“I Smile Back – Showcases Sarah Silverman’s Dramatic Talent, But Little Else”

Two time Emmy winner Sarah Silverman (The Sarah Silverman Program), in the film “I Smile Back,” portrays the self-destructive, Laney Brooks. The reason for her reckless behavior is ambiguous throughout most of the film. Laney is addicted to alcohol and drugs, which is shown to the viewer early on in the movie, when she gets up from having a pleasant dinner with her family to pour herself a large glass of vodka, and go and snort cocaine in the bathroom. Furthermore, she is an adulteress who sleeps with her friend’s husband (Thomas Sadoski), and if all that weren’t bad enough, Laney suffers from severe depression, even though she seemingly has it all. She is married to a loving husband, Bruce, played by Golden Globe nominee, Josh Charles (The Good Wife). He is a successful insurance executive, who has given her a nice home to live in, and a new SUV to drive, but more importantly, he is a devoted father to their two young children, Eli (Skyler Gaertner) and Janey (Shayne Coleman).

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The problem with the film is that while Silverman completely embodies her role, for every scene where she demonstrates her talent for drama, there are a number of other scenes that aren’t in the least bit compelling. There are parts of the film which seem to exist to do nothing more than to fill time, instead of helping to advance the narrative, or further the momentum of the few well executed scenes that are interspersed throughout the duration of the movie.

For example, after a series of incidents, one of which involves Laney doing something very inappropriate with her daughter’s teddy bear as the child sleeps in the bed next to her, Bruce drives Laney to rehab. There she will spend the next thirty days working with a therapist to determine the reasoning behind her detrimental behavior. The scenes during this part of the film move along at a brisk pace, and with the exception of one semi-meaningful conversation with Terry Kinney’s (OZ) character, Dr. Page, the cause of Laney’s problems remain, for the most part, vague. The only true progress she demonstrates during her time there, is when Bruce comes up to visit her, and she wants to confess the affair she had, but he does not permit her to speak the words and so, while perhaps knowing what Laney was going to tell him, he would rather stay in denial.

After returning from rehab, Laney attempts to remain clean and sober, focusing on being a good wife and mother to Josh and the children. Her love for her children is never in question during the film. In fact, the viewer will come to learn that her fear of losing them or, for that matter, anyone whom she loves is part of her problem, which leads to her need to numb herself from reality. In addition to staying clean, Laney is trying to work through her emotional pain, which stems from an incident from her past.

What is the source of pain from Laney’s past which causes her to act in such a harmful way? Is it an incident that transpired during her childhood that she has not been able to move past because she has never been given the opportunity for closure? Is it a person? Will she be able to pull herself together not only for her own well being, but so that she can hold onto the family that she is so desperately afraid of losing?

Directed by Adam Salky (Dare), the film was co-written for the screen by Amy Koppelman and Paige Dylan, and was based on Koppelman’s novel of the same name which was published by Two Dollar Radio on December 1, 2008. The movie, which has a runtime of 85 minutes, premiered at the Sundance Film Festival on January 25, 2015. With the exception of Silverman’s performance, the film is, for the most part, forgettable. She proves beyond any doubt that she does not have to be limited to comedic roles, but as stated earlier in the review, this overall predictable drama, which concerns itself with the subjects of addiction and depression, leaves a good deal to be desired.

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“Bleeding Heart”

At the center of writer and director Diane Bell’s (Obselidia) film “Bleeding Heart” is the story of two sisters – one who takes on the role of savior, to the other, who states she does not need saving. Jessica Biel (7th Heaven) portrays May, a yoga instructor, who having been adopted as a child, yearns to know if she has any siblings by her biological mother. As it turns out, thanks to the efforts of a private investigator, May learns she has a younger sister. May’s sister, Shiva, is played by Zosia Mamet, who is best known for her role as Shoshanna Shapiro on the HBO series “Girls.”  In contrast to May’s centered life, one that she shares with her boyfriend and yoga studio business partner, Dex (Edi Gathegi), Shiva is a prostitute, who is in a volatile relationship with her abusive pimp, Cody (Joe Anderson). Rounding out the cast is Emmy winner, Kate Burton (Grey’s Anatomy), who plays May’s adoptive mother, Martha; and four time Golden Globe nominee, Harry Hamlin (L.A. Law), who makes a cameo appearance.

