Movie Review: “Eddie the Eagle”

Eddie the Eagle

Inspired by the story of that most amateur of Olympians, Michael “Eddie” Edwards, “Eddie the Eagle” is the kind of feel-good dramedy that comes along every few years to remind us that even the Everyman can have his day. Much in the spirit of underdog films like 1993’s “Rudy”, “Eddie the Eagle” tells the story of a never-will-be who has his moment in the spotlight.

The eponymous lead character is played by the distinctly more chiseled Taron Egerton (“Kingsman: The Secret Service”), who mimics the original’s goggle-glass squinting, resting underbite-driven grimace-face, and happy-go-lucky attitude without making Edwards a complete caricature. As it is, it seems almost too good to be true that Edwards managed to make the impossible happen–to be the first Olympic ski jumper from England in nearly 60 years. He came from seemingly nowhere, a mildly accomplished skier who didn’t qualify for the 1984 Olympics and spent his off-slope time following in his father’s footsteps as a plasterer.

From an early age, Edwards ignores the misgivings and discouragement from those around him; much like the 22-year-old self portrayed by Egerton, a 6-year-old Edwards simply collects his things and heads for the bus station to go to compete once he sets his mind to it. His tradesman father (Keith Allen of “Trainspotting”) believes all these dreams nothing but folly and continually urges Edwards to focus on his plastering and build a career. Edwards’ mother (Jo Hartley of “This is England”) is one of the few people who consistently supports him (and, oddly enough, it’s really only three women in “Eddie the Eagle” who encourage him; the males are anywhere from ambivalent to downright hostile and bullying).

When he’s rejected by the British Olympic Ski Team as unsuitable (whether due to demeanor, lack of experience, or general class issues), Edwards is ready to hang up his skis until he realizes that ski jumping could offer him another avenue. With no other Brit poised to represent in that event for the 1988 Games, Edwards decides to move to Germany to train with some of the best in the sport. It’s there that he meets his primary on-screen foil, a boozy jerk of a slopes manager who turns out to be Bronson Peary, a fallen-from-grace former Olympian (“X-Men” alumnus Hugh Jackman, sporting an American accent). Edwards pursues Peary with the persistence of a love-struck teenager, hoping experienced guidance will far outstrip self-training. Where Edwards has limited ability and unparalleled tenacity around reaching his goal of competing at the Olympics, Peary has talent without discipline–although he’s awfully attached to his “jacket” (a flask of liquor sporting a faded American flag). It becomes clear that Peary let down not only the coach-to-end-all-coaches, Warren Sharp (a muted Christopher Walken), he let himself down.

Edwards’ mix of fascination and panic when trying progressively longer jumps shows that he isn’t completely without his wits, but he is fairly oblivious to the obvious danger posed by his über-novice status. This is evident as he describes ski jumping as “still skiing…just a bit higher.” Peary (who apparently is not intended to be representative of either/both of the real Edwards’ coaches from his training in Lake Placid, NY) sees Edwards as a fool: sixteen years too late to start training and completely out of his depth. Edwards is often the butt of jokes by his fellow jumpers, particularly the Norwegian team helmed by Bjørn (Rune Temte, the menacing Ubba of “The Last Kingdom”). Once Edwards finally breaks down Peary’s resistance and gains him as a coach, his effort begins in earnest. Of course, there are setbacks–including a spectacularly brutal wipe-out. Ski jumping, as they so often point out to Edwards, is for the brave and crazy, and he’s warned that the 90m jump would be more likely to land him in a coffin than on the winners’ podium.

For those of us who watched Edwards in the Olympics nearly 30 years ago, this story is somewhat familiar, and Edwards tends to trigger either amusement or resentment. Some of this is visible in the movie, where crowds in Calgary warm to his enthusiasm following landing an important jump–but where “Eddie the Eagle” fails to deliver is in truly laying bare how much backlash he faced. According to the real Edwards’ own accounts, he received threatening letters from fellow athletes who felt he made a mockery of the sport by taking the Olympic stage without paying years of dues in blood, sweat, and training. While you do see Edwards face some hazing and pranking, it’s not at a level where he seems to be thrown off by any real measure. Egerton’s Edwards brushes most of it off–if he registers it at all–not really processing the massive amounts of shade thrown in his direction by nearly everybody in his life. As close as you see him feel the weight of dismissal comes in one tear-filled phone call with his parents and a separate conversation with Peary where he protests: “I was kicked off every team I was on before I got a chance to prove myself.”

