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Entries in Moneyball (17)

Saturday
Sep242011

Review: "Moneyball"

Moneyball is an instant contradiction, a fine humanistic film championing an innovative but dehumanizing method of team-building, reducing all star athletes to statistical equations. The film has two stories to tell, that of a middle-aged man finally making his mark on the game he was supposed to rule in his youth, and the reinvention of baseball management to achieve a more equitable playing field with or without mega-funds.

The story begins after a disheartening loss for the Oakland Athletics. The humiliation is compounded by the loss of three star players who the A's don't have sufficient money to replace. General Manager Billy Beane (Brad Pitt) butts heads with owners trying to get more money and with his own management staff who are entirely resistant to innovative thinking. Enter young economics / statistics master Peter Brand (Jonah Hill moving up to the majors?) who frees up Billy's mind with his theories on why so many players are over and undervalued. They begin to make controversial and provocative changes which mystify or anger the baseball powers that be  including their own team's manager Art (well played by Philip Seymour Hoffman).

There's a smart visual well into Moneyball's first act in which huge banners of the A's three lost stars are dropped from their places of honor crumpling as they hit the ground like the deflating egos of management. Billy takes the leap of faith with Peter and they rebuild with new players, a team of misfit toys, who are all undervalued (or not valued at all). Shortly afterwards, when we see the stadium again, there is only one banner trumpeting one of the League's oldest fan-beloved players David Justice (Stephen Bishop) whose glory days are far behind him. 

Moneyball's solid screenplay (by Oscar winners Aaron Sorkin and Steven Zaillian) has a good joke at the expense of metaphors but I can't resist this one. For all of Moneyball's strengths, from a solid cast with vivid cameos (Reed Diamond from Dollhouse is superb in a one-scene face/off with Brad Pitt) to able and sharp direction (Bennett Miller of Capote fame) and editing (which skims veritable mountains of statistical information, old footage, and emotional backstory) it really all comes down to one star banner: Brad Pitt unfurled. 

I've been in this game a long time."

Yes, you have Brad Pitt, yes you have.

In his two decades of stardom, Pitt's best work has generally happened within three types: weirdos he attacked with gleeful creative gusto (Tyler Durden, Jeffrey Goines, Chad Feldheimer), strutting men that basked in their own golden light (J.D., Rusty and Paul McLean), and family men with wounded machismo (Mr O' Brien and Detective Mills);  In Billy Beane, all of Pitt's strengths coalesce as if he'd been in training for this one. He's loosely idiosyncratic and funny (that goofy business after a "good talk" with the humorless Art is just wonderfully endearing detail), he harnesses his potent movie star charisma with weary grace playing a man who, unlike himself, didn't live up to his golden boy promise, and in scene after scene but particularly when visiting with his teenage daughter, he lets his worried humanity show; he feels like a failure and this daring move is his last shot at glory.

Brad Pitt's shiny star turn is so good, in fact, that it neatly blinds you to the film's minor flaws. No one, including the man himself, is reinventing the wheel here and for all the star light that Pitt gives off, the film doesn't use any of it to fill in poorly lit corners. It raises but never addresses troubling side issues like what to do with the understandable revulsion that greets the dehumanization of players (exarcebated by so few of the players having distinct personalities) and it has a strange inability to flesh out the important side story of Art's insistence on managing the team in opposition to Billy's plans. The scene wherein Art finally capitulates to a different way of thinking would be a superb bit of economic storytelling in most films but here, given the underlit subplot, it feels like not enough as a wrap-up.

