Movie Review: “Eddie the Eagle”

Taron Egerton, Hugh Jackman, Jo Hartley, Keith Allen
Dexter Fletcher

Disney may be king of the underdog sports drama, but actor-turned-director Dexter Fletcher aims to beat the studio at its own game with this inspirational true story that’s equal parts “Rudy” and “Cool Runnings.” (Curiously, the story is set during the same Winter Olympics that marked the debut of the Jamaican bobsled team that inspired the latter film.) Though it’s a pretty formulaic underdog tale that checks off all the usual sports movie clichés – from the unlikely hero who overcomes insurmountable odds, to the training montages, setbacks and cardboard villains – “Eddie the Eagle” succeeds as an enjoyable feel-good film that wears its heart (and humor) on its sleeve just like its incredibly charismatic subject.

As long as he can remember, Eddie Edwards (Taron Egerton) wanted to compete in the Olympics, despite not being very athletic as a kid. Following a series of failed attempts at various sports, he eventually discovers a love for downhill skiing and turns out to be pretty good at it. But after narrowly missing out on selection for the squad representing Great Britain at the 1988 Winter Games in Calgary, Eddie switches his focus to ski jumping when he discovers that the country hasn’t had a recognized ski jumper in over 60 years. With no time to waste and plenty to learn, Eddie heads to an Olympic training camp in Germany, where he meets former ski jumping champion Bronson Peary (Hugh Jackman) – now a washed-up alcoholic who drives a snow plow for a living – and asks for his help in order to qualify for Calgary.

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Movie Review: “Risen”

Joseph Fiennes, Tom Felton, Peter Firth, Cliff Curtis, Maria Botto
Kevin Reynolds

There is a scene in the Coen brothers’ latest film, “Hail, Caesar!,” where a movie exec has a meeting with four clergymen of different denominations to see if any of them takes issue with how Christ is portrayed in one of their upcoming films. It’s one of the funnier scenes in the movie; it’s also why most Biblical retellings reek of focus groups and compromise, because the last thing a studio wants is to be perceived as insensitive when it comes to religion. “Risen” manages to avoid those trappings by doing the simplest thing: it focuses on one specific event – the Resurrection, along with the subsequent two weeks or so – and in the process sets a ceiling on the audience’s expectations. This sounds like damning with faint praise, but it turns out to be a very shrewd move.

Clavius (Joseph Fiennes) is an ambitious, ruthless commander in the Roman army battalion stationed in the Judean Desert. He spends most of his days battling resistance fighters, while overseeing the occasional crucifixion. One day, Clavius is giving the final orders that will put three recently crucified men out of their misery, but one of them, whom the onlookers refer to as the King of Nazarene, does not scream in pain or beg for mercy. Clavius’ men kill him and, at the suggestion of a local Hebrew leader, lock him in a tomb, with Romans standing guard. The guards are there to prevent the locals from moving the body and later claiming that it was the work of God, as predicted in the prophecy.

The locals don’t move the body; they never had the opportunity. The king (Cliff Curtis), referred to as Yeshua by his people, is gone from the tomb, something that greatly displeases Clavius’ superior Pilate (Peter Firth), who does not want the religious fervor already sweeping the area to boil over. Clavius is tasked with solving the mystery of the missing king, but he has decidedly mixed feelings about why he’s doing it. He knew something wasn’t right about how Yeshua handled his punishment, and to hear those devoted to the king sing his praises, Clavius begins to second-guess everything he stands for. The second-guessing would only get stranger from there.

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Movie Review: “The Witch”

Anya Taylor-Joy, Ralph Ineson, Kate Dickie, Harvey Scrimshaw
Robert Eggers

Last year, Robert Eggers’ directorial debut, “The Witch,” premiered at the Sundance Film Festival and was quickly praised as one of the scariest films in years. That’s a high bar to reach, but Eggers manages it with this sparse, chilling experience.

Set in 1630, the movie follows a deeply religious family that has been cast out from its home in New England. A stubborn farmer (Ralph Ineson), his wife (Katie Dickiea) and their young children leave and don’t look back, until things quickly go wrong at their new home. In the woods by their house lives a witch that few believe in, even when the family’s baby is kidnapped. The parents don’t believe their eldest daughter, Thomasin (Anya Taylor-Joy), instead assuming that an animal grabbed the baby. From the beginning, we know that’s not the case, and soon Thomasin and her family are torn apart.