BH Pic 1Bell’s film is atmospheric, and is also well intentioned. The movie attempts to shine a vigilant light on the very real scourge of domestic violence that exists in society, and how often the women trapped in those toxic relationships have trouble breaking free. Upon learning what Shiva does for a living, May takes it upon herself to save her, and in the process begins to neglect other aspects of her life in order to protect her half-sister. The first part of the film did draw me in as a viewer, and made me wonder as to how the relationship between May and Shiva would progress; it is the rest of the film that had me looking at my cell phone to check the time. The thriller aspect that was introduced fizzled out before it even had a chance to reach a narrative stride.

The independent drama premiered on April 16, 2015 at the Tribeca Film Festival, and has a runtime of 80 minutes. The film might have benefited from having had someone else write it, so Bell could concentrate solely on directing, which is where she demonstrates true talent. “Bleeding Heart” does feature competent performances from Biel and especially Mamet, but they were not enough to save the production from feeling like a movie that would have been better suited as something for the Lifetime Channel. The film plods along at a slow pace, on its way to a predictable climax. The plot for the most part is not believable, and the characters, outside of the credible chemistry between Biel and Mamet as the half- sisters, leaves a great deal to be desired. Gathegi, when he is on screen, is given very little to do, except to bemoan the fact that May wants to keep her classic car, which costs a great deal for upkeep, and to lambast her for giving Shiva a thousand dollars from their business fund, so she can pay her rent. Anderson’s Cody is the typical, foul mouthed, hot tempered abusive guy that has been seen in countless films.

Questions I had while watching the film: What are Shiva’s motivations? Does she have an interest in having a relationship with May? Is she merely spending time with her in hopes of getting more money? Will May’s lifestyle have a positive impact on Shiva and help her to move her life in a new direction? What lengths will Cody go to in order to keep May from taking his seemingly only source of income away from him?  All of those questions and more will be answered by film’s end. I can’t give this movie a solid recommendation because I was bored off and on while watching it. For those of you who are fans of Biel and Mamet, I would say watch the movie once, but other than their performances don’t expect much.

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“Calico Joe By John Grisham”

“You want to read about somebody exceptional. You want to get the reader’s attention. You want to tell a story that’s never been told, and to do that, you have to jazz it up a bit. Baseball is a game of endless statistics, and it was great fun messing around with some of those numbers.”

John Grisham

The engaging, and at times moving, novel “Calico Joe” written by best-selling author, John Grisham (A Time to Kill), was published by Doubleday on April 10, 2012.  America’s pastime of baseball, while an integral part of the novel, is not Grisham’s sole focus. Instead, he uses the sport to craft a story about the relationship, or lack thereof, between a father and son. Additionally, Grisham writes about the restorative power of forgiveness, and the redemption that can accompany forgiveness, if an individual is willing to make amends to the person they have wronged.

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In the summer of 1973, The Chicago Cubs baseball team has been hit with two consecutive injuries to players, which necessitates them calling up one of their promising minor leaguers. Playing on Chicago’s AA ball club in Midland, Texas, is Joe Castle, a twenty-one year old from Calico Rock, Arkansas. His life is about to be altered by getting an opportunity to play professional baseball in the big  leagues. When Joe starts playing, he excels at a pace never before been seen by fans, fellow players, and the media, and in the process begins to imprint his name into the record books. During his meteoric rise, Joe becomes a hero not only to Chicago Cub fans in the windy city, but to children and adults alike, throughout America, who have an unyielding passion for the game.

Eleven year old Paul Tracey, not only loves to play baseball, but constructs scrap books of his favorite players, and rookie sensation Castle is the subject of one of those books. Paul’s father is fictional New York Mets pitcher, Warren Tracey; a journeyman, who has not achieved the greatness he has strived for throughout his career. When not on the mound, Warren drinks heavily, and is never one to turn down a party. At the start of the book, a now forty-one year old Paul, receives a phone call from his father’s wife, that the man is dying of pancreatic cancer, and only has a few months to live. The news about Warren – who in addition to his other vices, was a verbally, and sometimes physically, abusive husband and father, to Paul, and to his mother and sister – doesn’t illicit much sympathy. Warren’s impending passing, however, causes Paul to begin to formulate a plan of action in his mind.

