MONKEYBALL. Sorry. I mean-

26 09 2011

In case you couldn’t tell from my movie blog, I’m not into sports. In fact, the closest I come to organized sports is watching films about organized sports. Bennett Miller’s MONEYBALL is a sports film, and one strong enough not only to merit its own Stevensporstblog.com review, but strong enough to actually make me care about baseball! In fact, right now I’m heading over to, uhh, ESPN.com, to check out some sports statistics, and… ah nevermind, I don’t care again.

But even in the eyes of an apathete, MONEYBALL scores in telling the story of the 2002 Oakland Athletics, a losing ball team turned all-time record-breaker by general manager Billy Beane (Brad Pitt,) whose unorthodox methods turned traditional baseball on its head. MONEYBALL covers this extraordinary season for the A’s, in which their new m.o. raised institutional hackles even as they up-ended the odds.

Steven Spielblog sez, "MONEYBALL keeps you laughing, from the bottom of the Pitt to the top of the Hill!"

As odds-up-ender Beane, Brad Pitt gives a terrific performance that’s believable and loose. Through flashbacks featuring a young Pitt-alike, we learn that having turned down a ride at Stanford for a Major League contract, Beane had an abortive career on the field; he describes himself as having made one decision in his life based on money, and so it’s from a solid character-based standpoint that we come to understand his determination to lead the A’s to success, in spite of stacked financial odds. Billy Beane’s a real guy, of course, but to provide him a sounding board off which to bounce the many ideas at play in Michael Lewis’s non-fiction book MONEYBALL, Beane’s given a fictional foil in the form of Peter Brand (Jonah Hill,) a young Yalie economist. As the fabricated Brand, Hill’s on deadpan duty, thankfully (the louder Hill gets, the less funny) and that Hill/Pitt rhythm is the key ingredient of the film, particularly as it goes into extra innings around the two-hour mark. Yes, MONEYBALL, like actual baseball, is a fairly slow game.

But, when you’ve hired both Steven Zaillian and Aaron Sorkin to write your sports movie, you want to get your dollar’s worth, right? I mean, hiring both Steven Zaillian and Aaron Sorkin for your sports movie is like hiring both Bill Clinton and Keith Richards to DJ your daughter’s Bat Mitzvah. But even with a couple high-priced ringers on script duty, MONEYBALL’s ex-wife/daughter subplot feels out of an old, dusty playbook; for the story of a man determined to think and operate outside-the-box, Beane’s B-story is ironically box-y. But this year’s Sorkin ain’t THAT OLLL’ SOCIALLY NETWORK, which was far too self-serious to ever have a character lay out its central metaphor, and then quip “it’s a metaphor,” as Hill does here. The 2011 Sorkin-Zaillian vehicle’s got an upgraded metaphor, unforced charm, increased laughs, and it features Philip Seymour Hoffman. And on the Spielblog roster, PSH = MVP.

MONEYBALL

Vista Theater, Los Angeles

Sunday September 25, 5:15pm showing





DRIVE: Baby Goose, Grown-Up Fun

22 09 2011

The first thing to be said about Nicolas Winding-Refn’s DRIVE is that for all its fancy fancy motoring, it covers no new ground. The second thing to be said about Nicolas Winding-Refn’s DRIVE is that you should go out and see it, more or less immediately. True, it’s a fine line between an exercise in style and an empty exercise in style, but even as it downshifts into its forty-seventh Michael Mann LA nighttime helicopter shot, or ninety-fourth super-slow-motion refrain, DRIVE comes across as substantial. And in spite of its modulated retro cool aesthetic, (and its director’s accolades for it,) the credit for the film’s surprising soulfulness doesn’t rest with Refn, but with lead Ryan Gosling. After all, it’s a tightrope act for anyone aiming for ‘strong/silent loner-type,’ and nothing’s worse than a pretty boy over-selling ‘tough.’

The car may be in 'neutral,' but Baby Goose is in DRIVE.

But Baby Goose owns it, and does so by counter-intuitively playing up the soft-spoken youthfulness of his eponymous Driver. The pleasure of then watching the man-boy snap is proper old-fashioned, Lee Marvin POINT BLANK-style ultraviolent fun. (If that’s your thing, and it’s mine, I mean come on now.) Better still, Gosling’s un-Gos-ly charisma is matched by his supporting cast  – Bryan Cranston, Carey Mulligan, Ron Perlman, Christina Hendricks – et voila, all topped by the great Albert Brooks, who’s so sadistically slimy in the villain role that it makes you wonder, “in retrospect, was the problem with THE MUSE just that Albert Brooks didn’t jam a fork into Sharon Stone’s eyeball?” DRIVE may not be anything new, but it is the sum of terrific vintage parts – and depending on your taste for eye-forking, it may be much more.

DRIVE

Los Feliz 3 Cinemas, Los Angeles

Saturday September 17, 1:30pm showing