"You can map your life through your favorite movies, and no two people's maps will be the same." - Mary Schmich

Monday, March 31, 2014

12 Movies That Would Have Been Better With An R-Rating


I think a valid argument could be made that the Motion Picture Association of America has, in many ways, diminished cinematic potential for the American film-maker. Destroyed it? No.  But when a movie has to adhere to stringent guidelines that alter the creative process of a film, something is lost. Imagine being a baker and only having Sweet-and-Low at your disposal, or being a mechanic and having your socket wrenches stolen. It leaves the artist with one less tool in his metaphorical tool belt, and changes the way his masterpiece must be created. Maybe that’s a bit of a stretch; after all, the use of violence, sex, and profanity are by no means the only elements of a film, but it’s undeniable that, when used appropriately and artistically, they can help create context, character, intensity, and believability. Many films have been made that land right on the cusp of greatness, and fall just barely short, largely due to parameters set by the films’ rating. They are by no means BAD films, but if allowed more artistic embellishment they could have been SPECTACULAR films. Therefore, I give you 15 Movies That Would Have Been Better With an R-Rating.

Pacific Rim

Easily the best big-budget blockbuster film of the summer of 2013, the only way to make this film better would have been to grant it the freedom of an R rating. The film is set in the 2020s, when Earth is at war with the Kaijus, colossal monsters which have emerged from an interdimensional portal on the bottom of the Pacific Ocean. To combat the monsters, humanity unites to create the Jaegers: gigantic humanoid mecha, each controlled by at least two pilots, whose minds are joined by a neural bridge. The film boasts truly spectacular special effects and totally badass battle sequences spanning vast backdrops of ocean. While most films of this genre are cookie-cutter city-destroying monster movies, Pacific Rim breaks the mold by presenting a unique concept that can most aptly be described as Godzilla meets Star Wars…meets Transformers. With the freedom an R rating brings, Pacific Rim could have peppered in some grittier violence into the mix of already awesome action sequences, making the film that much more Herculean.

The Monuments Men

It’s hard to defend a film that was given poor reviews as consistently as The Monuments Men was. The less-than-favorable critical reception was likely due to how intensely boring the movie was at many parts, and its intense-boringness is most certainly due to the fact it’s a WWII-era war flick that has to work within the parameters of its PG-13 rating. The film follows an allied group tasked with finding and saving pieces of art and other culturally important items before their destruction by Hitler during World War II. While the premise isn’t that of your typical war film, it’s also lacking the elements that make most war films successful. The Monuments Men boasts almost no battle scenes or gritty war violence and eventually boils down to a film about old geezers wandering around the European countryside looking for stolen paintings. That being said, I think the film had enormous potential, and I don’t think its lack of success can entirely be blamed on George Clooney (director and star). Think Saving Private Ryan, Platoon, Glory, Last of the Mohicans. What makes them great? Their believability, authenticity, and integrity. How was this achieved? By creating a movie that accurately portrays the look, feel, and mood of its given conflict, and to do this almost assuredly requires the film to have an R rating, because unfortunately WWII-era Germany and the Jungles of Vietnam during 1965 weren’t exactly appropriate for children ages 15-and-under.

Accepted

Accepted is a 2006 comedy film directed by Steve Pink. The plot follows a group of high school graduates who create their own "college" after being rejected from the colleges to which they applied. While being raucously hilarious as-is, the film did a serious injustice to itself by having to adhere to its PG-13 parameters. With a style and subject matter reminiscent of Animal House and Van Wilder, this film boasts a pretty unique plot and isn’t just your typical college-set film filled with shenanigans and partying, as the previously-mentioned films are.  While the LOL’s are consistent throughout the movie, the freedom to make the film more true to the college experience would have made it all the more funny.

