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By Vernor Rodgers
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To say Tristan Risk is a multi-tasker is an understatement. The native of Vancouver, British Columbia, is an actress, stage performer, author, director and has even added art doll manufacturer to her repertoire. To horror fans, Risk made a big splash as Beatress, a stripper whose face has been permanently modified to resemble Betty Boop, in the 2012 film "American Mary," written and directed by Jen and Sylvia Soska. She also had a brief and brutal appearance as the doomed Abigail Folger in Brandon Slagle's "House of Manson" and took a spin in the grindhouse genre with "Frankenstein Created Bikers."

As a stage performer, Risk has made her mark on the burlesque and sideshow stages. According to her Web site, on stage Risk has performed as a hair-hand suspension artist, a fire performer, a sideshow stunt performer, a snake dancer and fetish performer.

As if that is not enough, Risk has done work behind the camera, having written and directed two film shorts, "Parlour Tricks" and most recently "Reptile House."

Reptile House" is yet to be released on any platform, although the trailer can be seen on YouTube (best to search "reptile house short film" to weed out other non-film related hits).

The four-minute film stars Sharai Rewels as Thena and Jesse Inocalla as Sasha. These two people, who have never met before, have been emailing regarding Sasha's intent to adopt out a snake. Sasha is the potential adoptee. Thena appears to be disappointed that Sasha is a man, and some of his comments indicate he is both cavalier and ignorant when it comes to having a snake as a pet. From here it is best not to reveal what happens next. As a four-minute film, it requires full attention and even multiple viewings to catch everything. Things are not what they seem.

I like taking things in a different directions," Risk said in a recent interview. She cast Rewels, a friend for about 15 years, after concluding it was too much to cast herself in the role. "She's my avatar," Risk said of Rewels," and that Jennifer Tilly voice (of hers) got me."

Risk praised the people who helped her get the story on film. She had worked with director of photography Jordan Barnes-Crouse before on "Parlour Tricks." Risk had no trouble relying on Gideon Hay and Princess Loving Cake to design the creature seen on the trailer. "I told them: You get me; you know what I'm doing here."

The film is a gorgeous shoot with various color hues to convey mood and is a very effective piece of suspense / horror.

Risk and her producer, David Aboussafy, have submitted "Reptile House" to more than a dozen film festivals in hopes of a good run on that circuit before moving it to other platforms.

During the pandemic, Risk also worked on her Nonesuch products. A Nonesuch is, according to Risk, all of these: a monster, a critter, a frisky fae, a pesky pooka, or none of these. They are featured in two of her books, "In the Nonesuch Garden" and "On the Town with The Urban Nonesuch."

In addition to writing about these critters, she also makes them. Initially Risk did not intend to market these "art dolls." "I  started making them because I was stuck inside (during the pandemic) and needed something to do for my creative outlet," she said. "They have been a source of joy and relief, in equal measure." But their popularity has led her to "adopt" them out people. But she will not adopt her favored Mortimer.

Photos of Risk's Nonesuches, as well as information on her movies and stage performances, can be found at www.littlemissrisk.ca

 

BASEBALL ON OUR MINDS -- SOME GREAT BASEBALL MOVIES TO WATCH

The recent death of Hank Aaron was another punch in the gut to baseball fans everywhere, as 2021 so far has continued to take its toll on baseball Hall of Famers. To date since the beginning of 2020, these all-time great ballplayers and Hall of Fame inductees have passed on:      

Lou Brock, Whitey Ford, Bob Gibson, Al Kaline, Joe Morgan, Phil Niekro, Tom Seaver, Don Sutton and Tommy Lasorda. In addition, these stars, though not in the Hall of Fame, also passed on since January 2020: Richie Allen, Jay Johnstone and Jimmy Wynn.

Other notable baseball players who have died since 2015 include Ernie Banks (2015), Don Baylor (2017), Yogi Berra (2015), Bobby Doerr (2017), Jim Bunning (2017), Ron Fairly (2019), Lee Maye (2017), Willie McCovey (2018), Milt Pappas (2016), Billy Pierce (2015), Frank Robinson (2019), Red Schoendienst (2018) and Rusty Staub (2018).