The story, which is narrated from Paul’s perspective alternates between 2003 and the summer of 1973. During a summer showdown at Shea Stadium (the former home of the New York Mets), the National League is still very much up for grabs. Paul and his mother attend the game to watch Warren pitch. Paul has great confliction, wanting Joe Castle to hit a homerun, but at the same time, wanting his poor excuse for a father to strike him out. Part of Paul’s wish comes true, when during his first at bat of the evening, Joe Castle takes Warren Tracey deep for a homerun. However, the next at bat against Tracey, and the pitch that he throws to Castle, will have a resounding impact on the lives of all three men. While a hit batsman is not an unusual occurrence in baseball, intentionally throwing a pitch with accuracy and power at a player’s head most certainly is. The event is foreshadowed earlier in the novel, when Warren berates Paul for not hitting a batter who had hit a homerun against him in his previous at bat during a little league game.

Suffice it to say, Castle’s brilliant, albeit short career comes to an end the evening he is hit by the pitch. When Paul learns of his father’s terminal health condition, his idea is to ask Warren to apologize to Joe. Warren Tracey has maintained, from that fateful evening in 1973, all the way up to current time, that he didn’t intentionally hit Joe Castle with a bean ball; that the pitch simply got away.

Will Paul’s plan work? Does Warren Tracey have it in him to swallow his pride and do the decent thing? If he does apologize will Joe Castle accept the apology? After all, if Castle had continued to hit at even a fraction of the pace he was on, he would have wound up being one of the all time greats. What does Paul Tracey hope to achieve by getting his father to apologize? Will he be able to quell the mental demons that have plagued him since that evening, and throughout his childhood in general? All of those questions will be answered by the conclusion of the under two hundred page novel.

Grisham incorporates several other characters throughout the narrative. One of them is the colorful Calico, Arkansas newspaper, editor, Clarence Rook, who may be the key to facilitating a meeting between Warren and Joe.

“Calico Joe, like the vast majority of John Grisham’s work, is entertaining to read. Before becoming a best-selling author, Grisham worked as a criminal defense and personal injury attorney. Furthermore, he was a politician, elected to the Mississippi State House of Representatives, where he served from 1983 until 1990. Grisham’s first love, however, and what he dreamed of becoming when he grew up in Jonesboro Arkansas, and later Southaven, Mississippi, was a major league baseball player.

 

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“Ava’s Possessions”

The film’s main protagonist, Ava is portrayed in a believable manner by Louisa Krause (Bluebird). Her character is a survivor of a demonic possession that lasted for one month. The demon was finally driven from her body by Father Merrino, acted in a few brief scenes by John Ventimiglia, whose most notable role was that of chef and restaurant owner, Artie Bucco, on “The Sopranos.” The opening minutes of “Ava’s Possessions” is when the viewer gets their first indication that the film is not taking a formulaic approach to the story of demonic possession. The aftermath revolving around the mystery as to what led to Ava being possessed, as well as piecing together the missing parts of her memory regarding the actions she took while under the demon’s control, are central to the story.

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When Ava returns to normal, she has no recollection of  how she behaved while under the demon’s power. Her actions, a multitude of which were criminal, have her facing the possibility of a prison sentence. There is, however, an alternative path she can take to avoid being incarcerated. Ava’s lawyer, JJ Samson (Dan Folger), offers her an opportunity to voluntarily enter a government program, that is run in conjunction with the Catholic Church, a support group called ‘Spirit Possession Anonymous.’ Upon successful completion of the program, which requires Ava to meet those whom she has wronged and make amends, she will no longer face criminal charges. There are snippets of scenes interspersed throughout the film, which either show or have characters telling Ava about her behavior while possessed. She fears, however, that not only does her vanquished demon want to regain control of her, but that some of her actions will not be able to be undone. For example, there is a large blood stain under the rug in the living room of her apartment. Could the blood belong to Conrad, a man Ava has no memory of ever meeting, and whose engraved wrist watch she found while cleaning her place?