Pearl Harbor

Speaking of WWII-era war movies that had enormous potential and ended up being spectacularly terrible, remember Pearl Harbor? This version of the infamous attack was brought to you by Michael Bay and Jerry Bruckheimer, and is a dramatic reimagining of The Blitz, Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and the subsequent Doolittle Raid. The first major flaw of this project can probably be attributed to whoever had the idea of handing over creative control of a historically-significant war film to the creative geniuses behind Armageddon. The second major flaw was trying to make this film inside the guidelines of a PG-13 rating. As previously discussed with The Monuments Men, believability and authenticity are the key elements to a successful war film, and unfortunately that usually means blood and gritty war violence. If there was a third major flaw to this film, it was probably a script that consisted of 10% historical war-drama (as was advertised) and 90% laughable chick-flick.
   
Disturbia


Disturbia is a 2007 teen thriller slasher film that is partly inspired by Alfred Hitchcock's Rear Window, directed by D. J. Caruso. Starring the now controversy-laden Shia LeBouf, this film hails from the era of his pre-douchebag status, back in the day before he sported a 5 o’clock shadow and an unwarranted sense of entitlement. Despite being in a class of usually B-list suspense movies, the artistic team behind Disturbia actually did a pretty good job. It’s interesting, sometimes funny, and often pretty scary. That being said, it’s apparent that the film had to operate in a way that made it appropriate for its intended teen audience. While it does keep you on the edge of your seat, it doesn’t sport any Cabin in the Woods-esque violence, Saw-esque gore, or Hitchcock-esque intensity that could have brought it from good to great.


Meet the Parents

Probably Ben Stillers biggest success of his filmography, Meet the Parents actually offers a masterclass in how to make a hilarious PG-13 comedy. However, that still doesn’t mean that it wouldn’t have been an even BETTER R-rated comedy. The film stars Ben Stiller and Robert DeNiro and chronicles a series of unfortunate events that befall a good-hearted but hapless nurse while visiting his girlfriend's parents. As previously stated, this film is consistently hilarious even with its modest rating. The comedic chemistry between Stiller and DeNiro is palpable, and could most accurately be branded as “slapstick”. However, with a few dirtier jokes tossed into the mix, this films hilarity would certainly know no bounds.

John Q

Who remembers this movie? As expected, there aren’t many metaphorical raised hands. Despite being a well-crafted hostage thriller, this movie didn’t register as much more than a blip on the cinematic Richter scale. The film follows John Quincy Archibald (Denzel Washington), a father and husband whose son is diagnosed with an enlarged heart and then finds out he cannot receive a transplant because HMO insurance will not cover it; therefore, he decides to take a hospital full of patients hostage until the hospital puts his son's name on the recipient's list. Most critics and cinephiles attribute this movies lack of success to the blatant criticism of the healthcare system that lies at the core of its storyline. While this may be true, the PG-13 rating didn’t help matters much either. Unlike great hostage flicks like Dog Day Afternoon, Inside Man, and The Negotiator, John Q just wasn’t very convincing. A good hostage thriller will make you scared of the hostage taker and/or scared to be a hostage, and to do this requires the use of cinematic elements that would probably land the movie an R-rating (like the aforementioned great hostage movies have).  

Robin Hood

One of five pair-ups between Russell Crowe and legendary director Ridley Scott, Robin Hood tells the well-known story of archer-turned-outlaw Robin Longstride, who steals from the rich and gives to the needy. As with several other movies on this list, Robin Hood was an excellent film even with a PG-13 rating.  Despite its historical accuracy being sometimes questionable (most notably the last 30 minutes of muddled Magna Carta material), Robin Hood featured excellent acting performances by Crowe, Cate Blanchett, Mark Addy, and the iconic Max von Sydow. The costumes and makeup are superb, the cinematography is top-notch, and the action is pretty intense. Give the film an R-rating however, and those action scenes and battle sequences would be more reminiscent of the other fantastic Crowe/Scott matchup Gladiator, and the film would climb up one more rung on the ladder of baddassery.

