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Films I Neglected To Review: Insert "Blind Side" Joke Here
by Peter Sobczynski

Please enjoy short reviews of "23 Blast" and "Stonehurst Asylum."

After all of the bad publicity that the sport has attracted over the last couple of months, the world of football could use a few positive images designed to make it look a little more presentable to the outside world. The new film "23 Blast" tries to do just that but this sincerely intentioned but achingly idiotic faith-based true-life gridiron story is unlikely to convert many people to any of its various causes. It tells the story of Travis Freeman (Mark Hapka), a star high school football player whose promising future is seemingly yanked away from him when he contracts a sinus infection that quickly costs him his eyesight. Although such a handicap would still theoretically allow him to play for the New York Jets, Travis is more inclined to take to his bedroom and mope until his coach (Stephen Lang), in a last-ditch effort to save his team's record, his job and Travis's worth as a person (more or less in that order), hits upon the idea of bringing him back to the team as the center. Unless this is the first movie you have ever seen, you can pretty much figure out the rest, though even you may be perplexed by the mysterious mid-film sermon until all is answered during the end credits.

But I digress, mostly because "23 Blast" is the kind of film that is so innocuous that it all but invites the drifting of attention. As I said, the story is supposed to be based on a real-life story and while I know that there is a real Travis Freeman, it is amusing that his true tale of loss and redemption contains all of the ingredients one normally finds in an especially hacky melodrama--a troubled best friend resentful of his pal's success even when stricken with blindness (Bram Hoover, who also co-wrote the screenplay), a hotheaded fellow player who doesn't want the blind kid ruining his chance of a scholarship, the hothead's equally abrasive father, a spunky girlfriend (Alexa Vega), a spunkier therapist (Becky Ann Baker), loyal parents and a meanie principal whose desk appears to be filled with monkey wrenches that he can throw whenever the narrative needs some kind of conflict. The wonderful character actor Dylan Baker makes his directorial debut here (he also turns up as Travis's father) and while there are a couple of moments where it does seem as if he is having a little fun with the essential hokieness of the material (the moment in which the coach hits upon the idea of returning Travis to the team is literally a light bulb moment) but for the most part, the film is pretty listless and matters aren't helped by the banal lead performance by Hapka, a turn not helped by the fact that he is 32 years old and looks it throughout. Yes, "23 Blast" means well but as this film proves, the road to multiplex hell is paved with good intentions.

Based on the short story by Edgar Allan Poe and set near the dawn of the 20th century, "Stonehearst Asylum" begins as an ambitious young doctor (Jim Sturgess) arrives at the titular establishment--ominously located way out in the middle of nowhere--in order to begin his residency. When he meets the doctor in charge (Ben Kingsley), he discovers that the doctor is taking a new approach to psychiatric care that eschews the torturous old methods of treatment for a more humane take that appears to be working surprisingly well. However, all is not quite as well as it seems--a beautiful hysteric (Kate Beckinsale) implores him to flee as quickly as possible and a trip to the basement reveals a dungeon filled with people, led by none other than Michael Caine, who claim that they are the actual staff of Stonehurst and that Kingsley and his "staff" are actually dangerously insane patients who overthrew them and took over the place for themselves. And yes, in case you were wondering, I believe that someone does actually say "The inmates are running the asylum."

To many, "Stonehurst Asylum" will most likely seem to be too stodgy and old-fashioned for contemporary tastes--this is no doubt one of the reasons why it is only getting a token theatrical release (along with VOD play) despite its relatively well-known cast and a cult favorite in director Brad Anderson. Yes, it is clearly designed to be a throwback to an earlier era of genre films that relied more on atmospherics than gruesome gore to move the story along and you know what--I didn't mind that a bit. It is no classic by any stretch of the imagination but it is relatively well-made, handsomely mounted and staged with a certain amount of class. Some of the performances are a bit over-the-top but ask yourself, if you were making a movie set in an insane asylum and co-starring such cheerful hams as Kingsley, Caine, Brendan Gleeson and David Thewlis, would you really want to take the quiet, restrained approach? (As for Sturgess and Beckinsale, they are both more appealing here than they usually are, presumably because they know that no one is going to be paying much attention to them while their co-stars are chewing up the scenery.) I'm not saying that "Stonehurst Asylum" is worth seeking out in a theater or punching up on VOD but this is the kind of film that you may find yourself stumbling upon on cable a few months from now and watching while thinking "Why have I never heard of this movie before?" Well, now you have. You are welcome.

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originally posted: 10/24/14 09:15:50
last updated: 10/27/14 23:35:20
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