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What Happens to a Dream Deferred? Baseball and Life, According to Kevin Costner

A look at baseball, life, and the intermixing of the two in Kevin Costner’s three films revolving around sports and dreams.

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In one eleven-year period, from 1988 to 1999, Kevin Costner played the lead Baseball Guy in three unrelated Baseball Movies. During that time, Costner would also jump around, testing other bona fide movie-star vehicles. He was Robin Hood and Wyatt Earp, he prosecuted the conspiracy to murder the president in JFK, he starred alongside Whitney Houston in The Bodyguard, played a mutant drifter in Waterworld (then the most expensive movie ever made). At both ends of this blockbusting stretch sit the actor’s Baseball Movies – the inoffensive, optimistic, earnestly American roles that helped shape the identity of Kevin Costner: Movie Star.

1988’s Bull Durham follows Costner’s Crash Davis, a minor league journeyman catcher in the twilight of his career. A year later, Costner reappeared as Ray Kinsella, an Iowa farmer urged by bodiless voices to build a home field for dead ballplayers in Field of Dreams. The actor then stepped away from Baseball for a decade before taking the field one last time in For Love of the Game, starring as Billy Chapel, an aged superstar who relives memories of a failed romance while he pitching in the last game of his career.


Each of these Baseball Guy iterations endures a certain degree of pain. Davis is finishing a career defined by shortcoming, haunted by his failures at the games’ highest level. He carries a pit of regret, occasionally lashing out but mostly sauntering through life unwilling to leave a sport that doesn’t want him anymore, and maybe never did. Baseball is Crash Davis’ occupation, a calling even if his talent never rose to the level of his passion for the game.

In Field of Dreams, Costner’s Ray Kinsella is a middle-aged man who, despite enjoying a full personal and professional life, fixates on the lacking relationship he had with his father. That man, John Kinsella, was a distant figure, dissatisfied and settled long before Ray’s arrival in the world. John had a stint in baseball that became nothing, and then spent the rest of his life lugging stuff for a paycheck. Ray, now many years removed from his father’s death, is only tangentially related to baseball; he has retained a fan’s interest in the game, seemingly as a stand-in for the substantive paternal relationship he missed (and still misses).

Billy Chapel, unlike his understated counterparts, is a superstar. For Love of the Game joins his professional story in its final throes, but Chapel had been to the pinnacle of the sport and back before that time. His nice cars, prima donna attitude, and frosted tips are a fit for Costner, who established himself as a genuine box office draw long before For Love of the Game debuted. Chapel’s pain is tangible – broken and neglected relationships, throbbing shoulders, damaged nerves. He is a man who has achieved everything, and is tallying the true cost of that success in terms of physical discomfort and romantic disrepair.

In a vacuum, Davis, Kinsella, and Chapel are mostly the same man. They are characterized by Costner’s physicality, the unique mixture of weathered handsomeness and lithe athleticism that allowed him to believably portray professional athletes even into his forties, but the similarities continue past throwing motion, hitting mechanics, and jock swagger. The women in these movies, for instance, exist only to relate to Costner’s characters, and they adore him.

Bull Durham pairs Costner with Susan Sarandon as Annie, a cougar’s cougar before the term existed. Annie is baseball-obsessed, and supplants her expertise with sexuality; she critiques the player’s mechanics, watches every game, and each season she takes one lucky Bull as her lover. In the spirit of that tradition, Annie chooses the team’s star pitcher in the film’s beginning, but is so enamored with Crash that she becomes uncharacteristically conflicted.

The film introduces Annie as a strong and independent – if eccentric and a little pitiable – force, an intellectual and sexual dynamo who amuses herself by making men out of minor league boys. In one scene she lectures her protégé on agency, forcing her to repeat a mantra – “I didn’t get lured, and I will take responsibility for my actions.” Still, Crash Davis – one ballplayer out of hundreds who have ostensibly come through Durham during Annie’s time there – is so singular, so commanding and undeniable that Annie’s romantic identity frays. By the film’s end, Annie is completely smitten.

While Bull Durham is R-rated, adult and sexual, Field of Dreams is far more saccharine and sentimental, so Annie is replaced by Annie (seriously), and Karin, Ray’s wife and daughter, respectively. Annie and Karin apparently worship Ray, supporting the man even when his foolhardy obsessions endanger the farm and nearly bankrupt the family. Ray hears a voice early in the film, famously urging him to build a field; Annie is easily convinced, and Ray proceeds to level a substantial amount of their crop. This pattern continues when Ray is called to Boston by forces beyond his understanding, diverted to Minnesota in similar circumstances, and returns home to stubbornly resist even the most sensible salvaging of the family’s financial security. This is a man’s movie about a man and his father and the man’s game they both loved; Annie and Karin exist merely to look at Ray with bewildered smiles, awestruck adoration, or something in between.

