Does Moneyball get on base?

Going in to Moneyball (*** 1/2), I was scratching my head trying to figure out how they were going to make a crowd-pleasing Hollywood movie out of a story that doesn’t have a happy Hollywood ending. It turns out they did it with a little narrative jujitsu that focuses the story on a whole other element that ultimately pays off in the end… sort of. As real life baseball GM Billy Beane, Brad Pitt says: “If you don’t win the last game of the season, nothing else matters.” He learns by the end of the film, however, that sometimes people are too dumb to realize they’ve succeeded when they thought all along that they failed. It’s all about finding value in unexpected places. That’s what the film is trying to put across anyway, but I’m not sure they’ve completely succeeded.

Having said that, audiences surveyed who saw the film opening weekend are giving the film an “A” CinemaScore. Are they responding to the story or are they just charmed by the likable, laid back star performance by Brad Pitt and his chemistry with his opposite Jonah Hill (who is wonderful)? I don’t know. It probably doesn’t matter. People like it.

Me? I liked all the little individual character moments the best and almost none of the actual baseball stuff. I’d also have rather seen them tell a fictional tale cut from whole cloth rather than something ostensibly based on reality. The reality was just a distraction, especially how it was necessarily simplified. Sure, narratively it works like gangbusters to have the entire Oakland A’s season hinge upon whether Scott Hatteberg plays first base or not, but sorry, it just didn’t. As much of the credit for that season goes to characters who were never mentioned in the film because they don’t fit the message.

I don’t know, I’m kind of talking in circles here. I’m trying to reconcile the more enthusiastic response of people I know to my own more tepid reaction.

On DVD this week, I rewatched The Maltese Falcon and The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou in order to fulfill my role as guest on the latest episode of The Projection Room podcast. Falcon is one of those comfort food movies for me. I can put it in and watch it any old time and be perfectly happy. It’s always familiar yet always seems to reveal a new nuance each time I see it. Still, it always boils down to the chemistry for me between Bogart, Greenstreet and Lorre. I chose Life Aquatic to fill the Movie Gems segment of the podcast, not because I think it is Wes Anderson’s greatest, but simply because I believe it’s underrated and deserves a second appraisal. As I said in the podcast, it’s true that Anderson haters will find the movie to be fingernails on a chalkboard, but it works surprisingly well for me. It drags a bit 1/3 to 1/2 of the way through, but at a certain point it just clicks and it all comes together. It’s not my favorite, but it’s much better than it gets credit for from people who believe Anderson peaked with Rushmore.

Also on DVD, I rewatched Sam Peckinpah’s Straw Dogs. Partly because of the remake, partly for the upcoming episode of the 3-Way Moviegasm Podcast and partly because I’d like to do a Page to Screen treatment of it, the novel and the remake sometime down the line. I’m not sure if or how that’s going to work though since it’s already ballooning in my mind to a wider look at Peckinpah, particularly the controversy surrounding the violence in some of his best known films. I’m going to have to revisit some of his other films and fill in some of the ones I’ve never seen (like Cross of Iron) but I’m going in with the theory that his blood lust is overemphasized because of the violence in a couple of his best known pictures (Straw Dogs and The Wild Bunch) while conveniently overlooking gentler pictures like Junior Bonner and The Ballad of Cable Hogue.

That’s all from me for now this week. Now it’s your turn. See anything worth talking about since last weekend?

19 Responses to “Monkeyballs”

  1. Lucille and I had a busy weekend at the theatres. On Friday evening we brought the three boys to MONEYBALL, a film we had actually seen over this past winter at a sneak “work in progress” preview. On Saturday we really made hay, seeing two films in our local art house multiplex, and then another at the IFC Film Center in the evening. We saw:

