Deadpool 2 swims in profanity and gratuitous violence ... it's fantastic!

Deadpool 2 swims in profanity and gratuitous violence ... it's fantastic!

(Updated 5/21/18)

- By Teddy Durgin -


As much as "Deadpool" and "Deadpool 2" belong to actor Ryan Reynolds, the true stars of these movies are co-writers Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick. They've churned out two scripts in a saturated superhero niche that are as fast, fresh, free-wheeling and irreverent as they come. If the studio ever loses them, the true spark of this absurd, profane franchise will be gone. Reese and Wernick's work can only be imitated, not duplicated.

I saw an interview with the two this past week in which they said they'd like to try their hand in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. To that I say, "No!!!" These two are at their best, and the "Deadpool" flicks are at their best on the periphery of the Marvel movies (and 20th Century Fox's "X-Men" flicks and the largely moribund DC Comics films). They are there to offer up snarky commentary, pointed jabs and hilarious barbs at everyone and everything from Hawkeye's uselessness to Wolverine's outsized importance to the dark, grim tones of the DC movies.

The "Deadpool" films are so well-constructed and executed that they can repeatedly break the fourth wall with the audience, and yet still not lose their tension or sense of urgency. Really bad things happen to various characters in both films. But unlike "Logan" or "Man of Steel" or (dare I say it) "Avengers: Infinity War," you can have tragedy and heavy drama ... and still wink at the audience and let 'em know, "Hey, it's a comic book flick. If the cast and crew are promised enough cash, there is NOTHING we can't fix in the next one."

"Deadpool 2" follows our titular anti-hero as he has gone international, taking on paid assassin jobs around the globe and slicing and dicing his way through everything from Asian crime rings to Sicilian Mafia gangs. Eventually, though, an invitation to join the X-Men intrigues him, and he agrees to abide by their rules. Er, until he has to subdue an outcast teen mutant (Julian Dennison) who calls himself Firefist. Deadpool goes against both his X-brethren and the rule of law. They both land in a mutant prison with a device that restricts their powers.

Deadpool (aka Wade Wilson) is content to let his cancer return and die behind bars. But he's pressed into service once again when a soldier from the future named Cable (Thanos himself, Josh Brolin) arrives and seeks to kill the kid. Deadpool barely escapes with his life and decides to form a crew he affectionately names "X-Force" to take on the more powerful Cable. Of the team, Zazie Beetz's Domino is the standout. Her superpower is luck. Yes ... luck. Even Deadpool cracks wise, "Luck? That's not very cinematic!"

Oh, but it is!

Alright, it's a fairly thin plot, I concede. But there's enough story here to hang several dozen really good goofs, gags and major action set pieces. There is so much I want to spoil - great jokes, funny lines, cool fight moves and some terrific cameos (who plays The Vanisher - an Invisible Man-type mutant seen for only a few seconds of screen time - is hilarious in a "How did they get HIM to do that?!" sort of way). Go in as cold as possible. And please, please stay for the end credits. They darn-near make the movie!

My only real nitpick with "Deadpool 2" is how much all concerned ramp up the violence from the first movie. I love the over-the-top gore and blood-letting of "Deadpool," the "John Wick" movies and so forth. But the first film had a better balance between the hard-core slicing and dicing and the snarky one-liners and sexy time moments between Wade and Vanessa (Monica Baccarin). There's very little sex play in the sequel, but loads and loads of gunplay, swordplay, bombplay, etc.

Ah well. There's always a chance for "Deadpool 3" to get it exactly right. Yes, Deadpool. I am indeed a demanding little $#@&^#!

"Deadpool 2" is rated R for strong violence and language throughout, sexual references, and brief drug material.

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Teddy bids farewell to Margot Kidder ... and to the East County Times

Teddy bids farewell to Margot Kidder ... and to the East County Times

(Updated 5/21/18)

- By Teddy Durgin -


I was writing my tribute to the late "Superman" actress Margot Kidder this past Friday when word came down from high that this would be my last column for the East County Times. I have no ill will or negative feelings. The journalism business is a tough business. And I've always, always regarded this column as a privilege that wouldn't last forever. Hey, I've gotten to write about movies and the entertainment biz for a fine print publication and get paid for it. It's been such a honor.

