Movies You Missed: Sweet Virginia

Sweet Virginia, the second feature film from director Jamie M. Dagg, caught my attention shortly after its release in 2017. The trailer—which you can check out below—drew me in immediately. Then again, I’m a sucker for indie films with strong stories and characters.

That said, I only got around to watching it last week.

I know. I’m a bastard.

The important thing is that I did watch it and I did enjoy it.

Sweet Virginia

The film opens with three men (Tom, Lou, and Mitchell) engaged in an after-hours poker game in a bar owned by Lou (Garry Chalk). A strange man enters and, despite being told the bar is closed, sits down at a table near the entrance.

Mitchell (Jonathan Tucker) approaches the man, reiterating that the bar is closed. After a conversation in which the stranger threatens Mitchell by name, the man leaves and the game resumes. Shortly thereafter, the man returns and kills the three card players.

The following morning, we meet Sam (the excellent Jon Bernthal), a former rodeo star. Now the manager of the Sweet Virginia Motel, Sam is portrayed as meek and mild-mannered. Adding to this are the physical impediments—a limp and weakness in his right arm—he suffered during his bull riding career.

Sam is also shown to be a compassionate and caring man, evidenced by his relationship with Maggie (Odessa Young), an employee at the motel. Sam serves as a father figure for the young woman, whose relationship with her own father is strained.

An Intertwining

Sam attends a gathering for Tom—one of the three bar victims—and we learn that Sam has been involved in an affair with Tom’s wife, Bernie Barrett (Rosemarie DeWitt).

A late-night liaison leads the pair to a discussion of Tom’s place in the afterlife. The conversation sparks regret in Sam over his relationship with the recently-widowed woman.

We then meet Lila (Imogen Poots), wife of the late Mitchell McCabe, as she meets with the man from the bar. It’s revealed that Lila hired the man, named Elwood (Christopher Abbott in a very creepy and unstable performance—and I mean that as praise), to kill Mitchell in exchange for $50,000.

The pair initially argue about the conspiracy’s execution. Lila wanted Mitchell—who she accuses of infidelity—dead and questions why Tom and Lou were killed. Elwood blames her since Mitchell hadn’t left the bar by the time she stated.

He then asks for his payment, a request that leaves Lila unsettled. She informs him that she’ll have his money at the end of the week, pending a meeting with Mitchell’s lawyer.


Elwood, who is staying at the Sweet Virginia, heads to the motel office to extend his stay when he meets Sam. Elwood appears to recognize Sam from his rodeo days (going as far as saying that his father was a huge fan), kicking off a would-be friendship, one that Sam is reluctant to engage in.

At a meeting with her husband’s lawyer, Lila learns that Mitchell, an entrepreneur, was broke. She initially refuses to accept this information and is told that he was actually being sued by two business partners. When she asks about his insurance, the lawyer informs her that the policy paperwork she saw was fraudulent and that no money would be coming her way.

She seeks solace by spending time with Bernie and the pair form a kinship. Both women are troubled; Lila by the fear of what the killer will do to her and Bernie, who has been plagued by nightmares of her dead husband. Paranoia eventually consumes Lila, who plans to head to her mother’s house.

Elwood pounces, attacking her while she packs. To save herself, Lila tells him that she knows where he can get the money. Satisfied, Elwood leaves and recruits a young man named Paul (Jared Abrahamson) to assist with a robbery.

The following night, we see Bernie grab a bottle of wine and prepare for a bath. The camera lingers on the window and we see two black-clad figures cutting across the yard towards the house. These events lead us to the culmination of the film’s story.

Why You Should Watch

Sweet Virginia is a strong, noir-ish film with a solid story and well-written characters. Not only are we given insight into Sam’s mindset, we learn more about the supporting characters. We see the progression of Sam and Bernie’s affair and the realization of Lila’s fears. While we don’t get any concrete information on Elwood’s past, we see explosions of the anger that’s boiling just beneath the surface.

It’s a slow burn, though it’s never boring. With a sleek 93 minute runtime, the film never wastes a frame, instead opting to advance its story. From the cinematography to the sound design, everything fits the movie and its tone.

It’s not a film for everyone. As a matter of fact, I have seen a few people decry the ending, and that’s fine. Endings are, after all, tricky. They don’t always work however, in this case, I think it fits the story. That’s what really matters, isn’t it?