Most of the horrors don’t lie in the woods or the witch. Like a lot of classic horror movies centered on the kids, some of the tension is drawn from the question: “What if my parents don’t believe me?” They normally don’t in these instances, and the fear and isolation continues to grow for the siblings. Much of the tension in “The Witch” is due more to the internal conflict than the witch herself.

But that witch is one terrifying antagonist. Eggers wisely plays her as a mysterious figure, not revealing her until the time is just right. When she’s finally unveiled, it’s both frightening and comical – an entertaining balance that the film achieves. How far her powers go, however, you never quite know. Are the parents under her spell, the spell of God, or have they simply blinded themselves?

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Movie Review: “Zoolander 2″

Ben Stiller, Owen Wilson, Penelope Cruz, Will Ferrell, Kristen Wiig
Ben Stiller

Comedy sequels are tough. One of the few good recent examples, “Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues,” managed to keep the characters fresh, which is the key to a successful comedy sequel. But 15 years after the first “Zoolander,” is there still an appetite for these lovably dumb male models? And are they still even lovably dumb? In this sequel, once again directed by Ben Stiller, they are not.

The original film was a silly comedy that played on the conventions of conspiracy thrillers like “The Manchurian Candidate,” and it earned its status as a cult classic. “Zoolander” has aged well and isn’t going away anytime soon, but it’s unlikely that “Zoolander 2” will grow on audiences in the same way.

The sequel continues to play with the trappings of a conspiracy thriller. In the opening minutes, Justin Bieber is assassinated, setting up a “Da Vinci Code”-esque adventure that forces Derek (Stiller) and Hansel (Owen Wilson) to come out of retirement. The two went through a traumatic experience together shortly after the events of the first film. They haven’t spoken since the accident, but that all changes when they’re invited by incomprehensible fashion god Alexanya Atoz (Kristen Wiig) to participate in one of her shows. Once they get to the show, however, they’re treated like jokes. They are no longer the men they used to be, and all Derek wants is to prove to Child Services that he’s fit to raise his son.

The opening setpiece involving Bieber on the run is well done, and further proof of Stiller’s skills as a director. Few comedic directors make movies as cinematic as Stiller. The laughs aren’t always there, as is the case with “Zoolander 2,” but looking at earlier films like “The Cable Guy” and “Tropic Thunder,” he’s capable of matching the styles of the movies he’s emulating and poking fun at. At times, “Zoolander 2” is as flashy as the glossy mysteries it’s riffing on.

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Movie Review: “How to Be Single”

Dakota Johnson, Rebel Wilson, Alison Brie, Leslie Mann, Anders Holm, Nicholas Braun, Jake Lacy, Damon Wayans Jr., Jason Mantzoukas
Christian Ditter

Don’t let the dirty talk and rampant sex fool you: “How to Be Single” is as safe as kittens. It might be the most harmless raunch-com ever made, a mash-up of several other mediocre relationship films (and one baby film) rolled into one profane package. The four leads sell it as well as they can, but this film was going to be a nonstarter regardless of whom they cast.

Alice (Dakota Johnson) meets cute with Josh (Nicholas Braun) during their freshman year at college. Fast-forward four years, and Alice is moving out of the New York apartment she and Josh share in order to have some ‘me’ time, thinking she will get a feel for being alone, and that will give her a whole new appreciation for being part of a couple. It’s meant to be temporary. It turns into something else.

Alice moves into her sister Meg’s apartment. Meg (Leslie Mann) is a careerist obstetrician who’s never thought of having a baby of her own, until she spends a few minutes alone with one (this after delivering over 3,000 of them); after which, getting pregnant is the only thing that matters to her.

Alice works at a law firm with Robin (Rebel Wilson). Robin is a party girl who has lots of indiscriminate sex. We are supposed to like Robin, even though she will either be dead or in rehab in three years.

Lucy (Alison Brie) doesn’t know Alice, Meg or Robin, but she lives above the bar that Alice and Robin frequent, and spends time in the bar mooching off of their Wi-Fi while she perfects her dating site algorithm to find her man. Bartender Tom (Anders Holm) is a player’s player, but he serves as Lucy’s wingman from time to time as she brings her algorithm contestants to the bar. Lucy, unknowingly, has Tom rethinking his life choices, though not before Tom has had sex with two of the other three leads.

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