Before I get to eulogizing Miss Kidder, just a few quick "Thank Yous!" Thank you to my editor for all these years, Devin Crum. This is a man of honor, folks, that this newspaper and this community should be honored to have. He and I have had a fantastic working relationship built on mutual respect. On the very day the Avenue News dismissed me years ago as its film critic, Devin got in touch with me and called me in for an interview. I'll never forget that.

Thanks also to the late George Wilbanks, our esteemed publisher. He and I only had a handful of talks over the years. But I loved the delight he took in my work. He was a Christian man who lived the Word, and I will think of him fondly until the Lord calls me home one day. Finally, thanks to YOU, the great readers of the East County Times! I appreciate each and every one of you more than you could know, and I hope I've steered you to some good movies over the years that you would not have seen otherwise. Conversely, I hope I've spared you from spending some of your hard-earned cash on some flicks that were clunkers.

If anyone would like to continue reading my reviews (and also have access to free local movie preview screenings), please email me at durginfilm@gmail.com. This doesn't have to be a final farewell, my friends.

Only death is that! So, it was very sad to read of the passing this week of actress Margot Kidder at 69. While Carrie Fisher's Princess Leia was the great crush of my youth, Kidder's Lois Lane was the woman I thought I could realistically end up with. We both loved journalism and writing, we both loved fast-food burgers and hot dogs, and we both had a wry sense of humor that might have really complimented each other.

Plus, that Manhattan penthouse she had! Growing up, I really thought a journalist would earn enough to afford a pad like that. What if Superman had to show up for their first date and had to crawl in through the window of Miss Lane's third-floor, walk-up efficiency in Brooklyn? It would have been realistic ... but not very cinematic. I mean, jeez, couldn't they have had Lois going up to her building's rooftop to smoke because her landlord didn't allow cigarettes in his rental units and then Superman arrived? Couldn't the filmmakers--

I digress.

Kidder's Lois was the one Teri Hatcher and Erica Durance and Kate Bosworth and Amy Adams have had to live up to in the decades since. And it was really beautiful to read each actress's social media posts this week honoring the woman. Kidder's Lane defined spunk and charisma. She was often a damsel in distress, yes. Her "You've got me?! Who's got YOU?!" is still one of the most perfect line deliveries ever! But she also was a force to be reckoned with.

Her Lois was not classically beautiful, but you totally bought Superman's great love for her because their connection was so strong. So much so, that it was a beautiful thing to watch him give up his powers to be in a mortal relationship with her in "Superman II" ... and then so tragic that he had to go reclaim his Kryptonian self as Earth's only hope to defeat the tyrannical General Zod.

Kidder played key roles in several other good motion pictures, including "The Amityville Horror" and "The Great Waldo Pepper." She had a much longer and varied career than most film and TV fans realize, appearing in everything from 2009's "Halloween II" remake to guest-starring on pay-cable's "The L Word."

Today, though, she is flying once again with Christopher Reeve, and the Heavens are that much more wondrous. Godspeed, Miss Lane. And Godspeed, East County Times. It's been fun.

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'Life of the Party' doesn't get a passing grade

'Life of the Party' doesn't get a passing grade

(Updated 5/14/18)

- By Teddy Durgin -


It's bad karma to wish ill will on anyone's marriage. And I am certainly not going to do that here with Melissa McCarthy and Ben Falcone. Er, well, let's see how this review goes. I'm actually getting pretty sick of these two. Oh, they seem like a lovely, loving couple in interviews. But they really, REALLY need to stop making movies together! Together, they have co-written and he has directed "Tammy," "The Boss," and now "Life of the Party" - quite possibly three of McCarthy's worst flicks.

OK, "Life of the Party" IS marginally better than the other two, with a handful of funny and even genuinely sweet moments. But it's still one of those films that those who (like me) were fans of McCarthy during her "Gilmore Girls" years or who marveled at her hilarious, Oscar- nominated turn in "Bridesmaids" will sit through with squinty eyes and cringing at how badly her considerable charms are being squandered.