With these ballplayers on our minds, and with the 2021 baseball season, that hopefully will be longer than 2020's truncated 60-game season, on the horizon, let's take a look at some of the best baseball movies to view as a warm-up to the season and a dedication to those who have passed on.

MOVIES BASED ON TRUE STORIES

"Moneyball" (2011): Imagine pitching a movie that focuses on the birth of extensive statistical analysis that can conjure up memories of those dreadful days of high school math. But under the direction of Bennett Miller and writers Steve Zaillian and Aaron Sorkin, "Moneyball" is a riveting story about how Oakland A's general manager Billy Beane (Brad Pitt), saddled with a payroll that cannot compete with the likes of bigger market clubs like the New York Yankees, hires statistical analyst Peter Brand (Jonah Hill) -- based on Paul Podesta -- to help him sign players who Brand has concluded, through various formulas,  are way undervalued. The movie covers the 2002 season wherein Beane butts heads with a staff of old-school baseball scouts and his field manager, Art Howe (Philip Seymour Hoffman), but puts a team on the field that, after a slow start that has people hooting that the A's are a joke, wins 103 games including 20 in a row but again flames out in the playoffs, giving critics of Beane's team-building philosophy a chance to claim statistics don't win ballgames -- fundamentals do. "Moneyball," like the A's, looked great at Academy Award time, with six nominations, including Pitt and Hill as well as the screenplay and Best Picture, but failed to win the gold in any category. A well done film in which Pitt as Beane has you on the edge of your seat as he orchestrates trade deals on the phone with other general managers.

"61" (2001): Directed by fan extraordinaire and actor-comedian Billy Crystal and written by Hank Steinberg, "61" is an HBO production, wonderfully photographed and anchored by solid performances by Thomas Jane as Mickey Mantle and Barry Pepper as Roger Maris. It chronicles the memorable 1961 season when Mantle and Maris pursued Babe Ruth's season record of 60 home runs. The home run race by the M&M boys almost overshadowed a great season by the Yankees, who won 109 games and the World Series over the Cincinnati Reds. Just about everyone rooted for Mantle to break the record, the Oklahoma native being a golden boy of the latter part of the Yankees' dominant 44-year era (1921-64) of 29 pennants and 20 World Series titles. Mantle was signed by the Yankees and belted his way through the farm system and was seen as the man most qualified to surpass the Babe. Maris was deemed an outsider, originally a player with the Cleveland Indians and Kansas City A's before being traded to the Yankees. In addition, Mantle adapted well to the media frenzy of the New York media -- back then there were several newspapers in the New York area alone -- while Maris was a private man, uncomfortable amid all the attention and often testy when hounded by the media. Crystal's movie also focuses on the relationship between Mantle and Maris, sometimes said to be tense. In the movie, the two get along well although Maris was not approving of Mantle's post-game partying.

"Eight Men Out" (1988): If you ever wonder why Major League Baseball is so unforgiving of Pete Rose, the all-time base hits leader, for his betting on baseball games, it could be said it is all because of what happened in the 1919 World Series. John Sayles directed and wrote the screenplay based on Eliot Asinof's superb book of the same title that explores that series in 1919 in which eight Chicago White Sox players conspired with gamblers to throw the series. The Sox, who two years earlier won the World Series, were heavy favorites to beat their opponent, the Cincinnati Reds, in this post-season showdown. Key players in the plot included pitching ace Eddie Cicotte (David Strathairn), Chick Gandel (Michael Rooker), Lefty Williams (James Read) -- the No. 2 starter on the pitching staff -- Hap Felch (Charlie Sheen), Buck Weaver (John Cusack), who to his dying day insisted that although he knew of the plot never actually was a participant,  and "Shoeless" Joe Jackson (D.B. Sweeney), a gifted but illiterate and easily manipulated man who reluctantly goes along with the plot. This all took place decades before players were able to unionize and hire agents to negotiate contracts. Owners back then ruled mightily and cheaply. Sox owner Charles Comiskey (Clifton James) had an impressive roster of players but did not pay them well, and in the case of Cicotte, stiffed him out of a bonus during the season. The impressive cast also includes John Mahoney as manager Kid Gleeson, Christopher Lloyd, Kevin Tighe, Michael Mantell and Michael Lerner as the gamblers and Sayles himself as Ring Lardner and Studs Terkel as Hugh Fullerton, two writers who suspect players are on the take.

