The Phantom of the Open

Posted on June 9, 2022 at 5:45 pm

B
Lowest Recommended Age: High School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for some strong language and smoking
Profanity: Very strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Alcohol
Violence/ Scariness: Tense confrontations
Diversity Issues: Class issues are a theme in the movie
Date Released to Theaters: June 3, 2022
Date Released to DVD: August 30, 2022

Copyright Entertainment One 2022
I’m going to appropriate a term used for the mystery novels set in England where everyone sits down for tea with the vicar to discuss the latest clues — “cozies” — and use it for the Britain-set stories of irresistibly pixie-ish charm. And within that genre is a sub-genre that, to an American, seems quintessentially British. We all love our heroes, our risk-takers who succeed. But the understated British also love the goofy ones who pursue silly goals and sometimes fail spectacularly and do not seem to be bothered by it. Take “Eddie the Eagle,” for example, the Taron Edgerton film about the Olympic athlete who came in last in his event in the 1988 Olympics. Or those like Tim FitzHigham who rowed a bathtub across the English Channel. “The Phantom of the Open” is about a crane operator who decided to compete in the world’s oldest and most prestigious golfing competition, the British Open despite, among other drawbacks, never having actually played a round of golf. It is based on the real-life story of Maurice Flitcroft.

Mark Rylance, who also co-produced, pays Maurice, who was born in a small town where everyone works in the shipyard. During WWII he was evacuated to Scotland, where for the first time he saw other possibilities and was encouraged to discover and pursue his own dreams. He ended up back home and working at the shipyard, though. And he fell in love with a secretary there (Sally Hawkins as Jean), a single mother. They had twins and then everything pretty much stayed the same as the three boys grew up.

And then the political and economic changes led to “redundancies” (lay-offs) and for the first time Maurice had a chance to think about what dreams he might have. That was so far from his experience he first had to ask Jean to think of some. But then, one night, watching his first-ever television, he saw a golf match and a dream was born.

The British Open, as its name suggests, did not require any particular level of achievement or qualification, but the people who ran it just assumed that only world-class golfers would try to participate. Maurice avoided having to disclose his handicap (he had no idea what that was) by self-certifying as a professional, and that was all it took. And so, he found himself competing as the astonished onlookers, including the other golfers and the television audience, saw him, well, let’s just say the record he set was not for the lowest score.

This is a part made for Rylance, who is ideally suited to a character who may not be as naive as he appears. Director Craig Roberts gives the story a fairy tale quality, seeing Maurice as an innocent wandering through the big bad world and outsmarting those who live by traditional notions of class, power, and achievement, all to the bright and bouncy soundtrack of 70’s hits. Maurice is deferential and courteous but he is also unstoppable. Some people call his Quixotic efforts to play in the Open pranks or hoaxes. This movie comes down on the side of considering him a lovable eccentric. And it delivers with a heartwarming conclusion that — especially if you don’t follow the movie with a further investigation into the facts — might inspire you to dream a little bigger yourself.

Parents should know that this movie has some strong language, smoking and drinking.

Family discussion: Why do some people think of Maurice as a “legend?” Why was that his dream?

If you like this, try: “Eddie the Eagle” and clips of the real Maurice on YouTube

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The Outfit

Posted on March 17, 2022 at 12:46 pm

A-
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating: Rated R for some bloody violence, and language throughout
Profanity: Pervasive strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Smoking
Violence/ Scariness: Crime-related peril and violence, characters injured and killed, guns, knives fire, disturbing graphic images
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: March 18, 2022
Date Released to DVD: May 2, 2022

The title of “The Outfit” has a double meaning, like most of the other details in the movie. It refers to the occupation of Leonard (Mark Rylance), who makes bespoke men’s suits in post WWII Chicago. His store, with a workshop in the back, is where the entire film takes place.

Don’t call Leonard a tailor; he will correct you by explaining that anyone with a needle and thread can sew. He is a cutter, a profession that requires exquisite precision, concentration, patience, and skill. His most prized possession is his lovingly honed fabric shears. And in a world where even names are doubled and language is used to obscure, deflect, and demean, he is called “English” by his most important customers, a gangster group known as “The Outfit.”

Leonard has a pretty receptionist named Mable (Zoey Deutch), who has spent her life on the same block. She dreams of seeing the world but until then she collects snow globes of the places she hopes to see. The latest one is Big Ben. Of course Leonard has seen it and he tells her dismissively that it is just a clock. In a wonderfully-written scene they both stumble as they try to express their concern for one another.

