Angels in the Outfield

Angels in the Outfield

25Star

by Ken B.

Angels in the Outfield is the equivalent of cheap takeout. It’s fine enough when consumed, even though goes in and out of you at such a rate that it in the long run had little point in being, but it exudes a pedigree nonetheless, obviously enough of one that it received a remake 43 years later (which featured Danny Glover and a young Joseph Gordon-Levitt). It really does feel of its era, the golden age of classical Hollywood, with strong elements of Americana and a moral message running through its veins.

It’s a story about the manager of the Pittsburgh Pirates, Aloysius “Guffy” McGovern (Paul Douglas), a vicious and bitter man, guaranteed to allow any patrons sitting behind either first or third base to clearly overhear a nine inning long stream of quite externalized rage. Now, this has become even more apparent as the Pirates slog through a particularly disappointing season, noticed by reporter Jennifer Paige (Janet Leigh), the writer of the “household hints” column now filling the baseball spot. After experiencing Guffy’s demeanor firsthand at a steakhouse, she’s more intrigued than ever to learn more.

One night, following a game, Guffy walks along the darkened field to hear from an angel who was a baseball player on Earth (James Whitmore). He says that if Guffy discontinues his abrasive behavior, he and other angels will work to improve the team’s fortunes. It certainly works, but Guffy is the only one of two people that is aware of the presence of the angels (the other is Bridget (Donna Corcoran) a girl at the local Catholic orphanage who worries the nuns with such claims during a trip with the other children). Due to a combination of this and the required and sudden change in behavior, questions are quickly raised of Guffy’s health and suitability to coach, which won’t be easily dismissed.

Angels in the Outfield has been cited as a classic and quintessential baseball film, but why? It contains a good message, that good deeds and actions are ultimately rewarding, but there’s nothing particularly compelling about its execution. Perhaps it came at the right time, during the post-War period of patriotism and rational love of country, and that endearment led to an embracement of obvious American symbols, like baseball. People developed fond impressions of such an idea, and the legacy of Angels in the Outfield carried on through the coming generations through nostalgia, both firsthand and inherited. While I’m not trying to say this is a bad film (not by a mile), it’s just peculiar that nothing within this movie calls out for specific memorization or recognition.

This is still a movie with a decently compelling screenplay, with interesting characters, even though Douglas’ Guffy is the one with the lion’s share of the film’s character development. Janet Leigh is good as Jennifer, a performance  arriving during a vital period in the development in her career, which built up to an infamous encounter in a shower at the Bates Motel nine years later. Keenan Wynn portrays a cynical radio broadcaster with a hatred for Guffy with a suitable amount of efficiency, and Donna Corcoran is alright as Bridget, a character needed both for exposition and emotional incentive for the main characters.

Angels in the Outfield is nothing too special, which I suspect is why it’s regarded as being so special. It’s biggest asset is its unpretentiousness, but it’s so unpretentious that it leaks in to an unimportance, and as much as I despise linking the two ideologies, they appear to be connected here. My personal definition of unpretentiousness is being down to earth and accessible, and unimportance being a lack of a driving nature for itself. Angels in the Outfield goes on for 99 minutes by just existing, and I was never able to establish a connection with it, but just see it as barely passable and wholly unmemorable.

What Dreams May Come — Review

Whatdreamsmaycome

3Star

by Ken B.

What Dreams May Come unmistakably wears its heart on its sleeve and doesn’t care what you think about that. For 112 minutes, this movie moves around from life to heaven to hell with a fair dose of awe-inspiring visuals among each.

The first act details the life of Chris Nielsen (ROBIN WILLIAMS), from meeting his wife Annie (ANNABELLA SCIORRA) in Switzerland, to their wedding, to their two children dying in a car crash. Chris and Annie are plunged into grief and despair, but eventually manage to move on, or as much as you can after something like this occurs. Four years later, Chris too is killed in a car wreck. He is led by the spirit of Albert, a man he knew in life (CUBA GOODING, JR.), first through his own funeral and the events following, and then to his own heaven, entirely reminiscent of a painting by Annie, who worked in art restoration.