The Green Hornet

Another movie that’s hard to defend, The Green Hornet is widely considered to be one of the worst superhero flicks among the ranks of the past 15 years’ surge of Marvel and DC comic pictures (not to be confused with The Green Lantern, which earned similar critical scorn). Following the death of his father, Britt Reid (Seth Rogen), heir to his father's large company, teams up with his late dad's assistant Kato to become a masked crime fighting team. This film stands alone amongst its comic cohorts, however, in that it added an edge of reoccurring comic relief that you don’t find in Spiderman, Thor, and X-Men. Unfortunately, its attempts at humor (along with the oddball plot and relatively weak acting) fell flat, largely due to the films PG-13 rating. Give this movie  an R-rating, and pair that up with Rogen’s usual hilarious comedic styling’s, and this movie would have stood apart from other superhero movies as a funny, edgy comic book pillar that gave a fresh makeover to a widely-loved hero.

Empire Records

One of the most popular coming-of-age movies of the 80’s/90’s, Empire Records follows a group of record store employees over the course of one exceptional day. The employees of this independent music store try to fight off becoming a large chain, all while learning about each other. The film is pretty much unanimously-loved by all, and whose only debatable flaw might be its rating. The film does a pretty good job of showcasing the life of a teenager during the time period, but given the freedom of more immature sexual humor and obscenity, would it not be even MORE believable? No teenager censors themselves that much.

 The Great Debaters
Another Denzel Washington piece that, while being an all-around decent piece of cinema, didn’t quite live up to its potential, in large part to its PG-13 rating. A drama based on the true story of Melvin B. Tolson, a professor at Wiley College Texas. In 1935, he inspired students to form the school's first debate team, which went on to challenge Harvard in the national championship. What makes this film great is that it proves an inspiring, emotional story based around a college debate team, something that’s usually complete void of inspiration or emotion. What made this film not so great was that it made almost no attempts at embracing the racially divided southern culture of the 1930’s. While it did highlight the segregation in the schools and public facilities, what was lacking was a showcase of the intense racial and social inequalities amongst the actual population. While illustrating this would surely necessitate the use of racial slurs and violence (likely giving it an R-rating) it would have propelled the film into the ranks of other period pieces that painted an accurate portrayal of black prejudice like Driving Miss Daisy, Malcom X, and Mississippi Burning.


Finding Forrester
This film being his second-to-last movie before his retirement (immediately followed by The League of Extraordinary Gentleman, which earned even less critical acclaim), I’m sure Sean Connery was hoping to go out with more of a bang. Finding Forrester tells the story of a black American teenager, Jamal Wallace, who is invited to attend a prestigious private high school. By chance, Jamal befriends a reclusive writer, William Forrester (Sean Connery), through whom he refines his natural talent for writing and comes to terms with his identity. We’re so used to immediately associating Sean Connery as the iconic James Bond that we often forget that he’s also capable of fantastic dramatic performances, and not just bedding Bond-girls and shooting at Oddjob. Few of his films prove this quite like Finding Forrester, in which he constructs a character that’s inspiring, towering, but ultimately flawed and scared. Given its PG-13 rating, however, the film lost the inner-city Brooklyn feel that would have rounded it out as a gritty, emotional drama that surely would have won more praise from audiences. Still a fantastic film, nonetheless.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Phillip Seymour Hoffman





To say that Phillip Seymour Hoffman was the sole catalyst for my love of the movies might be an exaggeration, but not a very big one. Sure, I always watched and enjoyed movies growing up, but I viewed them the way that most folks probably do- entertainment, a cure for boredom, something to do on a first date, etc. It wasn’t until I saw Doubt that I realized that films were art, perhaps even art in one of its purest forms. For those of you that haven’ seen Doubt, Phil plays the principal at a Catholic school in Brooklyn during the 1960’s accused of having an inappropriate relationship with one of the students at the school,  and has to square-off with a fellow teacher at the school (played by Meryl Streep) who is convinced of his guilt. This wasn’t the first Hoffman film I had seen, but this film absolutely and unequivocally changed the way that I watch movies. His performance was so real, authentic, and engrossing. I wasn’t watching Phil playing a torn catholic priest, I was watching that priest. It’s not his most well-known film (nor his Oscar-winning film), but I’m still convinced that it exemplifies his gift and his brilliance more than all the rest of his work.  

