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Moneyball

Moneyball

I was a huge fan of the book. So why did it take me a year and a half to see a movie that normally I’d rush out to see in the theaters?

Simply, I didn’t want to be let down.

I’d read all the reviews which were glowing which made me more open to seeing it, but I was just sure the movie was going to be average at best. In my mind, I envisioned a version of how “Hollywood” would make this movie and I just didn’t like it. Much to my surprise, the movie managed to take all of the good elements about the book and not dumb them down.

Brad Pitt stars as Oakland A’s general manager Billy Beane. He’s the focal point of the movie as he was in the book. The book did a much clearer job of giving you his history of coming up with Daryl Strawberry and the Mets, but I thought Moneyball did a passable job of portraying the history of Billy Beane. There definitely was some “Hollywood” drama (all of the Art Howe and/or Scott Hatteberg scenes, especially), but overall I thought the movie did a very good job of capturing the feel of one of the all-time great baseball books.

I haven’t read the book in about 7-8 years and I almost forgot that the A’s played the Twins in the playoffs. Once they got to that scene in the movie, I was pleasantly reminded how the Twins won the fifth game in Oakland (I was at games 3 & 4 in Minneapolis that year).

Overall, a great baseball movie. It’s not among the top 5 best baseball movies of all-time, but I think it slots comfortably into that next tier of fantastic baseball movies.

8.0

out of 10

04

02 2013

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Seven Psychopaths is somewhat unfortunately named. At first glance, it seems like the name of a terrible horror movie that was released straight to dvd instead of an incredibly funny dark comedy that it really is.

Seven Psychopaths seems like a mixture between a Tarantino movie, Breaking Bad, The Big Lebowski, Ocean’s Eleven, and Very Bad Things. It’s uber violent. If your wife (or fake dead girlfriend) is at all squeamish at the sight of violence/blood, she’s probably not going to love this film. However, the violence is all for a reason. This isn’t violence for the sake of being violent. The acting and cast – including such big hitters as Colin Farrell, Christopher Walken, Sam Rockwell, and Woody Harrelson – is fantastic. Walken and Harrelson are almost playing a parody of past Walken and Harrelson roles which, in turn, made the movie all that much more enjoyable to me. The real star here, though, was Sam Rockwell. It’s somewhat ironic that he’s playing a role that would’ve been perfect for Walken 30 years ago since he’s become somewhat of a go-to guy for weird roles lately.

The story, which much like a Tarantino story is actually multiple separate storylines, is Marty (Farrell) plays a writer who is trying to write a story about seven different psychopaths. His best friend Billy (Rockwell) is a guy who makes a living by kidnapping dogs and collecting reward money along with his partner Hans (Walken). They find themselves in trouble when they kidnap the beloved shih tzu of a hardened gangster (Harrelson). As the movie progresses, it becomes more and more of a satire (nearly entering the “Lebowski zone”).

Overall, it’s a very enjoyable watch. I have a real strong feeling that it would be a movie that would be way more enjoyable on the fifth viewing than on the first viewing. There are some movies I “grade” the same, but have no real strong desire to watch again. However, I definitely will be popping this in for a repeat viewing sometime. It also makes me want to watch In Bruges which I apparently incorrectly discarded as an artsy-fartsy movie (a la “Beast of the Southern Wild” this year) that wouldn’t interest me.

8.0

out of 10

31

01 2013

Benji

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I’d read a couple months ago when Benji first aired that it got pretty good reviews. In fact, every sports person I saw who commented on it mentioned how much they enjoyed it. I’m of the opinion that when nearly everyone likes a tv show, movie, album, or whatever, you probably should do yourself a favor and check it out.

Benji is the story about Benjamin Wilson – the top ranked high school basketball player from the class of 1985 – who was gunned down a few weeks before the start of his senior basketball season. At 6’8″ with a silky smooth jumper, Benji was nicknamed “Magic Johnson with a jumpshot” by his high school coach.

Much of the sadness shown in Benji is all to familiar with those who have followed the careers of Len Bias, Reggie Lewis, Hank Gathers, and others. Benji was more than a sad story about a great player who died and that was the end. His legacy lived on through his mother, who was very impressive in how she handled his tragic death, teammates and players that followed him and wore his number (Nick Anderson, Juwan Howard, and Derrick Rose all wore the #25 for Wilson and #1 player and future Duke recruit Jabari Parker has #25 on his shoes), and the change that came because of his high profile murder (laws about where ambulances brought gunshot victims were directly affected by his death).

It was a sad movie and a movie that certainly could’ve been made better had the directors been able to get an interview with former girlfriend Jetun Rush and/or son Brandon (no doubt they made every attempt). The inclusion of an interview with his killer – Billy Moore – was surprising, but I’m not entirely sure it added a ton to the story. Good to see that he’s seemed to turn his life around, though.