Interestingly, For Love of the Game respects its female character the least, even though the film explores romance as much as it does sport. Jane meets Billy by chance, who stops to help her with car trouble because she is alone and attractive. He easily impresses her, and the two start a periodic fling, with Billy meeting her whenever his team is in New York to play the Yankees. It’s a relationship that starts under dubious circumstances, and mostly continues as such despite the sticky-sweet montage in the film’s middle that gives the audience Chapel briefly appearing to actually commit himself to Jane. Chapel is a superstar, with only enough love for the game, and he viciously and thoughtlessly lets Jane know as much on more than one occasion in the film.

At the end of For Love of the Game Billy has reached his mountaintop, yet realizes that he is still unfulfilled. So, he runs to the airport, where Jane – resolved to leave Billy and the toxic relationship for good – is waiting to board a plane to London. He recounts to Jane his grand epiphany – that he needs her – and she can’t help but be convinced to stay, to work things out, because as the audience knows, she has never been anything less than obsessed with Billy since he first stopped to hit on in front of her broken car. The moment is hollow, largely because the revelation is, too. Billy’s change of heart comes only after he has faced his professional mortality, only when it became not just convenient, but necessary to occupy himself with something other than baseball. It’s natural to almost root for Jane to leave – Billy wouldn’t allow Jane to have him at his best, so why should she be persuaded to settle for anything less? That can’t happen, however, because Billy Chapel – like Crash Davis, and Ray Kinsella – is irresistible.

The Cult of Costner: Baseball Guy isn’t limited to women in these films, as all three of these characters are natural leaders of men. Crash Davis’ role in baseball is to literally mold young men; he is acquired by the Durham Bulls with the sole purpose of looking after and helping shape Nuke, the wild and wildly talented pitcher with a “million-dollar arm and five cent head.” Davis goes even further, naturally becoming the de facto leader of the entire team, providing guidance even to the Bull’s overwhelmed manager.

Ray is chosen by supernatural forces to build a home for the searching, wandering heroes of baseball’s past. His quest is biblical, and his assumed authority postures him as the ruler of his own mythical baseball kingdom. Shoeless Joe and the other players may be destined for immortality, everlasting life in the collective memory of America, but they can’t play unless Ray turns the lights on, unless Ray refuses to sell his farm. And they want desperately to play.

In For Love of the Game, Chapel’s reputation around the league is godly – players and coaches speak his name with reverence, preaching about his old-school, no-bullshit work ethic and his considerable achievements on the mound. Like Davis, Chapel’s team follows his lead, a right he earned with years in the game and statistics compiled. Chapel’s catcher adores him like young boy adores his older brother, and his owner dotes on him like a fawning father.

Both of these groups – men and the women – are influenced by the masculinity of Costner’s characters. These films are about baseball and life, but each of them is about the life of a man – a kind man that doesn’t really exist anymore. Kinsella is a platonic ideal of manhood: he can swing a hammer, he provides for his family, he’s honor-bound, his looks are accessible, rugged, weathered. He even has cliché daddy issues, issues he addresses not with any emotional intelligence, but instead with drastic, errant behavior.

Crash Davis’s swaggering confidence belongs to the world of athletics, it’s the disposition of a man who knows he is the smartest in the room, but is too old and wise to truly give a shit. It’s earned with experience, with home runs hit, women bedded, miles traveled, whiskeys drunk and hangovers fought. The boys on his team follow him because he is the lone man among them, and Annie melts before him for the same reason. Like Kinsella, Davis is tortured by the past, but his festering wound seeps through only in flashes of drunken anger and woe-is-me pity. In the morning after his outburst in Bull Durham, sunglasses are donned, voices are lowered, and the entire episode is dismissed, nothing more than “howling at the moon.” Costner’s Baseball Guys repackage their emotional damage and pour it into the game, where it ostensibly belongs.

That is, until Chapel realizes that the game can’t be everything, that it can’t possibly love you back. Chapel wrestles with his emotions more openly than the other characters, but mostly as a matter of necessity. In order to win Jane back, his teary confession is necessary, because unlike his counterparts, Chapel treats his romantic interest with something between insensitivity and disdain for much of the movie. This fits though – Crash Davis and Ray Kinsella are wholesome throwbacks, but Chapel is a modern man, and a more successful one at that. His virility is stylish, contemporary, and rich. He drives nice cars, wears weird pants, sleeps with masseuses, and is unafraid to direct his anger at the women – and men – who inconvenience him, or who he misunderstands, or who try to set him straight.

