Film Review: Moneyball

To some British folk, baseball is nothing more than a glorified game of rounders. Even to those of this mindset, Moneyball should prove to be an enjoyable movie.

Billy Beane is the general manager of Oakland Athletic. He struggles to compete with Oakland’s rivals, as there is little money to spend on new players. To gain an advantage, Billy must be creative. Meeting Peter Brand, Billy decides to use statistical data to analyse a player’s worth…

Moneyball works as a sports drama because it does not demand too much from its audience. The beauty of Aaron Sorkin and Steven Zaillian’s screenplay is that it makes the concepts of the film understandable without feeling like it has been dumbed down. Even those with little knowledge or interest in baseball will be able to get into the film. Moreover, the data analysis aspect is depicted in enough detail for viewers to comprehend the strategy, without weighing the film down with unnecessary explanation. There could have been an issue with the amount of expository dialogue, but thankfully Sorkin and Zaillian handle this ably.

Director Bennett Miller paces the film rather well. Moneyball gets off to a bit of a slow start, but recovers well. At times, the film can be surprisingly gripping. Nevertheless, the film is not overly emotional. The film lacks the high drama so often pivotal to sports dramas. Audience are not required to make a strong emotional investment in Moneyball. Rather than this being wholly negative, it is actually refreshing to see a film of this kind not resort to theatrics in order to coerce the audience to feel something forced.

Part of the reason the film takes this attitude is undoubtedly down to the protagonist. Billy Beane is a character who appears quite normal, with few distinguishing features. The film focuses so much on his character, yet he is an ordinary guy, despite his ambitions. The supporting characters share his normality; there are no real outlandish types in Moneyball. The film retains a layer of authenticity throughout.

Brad Pitt offers a decent performance as Beane. There is nothing particularly powerful or memorable about his performance, however. Philip Seymour Hoffman is stronger as Art Howe, and Jonah Hill offers good support in his limited role. Kerris Dorsey is great as Beane’s daughter Casey, bringing life to their interactions.

Moneyball is slightly repetitive with its frequent driving sequences. Nevertheless, it is an enjoyable rendition of real events that remains grounded.

The Sitter Trailer

Above is the red band trailer for The Sitter, starring Jonah Hill. From the looks of it, The Sitter is lewd, crass and un-pc. In other words, the kind of humour that Hill did so well with in Superbad. The actor showed he can take on more serious roles when he starred in Cyrus, so it seems reasonable for him to return to this kind of comedy. The Sitter is due for release on 20th January 2012.

Moneyball Trailer

Moneyball is out on 25th November 2011. The film stars Brad Pitt and Jonah Hill. Brad Pitt looks rather interesting in the trailer. The actor is 47 years old, and his face is beginning to show signs of aging. Yet his hair in Moneyball is suggestive of a boyband member from the mid-nineties. Anyway, Moneyball‘s script was co-written by Aaron Sorkin, which is promising.

Film Review: Megamind

There has been an abundance of well-executed animated features in 2010; Megamind is just the latest of these. Although the film is enjoyable and has wide appeal, it may suffer from being released so soon after Despicable Me, as the two films share some striking similarities.

Super villain Megamind has a rivalry with his nemesis Metro Man which stretches all the way back to childhood. When Megamind finally defeats Metro Man, he finds that life is much emptier without a nemesis to fight…

Megamind appears to be a little ‘by the numbers’ in a way it would not have seemed only a few years ago. This is because there have been several animated features this year particularly that mix comedy with action and fantasy in a style that will appeal to adults as well as children. So in this sense it appears formulaic, but only as it comes after the year’s several successful animated features.

Like Despicable Me, the protagonist in Megamind is very much an anti-hero. Although he is evil, we inevitably root for the humorous Megamind to prosper, rather than the stereotypically ‘good’ characters. And just like Despicable Me‘s Gru, Megamind has a change in outlook through the course of the film.

Megamind is entertaining primarily due to its good use of comedy. Megamind’s conversations with his cohort Minion are amusing; these interactions reveal both affection and gentle ribbing. Megamind makes reference to a number of films, including The Karate Kid and Kill Bill: Vol. 2. Most notable, however, is Megamind‘s hilarious spoof of Marlon Brando in Superman. Megamind parodies superhero films, offering a rather skewered version of both heroes and villains of this genre. Nevertheless, Megamind appears to offer a more realistic interpretation of how superheroes would be treated in the real world, than that of Kick-Ass, for example. Metro Man is portrayed as part deity, part celebrity – a believable reflection of the contemporary world.