24

01 2013

The Other Dream Team

otherdreamteam

When anyone thinks of 1992 Olympic basketball, we think of MJ, Larry, Magic and the Dream Team. Numerous books have been written on the subject solely of the dream team – “Dream Team” by Jack McCallum and the underrated “The Golden Boys” by Cameron Stauth. “The Jordan Rules” by Sam Smith had a particularly entertaining segment about Scottie Pippen and Michael Jordan wanting to take it to future Bull Toni Kukoc. “Once Brothers” – the NBA-produced 30-for-30 piece featured a story about Vlade Divac and Drazen Petrovic that touched on Croatia’s appearance in the 1992 Olympics.

At the time, I was too young to realize it, but the 1992 Olympics was a memorable Olympics solely on the basis of what countries were competing for the first time as a country (Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Croatia, Slovenia and Bosnia-Herzegovina), the first time in a while (the united German team, South Africa) as well as who wasn’t competing (USSR was no more, so they competed as the “Unified” team).

“The Other Dream Team” is the story about the 1992 Lithuanian Olympic basketball team. It starts with the 1988 Russian gold medal win over the United States. Of the 12 players on the Russian roster, four starters were from Lithuania. The team also included players from Latvia, Estonia, and the Ukraine. As excited as the four Lithuanians were to win gold, there also was a certain amount of disappointment with the situation that surround USSR and Lithuania.

You don’t particularly need to be a basketball fan to enjoy “The Other Dream Team.” In fact, I enjoyed the stories about the political and cultural climate of Lithuania of the early 90s more than the basketball itself. I particularly enjoyed stories about bringing clothes and electronics home from America along with the stories about how The Greatful Dead got involved. While I don’t need to rush out to watch the movie again immediately (although I would), I did check where I could buy the tie dyed tshirts. Overall, I’d say this isn’t a movie that you’ve got to rush out and see immediately, but it’s well worth a view.

7.5

out of 10

23

01 2013

Who Cares About the Oscars?

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The 85th Oscar nominees came out last Thursday. Your big winners thus far include Lincoln (12 nominations), Life of Pi (11 nominations), and Les Misérables and Silver Linings Playbook (8 nominations each). As I read the nominations list, I found myself getting incredibly upset which, at this point, is becoming an annual tradition every year the Oscars are announced.

You see, like a bunch of people who are more than likely 60 years old, I think the Oscars are a big deal. When a movie I love isn’t nominated, I feel a sense of rejection. However, when a movie I loathe is nominated, I find myself getting simply infuriated. While 9 movies are up for best picture (Amour, Argo, Beasts of the Southern Wild, Django Unchained, Life of Pi, Lincoln, Les Misérables, Silver Linings Playbook, Zero Dark Thirty), you can automatically eliminate four of them from Best Picture contention (Argo, Django Unchained, Les Misérables, and Zero Dark Thirty) because the directors weren’t nominated for Best Director (only three times in 84 years has a movie won Best Picture and not even been nominated for Best Director).

When we look at the remaining five movies, we’ve got Amour, Beasts of the Southern Wild, Life of Pi, Lincoln, and Silver Linings Playbook. I’ve seen Beasts of the Southern Wild and loved it so much that the only movies I graded lower in 2012 were Safe House, Battleship, and Rock of Ages. I’ve been kind of wanting to see Life of Pi and Silver Linings Playbook, but from what I’ve seen, they all look somewhat… dull. Lincoln just finally showed up in my neck of the woods, so I’m hoping to check that out shortly. Amour is a foreign film that isn’t playing anywhere, so it’s almost impossible to have an opinion on that.

Based on what I’ve seen in 2012, I thought it was a tremendous year for movies. Argo was fantastic as was Django Unchained and Zero Dark Thirty (check for reviews on both later this week). The Dark Knight Rises is much better than I think most people are giving it credit for. Looper was a fantastic film that kind of came out of nowhere. Ted was one of the funniest movies I’ve seen in years. Bully and Searching for Sugar Man were wonderful documentaries. Even some big name “popcorn movies” such as The Bourne Legacy, The Hunger Games, and The Avengers were really, really good.

A few years ago, I made a bunch of lists for what my favorite movies were from each year. I can’t find them right now, but I can just about guarantee you if I gave you a list of movies nominated for Oscars versus movies not nominated for Oscars, you’d be really tempted to take the “no Oscars” list.

Jalen Rose was asked on his podcast if he was upset his Michigan “Fab Five” squad never won an NCAA championship. He, of course, wishes they would’ve have won one, but also has a quote (which I’m going to butcher) that says something around the lines of “you can win the game of basketball or you can win the game of life… we won the game of life.” Meaning, of course, the team is memorable and it’s members have profited some 20 years later.