Billy continually worries that all of his accomplishments will be dismissed if he loses the final game of the season. The film needn't worry about the same thing. The final game here is a beautifully elongated nearly sports-free quietitude while Billy merely contemplates his options and a coda that works as a reprise of one of the sweetest earlier scenes with tenderness and even gently needling humor as the credits begin to roll. Late in the film we're told "you can't help but romanticize baseball" and it rang so true, even to me! I don't know the first thing about baseball, nor do I care to, but I was nodding my head like some dreamer in the bleachers waiting to catch that fly ball.  B+ 

 

Oscar Notes: It's rare when late August / early September hype survives intact the following February but (for now) it's looking like this may well be the golden year for Hollywood's golden god. In the past I've stated that Brad would never win until he was in his 60s (they make the adonises wait) but I'll quite happily be proven wrong since I've been on Brad's team for twenty years. Beyond Pitt's likely nomination (a third... and easily his most deserving since Oscar's idea of his "best" work is suspect.) I think you can safely bet on Moneyball's statistical scrappiness factoring into several categories barring those generally reserved for eye candy films. In short: we need to update our prediction charts

Friday
Sep232011

Cinema de Gym: 'Megamind'

Editor's Note: In Cinema de Gym, Kurt writes about whichever piece of whichever movie was playing while he cardio'ed. I wish my gym would play movies.

Kurt here with the first Cinema de Gym column to tackle an animated film. Megamind seems to be the lesser of at least two 2010 CG toons to pin the spotlight on the villain instead of the hero (the greater, of course, was Despicable Me, that darkly random Steve Carrell curio). As the titular swollen-headed baddie, Will Ferrell even has a henchman he refers to as "Minion," a la those adorable Tic-Tac Oompa-Loompas that Carrell bossed around. Of what I saw, Megamind offers some cozy glee, with handsome, colorful action setpieces, but it doesn't take long to tell that it's low on the animation totem pole, and unlike Despicable Me, no worries if it's not on your catch-up list.

It also stars the voice of Brad Pitt, and by the time I walked in, Pitt's character, Metro Man, had already been vanquished/defeated/pushed-aside-until-the-winding-down-of-the-second-act by Megamind, his vainglorious nemesis. The centerpiece of what I caught was a scene in which Megamind and the movie's Lois Lane, a reporter voiced by Tina Fey, stand on opposite sides of a catwalk encircling a syscraper-sized Metro Man monument, admiring the curvature of his literally cut-from-stone features. At one point, the two – well, she and a shape-shifted version of our villain – head downstairs in a glass elevator, scanning the whole height of that muscular marble man.

It was a fitting bit of star-gazing during this special week of Pitt adoration. On Tuesday I caught the impressively, refreshingly sophisticated Moneyball, and I'm happy to say I've never been more pleased with a Pitt performance (if ever he deserved an Oscar nom...). I didn't get to hear the superstar's voice in Megamind, but I did get a little Moneyball parallel, as Jonah Hill voices Fey's reporter's flatly-rendered fat sidekick.

It's no news to anybody that animated features have become a go-to arena for comedians, whose nimble vocals are ever-amenable to over-the-top, rubbery-bright concoctions. Hill, like Seth Rogen, has become a very obvious casting choice, while David Cross (who voices that fish-headed "Minion") is a wee bit sad in just how often he's schlepping it to the recording booth. But, I guess we've all gotta make bank, and on that note, I'd much rather see Ferrell continue to pad his well-padded sellout pockets while...not having to actually see him. In that way, animation is good for comedians, assuming those comedians are ones who rose to fame, got greedy, and proceeded to say yes to every lousy project that came down the pike. The filters of fantastical illustration and family-friendly restraint work small wonders, and Megamind is to Will Ferrell what Kung Fu Panda is to Jack Black: a colorful gift of funnyman palatability.

Conclusions?

1. In this age of the especially tireless questioning of authority, Villain is the new Hero, even in kids' flicks.
2. Brad Pitt insists on being in my life this week. Redirected from my old address, the new EW with Pitt on the cover just arrived mere moments ago. Hey, I'm not complaining.
3. In truth, it's probably best that David Cross stay in the recording booth.
4. With their animation ventures ripe for corruption, and with their tendencies to freely sign on dotted lines, it's only a matter of time before we see Ferrell and Black team up for Megamind vs. Kung Fu Panda.

What's your favorite animated performance from a comedian?