At the time of this blog, Sweet Virginia is available on Netflix. If you have a subscription, I recommend you check it out. If you do, let me know what you think.

And, as promised, here’s the trailer:

Until we meet again…


If You Have Ghost

How Ghost mastermind Tobias Forge and his band of Nameless Ghouls earned my respect and fandom.

I love music.

Yes, many of us can say that but let me reiterate: I love music (and making it).

I listen when I’m driving; I listen when I’m showering (TMI?); I listen when I’m writing. If we found ourselves in a dystopian future where music was outlawed, I would protest for nuclear war.

Okay, that’s a bit much, but the sentiment is true. Music brings us together and allows us to communicate on a deeper level. How many of us have made mixes for someone else? Want to show a special someone how you feel? Burn them a CD (or make a Spotify playlist, whatever the hell goes on these days).

The older I get, the harder it gets for me to find new music that I enjoy. Also, Jesus, that sentence put me one step away from shaking my fists at the sky and yelling at clouds. Anyway, when I find a band or artist that really resonates with me, I dive headfirst into their work.

That’s exactly what happened with a theatrical little band from Sweden.

A chance encounter

I was later than many when it came to Ghost. While the band released their debut album—the magnificently atmospheric Opus Eponymous—in October of 2010, it would be a half-decade before they came to my attention. Sure, I had seen images of the band online and on magazine covers, but I was unfamiliar with their work and apparently too busy to educate myself.

Then, on a late summer afternoon in 2015, that changed.

While on a thrift store outing with the family, “Cirice” came on the radio, immediately grabbing my attention. From the menacing opening guitar to the thunderous drums to Forge’s—I mean Papa Emeritus III’s—unmistakable timbre, I was hooked.

The problem was that the song was wedged in the middle of several others, with no identification supplied. Who was this band? What was the name of the song? I had no idea; thankfully, the band was exploding in popularity and I was quickly able to find the answer to both questions.

I began checking out their then-newest album, Meliora, before working my way back through their catalog. Their style—both musically and theatrically—hooked me and bought a copy of everything they had produced.

I was a fan, no two ways about it, but something was missing.

The connection

Months passed, weeks stacked upon weeks of me listening to (almost) nothing aside from Ghost. Their cover of Roky Erickson‘s “If You Have Ghosts” had worked its way to the top of my favorites list. Its place there was cemented in mid-March of 2016.

I was out, running errands while the aforementioned song played in the car, when my phone rang.

It was my mom; my grandfather had passed.

To say that it was a surreal moment doesn’t do it service. The health issues he had been dealing with over the four years leading up to that moment didn’t stop me from believing that he would always be there. There had been scares, including one that brought out family from Maryland and Colorado, but he had pulled through.

Now, just as his health seemed steady, he was gone.

I drove towards my hometown, playing the song on repeat. It gave me comfort, gave me a sense that things would carry on, even if they would never be the same. I don’t associate the song with the tragic news; instead, I associate it with the sense of strength that we all need when we lose a piece of ourselves.

That is the power of art. Whatever form it takes, it accentuates our sense of being. Perhaps it relaxes you; maybe it inspires you. Whatever the case, it enriches us.

For those interested, here is the song in question:

Roky Erickson’s “If You Have Ghosts” as covered by Ghost

And, if you like, you can check out Ghost on YouTube or visit their official website.

Until we meet again…


Say It Ain’t So, Johnny

Quick note: I have struggled for hours on how to word this and concluded that there is no right way; it would take a novel to convey the full weight of what this man means to the fans of this team.

You can check out my last hockey blog here.

Okay, 2020, you can knock it off. Please.

I’m not going to run through the myriad of tribulations that the year has thrown at us; one has only to browse social media to see that (along with a host of undoubtedly expert commentary).

No, I’m focusing on something that—while not national news—no Carolina Hurricanes fan wants to think of.

The (seemingly imminent) departure of the best play-by-play man in the NHL, John Forslund.

To be clear—and despite the title of this blog post—I do not lay any blame at Mr. Forslund’s feet. He has dedicated decades of his life to not only the Hurricanes franchise but to the City of Raleigh and the team’s fanbase. The truth is, John Forslund is as big a part of this team and its history as any player, past or present.


When car trouble—I still curse that 93 Plymouth Sundance—kept me from attending the Hurricanes’ first regular-season game in North Carolina, I was properly introduced to Forslund’s presence. Two things were immediately evident: the man is incredibly knowledgable about the game and he loves it.