All three of these characters are man-children in the way that all professional athletes and sports-obsessed fans must be. Crash Davis is an athletic Peter Pan, unable to leave the children’s game that no longer welcomes him. Kinsella is approaching middle age, but remains impossibly fixated on his childhood. Chapel is bratty and entitled, a silver-spooner with prodigious talent and a penchant for petulance. They are all man-children by definition, but their respective films admire their passion, revere the sport, and focus on the magnetism of their masculinity and the righteousness of their cause instead of the toxicity of their arrested development.

For their overwhelming similarity, Crash, Ray, and Billy relate to baseball in unique and different ways. For Ray, the game is a literal bridge to the past – a metaphor that has defined it in the larger culture for much of its existence – and the connective tissue of his relationship with his father. Crash and Billy have baseball, but they lack the building blocks of Ray’s life. Ray has the family, but turns to baseball for what he lacks: a purpose, a sense of direction, but most importantly, a window into the psyche of the man whose absence informed much of Ray’s emotional development.

For Crash, baseball is the only job worth doing. Never good enough to make it all the way, but never bad enough to wash out, Crash is now on the wrong side of thirty, forced to confront his impending exit from the sport. His relationship with baseball is mostly one-way – he’s given years of his life and received little more than memories in return. He has certainly been denied either the rewarding personal life of Kinsella or the fruitful financial rewards of Chapel. Baseball for Crash is part unrequited love and part paycheck – he uses the game, and the game has likewise used him, and there appears to be nothing left. Maybe a managing opportunity for a minor league club in some podunk town, which leaves Crash wondering aloud the familiar refrain: “Do you think I could make it to the show?”

While Kinsella is a fan and Crash is a player, Chapel is a superstar. His success in baseball was preordained, as much a matter of pedigree as talent. Billy reached the pinnacle, and as the others are left to wonder, to lament unfulfilled potential and retain some purpose in their striving, Billy is the only one who has seen the truth: that baseball can’t be everything, that no matter how talented you are and how long the game allows you to stick around. In the end, everyone is ultimately faced with the same uncertainty. Crash has the luxury of looking at the moon and wishing he could go there, and Chapel is cursed with having gone and knowing it’s not enough.

The circumstances of each of these characters reflect what each film is saying about baseball. Of course, having something to say about baseball is a hallmark of the Baseball Movie genre – these are movies about characters, but really they are about a game – but, as they would have the audience believe, they also have something to say about each of us.

Field of Dreams is the standard-bearer for this kind of allegory. The movie grants baseball the literal voice of god, transforming all of the romance and reverence reserved for the sport into an actual supernatural force. For Field of Dreams, the transformative power of baseball is derived through passive engagement, through curation and fanhood, through the long slow process of living. Baseball is a marker in the history of our country, and the history of each individual American. It crystallizes our relationships, preserving them in its mythology; it is sentient sentimentality, giving even our most indulgent nostalgia a sense of immediacy, simply by always existing.

Still, these films are truly about what baseball takes from the characters, and what it does – or doesn’t – give back. Kinsella’s story is meant to be inspirational and sentimental, but the story only exists because baseball took a childhood from Kinsella – his dad, resentful after washing out of the minor leagues and unfulfilled in his own life, allowed the game’s heroes to raise his son in his stead, while he sleepwalked through life, all his enthusiasm reserved for the Yankees.

From Crash Davis baseball stole potential, a commodity that can only ever be prospectively appraised. Davis is definitively a minor-league talent at the end of his career; the game took the future from Davis, and shifted the weight of his life to the past. What’s left of Davis at the end of Bull Durham is a man determined to salvage some future by fitting a coach-sized block into a player-sized hole. He traded years of his life, and in return received a mixed bag of memories, a sense of regret, some lingering resentment, and relative solitude. Bull Durham expects the audience to miss this lopsided transaction because, when all is said and done, Crash gets the girl. But despite the relationship in the movie between libido and bat speed, Bull Durham – like each of these films – ultimately asserts that baseball and romantic love meet distinct needs, and that one cannot substitute for the other.

For both Crash and Billy, baseball incurs a cost. Crash tolerates discomfort, indignity, and instability because it allows him to stay in the game. Chapel sacrifices his personal life to stay at the top of it. If Chapel existed in Bull Durham, Crash would encourage Nuke to follow his model – staid, focused, cut-throat and committed, because Crash and Chapel have the same understanding: true potential is a rare and finite commodity, and those blessed with it are bound by duty to realize it at any cost. The cost – self-inflected as it may be – endured by Chapel in For Love of the Game is hardly trivial. Baseball gives Chapel everything, but his singular devotion to the game prevents Chapel from recognizing a relationship with Jane as worth pursuing. His airport plea is typically self-centered and tone deaf, but it’s at least honest. Chapel for so long seemed to imagine he could truly love the game, but only at the end of his career does he realize the game couldn’t possibly return that love.