As the story progresses, Chris learns that Annie is dead, and is in hell. According to his guide, this is what happens whenever someone refuses to acknowledge their existence or its cumulative value. Against advice, Chris ventures into hell in order to find his wife, regardless of what will stand in his way.

What Dreams May Come’s strongest suit is in its visual style. Shot on a film most used by landscape and nature photographers, the movie features vivid scenery. It is most notable when Chris first arrives in heaven, where the land inspired by a painting is made entirely of paint; when he grips a flower, it oozes out of his hand. When the scenes in hell occur, the visuals are fittingly surreal, horrific, and dark. At the risk of sounding like a cynic, the scenes in hell are the most memorable and admirable from a filmmaking perspective.

Bless this movie for its visuals, because without it, the fact that the script dissolves into nothingness as the end nears would be all the more obvious. Richard Matheson, who wrote the novel that this film is based off, was once asked what he thought of the film. He responded that he agreed with an anonymous Hollywood producer’s observation that “they should have shot [his] book”. After looking over some of the comparisons between the two, I find that the novel had few of the storytelling qualms that were there with the movie. When writing the adaptation, Ronald Bass apparently found it necessary to brush and wrap the story into an unsubstantive collection of ideas and plot points.

The acting also does part to save what may have been an even more underwhelming experience. Williams portrays Chris with great relatibility and skill, and Sciorra does a quite credible job, especially when Annie breaks down after losing both her husband and children. Max von Sydow has an important supporting part in the second half of the picture, and is excellent. Michael Kamen’s music is a plus, swelling and beautiful and enhancing the film upon several occasions.

It’s a shame when every aspect of a movie excels except its screenplay. For every legitimate moment of What Dreams May Come, there is another of cheap tearjerking and unfulfilled potential. And yet, I don’t regret having seen it. There is something fearless about its manner of existence, and that is what must be admired.

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Dark Shadows — Review

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The text on the image isn’t red for blood — it’s because I tried about seven different colors, and that’s the only one that would show over the image.

25Star

by Ken B.

Why was this movie made? Why, in the 21st century, was there a need to carry a motion to create a $150 million blockbuster based off of a 1960s soap opera? While I admit that there is a section of the fan base that is apparently quite devoted, there isn’t a real interest for Dark Shadows, especially in this capacity. Most who viewed it in its original run have only passing memories of it. What we have is a movie that is misleadingly promising in the first 30 minutes, falling into a deep pit of mediocrity, and then coming back up to impressive entertainment in its last 30 minutes.

The film starts in the 18th century, where a young Barnabas Collins departs with his family from Liverpool to Maine, and the family sets up a fishing port successful to the point of a town being named after the family (Collinsport). A witch named Angelique (EVA GREEN) was once loved by Barnabas, and after Barnabas falls in love with Josette (BELLA HEATHCOTE), Josette is cursed into jumping off a cliff. When Barnabas attempts to do the same, Angelique turns him into an immortal vampire. He soon falls into a two century slumber, believed to be dead.

By 1972, the Collins Estate is debilitated. One entire wing of the mansion is never entered, on account of there only being a few inhabitants. The current matriarch, Elizabeth (MICHELLE PFEIFFER) has a teenage daughter named Carolyn (CHLOË GRACE MORETZ) and a younger son named David (GULLIVER McGRATH), who claims to see ghosts. Also living in the house is an elderly maid (RAY SHIRLEY), a drunken groundskeeper named Willie (JACKIE EARLE HALEY), and a psychiatrist, Dr. Julia Hoffman (HELENA BONHAM CARTER). A woman bearing a striking resemblance to Josette, using the name Victoria “Vicky” Winters, applies to become David’s private tutor (Vicky is also played by Heathcote.). Barnabas awakes in his coffin, and he attempts to decipher the current estate of the family. When news of this reaches Angelique, who is running a rival fishing operation, she takes this an opportunity to finally have him again.