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While Ava attempts to get her life back to the way it was pre-possession, she learns that it will not be an easy endeavor. Her friends, one of whom is played in a minor scene by one of the stars of the HBO show “Girls, “Jemima Kirke, keep their guard up around her. Ava’s family: her mother, Joanna (Deborah Rush); father, Bernard (William Sadler); sister, Jillian (Whitney Able); and Jillian’s fiancé, Roger (Zachary Booth) are also not entirely comfortable spending time with her. They were by Ava’s side while she was fighting to regain control of her mind and body, but since her being set free, they collectively seem to be hiding information from her. In addition, she can’t seem to elicit much sympathy from any of them, even though they are aware that the way she acted while possessed was out of her control. Ava’s family’s unwillingness to be forthcoming about what they may know regarding her possession, adds to the mystery that runs throughout the entire film. Furthermore, when Ava tries to return to the music label she works for, she has a meltdown over the production of a music video, and is told by her boss that perhaps it was too soon for her to come back. Adding further difficulty to the overall situation is one of Ava’s fellow SPE support group members, the character Hazel, played by Annabelle Dexter-Jones. She is someone who wants her demon to return to her because she has never felt as alive, as during the time when she was possessed.

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The atmospheric and dark toned “Ava’s Possessions” premiered at the “Dead by Dawn Horror Film Festival” in the UK on April 26, 2015. The film which has a runtime of 89 minutes was written and directed in a stylish manner by Jordan Galland (Alter Egos). I commend the filmmaker for taking a tired concept, and adding his own unique twist on the genre. In part, I felt he was attempting to convey how real, every day addictions, can be equated to the possession of an individual’s mind and body. The score composed by Sean Lennon (Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Undead) fits very well with what is transpiring on screen. The movie which is parts horror, thriller, and mystery, features a solid cast. Other cast members included; two time Emmy winner, Carol Kane (Taxi), who plays Talia, an occultist who owns a shop that sells spells & potions. She provides a few comedic moments during the film; Wass Stevens appears in the role of Tony, who is the leader of the SPE support group; Alysia Reiner, who portrays Natalie Figueroa on “Orange is the New Black,” plays a prostitute named Noelle. She might hold the answers that could help Ava remember what happened while she was possessed; something which Noelle’s angry, blade wielding, pimp, who is quick to threaten bodily harm, Escobar (Joel de la Fuente) is not keen on.

There are enough twists and turns during the film to keep most viewers guessing until its conclusion. The film does, however, fall flat in a few areas. There is a subplot that involves a romantic interest between Ava and Lou Taylor Pucci’s character, Ben, who is the owner of an art gallery. He is also Conrad’s son, the man whose watch Ava found in her apartment. Ben wants to learn how Ava came to know his father just as much as she does. The relationship between Ava and Ben is not delved into enough, and for the most part is ignored in the overall film. Additionally, the ending felt rushed, it just didn’t seem to fit with the overall flow of everything that preceded it, and is a low point for an otherwise entertaining film.

 

 

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“Room – Offers Outstanding Performances by Larson & Tremblay”

Not seven days, nor seven months, but seven years, that is how long the character, Ma, real name ‘Joy,’ has been living in a garden shed at the start of the poignant and unsettling film “Room.” The character is completely embodied by actress Brie Larson (Short Term 12), who won a BAFTA, Golden Globe, and Oscar for her performance in the movie. She is not alone, her son, Jack, portrayed in a nuanced manner by Jacob Tremblay (Before I Wake), has been there for a duration of five years. Their captivity is thanks to Joy’s effort to be kind to a stranger; a trait taught to her as a child by her parents, Nancy and Robert, who are played in the film by three time Oscar nominee, Joan Allen (The Contender) and Emmy winner, William H. Macy (Fargo). A man, known as Old Nick (Sean Bridgers), asked a then seventeen year old Joy, if she could help him find his lost dog. The ruse worked, and for her kindness, Joy has been imprisoned in the shed, behind a steel door, that has an electronic keypad.  In the confining space, during the evenings, Old Nick has used Joy as his sex slave, which results after the first two years, in her getting pregnant with Jack.