“What Happens to a Dream Deferred” is the opening line of Langston Hughes’ “Harlem,” an elegiac exploration of lost futures and stolen potential. “Harlem” grapples with substantially graver subject matter than the man-children of Kevin Costner’s baseball oeuvre, though, as Hughes broadly examines waylaid generations, psyche on a scale both societal and individual, and dreams deferred with a distinct lack of agency on behalf of the dreamer.

Bull Durham, Field of Dreams, and For Love of the Game also have a spacious view, but it’s one of baseball as a sort of national compulsion, a cosmic calling for American males of a specific demographic. Still, these films seem incidentally fascinated by the fate of a deferred dream, be it Ray Kinsella’s stunted childhood, Crash Davis’ unfulfilled potential, or Billy Chapel’s romantic dysfunction.

Hughes wonders, do dreams deferred shrivel like raisins, do they fester like sores, or stink like rotting meat, or sag, or do they explode? Kinsella’s dream festers, until he acts drastically to address his loss; Davis’ slowly shrivels, as his prospects dry and die on the vine; Chapel’s stinks, rotting slowly until he begins to smell it. These films, unlike Hughes’ poem, refuse to frame those decaying dreams as anything but the necessary, unavoidable casualties of righteous pursuit, because each of these films believe, more than anything, that baseball is worth whatever cost it may incur. Costner’s characters don’t worry about what happens to a dream deferred, because their most vivid dreams have already been brought to life: to play the game; to never grow up; to be a Baseball Guy.

Mike hails from the great state of Massachusetts, where he structured his identity around three inarguable truths - that Tom Brady is the greatest quarterback of all time, Pearl Jam is the best band since 1980, and those who disagree are dead wrong. He complains about the proliferation of superhero movies while gleefully forking over sixteen dollars for each new release, and believes Tom Cruise has yet to make a bad movie. Follow Mike on twitter @haigismichael.

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The Power of a Name in ‘The Hateful Eight’

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Quentin Tarantino Spotlight

What’s in a name? What kind of power and reputation does it hold? If a new movie is announced and it’s a whodunit western set in a blizzard, it may not have a lot of clout, but the moment the name ‘Quentin Tarantino’ appears in the teaser, its premise ceases to be the driving force for viewership. His name alone can create a wave of attraction, as well as trust in the movie that amounts to a whole new level of respect. This is not simply a western; it’s a Tarantino Western. Tarantino uses the power of a name and reputation in The Hateful Eight to establish relationships and trust.

Hateful Eight Blizzard

Everyone in The Hateful Eight is a mean bastard (except for poor old O.B., who suffers an undeserved fate), and after an epic blizzard landscape logically forces everyone into a closed environment, there’s no possible way to escape or engage in outward communication; there’s only the passage of time. John “The Hangman” Ruth is escorting Daisy Domergue, a fugitive, to the town of Red Rock to be hung dead, and the torrential Deus Ex Machina forces him to make a stop at Minnie’s Haberdashery. Along the lonely road he meets two unlikely guests at different points.

The first is Major Marquis Warren, a fellow bounty hunter and former Union soldier. Now, Ruth is a paranoid bastard, expecting anyone he meets to be after his bounty. After disarming Warren, they recognize one another, giving Ruth some comfort that his bounty is safe. However, there were ulterior motives for Ruth to bring Warren on the stagecoach. He heard that Warren supposedly once received a letter from President Lincoln himself, and the chance to play six degrees of separation is captivating enough to add to the pot. But, it’s with Ruth’s next passenger where the power of the name makes an important appearance.

Chris Mannix has also become a victim of the unrelenting blizzard’s tour de force. He lost his horse in the storm, and he also happens to be on his way to Red Rock. Ruth immediately lets his paranoia take over, as the coincidence of two separate people roaming the blizzard is too good to be true. When Mannix comes into view, Ruth recognizes him; he tells Warren he knows him “only by reputation.” His father is far more famous, as he was the leader of a renegade group of thugs and murderers called “The Mannix Marauders.” This notorious gang helped give Chris Mannix, the youngest son in the family, a reputation of his own.

Likewise, though Mannix doesn’t recognize Daisy either by name or face, as soon as he hears she’s being brought to the hangman, he immediately knows that he’s talking to John “The Hangman” Ruth. He then recognizes Marquis Warren, also known for his infamous actions during the war.  After a brief look at the stagecoach and the bodies, he correctly assumes that they are bounties, and without prompting, declares that he is the next sheriff of Red Rock. He doesn’t have the proof on him, and says all of it can be confirmed in town. He reminds them that in order to get paid, they need the sheriff, and if they don’t bring him along, they not only will not be getting the reward, but they will be accused of murder when they leave a government official behind to freeze to death in the winter wasteland.