Copyright Focus Features 2022

Leonard’s first customer was Roy (Simon Russell Beale of “The Death of Stalin”), a crime boss with a taste for fine menswear. He knows that “The Row” refers to Saville Row, where the wealthiest men in the world get their understated, perfectly tailored suits. Leonard tells us that a suit is not just a jacket and trousers. It is made up of four fabrics cut into 38 separate pieces, assembled in 228 steps. And, he tells us, it is as important to know the man who will wear the suit as it is to take his measurements. We see that Leonard is a person of deliberation, careful observation, and an awareness that perfection may not be achievable, but it is worth trying to get as close as possible. And we will learn that he is a person who thinks quickly, lies persuasively, and does not
get rattled.

We in the audience are going to get rattled, though, in this expertly crafted puzzle box of a movie that all takes place in one location, with a very small cast of characters, but keeps the twists and turns coming until the last few minutes. Roy has an impetuous, hot-headed son, Richie (Dylan O’Brien), who travels with a level-headed, ruthless gangster Richie thinks is his sidekick but is really his minder (Johnny Flynn as Francis).  Their competition for Roy’s respect is volatile.

It is fascinating to watch Leonard respond in the moment to the shifting loyalties and threats. Rylance, as always, is a master of the smallest gesture and change of expression. He so deeply immersed himself in preparation for the role that he worked with Saville Row tailors/cutters to create the suit he wears in the film. His scene with Beale, two master actors at the peak of their powers, is electrifying.

“The Outfit” is a promising debut for first-time director Graham Moore, an Oscar-winner for the screenplay of “The Imitation Game” and co-writer of this film as well. It is as well-crafted as the suits pieced by the expert cutter at its center.

Parents should know that this movie is about gangsters and it includes guns, knives, fire, and fights, with many characters injured and murdered and some very graphic and bloody images. Characters use strong language and smoke and there are sexual references.

Family discussion: What was the biggest surprise in the movie? What tool is important in your life?

If you like this, try: “Layer Cake” and “Confidence”

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Ready Player One

Posted on March 28, 2018 at 4:00 pm

A-
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for sequences of sci-fi action violence, bloody images, some suggestive material, partial nudity and language
Profanity: Brief strong language, one f-word
Alcohol/ Drugs: None
Violence/ Scariness: Extended sci-fi/fantasy peril and violence, real and virtual weapons, chases, and explosions, arson, characters injured and killed
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: March 30, 2018
Date Released to DVD: July 23, 2018
Copyright Warner Brothers 2018

You know that one perfect high note in the A-Ha song, “Take on Me?” The goosebumpy bliss of it? “Ready Player One,” with endless callbacks to the era of A-Ha, is that note as a movie, set in the future, in love with the past, and uncannily right of this exact moment. There could be no better director than Steven Spielberg to take on this movie about a virtual game filled with the cultural touchstones of the 1980’s, a decade he helped define for the generation who will now be taking their children to this film and re-entering their own childhoods. We are all Marty McFly, now, going back to the future in a Delorean.

Spielberg is as good as anyone has ever been at the craft of cinematic storytelling, and there has never been a story more suited to that craft than this one, based on the book by first-time author Ernest Cline, who co-scripted and co-produced, and who admits that his world view was in large part formed by the Spielberg movies he watched as a kid in the 1980’s. There is a lot of nostalgia in the film, but also themes that could have come from today’s news: the role of technology as a distraction and as an invasion of privacy and underminer of democracy and the idea of teenagers saving the world.

It is Columbus, Ohio, 2045, when “people have stopped trying to fix problems and are just trying to outlive them.” The world is a bleak and broken place and most people spend most of their time escaping reality via a massive, enthralling online world called The Oasis, invented by James Halliday (Mark Rylance) a shy, obsessive genius who is a combination of Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, Walt Disney, and Willy Wonka. “They come for all the things they can do,” we hear, “but stay for all the things they can be.” Players can design their own avatar personas any way they want — with antlers or wings, beautiful or ugly, super-powerful, purple, any age, gender, or species.

Five years before this story begins, Halliday died, leaving his half-trillion dollar empire and sole control of The Oasis to whomever was the first to discover the “Easter egg”* hidden in the game, which required agility, puzzle-solving, and a comprehensive knowledge of Halliday’s life and the popular culture he immersed himself in as a child in the 1980’s.

