Sunday, September 25, 2011

Moneyball


Moneyball tells the true story of how, in 2001, a chance meeting between a very unlikely pair changed the way baseball is played. When Oakland Athletics GM Billy Beane went to Cleveland to discuss trades with their GM, he couldn’t help but notice a nerdy, young looking man in the meeting that seemed to be making big decisions for the Cleveland GM. So, after the meeting, Beane tracks the kids down and asks him who he is. The young man says Peter Brand, but, as Beane put it, I don’t care what your name is, I want to know who you are. He finds out that Brand is an egghead from Yale who uses statistics and computer code to determine the best possible roster for a ball club. He doesn’t care about fame, salary or even physical characteristics. Instead, he takes a completely cold, facts only approach, plugs the person into the code and they either show up on his chart as a good bet or a bad bet. Billy is sold and hires the kid on as his new assistant GM. Of course, both this move and the new method fly into the face of over a century of baseball wisdom and just about everyone thinks Beane has completely lost it. Will it pan out? Is ne nuts or is he onto something?

I’m about to give this movie a very mild recommendation and I have to start out by saying I recognize that I am in the vast minority on this one. For crying out loud, the movie has a 94% Approval Rating on Rotton Tomatoes right now. Well, too freaking bad, because, like baseball itself, I know there are many aspects of it that, on paper, make it look like I would like it, but when I’m actually watching it, I just don’t dig it. I didn’t care what happened to these characters, I didn’t care if it worked out all that much and, generally speaking, I really wasn’t much engaged in the movie at all from start to finish.

How can this be when the cast was fantastic, the performances were very natural, the cinematography great and the script written by two of the best screenwriters in existence? Well, I think it boils down to the story itself. It’s not about how two unlikely heroes saved baseball or came up with a way that took a rag tag team to the top. In fact, the A’s had just been very deep into the playoffs the year before. Essentially this movie is about how a GM took a chance on a theory that made his good team slightly better. They don’t go on to win the world series and, in fact, they don’t even go further into the playoffs than they did the season before the new approach was put into place. Yes, Beane’s new approach did have a huge impact on the way all teams approach playing the game, but very little of that in the movie. Most of the movie is about a guy making his team slightly better. And where is the drama? These are rich white guys, one of whom has a degree from Yale, who are making millions while managing a pro sports team. They go to their fantastic job and do a good job thereat, there’s the movie, that’s it. I just never felt any drama, anything engaging, and at the end I just sort of shrugged. It wasn’t bad, it just wasn’t that good. In a way, I felt like I was watching an actual baseball game. Like in a game of baseball, it has a small handful of thrilling moments, but overall it’s usually pretty forgettable.

SA

Friday, September 23, 2011

The Man From Nowhere


This movie tells the story of a no name, skinny, goth looking guy who runs a pawnshop in a rundown apartment building in the wrong part of town. He lives in his shop and only leaves to go to the store. He doesn’t smile, doesn’t say a word and is clearly in hiding. No one notices him and he grows callous as he watches the parade of filth that comes by his kiosk window all day long. A sweet, innocent little latchkey kid takes a liking to him and seems intent on becoming friends. Just as he opens up to her, the little girl is kidnapped along with her mother by some very bad people. The pawnshop owner can’t let this fly and tracks each person involved down one by one, exacting revenge until they give him back the girl.

The Man from Nowhere is a classic revenge flick. If you can picture this movie as an American vehicle from several decades ago, the lead would easily be held by the likes of John Wayne, Clint Eastwood or Charles Bronson. Highly skilled, cold hearted badass doesn’t give a rip about anything in this world, never letting anyone inside the watertight heart of his, that is until some innocent person (a woman or a child usually) comes into his life. Just when he lightens up and lets her in she is kidnapped, killed, robbed, hurt or meets some other unfortunate fate. Well, the hero, be it Wayne or Eastwood, can’t let this happen and proceeds to track down the bad guys and tear them a new asshole.