    Moneyball **** (Friday evening) Edgewater multiplex

    The Mill and the Cross **** 1/2 (Saturday afternoon) Montclair Claridge Cinemas

    My Afternoons with Marguritte **** (Saturday afternnoon) Montclair Claridge

    Weekend **** 1/2 (Saturday evening) IFC Film Center

    In MONEYBALL Brad Pitt gives one of his finest performances as Billy Beane, the quirky off-kilter general manager of the Oakland A’s at a time of player transition. The writing is first-rate, the observations into buying and selling acute, and the chemistry between Pitt and Jopnah Hill delightful. The film’s centerpiece is the thrilling 20 game winning streak in 2002 that stands as an all-time record, which is superbly edited in the film. Certainly, the film is one of the better multiplex offerings of 2011, but I’ll meet Craig a good part of teh way by conceding it may be getting too much praise at this point. It’s nice, but on a smaller scale. The British WEEKEND vies with 1996’s “Beautiful Thing” as the best gay-themed film ever made. It’s a splendidly naturalistic and nuanced chamber piece about gay identity that yields surprising emotional power, and it’s mumblecore center is mostly some fascinating discourse and aching discoveries. The two lead performances by Tom Cullen and Chris New are exceptionally affecting, and the director Andrew Haigh (who appeared for a fabulous Q & A after the 7:20 P.M. show) avoids almost all the cliches and commonly held beliefs that surround most of gay cinema. MY AFTERNOONS WITH MARGUERITTE may be lightweight stuff, but it delivers on its premise admirably. A platonic relationship develops between a book-reading old woman and a husky illiterate middle-aged working man in a park, who share some of life’s experience amidst some family issues on both sides of the divide. It’s harmless enough and it builds up valid emotion. Gerard Depardieu and Gisele Casadesus are wonderful as those connected by the beauty in literature. THE MILL AND THE CROSS may well be a five-star movie, but I’ll stay in the holding pattern at 4.5 for the time being, so as not to incur the scorn of some who will take issue with two five-star ratings in successive weeks. But Lech Majewski’s visually intoxicating, wholly ravishing look at the nighmare behind the painting “The Procession to Calgary” by Flemish master Bruegel is a maditation on art, religion and speculation that holds one utterly transfized and enthralled for every minute of its running time. There’s really nothing quite like this in the cinema.

    Anyway, rating-wise this may have been the strongest week of the year for me. And with MONEYBALL I only went a half-star higher than Craig did.

  2. I tracked down the recently released “Manhunter” blu ray, and found myself a little surprised to discover that it was the original theatrical version of the film, and not one of the several different editions that it’s existed in on television and DVD over the years, and that’s even before you factor in Michael Mann’s personal director’s cut (the one with scenes that look like bad Betamax). Some of my favorite missing bits are back in on the blu ray (the modern-art elevator, that silent shot of Graham and Crawford at the docks), a few good scenes are missing (a “Miami Vice” team-member’s cameo as a realtor, Graham and wife’s hotel room rendezvous), and there’s even an extra additional bit at the end I didn’t even know existed (Graham talking about the killer’s probable traumatic childhood). And here I thought this was going to be the version with Betamax.

  3. I’ve had rehearsals all weekend for an upcoming gig so I did not get to the movies. I may try to see Moneyball next weekend though. For the most part I’ve heard positive things about the movie and about the performances.

    I’d also like to catch My Afternoons with Marguerite if I can. It sounded like something I’d like story-wise and I see Sam enjoyed it, so it comes with a good rec.

  4. Thanks for that Alison. I do believe you’ll love it.

  5. my own more tepid reaction [to Moneyball]

    I get your point, Craig, but 3-1/2 stars is nothing to sneeze at. I saw the trailer and it looks enjoyable. Add Brad Pitt in what sounds like an amiable buddy pairing, and this smells like success — and even talk of awards for Pitt.

    Sam, I’m curious. Do you think The Mill and the Cross would appeal more to those of strong Christian faith? Might a person’s lack of Christian faith affect his/her valuation of the film?

    I saw Drive and like it a lot.

    Am anxious to see Contagion in IMAX of course. Not usually a soft touch, I’ve succumbed to the temptations of the upcoming Mission Impossible installment simply because of Jeremy Renner.

  6. “Sam, I’m curious. Do you think The Mill and the Cross would appeal more to those of strong Christian faith? Might a person’s lack of Christian faith affect his/her valuation of the film?”

    That’s an excellent question Pierre. Surely the Christians with strong faith would connect to this on another level. First and foremost this film will be enthusiastically embraced by the Renaissance art lovers, and those who are captivayed by the museum experience within the framework of cinematic convention. I can describe myself as a “lapsed” Catholic, who still enrolls all my kids in after-school religious classes aimed at receiving all the sacraments. But I haven’t attended masses aside from weddings and funerals in many years. Yet like so many others I revel in the great Christian art. It would take someone worse than a heathen to be unmoved by Michelangelo’s THE LAST SUPPER for example.

    This year we’ve now had two films that can be appreciated to maximum levels by the true Christians: THE MILL AND THE CROSS and OF GODS AND MEN. Yet I dare say both films have transcended these limitations.

  7. Saw Moneyball on Saturday. Definitely as entertaining a film as I’ve seen this year. It’s lightweight, and it doesn’t make you think too much, but it’s a load of fun. Beane seems to have been painted as more eccentric than he is in real life. He’s odd, but maybe not to this extent.

