Oscar History

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TIFF: Biopic Boys will be Boys

Paolo here in Toronto. My first TIFF movies are about real-life men who customarily look nothing like the attractive actors who play them on the big screen.

Edwin Boyd is a step in the right direction for Canadian cinema, since making a heist film like this is both relatively cheap and lucrative. It's about the WWII veteran turned 1950's Torontonian bank robber of the same name played by Scott Speedman. Speedman puts an athletic sensitivity to the role, whether Edwin is inside a singing booth or jumping over the counter to get the loot he wouldn't have gotten in his former job as a kind-hearted bus driver. The story covers him facing and indulging temptations, his addiction to the wrong kind of attention as well as to robbing banks, which he and his gang continue to do despite multiple arrests. There are clichés here, the biggest one is the golden-hearted criminal who also likes to get drunk and play music while celebrating his jackpots. I will give credit to the film's capability on whetting the audience's appetite on period specificities. It's also a treat to watch its grey and white cinematography, capturing the rough surfaces of the city's architecture or his snowy escape from authorities. The supporting cast includes Kevin Durand as Edwin's right hand man and Brian Cox as the protagonist's father.

Also took in the Brad Pitt vehicle Moneyball which is about the baseball team Oakland Athletics in their 2002 season.

The film's first half is has a problematically distinct voice from its second, making it difficult to forget that two writers are responsible for its script. The first, which I'll call the Steve Zaillian half, has Pitt portraying the A's general manager Billy Beane. The script makes him have the same conversation with other people, telling his financier, other GM's, his precocious daughter, her mother (Robin Wright) and her mother's boyfriend (Spike Jonze) that he's fine even if both parties know, through local and national news, that his team is having board room and locker room problems. The A's are having trouble finding 'stars' like Jason Giambi who have left the team. Fortunately, Billy meets Peter Brand (Jonah Hill), a fictionalized version of Paul de Podesta who introduces the idea that instead of buying 'stars,' the team has to 'buy runs.' It's a method that, to someone like me who knows nothing about sports, sounds like cheating.

The underlying tension in many scenes in the film's first half is in anticipating Billy to squirm or get angry under all of these people's microscopes. This half also allows its audience to think about what might have happened if the person originally slated to direct this movie, Steven Soderbergh, had done so. Hopefully I'm not the only person who can see Soderbergh's skills in satire, and he would have highlighted these characters' callousness and childlike stubbornness. 

The second half, when the A's fate turns around, belongs to a writer with a more distinct voice, brainy frat boy Aaron Sorkin. Just like Charlie Wilson's War or Studio 60, this movie has its share of Abbott and Costello-like telephone or office conversations. He also tends to romanticize whatever he's writing about, which is baseball this time around. He even makes Peter, a generally scientifically minded character in the first half, seem emotional later on. But admittedly it still works better here than the affected humanity in The Social Network. Director Bennett Miller, with the help of his male dominated cast (including the surprisingly capable Hill) also negotiates and sutures these two voices well.


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Reader Comments (6)

I'm encouraged by your words on Edwin Boyd. There aren't many films out there about the history of Toronto (not that eventful maybe? :P) so I'm excited to see this one.

September 9, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterAmir

Thanks, Paolo!

I have to admit I never really cared about Moneyball. It would have to become adored by critics for me to get interested. It seems like it's just solid so I think I'll pass.

September 9, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJames T

Amir: You out of all people should know that interesting shiz happens in this city all the time :P. If I had enough cojones/finances, I'd either be the Woody Allen of this city, making movies about it every year. Or if not, I'd find one who can do the same.

James: Yes, other critics have had apprehensions too, just because there's too much competition.

September 9, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterPaolo

I caught FROM THE SKY DOWN last night. It's good. I think it's more appropriate for it's destination (Showtime) than it was for Opening Night, but despite a lag in the center and a period where Guggenheim seemed to forget his own structure, it worked. Also caught, Goro Miyazaki's FROM UP ON POPPY HILL, a step above TALES FROM EARTHSEA, but still unable to capture his father's magic. Apparently Disney has the rights. I see them taking it straight to DVD as it's appeal would be minor for American audiences. I enjoyed the artistry of the scenery, but the faces were flat and largely emotionless leaving me feeling detached from the goings-on. It was passable though.

Caught THE ARTIST today. I can't wait to hear what you think. I enjoyed it immensely. I think it's a tad too long for the conceit, but it uses the conceit to perfection. The P&I crowd applauded (which is rare) despite a few curmudgeons (they're always at P&I screenings) who thought it silly. I think it will be in strong contention for the Audience Award up here (and we all know what that means). Went to see ALOIS NEBEL, which appeared to be a visually stunning B&W rotoscope animation about a Cold War Era railway station guard. I know little more than that because after 20 minutes of the subtitles being cut off the bottom of the screen and the tech's seeming inability to fix it, I gave up. If it gets fixed and they add another screening, what I saw visually makes me willing to give it another try.

September 9, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterBrian

Sounds like Moneyball is exactly what I thought it was gonna be. No, thanks. Bennett Miller, you bide your time for 6 years and then jump headfirst into this? Blah.

Kevin Durand is a unique character actor, I generally like Scott Speedman and the film itself sounds compelling. Paolo, you've kinda sold me on Edwin Boyd.

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