Moneyball is a movie about baseball...but it's not a sports movie.
Grouping the latest film from star Brad Pitt with heartwarming Americana it-all-comes-down-to-the-big-game films doesn't quite make sense—no matter how much Pitt looks like Kevin Costner or Robert Redford. Moneyball is an underdog tale of a different kind one that questions the enchantment of the game rather than embraces it. While a film driven by sports statistics and business may sound drab Moneyball manages to discover its own unique sentimentality thanks to strong performances and a restrained style.
We pick up with Billy Beane (Pitt) GM for the Oakland A's after yet another disastrous season. Surrounded by aging scouts convinced of their ability to hone in on a player's intangible skills the keen manager grapples with the loss of his best players a recruiting budget dwarfed by his competitors and no solution in sight. After all baseball is a game of the coin—buy the talent buy the wins buy the championship. Wheeling and dealing across the country Beane realizes the A's need a new strategy or they'll be forever at the bottom. He finds that innovation in Peter Brand (Jonah Hill) a statistics wiz who introduces Beane to the baseball equivalent of counting cards: the theory of sabermetrics.
Thankfully watching and enjoying Moneyball doesn't require an extensive background in math as Beane allows the stuffy subdued Brand do the number-crunching. Much like writer Aaron Sorkin's Oscar-winning The Social Network the script (co-written with Schindler's List and Girl with the Dragon Tattoo writer Steve Zallian) pulls back the curtain on a complicated process but makes it easily digestible and more importantly emotional. Beane puts his job and reputation on the line for Brand's theory which boils down to the idea that all you need to win a baseball game is runs. Who needs star players when MLB rejects can make it to home base?
Pitt's depiction of the real life Beane isn't a showy star performance—but it's one of his best to date. The character is reserved and hushed; he explodes when the gravity of his situation hits a boiling point but quickly pulls himself back into professional mode. In order for Beane to enact Brand's plan he has to de-romanticize a game that means everything to him. Beane goes to great lengths to remind himself that baseball can't be fun—he doesn't watch the games he commands his team to hear the sorrow-filled silence of a loss and he emphasizes that no matter how many games he wins the only one that matters is the last. Beane keeps this light and cool with his co-workers but underneath—where Pitt shines—he struggles.
While Moneyball is Pitt's show his ensemble of co-stars deliver equally impressive work. Hill plays against type keeping his usual fast-talking humor in his back pocket and letting the larger-than-life Pitt properly wow him. Philip Seymour Hoffman appears briefly as the A's manager Art Howe who butts heads with Beane over the direction of the team. What could have been a surface-level villainous role is elevated by Hoffman who makes the old school way of thinking sound perfectly reasonable.
The film directed by the Oscar-nominated Bennett Miller (Capote) is slow and methodical paving the way for exhilarating moments between Pitt and Hill as they juggle phone calls fire off statistics educate their players and compile the misfit team. Miller intertwines flashbacks of Beane's early career and real life footage into the main narrative capitalizing on a variety of filmmaking techniques that organically stem from Beane's perspectives. This isn't squeaky clean Hollywood filmmaking but it's slick. Mychael Danna's score stands out as a thrilling companion to the visuals ethereal tunes that add a touch of humanity to a bookish drama.
Moneyball isn't this year's Field of Dreams or The Natural or Little Big League but it is great drama. Compelling and sweet the film takes a relatively unknown aspect of a well-known sport and turns it into something grand. Baseball's always made for a great life metaphor but Moneyball shows us one we've never seen before.
S10E32: For me, last night’s Idol solidified what I’ve been saying all season: that Jacob Lusk is great, but his time has come and James Durbin is profoundly overrated. Unfortunately, it really seems that I might be alone in feeling that way – at least when it comes to James.
Thanks to some rather harsh criticisms from the judges (for once it didn’t seem like they were just sleep walking through the evening) when Haley Reinhart took a giant risk and performed an unreleased Lady Gaga song, I think I’ve figured out why I feel so alienated in my opinions. It’s something that’s always bothered me about American Idol: the majority of voters don’t like contestants or performances when they're that different. Most people seem to want someone who’s a slightly altered version of the folks they already know and love. That’s why James, who hearkens back to the music of the 80s that so many Americans either still love or look back on with great nostalgia is probably going to win – but that doesn’t mean I have to like it and I’ll spend the next three weeks trying my best to prove to whoever will listen why there are a few much better choices.
Last night, the top five did two songs each – one from the last few years and one from a few decades ago. Here they are in order of who needs to win to those whose time should be up.
“House of the Rising Sun” by The Animals
“You and I” by Lady Gaga
Randy said it, and I’m inclined to agree: Haley’s rendition of “House of the Rising Sun” was the best performance of the night. She truly did something unique with it and it’s actually the perfect type of song for her voice. I can’t say anything negative about it.
This is where I differ from the judges. They railed on Haley for taking the risk of using an unreleased Lady Gaga song. First of all, Jimmy Iovine specifically gave it to her and Gaga herself told the girl to give it a shot. You don’t turn those folks down when something like this comes along. Secondly, if you have to do a song that everyone knows in order to win on Idol, then there’s something wrong with the competition. I loved hearing Haley do a song that I’d never heard. It was a true preview of what sorts of things she’d be doing as a solo artist and that’s something we can’t truly say about any of the other contestants.