Mannix’s can’t prove this claim, and conveniently they can only know if he’s lying for certain when they reach the fabled destination. Ruth and Warren ultimately play it safe and bring him along, just in case. Throughout The Hateful Eight, the importance of reputation permeates the proceedings; even when they enter Minnie’s Haberdashery, Mannix boasts about his upcoming new title, and makes friends with most everyone. He encounters Oswaldo Mobray, and is told that he’s a future colleague. Mobray (lying through his teeth) says he is in fact the actual hangman in Red Rock, and has cards to prove it. Mannix simply assumes that Bob, a Mexican cowhand, is just a worker at Minnie’s, and doesn’t take anything of value from his unassuming name. The most interesting person in the room to him is General Sanford Smithers, a confederate general.

Mannix is in awe of General Sanford Smithers, a former confederate leader. The younger man takes his time to wait on his elder, bringing him drinks and blankets out of respect. After the introduction, Smithers confirms that he is Erskine Mannix’s boy, and they both acknowledge their victories (despite the confederacy’s defeat). Smithers, with fondness for the Mannix name and reputation, tells Chris “I never knew your father, son. But I always respected his resolve.”

Though both confederate soldiers have committed atrocious crimes, there is no reason for them to lie; their reputations have traveled, and if they don’t lay the cards on the table, the paranoid Ruth would most likely come for them. Mannix asks Smither’s where he’s heading, and learns that Smither’s is heading to Red Rock for his son. Not once during their intimate conversation, however, does Chris Mannix reveal his intentions, or his goal. To preserve a rebel reputation? One would assume that Sanford would be proud that a young, confederate captain would be the sheriff of the town. Perhaps they simply already know what they need to know about each other, simply from reputation, and in the world of The Hateful Eight, that’s enough to trust.

This is why the only person Mannix is wary of is Joe Gage, a seemingly unremarkable cowpuncher writing his memoir in the corner. Mannix immediately takes a disliking to him, and while it’s initially played for laughs, there’s an even deeper meaning to it.

Joe Gage is an unknown. He’s a stranger in this story, and despite being an odd fellow, he doesn’t seem to have a reputation. Even when he is forced to introduce himself, Ruth treats his name with a questionable and aggressive “who?” When tensions are at their highest due to the bloody, disgusting death of Ruth, Chris Mannix immediately assumes that Joe Gage was the one who poisoned the coffee. After all, it couldn’t have been Warren, Mobray, or Bob, who all are known and seem to have a purpose in the world. They are of value. Joe Gage’s reputation of an unknown points all fingers on him. Who else but the stranger could have done something so heinous? As it turns out, Gage did in fact poison the coffee, but the guilt is only partial; Bob, Mobray, and Gage are all conspiring with one another to save Daisy from her fate.  

Even at the very end of The Hateful Eight, after all the bloodshed, fatal injuries, and racist slurs, there is still something quite odd about Mannix’s claim to be a sheriff. There is no one in the movie that can deny or prove it; it’s still all based on hearsay. Warren and Ruth are surprised that someone like him would be given such a responsibility; is he the sheriff of Red Rock, or is he simply a liar trying his hardest to save his own hide? There is a definite answer to that question, and Walton Goggins answers it in this interview:

Goggins recalls when he was given the script. Tarantino asked him what he thought, and Goggins had one question:

“I really only have one question for you. And that is, am I the sheriff of Red Rock or am I not the sheriff of Red Rock? And he said ‘I need for you to answer that question and I don’t want to know the answer you come up with to that question.’”

Goggins continues to not tell the interviewer what he comes up with because in many ways, the answer really doesn’t matter. What matters is that this claim allows Chris Mannix onto the stagecoach and into a fake safe haven. The Hateful Eight shows once and for all that a man’s name and reputation can establish a certain level of trust, even if his actions do not; being known lends more weight to one’s words than being a nobody. If Chris Mannix was a stranger, then there’s a good chance Red Rock would be without a sheriff. It just depends on whether you believe him.

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Fantasia Film Festival

Fantasia 2019: ‘Ride Your Wave’ Explores Mourning and Loss

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Writer/director Masaaki Yuasa continues to be one of the most distinctive voices in anime today, with a clear and unique style that has garnered him something of a fan following with both light family fare like Lu Over the Wall and the very, very not-family-friendly Devilman Crybaby. Yuasa’s films and series have a distinct and inimitable rhythm, a mile-a-minute pace that comes with a love of the surreal and the absurd that makes for delirious, breathless works. But rather than be boxed in with distinctive style, Yuasa often branches out to pursue different moods and atmospheres, which leads us to his latest work, Ride Your Wave.

It’s a more sedate film than some might be hoping for, a lovely tale of loss and family that still has many of Yuasa’s earmarks, but is a bit more measured and restrained than something like The Night is Short, Walk on Girl. This could easily leave Yuasa’s fans a bit lukewarm on the film if they expect too much, but there’s still a lot to love here, and comparisons between this and Yuasa’s other, more lively works might lead some to not give the film its fair due.