Phillip never once did a movie for a paycheck. Nearly every actor-no matter how famous or iconic- has put out at least one piece of drivel; one film that reminds us that even movie stars have to bring home the bacon. Even worse, every actor and actress seems to make at least one terrible decision during their career, agreeing to do a film that seems to have potential, but ends up being a crapshoot, both artistically and financially. Not Phil. He meticulously selected his films, studied the script, and became the character. Even on the rare occasion that he agreed to do a big-budget blockbuster film (like Mission: Impossible III) his characters were still authentic and pure. It’s often said that you can be an actor or you can be a movie star, but not both. Phil perfectly exemplified that sentiment. He wasn’t interested in fame or stature, nor did he concern himself with tabloids or public opinion as the rest of Hollywood does. He was an artist, plain and simple, and maybe even the defining actor of this generation. For one generation it was Marlon Brando, for another generation it was Jack Nicholson. Phillip Seymour Hoffman was that actor for me and for us.

I’ve always named PSH as my favorite actor without hesitation or a second thought, and as I previously mentioned it would hardly be a stretch to call him the driving force behind my cinematic passion. For these reasons, I was hit especially hard by the news of his passing.  I was a bit late in hearing about it (I just moved into a new apartment that is still lacking internet connection), but I woke up yesterday to text messages from 5 or 6 different friends and relatives all alerting me of the news. Many of them even expressed their condolences to me, as if I knew PHIL personally. In a weird way, I felt like I did. When Whitney Houston and Michael Jackson passed, I remember observing others who seemed so devastated by it and smugly wondering to myself how someone could be so affected by the death of a person they never even met. For me, Whitney Houston and MJ were just names; not to say they weren’t incredibly gifted or worthy of admiration, they just didn’t happen to be artists with whom I ever really connected. But when I heard the news about PSH, my very first thought was “what now?” In retrospect I’m not really sure what was meant by that. I think he was such a beacon in cinema for me that I can’t imagine the art form continuing without him. I know it will, but I’m not sure how.

Rest in Peace Phil, and thank you.




Thursday, April 4, 2013

Roger Ebert




I wish I had a more justifiable reason as to why I haven’t faithfully and regularly updated this blog in close to 2 years. I wish I could say it was because I’ve been heinously busy or preoccupied with more worthy endeavors; unfortunately laziness, depression, and lack of motivation are the true culprits. The last 2 years of my life couldn’t accurately be described as “peachy”, to say the least. I relocated 2,000 miles away for a promising job, only to get there and slowly discover that the job was trivial and frivolous. Upon successfully finding a new job back in Rochester I eagerly moved home, only to find myself unemployed again 3 months later. I then spent the last 4 months on a fruitless employment search, leading to an increasing sense of hopelessness and a severe decrease in self-esteem. I’ve also finely tuned my ability to translate wallowing self-pity into the written word (that last part was the comic relief). Point being, sitting down in front of a computer and cranking out a thoughtful and provocative piece on the happenings of the cinematic community hasn’t been on the forefront of my consciousness as of late.

But then this afternoon while mindlessly scrolling through my Facebook newsfeed, I read about the

passing of iconic journalist and film critic Roger Ebert. It’s probably safe to say that Ebert was the most well-known movie critic of all time, and certainly one of the most recognizable names within the movie world, aside from the artists themselves. Roger Ebert was largely influential to me, a self-proclaimed movie enthusiast; I’ve read many of his books, kept regular tabs on his essays and reviews, and even took it upon myself to watch every movie on his list of the “100 Greatest Films” (Admittedly, I only made it about halfway through The Maltese Falcon). That all being said, I’ve always had great admiration for him as a writer and great respect for the contribution he made to the art form. What I didn’t realize until this afternoon, however, is how thoughtful of a person he was and how empathetic he always strived to be. Most know about his achievements in film criticism and journalism, but few (including myself until today) are aware that Roger was thoughtful and intensely human. After reading of his passing, I spent some time perusing various press releases and news coverage of his death. Most of them contained the same pedigree information; his achievements, his Pulitzer Prize, his long-time alcoholism, his fight with cancer, etc. I then came across the following quote from Roger in a Chicago Sun Times article on his death:

