The Lady in the Van

Are you having Maggie Smith withdrawal now that Downton Abbey has ended? Never fear! She’s starring in a quirky little dramedy in theaters now (though it won’t lose anything going to the small screen.) In The Lady in the Van she plays a character as far removed from Violet Crawley, Countess of Grantham as one could imagine, but somehow there is still a haughty dowager quality to her homeless Miss Shepherd. She is Dame Maggie, after all. Set in 1974, the film is loosely based on the true story of a very damaged woman who took to living in her van following a traumatic accident and was canny enough to find a kind playwright who was willing to grant her access to his private off-street parking space and ultimately his life. Originally agreeing to a three week stay, she ended up there for 15 years, and the writer, Alan Bennett (The Madness of King George, The History Boys), turned that experience into a book about their unusual relationship, which he adapted first for the stage, then as a radio play, and now for this sweet, sad little film.

Miracles From Heaven

Miracles From Heaven is like ‘a very special episode’ of Touched By an Angel or Highway to Heaven or some tv-movie you might see on the Hallmark Channel or ABC Family at Christmas or Easter. It doesn’t need to be seen on the big screen unless you’re a huge fan of the aforementioned programs and/or a good Christian family looking for a faith-based movie to affirm your faith in god, prayer, and miracles. The movie is based on a book that is based on a true story about a Texas girl named Anna Beam (Kylie Rogers). At age 10, Anna was diagnosed with an incurable digestive disease that miraculously went away after she fell 30-feet, head-first, into a hollow tree. That’s not a spoiler. That’s the story.

CinemaClash Podcast: 10 Cloverfield Lane, Knight of Cups, Embrace of the Serpent, and more!

I’m not a big fan of horror movies, but 10 Cloverfield Lane is more of a psychological drama filled with twists and turns and solid performances that keep you on the edge of your seat for a surprisingly entertaining – or at least, attention-holding – two hours. For more (spoiler-free) insight and debate on 10 Cloverfield Lane, Knight of Cups, Embrace of the Serpent, and more, check out the latest CinemaClash podcast with me and my cinema nemesis Charlie Juhl:

CinemaClash Podcast: Zootopia, London Has Fallen, WTF

Check out my latest podcast with Charlie Juhl. This week, Charlie and I clash over Zootopia, London Has Fallen, and Whiskey Tango Foxtrot. He thinks my tastes are shallow. I think his are pretentious. Take a listen, and let us know what YOU think!

Zootopia

Zootopia is by far my favorite animated movie since Inside Out and a great choice for the whole family. It’s one of those Disney movies that throws a few bones to the older kids and adults in the audience without diluting its sweet and simple message about pursuing your dreams and not getting caught up in stereotypes.

Gods of Egypt

Gods of Egypt is full of pretty people, decent-enough acting, and CGI spectacle. But it’s also pretty boring. Like, epically boring. I don’t expect it to live the immortal life enjoyed by some of the gods in the movie, but it may get a second lease on life as a mediocre rental. Here’s the gist: Gods of Egypt is about a mortal named Bek (Brendon Thwaites) who calls on the powerful god Horus (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau from Game of Thrones) to emerge from a self-imposed exile to help Bek rescue his true love. First, they must wrest control of Egypt back from Horus’s evil brother, the merciless god of darkness Set (Gerard Butler, who basically recycled his wardrobe from The 300). It’s sort of like the Disney classic Aladdin meets the 2014 dud Exodus: Gods and Kings. There’s romantic drama, action, epic battle scenes, gods that sprout wings and travel across the heavens, sibling rivalry, and – ultimately – the heartfelt message that with the right mix of courage and sacrifice, mortals and gods can work together to return Egypt to a land of peace and prosperity!

Race

It’s a shame that Race, an inspiring biopic about American track-and-field superstar Jesse Owens competing in the 1936 Olympics in Berlin, and Eddie the Eagle, an inspiring biopic about an awkward British ski jumper competing against all odds in the 1988 Olympics in Calgary are both hitting theaters at about the same time (with Race first out of the gate). Both are good. Neither is great. Race has far deeper political, historical, and sports-related significance, and despite some dramatic license (and omissions), has a story and supporting characters based in fairly well-documented fact.

Eddie the Eagle

Eddie the Eagle is a feel-good movie for the masses, inspired by a true story, though dramatically boosted by fictionalized supporting characters and plot points. It’s the story of Eddie Edwards, a British ski jumper who charmed the world at the 1988 Winter Olympics in Calgary with his goofy antics, big glasses, and determination to compete despite a definite lack of world-class athletic prowess. British actor Taron Egerton (Kingsman: The Secret Service) downplays his looks and ramps up the nerd factor to play Eddie, an underdog athlete you can’t help but root for. I read that both Steve Coogan (Philomena) and Rupert Grint (Harry Potter) were once slated to play Eddie and I could totally see either of them pulling it off as well. Ultimately, it’s what Eddie represents that makes the movie work… well, that and Hugh Jackman. ☺

The Big Short

I’m behind on my Oscar nominees viewing, but I finally caught this one. I’d expected it to be more like Margin Call, but thankfully, though its subject matter is kind of similar, it is by turns funny and horrifying. Adapted from Michael Lewis’s non-fiction bestseller “The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine,” it tells the story of how a small group of money men saw what was happening in the housing market in 2005 and set about shorting the market and making a killing. Along the way, they tried to wake banking regulators and the wider market to their realization that it was all about to go bust, but were totally ignored by those who were making money hand over fist on bad loans. It is a morality tale, very well told.

Hail, Caesar!

The Coen Brothers are prolific filmmakers, but for me their films are hit or miss. I loved No Country for Old Men, and Fargo was amazing. But then there are those utterly forgettable flicks – The Lady Killers, or Burn After Reading. I’d put Hail, Caesar! somewhere in between. It’s plenty entertaining but it isn’t going on the shelf with The Big Lebowski. It’s a lovely walk around 50s era Hollywood with a star-studded cast having a lot of fun. And if for nothing else, you should see it for Channing Tatum’s dance number.