By Lynn Venhaus

Sometimes, those who lose are more inspiring than those who win. Take Maurice Flitcroft, for example, who became known as the Worst Golfer in the World. He wound up having the last laugh, though.

That’s the takeaway from “The Phantom of the Open,” a kooky and charming real-life story that celebrates ordinary joes who never give up. During his well-documented remarkable life, Flitcroft achieved an unlikely more-than-15-minutes of fame.

A shipyards crane operator in Barrow-in-Furness in northern England, Flitcroft, at age 46, went after a dream with uncommon verve and an unfailing work ethic. In 1976, he managed to gain entry to The British Open Golf Championship Qualifying and subsequently shot the worst round in Open history, 121, but became a folk hero in the process.

While it did not pan out, people still remember his name. Imagine the mindset to take a risk like he did — an inexperienced golfer who played his first round ever in the 1976 British Open. He turned the stuffy pro establishment on its ear – and Rhys Ifans is hilariously condescending as gatekeeper Keith Mackenzie. The more horrified they are, the more this unrelenting optimist keeps plugging away.

Director Craig Roberts treats Flitcroft with utmost respect, even if those around him do not. The brilliant Mark Rylance anchors this film that’s populated with eccentric characters, and the ensemble is integral to winning us over.

Rylance is joined by fellow British treasure Sally Hawkins as his wife Jean, in yet another poignant role. They make a sweet couple, and Hawkins always delivers a nuanced take. She covers Jean’s heartaches well.

In fine support are Mark Lewis Jones as his best friend Cliff and Ash Tandon as a reporter who tells his story.

Even though their sons are more caricature-like here, Jake Davies is his embarrassed stepson Michael, and twins Christian and Jonah Lees are very funny as the hyper disco-dancing duo Gene and James. The retro ‘70s needle drops are terrific additions to the score.

A real actor’s actor, Rylance, Oscar winner for “Bridge of Spies” who has three Tony Awards and a couple BAFTAs, has a knack for disappearing into a role, and this is no exception. As the earnest Maurice, he will tug at your heartstrings and tickle your funny bone at the same time.

In adapting his own 2010 book, co-written with Scott Murray, screenwriter Simon Farnaby has brought out the quirky details to make the story amusing but never mocks Maurice, and gives it some emotional gravitas in the dramatic turns so that we care about the outcome at every juncture.

Farnaby, who wrote the screenplay for the beloved “Paddington 2,” knows how to mix humor and heart, and Roberts adds warmth. While parts of this story seem incredulous, we find out what seems the most outlandish is true.

Uplifting and sincere, “The Phantom of the Open” is a little gem that aims for the stars and glitters like diamonds in the sky.

Mark Rylance as Maurice Flitcroft

“The Phantom of the Open” is a 2021 comedy-drama that is directed by Craig Roberts and stars Mark Rylance, Sally Hawkins, Rhys Ifans, Jonah Lees, Christian Lees, Jake Davies, It is rated PG-13 for some strong language and smoking, and runs 105 minutes. It opened in select theaters earlier in 2022 and is now available on digital and will be on DVD Aug. 30. Lynn’s Grade: B+

By Lynn Venhaus

A civics lesson for the ages, writer-director Aaron Sorkin’s riveting account of “The Trial of the Chicago 7” is a potent examination of injustice during a politically charged time of civil disobedience. Through the lens of a riveting courtroom drama, the film is an acting showcase and one of the best films of the year.

And because the maestro is Sorkin, the film is also a discourse on cultural revolution and political theater, all while working in the confines of a true story. Because it is not a documentary, some of the timeline jumps around and incidents are embellished, but trial transcripts are used, along with archival footage, to create an authentic portrait.

In August 1968, several activist groups opposed to the Vietnam War converged at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago – the Students for a Democratic Society led by Tom Hayden (Eddie Redmayne) and Rennie Davis (Alex Sharp), the Youth International Party (Yippies) led by radical revolutionaries Abbie Hoffman (Sacha Baron Cohen) and Jerry Rubin (Jeremy Strong) and the National Mobilization Committee to End the War in Vietnam (MOBE), led by older conscientious objector David Dellinger (John Carroll Lynch).  Bobby Seale (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II), leader of the Black Panthers, is also present but not connected with the others. They, along with eventually acquitted Lee Weiner (Noah Robbins) and John Froines (Danny Flaherty), are the Chicago 8. Seal’s case would later be declared a mistrial, thus leaving seven.

