Before I Fall — Review

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Zoey Deutch and Logan Miller in a scene from Ry Russo-Young’s Before I Fall.

25Star

“The actors elevate this material, see through its flaws, and search for the heart within. They’re up for a challenge, but too often they’re left without an opportunity to engage.”

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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

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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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