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Moneyball

Posted on September 22, 2011 at 6:02 pm

A-
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for some strong language
Profanity: Some strong language (much less than the book)
Alcohol/ Drugs: Chewing tobacco, alcohol
Violence/ Scariness: Tense family situations, sad references to injuries and letting players go
Diversity Issues: Diverse characters
Date Released to Theaters: September 23, 2011
Date Released to DVD: January 9, 2012
Amazon.com ASIN: B0060ZJ7BC

Brad Pitt is underrated as an actor.  But he is the best there is when it comes to calibrating the deployment of his onscreen star power, which he uses as expertly as Meryl Streep does accents.  Pitt can dial it down to one when he wants to play character actor and make it work.  But here he dials it back up to eleven, giving the role of Oakland A’s manager Billy Beane a shot of pure movie magic in this real-life story about the man who turned baseball upside down by using computer formulas to select “undervalued” players.

The Oakland A’s feel like “a farm team for the New York Yankees.”  They make players great and then lose them to the teams with budgets more than three times as large.  All that money makes the playing field anything but level.  “We’re a small market team and you’re a small market GM.  I’m asking you to be okay spending the money we have,” the owner tells Beane.  “There are rich teams and there are poor teams and then 50 feet of crap, and then there’s us,” is Beane’s frank appraisal.

The A’s cultivate and train players who leave for the teams that can pay the most.   A game that is supposed to be about skill and drive seems to be just about money.  And then Beane, in the midst of a negotiation with another team that is not going well, notices a nerdy-looking guy in the corner who seems to have some influence.  After the meeting, that nerdy guy becomes Beane’s first draft pick.

He is Peter Brand (Jonah Hill), a shy wonk who comes to work for Beane and together they pursue a different direction.  Instead of the century-old system of watching players hit, catch, throw, and run and try to figure out if that means they will be able to perform in the big leagues — a system that failed badly when Beane himself was recruited right out of high school — they will look at computer algorithms about what produces wins.  Brand and Beane develop a roster like Warren Buffett puts together a stock portfolio.  They look at fundamentals to figure out unrecognized value.  Sort of a grown-up Bad News Bears.  Or, as Brand puts it, an Island of Misfit Toys.

The script from two of the best screenwriters in history, Aaron Sorkin (“The Social Network”) and Steven Zallain (“Schindler’s List”) is well-structured and filled with smart talk.  The scenes of Beane’s own pro career are too long and too distracting.  But scenes with Beane visiting his ex-wife (Robin Wright) and her new husband and especially those with Beane and his daughter add warmth and urgency to the story.  But it is Pitt who is in every way the heart of the movie, his natural confidence and grace a lovely balance to the formulas with Greek letters and the endless statistics.  It is nice to see baseball, that most number-centric game, get upended by numbers.  And yet it succeeds because it is that most cherished of traditions, the come-from-behind underdog story.

(more…)

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Based on a book Based on a true story Drama DVD/Blu-Ray Pick of the Week Sports
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Fall Movies 2011 — Miss Piggy, Double Clooneys, Spaceys, and Lautners, the First Silent Film in 80 Years, and Brad Pitt Plays Ball

Posted on September 3, 2011 at 8:00 am

Summer is time for superheroes, remakes, raunchy comedies, and sequels.  As the leaves begin to fall, movies get a little more ambitious, a little edgier, a little weightier, with less CGI and a bit more depth.  But that doesn’t mean they forget how to be fun.  Here are some of the movies I am most excited about between now and Thanksgiving:

1.  “Moneyball” — based on the book of that title by Michael Lewis, the guy who wrote “The Blind Side” and “Liar’s Poker.”  Brad Pitt stars as the real-life Oakland A’s manager Billy Beane, who revolutionized the way players are selected by applying an intense statistical analysis to determine which players were undervalued by traditional scouts.  Two of my favorite screenwriters, Aaron Sorkin (“The Social Network,” “The West Wing”) and Steve Zallian (“Schindler’s List,” “Searching for Bobby Fischer”) and the director of “Capote” are behind this film and I think Pitt is going to remind us that he can act.

2.  “The Ides of March” — from “Farragut North” (the name of a DC Metro stop), a play by a guy who knows electoral politics from the inside — he worked on the Howard Dean campaign.  George Clooney directed and stars in this story of an ambitious campaign worker (Ryan Gosling).

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=McCt-_yYLpo

3. “The Skin I Live In” — Antonio Banderas is back with the man who gave him his start, Spanish director Pedro Almodovar, in this story about a plastic surgeon who holds a woman captive for an artificial skin experiment.  Almodovar movies are always filled with electrifying melodrama and this one reportedly has a plot twist no one will see coming.

4. “The Artist” — one of the most talked-about films at Cannes this year is a black and white silent film about an actor in the silent era whose career collapses when talkies come in.  John Goodman co-starred with French actors who spoke no English, but I guess it doesn’t matter because it has old-fashioned title cards.

5.  “Hugo” — Martin Scorsese directs a film based on the Caldecott-award winning The Invention of Hugo Cabret, which was inspired by the man who invented special effects, George Méliès.  Sir Ben Kingsley and Chloë Moretz star.

6. “The Muppet Movie” — Jason Segal, Amy Adams, Miss Piggy, Kermit, the Swedish Chef, Fozzie Bear, and my favorites, Statler and Waldorf.  Guaranteed to be the family movie of the season.

7.  “Immortals” — Tarsem Singh’s “The Fall” was one of the most visually sumptuous movies ever made.  I can’t wait to see what he does with this story about a battle of the Greek gods.  Bonus: the new Superman, Henry Cavill, stars as Theseus.

8.  “Puss In Boots” — Banderas again, with his “Shrek” character on an adventure of his own, co-starring with “Hangover’s” Zach Galifinakis as Humpty Dumpty.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Eb7rR26ZqSw&ob=av3n

9.  “The Descendants” — Clooney does not usually play a dad, but in this film from Alexander Payne (“Sideways,” “Election”), he is a father who discovers that his wife was cheating on him.

10. “Margin Call” — Who better to play a Wall Street guy trying to prevent a meltdown at an investment bank than Kevin Spacey?  (He also stars in “Father of Invention” as a man hoping for a comeback.)

Could be guilty pleasures: “Real Steel,” “A Very Harold and Kumar Christmas 3D,” and “The Big Year”

Prestige movie that could be boring: Leonardo diCaprio in “J. Edgar”

Remakes I  hope aren’t terrible: “Footloose” and “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy”

Taylor Lautner has two big releases: “Twilight: Breaking Dawn Part 1” and “Abduction”

I’m least looking forward to:  Adam Sandler as boy and girl twins in “Jack and Jill”

Looks intriguingly twisted: “Take Shelter”

Seen them already and liked them: “Drive,” “Warrior,” “50/50”

Happy September!

 

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