Take a look at the last 20 years. I’m going to give you the Best Picture winner along with my favorite movie from that year and see which list you’d rather take (my favorite in italics)

1992 – Unforgiven – Reservoir Dogs
1993 – Schindler’s List – Schindler’s List
1994 – Forrest Gump – Pulp Fiction
1995 – Braveheart – Braveheart
1996 – The English Patient – Jerry Maguire
1997 – Titanic – Good Will Hunting
1998 – Shakespeare In Love – Saving Private Ryan
1999 – American Beauty – Toy Story 2
2000 – Gladiator – Almost Famous
2001 – Beautiful Mind – Memento
2002 – Chicago – LOTR: The Two Towers
2003 – LOTR: Return of the King – Return of the King
2004 – Million Dollar Baby – Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy (not even kidding)
2005 – Crash – Walk the Line
2006 – The Departed – The Departed
2007 – No Country for Old Men – No Country for Old Men
2008 – Slumdog Millionaire – The Dark Knight
2009 – The Hurt Locker – Inglorious Basterds
2010 – The King’s Speech – The Town
2011 – The Artist – Drive

While awards are nice, I’m fairly certain movies like Saving Private Ryan, Shawshank Redemption, Pulp Fiction, and Back to the Future have went on to have a perfectly nice shelf life even though they weren’t deemed award worthy during the year of their release.

17

01 2013

Zero Dark Thirty

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Over the past few weeks, Zero Dark Thirty has been the source of some controversy due to the alleged “pro-torture” stance the movie takes along with allegations of partisanship. I’m sure people voicing these complaints would much rather see another Underworld sequel or a third Ghost Rider film, but I’ll gladly take a controversial film that delivers in nearly every aspect over most of the mindless Hollywood garbage that is spurned out on a pretty regular basis.

As you have no doubt heard, Zero Dark Thirty is a movie based on the 10-year manhunt for Osama bin Laden culminating with the assassination in his compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan (spoiler alert?!?)

Having watched this movie and Argo in the past few months, I’m starting to wonder if having a story where basically everyone knows the ending going in somehow enables the writer to focus more on the story as a whole and less on trying to set everything up for a memorable cinematic ending.

Jessica Chastain stars as Maya, a young female CIA official who has spent the majority of her career trying to find information about post-9/11 Osama bin Laden/al Qaeda. Chastain gives as strong of a lead actress performance as I’ve seen in years. If she isn’t rewarded with a Best Actress Oscar, I’d be extremely disappointed.

The movie, much like Full Metal Jacket, is almost two movies. The first movie (first two hours of the film) is manhunt for Osama. There is so much going on it’s almost hard to describe. You see waterboarding (which I don’t know if I’ve ever seen depicted on screen before) of detainees. You see the political process of the CIA/military. You see suicide bombers. Attempted assassinations. Bribery. Surveillance techniques. It’s all very captivating. The second movie (last 40 minutes) is a military movie on the attack on Osama bin Laden’s compound. Both “movies” could easily exist on their own, but together they form one of the more brilliant movies released in a long time.

Even before this movie was released, I knew it wasn’t going to win Best Picture simply because their are too many “anti-war” people in Hollywood. Honestly, I think it’s the same reason the more-than-deserving Saving Private Ryan didn’t win in 1998. I was shocked when Katheryn Bigelow wasn’t included in the Best Director category (even more so when I saw the director of Beasts of the Southern Wild in the list).

Quite simply, this was my favorite 2012 movie that I’ve seen thus far and I highly doubt any movie will top it. A great storyline, great acting along with great direction from Katheryn Bigelow have resulted in one of the more memorable films in a long time. Kudos to all involved for coming very close to cinematic perfection.

9.5

out of 10

16

01 2013

Django Unchained

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My wife has never seen a Quentin Tarantino movie. This has been in no small part due to a lack of effort on my part. It’s just, she’s heard… “things.” I’ve tried to get her to watch Pulp Fiction.

Her: “Isn’t that movie pretty violent…”
Me: Yeah…
Her: “What else do we have?”

The same conversation has happened when I tried to watch Inglorious Basterds and Reservoir Dogs. And forget the two Kill Bill movies. And it hasn’t happened once. Over the past (almost) 8 years, it’s probably happened 25 times.

Then, this past weekend, we were watching the Golden Globes and she said “…I’d like to see that Django Unchained.” Knowing I’d seen the movie, she started asking me what it was all about. It was then I kind of understood you can’t explain exactly what it is about Tarantino movies that is so enjoyable to someone who’s never seen a Tarantino movie. It’d be like explaining the color blue to someone who is colorblind.