When it comes to deciding whether “Eddie the Eagle” is okay for kids, I’d probably say that it’s fine for many. The majority of the violence is limited to the types of jump wipeouts that comprised the “Agony of Defeat” in the old ABC Sports intros, and the sexual innuendo is represented primary by a clumsily dodged come-on attempt aimed at Edwards and a “When Harry Met Sally” deli-style moment for Jackman’s Peary. You’ll never look at a jump again without thinking of Bo Derek.

Overall, the message of “Eddie the Eagle” is that sometimes grit and determination are enough to reach life goals, although Edwards never expected to win gold. He wanted the chance to compete, and his very presence and ability to make it onto the scoreboard without crashing out was a miracle of sorts. The movie has a vibe that’s distinctly afterschool special, but it sports some impressive scenery and able acting on all counts–especially by Egerton. “Eddie the Eagle” is certainly one to watch for some inspirational viewing. It’s not 100% faithful to the story leading up to the Olympics, in terms of locations and people, but actual Olympic footage makes it into the film and the scenes of Calgary are based on what happened for the real Edwards. The synth-heavy soundtrack is pure-80’s, and a training montage set to Frankie Goes to Hollywood’s “Two Tribes” is derivative in the most delightful way (at least for those of us that are FGtH fans).

Three out of four stars.

“Eddie the Eagle” flies into theatres on Friday, February 26, 2016. It is rated PG-13 for some suggestive material, partial nudity, and smoking.

One big thing Star Wars is getting WRONG

PG-13 rating

SPOILER ALERT! This post discusses specific plot points of the first SIX Star Wars movies, but it DOES NOT include spoilers for Episode VII: The Force Awakens. If you haven’t yet seen Episodes I-VI, consider yourself warned that key details will be discussed below. 


I love “Star Wars”. I remember seeing the original trilogy at The Uptown Theatre in DC when I was a kid, loving every minute of these amazing space spaghetti Westerns that George Lucas created for us. The popularity of the original “Star Wars” even earned it a posthumous retitling, where “Episode IV: A New Hope” became part of the name in all of the marketing material instead of just the opening crawl. “The Empire Strikes Back” (Episode V) is one of the few sequels to be truly on par with the original (if not, in some ways, better), and “Return of the Jedi” (Episode VI) was a solid end to the original three, marred only by the Ewoks’ ear-clogging “Jub Jub” song.

Fast forward 14 years, and “Special” editions are rolled-out: enhanced, re-CGI’ed, and–unfortunately–altered states of reality, such as one where Greedo shot first. (I don’t care what manner of Sith torture they aim at me, HAN SHOT FIRST and you’ll never get me to believe anything else.) Lucas used the new technology of the time to rewrite canon, not even deigning to feed us all retcon in our popcorn; the best part of these films was getting to see the majority of the movies we loved on the big screen again.

Starting a mere two years later, we got the prequels: Episodes I – III. These movies were problematic from start to finish. “Episode I: The Phantom Menace” was largely useless, introducing a character we’d love to hate (like Jar Jar Binks) and providing only minimal buildout of the Skywalker clan’s backstory. “Episode II: Attack of the Clones” fared better, although the brutally written love story of Anakin and Padme was enough to make Shakespeare spin in his grave; let Lucas build a universe, but for the love of all that’s holy, please never let him write another “romantic” line in a screenplay ever again. And then we come to “Episode III: Revenge of the Sith”, where Lucas finally had to finish what he started. It was at this point where he needed to show how Anakin became Darth Vader, and he also had to give out more doses of retcon when it came to the birth of the Skywalker twins, Luke and Leia.

(In “Return of the Jedi”, Leia explains to Luke that she only remembers her mother very slightly, and how beautiful and sad she was; we expect that this was supposed to be Padme–who later we see died in childbirth–so it’s either a continuity error or Lucas meant for that other woman to have been her adoptive mother, Queen Breha Organa of Alderaan.)

So, after all my complaining about Lucas’ poor writing skills and his being so utterly hypnotized by CGI advancement as to wreck key plot points, what is it that bothers me?

It’s the escalating violence–because it’s unclear that it consistently serves the plot although it does potentially jeopardize younger viewership.