Monday
Aug222011

Links: Martha Momoa Malick Moneyball

In Contention has an important addendum to the misleading 'Sean Penn hates The Tree of Life' stories circulating the net.
The Daily Beast It's recently come to my attention that Drew Droege (of "Chloë Sevigny" drag fame) has written musings about playing Chloë and meeting the real icon. She did not throw a drink in his face but kissed him and laughed. Love that.
Little White Lies has an interview with Conan's Jason Momoa in which the actor offers to scare the shit out of the reporter by doing the Haka.

Serious Film "Bridesmaids stands alone" in 2011's box office charts.
Movie|Line remembers Kristen Wiig's supporting bit in Adventureland 

Cinema Blend is Germany next for world traveller Woody Allen's filmography? P.S. Did you hear that Judy Davis joined the cast of his current Rome picture? (Yay)

 

Oooh... new posters for Martha Marcy May Marlene from EW.
Misterioso!

Do you like? John Hawkes eyes peering out on the one to the left are spooking me! Remember how intense his stare was in Winter's Bone? I haven't tried it but those are actual working QR codes on the movie poster -- should take you right to the trailer if you have a QR scanning app on your phone.

Brad Pitt still has magic hair in his late 40s. The shirt is by Alexander McQueen.Scott Feinberg discovers a funny irony in the Drive press notes.
Today Movies on the funny women breakthrough of this, 'The Summer of Raunch'
Fandor gets the great South Korean film Poetry tomorrow, so make sure to watch it. This is a sampling of reviews. I was quite honored to be named a "standout" review, and keeping such fine company.
Michael Musto predicts the Tony nominees for Best Actress in a musical a year in advance. We'd say that's too early but then we'd be huge hypocrites (hello, Oscar fanaticism
New York Magazine on Brad Pitt's Moneyball pitch. He's comparing his character arc, or lack of one (hmm....interesting) to 70s films, explaining that it's a drama about process and his character challenging the way things have always been done.

I thought of The Conversation: How do you tap a phone? Or Thief, with Jimmy Caan: How do you crack a safe? And I saw in it a guy who had an obsessive quality like Popeye Doyle.

I don’t really like big character-arc epiphanies. What I most loved about those seventies films is that the characters were the same at the end as at the beginning. It was the world around them that had shifted."

Wednesday
Aug102011

Posterized: Weekend, Drive, Like Crazy, I Don't Know She Does It

How 'on message' are the crop of posters that have been harvested recently to announce the fall movie slate? Let's take a look starting with this lovely hazy poster for Weekend (2011). I'll ask you first what you feel about it at first glance before I talk about the movie after the image. The poster was shot by Quinford + Scout a couple who have been documenting their own relationship in photographs.

Andrew Haigh's romantic drama follows a quiet gay man (Tom Cullen) through a one night stand with a political artist (Chris New) and watches as it stretches into the next morning and beyond in ways that surprise both of them. The film has won festival awards at SXSW, OutFest and Nashville (yours truly was on that last jury) and when it finally arrives in the fall it will undoubtedly draw comparisons to Before Sunrise for the surface reasons that it's a small, talky, mostly two character romance (though otherwise its quite different). The deeper similarity is that it's actually very, very good. I think this poster is exceptional at conveying that you're in for a mood piece, something memorable to hang on to like a faded treasured photograph and as such I think it's great. But I've actually seen the film. Maybe it won't say much if you haven't?

Two other new posters are also going for moods that verge on nostalgia if more traditionally warm and golden: another romantic drama Like Crazy which will attempt to convert its Sundance buzz to Oscar hype on October 28th,  and a film I'd never heard of called Tanner Hall about a girl's boarding school starring Rooney Mara. Ah, that's why. It was filmed in 2009 but it's coming September 9th now that Mara's star is in the process of ascending.

Am I forcing trends now?

Sarah Jessica Parker, Brad Pitt and Ryan Gosling after the jump

Click to read more ...