In five years, no one has even found the first of the three keys that lead to the egg. Many people have given up. Those still seeking it are called “gunters” (egg hunters). Wade Watts (“Mud’s” Tye Sheridan) is a teenage orphan living with his aunt and her latest in a series of abusive boyfriends in what is essentially a vertical trailer park called The Stacks. The film’s opening scene is brilliantly designed, as the camera pans down a dingy, jerrybuilt column of shabby capsules, showing each occupant caught up in a different virtual reality scenario, from boxing to pole dancing, with just one woman growing real-life flowers, the only person who even notices that Wade is there.

Wade signs into The Oasis, using haptic** gloves and a virtual reality eyepiece, for yet another try at crossing a virtual version of a Manhattan bridge guarded by King Kong. His avatar is Parzival***, who drives a Delorean, and he has an online friend, an enormous, mechanically-gifted man named Aech (I won’t reveal the voice performer to avoid spoilers). And he is intrigued by a female avatar named Art3mis (again, no spoilers) who rides the red motorcycle from the Akira video game. While Parzival and Art3mis both insist they will not “clan up” (team up with other players, they end up forming an alliance that includes two other avatars, Sho and Daito.

The Nolan Sorrento (Ben Mendelsohn) is head of the rival online company, Innovative Online Industries, and he wants to be the one to find the egg so he can make a lot of money selling ads (he has determined the exact number of ads that can bombard users “before inducing seizures,” he crisply informs his staff) and charging for access. IOI has hundreds of researchers and gamers trying to find the egg. And it operates “Loyalty Centers,” essentially debtors prisons, where those who owe the company money have to work it off under brutal and impossibly Sissiphusian conditions.

Wade has to locate three keys and solve clues involving not just logic and intense research but empathy, clues that turn out to be wisely selected by Halliday, Willie Wonka-style, to find the right person to take over the Oasis. Spielberg himself has to locate three keys as a filmmaker and does so with as much grace, heart, and integrity as Wade, his own avatar through the story. The copper key is the game level, the action scenes and the next-level special effects, including the chase across the Manhattan bridge and a stunning set piece inside the Stanley Kubrick movie, The Shining, repurposed here with bravura wit and skill. The jade key is the nostalgia, with dozens, perhaps hundreds of 80’s references, from the iconic and enduring to the obscure and forgotten. It is not, as is too often the case, shortcuts to play into the audience’s emotions, but deployed, again, with consummate wit and skill as commentary, as surprise, and as a reminder of our connections to the pop culture that first excited and engaged us. And the crystal key, well, it has been said often that the theme of all Spielberg movies is finding your way home. Wade is a 21st century Dorothy in Oz or Alice in Wonderland — or David in “WarGames,” exploring a land of infinite magic and wonder — and danger — but learning that there’s no place like home.

*The use of the term “Easter egg” to describe secret features originates from the 1979 video game Adventure for the Atari 2600 game console, programmed by employee Warren Robinett.

**They make it possible for the wearer to “feel” or “touch” virtual characters and objects.

***Named for one of King Arthur’s knights, who devoted his life to the search for the Holy Grail.

Parents should know that this film includes extended real world and virtual peril and violence including chases, explosions, weapons, murder, brief crude humor, some sexual references, brief strong language

Family discussion: What would your avatar be in the Oasis and why? Why would people stop trying to fix problems? What would Sorrento do with the Oasis and how would users respond?

If you like this, try: The book by Ernest Cline and movies that this one refers to, including “The Shining,” “The Iron Giant,” and “Back to the Future”

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Trailer: Dunkirk

Posted on April 4, 2017 at 8:00 am

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GEUsilurA3w

Harry Styles, Tom Hardy, Cillian Murphy, and Mark Rylance star in the WWII story “Dunkirk,” the story of one of the greatest rescue operations in military history, when the Allied forces were beat back to the coast by the Germans and 338,226 men escaped, including 139,997 French, Polish, and Belgian troops, together with a small number of Dutch soldiers, aboard 861 vessels (of which 243 were sunk during the operation). Winston Churchill called it “the miracle of deliverance.” The rescue and its depiction as a morale-booster is also featured in the spring release, “Their Finest.”

