Eddie the Eagle

Do you remember the 1988 Winter Olympics? I didn't, but now I have something to remember. I love underdog stories and "Eddie the Eagle" soars. In fact, as we exited the theater, I realized that this was the most enthusiastic screening audience I have seen in a long time!

Director Dexter Fletcher ("Sunshine on Leith") working from a PG-13 screenplay by Sean Macaulay and Simon Kelton, gives us the (sorta) true story of an unlikely wannabe Olympic contender who just wouldn't give up. (You'll smile when you learn how he picked ski jumping for his sport.) This script delivers many laughs, a lot of tension and above all, a singular hero to root for.

We watch:
  • Taron Egerton ("Kingsman: The Secret Service") This handsome young actor is unrecognizable as Eddie Edwards, the tenacious underdog: e.g., the opening scenes show us a plucky youngster in a leg brace (weak knees) practicing various skills with only one goal in mind: The Olympics. He doesn't care which sport, just THE OLYMPICS. His father (Keith Allen) is soon out of patience, but his sweet mother (Jo Hartley) remains supportive.
  • Hugh Jackman ("Chappie") Former ski-jumping champion Bronson Peary has no intention of being Eddie's coach; this American failure now runs a Zamboni-type machine to keep the ski-jump area smooth. His specialty has become drinking and smoking....BUT he can see, despite horrific risks, that goofy kid just won't quit. He doesn't teach Eddie how to jump, just how to land. Jackman in jeans has never been more appealing; and wait til you see how Bo Derek fits into their training program.
  • Christopher Walken ("Jersey Boys") Former Olympic coach Warren Sharp did NOT expect to see his book in that dressing room. He insists that talent is a minor part of a champion's equation: determination and persistence are what count the most.
Of course we have the usual assortment of egotistical athletes, bullies, sportscasters and nay-sayers, but we also see the enthusiastic sports lovers who attend Olympic events, open to new experiences and ready to embrace a new hero.

You (and they) will soon accept an odd-ball young man who has finagled a long-shot opportunity from a reluctant British Olympic Committee through sheer determination and tenacity. Later, of course, we hope to see their outspoken spokesman humbled.

The pacing of this movie is brilliant: we suffer with our courageous hero as he flails from one painful failure to another, but we become as invested as he is: we want him to succeed. We laugh at his training schemes and hold our breath right on cue. Our sophisticated screening audience even cheered a couple of times. We knew we had been manipulated and didn't mind a bit.

You won't mind either. It's a heartwarming feel-good movie.
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Here is a sample:
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Triple 9

"999" is law enforcement code for "Officer Down." I learned that about halfway through this darkly intense heist film. I enjoy a good heist film every now and then; but this one is TOO intense and TOO dark. Most of the characters need a bath; their hair is greasy and filthy. The intense moments are spent in equally filthy hallways of public housing tenements where we expect gunmen to open fire at any moment.

Director John Hillcoat ("Lawless") working with scriptwriter Matt Cook ("By Way of Helena") brings us a terrific cast and a plot where the Russian mob is blackmailing a crew of criminals and dirty cops into an impossible heist. The cops know their best hope for success is to kill a rookie and with the "999" code, divert the city police to the scene of that crime. Then they will pull their heist while there are no other police available to call.

Here is part of the cast:
  • Anthony Mackie ("The Avengers") Marcus Belmont always looks the part. He's well-groomed, neat, and understands the people on the street. He is a highly respected police officer who has the task of breaking in the rookie.
  • Casey Affleck ("The Finest Hours") Rookie Chris Allen never thought it would be this challenging to "make a difference."
  • Woody Harrelson ("Hunger Games") Sergeant Detective Jeffrey Allen has substance abuse problems but he also has the instincts and the "nose" of a cop. He is our rookie's mentor.
  • Michael Kenneth Williams ("Boardwalk Empire") Sweet Pea knows exactly what is going down. It's just a bit of a challenge to get him to share....
  • Chiwetel Ejiofor ("Secret in Their Eyes") Michael Atwood is the brains of the gang, inventive, skilled with explosives and human behavior; also, he will do anything to protect his little boy.
  • Aaron Paul ("Breaking Bad") Gabe Welch is the loose cannon; I hated to see him come on screen.
  • Clifton Collins Jr. ("Westworld") Jorge Rodriguez shows us what a really bad guy looks like!
  • Kate Winslet ("Steve Jobs") is amazing! She disappears into the character of Irina Vlaslov, who will stop at nothing to get her Russian mobster husband out of jail. I knew Winslet was part of the cast, but had to keep studying Irina's face to be sure. Winslet's demeanor, her makeup, her accent, her clothes, everything about her was so unlike anything I've ever seen her do before. Kudos!
This R-rated thriller became so involving the jaded screening audience actually cheered one of the (many) explosions. We let numerous F-bombs roll off our backs and sat through endless double crosses, gun fights, beheadings and yelling matches, but ultimately discovered we actually had someone to root for.  Yikes!
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See the preview:
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Will I ever tire of Christopher Plummer? This time he is a man who suffers from senile dementia but he sets out to find the former Nazis who killed his family (and the family of another man in the same senior facility) at a long-ago concentration camp. The movie opens with him awakening and calling for his wife. Alarmed, he leaves his room and finds himself in some sort of quasi-medical facility. One of the women who works there has to tell him that his wife died two weeks earlier.