Here, McCarthy plays housewife Deanna Miles, who's husband (Matt Walsh) leaves her for another woman (Julie Bowen). Having dropped out of college during her junior year, Deanna decides to re-enroll at Decatur University... where her daughter, Maddie (Molly Gordon), is currently enjoying her senior year. Fish-out-of-water hijinks ensue.

OK, yeah. It's hard to get past that this is a pretty direct rip-off of "Back to School." But that great '80s Rodney Dangerfield had a LOT more going for it than this flick. Chiefly, Dangerfield didn't have to do all of the heavy lifting. He surrounded his jilted millionaire Thornton Melon with some inspired comic supporting players, ranging from Burt Young's crusty limo driver to Sam Kinison's unhinged history professor to Ned Beatty's kiss-up college administrator (named Dean Martin!)

It was a great mix of old and young, with such classic '80s teen actors as Keith ("Christine") Gordon, William ("The Karate Kid") Zabka, and a young Robert Downey Jr. mixing perfectly with the likes of Dangerfield, Young, Kinison, Beatty and M. Emmett Walsh.

In "Life of the Party," the only character I'll probably remember by this time next week is Helen (Gillian Jacobs), a sorority member who spent eight years in a coma and who still has a few leftover... uh... mental quirks. If you are going to see this flick, I won't ruin any of her lines or moments because the movie is pretty disposable otherwise (in truth, Luke Benward's hunky co-ed also has an appealing sweetness to him... he'll definitely get more work after this flick).

Do McCarthy and Falcone bring out the worst in each other? I mean, how many films do we have to sit through where McCarthy inevitably gets a makeover montage? When do McCarthy and Falcone stop finding scenes in which she babbles on about her sexual escapades funny? Oh, and don't get me started on the daughter character. In one scene, Maddie is horrified to have her mother on campus. Two scenes later, she's all like "I love having you here!" Rinse and repeat throughout.

I have a "Deadpool" sequel and new "Star Wars" on its way this month. So, I'll get over this one quickly if Ryan Reynolds, David Leitch, Ron Howard, Alden Ehrenreich and co. deliver the goods in both cases. If they don't... ooof, I'll be a pretty bitter dude, once again questioning my choice of careers and muttering things like "May Divorce Be With You" when thinking of McCarthy and Falcone.

"Life of the Party" is rated PG-13 for sexual material, drug content and partying.

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'Breaking In': A perfect Union for an imperfect film

'Breaking In': A perfect Union for an imperfect film

(Updated 5/14/18)

- By Teddy Durgin -


Even at 88 minutes, "Breaking In" somehow seems more drawn-out than the nearly three-hour "Avengers: Infinity War." When I saw the running time in my press notes beforehand, I was hoping for a tight, lean, menacing little thriller in which Gabrielle Union's Shaun Russell attempts to break into a smart house in which her two kids are being held hostage by three crooks there to rob the joint.

It's a reverse "Panic Room." In that 2002 movie, Jodie Foster and her daughter (a young, androgynous Kristen Stewart) hole themselves up inside a house with high-tech security and surveillance technology while robbers try to get in from outside and steal loot. "Breaking In" even duplicates the differing, warring personalities of the baddies. There's the cool, methodical leader Eddie (Billy Burke, who half the time looks like he's just been roused from slumber just before the director yelled "Action!"). There's the sensitive Sam (Levi Meaden, doing his best Kiefer Sutherland circa 1987 impression), who thought it was just going to be a heist and doesn't want to harm a mother and her two kids. There's the unhinged psychopath Duncan (Richard Cabral). He's the guy with the Rambo knife who loves to yell "They've seen our faces, man!" And there's the nondescript safe cracker of the group, Peter (Mark Furze), who... ah, Peter. Last-in character, first to go toes up.

The robbers are laughable. But that's OK, because this is basically Union's film, doing her bona fide best to shine in what is a glorified hand-me-down from Halle Berry. She plays the fierce, protective mother hen to her two trapped, scared baby birds (Seth Carr and Ajiona Alexus). And she plays it well.