Well, that basically sums up this flick too. It’s a classic, hard-boiled revenge flick where some bad dudes have messed with the wrong guy and they’re soon to find out just how big a mistake they’ve made. Let me sum it up with a quote from a crucial scene in the movie. Upon finding one of the scumbags he’s looking for he sees that a whole gang of dudes have come out to stop our hero from reaching the scumbag. The scumbag asks if he has anything to say about this and he says, “how many cavities do you all have? I run a pawnshop, I’ll take your gold teeth, but anything else I touch I’m going to chew up and spit out.” If you like this kind of movie, you’re going to love The Man From Nowhere. If not, you may still like it, as the acting is great, the action is too and the martial arts are top notch. The performances are memorable and I love this kind of story. I hope to see more from all involved.

S'good

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Drive


Drive is about, well, a driver. He’s cold, he’s calculated and he’s damn good at what he does. As he puts it, “you tell me where to be and when, I’ll give you five minutes to get your job done, anything inside of that, I’m yours no matter what, outside of that, you’re on your own.” He lives a life with no allegiances, no moral compass and with the precision of a clock. That is, until he falls for the single mother next door and her grade school aged son. Now there is a kink in his clock and, unfortunately for him, his bosses depend on his machine-like precision and they don’t have much patience for his new personal life. Soon, their patience wears out when he inadvertently costs his bosses a ton of cash when attempting to help his new crush out of a bind.

Drive is much more similar to the tense, slow boil of French New Wave Thrillers like Le Cercle Rouge, L’Argent or, especially, Le Samurai. It is slow, it is quiet, it is highly stylized and boy is it tense. The protagonist is like a rope pulled just to it’s breaking point and, if it feels the pull any more, it just might snap. And, man, can this guy snap. He’s smiling, warm, nice, even loving one moment and then will be cracking your skull with a hammer the next. While an obvious psychopath, he seems intensely intent on maintaining control, which is why, when he does lose control, he seems to almost physically fight it. His arms tremble, his expression denotes he’s sick to his stomach and sweat will just pour off him. He wants so much to maintain control in all he does, that doing otherwise seems to make him ill.

Of course, this is all part of why it throws him for such a loop to fall in love with the single mom living next door. Talk about out of his routine. While ‘this criminal who lives like a clock but falls for his counterpart’ bit has been done before (I love it in The Professional), it’s done well here. You like her, you like him when he’s with her, you want it to work out. I won’t tell you if it does or not, of course, but I can tell you that ever moment until the conclusion is interesting to say the least.

If I had a single complaint it would be that the movie wasn’t restrained enough. I don’t mean it needed less dialogue or anything (any quieter and it’d be a silent movie), but rather that it often showed a little too much violence (taking away from the scare factor), stayed on a shot way too long or had sections of scenes that just weren’t necessary. This movie is not without it’s faults, but overall it was stylish, tense, engaging and a great throwback to some of my favorite French dramas of all time.

WW

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Cedar Rapids


Tim Lippe lives a purposefully sheltered life. He’s never left his hometown (not even temporarily). He still lives in the home he grew up in and his bedroom looks just like it did when he was a little boy. He’s never really dated and lives a life of blissful ignorance. All of a sudden, the winds of change come blowing into Tim’s life and topples his quiet, sheltered little deck of cards he calls living. First, one of his 7th grade teachers takes him on a date and they sleep together. He thinks he’s found love, but she tells him, hey, they’re both adults, she’s recently divorced and she thought they were just having fun. This is not in his wheelhouse.

Then, his supervisor at work abruptly passes away under scandalous circumstances and his boss asks Tim to go to the annual convention in Cedar Rapids, Iowa in his supervisor’s place. The death, the one-night-stand, the trip out of town to a ‘big city,’ (including his first trip on a plane) all serve to shake up his mundane routine of life something fierce. So how does this Ned Flanders wannabe handle it? Well, watch and laugh.

