekeepers" is an unprecedented and deeply unsettling 9, offering little hope for a lasting peace in that war-torn region.