The room Joy and Jack live in contains very little furniture, and their one source of entertainment besides each other, is a television that gets poor reception. There are no windows to look out, but outside light does comes through a skylight on top of the shed. Five year old, Jack, not knowing anything but what his mother has taught him, thinks that the way they live is normal. In addition to structuring Jack’s daily life with routine and learning, Joy has explained to him that ‘room’ is the world, and everything outside of it is outer space, even the people on television, she tells Jack, aren’t real. Larson’s character’s whole world inside the constricting confines of the room is to attend to Jack’s well-being, even her own health, such as the rotting tooth that hurts her, which eventually falls out of her mouth, comes second to Jack’s needs. Joy has hidden the fact from Jack that they are prisoners as a way to protect him. (As an aside: In order to prepare for the role, Brie Larson gave up her telephone and internet, as well as stuck to a strict diet, while confining herself to her home for a period of one month.)

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Jack’s hair has never been cut, because after a failed escape attempt on Joy’s part, where she used the lid of the toilet as a weapon to strike her captor, Old Nick has never given her the chance to get her hands on something that can be used against him. A short time into the film, however, Joy begins to again plot an eventual path to freedom for Jack and herself. This is spurred on by Old Nick, who brings the two of them food and supplies. During one evening, he reveals to Joy that he has been out of work for the past several months, and that money is tight; a point which is brought home to her when the electricity in the shed is shut off.

After Old Nick’s financial reveal, Joy realizes she has to begin telling the truth to Jack about their existence. Jack is resistant at first, when Joy begins to explain to him that ‘room’ is just an infinitesimal part of the overall world. He doesn’t want to hear it because in his mind ‘room’ is his whole world. The more Joy tries to convince Jack, the more hard truths she has to reveal, especially the one as to how she came to be in the shed in the first place. Jack, in the end, believes in what his mother is telling him, and tries to help them escape. Joy’s first plan backfires. The next idea she has for their escape is more daring. Jack will be required to pretend he is dead, after Joy rolls him up in a rug. She is hoping that Old Nick, will believe that she is grief stricken, as she cries and screams, at the rolled up rug. Joy makes Old Nick promise to give Jack a proper burial. She knows that he will have to transport Jack in his pickup truck, and has instructed her son to jump out of the truck when Old Nick stops for a light. Afterwards, he is to run and give a note she has written out for him to the first person he sees.

“Room” premiered at the Telluride Film Festival in Colorado, on September 4, 2015. The 118 minute movie was directed by Oscar nominee, Lenny Abrahamson (Frank). The film was adapted for the screen by Oscar nominee Emma Donoghue, from her best-selling novel of the same name, which was published by Little, Brown and Company on September 13, 2010.  The book is narrated from Jack’s point of view, and while the film delivers voice-overs from Jack, Donoghue opted to change her approach when writing the screenplay.

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Will Joy’s plan succeed? Does Old Nick discover the boy is alive before he has a chance to flee? There are many other questions that will arise during the viewing that will be answered by the end of the film, but bringing them up in this post would give too much away and I don’t want to spoil it for those of you who have not yet seen the movie.

There is a great deal more to the story than I have shared here. “Room,” while at times for many, might be hard to watch, and understandably so, it is nonetheless a film that should be watched by those who love superb acting and well conceived drama.

 

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“Long Gone”

“The one constant through all the years has been baseball. America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It’s been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt, and erased again. But baseball has marked the time. This field, this game, is a part of our past. It reminds us of all that once was good, and what could be again.” – James Earl Jones

Believe it or not, baseball movies have been around longer than the World Series. That’s right, in 1898, Thomas Edison produced the first movie that dealt with baseball; it was called The Ball Game, and it came out five years before the inaugural World Series in 1903 that was played between The Boston Americans (now Red Sox) and the Pittsburgh Pirates. The Americans won that series 5 games to 3 in what was, at that time, a best of nine series.

Baseball has been showcased in a variety of different film genres. If you’re looking for a laugh, comedic fare such as Angels in the Outfield (1994), Bull Durham (1988), and Major League (1989), should be able to provide you with what you seek. America’s pastime has been dissected with scholarly mastery in films, chief among them is documentary film maker Ken Burns’ Baseball, which originally was released in 1994, but has since been updated to include the years 1992-2009. Baseball films can sometimes tug at your heartstrings with movies like Bang the Drum Slowly (1974), and Chasing October (2007). In addition, biographical portrayals  like Cobb (1994), and  42 (2013), are also available for fans to learn about certain individual players who have made their indelible mark on the game. Several of this blogger’s favorite baseball-themed movies, from several different genres, and ones I recommend, are:  Eight Men Out (1988); The Natural (1984); The Rookie (2002); 61 (2001); and the film that this post deals with, a little gem called Long Gone (1987).