"A League of Their Own" (1992): Although the characters in this movie are fictional, they are based upon real people who played or were associated with the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League, formed during World War II as a means of alternative entertainment. Major League baseball still was played during the war but the fact that the lowly St. Louis Browns won the American League pennant in 1944 was an indication of the depletion of talent available because many young men were in the military service. Tom Hanks' character Jimmy Dugan is based loosely on Jimmy Foxx, a former slugging star for the Philadelphia A's and Boston Red Sox. The movie focuses on the Rockford Peaches that include catcher Geena Davis as team star Dottie Hinson, pitcher Kit Keller (Lori Petty), the overshadowed younger sister of Dottie, Madonna as the party hearty Mae Mordibito, Rosie O'Donnell as the hard-playing Doris Murphy, Megan Cavanagh as the talented but physically and socially awkward Marla Hooch, and Tracy Reiner (director Penny Marshall's daughter), Bitty Schramm, Ann Cusack and Anne Ramsey filling out the roster. Delightfully directed by Marshall, the script was written by Lowell Ganz and Babaloo Mandel, based on the story by Kim Wilson and Kelly Candaele, the latter an actual player in the AAGPBL. There are moments of hilarity and tragedy and the source of one of the great movie lines of all time: "There's no crying in baseball!"

"The Pride of the Yankees" (1942): Sentimental and moving, this biopic of Lou Gehrig was released just a year after Gehrig succumbed to amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, which then became known as Lou Gehrig's Disease. Nominated for 10 Academy Awards (it won the Oscar for film editing), including Best Picture and nods for Gary Cooper as Gehrig and Teresa Wright as Eleanor Gehrig, "The Pride of the Yankees" focuses more on the love story between Lou and Eleanor with Gehrig's baseball heroics as a backdrop. Gehrig, son of German immigrants, was a naive, gee whiz young man who flourished on the field after some awkward moments. Although the film depicts Lou as idolizing Babe Ruth (who plays himself in the movie, as does Hall of Fame catcher Bill Dickey), the reality was that Lou and Babe did baseball tours together in the off season and each carried his own persona throughout (a good read on this is "Big Fella" by Jane Leavy, currently available in paperback).

"42" (2013): A critically acclaimed movie that surprisingly was snubbed by the major awards entities, "42" stars the late Chadwick Boseman as Jackie Robinson, the first black ballplayer in the Major Leagues (actually, he was the fourth; three other black athletes played in the pre-1900s, an era that is mostly dismissed when recalling the game's history), who had to endure hostility on the field and off. Boseman, who did most of his physical work on the movie, and Harrison Ford, who plays the baseball executive Branch Rickey who signed Robinson to a Major League contract, were both worthy of Academy and/or Golden Globes / Critics Choice nominations, as well as Nicole Beharie as Jackie's quietly strong wife Rachel. A previous movie, "The Jackie Robinson Story," came out in 1950 with Robinson playing himself.

OTHER MOVIES BASED ON TRUE STORIES

"Cobb" (1994): Ty Cobb has the highest lifetime batting average in history and is regarded as one of the best ballplayers of all time. But he was a nasty guy, universally disliked by his peers and an unapologetic racist. This movie, directed and written by Ron Shelton, is based on the biography by Al Stump (played in the movie by Robert Wuhl), who had to endure Cobb's abusive demeanor. Tommy Lee Jones' brave performance leaves little doubt what an all-around jerk Cobb was.

"The Rookie" (2002): A nice little movie that actually was a moneymaker ($75 million at the box office from a $22 million budget), stars Dennis Quaid as Jim Morris, a Texas-based high school chemistry teacher and coach who at the urging of his students goes to a tryout as a pitcher with the then fledging Tampa Bay Rays, gets signed to a minor league contract and eventually is called up to pitch for the Rays. It is a feel-good, pursue-your-dreams movie that leaves out the reality: Morris appeared in only 21 games in 1999 and 2000, has a record of 0-0, pitched 15 innings with a 4.80 ERA, 13 strikeouts and 9 walks. Not much of a career, but at least he could say he made it to The Show.