“Kindness covers all of my political beliefs.  No need to spell them out. I believe that if, at the end, according to our abilities, we have done something to make others a little happier, and something to make ourselves a little happier, that is about the best we can do. To make others less happy is a crime. To make ourselves unhappy is where all crime starts. We must try to contribute joy to the world.”

Rarely in my life have I ever been moved in such a way by such a simple, accessible sentiment.  Navigating through trials, tribulations, and difficulty becomes all the more easy if we can simply remember to always strive to make others happy, while also finding and doing what brings us the most joy. Movies make me happy. I love getting lost in a good story, learning new things, being transported to different places, and becoming different characters.  I think I’ve forgotten that lately, and have been robbing myself of so much potential happiness because of it. So from now on, I am going to do my best to actively watch and critique movies new and old, as well as write about them on this medium. Because doing that makes me happy. Hopefully some part of it makes other people happy too. And after spending close to 5 decades writing about the movies, I believe Roger would want us to remember that simple message over everything else he gave us.
Rest in Peace Roger, and save me some Milk Duds.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

"OH BOYS, I'M BACKKKKKKK"


What better way to usher in my return to the world of cinematic blogging than with the grandest quote of the most grandiose character from the most epic Sci-Fi movie? Thank you Randy Quaid, your B-list film career and debilitating alcoholism (both on-screen and off) have finally served a purpose.

Who is this Colin fellow you ask? To some, a hero. To others, a titan of the written word. To a few, he is merely a stocky ginger from Western New York with an affinity for the big screen and entirely too much free time. I'd like to think that all of these perceptions are correct. That's right cohorts, I return to you after a 15 month hiatus, and I must say it's never felt so good to be back. You may be asking yourselves "Colin, what on God's green Earth have you been doing with yourself for the past 1.25 years to the point where you couldn't spare a few minutes for us, your loyal readers and most devoted devotees?" Well friends, I could regale you with tales of cross-country plights, Texas, adventure and intrigue, the likes of which Tolkien and Rowling would find themselves weeping in a corner, but that's not why I'm here. I'm here because I've had the pleasure of taking in a slew of quite noteworthy blockbusters over the past several months, and decided there was no better time to make a triumphant return to my most beloved blog of days past.

For this first entry into what I'm calling "Reel Talk 2.AWESOME", I'm only going to write a brief blurb on each movie, as to give each piece their time in the spotlight (though some of them don't deserve it). For future posts, expect a more in-depth analyzation.


Incredible. A story about spirituality, the soul, human perseverance, and the amazing power and beauty of nature, not to mention the most stunning use of effects and CGI since Avatar. As a self-admitted cynic who typically hides his emotions behind a brick wall of sarcasm and fart jokes, I fully admit that this movie brought me close to tears at times, laughter at others, and left me purely awestruck when the end credits started rolling. Life of Pi entertained, while also telling a beautifully human story. This movie will likely sweep up all the technical and visual awards at this year's Oscars, but the real travesty would be if it wasn't considered a front-runner for both Best Picture and Best Director (Ang Lee) as well.