Ride Your Wave

The action primarily follows Hinako, a scatterbrained young woman with a love of surfing. She moves to a seaside town and meets handsome firefighter Minato, who sweeps her off her feet and into a picturesque romance. A decent portion of the first act is devoted to their blossoming love, a relationship so chock full of romance and bliss that one can almost see the other shoe looming overhead, menacing passing airplanes. Sure enough, Minato tragically dies while rescuing a drowning swimmer, leaving Hinako devastated by grief. But Minato reappears as a kind of water ghost, appearing inside bodies of water whenever Hinako sings a certain tune. At first it appears as though this is their second chance, but dating a ghost made out of water turns out much harder than you’d expect.

As previously mentioned, Ride Your Wave doesn’t quite share the rhythm and tone of some of Yuasa’s other works, and it could be said that the director’s oeuvre is this film’s worst enemy. Comparing this work to previous ones like Mindgame or Tatami Galaxy will in the end only lead to disappointment, but taken entirely on its own merits, Ride Your Wave is a beautiful work of animation bolstered by a strong cast of characters. While Minato and Hisako’s romance is certainly idyllic and saccharine, it also feels very real and sincere. You can see what draws the characters to each other, as well as how they work as a couple, with their respective strengths and failings working in tandem. The relationship could have been the make or break of the film, with a shallowly developed central romance being fairly key in works like this one. Thankfully, the film sets aside enough time to help invest you in the pair, which generates enough emotional investment to help carry the rest of the work.

Ride Your Wave

On the animation front, Ride Your Wave is quite often breathtaking, combining Yuasa’s signature look of very flat, stylized character models with luscious, vibrant backgrounds to stunning effect. Some CGI effects are mixed in, but these are only rarely out of place or distracting. Again, there’s a divergence from Yuasa’s style, as seen in works like Devilman or Tatami Galaxy, but a divergence from the norm need not be a bad thing.

The harshest critics of Ride Your Wave will be those audience members expecting it to be something it isn’t — a stylistic continuation of works like The Night is Short, Walk on Girl or others of Yuasa’s more stylistically driven movies and series. But it’s important to weigh works like this on their own rather than comparing them to what came before, and when given its full due and recognized for its own merits rather than being unfairly compared to its fellows within Masaaki Yuasa’s body of work, the director’s latest can be seen as the fun, emotionally driven film it was intended to be.

The Fantasia Film Festival runs July 11 – August 1. Visit the official website for more information.

 

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Fantasia Film Festival

Fantasia 2019: ‘1BR’ and the Horror of Community

A harrowing, unnerving, experience but one nevertheless worth having.

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*This review contains minor spoilers*

Despite their name, most horror movies evoke — or at least try to evoke — two distinct reactions: horror and terror. Terror is more visceral, more immediate, causing us to flinch and cry out when a monster or knife-wielding maniac bursts out of the darkness. Horror, on the other hand, runs a bit deeper. True horror is that feeling in the pit of your stomach when you see something deeply wrong, a subversion of the ordered way of things or pulling back of the curtain to reveal something monstrous and evil that previously appeared normal. Terror makes us recoil and averts our eyes, but when confronted with horror, it becomes almost impossible to look away. 1BR, from first-time director David Marmor, deals very explicitly in the horror side of the equation. Deeply disturbing and affecting, the film is more than likely to leave the viewer with a deep, lingering sense of dread and oppression, and a newfound mistrust of friendly strangers.

Nicole Brydon Bloom stars as Sarah, a young woman who has come to LA like so many others in search of a fresh start. She moves into an apartment complex with a seemingly friendly and outgoing roster of tenants who try and make her feel welcome. But strange noises abound in the night, and just as Sarah begins to suspect that her new home is not as idyllic as she had thought, she is plunged into a harrowing ordeal. Her neighbors reveal themselves to be a kind of cult, living an enforced communal lifestyle pioneered by a 70s self-help guru. Sarah is imprisoned in her apartment and tortured, with the end goal being indoctrination into their way of life.

1BR

1BR is a challenging film to get through, especially in the early scenes of Sarah’s capture and torment. While it isn’t as gruesome as something like Hostel or Wolf Creek, the film still devotes an amount of time to presenting our protagonist being subjected to bone-chilling cruelty. There’s a sense of utter helplessness and despair to these sequences that will leave many viewers running for the door, and that reaction is quite understandable. Watching someone be betrayed, dehumanized, and broken down both physically and psychologically is an incredibly difficult thing to watch. But it’s what comes after the more extreme sequences that the true horror begins, as Sarah learns more about her captors’ ways and secrets.

1BR is the kind of film that’s likely to leave you emotionally and physically drained.

