Moneyball (2011) Review

26 01 2012

Copyright 2011 Columbia Pictures

★ ★ ★ ★

With the announcement of the Oscars and things starting to settle down a bit after the move, it is now time for me to begin my annual ritual of watching as many of the nominated films as possible.  Since this film has already been released on DVD, it was an easy choice to get ahold of as I start my journey through what is left of the year’s best films that I haven’t yet seen.

I love it, for my blogging purposes at least, when movies are easy to summarize; this one might be the easiest film summary of any I’ve written yet.  The movie is based on the true story of Oakland Athletics General Manager and former pro player Billy Beane (Bradd Pitt), who rather than replace three key players that were traded from his roster to richer teams the standard way, employs a statistician, Peter Brand (Jonah Hill), in hopes of creating a winning team by the numbers on a budget.  Couldn’t be much easier than that, right?

Though the film is easy to summarize, that doesn’t mean that it isn’t a good film.  Just as I was not a fan of the vampire genre, but really enjoyed Let the Right One In, I’m not a huge fan of sports movies, but really liked this one.  Pitt gives a commanding and heartfelt performance as Beane, and the theme of the movie, to challenge old fashion values when you believe they are no longer valid or right, really hits home with the conditions plaguing our country currently.

This film was also a welcome return of director Bennett Miller who hasn’t made a feature since 2005 with the exquisitely well-done Capote.  So far in my tally, I can’t call this the best film of the year, but it is a very well made and engaging movie.  Though I am happy for Jonah Hill’s nomination, I don’t know that his performance was that endearing or that far separated from a normal Jonah Hill performance; however, Pitt’s performance could be some strong contention in the Best Actor category.

Even non sports fans like myself will find something to love about this film.  Honestly, it’s the best sports movie I’ve seen in a long time and, though not a fan of the genre per se, I have seen my fair share and completely understand the allure and magic of the game(s).  It will be interesting to see if Pitt hits Oscar glory this year; though a huge star in many respects, this comes as only his third Oscar nomination.  His previous being for the leading role in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button in 2008 and first for supporting actor in 1995’s 12 Monkeys, a personal favorite of mine.

The Tree of Life (2011) Review

6 12 2011

Copyright 2011 Brace Cove Productions

★ ★ 1/2

I’ve never been a devoted fan of Terrence Malick, though I have enjoyed a great number of his movies, notably Badlands, Days of Heaven and The Thin Red Line.  However, sometimes his esoteric heavy handedness is just too much for me and this film, I believe, suffers the most from that style.

Oddly enough, there’s really no reason for me to even explain the characters in the story or their names, as this film is less a movie than a visual essay.  Honestly, I don’t think half the characters names were even mentioned during the film.  So, let’s do it this way:  Sean Penn is a grown man meandering through life fixated on the death of his brother many years ago and the lessons, trials and tribulations of his childhood and growth.  Scenes from this part of the film make up about 15% of the film.  The majority of the movie (about 75%) is fixated on his time as a child, growing up in rural Texas with his mother, played by Jessica Chastain, and his father, portrayed by Brad Pitt, and two younger brothers.  The film presents us with a semi-first person collage of his memories as a child, mostly disjointed as childhood memories often are.  The remaining 10% of the film looks like Discovery Channel B-Roll and apparently represents the forming of Earth as a place where complex beings can live and survive.

To me, the movie has its heart in the right place, but doesn’t capture what a I feel a movie’s top priority is: to entertain.  At nearly two and half hours, I was exhausted and ready for the film to be over at the end.  I will commend Malick on presenting us with a beautiful ode to the memories of childhood and the process of growing up and dealing with the decisions and effects of that said childhood.  I will further highly commend Emmanuel Lubezki for his amazing cinematography in capturing the images of this film, which are captured with a wonderful and precise manipulation of mostly natural light.  The choice of wide angles lenses and hypnotic steadicam movements further propelled the visuals into working nicely to put Malick’s vision on screen.

However, in the end, as much as I appreciate a beautiful film, it doesn’t make up for a boring one.  And, yes I can take a “boring” film as well when I can fully appreciate it; this film just felt too pretentious for me and I can’t enjoy boring and pretentious.  In conclusion, I would say that most viewers will either love this and completely understand and relate to Malick’s vision, or they will completely be turned off and not care for this film at all.  I guess that’s testament to Malick’s career, you either like his films or you don’t, there is rarely a “gray” area in his work.

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