Some background:

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The BFG

Posted on June 30, 2016 at 5:50 pm

B+
Lowest Recommended Age: Kindergarten - 3rd Grade
MPAA Rating: Rated PG for action/peril, some scary moments and brief rude humor
Profanity: None
Alcohol/ Drugs: Brief scene with drunken characters
Violence/ Scariness: Extended fantasy-style violence, reference to off-screen violence, including death of children, but no characters injured
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: July 1, 2016
Date Released to DVD: November 28, 2016
Amazon.com ASIN: B01G4N5Q0A
Copyright 2016 Disney
Copyright 2016 Disney

Steven Spielberg. the director who, with his partners, named their movie studio Dreamworks, understands that movies are like a guided dream. Roald Dahl’s story is about a Big Friendly Giant who collects, selects, edits, and delivers dreams to make people happy and conveys messages that are beyond the capacity of verbal human interaction. Clearly, this story connects with Spielberg profoundly, and it shows.

At 3 am one night in 1983, a girl named Sophie (Ruby Barnhill) is the only one awake in the horrible London orphanage where she lives. We can see right away that she is brave and smart, even fierce, as she threatens to call the cops on some drunken revelers making noise in the street. But then she witnesses a disturbance of another kind. Someone very, very large, as tall as her building, is walking quietly — no, stealthily — through the streets.

And then an enormous hand reaches silently and carefully into the window of the room filled with sleeping girls and the very awake Sophie, and grabs her, quilt and all. It is a giant.

He knows how to stay hidden. We see him employ some clever camouflage that keeps the Londoners from seeing him, and then takes off for Giant country, far, far away, but a matter of moments if you’ve got giant legs to leap with. Sophie is terrified. She is sure that the giant wants to eat her. But he does not eat children, he tells her, in his funny, corkscrew, word-twisting language. He has only taken her because she saw him, and he cannot risk her telling anyone about him. He has taken her to keep her from giving away his secret, which means she will have to stay with him forever.

Sophie is determined to run away. But that night, in the crow’s nest of a ship that is one of the many curios crowding his home, she dreams that she escapes, only to be captured and eaten by some even bigger giants. Through this dream, she begins to understand what her giant, soon to be known as the BFG, can’t explain any other way. She cannot be safe if she leaves his house. The other giants, who are as big to him as he is to Sophie, are uncivilized brutes and bullies. They eat “human beans,” including children (a bit less grisly than in the book, but still creepy).

The BFG, whose huge ears listen to everything, even the quietest whisperings of the heart, collects dreams. Sophie goes with him to the place where dreams grow, and she helps him deliver the happiest possible dreams to a young boy and his family. The lonely little girl and the lonely giant get to know one another, and become friends. But the other giants can smell her, and they won’t leave the BFG and Sophie alone. They have to come up with a plan to get rid of the child-eating giants forever. It will involve dreams. And corgis.

This is a slighter story than Dahl’s richly imagined Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Matilda, and James and the Giant Peach, with much of its humor coming from the BFG’s mangled words and his affection for his favorite beverage, Frobscottle, a fizzy green drink with bubbles that float down, rather than up. The noisy and powerfully butt-lifting physical consequence of this downward gas is what the BFG calls a whizpopple. And there is also an extended scene with the BFG trying to fit into the “bean”-sized world, sitting on a bench on top of a piano and using a rake as a fork.

That almost doesn’t matter, given Spielberg’s gorgeously imagined world and the performances of Mark Rylance as the BFG and Barnhill as Sophie. Rylance, whose last collaboration with Spielberg won him an Oscar for “Bridge of Spies,” is transformed via motion capture into the BFG, and does not lose an atom of his ability to express the BFG’s melancholy, isolation, gentleness, and integrity.

Spielberg has always been superb in casting, especially with children. Barnhill’s performance would be remarkable if she were interacting in a built, rather than virtual world. Given that in much of the movie she was probably looking at a tennis ball hanging in front of a green screen, it is truly astonishing. She so clearly believes in what we see around her and to her character’s friendship with the BFG that we believe in it, too. Next-level special effects help, too, with utterly seamless interaction between the digital and practical effects and gorgeous, wonderfully intricate production design that makes the BFG’s home both cozy and strange. The setting for retrieving the dreams is enchanting, though the visualization of the dreams themselves is not up to the level of the rest of the design. But the friendship between the BFG and Sophie is real magic.

Parents should know that this film includes extended fantasy peril and some violence (no characters hurt), references to children being eaten by giants, and some potty humor.

Family discussion: What dream would you most like to have? Why wasn’t the BFG like the other giants?

If you like this, try: Roald Dahl books and movies including “Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory,” “Fantastic Mr. Fox,” “Matilda,” and “James and the Giant Peach”

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