Will Ferrell appears perfecting cast voicing Megamind, he bring the humour necessary for this role. Tina Fey, Jonah Hill and Brad Pitt similarly perform well, although it does feel a bit like stunt casting, particularly in the case of Pitt. Nowadays, it seems a prerequisite to have A list names voicing animated features.

The animation in Megamind is faultless, with the backdrops of the sky appearing strikingly realistic. The 3D element is incorporated seamlessly, although Megamind is a film that would certainly be enjoyed just as well in 2D. The soundtrack is fantastic, featuring classic tracks from Michael Jackson, AC/DC and Guns n’Roses.

If Megamind had been released a few years ago, it would definitely be one of best animated films in that year. Given the plethora of superb animated features this year, however, Megamind runs the risk of being forgotten. An enjoyable watch, nonetheless.

Film Review: Cyrus

Cyrus effectively mixes drama with comedic episodes, producing a thoroughly watchable movie. The style of the film distinguishes itself from many others in the comedy-drama category, resulting in an offbeat picture that is unlikely to set the box office ablaze, but should be enjoyed by all that take a punt on Cyrus.

Divorced John is stuck in a rut until he meets an amazing woman at a party. Things are going well for the pair, until John stats to spend time with her grown-up son Cyrus…

Whilst the trailer suggests Cyrus is a comedy foremost, in reality the film is a drama with comedic interludes. Hopefully this will not deter viewers, as Cyrus is an earnest and believable movie. It is also a film that should resonate with a wide range of cinemagoers, and not just those who may have had similar experiences as the protagonist. Cyrus is really about the complexities of relationships and fitting into a structure; themes that should be universally identifiable.

A major part of what makes the film works so well is the performances by the cast. In a rare leading man role, John C. Reilly gives a great performance as the down-on-his-luck guy looking to make the most of this rare chance of romance. It is refreshing to see a leading man in a romance who is not conventionally good-looking; John’s lack of self-confidence is all the genuine because of this.

Jonah Hill is excellent as dependent son Cyrus. It is a reticent performance; Hill’s deadpan expressions and monotone responses generate a lot of the laughs in Cyrus. Marisa Tomei appears authentic as Molly, mother of Cyrus and object of John’s affection. Catherine Keener also puts in a good performance as John’s ex-wife.

Writer and director team Jay Duplass and Mark Duplass produce a real indie-feel to Cyrus. There is a lot of hand-held camera action, and the sound is at odds with most Hollywood films. The film combines natural sound with a score by Michael Andrews. Some of the scenes between John and Molly feature the dialogue over edited shots of the pair; giving these sequences a dream-like effect. Whilst the camera work is at times distracting, on the whole the less-polished approach seems appropriate given the nature of the film.

If you are expecting a out-and-out comedy, Cyrus will come as a disappointment. But as a drama with hints of humour, Cyrus works well.

Film Review: Get Him to the Greek

A spin-off from Forgetting Sarah Marshall, Get Him to the Greek focuses on Russell Brand’s rock star character Aldous Snow. Whilst it may not be as consistently amusing as its predecessor, Get Him to the Greek is very humorous at times, and an entertaining, if mindless, film.

Aaron Green has 72 hours to get rock star Aldous Snow from London to Los Angeles, via New York, to play at tenth anniversary concert at the Greek Theatre. A simple enough task, but for the whims of a drug-addled rock star…

Whilst the plot is fairly linear, the real highlights lie in the amusing situations Aaron and Aldous find themselves in. The film does not take itself too seriously, however through the humour there is definite comment on today’s music industry. Much of the comedy not only from amusing lines, but also the songs composed for the film.

Just as Aldous Snow shone through in Forgetting Sarah Marshall, a side character steals the show in Get Him to the Greek. Although she only appears intermittently, Snow’s ex-girlfriend Jackie Q is thoroughly amusing in every scene she is in. Her music video for ‘Ring Round’ is particularly hilarious.

Brand is good as rock star Snow, though it does feel as if he is playing himself at times. Jonah Hill gives a decent performance as Aaron; it is interesting seeing him playing the straight man to Brand’s character.  Sean Combs pretty much plays himself as music company boss Sergio. It is only in later scenes that Combs comes into his own, the results of which are pretty funny. The real star is Rose Byrne as Jackie Q; she steals every scene she features in. Given its setting and tone, it is unsurprising that Get Him to the Greek features several cameos, from Lars Ulrich to Meredith Vieira.

Perhaps the only real downside to the film is that the more serious and reflexive scenes fall flat, especially when contrasted with the more ridiculous situations contained within the film. Nonetheless, Get Him to the Greek is an enjoyable and funny movie.