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Directed by Martin Davidson (Eddie and the Cruisers), Long Gone’s story is set in the 1950’s in the Florida minor leagues. I first watched the movie on HBO back in the late nineties, and with the exception of a release on VHS, apparently that’s as far as it went. Back then, I didn’t pay attention to films the way I do now. I still watched a plethora of them while growing up, but I didn’t concern myself with box office trends, release dates, or bottom lines; but if I had, I would’ve been hard-pressed to give a plausible explanation as to why Long Gone didn’t warrant a box office run, especially when I compare it to some of the sub-par baseball movies that have been deemed worthy enough by Hollywood to be given a theatrical release.

For starters, it not only features a good cast: William Petersen  (CSI); Virginia Madsen (Sideways); Dermot Mulroney (My Best Friend’s Wedding); Larry Riley (Knot’s Landing); and veteran film and television actor Henry Gibson (Boston Legal); but the scenes that deal with playing baseball are among the most realistic I’ve ever had the pleasure of watching. Trivia buffs take note that the film also features Teller of Penn & Teller in a rare speaking role; he plays the character Hale Buchman, Jr., who is half owner of both a department store and the local baseball team.

Before I write anything further, I will admit that the film does feature its share of well used baseball movie clichs: there is the aging veteran who if just given an opportunity in the ‘show’ (a term for major league baseball) could’ve rivaled the likes of Mickey Mantle and Willy Mays, and, of course, the girl who holds the key to his heart; next, the inexperienced rookie who is looking for his big break; the inevitable losing streak that seems to permeate even the best of baseball movies; and lastly, the film’s big game. Whether you like the ending or not, which is the antithesis of cliche, (no walk off home run in the ninth inning with two on and two out with the count 3 balls and two strikes) the ending is one that you will not see coming, and I give kudos to writers Paul Hemphill and Michael Norell for not taking the easy way out, and instead coming up with a creative way to end the film.

The movie follows the exploits of the fictitious minor league baseball team the Tampico Stogies, and centers itself on Player-Manager Studs Cantrell, portrayed by William Petersen. He’s a guy who doesn’t engage in pretense, just 100% honesty, regardless of the consequences that might result from what he says. Petersen’s character is particularly interesting to watch as he mentors Dermot Mulroney, who portrays the rookie second baseman Joe Don Weeks. Ultimately, Cantrell is trying to put himself in a position to get a job in the St. Louis Cardinals organization, but when Virginia Madsen enters the picture as the sultry, blonde haired, Dixie Lee Boxx, he puts his own aspirations on hold. The film deals with more than just dream jobs and attractive blondes…it speaks to real issues of the time period, such as premarital sex and racism, but one of the aspects of the film that I applaud is that it never gets too ‘in your face’ preachy. I also think it deals with the fact that the game of baseball is able to create a certain humility that brings individuals together despite differences in both racial and religious backgrounds, but again, it does so in a more subtle than overt way.

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It’s easy to tell that the writers who penned both the story and the teleplay crafted it with a deep love and reverence for baseball. I feel to write anything more about the actual film would be doing those of you who have not yet seen it a disservice. Long Gone has yet to be given a DVD and Blu-ray release. It can be picked up on VHS for purchase on auction sites such as ebay, where the starting bids and ‘buy it now’ prices vary from fair to ridiculously high. If you’re still in possession of the ancient dinosaur known as the VHS player, and you’re a baseball fan, then do yourself a favor and pick up a copy – you will not be disappointed. If you didn’t hold onto one of your VCRs, I am sure this title will be released on DVD, it seems that these days everything eventually is.

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“The Woman in Black”

Having watched, like millions of other people, all of the films in the Harry Potter series, I saw actor Daniel Radcliffe literally grow up before my eyes. In the movie, “The Woman in Black,” his first adult film role after playing the iconic character of Harry Potter, Radcliffe acquits himself well in the role of solicitor Arthur Kipps. I’ve already spoken to a few fellow cinephiles who take issue with Radcliffe’s occupation in the movie due to his age, but Jane Goldman’s (X-Men: First Class) screenplay based upon the 1983 novel by Susan Hill (The Bird of the Night) is historically accurate. The film takes place in Britain in the early 20th century when a man who has reached the age of twenty-two could very well have been married, a father, and working in a profession such as law. (As an aside: This isn’t the first time Hill’s novel has been filmed; in 1989 “The Woman in Black” was adapted into a movie for television, and it also is the second-longest running stage play in London’s West End).