Phenomenal. Daniel Day-Lewis and Tommy Lee-Jones both gave one of the strongest performances of their careers (for Day-Lewis probably THE strongest), the script was brilliant, the cinematography/costumes/scenery were breathtaking, and the film as a whole completely captured the political climate surrounding possibly the most important amendment to our constitution. While you're probably expecting a movie about the Civil War or possibly about slavery, Lincoln couldn't accurately be described as either of those. It's a film that's equal parts historical, political, dramatic, suspenseful, and humorous. What makes this film so special, however, is that you don't need to be a politician or historian to enjoy it, or even understand it's importance.  While Lincoln impresses on all levels, the biggest tip-of-the-hat must go to Daniel Day-Lewis. It's challenging enough to undertake the portrayal of a historical icon and arguably our most important president ever, but to do so having nothing to mold your performance besides letters, books and the like makes the performance that much more impressive. When Denzel Washington portrayed Malcom X, he had the luxury of watching speech footage and hearing first-hand accounts of the man. Meryl Streep had similar conveniences when playing Margaret Thatcher in The Iron Lady. Heck, even Peter O'toole wasn't very far removed in history from Lawrence of Arabia. Day-Lewis, however, had to construct his character from scratch; he could have just as easily been tasked with portraying a talking hippopotamus. And yet, his Lincoln is somehow exactly as you've likely always imagined him, down to his voice and strut. A true masterpiece.


To say that I have fickle feelings about Cloud Atlas would be about as obvious as saying I have fickle feelings about the best brand of peanut butter...just kidding, LONG LIVE JIF. But seriously, nearly a month after seeing this movie I still haven't quite pegged how I feel about it. On the one hand, it was visually and technically spectacular; one might even say TOO spectacular (at times it felt like I was being mugged by a laser light show). The concept as a whole is intriguing: take a cast of 4 or 5 and have them portray different characters throughout vastly different periods in history and show how their actions affect past, present, and future versions of themselves. The soundtrack to the movie was actually very well-done; if it stands a solid chance in any Oscar category, it will likely be for it's score. Some of the acting performances were even noteworthy (Jim Broadbent in particular. That might be my well-documented Harry Potter bias shining through, though). That all being said, the film simply tried to do TOO MUCH. Characters were introduced and not fully developed, futuristic societies were explored but not explained, and relationships were left hanging.  It's a movie that you can hardly blink or pause for popcorn intake if you want a prayer of catching key dialogue and plot points, and even then you don't stand much of a chance of connecting all the dots. Maybe I just need to see it 3 or 4 more times, but for now the best I can do is give the movie an overwhelming shoulder-shrug.


What's that you say, you're looking for a movie that discreetly mocks modern scientific pseudo-cults while at the same time features scenes of shockingly grotesque group foreplay? HAVE I GOT THE MOVIE FOR YOU! The Master is about the relationship between Lancaster Dodd (Phillip Seymour-Hoffman), the founder/leader of a cult known as "The Cause", and Freddy Quell (Joaquin Phoenix), an impressionable WWII vet who becomes one of the movement's founding members.  The movie traces the early origins of the cult, explores some of it's strange recruitment and seduction methods, and shows how truly malleable the human mind can be. While Paul Thomas Anderson and the rest of the writers and production staff viciously denied it, it's pretty obvious that the movie was telling the story of Scientology and L. Ron Hubbard, a realization that ultimately makes the movie vastly more interesting. While I would ultimately call this movie a success and say that I did truly enjoy it, it toed a very fine line with one of my main arthouse movie beefs: being artsy for artsy-ness' (lol) sake. It ended up landing relatively firmly on the acceptable side of that divide, but a single more scene that featured minimal dialogue and maximum inquisitive staring may have tipped it over into the realm of Melancholia.