"Breaking In," though, gets into its thriller predicament way too quickly. The first act of the film should have been carefully set up. It should have better showed us the layout and quirks of the big house. There should have been scenes of Shaun learning the high-tech ins and outs of her late father's smart home technology. We should have seen her son, Glover, knowing the system better than anyone so that he would have something - anything - interesting to do later in the film. Instead, when all of the cat-and-mouse hijinks start, we don't have a good idea of the interior or exterior of the estate. So it becomes a cheat on director James McTiegue's part because then he can manipulate the action however he sees fit.

The same goes for the tech. It seems the house is always losing power or wires are being clipped or circuit breakers are being thrown. But the cameras keep working. The sensors still seem operable throughout. It's explained early on that the security company will respond within 90 minutes at the loss of power. But the Russells' ordeal seems to go on much longer than that.

"Breaking In" is geared to a female audience, specifically African-American females. But the large numbers I saw this film with in preview definitely had an issue with how many times Union gets punched and brutalized. Late in the film, one of the crooks tries to rape Shaun's teenage daughter, too, which didn't go over well and seemed crass for a flick that had been mostly standard PG-13 thriller fare to that point. And after not wanting to do much harm to the kids for a good 75 or so minutes of screen time, it seemed unnecessarily cruel at the end when the thieves plot to burn the teenage girl and her little brother alive rather than mercy shoot them.

Still, I can't deny that in stretches, the film IS involving. It never really rises above Lifetime Network Movie of the Week mediocrity. But for fans of Gabrielle, they'll at least be happy they looked for the Union label.

"Breaking In" is rated PG-13 for violence, menace, bloody images, sexual references and brief strong language.

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'Bad Samartian': No good deed goes unpunished in this flick

'Bad Samartian': No good deed goes unpunished in this flick

(Updated 5/7/18)

- By Teddy Durgin -


"Bad Samaritan" is one of those movies that is one-third great and two-thirds... eh... not so great. The one-third that's great is the premise and set-up. Two low level crooks, Sean (Robert Sheehan) and Derek (Carlito Olivero), have come up with the perfect scam. They are valets at one of the fanciest Italian restaurants in Portland, Ore. Whenever a rich person pulls up in his/her souped-up sports car or luxury sedan, Sean smiles and happily takes the keys while the wealthy patron exits the vehicle to enjoy a fine pasta meal.

Only Sean doesn't park the car. Well, he does. He just parks it back at the customer's house after he types in "Home" on the vehicle's GPS to go and rob the person blind. He doesn't even break and enter. He has the house key on the ring.

OK, I gotta say, that's a great freakin' scam! I mean, you can have George Clooney and his "Ocean's" crew knocking over multiple casinos on one night. That's way out of our league. Am I right y'all? But this? This is totally doable. In fact, I think I might just--

Ahem.

OK, so while Sean is off committing the robbery, Derek stays back on the job at the restaurant and keeps a lookout to see how the target's meal is progressing. In most instances Sean's back before the carb stupor even takes hold. The fact that they are generally robbing from the snobby rich provides an extra kick of satisfaction. And because they have limited time and vehicle space, it's not like they're swiping big-screen TVs or fancy furniture. One of Sean's favorite lifts is credit cards that come in the day's mail that he can easily activate from his mark's home phone.

Of course, they eventually steal from the wrong dude. And that dude is ultra-rich, ultra-psychotic Cale Erendreich (the great Scottish "Dr. Who" actor David Tennant). Cale drives a Maserati, which makes you hate him some. But Sean learns that he also keeps a frightened young woman shackled and gagged at his home, which makes you hate him all the more (especially when Sean stumbles into Cale's creepy garage torture chamber).

Sean can't help but have a conscience and try and free her. He can't. Then, he tries to get the police and the FBI involved. But Cale is too slick. And that makes Sean and Derek and those close to them targets.

