Moneyball * * * *
Cert 12A, 133mins
This film opens with a quote from baseball player Mickey Mantle, who said: “It’s unbelievable how much you don’t know about the game you’ve been playing all your life.”
If you haven’t been watching baseball all your life, then you know even less – and Moneyball’s appeal will be reduced in Britain because of that.
Frankly, all the talk of bases, runs, lefties and righties went over my head. I had no idea who any of the players were and what ‘bottom of the ninth’ means.
And yet, there is still much to enjoy about this movie, based on a true story, not least the understated but mesmerising performances from Brad Pitt and Jonah Hill.
Pitt plays Billy Beane, a former baseball player who never fulfilled his great promise.
By 2001, he was the general manager of the Oakland Athletics team in California, a side struggling at the bottom of the leagues because they could only afford to pay their players $38 million, a third of the wage bill of the New York Yankees.
When they lose their three best players, the future looks grim. But Beane, aided by Yale economics graduate Peter Brand (Hill), decides to apply a new technique to the problem.
Using a mathematical model and analysing statistics, they recruit undervalued players who have been overlooked by other teams but have the potential to make runs. They include Scott Hatteberg (Chris Pratt), who has a dodgy elbow and is scared of the ball ‘coming in my general direction’.
Beane’s tactics get the backs up of his staff and the fans aren’t happy when the team keep on losing games.
But then the Oakland As start to win. Even if you’re not at all familiar with the story, this was bound to happen, as they were hardly going to make a film about a losing team.
There’s still some suspense, though, as we wait to see whether they can set baseball’s longest-running streak and win 20 games in a row.
There’s a pretty good use of sound, or lack of it, though not a lot of actual baseball action.
Pitt plays down his looks, sporting sloppy clothes and a bad haircut, but then he’s playing Mr Average. The focus is on what he’s saying, which is generally compelling. Lines include, on the art of sacking players quickly: “Would you rather get a bullet to the head or five to the chest and bleed to death?”
It’s a shame that strong actors like Philip Seymour-Hoffman and Robin Wright, who play Beane’s head coach and ex-wife, are wasted.
But the real star of the show is Hill. He’s particularly watchable, wringing subtle humour from a role where, for a change, he’s playing it straight. RL
50/50 * * *
Cert 15, 100mins
Given the global economic chaos, do you want to go to the movies for pick-me-up light entertainment – or in search of stories about overwhelming illness? After Perfect Sense and Contagion both recently reflected the dangers of a rapidly-mutating virus, we now get two ‘disease of the month’ movies in the same week. 50/50 attempts to ease the pain of watching Adam potentially dying from cancer by having his immature mate Kyle obsessed with sex.
It’s an uncomfortable mix of subjects, but the rudeness is not unsurprising given that Knocked Up and Superbad star Seth Rogan plays Kyle.
Full marks to Joseph Gordon-Levitt (500 Days of Summer), though, for a sensitive performance in which he has to lose his hair, walk through a minefield of family emotions and remind us how lucky we are if we have good health.
Seth Rogan might be there to puts bums on seats, but it’s Joseph Gordon-Levitt who will keep you watching. GY
Take Shelter * *
Cert 15, 121mins
If cancer isn’t enough trauma for one week, how about adding schizophrenia on top?
Revolutionary Road star Michael Shannon gives an admirable, persistently-detached performance as Curtis, a husband and father with apocalyptic visions.
So much so, that he’s determined to build an underground shelter to protect his family from a terrible storm.
While he’s essentially emphasising the adage that in life you should perhaps expect the best and fear the worst, Curtis’s real problem is that he doesn’t have much of an upside. Little known writer-director Jeff Nichols is to be admired for sticking to his own downbeat vision with such resolution that this film will stay with you.
But at 121 minutes he could also have lost half an hour yet still maintained the momentum towards a powerful climax, reminiscent of the unforgettable human effects of the LA dirty bomb movie, Right At Your Door (2006). GY
The Twilight Saga * * *
Cert 12A, 117mins
After the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, this has to be the most anticipated wedding of the year.
We get to ooh and aah over the gorgeous dress and magical woodland setting and sigh at the romantic vows – but, even better, we’re also invited along to the reception and on honeymoon. And even into the bedroom for when Bella and Edward consummate their love, in THAT sex scene.
The sexual tension has been rising throughout three chaste Twilight films and now fans finally get to see what human and vampire mating is like.
The Twihards will lap it all up. Others might not be so impressed, but then this film is not made for them.
The final novel, Breaking Dawn, has been split into two parts and starts with the nuptials of Bella (Kristen Stewart) and Edward (Robert Pattinson).
When you’re marrying a vampire, vows like ‘as long as we both shall live’ take on a different meaning.
He then whisks her off on honeymoon to a secluded, idyllic island off the coast of Brazil.
This is where they frolic in waterfalls and, er, play chess. And after their wedding night, she conceives a half-vampire, half-human baby.
Within a couple of weeks she looks six months’ pregnant and is thin and gaunt. The baby is killing her and demanding she drink blood.
Can she stay alive long enough to give birth – especially as the wolf pack want her ‘abomination’ dead – and then survive the labour?
As usual, this is a good-looking film, with new director Bill Condon bringing visual flourishes
Fans of R-Patz will want to see close-ups of his face on Birmingham’s Giant Screen cinema.
What little action there is is not very exciting but it’s certainly watchable enough and there’s a rather good ending, neatly leading into the final film which is released on November 16 next year. RL
Dream House * *
Cert 15, 92mins
In September 2009, director Kevin Hicks’ film Dream House went straight to DVD, wholly reliant on the tagline: ‘His new home is one hell of a place’.
Funny that, because the exact phrase could now be used to describe a new thriller of the same name from Jim Sheridan. How original, eh?
Given that he’s a three-times Oscar nominated director for My Left Foot (1990), In the Name of the Father (1994) and In America (2002), I was expecting a lot more from this film.
As well as trying to be a clever ghost story with motifs from The Others, Ghost and The Sixth Sense, the top cast includes Daniel Craig, Naomi Watts and Rachel Weisz. Craig plays Will Atenton, an editor leaving with a severance package a book deal.
He’s just moved his wife Libby (Weisz) and two children to a new home, without realising its previous occupants were murdered close to neighbour Ann (Watts).
While Dream House is much less of a conventional horror that you might be expecting and brave enough to include some welcome twists into proceedings, they have to be justifiable, too.
Know the secrets in advance (don’t mention the studio-backed trailer and marketing!) and will it be the same movie?
The film eventually descends into such violin-fuelled melodrama that it becomes a convoluted alternative to Kenneth Branagh’s Dead Again (1991). GY