The new film, “Episode VII: The Force Awakens”, received the same rating as Episode III: PG-13. These are the only two movies in the released slate of seven that have such a rating; the others were all PG (the original trilogy completed a year before the PG-13 rating was introduced). Now, granted, bad things have to happen to Anakin in order for him to turn into the part-metal Sith Lord that we would see from Episodes IV-VI. And it’s totally understandable that it couldn’t all happen off-screen; you need to see the impassable breach between Anakin and Obi-Wan, and Obi-Wan mutilating Anakin and leaving him for dead certainly provides ample justification. But still, there’s plenty of violence and death in Episodes I and II, and both sported PG ratings. In fact, when “The Empire Strikes Back” was re-released in the “Special Edition” format, the rating was reaffirmed as PG, even when PG-13 was a possibility.

DD wanted to see “The Force Awakens” when it came out, so we got her caught up using the “Machete” order (IV-V-II-III-VI), and she was distressed by the violence at the end of Episode III. Truth be told, the Emperor’s torture of Luke at the end of “Return of the Jedi” didn’t sit too well with her, either, but at least it wasn’t nearly so gory as a half-melted, de-limbed Anakin flailing on a beach of cooling lava.

Without getting spoilery on “The Force Awakens”, I can say that it earned its PG-13 rating. Much like Episode III, “The Force Awakens” features scenes of “science fiction violence”, and it isn’t always pretty. Should a nine-year-old see this film? Well, that depends on the nine-year-old, doesn’t it? DH and I went to see the movie Saturday night because YEAY DOUBLE DATE NIGHT and also because we wanted to screen the movie for dd to determine whether it would be suitable for her. It wasn’t at “Game of Thrones Level” (a show dh has long-since stopped watching because the amount of violence and gore exceeded his tolerances by Season Two), but there were a few scenes where it was clear why the MPAA rated it PG-13 instead of PG.

I talked about this a bit on my personal Facebook account, and one of my friends wondered aloud if I thought this way because I am a parent, if my judgment on this was clouded (or biased) by the fact that I was trying to shield my child from something that may be disturbing to her. That’s fair, but it doesn’t diminish my belief that if they could do five out of six films at a level that was rated PG (or if we go with the “modern era”, two out of three), they could make this one PG, too. Did the manner and level of “science fiction violence” advance the plot or contribute in some major way, as it really had to at the end of “Revenge of the Sith”? In my mind, no.  I think it could’ve been toned down ever so mildly to get it to a PG and keep the audience options a bit more open.

If the marketing is any indication, Star Wars is being targeted at both the parents and the kids, with the sweet spot for the kids’ merchandise being below the age range generally able to handle a PG-13 film. A quick search of Target’s website showed that the largest age group targeted for Star Wars products is 3-9 years old. A similar search of the Kohl’s website showed the target age range as “Little Kids” (typically sizes/ages 7 and below), and the number of “Toddler” items was nearly the same as that for “Big Kids” (8 on up). Of course, the Disney juggernaut also paints the world Marvel every time they release a new MCU film, BUT those movies were PG-13 from the get-go and never had a claim to a straight-up PG. They started at the higher rating and stayed there. It’s a matter of consistency in messaging; the merchandise is a signal for the positioning in terms of accessibility and target viewers, as well as who holds the wallet.

Now, I say all of this not having been in the room with J.J. Abrams and Co. as they saw what they would have to do to get to PG and made the decision not to go there. I’m sure they had their reasons. But, much as sex is used to sell everything from burgers to automobiles, I’d like to hope that the violence will be used only as it’s actually needed and that it will only be employed to advance the plot–not to distract from a lack of it. Part of what made “Star Wars” such an incredible franchise, aside from the depths of its philosophy and richness of storylines, is that it’s accessible. The PG-13 rating may seem like no big deal to those of us well past that age, but if the filmmakers want to keep opening this up to the next generation as soon as possible, they need to make sure that they’re doing a bang up job of balancing the needs of the Jedi masters with those of the younglings.

Movie Review: “Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation”

Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation movie poster

It’s been a few years since we last saw Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise), and very little about him has changed in the intervening period. He’s still the same (mostly) stoic fellow, leading a team comprised primarily of the tech-savvy Luther Stickell (Ving Rhames) and Benji Dunn (Simon Pegg), with field-agent-turned-high-ranking-analyst-slash-desk-jockey William Brandt (Jeremy Renner) back stopping things from the DC-area. In this fifth installment of the “Mission: Impossible” franchise, Hunt squares off against The Syndicate, a shadowy organization introduced at the tail end of 2011’s “Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol”.