When former goaltender Tripp Tracy was brought in as the color commentator for the 1997-98 season, the pair began to form an endearing and enduring bond, one that Caniacs cherish dearly. Whereas Tripp is the younger brother, often relishing in the silly and absurd—and that is said with love; never change, Tripp—John is the voice of the Hurricanes. He’s been with us through the bad (oh-so-much of it) as well as the good.

Now, 23 years since the Whalers moved south, we have an entire generation of Caniacs who’ve grown up listening to him call nearly every milestone in team history. More than just tradition alone, his voice and visage bring us comfort.

On the occasions he’s been summoned for (well-deserved) appearances on NBCSN, his absence is noticeable. That’s no slight towards Jason Shaya—a very talented broadcaster himself—but rather a nod towards the discomfort felt when a beloved routine is broken. Everything just feels…off.

The First Scare

We got a taste of this last year when both John and Tripp were up for new contracts. There was a collective sigh of relief when the pair inked new pacts, though eyebrows were raised when it was learned that these were only 1-year deals.

Then, when news broke that the deadline for an extension had passed, Hurricanes fans the world over went into a panic. Tripp Tracy had signed a new deal, which is great news, but his golden-throated straight man was still a free agent.

Some of that panic turned to anger, almost all of which was focused on the team’s majority owner, Tom Dundon. While I’m the first to admit that there has been significant employee turnover during Dundon’s tenure, I’m not here to vilify (or lionize) him. The man has been very successful in life and one needs only look at the turnaround the Hurricanes have experienced since he came aboard.

The thing with Dundon is that he is hyper-focused on need and value. Allow me to elaborate: when hall of fame radio broadcaster Chuck Kaiton was let go, you could assume it was because Dundon didn’t see the need of paying a dedicated radio personality.

People cursed the owner and called him a tightwad with shallow pockets. I disagree, and I do so because I can see the reasoning behind the decision, whether I agree with it or not.

You Cannot Put a Price on Talent

When the Montreal Canadiens signed Carolina’s star center Sebastian Aho to an offer sheet last summer, we saw Dundon’s willingness to spend. The crux of the offer sheet wasn’t yearly salary; the issue was the bonuses, structured in a way that Montreal thought would cripple Carolina’s ability to match.

If you were to assume the manner in which the owner looked at this situation, matching is easy. Aho is young, he’s incredibly talented, he’s shown year-over-year growth consistently, and his teammates and fans love him.

The salary isn’t cheap but is well below what a player of Aho’s talents could land on the open market. The term wasn’t ideal, but it guaranteed that the Finnish star would remain with the team for a half-decade.

The needs and the value made sense, so the trigger was pulled.

Perhaps Dundon doesn’t readily see the wisdom in paying the play-by-play announcer more than a certain amount. Maybe, in his eyes, there are several people who could fill the role and do so for less money. The truth is that we don’t know what the reason is, and likely never will.

The Voice of the Carolina Hurricanes

What I—and many of you—do know is that John Forslund is irreplaceable. That’s not a knock on anyone. No, it’s just the truth. In hockey, there’s always talk about “the intangibles”, the qualities that aren’t always shown on the score sheet. Well, John Forslund not only has the talent and knowledge but those same intangible qualities.

Whatever comes of this, he’s earned the right to decide what he wants and what he’s worth and, if those two things aren’t met, it’s in his best interests to go to where they are.

In reality, this is just speculation on my part. I don’t know the inner machinations of the situation (nor should I) but I realize what a huge shift this represents for fans of the Carolina Hurricanes. The prospect of not having him in the booth for Canes’ broadcasts is not something any of us want, but this isn’t up to us.

Based on his comments, he doesn’t want to leave the franchise that he’s been the voice of for 25 years. Unfortunately, with the way things have played out so far, he’s prepared himself for that eventuality.

So, Mr. Forslund, if this is the end of your time in Raleigh, I wish you nothing but the best.

That is exactly what you’ve given us for over two decades.

And, Mr. Dundon, I respect all that you’ve done for this team, sincerely. I trust in your acumen, but John Forslund brings more to this team that any number in a spreadsheet. You’ve done so much to restore the faith of the fans, don’t gut them with this. I promise it’ll be some of the best money you’ve ever spent.

For those interested, a petition has been started—not by myself—that you can sign here.