With a wonderfully unpredictable script by Benjamin August ("Class Rank") and cleverly directed by Atom Egoyan ("The Captive"), we are on a hero's journey that goes from gently humorous to white-knuckle tense.  The people he encounters are consistently helpful and kind. The children in this one are particularly good: smart, polite and considerate.

The cast:
  • Christopher Plummer ("Elsa & Fred") Zev Gutman is a survivor of Auschwitz (with the tattoo to prove it). Max has given him a set of instructions, unlimited funds, transportation and hotel reservations: all the help necessary to fulfill his mission. He forgets at times what he is about, but every time he re-reads Max's letter, he gets back on track. We are pulling for him all the way.
  • Martin Landau ("Entourage") Max Rosenbaum never forgets his mission - revenge - and he won't let Zev forget his promise. Health failing, he is restricted to his wheelchair and his room, but he has his telephone and ample funds, powerful tools indeed.
  • Henry Czerny ("Revenge") Zev's son Charles is concerned about his father's dementia, but he's furious when Dad goes missing from that home for seniors.
  • Bruno Ganz ("Vitus") Rudy Kurlander #1 is the first person Zev contacts. I can't tell you about it because it would be a spoiler.
  • Dean Norris ("Secret in Their Eyes") Sheriff John Kurlander has lived all his years in the United States. The fellow Zev seeks is his father. Another sure-fire spoiler, so I can't say more.
  • Jürgen Prochnow ("Hitman: Agent 47") Rudy Kurlander #4 is happy to see Zev. That's all I can say... you know... spoiler...
This is an impossible review to write because I would be spilling the beans, no matter what I say about most of these characters. As I said, this script is unique and unpredictable. Plummer is flawless, with a slight hint of a German accent, the right amount of missing hair and confused eyes. We feel his anxiety in the passenger bus, at Customs, with that barking watchdog, and amid a family crisis at that mountain retreat. Like him, we loved the children.

The movie is R-rated (threatened violence and understanding of concentration camps), so expect some tension, very little profanity, no blowie uppie stuff and limited gun play. Our screening audience was vocal and excited as we exited the theater.

This one is outstanding.
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Here is a sample:
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This is the classic story of the resurrection of Jesus Christ (Yeshua) as seen through the eyes of a Roman tribune who has been ordered to solve the mystery of a missing corpse in time for a pending visit from the Emperor Tiberius. Pontius Pilate does NOT want rumors of a Messiah to disturb the tenuous peace he has achieved in Jerusalem.

Carefully written and meticulously directed by Kevin Reynolds ("The Count of Monte Cristo" [2002, the best version filmed so far]) with the able assistance of scribe Paul Aiello, we see a Crime Scene Investigaton-type whodunit set in Biblical times.

His cast:
  • Joseph Fiennes ("American Horror Story") is Clavius, an experienced and intelligent Roman official, determined to put to rest the rumors that surround this enigma. He is considerate and doesn't abuse his power but the Emperor is soon due in Jerusalem, so he hasn't much time.
  • Tom Felton ("Harry Potter") is Lucius, his ambitious new aide, he wants a promotion but much too soon he is saddled with an enormous secret.
  • Peter Firth ("MI-5") Pontius Pilate was reluctant to crucify Yeshua to start with and now we know that his problems were only beginning...
  • Maria Botto ("Three Many Weddings") is Mary Magdalene, the prime witness. It's clear that many of Clavius's soldiers are familiar with this "lady of the street," so Clavius has no trouble finding her.
  • Antonio Gil ("Quantum of Solace") Joseph of Arimathea had offered a tomb for Yeshua; he feels nothing but exaltation when the stone was rolled aside and the body disappeared.
  • Stephen Hagan (Lots of TV) Bartholomew has an exuberant reaction to the promise a resurrection.
  • Joe Manjón (Lots of TV) is Simon; he and Clavius have a trust issue because Yeshua promised to make him a "fisher of men" and Roman tribunes are not men he would befriend.
  • Cliff Curtis ("Columbiana") Yeshua looks like an authentic 33-year-old Jewish man. He doesn't resemble Leonardo da Vinci's idealized blond-haired, blue-eyed Savior we have become so accustomed to seeing. I am deeply grateful for that!
As we follow our official through homes and offices during his investigation in Jerusalem, we can see the authenticity of the production design: the homes, furniture, food, clothes and weaponry. I do criticize the soundtrack though: much of the dialogue is whispered or muttered. Closed captions would have been a big help but they aren't available for press screenings.