I wish the rest of the film was as good as the set-up. But it all plays out like faux Hitchcock with more cheap jump scares than menacing, psychological dread. Director Dean Devlin simply isn't capable of pulling off an edge-of-your seat thriller that sticks with you after the end credits. Now I'll admit, he HAS made a very watchable movie. And he lets Tennant go way, WAY off the rails in a performance that gets hammier the longer his Cale is on screen. Tennant's attempts to mask his Scottish accent become progressively sillier the louder he gets. But, wow, does he go for broke here! Devlin, meanwhile, seems to have saved all of his direction for Sheehan, who gets to keep his Irish accent but throws in a lot of shakes and sweat.

In the years to come, I may look back on "Bad Samaritan" as a guilty pleasure flick... one of those movies you're embarrassed to say you stop and watch if you're flipping past it on cable. It's not so much a "So Bad It's Good" kind of flick. It's more like a "So Bad... Er, Because It Really, REALLY Could Have Been Good" kind of movie.

"Bad Samaritan" is rated R for violence, language throughout, some drug use and brief nudity.

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YouTube continues the 'Karate Kid' saga

YouTube continues the 'Karate Kid' saga

(Updated 5/7/18)

- By Teddy Durgin -


"Cobra Kai," the very entertaining new TV series available on YouTube Red, is the continuation of a story "Karate Kid" fans didn't even know they wanted continued. It's one of those "What if?" productions clearly conceived, written and produced by people who loved that original 1984 film and want to do right by it.

I was 13 when Daniel LaRusso (Ralph Macchio) kicked that blonde bully, Johnny Lawrence (William Zabka), in the face at the end of "The Karate Kid." It was the summer of 1984 and I was an undersized kid not bullied at school. But definitely marginalized and not one of the arrogant, seemingly perfect jocks. And along came Daniel, a scrawny New Jersey transplant to southern California who is immediately targeted by a sect of karate-fighting Hitler Youth wannabes at his new high school. His crime? He's caught the eye of the ex-girlfriend (Elizabeth Shue) of the gang's leader, black-belt Johnny.

Daniel is brutalized often until he befriends Mr. Miyagi (Pat Morita), a Japanese handyman who ends up being a karate master. Miyagi agrees to train Daniel, using unconventional methods (sort of HGTV crossed with old Jhoon Rhee commercials). He also convinces the evil head of the local Cobra Kai dojo, John Kreese (Martin Kove), to forbid Johnny and the rest of his students from laying a finger on Daniel until they all square off in a big karate tournament.

Imagine being 13 in 1984 and watching that climactic fight between Daniel and Johnny. It remains one of the best pieces of action choreography of my life... not just for the fight moves, but because of all the character beats throughout. A perfect sequence courtesy of the late director John Avildsen, fight choreographer Pat E. Johnson and the film's editing team. And yes, it ends with of the most iconic moments of '80s cinema: Daniel perfectly executing the Crane Technique and sending Johnny to the mat for the match's final point.

And then the film... just... ended!

My God was it sweet. But it just... ENDED! A part of me wondered what happened next. "Cobra Kai" takes place 34 years after the original film, and we find out what truly happened to Johnny and to Daniel. The 10-part series (each episode runs just under a half-hour) plays out like a dream project for "Karate Kid" fans.

"Cobra Kai" works on its own terms because it flips the script on the original narrative - a down-and-out Johnny now lives in the poor part of town (in Daniel's old apartment complex actually!) and Daniel (a STILL boyish Macchio at 56!) is the rich guy living it up in the Hills as the owner of multiple car dealerships. Johnny can't flip channels without a cheesy commercial for LaRusso Automotive in which Daniel appears "karate-chopping prices."

When a financial windfall drops into his lap, Johnny decides to go back to where his life first went wrong and re-start the Cobra Kai dojo. Only this time, he doesn't recruit the local high-school toughs. Those guys are now welcome in the LaRusso home, with Daniel's teenage daughter angling for popularity. No, Johnny goes after the nerds, the geeks, the wimps, and aims to transform them into "Strike first, strike hard, show no mercy" butt-kickers. It's a wonderful bit of subversive turnabout that fuels the narrative through nearly 300 minutes of drama, comedy and action.

