Moneyball is a movie in fact, and not the glued-together ball of $74 in change that my father threw at me when I decided not to play sports. I jest of course (It was probably more like $25 in change. ZING!) I didn’t see Moneyball in theaters back in the fall, but I knew that I would eventually watch it on DVD because it would get some Oscar buzz. Starring Brad Pitt and Jonah Hill, Moneyball is the story of how statistics changed baseball forever. Math AND sports? That is a tall order indeed for this guy. Nevertheless, I sallied forth.
Ok, so there is a good chance that my summary will turn into an unintended parody, so bear with me sports fans. Brad Pitt plays Billy Beane, who in 1980 decided to forgo a full ride at Stanford in order to play for the New York Mets. After a series of missteps and disappointments, Beane is traded from team to team until we find him in present day (2001) as General Manager of the Oakland A’s. Beane is struggling with how to improve Oakland’s next season with a limited budget and the loss of three star players. He then discovers Peter Brand (Jonah Hill), who uses an economical eye in valuing players’ worth. Beane hires Brand and together they put together a new Oakland A’s based on this system. Beane’s methods are met with a lot of criticism and opposition, and early on in the season, the A’s don’t seem to be improving. Eventually the method pays off, leading the A’s to a 20-game winning streak. Sadly, this phenomenon doesn’t mean anything in the postseason, where they lost to the Minnesota Twins.
All logistics aside, Moneyball is a great underdog film. Billy Beane seems to be one of the unluckiest guys in baseball, but his sabermetric approach to the game became his legacy. Brad Pitt played Beane in a very Brad Pitt fashion, no complaints or praises there. Oddly enough, I was most impressed with Jonah Hill. Hill is most known for the Judd Apatow School of comedic films, where sex, drug and fart jokes run rampant. It was refreshing to see him blend into the role of Peter Brand as effortlessly as he did. Place another one of his peers in that role, say Seth Rogan, and it could’ve been disastrous. (Though 50/50 was a good movie, check it out if you haven’t already.) Overall, I would say that Moneyball is one of the classic sports films that a non-sports fan like me can appreciate.
Final Grade: B+
I’ve been putting this review off for a while now. Before viewing The Tree of Life, I knew that it had received a lot of critical praise and I was really looking forward to it because of this. After watching it however, one of my great fears about the film was confirmed: it wasn’t nearly as awesome as I would have hoped. Directed by Terrance Malick, The Tree of Life is a movie that has seen a delayed release of nearly two years. I both love and hate the word “existential;” I love the meaning, but I hate the overuse of the word. That being said, The Tree of Life is certainly an existential film, but it is more a series of open-ended questions poised towards God.
The film opens in the 1960s with Mr. and Mrs. O’Brien (Brad Pitt and Jessica Chastain) receiving a letter that their son has been killed in active duty. We then flash forward to present day, where Jack O’Brien (Sean Penn) reflects on the loss of his brother and the time spent growing up in his family. The next 30 minutes or so is a montage of the creation of life in our universe, accompanied by composer Alexandre Desplat and an array of liturgical music. (I’d hazard a guess that your average viewer would have given up by this point.) We see planets forming, volcanoes erupting, life evolving; the usual National Geographic spiel. Eventually the narrative finds its footing in the 1950s, where much of the film takes place. Jack and his two brothers live in Waco, Texas with their stern father and warm mother. Jack questions his father’s disciplinarian authority and sees hypocrisy in him that he despises. Jack looks to God and questions why he should listen to his father at all, and in one instance, asks God to kill his father. At this point in the film, Jack engages in a lot of rebellious activity, and hurts the people around him for no reason at all; he has lost a sense of morality. The end of the film seems to be a personal reconciliation for Jack with the demons of his past. It’s weird.
Barring Malick’s unconventional storytelling device, there are parts of the more grounded tale of the O’Briens that were muddled as well. For the duration of the film, The Tree of Life became an unintentional mystery for me. Which son had been killed? Was it Jack? If so, then how could he have grown up to become Sean Penn? DAMN YOU MALICK!!!!! The main issue with The Tree of Life is that it is two different stories that never truly congeal. I respect the overall theme of the film, however. The montages of creation are basically operatic music videos; very beautiful and powerful stuff. Malick’s decision to intersperse these scenes of creation with a mother and son’s search for life’s meaning is a wonderful idea. The problem is the final product of The Tree of Life can’t support the weight of that lofty ambition.
Final Grade: B-
The following review shall consist of an internal struggle between optimism and cynicism.
The simplest response I can give you after viewing Steven Spielberg’s War Horse is that Steven Spielberg most certainly made it. In fact, I think that is the sole reason it was nominated in the Best Picture category for the 2012 Academy Awards. The film isn’t bad by any means, I just wasn’t astounded.
War Horse is a World War I era tale of a thoroughbred horse and the profound effect that it has on the people who encounter it. Most importantly of all is Albert, who raises the horse from an early age, trying to prove to his father Joey’s (the horse) worth. At the start of the war, Albert’s father sells Joey to a soldier, who leads him into battle against the Germans. Throughout the course of the film, we see Joey with a variety of different owners going through the turmoil of way; civilian and solider alike. Joey also serves both sides of the war, which allows the audience to sympathize with “the enemy.” Albert himself enters the war and we see the fear and dangers that he faces on the front line.
Talking to my Dad about the film, he told me that World War I had more than twice as many casualties as the Vietnam War (Wikipedia tells me that there were at least 10 million more.) With this in mind, the film paints a good picture of lives affected by the devastation of war. We see Joey interact with German deserters, loving families trying to keep the war out of reach and harsh soldier taskmasters, German and English alike. The changing of hands of the horse was a storytelling device that was a welcome surprise I enjoyed about the film. What I couldn’t get over however was the intense attachment everyone in the film had to the horse. Now I realize that War Horse is based on a play which in turn is based on a children’s novel. I’m not asking for more “realism” in my films, but the fact that Albert carried around a sketch of his long-lost horse made him either A) an immense loser or B) a character out of Equus; which is far more disturbing. I am no hater of animals by any means, and I was giving the film a chance until (SPOILER ALERT) the climax of the film where the Germans and the British stop their fighting to help Joey out of barbed wire. Because of my response my best friend says I’m an A-hole, which may be true. Regardless, times of war see losses of all kinds, and the emotional investment that is placed in one horse seems a little absurd to me. All of that is a discourse that I will allow you to have amongst yourselves entitled The Moral of Morale: Weighing the Lives of Fictional Animals vs. Fictional People; so have at it.
There are a fair amount of cameos from various British actors in the film that might have you saying things like: “Ridiculous! That’s Professor Lupin!” or “By Thor’s hammer! It’s Loki!” This would be the proper response for a nerd. If you are not a nerd, you are most likely not reading this review at all. After all is said and done, War Horse is a good movie with a lot of heart. Do I think it is Best Picture? No sir.
Final Grade: B