NOTE: This is rated PG-13, but it begins with bloody warfare, proceeds to horrific treatment of the three men on those crosses and concludes with Romans digging up rotting corpses to see if they can pass off one as the body of the missing Yeshua. Some of these gruesome scenes are not appropriate for children. Be warned...
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Here is a preview:
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Let me start out with a warning: Despite this being a Marvel production, this black-humored comic Sci-Fi actioner is R-rated because it's based on an anti-hero instead of a hero. That being said, you should expect an ultra-violent, ultra-profane, ultra-funny horror movie (with nudity). And yes, it's just as jumbled as that, but it sorted itself out and our screening audience exited the theater enthusiastic and happy.

With a committee of screenwriters and directed by Tim Miller (Oscar nominated for Best Animated Short, "Gopher Broke" but "an overpaid tool" according to the opening credits scroll), this production was initiated by comic-book fans who begged via the Internet for a screen version. To everyone's surprise, it happened. So this is primarily a genesis story, the beginnings of a beloved character: how it all started and why.

Here is part of the HUGE cast:
  • Ryan Reynolds ("Woman in Gold") is Wade, a former Special Forces officer turned mercenary. His work is pretty harmless, e.g., he stops a high-school bully; but after a cancer diagnosis and treatment, soon becomes Deadpool, a disfigured survivor with super powers. Now the action really begins as he tries to find and punish his own sadistic tormentor.
  • Morena Baccarin ("Firefly") Lovely Vanessa falls for Blackpool. Their "courtship" is bawdy and R-rated with flashes of nudity. (Reynolds strips many times; I can't tell if he's photo-shopped or not, but Oh MY...) She's a true-blue sweetheart who doesn't want to give up on him.
  • Ed Skrein ("Game of Thrones") Ajax is the ultimate villain; to his dismay, Deadpool keeps calling him by his wimpy REAL name. Like our hero, he too is virtually indestructible and their constant (and bloody) battles prove it.
  • T.J. Miller (Lots of voice work and TV) Weasel is Wade's bartender and friend...sorta. When the chips are down he'd rather not help.
  • Stefan Kapicic ("One Shot") is the voice of Colossus, the gigantic super hero who keeps trying to recruit our hero into their ranks. Deadpool does NOT want to be a super hero because they have too many rules!
  • Brianna Hildebrand ("Prism") Negasonic Teenage Warhead makes the perfect sidekick for super hero Colossus. She blows things up.
  • Leslie Uggams ("Nurse Jackie") Blind Al is the ideal landlady: she can't see Deadpool's ugly face. She misses cocaine...
  • Stan Lee ("Avengers" and all other Marvel productions) We cheered when our beloved icon made his regular cameo appearance. This time he's a DJ!
The soundtrack tickles our memory. Familiar music is almost subliminal at times; other times it gets pretty loud! Expect endless fisticuffs, vehicular mayhem, gunfire and blowie uppie stuff, while quips and comments zip around; expect an occasional dropping of the fourth wall when the person turns and speaks directly to you. We in the audience are never forgotten: at one point Deadpool reaches up and moves the camera to one side because, he explains, he's going to do something he doesn't want us to see.

By the way, for some of the trailers, Ryan Reynolds surprised me, he provides his version of Hollywood's voiceover legend, the late Don Fontaine. And don't forget, this is a Marvel production, so stay through the final credits.
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Here is a link to a trailer:
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The Lady in the Van

I just saw Dame Maggie Smith turn in a performance that would put to shame every single actress nominated for Best Actress in this year's Oscar race. (Smith has already won two Oscars!) Director Nicholas Hytner ("The History Boys"), working with the man who LIVED the story, brings us a memorable (and mostly true) character who deserves our attention.

"The Lady in the Van" is one of those small, quirky, dramedies that the British do so well. This time we aren't in some picturesque backwater hamlet, but instead in the Camden district of London, a stable, close-knit neighborhood that seems filled to the brim with thoughtful, generous people. Alan Bennett is a fairly reclusive resident of this neighborhood although he knows his neighbors and is on friendly terms with them. We discover right away that we'll see TWO Alan Bennetts: One writes stories and plays, the other goes out in the world and hesitantly gets involved. They talk to one another!