  8. The thing I liked best about Pitt in Moneyball was that he seemed completely effortless without coming across lazy. He didn’t have the smugness of someone who knows he’s getting by on charm, yet that’s how easy his performance went down. It wasn’t actorly or showy. And yes, Hill was his perfect match.

    Sam, I’m definitely curious about Mills and Weekend, but I will have to wait my turn when they come to LA. I’m sure the Depardieu flick is lovely, but I’m having a hard time letting go of a certain cynicism about it.

    Bob, how would you rate this blu-ray version of Manhunter, not in terms of how it looks, but in terms of what’s included and what’s left out.

  9. That’s hard to say, Craig, because strictly speaking, it really should be the director’s cut, plain and simple. Granted, I don’t like the director’s cut as much for what it leaves out and the poor picture quality of a lot of the additional material (not to mention how redundant most of it is), but objectively speaking, if Mann has wishes, they should be respected. That being said, because the existing Director’s Cut is a rather lazy package (it’s almost literally just a version that was edited for Showtime back in the 80’s, with some bits cut out just to keep the running time down), I’d say that pretty much any DVD or Blu Ray copy you can find of the film that’s presented in 2.35:1 and mostly decent picture quality is about equal to the others.

  10. Thanks, Sam!

  11. Whatever you do, do not see this movie:

    It’s several dozen times more ridiculously saccharin and preposterous and romantically asinine than even the trailer for it looks. It’s like a “romantic fairy tale” as composed by a 12 year old girl who has not encountered anything to challenge her worldview or add any complexity or doubt to anything. It makes Titanic look like a von Trier production. It makes Under the Tuscan Sun look like Cronenberg by comparison. It was just awful, and the audience with whom I saw it at the Tulsa Film Fest ate it up and told the director afterwards that they “loved, loved loved it.”

    I don’t doubt it. People have shit for taste. But I don’t. So take my word and skip it unless you need some sort of spot-the-layers-of-treacly-romantic-cliches drinking game to get you absolutely plastered. I’m an incorrigible sap of a gal who can barely get through Morning Edition on NPR every morning without getting teary over something or another, and my eye was not even tempted to mist up. I mean, seriously. There were orphans upon orphans and evil twin stepsister types and slutty nuns and exotic foreign men who just happened to be looking for the pretty orphan who lives in a gorgeous villa that’s haunted by a friendly and wise ghost boy who helps teach her life lessons about her dead and never-known mother and there are beautiful unmarried Italian sisters who go on idyllic picnics in the countryside eating popsicles that apparently don’t melt in a picnic basket and there’s a deaf-mute love interest and a mysterious rich Indian sheik love interest and a handicapped love interest and Russel Brand-lookalike love interest and it’s just all so awful I wanted to go maim something afterwards.

    Luckily, the next day I got the antidote to that aftertaste by seeing Drive. Dark and suspenseful and violent and well-acted and both understated and complex, it was everything The Italian Key was not. Good stuff. I have once again achieved balance.

  12. “It makes Titanic look like a von Trier production. It makes Under the Tuscan Sun look like Cronenberg by comparison.” hahaha. Ouch. Is Rosa Karo related to Niki? Oh wait, wrong spelling.

    Did Drive stomp Italian Key’s skull in in the elevator afterward? I might pay to see that.

  13. So the director’s cut of the film should be the best, but the quality sucks and it’s not very well put together in the first place?

    Sounds like I should just rent the bluray and pretend that’s the only version there is.

  14. Craig– on principle, I believe in director’s cuts, even if they’re not my preferred version (as is the case with “Manhunter”– I prefer the first DVD, but that wasn’t the original theatrical version either). “Manhunter” is simply something like a worst-case scenario of the practice, primarily because they’re basing it off of a version of the film that was edited to fit into a strict timeslot for cable television back in the late 80’s, and not much work has been done to elevate it since. It’s a half-hearted director’s cut. If more genuine effort had been put into it, I might feel different. Mann’s other DC’s tend to be more polished.

  15. oh jennybee! :) this was probably the funniest review i’ve ever read, i was laughing out loud and sure deserved all of it! the von trier and cronenberg bit is absolutely priceless, as are the nuns, orphans and russell brand lookalike. LOL! can we please please quote you on our web page? warmest, rosa – aka writer-director of “the italian key”

  16. Thank you for being a good sport, Rosa.

    In the immortal words of Bad Santa, “They can’t all be winners.”

  17. Both the theatrical and what is called the director’s cut of Manhunter are available on the UK bluray release:

    That putdown of The Italian Key was Dorothy Parkeresque, Jen.

  18. Do you have to understand Rugby or Cricket in order to enjoy those Manhunter DVDs?

  19. Haha, it’s subtitled and comes with a Cliffs Notes booklet for American viewers.

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