Monday, September 26, 2011
A League of His Own
By Thomas Delapa
Brad Pitt is easy to like.
He might be the most likable big-league male star around, George Clooney, Matt Damon and Tom Hanks notwithstanding. If you throw in his liberal-minded leanings on top of looks and easygoing charm, Pitt is batting close to a thousand.
But likability, like good intentions, can be a road to perdition—just ask Barack Obama. For my money, Moneyball should have been called Brad Pitt Ball (or The Money Pitt). Gee coach, didn’t anyone tell him that there’s no “I” in team?
In this wobbly inside pitch at baseball, Pitt plays Billy Beane, architect of the Oakland Athletics’ winning ways beginning in the early 2000s. As a young general manager determined to shake up the old game, Beane took the A’s from the cellar to the penthouse in 2002, mostly with a bunch of bargain-basement players.
Not unlike Tom Cruise in his tailor-made Mission Impossible franchise, Pitt is close to a one-man team while the ballplayers themselves are as anonymous as the actors playing them. Pitt only shares the spotlight with Jonah Hill, cast as a boyish baseball wonk who convinces Beane that obscure statistical analysis (now called “sabermetrics”) can help turn the A’s from zeroes to heroes.
From a 2003 book by Michael Lewis, director Bennett Miller (Capote) fields a film that curiously stays outside the foul lines, focusing largely on Beane’s unorthodox moves that threw a curve at baseball’s most hidebound traditions for evaluating talent. Beane not only has to win out against conventional wisdom, but has to spar with his old-school manager (a sour Philip Seymour Hoffman), who thinks Beane’s ideas are totally off-base.
While hardcore fans will likely enjoy this scruffy, locker-room look at the game, most audiences may want to reach for an overpriced beer. Director Miller’s costliest error might be that he tosses in a minimum of on-field drama, and only as fuzzy TV replays. You can look it up: Compared to The Natural or even A League of Their Own, Moneyball has all the action of a seventh-inning stretch.
Sunday, September 11, 2011
By Steven Rosen
Even though Errol Morris’ best-known documentary, Oscar-winner The Fog of War, was about one of the most important men of modern American times – Robert McNamara, Secretary of Defense when the Vietnam War started – the director has always shown a penchant for films about offbeat, colorful characters whose life stories are more weird than profound.
He’s returned to that predilection with Tabloid, the bizarre story of an American beauty queen – Joyce McKinney – who in the 1970s chased her runaway Mormon boyfriend to England, where she kidnapped him, manacled him to a bed, and had her sexual way with him. The story was a huge tabloid sensation in England; she eventually did some jail time and disappeared from the public eye.
Until a couple years ago, that is, when she went to South Korea to clone her beloved dog. Morris loves vividly expressive, emotional interview subjects; his camera studies their faces as Rembrandt would when doing a portrait.
And has he ever got a live wire in McKinney! She is so charming, naughtily flirty yet defiantly defensive today about all her actions. But she wears out her welcome, as does our interest in her 15-minutes-of-fame story, well before the film is over. It becomes pretty clear she’s an unreliable witness, and the film grows tedious since her kidnap subject – still alive – doesn’t participate in the film.
Morris’ attempt to broaden the subject matter to investigate Britain’s tabloid culture is a good call – British tabloid journalists also make colorful on-camera interview subjects – but compared to the revelations now sweeping that country about Rupert Murdoch’s corrupt tabloid empire, this is pretty minor stuff.
Since cooperating with Morris, by the way, McKinney has turned against the film and been vociferously complaining about how it makes her look.
(From Cincinnati CityBeat, 8-31-11)