Here is most of the cast:
  • Alex Jennings ("Cranford") plays Alan Bennett, the real-life playwright who was inveigled by this dotty old homeless woman into allowing her to park her van in his driveway...for fifteen years! We watch it evolve in a natural way, it's not a brilliant flash of generosity.
  • Maggie Smith ("Downton Abbey") is Miss Shepherd: dirty, rude, smelly, and exasperating. We very quickly suspect there is more to her than meets the eye, but you never heard it from HER! She insists on using Mr. Bennett's lavatory, so the neighbors wonder if that gives her squatter's rights.
  • Roger Allam ("The Angels' Share") is Rufus, one of those tolerant neighbors. I keep thinking this guy will call the authorities, but he is far more patient than I expected.
  • Deborah Findlay ("National Theatre Live: Coriolanus") is his wife Pauline. She is curious, kind and flexible. The neighbors bring our heroine food, they have their children bring her Christmas gifts, and they try to serenade her (THAT doesn't work out well at ALL!).
  • Jim Broadbent ("War & Peace" 2016) Retired Police Officer Underwood only shows up three times in the entire film, but it is his explanation about the motorcycle that brings clarity to Bennett's story.
We watch children in the neighborhood grow up, see Miss Shepherd's disreputable old van replaced by a generous benefactor (and the new one painted that same hideous yellow), see her make some mysterious trips out of town and watch her social worker blame poor Mr. Bennett for her condition!

I won't say any more, but please try to catch this one or buy the DVD when it becomes available. It's certainly worthwhile.
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You can practically smell Dame Maggie!
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Hail, Caesar!

This one has been on my must-see list for months! It has a cast to die for, writers and directors I admire, and the plot is irresistible (I love stories about show business)!

Written and directed by Joel and Ethan Coen (I've been a fan all the way back to 1984's "Blood Simple") and set in 1950s Hollywood, we watch a movie studio fixer try to keep four movies on track, on budget, and on time. Problem is, a star has disappeared ....and there is a casting problem ...and there is an unexpected pregnancy ...and...

Here is that cast to die for:
  • Josh Brolin ("Sicario") Eddie Mannix is the fixer but some things are tough to fix! Where will he find the money for the ransom and how will he protect the reputation of an unmarried, pregnant star? Is he going to accept that tempting job offer from Lockheed? Brolin is convincing as an honorable, hard-working man who wants to do the right thing.
  • Ralph Fiennes ("Spectre") Laurence Lorenz is a much-respected director. He has been assigned a new star for his latest artistic production and now he needs it fixed! Fiennes does a slow burn sooo well.
  • Alden Ehrenreich ("Blue Jasmine") Hobie Doyle is Columbia Studio's resident singing cowboy. Re-assigning him to a costume drama is complicated... Ehrenreich is a terrific discovery. His straight shooter sings, strums the guitar, does rope tricks and innocently frustrates Ralph Fiennes' director. Oh! And he looks like 50s star Audie Murphy. Remember him?
  • Scarlett Johansson ("The Avengers") DeeAnna Moran is the studio's mermaid; she stars in lovely synchronized water ballets but now she is in a real pickle: Can Eddie fix this one? Bad publicity would destroy her (and hurt the studio). Johannson is a hoot!
  • George Clooney ("Tomorrowland") Superstar Baird Whitlock has gone to ground. No one on the set of "Hail Caesar, a Tale of Christ's Life" knows if he's having an existential crisis or is drinking again. Now it looks like he's being held for ransom by a group of Communists. Clooney has never been funnier and he wears a Roman Centurion's uniform from beginning to end. Nice legs...
  • Channing Tatum ("Magic Mike") Burt Gurney is the go-to guy for studio musicals. He sings, he dances, he.... Oh, you know... But there is more to him than meets the eye.
  • Jonah Hill ("Moneyball") is Joseph Silverman, a stony-faced fellow you can rely on.
  • Tilda Swinton ("The Grand Budapest Hotel") is gossip columnist Thora Thacker and her gossip columnist sister Thessaly. Each dame is hot on the trail of her own scoop. I have enjoyed Swinton's recent move to comedies; she has a real flair.
  • Frances McDormand ("Olive Kitteridge") is hilarious as chain-smoking film editor C.C. Calhoon.
  • Many others are worthy of note, but space does not permit. LOVED the fixer's assistant, the Carmen Miranda type, the kidnappers (and their dog), and the submarine. Yeah, I said submarine.
This frantic comedy captures the phony morality of 1950s Hollywood: Every marriage is made in heaven and all single women are saints. It also captures the zeal of those gossip doyennes: They rule the press, control the public's perception of the stars and battle each other for every scoop and exposé! 

Rated PG-13, we can expect a smattering of profanity and implied promiscuity, but no F bombs or sweaty bodies; we get to peek behind the curtain of four genre productions: a drama, a western, a water ballet, and a tap-dancing musical. It was simpler times, e.g., our hero goes to Confession when he sneaks a cigarette after he had promised...; the kidnappers are what I see as an anti-Trumbo bunch, these guys are Hollywood screenwriters who are active, working Communists. Their philosophical discussions are a stitch and one elderly guy thinks they have kidnapped Clark Gable!

Don't miss this one.
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Take a look:
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