This isn’t the most original of stories; we’ve all seen this sort of movie, where the na├»ve country kid has a wild, unexpected time in the big city, but it doesn’t mean Cedar Rapids isn’t enjoyable. The writing is pretty good and the visuals are mostly standard fare. What raises this flick above the fray are the performances. Just about every role is filled by an actor giving a heartwarming and hilarious performance, especially John C. Reilly and Ed Helms. There’s not a dud in the bunch. While it’s not the greatest flick out there and certainly isn’t groundbreaking, it’s enjoyable and full of more than a couple laughs.

S’good

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Hanna


Hanna tells the story of a very specific moment in the life of, well, Hanna. We’re not told exactly how old she is, but, for the sake of this discussion, let’s say she’s in her early teens. She’s at that moment in all our lives where we begin to question ourselves, our role in the world and what may be out there in the greater world. This is especially so when we happen to be the only child of a rogue CIA agent who has spent our entire life out in the woods with us training us to be a high level agent. In other words, what happens when a person lives a completely isolated life and suddenly finds him/herself in an existential dilemma? Meet Hanna. She has been trained her whole life to fight and to kill and has been completely shut off from the outside world. Now, she wants to know and to see, to hear music for the first time, to, maybe, find a little love. All that stuff. Problem is, if she exposes herself, she vicariously exposes her father. If she does that, the shit is gonna hit the fan.

Well, she does it anyway and he lets her. He understands she needs to see the outside world to find out it’s not all it’s cracked up to be. Can they survive long enough for her to have her little rumspringa?

This movie is like Are You There God, It’s Me Margaret meets The Bourne Identity. It’s part coming of age tale (teenage girl’s self discovery) and part thriller action. The coming of age portions were so so. They seemed out of place with the tone of the rest of the movie and, oddly, weren’t dealved into enough. I almost felt like it shouldn’t have been 50-50, but more like 80-20. Joe Wright should have made up his mind and decided what sort of movie he wanted to make. A girl going out into urban Berlin after living so isolated for her whole life that the first site of an airplane causes her to scream in both terror and delight, would make for a fantastic film, but if that is broken up with tons of espionage and chase scenes, then it’s just not developed enough. Now, that said, having two, disparate but fantastic flicks broken up by each other doesn’t mean the whole is a bad flick. It just means it could have been better.

I thoroughly enjoyed this movie. It was interesting, stylish, and thrilling when it needs to be. I liked Wright’s Pride and Prejudice more, but, outside of it, this is his best. If you like movies like Bourne, then this is certainly a flick you should see. It’s action done well and proof that a little creativity is all it takes to bring the mainstream movie industry out of it’s terrible artistic slump. In other words, this movie is not rocket science, but it’s original and a solid story and, after all, it doesn’t take much more than that.

S’good

The Expendables


A group of mercenaries known as The Expendables travels the world kicking ass and fulfilling missions. On one mission to some Spanish speaking island in the Gulf of Mexico, the leader of the group, played by Stallone, falls for a girl who elects to stay behind on the corrupt island rather than be rescued by The Expendables. So, Barney, yes his name is Barney, can’t stand for this, gathers a team of the very best he can get and goes back to, you guessed it, kick some ass and save the girl. This movie was a deliberate throwback to the grand action movies of the 1980’s.

Stallone asked everyone he could think of from that era to be in the flick and many of them were, from Dolph Lundgren to Micky Rourke to Eric Roberts. The one’s that turned him down are allegedly in the sequel, people like Van Damme, Lorenzo Lamas and Chuck Norris. Basically, it boils down to this. Did you love action movies from the 80’s and early 90’s? The kinds of action movies where the plot was incidental and the movie was mostly about big stunts and even bigger explosions? I’m not talking about the really innovative stuff like Die Hard or Predator or the like. I’m talking about boom blam glossy popcorn with names like Delta Force and Iron Eagle. Well, if you did, if you totally loved that stuff, then this movie is so squarely up your alley it’s gonna blow your mind.

I, however, was never really into those kinds of movies. I was too busy being a geek for horror, sci fi and animated sources of my popcorn. That said, this movie was fun and a nice mental break and I gotta say I did enjoy it. So, there you have it. It’s not groundbreaking, but it might be just what you’re looking for.

SA