Zabka is simply fantastic as Johnny. First of all, he still has it as a fighter, being a black belt in real life and in excellent physical shape for a man of 52. But he is given tons more to do here drama- and comedy-wise and is up to the task. He's like the Bad Santa version of John Kreese, a functional alcoholic who's decidedly un-PC in his disdain for what he sees as a weak generation in sore need of Cobra Kai disciplining. It's a stark contrast to the nice and PC Daniel, who eats healthy, gently prods his son to give up video games for exercise and offers a free bonsai tree with every car purchase.

This time, though, neither man is straight-up hero or villain. It's like cheering for classic Rocky, where you rooted for Balboa... but you didn't necessarily hate Apollo Creed. I won't dare spoil how it all ends. "Cobra Kai" is indeed available only on YouTube Red. The first two episodes you can watch for free. The other eight require a monthly subscription (but, hey, the first month is free).

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'Avengers': A great beginning to the end

'Avengers': A great beginning to the end

(Updated 4/30/18)

- By Teddy Durgin -


Just looking at the poster of "Avengers: Infinity War" with all of the faces and names makes me tired! And the movie itself? Exhausting! But in a good way. Like the kind of exhausted you are after a whole day at a cool amusement park. You just want food, drink and a comfy bed. But your mind keeps racing at all of the amazing things you just experienced.

This is what it's all been leading up to, folks. Ten years of Marvel Cinematic Universe that began with 2008's "Iron Man" and now culminates with this first part of a two-part finale in which Earth's Mightiest Heroes (and quite a number from the other side of the galaxy) team up (er, sort of) to battle their gravest threat yet: Thanos.

Thanos, a digital character voiced and motion-captured by Josh Brolin, is a stunning movie creation. He's been seen a bit in previous films, fretting at Loki's failure in the first "Avengers" movie to take the Earth in one piece and later slipping on the special gauntlet glove that would enable him to possess and wield all six Infinity Stones that were created at the beginning of time itself. Thanos doesn't just want to rule Earth or thrash New York City yet again. He wants to be a... ahem... master of the universe. He's obsessed with intergalactic balance. He maniacally believes that he is the only being capable of bringing order to the over-stuffed cosmos by using all six stones to literally wipe out half of all life... like... everywhere!

You can't get much more dire of a threat than that. So, the stakes are really high in "Infinity War," and doubt persists throughout this first film as to how the Avengers are going to stop Thanos. At every turn, our heroes and heroines fail, lose, are beaten or just barely escape with their lives. Some do indeed die, and I wouldn't dare spoil who in this column.

I will say that right off the bat, Thanos kills a pretty major character. And it's a masterstroke of plotting, even if it starts the movie off on a tragic note for many. My 13-year-old daughter leaned over to me in the moment and whispered, "Now, I know how you felt when Han Solo and Luke Skywalker died." This one was one of her favorites. But when something like that happens so early in the film, it immediately announces Thanos' power and the film's willingness to push its audience and characters into more challenging territory.

And there is still a lot of fun to be had. It was SO much fun for me to watch three of the biggest egos in the MCU clash in Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.), Dr. Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) and Peter Quill (Chris Pratt). Great job putting them together! It was also tremendously fun to watch an all-female team-up of Scarlett Witch (Elizabeth Olsen), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) and Okoye (Danai Gurira) take on an interstellar threat on a Wakandan battlefield at one point. So many other scenes and moments standout: Captain America's (Chris Evans) first appearance, Bruce Banner's (Mark Ruffalo) repeated Hulkus Interruptus, Stark's perfectly placed "Squidward" insult, Stan Lee's cameo.

Of course, even at 156 minutes, the movie can't be all things to all people. I thought the Hulk/Black Widow reunion would get more screen time. But it's basically a "Hey, Nat"/"Hi Bruce" throwaway. And as with the new "Star Wars" sequels, we don't really get to see all of our old favorites actually team up all together again. You might actually be disappointed in some of the pairings - that this person never got to interact with this person, or that plot point from that previous film never got mentioned, and so on.

But what co-directors Anthony Russo and Joe Russo and co-screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely have done here is still quite impressive. And, in playing behind-the-scenes Thanoses themselves, they get the balance almost completely right - the balance of action, thrills, comedy, tragedy, drama, emotion and spectacle we come to expect in the best summer popcorn films.