"Fear Strikes Out" (1957): On the other hand, being a big league ballplayer can have its downside. Three years before he immortalized himself as Norman ("Psycho") Bates, Anthony Perkins was able to show his less than stable screen persona as Jimmy Piersall, a popular player in the 1950s with the Red Sox. The movie portrays Piersall as a man driven to please his stern, demanding father John (Karl Malden) and the result is a spectacular meltdown during a game that led to some professional psychiatric treatment. But for all that, at least within the radius of loyal Red Sox fans, Piersall was appreciated for things beyond balls and strikes. Here is what authors Brendan C. Boyd and Fred C. Harris wrote about Piersall in their book "The Great American Baseball Card Flipping, Trading and Bubble Gum Book": "(Piersall, among other things) watered down the infield between innings, ran into walls trying to catch fly balls, threw baseballs at scoreboards and bats at pitchers, slept on the clubhouse floor, bunted with two outs and his team six runs behind, ran around the bases backward after hitting homers, and did sitting up exercises in the outfield to distract batters." They don't make ballplayers like that anymore.

ALSO

Believe it or not, these three legendary stars of Hollywood (and elsewhere), played real baseball stars in movies:

Jimmy Stewart portrays pitcher Monty Stratton in "The Stratton Story" (1944), a man who after losing a leg in a hunting accident manages to make it back to the big leagues, however briefly.

In an unlikely bit of casting, Dan Dailey, known more for musicals and comedies, portrays pitcher Dizzy Dean in "The Pride of St. Louis" (1952). Dizzy had a short but notable pitching career for the Cardinals in the 1930s and later became almost legendary as a Baseball Game of the Week color announcer, said to be actively drinking while on the job and making censors at the network nervous he might say something off-color on the air. One story, likely apocryphal, claims that while a TV camera at a ballgame focused on a young couple making out in the bleachers of the stadium, Dizzy said, "I know what's going on out there. He's kissing her on the strikes and she's kissing him on the balls."

Speaking of imbibing, future President Ronald Reagan took to the mound in the 1952 movie "The Winning Team," portraying Grover Cleveland Alexander, who despite battling alcoholism won 373 games, mostly with the Philadelphia Phillies and Chicago Cubs, then late in his career won two games in the 1926 World Series to help the St. Louis Cardinals capture the championship -- against Babe Ruth and the lordly Yankees no less.

FICTIONAL BASEBALL MOVIES

"Bull Durham"1988: Baseball aficionados realized from the start that writer-director Ron Shelton himself knew the game well when catcher Crash Davis (Kevin Costner) introduces himself in the movie as "the player to be named later." Only hard core baseball enthusiasts are aware that baseball management often would trade a player in exchange for some other player, not yet determined, thus the player to be named later. Considered by many to be the best fictional baseball movie, "Bull Durham" actually focuses on a hapless Class A ballclub, the Durham Bulls. Costner's Davis, a veteran who hangs on to a career despite the fact he is well past his prime, is obtained by the Bulls to tutor a talented but dimwitted pitcher,  Ebby Calvin "Nuke" Laloosh (Tim Robbins). Crash also encounters diehard Bulls fan Annie Savoy (Susan Sarandon), who in a voiceover establishes her character thusly: "I believe in the church of baseball." Mostly a comedy but with elements of drama, the "Bull Durham" script picked up nominations from various awards entities.

"Field of Dreams" 1989: Another late 1980s film that had Costner as a star as well as another look at "Shoeless" Joe Jackson, "Field of Dreams" was based upon W.P. Kinsella's novel "Shoeless Joe," wonderfully adapted by writer-director Phil Alden Robinson -- who got an Academy Award nomination for the screenplay. The story is not so much about baseball as it is about second chances, with baseball being the conduit. Costner's Ray Kinsella is an Iowa farmer on the brink of financial collapse who nevertheless throws all of his faith -- with the strong support of his wife Annie (Amy Madigan, who deserved a nomination) -- when he hears a voice say "If you build it they will come." Kinsella finally learns it is a baseball field he needs to build. Unlikely support from a reclusive author, Terrence Mann (James Earl Jones) -- believed to be based on J.D. Salinger -- helps Kinsella's effort, and as the walls of financial disaster close in, Kinsella builds the field and the miracle ensues as ghosts of ballplayers past, including Jackson (Ray Liotta) appear and play games. Only those who believe can seen them. Also showing up is Ray's father John (Dwier Brown), with whom the young Kinsella had an estranged relationship. It is a lump-in-the-throat final scene as Ray calls out to John, "Hey, Dad. Would you like to have a catch?" As the father and son toss a baseball back and forth, the camera pulls back and skyward, showing that Kinsella's farm will be saved. This was Burt Lancaster's final theater movie role, playing a man who gave up his ballplaying career to become a doctor.