“Gone” by Montgomery Gentry
“Always on My Mind” by Elvis Presley
Now, I don’t expect anything more from Scotty than what we already know he can do. We’re basically looking for the best version of himself and as Jimmy Iovine said, he really needs to stop trying to compete with the other contestants and just do his thing. And I think it worked. I’m not a country fan, but his first song was fun and energetic and I can see why folks love him.
I think this Elvis song has become sort of schlocky in recent years thanks to it showing up on commercials and TV shows constantly. Even though that was working against him, Scotty delivered a surprisingly genuine performance of the classic song despite its ubiquity and his young age.
“Flat on the Floor” by Carrie Underwood
“Unchained Melody” by The Righteous Brothers
I’d like to put her higher up, but unfortunately Scotty and Haley are too damn good. Lauren really pulled ahead of her usual fare this week and it was really great to watch. She tapped back into her country-pop sweet spot with Carrie Underwood’s difficult and fast-paced song and it really showed what the girl can do.
I was a bit worried when she picked “the Ghost song,” as many of us know it, but it turns out that it means a great deal to her because it’s her parents’ song. While the 15 year-old may not yet know the feelings described by the tune, she sang beautifully and she drew us in with an uncanny emotional depth as well. Both of her performances were just fantastic.
“Closer to The Edge” by 30 Seconds to Mars
“Without You” by Harry Nilsson
I still don’t think James has a voice to write home about, in fact, last night was probably the worst we’ve heard him sing all season, but since folks seem to like that voice (for some reason) I think that he’s on-point with his song choices. I agree with the judges that the 30 Seconds to Mars song did a great job of situating his 80s voice in contemporary music and that it’s likely the type of music he’ll be recording. I won’t be buying it on iTunes, but I think it suits him well.
Now, this is where it gets tough. On one hand, even though I don’t like listening to the kid sing, I’m not heartless. I know he’s had a rough road getting here and I can imagine he misses his family immensely, so the visible emotion when he sang this song was certainly moving. However, from a musical perspective, it really wasn’t the best performance – and not because there were a few moments where his voice wavered because his emotions got the better of him. Those moments were the best parts of his performance, but like his rendition of “Blackbird” it showed that he’s really not great vocally when he sings ballads and slower songs. I’ve got nothing personal against the guy, I just think we’ve got other better singers and this is first and foremost a singing completion.
“No Air” by Jordin Sparks and Chris Brown
“Love Hurts” by Nazareth
Poor Jacob. He really does have a great voice, but if last night proved anything it’s that even he doesn’t know where to place that voice within contemporary music. That’s why he’s been in the bottom three so many times. We’re not sure how he would fit into the music scene at hand and I think Randy is right, “No Air” is not it. I also agree that it was just strange for him to try to sing a duet by himself. I think he probably loves this song and had fun singing it, but it didn’t seem like what he could be successful doing and that distinction is a hard one to face.
His second song worked a little better, but it really showed his voice’s weaknesses and at this point, that powerful voice is really the only reason he’s still on the show. It wasn’t the worst performance and he did recover, but it really didn't do him any favors.
Who’s going home? I think it should be James, but you know he’s probably going to win, so my money is on Jacob.
Mya Lewis Ben Clark and the rest of the humanity living in Terminus (a city of the future) are going about their lives late on the night before New Year’s Eve when a strange signal begins messing up their televisions cell phones and radios. At first they are just annoyed but then the terror begins as the signal begins to drive people to murderous aggression with random killings taking over everywhere. Some like Mya are not affected by the signal; while others like her estranged husband Lewis float in and out of crazed violence. As the story unfolds told in three segments by three different directors squirting gore abounds juxtaposed with surreal moments fantasy sequences and seemingly invincible characters that somehow survive grisly graphic death blows and come back for more. As the 24 hours of New Year’s Eve winds down the carnage slows a bit but the damage is done as civilization will never quite be the same again. The Signal is a low-budget independent film populated with actors you have never heard of mostly from the Atlanta area where the film was conceived and created. The best of the bunch is Anessa Ramsey who plays Mya with a nuanced compelling style that makes you want her to be on the screen much more than she actually is. Justin Welborn (as Ben her illicit lover) is also a discovery--a quietly handsome guy who brings a realistic feel to a film that is mostly way over the top. A.J. Bowen is a hulking presence as Lewis Mya’s relentlessly jealous and violent husband who will stop at nothing to find her and keep her by his side and Scott Poythress as Clark melds a bit of comic lightness into his role as one of the few still-sane inhabitants of Terminus--despite the fact that he has one scene where he has a conversation with a severed head. Overall the acting in the film is pretty believable no mean feat for a script that calls for the characters to maintain an almost constant state of fear or aggression. The Signal is a three-way project broken into three segments (called “Transmissions”) and each directed by a different person: David Bruckner Dan Bush and Jacob Gentry. They are part of the Atlanta-based POP Films (Gentry’s cult film Last Goodbye was the company’s first effort) and are long-time friends as well. Collaborating together yet each responsible for their own segment the three made the film in less than two weeks for under five million dollars. A 2007 Sundance Film Festival favorite there is much to like about the movie despite its obvious low-budget production values. Slightly disjointed and sometimes not quite following the plot points one of the others has set beforehand. In one scene there is an extremely gory murder of one of the main characters whose head is completely bashed to pulp only to have him miraculously reappear later on with barely a scratch on him. Huh? The three still have a ways to go before they can be compared to horror masters like Wes Craven or George Romero but The Signal is not a bad beginning and shows promise of things yet to come.