Online Submission #9

Old-Fashioned Movie Theater Hasn’t Lost Its Appeal

Burlington County Times

It was the movie I’d been anticipating all summer. The cast was perfect, the trailer exciting, and with its Aug. 1 premiere date finally here, I was ready to go — except there was nowhere to go. Not Loews, not Regal, not even a Carmike Ritz was showing the Irish film “Calvary.” My carefully laid-out plans had met a snag.

Usually, upon these old standbys folding, I resign myself to the long wait for DVD release, but I couldn’t this time. I decided to try something new, or rather, something old. I went to the 101-year-old Hiway Theater in Jenkintown, Pennsylvania, and my only regret is not having gone there sooner. Continue reading


OP-ED: Sarah Jones’ Death No Accident

Usually on Halloween I stay in and watch It’s The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown. This year, I watched 20/20 instead. The ABC news show devoted the first half hour of its broadcast to investigating the death of 27-year-old Sarah Jones. A camera assistant for the Gregg Allman biopic, Midnight Rider, she was killed last February on a train trestle while shooting footage for a dream sequence. A hospital bed had been laid on the track for the scene and when a freighter unexpectedly rolled through the two collided. A piece of the bed then hit Jones, pushing her into the moving train. Seven additional crew members were injured, while others, including William Hurt, who was signed on to star as the singer-songwriter, made it off just in time.

Video from the train that hit Jones was released the day 20/20 aired and the new footage clearly emphasizes how close a call it was for everyone there that day. While I don’t think anyone imagined a train would appear, certain individuals behind Midnight Rider’s production had to have known the possibility existed and ignored it. The Wayne County DA has charged writer/director/producer, Randall Miller, and others from the film team with involuntary manslaughter. Considering the information provided by 20/20 it seems highly unlikely they weren’t aware of the lives they were risking. In one interview, railroad safety expert and film consultant, Art Miller, explains that freight trains do not have fixed schedules. In that case there was never a guaranteed, safe time for them to try and shoot on the trestle.

Meanwhile, the production’s idea of preparing cast and crew for an emergency—“if a train comes you have 60 seconds to get off the tracks”—lacks acknowledgement of the reality of how long it takes to get off a trestle with equipment. What might sound like enough time when given only a passing thought is still only a minute in reality. The same amount of time was probably spent considering the warning, and rightfully so. They should have been able to trust they weren’t being placed in any danger when they made the fair assumption that permission had been retrieved from CSX, the train company, to start filming. As an e-mail sent by CSX to location manager, Charlie Baxter, the day Jones was killed reveals, such permission was denied. Higher-ups might be able to claim they hadn’t been updated on this denial but also can’t claim to have received any go-ahead either.

Sarah Jones’ death was not an “accident.” Accidents are unpredictable. Trains showing up on a train track are not, especially a live track you haven’t been given consent to be on. This lesson was famously taught in the coming of age movie, Stand by Me, and is also common sense. While not the first death to occur on a movie set, people don’t become camera assistants expecting to get killed on the job. Sarah Jones’ life is the inexcusable cost of impatience and recklessness by her employers.


– photo from Slates for Sarah

UPDATE: Jones’ Parents Have Reached A Settlement with Some of the Defendants; Trial Remains Set For March 9, 2015

UPDATE 3/9/15: Randall Miller Pleads Guilty to Involuntary Manslaughter

Review: Jamie Thraves’ “Treacle Jr.”

Possibly one of the best resources the internet has offered the movie fan is the website IMDB (better known longhand as the Internet Movie Database). The ability to faithfully follow a favorite actor or director’s work, from the one-off guest spot to the major starring role, has never been more simplified. It was during my pursuit to watch everything Aidan Gillen’s been a part of that I discovered Jamie Thraves’ Treacle Jr. An admittedly hard find in the states (I bought a multiregional DVD player to watch it but a digital retailer would probably be a more viable option) the movie was well worth the effort, becoming an instant favorite due to Gillen’s knockout performance as the innocent, cats and drums loving charmer, Aidan Murphy.



… quietly with main character Tom (Tom Fisher) sitting in his kitchen having breakfast with his wife and child. Posing no cause for alarm or suspicion he goes for a drive. Then the music starts and he hops on a train to London. Then he’s in a park destroying his credit card and throwing away his wallet. While he does turn back to retrieve the wallet for a family photo he’d slipped inside it’s become clear that Tom, without any fanfare, has decided to restart his life.

Why does he do this? Were his actions premeditated? Was he aware of his intentions when he walked out the front door? All of these are good questions and all of these are left open for interpretation, which will make Treacle Jr. quite frustrating for some people who prefer slightly more defined motivations. Yet Thraves (who wrote and directed the film) gets away with maintaining this mystery by creating such a complicated protagonist, where part of the fun becomes trying to figure Tom out.



Tom’s abandonment of his family—reads as a completely selfish and cruel act, Tom doesn’t give the impression of being a selfish and cruel guy. Anything but. This isn’t one of those bored with my old family, time to find the new wife and attend penthouse parties kind of stories. His first day on the lam is far more existential than glamorous and completely consists of walking and sitting—in a church, on a bench, anywhere quiet and sometimes with a cigarette or beer can for company. The most exciting thing that happens to him is when he gets chased by a group of shady teenagers, runs into a tree and blacks out. Waking up from the ordeal the next morning, he heads to the hospital to get checked over. It’s there in the waiting room that he first encounters Aidan and the fun really starts.



Aidan Gillen as Aidan Murphy

Known for playing scheming council member, Petyr “Littlefinger” Baelish on HBO’s Game of Thrones, my introduction to Gillen actually started before that with another HBO show, The Wire. As in all great fan stories, this one started off with disdain. Never had I been more prepared to irredeemably hate a character as when he was introduced in season three. However it turns out Gillen has a knack for playing lovable scoundrels, which makes Treacle Jr such a notable divergence from his usual on-screen ulterior motives. In fact in this movie he gets the rare opportunity to play someone sweet and man does he have fun with the role, particularly when it comes to his character’s very distinctive speech patterns.

Bracingly loud and without censor, Aidan is a character who says what’s on his mind and gets on people’s nerves for it. What he says though is completely harmless, if not always understandable (making for some of the movie’s funniest moments where Tom attempts to translate). Coincidentally exiting the hospital at the same time, an amusing sequence follows of Tom trying to politely ditch his unwanted new friend and having no luck at it. His existential crisis becomes commandeered by this stranger who won’t stop talking but their relationship becomes the crux of the film. For all of Tom’s secrecy Aidan is an open book and their perfect, inescapable pairing is worth watching, even if the events leading to their meeting are vague.


While Aidan is by design the more colorful part, exuding cheerful sincerity in every scene, from knocking on doors offering to cut hedges with a pair of scissors to proposing a house cat’s mice-eating services at a restaurant, Fisher does a great job at not letting his Tom be overshadowed. Subtly balancing the tone of their interactions between annoyance and compassion he offers a great contrast to other people they encounter who refuse to give Aidan the time of day. His consideration only serves to generate more curiosity as to why this decent seeming guy is on the run. In this movie about finding answers, Aidan is hardly the source of self-enlightenment Tom was looking for but maybe that’s the point of a search—you’re supposed to discover something (or somebody) unexpected along the way and Aidan is that perfect somebody.

-screencaps from official trailer, credited Soda Pictures