Much of the tension in this section of the film comes from not knowing just how powerful the cult’s hold is on her. We see her early resolve to escape her horrible fate, but as time goes on it becomes harder and harder to tell where Sarah’s true loyalties lay. Much of this is thanks to the stunning performance by Nicole Brydon Bloom, who runs the gamut from utter despair and vulnerability to steely resolve, with a million shades in between. Opposite her, Taylor Nichols and Giles Matthey (among others) play the various members of the cult with sinister charm, going from friendly and welcoming to unfeeling monsters with alarming ease. In a really horrible, disturbing way, they remain charismatic even in their deepest moments of evil, and it becomes very believable that this group has brainwashed as many poor souls as it has.

1BR

For the most part, we all want a place to belong — a community that loves us and accepts us and pushes us to be the best versions of ourselves. 1BR takes this need and poses the question of what we’d be willing to endure to obtain that. Would we be willing to undergo the brutal events that befall poor Sarah? To potentially surrender a significant portion of our agency in order to find such a group? It seems like an easy question, but Marmour and his cast throw doubt into the mix — seemingly for Sarah, and in all likelihood, for much of the audience as well. Community and belonging are intoxicating things, and sometimes come at a high cost. But how high is too high? After seeing the film, you may not be so sure anymore.

1BR is the kind of film that’s likely to leave you emotionally and physically drained. It takes the viewer through a gauntlet of emotions and responses, many of them by all metrics deeply unpleasant, and because of this, it falls very firmly in the ‘not for everyone’ camp. But audience members willing to plumb the darker end of the emotional spectrum will find much to like in 1BR. It’s a harrowing, unnerving, experience, but one nevertheless worth having.

The Fantasia Film Festival runs July 11 – August 1. Visit the official website for more information.

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Fantasia Film Festival

Fantasia 2019: ‘A Good Woman is Hard to Find’ is a Thriller to Look For

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Though at times it may seem as quiet and unassuming as its main character, A Good Woman is Hard to Find knows how to draw attention to itself at just the right moments, expertly building tension from muted scenarios before punctuating them with bloody release. Though an anticlimactic end perhaps puts too neat a bow around the otherwise messy and fascinating package, confident direction and compelling performances bolster the deliberately paced story, resulting in low-key thriller that is rarely less than gripping.

A Good Woman is Hard to Find Sarah

After an ominous prologue that hints at a violent future to come, we are introduced to single mother Sarah as she navigates the supermarket on a small budget before enduring the latest in what is undoubtedly a string of small humiliations suffered by her due to a lower-class status and the drug-related assumptions surrounding her late husband’s murder. Though clearly life-worn and tired, Sarah tries to maintain a smile even in the face of those who would look down on her, focusing on her kids, including a young son traumatized by the incident that took his father.

Even as her mother accuses her of being too soft, Sarah inwardly soldiers on, frustrated by the lack of progress with the police investigation, but generally demonstrating a non-confrontational attitude and endearing patience with her situation in life. However, her perceived wishy-washiness is put to the test when a petty crook named Tito rips off a local crime boss and breaks into Sarah’s home in order to hide. Liking the anonymous look of the place — and his ability to bully the resident — he decides that he will keep his newfound drug stash there, whether she likes it or not.

Many stories pivot upon just how far one character can be pushed, and A Good Woman is Hard to Find falls squarely into this category. When this precarious arrangement inevitably goes south, what will this mild-mannered person do to achieve some sort of cosmic balance, to assert control over their life? Well, it turns out that upon reaching her limit for tolerating everyone’s abuse, Sarah is willing to go to some pretty distant lengths in order to stand up for herself and protect what little she has — probably to her own surprise.

What separates A Good Woman is Hard to Find from much of the empowerment pack is just how skillfully it paints its picture. It’s always easy to go overboard in garnering sympathy for a sad sack by putting a halo over their head as they’re besieged by cartoonishly brutal villainy (and there’s definitely a bit of the latter here), but writer-director Abner Pastoll mostly maintains a more grounded subtlety, not afraid to understand that human beings come in shades. So, while the sadistic crime boss might not feel too out of place in a Guy Ritchie film, the rest of the characters are given dimension enough to keep viewers on their toes.

This can lead to shocking moments of tension when people are faced with crucial decisions, as we can’t be quite sure that they’ll make the ‘right’ one. Sarah is obviously sympathetic, but her mired state leaves the door open to potential weaknesses. Stealing batteries from her kids’ toys to pleasure herself or contemplating a powdery high are innocuous actions in themselves, but taken as a whole these moments suggest lines that she can be tempted to cross. Likewise, Tito brings menace into the household, yet also some odd, blue-collar levity; like most people, he actually thinks he’s a decent enough fellow. That doesn’t alleviate or excuses his despicable actions but contributes to an impending, tragic vibe that A Good Woman is Hard to Find delicately simmers with.