Ah, Marvel. Ah, Disney. Ah Chrises Pratt, Hemsworth and Evans. I wish I had control of time and could screen "Part 2" now! You keep me comin' back for more...

"Avengers: Infinity War" is rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action throughout, language and some crude references.

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Teddy's 2018 summer movie preview

(Updated 4/30/18)

- By Teddy Durgin -


Some parts of the country are still getting frost and wintery-like mixes. We're barely a month into baseball season. And most network TV shows have yet to air their season finales. But with this past weekend's release of the mega-blockbuster "The Avengers: Infinity War," the summer movie season is now upon us. Each year, I write up a summer movie preview touting not the big franchise, studio tent-pole pictures, but the 10 least-heralded upcoming summer flicks that I am most looking forward to seeing.

Hey, of course I'm stoked for biggies like "Solo: A Star Wars Story," "Deadpool 2" and the "Jurassic World" sequel. But the only way to avoid franchise fatigue is to chase those special-effects epics with some more challenging, character-driven flicks that seek to defy the mainstream and find their niche. Past summers have included everything from indie hits like "Little Miss Sunshine" and "Boyhood" to Best Picture winners "Unforgiven" and "Braveheart" to war epics like "Saving Private Ryan" and "Dunkirk."

This summer has (release dates subject to change):

1) "Action Point" (June 1) - Johnny Knoxville of "Jackass" fame plays an amusement park operator in 1979... you know, when pesky things like safeguards and health regulations were in much shorter supply.

2) "Boundaries" (June 22) - Nothing says summer blockbuster entertainment like 88-year-old Christopher Plummer as a senior citizen who gets kicked out of his nursing home for selling weed. He then goes on a road trip with his daughter (Vera Farmiga) and grandson.

3) "Christopher Robin" (Aug. 3) - Oh, that trailer. Oh, that wonderful, syrupy, insidiously manipulative trailer.

4) "Crazy Rich Asians" (Aug. 17) - If it's as good as the best-selling novel, I will next want a mash-up of this and "Dirty Rotten Scoundrels."

5) "Don't Worry, He Won't Go Far on Foot" (July 13) - When you consider that the movie is about a quadriplegic alcoholic (Joaquin Phoenix) and his loopy AA sponsor (Jonah Hill), that title is... just... SO... wrong!

6) "The MEG" (Aug. 10) - Jason Statham Vs. a giant, pre-historic shark. OK, Ian Ziering and Tara Reid just HAVE to cameo!

7) "Scotty and the Secret History of Hollywood" (July 27) - A documentary chronicling the true story of Scotty Bowers, now 94 years old, who was a U.S. Marine in the 1940s before becoming a pimp to the stars in Hollywood. Oh, man. Christopher Plummer's too young now. But if he can just hold on another six years, he could rule as Scotty in the movie version of his life!

8) "Sorry to Bother You" (July 6) - Lakeith Stanfield (so good as the man who gets kidnapped in the opening scene of "Get Out") stars as a broke telemarketer who isn't successful at his job until he adopts a "white guy voice." I probably should be offended. But hearing a "white guy" voice coming out of Danny Glover in the trailer could be the funniest thing in a movie theater this summer!

9) "Under the Silver Lake" (June 22) - Andrew Garfield stars as a young man who has a perfect first date with Riley Keough. She then vanishes without a trace the next day. And THEN things get weird. Like... David Lynch weird apparently.

10) "Won't You Be My Neighbor?" (June 8) - If you only see "Christopher Robin" and this documentary on the late "Mister Rogers Neighborhood" host Fred Rogers this summer, you might believe that all is right in this wicked, wicked world. And wouldn't that be a lovely thing?

Times writer Teddy Durgin releases first novel

Times writer Teddy Durgin releases first novel

- By Patrick Taylor -

Recently, East County Times writer Teddy Durgin, who many recognize for his film reviews, released his first novel. Titled “The Totally Gnarly, Way Bogus Murder of Muffy McGregor,” this murder mystery is a fast-paced, action and humor packed tale that will keep you glued to the pages.