"The Natural" 1984: Fans of Bernard Malamud's novel of the same name complain about the creative license taken of the story, adapted for the screen by Roger Towne and Phil Dusenberry, that was believed to have changed the intended meaning of the Malamud book. The novel was inspired by the real-life shooting of Eddie Waitkus, a National League ballplayer, by a woman . Nevertheless, Robert Redford's performance as aging star Roy Hobbs who makes a comeback from the near-fatal shooting, may have been the last good star turn by the legendary actor. The stellar cast includes Glenn Close, who received an Academy Award nomination, Robert Duvall, Kim Basinger, Wilford Brimley, Barbara Hershey and Richard Farnsworth. The now classic scene of the stadium lights exploding in sparks from being hit by the baseball of Hobbs' gargantuan home run, raining down as he circles the bases, no doubt accounted for Oscar nominations for Caleb Deschanel (cinematography) and Mel Bourne, Angelo P. Graham and Bruce Weintraub (art direction and set direction). Note -- In 1993, Charles Schulz, creator of the Peanuts comic strip, introduced in his strip a character named Royanne who claimed to be Roy Hobbs' great granddaughter.

"Major League" 1989: Yep, another late 1980s movie. The brain child of writer-director David S. Ward, this is a movie about the Cleveland Indians finally winning a division title to spite an ambitious new owner who wants to move the team to Miami (this was a half-decade before the Miami Marlins were enfranchised). At the time in real life, the Indians were the only team in the American League Eastern Division -- the team moved to the Central Division in 1994 -- that had never won a division title. The late Margaret Whitton is team owner Rachel Phillips, and the Indians, managed by Lou Brown (James Gammon) include the aging and beat up catcher Jake Taylor (Tom Berenger), the high-velocity but wild pitcher Rickey Vaughn (Charlie Sheen), the show-off Willie Mays Hays (Wesley Snipes) and the otherwordly Pedro Cerrano (Dennis Hysbert). Legendary announcer Bob Uecker has a fun time as the play-by-play caller driven to drink by the inept antics of the team, and Randy Quaid goes crazy as the dedicated fan, hollering and rooting for the Indians. This movie also initiated the routine of playing The Troggs' hit "Wild Thing" as the intro song for when Vaughn comes into the game. It is sad that the Cleveland ballclub is suitably cast here as a heartbreaker of a franchise. Despite a 120-year record of 9,512 wins and 9,062 losses, the Indians have been to the World Series only six times and won the series twice, the last time in 1948. That makes for a lot of disappointment for the fans.

"Bang the Drum Slowly" 1973: A little seen movie (only $354,000 at the box office), this movie is based upon the wonderful novel by Mark Harris, published in 1956. It stars Michael Moriarty as Henry Wiggen, ace pitcher for the New York Mammoths -- obviously based on the Yankees. A perennial contender, the Mammoths, like any team, has on their roster players that just aren't quite good enough to be starters. In one case, second-string catcher Bruce Pearson (Robert DeNiro, on the cusp of becoming an international star) gets a chance to play but still is not regarded well by teammates except for Wiggen. Shortly after given a chance to play, Pearson is diagnosed with a fatal disease, and it is Wiggen who helps Pearson cope and make it through the season. Vincent Gardenia received a Best Supporting Actor nomination for his role as the team's manager, Dutch. The movie ends with Wiggen doing a voiceover taken from the final paragraph of the novel: "He (Pearson) was not a bad fellow, no worse than most and probably better than some, and not a bad ballplayer when they gave him a chance, when they laid off him long enough. From here on I rag nobody."

Some other baseball movies to check out are "The Sandlot," "The Bad News Bears" (the original 1976 version), "The Bingo Long Traveling All-Stars," "Rookie of the Year," "Mr. 3000," "Angels in the Outfield," "For the Love of the Game" (Kevin Costner again) and "Fever Pitch."

Grab your hot dog, shelled peanuts and beer.


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