This feeling does eventually come to a boil in a brilliantly staged and edited event that is appropriately bloody and squirm-inducing as it depicts a literal transformation while implying a spiritual one. This scene benefits greatly from the lack of sensationalism that precedes it, and makes for a satisfying culmination of what has taken place up to this point. Unfortunately, the later tidy conclusion, while cathartic, does undermine that overall grittiness a bit, ever-so-slightly stretching credibility while at the same time undermining the complexity of Sarah’s relationship with and memory of her husband. The ease of the wrapup is a small nit to pick, to be sure, and is — given how it’s achieved — arguably restrained, but it does come across as a bit anticlimactic.

A Good Woman is Hard to Find club

Regardless, such a brief falter does not diminish the rich tension that comes before it. Anchored by Sarah Bolger’s powerful performance as a suppressed woman finally discovering what she might be capable of, and showcasing Pastoll’s confident, steady direction, A Good Woman is Hard to Find is a subtle thriller to look out for.

The Fantasia Film Festival runs July 11 – August 1. Visit the official website for more information.

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Fantasia Film Festival

Fantasia 2019: ‘The Prey’ — is a Lean and Mean Thriller

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The Prey Review

When The Most Dangerous Game was made in 1932, it was released in the era known as “Pre-Code Hollywood,” a time when filmmakers were able to get away with sexual innuendo, illegal drug use, intense violence, homosexuality, and other taboo topics without any fear of censorship. It was the first screen adaptation of Richard Connell’s short story of the same name, and ever since, it has been adapted both officially and unofficially several times. Of the dozens of screen versions made, that original film still stands as the very best— but there have been a few decent variations worth recommending including The Naked Prey and John Woo’s first Hollywood directorial effort, the Jean-Claude Van Damme thriller Hard Target. Now, nearly 90 years later, The Prey looks to take Richard Connell’s simple premise and put its own spin on the now tried and tested action movie formula. The good news, The Prey is a jolt of pulp entertainment that will satisfy genre fans who are looking for an enjoyable way to spend 90 minutes.

The fifth feature from Jimmy Henderson (Jailbreak) takes the classic story of survival and drops it in the jungles of his adopted home of Cambodia. Our hero Xin (Gu Shangwei) is an undercover cop who accidentally finds himself locked up in a remote prison where the sadistic warden (Vithaya Pansringarm) sells prisoners as human prey for wealthy businessmen men to hunt as a form of recreation. Unsurprisingly, Xin is chosen for the event and becomes an unwitting participant in the deadly game of cat and mouse.

As far as plot goes, there isn’t much else to say since characters are thinly drawn and other minor plot strands seem irrelevant to what is otherwise a very simple premise. The Prey has one thing on its mind: action. And for what it is going for, The Prey is a lean and mean thriller that offers fans a number of stunning martial arts showcases choreographed by Jean-Paul Ly (star of Jailbreak) – and terrific cinematography from Lucas Gath who manages to shoot from unconventional angles and places the camera as close as possible to the action while never once confusing the audience. Henderson never lets the pace falter either and captures some brutal hand-to-hand combat which makes great use of a wide array of makeshift weaponry. The Prey isn’t a triumph of fight choreography like say The Raid, but it is relentless and features some memorable scenes including an impressive extended single-take and a notably balls-to-the-wall prison brawl. Veteran Thai actor Vithaya Pansringarm (Only God Forgives) is by far the most experienced performer on display but newcomer Gu Shangwei somehow manages to steal the show. For a first-time acting gig, Shangwei’s charisma and overall likeability make him a star on the rise.

The Prey Movie Review

What The Prey lacks in story and character development, it makes up for in suspense and genuine thrills. The spectacle of flying fists, deadly kicks, ricocheting bullets and spurting blood is just enough to recommend. It has been nearly nine decades since Irving Pichel and Ernest B. Schoedsack shocked audiences with The Most Dangerous Game. Times have changed. Technology has advanced and filmmakers have easier ways to capture some truly electrifying action scenes but that doesn’t mean they always get it right. But like that classic, The Prey is constructed with hardly an ounce of fat as the filmmakers waste no time establishing the basic premise within the first few minutes and getting right to the bleeding heart of the film. It might be a mindless action movie but of the many big-screen adaptations, very few of those films boast the level of craft on display here. 

  • Ricky D

The Fantasia Film Festival runs July 11 – August 1. Visit the official website for more information.

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Goomba Stomp is the joint effort of a team of like-minded writers from across the globe. We provide smart readers with sharp, entertaining writing on a wide range of topics in pop culture, offering an escape from the usual hype and gossip.

Contact us: Editor@GoombaStomp.com

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Goomba Stomp | Sordid Cinema

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