Moneyball

Dan in Reel Life sends this review to the plate.

Moneyball

In the film adaptation of the Michael Lewis best-selling book, Brad Pitt (The Mexican) stars as Billy Beane, general manager of Major League Baseball’s Oakland Athletics.  Beane has a big problem:  how to compete against rich large-market teams like New York and Boston with the limited funds of his small-market Oakland organization.  Following an extremely successful (but non-championship) season, Beane can only watch helplessly while his marquee players are pillaged by wealthier teams during free agency.  Unwilling to be satisfied with anything less than ‘winning the last game of the season’, he becomes increasingly convicted that the A’s will not win it all using the conventional wisdom of scouting and roster-building followed religiously for years in the big leagues.

While on a trip to Cleveland to deal for players to replace his lost stars, Beane notices that an extremely young, decidedly ‘non-baseball’ person named Peter Brand (Jonah Hill, Superbad) is wielding tremendous influence in the Indians’ front office.  Intrigued, he digs deeper and discovers that this Yale prodigy has a radical approach to evaluating baseball talent;  instead of the long-utilized statistics combined with a sort of ‘baseball sixth sense’ usually employed by talent evaluators, Brand’s method is based almost exclusively on the quantitative conclusions drawn from his studies of economics and statistics.  Sensing that Brand’s unorthodox thinking could be the new philosophy he needs to compete with the big guys, Beane hires Brand away from Cleveland and bets the farm on his approach.

As surely as people hate change, Beane encounters resistance from within and without the organization as he makes drastic moves to implement Brand’s unconventional strategies.  As his character attempts to navigate this turmoil, Pitt’s trademark charisma pulls you in and quickly has you rooting for Beane’s success.  The mentor/mentoree scenes with Beane and Brand are all memorable as Hill plays off of Pitt perfectly.  The trials and tribulations of the inexperienced Brand are relatable to anyone who’s endured a bruising post-college encounter with the ‘real world’.  Watching the initially hesitant Brand, suddenly plucked from cubicle-ville and promoted to assistant GM, come of age as a baseball front-office professional under Beane’s tutelage is a large part of the fun of this movie as well.

In Beane’s refusal to accept mediocre small-market standards for success we see inspiring hope for the little guy.  This movie is a home run, go see it.

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Larry Crowne

Dan in Reel Life favors us with a review.

Larry Crowne is a disjointed romantic comedy that is neither romantic nor comic.  It feels like the goal was to take two of America’s favorite rom-com actors, surround them with an assortment of cliched bit characters, mix in some ‘popular’ themes, and hope people pay to see it.  Tom Hanks (The Money Pit) has the title role and plays a recently fired retail employee who decides to attend community college to rebound.  Will he get together with the pretty speech teacher Mercedes (Julia Roberts, Stepmom)?

The answer (spoiler alert!) is obvious, but the larger question which is not explained is, why?  There is no apparent chemistry between the two (and no, the scene where he kisses her when she’s wasted should not be considered chemistry).  Larry actually has more of a relationship with his young student friend Talia (Gugu Mbatha-Raw, film debut), which inspires jealousy in Mercedes and provides a weak amount of tension between her and Larry.

As to the ‘comedic’ aspects of the film, the attempts at humor were often insulting, and especially so the second or third time the same joke was used (What?!  The professor took away Larry’s cell phone in class again?!  Ha-Ha-Ha-Ha!)  We were actually more entertained by some audience members who were practically falling out of their seats during these same scenes.

Lame themes abound:  WalMart is evil and likes to humiliate its employees when it fires them for no reason; banks are evil and don’t extend credit to the unemployed; the American dream has failed, you should get rid of your house and car, move to an apartment, drive a scooter, and wear second-hand clothes.

All around a bad movie, stay away from this stinker.

Morning Glory

The premiere review for new Movie Court member Dan in Reel Life

This just in: Stay away from Morning Glory. Seeking a respite from the chill of Winter’s Bone, and from the, well, grittiness of True Grit, my girlfriend and I sought shelter at the “dollar” theater ($2 on Saturday nights) for what we hoped would be fun, light-hearted fare. We left the theater laughing alright, but not for the reasons the film intended. The ridiculous premises and clichéd dialogue left us second-guessing ourselves for not walking out halfway through.

The film chronicles the efforts of its heroine, Becky Fuller (Rachel McAdams, The Family Stone) in turning around a struggling morning network TV show. In the process she battles an executive (Jeff Goldblum, The Lost World: Jurassic Park) who clearly expects her to fail and yet harasses her for her poor performance, a preexisting unmanageable anchor she promptly fires, a mother who abdicates her parental duty to support her daughter with absurd one-dimensional cruelty (“your (deceased) father was wrong to encourage your dreams” she tells Becky), and an incompetent yet quirky staff accustomed to failure. But her biggest hurdle and the crux of the film’s tension is gaining the cooperation of the legendary but disgraced anchor Mike Pomeroy (Harrison Ford, Hollywood Homicide). Becky has forced him out of retirement due to an obscure clause in his contract that will deny him severance if he refuses the job. Ironically it would seem the producers of this film coerced Ford to take the part in this stinker by some similar ruse.

It’s tough to fault the actors for the mess that is this film because the screenplay could have been written by Michael Scott. Also, Diane Keaton (The Family Stone) was in the movie. The less said about this, the better.

Grade: D-