William Brandt, played by Jeremy Renner, and Luther Stickell, played by Ving Rhames

William Brandt (Jeremy Renner) and Luther Stickell (Ving Rhames)


The Syndicate is busy shaping the world through the deliberate sowing of chaos and destruction–or so Hunt thinks. As he chases down what others consider merely a phantom or a figment of his overactive imagination, he crosses paths several times with the just-as-mysterious Ilsa Faust (Rebecca Ferguson), whose steely gaze, badass moves, and strange unwillingness to pick a side both attract and confuse Hunt.


Ilsa Faust, played by Rebecca Ferguson

Ilsa Faust (Rebecca Ferguson)


Further complicating matters is that Hunt is collecting nemeses all over the place. Just as The Syndicate is trying to shut him down, so is CIA Director Alan Hunley (Alec Baldwin). Hunt dives headlong into a search of missing and presumed-dead agents from intelligence agencies worldwide, as he runs into several of them while pursuing The Syndicate. The trouble with The Syndicate, though, is that Hunt always seems to be one step behind them–an infuriating position for an agent typically used to being several moves ahead of his opponents.

Faust pops up periodically as Hunt chases The Syndicate through London, Vienna and Casablanca–including a stunning performance backstage at “Turandot” in Vienna, where Ferguson is wearing a silk dress as though she’s doing it a favor. The symbolism of the opera isn’t lost; in fact, the leitmotif of the eponymous character follows Faust throughout the movie from that point on, as she routinely leaves Hunt questioning her motives and allegiance.


Ilsa Faust, played by Rebecca Ferguson

Ilsa Faust (Rebecca Ferguson) proving sisters are doing it for themselves


“Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation” succeeds spectacularly is in its stunts and action sequences; it charges hard and fast throughout the majority of its two-hour, eleven minute run time, and Ferguson displays as much grit as she did in her title role as STARZ’s “White Queen”, but with far more gymnastic ability and an excess of endlessly impractical sky-high heels. Baldwin chews scenery with glee, relishing the opportunity to play the spoiler for Hunt, and Sean Harris’s turn as Solomon Lane makes one wonder if he has ice water running through his veins.


Ethan Hunt, played by Tom Cruise

Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) hanging off the side of a plane, because starting a movie off calmly isn’t the “MI” style


As much as I loved this movie–and while I truly do believe this is the “Mission: Impossible” franchise’s best outing since the first in the series–its greatest failing is in how it handled some of its actors. Cruise couldn’t be more wooden, although he clearly enjoys his time as a stuntman. Renner is effectively wasted as Brandt; for a character introduced only one movie ago as having serious field agent skills, he’s relegated mostly to staring at Hunt with moony eyes, wishing he were that cool. He’s never let off leash, and that’s a terrific shame for an actor who sports both acting AND action chops.


Alan Hunley, played by Alec Baldwin, and Benji Dunn, played by Simon Pegg

CIA Director Alan Hunley (Alec Baldwin) interrogating Benji Dunn (Simon Pegg), in a rare serious and emotive moment allowed of Pegg


But the worst crime is in the handling of Pegg’s Dunn. Introduced in 2006’s “Mission: Impossible III”, Dunn is seen as a standout technology whiz in an organization with more than its fair share of smart people. Over his three movies, his lines increased in direct proportion to his application as comic relief. Benji has only a few scenes where he gets to be as serious as the material and, though Pegg is a brilliant comedian, it’s just unfair to make him the constant punchline when he has the capacity to be just as steely as the rest of the crew.

Of the veterans, Rhames, at least, seems to get exactly what he wants, and he approaches his role with the relish of a man knowing he’s collecting a good paycheck no matter how much time he has on-screen. He seems to be having nearly as much fun as Ferguson, and his ease at fitting into Stickell’s skin is highly evident.

“Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation” is a fun thrill ride, despite its failure to capitalize on its talented stable of actors, particularly Renner and Pegg. What it does do, rather nicely, is provide some incredible action sequences and stunning performances by the likes of Ferguson and Harris, breathing new life into a franchise that’s perhaps not yet seen its last mission.


3 out of 4 stars

“Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation” opens nationwide on July 31, 2015. This movie is rated PG-13 for sequences of action and violence, and brief partial nudity.