Demonstrators violently clashed with police in and around Grant Park, which was captured on live television and the reason for a courtroom circus the next year after Nixon was elected President. Using a new law, the eight are charged with conspiracy to cross state lines to incite a riot. 

The infamous 1969 trial, orchestrated by Nixon’s Department of Justice, is presided over by Judge Julius Hoffman (Frank Langella). The legal eagles are civil rights attorney William Kunstler (Mark Rylance) and Ben Weinglass (Leonard Shenkman) for the defense and Justice Department prosecutors Richard Schultz (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) and Thomas Foran (J.C. MacKenzie).

The Trial of the Chicago 7. Mark Rylance as William Kunstler, Eddie Redmayne as Tom Hayden in The Trial of the Chicago 7. Cr. Niko Tavernise/NETFLIX © 2020

The casting is impeccable. Sorkin’s breakthrough was the play “A Few Good Men” in 1989, later a movie. Known for “The West Wing,” he won an Oscar for best adapted screenplay for “The Social Network.” With his fast-paced dialogue and customary insightful monologues, Sorkin’s original screenplay now vaults to leading awards contender. It is a marvel of nuance and first amendment passion, focusing on change – how people make it happen.

Sorkin immerses us in the atmosphere of the ’60s volatile times, as dissent grew throughout the country. Martin Luther King Jr. had been assassinated in April, followed by the killing of presidential candidate U.S. Sen. Bobby Kennedy two months later. More anti-war activists took to the streets when the conflict in Southeast Asia escalated. But “the Establishment” attacked free speech and peaceful protests, fearing anarchy and widespread unrest.

His dialogue, nimbly spoken by this extraordinary ensemble, astutely advances character development and shows the duality of law – when it works in a courtroom, and when it doesn’t. With such a large cast, Sorkin has managed to bring out the distinct personalities of the iconoclast rebels.

Sorkin has shrewdly opted to concentrate only on the present with the major defendants, providing little backstory to their rise as movement leaders. While everyone snugly fits their roles, stand-outs are Eddie Redmayne as fervent Tom Hayden, convinced working inside the system is the right conduit for progress, and Sacha Baron Cohen as the mouthy disrupter Abbie Hoffman, who mastered media for his own purposes. Their different approaches lead to confrontations but ultimately, they are on the same page.

As the clearly biased tyrannical judge, Frank Langella is chilling as a man who thinks he does not discriminate but his cruelty to Seale suggests otherwise. Mark Rylance, Oscar winner for the 2015 “The Bridge of Spies” and three-time Tony Award winner, will likely score nominations for his remarkable portrayal of impassioned lawyer William Kunstler.

Abdul-Mateen II, who won an Emmy for HBO’s “Watchman,” is powerful in his silence as Seale and bears the brunt of the injustice during the trial. Seale, who co-founded the Black Panthers in 1966, was just in Chicago to give a speech and did not know the other guys.

Alex Sharp excels as the dedicated Rennie Davis, who is less flashy than the other counterculture activists but whose involvement is significant nonetheless. Sharp won a Tony Award for “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time” in 2105.

Sorkin had only directed once before, 2017’s “Molly’s Game,” an uneven but interesting account of a true story. For this legal drama, he keeps the courtroom scenes taut and the street scenes intense and chaotic.

Sorkin gets terrific assistance from cinematographer Phedon Papamichael, who shot last year’s “Ford v. Ferrari,” and editor Alan Baumgarten, known for other Sorkin films and “American Hustle.” Composer Daniel Pemberton scores the action with the right tempo without using popular protest music from the times.

As an important acknowledgement of this case in America’s evolution, “The Trial of the Chicago 7” conveys precious civil liberties. And demonstrates what makes compelling stories – Americans speaking out, what inspires revolution and why civil discourse matters.

Sasha Baron Cohen and Jeremy Strong as Abbie Hoffman and Jerry Rubin

“The Trial of the Chicago 7” is a courtroom drama based on real events, directed and written by Aaron Sorkin. It starts Eddie Redmayne, Frank Langella, Sacha Baron Cohen, Jeremy Strong, John Carroll Lynch, Alex Sharp, Michael Keaton, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, J.C. MacKenzie and Ben Schenkman. Rated: R for language throughout, some violence, bloody images and drug us, The runtime is 2 hr. 10 min. Lynn’s Grade: A
Available in select theatres Oct. 9 and on Netflix Oct. 16.