I have nothing but overwhelming pride in being a huge James Bond nerd. It makes sense; he's slick, cool, and classy, drives expensive cars and gets all the ladies, so as you can imagine, watching the films is a bit like gazing into a mirror for me. Naturally I was ecstatic to see Skyfall, and I'm happy to report that it did not disappoint.  I should probably preface that with a warning that you likely will read reviews/message board rants/scuttlebutt of the opposite effect, but there’s a simple explanation for that: most people are stupid. That came off a bit harsh, let me rephrase: most people want to be spoon-fed something safe, predictable, and monotonous, and Skyfall is none of those things. It certainly doesn’t have many of the well-known trappings of Bond films to-date, and while many criticized this, I found it to be refreshing. How many more cookie-cutter versions of the same “Shaken, not Stirred”, Bond girl swooning, Astin-Martin driving films could possibly be made? Skyfall was fresh and unique, with a plot that was actually palpable (unlike the film’s abysmal predecessor Quantum of Solace), acting that was real and believable, but with the same breathtaking scenery, special effects, and action sequences that we’ve come to expect from the Bond franchise. I’m personally itching to get back to the theatre and see it again.






Argo centers on a CIA operative who, in order to rescue American hostages from a seized U.S Embassy in Tehran, assumes the identity of a film producer entering the country to shoot footage for a science fiction film. If you’re wondering why you’re not familiar with this event or why you never learned about it in college, it’s likely because the records of the entire operation were deemed classified by the CIA until the Clinton administration. Argo was a fantastic success for many reasons, but I think the biggest factor that made this movie so great was its ability to take a story that’s gripping, intense, and even scary, and inject it with the perfect amount of comedy and exactly the right times. These moments are largely due to the acting performances of Alan Arkin, one of my favorite actors, who delivers probably his most hilarious performance since Little Miss Sunshine. Tips-of-the-hat also go to John Goodman for an equally hilarious performance, and Ben Affleck for both his superb acting and directing.


 

As I just saw A Late Quartet last night, it may receive an unjustly-high level of attention, it being the freshest in my mind. The fact that this movie has flown largely under the radar of mainstream cinematic buzz is the biggest travesty so far this Oscar season, because it is one of the best that I’ve seen thus far, and certainly one of the best music-related films made in years (especially if you have an affinity for classical music).  The story is simple enough: a world-renowned string quartet faces trying times when its cellist gets diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, the 2nd violinist and violist (who are married) start having difficulties in their marriage, and the first violinist enters into a scandalous relationship with a much younger girl. Don’t let this description paint pictures of soap opera silliness or Twilight-esque teen drama; the story is gripping and powerful. The film shows the viewer precisely how art and the human qualities of the artist co-exist.  Music is such a demanding creature, and often requires all of our efforts and energy to do it the justice it deserves, but then what is left for our relationships, loved ones, and personal well-being? A late Quartet attempts to answer this question.
Other films I've seen recently that I didn't feel strongly enough about either way to discuss them any further (Looper and Flight were especially terrible):
 


 

    

Monday, October 24, 2011

Moneyball

It seems as though every one of my blog posts starts out with a blubbering apology pertaining to inactivity or the abhorrent amount of time that has passed since my last submission, and this post is unfortunately no exception.  Between working in the RPO box office, interning in the marketing department at Geva Theatre, applying to grad schools and all the essay writing/paperwork that goes into that, and trying to find fleeting moments throughout the day to sleep, eat, and pass bowel movements, the blog in which I enjoy writing for so dearly has unfortunately been moved to the back burner. No one is more ashamed than I that my eager and enthusiastic fellow cinema buffs have been neglected since mid-July; but rest assured, this post is guaranteed to wet your artistic whistle and leave you shouting to the silver screen gods “Just HOW does Colin do it?!”

Though busy I have been during the recent months since my last post, I have still managed to wrestle away some free time to do what I love more than almost anything (save for maybe bare-knuckle boxing, knitting cat sweaters, and watching Judge Mathis)- enjoying great movies. Some are the classics that I am slowly trying to check off my list, some are Oscar hopefuls, and others fall somewhere in-between. For this piece, I am going to discuss Moneyball, the most recent Brad Pitt-featured sports drama.