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The ninety-five minute film is directed by James Watkins (Eden Lake). The movie is a well done, old-fashioned ghost-story that utilizes the latest technology, but also effectively uses familiar archetypes of British horror, especially the ones that pertain to the haunted-house genre. For example, poorly lit corridors whose shadows play mind games with the hero or heroine who has to traverse them, flickering candles, and of course the vengeful ghost or monster (in this film ghost) who is out to wreak carnage.

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After a prologue rife with tragedy that involved the triple-suicide of three young girls, we meet Radcliffe’s character of Kipps who is still struggling with his own loss, that of his wife during childbirth four years earlier. He is on the precipice of losing his job and is given one last chance by his employer, Mr. Bentley, played by Roger Allam, to journey to the home of the firm’s recently deceased client, Alice Drablow, in order to settle her estate. When Kipps arrives at the remote coastal village, he finds that people treat him in a hostile manner, as if he is a plague carrier out to destroy them, and they are increasingly anxious for him to depart their village. Radcliffe’s character is a man on a mission who will not be deterred. He goes to the house to begin his task of sifting through the hefty amount of paper work looking for particular documents.

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The house, known as the Eel Marsh House, is said to be haunted by the “Woman in Black.” She has been cemented into the foundation of local legend; it is said that her appearance signals the imminent death of one of the villagers’ children. The ghostly spirit is utilized in a very effective manner due to her ability to scare through well done materialization. For example, she sometimes appears in a frenetic paced, alarming way, while at other times, director Watkins allows the tension to build, which makes the woman in black’s arrival more impactful. Her blood lust for children, and the inflicting of emotional rather than physical harm to adults, when combined with her single-minded mission of vengeance, makes for a powerful screen entity of evil that is not soon forgotten.

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Adding nicely to the sense of foreboding, the marshland house the ghost haunts stands apart from the rest of the village. In fact, the only road connecting the property to the outside world is a winding one that can only be crossed at certain times of day due to floods caused by high tides. Soon after arriving at the house, Kipps spots a woman veiled in black lurking in the graveyard outside of the home; he goes outside to confront her and of course she is nowhere to be found. Afterwards, children in the village begin dying from apparent suicides; Kipps, whose own son is on his way by train to see him, begins to attempt to discover the motives behind the ghost’s unending need for revenge in an effort to stop it. From that moment on the film become an old-fashioned scare fest that should keep viewers interested until its final haunting frame.

The film was released on February 3, 2012, and budgeted for an estimated seventeen million dollars. The movie features a fine supporting cast; the notable stand outs are Ciaran Hinds (There Will Be Blood) who embodies the role of ghost skeptic Samuel Daily. Portraying his wife is Janet McTeer, who was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role for the film “Albert Nobbs.” She delivers an impressive performance as a seemingly unbalanced mother, who can’t come to terms with the death of her son. Also in the mix is Liz White as the shrieking, revenge minded title character. ( As an aside: Daniel Radcliffe’s real life Godson, Misha Handley plays his son Joseph in the movie. Other highlights of the film include a cleverly composed score written by Marco Beltrami (The Hurt Locker) which provides just the right amount of tension and underlying fear, and the murky landscape created by cinematographer Tim Maurice-Jones (Snatch). 

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Despite the fact that Radcliffe’s character is given ample dialogue, a great deal of his performance is spent walking down hallways, exploring creepy rooms replete with demonic looking toys, and chasing apparitions that he thinks he sees walking out in the fog of the marsh or hiding in the shadows of the house. None of Radcliffe’s performance is exaggerated with disingenuous facial expressions. He conveys through his eyes a wide range of emotions such as fear, grief, and surprise. The movie is not about cheap thrills nor is it a splatter fest; it is, however, a mood piece that is dark, contains gloomy atmosphere, haunting imagery, and enough frightful moments that will stick with you once the credits have finished rolling.

Woman in Black

 

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