Saturday
Jun252011

Yes, No, Maybe So: "Moneyball" and "Footloose"

Striiiiike. I forgot to sound off on the trailer for Moneyball. And then there's Footloose what shuffled by us, too. It's been a long week. TGIF and all that... only it's already Saturday. What? Okay, here we go. You know how we do here. We manage expectations with the patented Yes, No, Maybe So breakdown. How excited are we/should we be for each new movie?

First up... Brad Pitt in the baseball stats dramedy Moneyball.

YES Brad Pitt. And there's something mellow but casually exciting about the presentation overall... which is rather like the sport of baseball come to think of it, wherein nothing much happens until it does.

NO
All behind-the-sport dramas made after 2006 are always going to come up short on account of Friday Night Lights (2006-2011). That's just the way it is. It's like trying to envision what the future will look like after Blade Runner or trying to do a porn drama after Boogie Nights or somesuch. Several of the shots of Brad Pitt here instantly recall Coach Taylor for example even though they're probably not trying to. Plus the topic just seems so dry, right? True stories also have the disadvantage of inevitable and therefore (sometimes) anti-climactic finales.

MAYBE SO The trailer doesn't get all obsessed about Philip Seymour Hoffman being in it which is a considerable relief. If the trailer is true it looks like Jonah Hill is the one to watch IF (and I still think it's a big IF) the film gets any sort of Oscar traction. I liked Hill in Cyrus and though he seems a bit limited in the range department, choosing the right projects can really help to shift perceptions about that or at least maximize what can happen within the confines of any actor's range. The script is by Aaron Sorkin and Steven Zaillian, both strong writers, and though that's not an automatic yes (must we invoke the name of Charlie Wilson's War? for example), it's a good sign that it'll be lively and smart.

Me, I'm a maybe so and I'll lean whichever way the Oscar buzz does.  But then it does star Brad Pitt so chances are very good that I'll see it.

The other night while I was out at a party and my friend Kenneth totally got in my face about how Brad Pitt is a terrible actor and I'm like no-no-no. Brad Pitt is... well he's Brad Pitt! ♥. He's been continually underrated his whole career despite being a huge star with the exception of that highly unnecessary Oscar nomination for his Benjamin Button turn, the equivalent of Depp's Neverland nomination surely ("Yes, you're totally boring in this but WE JUST LOVE YOU ANYWAY!"). So maybe whether or not you're a yes, no or maybe will come down to Brad?

And the remake of FOOTLOOSE (2011) [see trailer here]

UGH. FOLLOWING IN KEVIN BACON'S FOOTSTEPS IS HAAARD.

YES Miles Teller in the Chris Penn role? That could be fun. And though it pains me to say it... when an original isn't sacred -- and Footloose is only sacred in the nostalgic sense not in the "movie" sense -- it's sometimes fun to watch how they reinterpret key moments. Like, when Kenny Wormald crazydances in that empty warehouse, they won't have to go all silhouette body double right?

NO
The most annoying bit in the trailer is surely the "It's OUR time" town hall righteous speechifying since the movie looks as generic as can be and anything but generation-defying... unless today's generation prides themselves on being super lame Frankenstein's monsters stitched together by their parent's nostalgic parts. Also in its insistence on looking like both a hip-hop movie AND a remake of "Dirty Dancing" AND the original "pop" film AND a country and western joint, it's clearly trying to be all things for all people and will subsequently have no identity of its own.

Plus (by which I mean minus): exploding trucks.

And a lead female star so bratty you want Dennis Quaid to give her a good spanking and ground her. Where is Lori Singer's weirdly comatose sensuality... the believable byproduct of a stifling home environment (with or without the cello)

MAYBE SO
Craig Brewer wrote and directed it and though I can't for even one frame spot the brave provocateur behind Hustle & Flow or Black Snake Moan, maybe you can? Or maybe the trailer is just a bad lie and the film will be interesting?

"No" unless reviews by nearly every trustworthy critic surprise.

Where are you with these two pictures?

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