I’ve always had something of a love-hate relationship with sports movies.  Not to say that the “love” side of that equation doesn’t get equal attention; Rudy, Field of Dreams, and Remember the Titans are, in my opinion, some of the more fantastic movies ever made. When done well, they can inspire and tell a great story, and are often chalked full of fine acting performances (I say with pride that I’ve always been a sucker for Emilio Estevez’s Coach Bombay). Field of Dreams in particular will always hold special meaning for me, it also being one of my Dads favorite movies. Watching it with him is a treat, as he is a wealth of knowledge on the subject of baseball history, hitting the pause button frequently to tell stories of the 1920’s White Sox and how Shoeless Joe Jackson got his nickname.  That all being said, for every good sports flick that gets made it seems as though they tower upon a mountain of 100 disastrous ones.  Too often they try, in vain, to tug at the heartstrings of the viewer or beat you over the head with the proverbial stick of sentimentality, sacrificing the artistry or integrity of the film in attempts to draw a tear from the viewer as Samuel L. Jackson unites the inner-city high school basketball team with his preachings of tough-love.

I am happy to report that Moneyball is guilty of none of the aforementioned crimes.  Veering away from the typical underdog story- model that most sports movies adhere to, Moneyball is a voyeur into the business of baseball and the world of scouting, centering on Billy Beane and the story behind the 2002 Oakland Athletics. The film is based on a true story (like most sports movies are), and tells the story of how Billy (Brad Pitt) and assistant GM Peter Brand (Jonah Hill) pioneered the practice of scouting and assembling a baseball team based not on typical methods, but on sabermetrics and analysis of complex mathematical formula, a system that was, at the time, highly risky and equally unpopular among clubhouses and baseball management.
The movie begins with an introduction to Billy Beane, the once-promising MLB rookie turned baseball scout turned General Manager of the Oakland Athletics; a team that, at the time, wasn’t on the radar as a promising baseball franchise, nor was it sporting the fattest wallet in the business. While other ballclubs like the New York Yankees had never-ending oceans of money in which to scout the top players and assemble an unstoppable force of athletes, the A’s had a fraction of the budget to work with, making the task of assembling a championship team a seemingly impossible one. Recognizing this, Bean begins to think outside the box, and a new and untapped option presents itself when he meets Peter Brand, a recent Yale graduate of Economics, working as a lowly researcher for the Cleveland Indians. Brand presents Bean with an alternative approach to baseball scouting: instead of dumping your entire budget on one or two top-hitting, steroids-riddled big shots (as most clubs were doing at the time), gather a larger group of players who have seemingly lower value, but who have excellent On Base Percentage (OBP), something that usually isn’t given as much attention as features like batting averages and career home runs when scouting new players. Predictably, the idea is met with enormous hostility from the owner and the rest of the A’s scouting staff. Forging ahead with the plan in despite of them, Beane recruits a team of washed up, under-valued, B-list athletes who, after overcoming a rocky beginning to the season, lead the A’s to 20 consecutive wins, a landmark record for Major League Baseball.

What makes this movie so unique is what it offers: a look behind the scenes. Baseball is as American as apple pie, country music, and Denny’s Grand Slam breakfast, thus the game itself is no longer much of a mystery to most of us. However, the business side of the sport is a side that most of us are unfamiliar with. How do ballclubs put together a team? How is it decided what new players have potential and exactly how much they are worth? Though this may initially not seem as glitzy and exciting a story as one featured on the game itself, it will captivate you. This is the direct result of superb acting and an even more superbly-written screenplay.  Brad Pitt delivers his highest caliber performance since Inglorious Bastards, and even more surprising is the reserved, articulate character crafted by Jonah Hill, who has become synonymous with Judd Apatow-esque features and perhaps not taken seriously up to this point as a talented actor.  The screenplay is one of the best in the history of sports dramas; the pace of the film is slow enough so the viewer can be absorbed into the story and really latch on, but fast enough to avoid becoming dull, a pit that seems like it would be easy to fall in to when making a movie about baseball statistics. Great acting, great script, great cinematography. It will surely be getting Oscar nods come February, but don’t wait that long to see Moneyball. If you do, well, you’re just un-American.