The melodrama within makes it an aware and idyllic reference to soap operas in general, and Tim Burton’s visual style is a perfect match for gothic styling. Danny Elfman’s score is stereotypical of him (parts macabre and wit), but a brilliant fit here (and for an inexplicable reason, a motif within briefly reminded me of Randy Edelman’s score for Dragonheart (Cohen, 1996)). The script, by Seth Grahame-Smith, goes for a horror/fantasy riff in the strong beginning and end, and a more comical middle. That more comical middle is where the film really suffers, dragging the 113 minute film down to a near screeching halt, with mildly unbearable jokes about 1970s culture. The scenes where the story or characters actually progress are the only ones worthwhile within this part of the film. Burton lays off of the fantasy tricks here, bringing the dead zone (no pun intended) to an even more obvious front. Johnny Depp, in the lead role, tries his best and occasionally succeeds in inserting some life into the second act, assisted by the credible supporting actors.

As a whole, Dark Shadows never really finds any footing, constantly cajoling between horror and comedy, and never properly adapting either. While the performances (particularly Johnny Depp’s), the visual effects, and the musical score have the ability to create a satisfying sequence every now and then, Tim Burton’s version of the TV show is just a testament to what happens when money is thrown about without a foreseeable end goal or sufficient energy.

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Upside Down — Review

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1_Star

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by Ken B.

Love. Love love. I love love. Everyone loves love. But what I don’t, nor anyone else, love are movies like this – completely incompetent from a storytelling perspective, and entirely too bloated for its own good.

Juan Diego Solana’s Upside Down has a bunch of impressive visuals and absolutely nothing else. There’s a mildly plagiaristic plot, and then there’s an exceedingly complicated set of inner-movie physics. There are actors that are never really given a chance to shine, and some interesting ideas that are only briefly entertained.

Adam (JIM STURGESS) lives in a universe where there are two very separate planets, one over the other. In Down, where he lives, there is poverty abound. He grew up an orphan, as his parents were killed in an oil refinery explosion, and his only surviving relative was his great Aunt Becky (KATE TROTTER).

In Down, gravity falls down. In Up, it… goes up, of course. Up, in contrast to down, is filled with wealth and fortune. Down sells oil to Up, which converts it to electricity and sells it back to Down for higher prices. The divide between Up and Down is very obvious and the border hostile.

Anyway, one day when climbing up a mountain, Adam meets Eden (KIRSTEN DUNST), a woman from Up. They hit it off immediately, but because they are from two rival social classes, they are forbidden to cross into each other’s world and be together. They are forcefully separated, but years later Adam sees Eden as a representative for TransWorld, the massive company who owned the refinery that killed his family and thousands of others. Against the advice of his colleagues, he gains an entry level job at TransWorld, determined to reunite with Eden and make some technological developments along the way, based on something he found as a child.

It looks fairly straightforward, but this 107 minute movie all too quickly flies off the handle and becomes entirely incoherent by the last act. A while ago, I reviewed Roman Holiday, and mentioned that I liked the melancholy bittersweet ending. No such thing exists here, making this a pointless conclusion that’s mildly infuriating. It in and of itself contain extremely unlikely scenarios that I would describe, but would have to spoil the film even more in the process.

While the special effects, especially those in the wide shots between the two worlds are dynamic and incredible, Up is often shot with the camera upside down, creating an unintelligible and often nausea-inducing result. The music by Benoît Charest and Sigur Rós is nearly entirely generic and unmemorable. The performances are uneventful, mostly because the clichéd script doesn’t really give them much space to shine – or any at all. Upside Down is a colossal waste of time – one hour and forty minutes devoted to a pandering plot, clichés and predictability at every turn, and an insultingly saccharine ending makes this a movie not worth experiencing, regardless of whether you live Up or Down.

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