Set in Laurel in the summer of 1986, the story follows 16-year-olds Sam Eckert and his friends Chip and Buddy (think the geek crew from the seminal show “Freaks and Geeks”). With summer work at the mall beginning, it looks like all will be relatively dull until the school year began - until a car explosion kills Muffy McGregor, one of the more popular, attractive girls in their school.

From there Sam and Chip get roped into the world of private investigation with the help of a mall regular, Mr. Rabinowitz. Suspects pop up one after the other, with McGregor’s classmates, co-workers and lovers all under the watchful eyes of Sam and his crew.

Those who have consistently read Durgin’s reviews over the last few years won’t be surprised that the book is filled with pop culture references that capture the time period perfectly. Whether it be discussing the films that made 1986 stand out or paying tribute to cultural touchstones such as the M*A*S*H finale, Durgin perfectly captures what it was like to grow up in that era.

“The thing about throwing references in is that you try to make them true to the character, and you don’t want to overdo it,” said Durgin.

Of course, given Durgin’s love of film, it should come as no surprise that this book often has a very cinematic feel to it.

“The premise of the book started with a simple question - what if John Hughes had written a murder mystery? It kind of went from there,” said Durgin. “That’s what was part of the fun of writing it.”

In typical John Hughes fashion, the book features many of your high school archetypes - jocks, nerds, pom-pom shaking cheerleaders. It also features some of the truest dialogue between teenage boys that I’ve read in quite some time. Seeing as how the boys are 16, it should come as no surprise that the book is littered with swears and moments of characters speaking before they’ve thought about what they’re going to say. A particularly awkward exchange early on between Sam and his new boss, a former plus-sized model named Collette, ends with Sam asking if she has any copies of her old magazines lying around.

“Some of those conversations are actual conversations from my youth,” Durgin said. “Before I really started writing the book, I had a lot of funny lines and interchanges between characters so I knew where to put lines.”

But the best dialogue comes when Rabinowitz is in the picture. An elderly Jewish man who often wonders aloud why he didn’t choose another field of business over private investigating, Rabinowitz is often trying to keep Sam and Chip in line during the investigation. After all, you can’t be making noise gushing about Magnum P.I. while you’re breaking and entering looking for clues.

For Durgin, writing this book was something that has been on his mind for a while, with the characters bouncing around in his head for ages.

Last year, he took about three or four months to plot out what the story would be, figuring out what should happen in each chapter. Around September, he decided that he was going to start really writing and dedicated himself to a chapter per week for the next 16 weeks. The book was finished around President’s Day this year.

“It was the most fun I ever had writing,” said Durgin. “I love doing the film reviews for the Times and for other papers, but this was something I just had to do. I had started and stopped novels before, so it felt really good to get this done.”

For Durgin, setting the story in the summer of 1986 felt natural. Much like Sam Eckert, Durgin was born in 1970, and 15-going-on-16 in the summer of ‘86. The nostalgia for this time period drips from the pages, but it never comes off as forced or insincere. The dialogue, references and struggles seem very true to the time.

“This book will appeal to anyone who has a twinge of 80s nostalgia, anyone who has lived in Maryland and anyone who enjoys a good whodunnit,” said Durgin.

“The Totally Gnarly, Way Bogus Murder of Muffy McGregor” is available now on Amazon and for Kindle, and it couldn’t have been released at a better time.

This book is the perfect companion for travel, beach days, lounging by the pool and more. It’s a quick, easy read, but one that will keep you interested and engaged. When I first picked up the book I had a plan to read half of it on a Saturday, half on Sunday. Instead I finished it in one go.

The payoff is absolutely wonderful, and one that I did not expect as I made my way through the book. This might be Durgin’s first mystery novel, but it reads as if he’s been crafting these types of tales his entire life.

With elements of John Hughes, Thomas Pynchon and the Coen Brothers (Durgin compared a particularly poignant scene to the highly underrated “Burn After Reading”), this story is a wonderful blend of mystery and humor that really brings suburban Maryland in the 1980s to life.

“If the East County Times readers have enjoyed reading me in the past, I think they’ll really enjoy this book,” said Durgin.

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