Based on plot, almost all his movies are simple. Reservoir Dogs is about a botched diamond heist. Pulp Fiction has to do with a bunch of minor crooks and a briefcase. Jackie Brown is about drugs and money. Kill Bill is about the bride who wants revenge on Bill who tried to kill her. Inglorious Basterds is a fictional history tale about trying to kill Hitler. Django Unchained is a fictional history story about slaves killing slave owners.

If you’ve seen any of QTs work before, almost nothing in Django Unchained will surprised you. It’s bloody, it’s witty, and it has a very interesting revenge plot. It’s probably more bloody than a lot of his past work, but less witty dialogue than I’ve become accustomed to.

Jamie Foxx as Django gives a performance that is somewhere between the greatest performance ever and just average. He wasn’t lousy and didn’t ruin the film, but it wasn’t the greatest acting job I’ve ever seen either. Christoph Waltz, on the other hand, delivers another fantastic performance as Dr. King Schultz – a bounty hunter who happens to hate slavery. Leonardo DiCaprio is interesting the in role of the villain (Calvin Candie). My favorite performance outside of Christoph Waltz has to be that of Samuel L. Jackson as Samuel, the elderly head slave for Candie.

Overall, it’s an extremely fun movie to watch. I definitely will be picking it up on Blu Ray the minute it comes out and I’m sure will re-watch it again and again. Tarantino may claim he is going to retire at the age of 60 (in 11 years), but he’s showed that over 20 years after the release of Reservoir Dogs, he’s still absolutely on top of his game. This should come as no surprise, but I highly recommend watching this. Even if you are not a fan of violence and the racial epitaphs that abound aplenty in this movie, I can’t see you watching this movie and not enjoy this at least a little bit.

9.0

out of 10

15

01 2013

Sleepwalk With Me

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Mike Birbiglia is a comedian who happens to be a sleepwalker. In fact, he once fell out of a window while sleepwalking causing himself to require 33 stitches.

Sleepwalk with Me is a semi-autobiographical movie based on his hit one-man show of the same name. Birbiglia stars as Matt – an unknown comic who works as a bartender at a comedy club with aspirations of someday making it big. Abby (Lauren Ambrose) is his longtime girlfriend that he just can’t find himself committing to.

As a comedian, his act is stale until he starts interjecting true (but sometimes painful) stories about his real life relationship with Abby. He starts to have a little success as a comic on the road, however his home life with Abby seems to be deteriorating. To make matters worse, his sleepwalking spells are increasingly putting him into bad situations.

I didn’t dislike Sleepwalk with Me, but I just didn’t connect with the movie like I wanted to. Mike Birbiglia was funny in a way only Birbiglia can be, but I just felt like the movie lacked a little something that could’ve made it a hit. At times, the movie felt like it was hitting some of the same heartstrings as some indie-commercial blockbusters from the past few years such as Garden State and Little Miss Sunshine, but it just seem to come up a little short for me.

6.5

out of 10

09

01 2013

Searching for Sugar Man

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On an episode of the Film Vault podcast a few weeks (months?) ago, Bryan Bishop was raving about Searching for Sugar Man – a documentary about a mysterious musician from the 1970s.

Rodriguez was a Hispanic musician from an unknown location who released two albums that were commercial flops in the early 70s. After minimal success, he was dropped from his label and seemed to vanish into obscurity. He was semi-famous for lighting himself on fire and committing suicide on stage. Or was it pulling out a gun and shooting himself while on stage?

Trying to figure out the story of Rodriguez, a few fans from South Africa started a website to try to find more information about the mysterious man they call Rodriguez. In 1998, the daughter of Rodriguez contacted some of the people that had been searching for him. Their family had utterly no idea that Rodriguez was a huge musical star in South Africa (one person interviewed said he was bigger than Elvis Presley and the Rolling Stones).

That’s all the further I’m going to go with the plot simply because I don’t want to spoil anything else for you. If you are a fan of music and/or documentaries, though, I have a hard time believing you won’t find this 86 minute movie well worth your time. The soundtrack – featuring the music from Rodriguez’s two albums from 1970 and 1971 – is really, really good. I was constantly surprised at how good the cinematography looked. Hard for me not to recommend this one…

8.5

out of 10

08

01 2013

Undefeated

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Last year, I was watching the Oscars when a movie I’d never heard of (Undefeated) won the award for best documentary. In a bubble, this wasn’t strange as I’ve only seen two of the movies that have ever won best documentary. However, the fact that I’d never heard of this movie until that night and it was about sports completely blew my mind. I actively seek out sports documentaries and have seen enough that I could easily make a “top 100 sports documentaries” feature on the website.

Undefeated is the story of the Manassas Tigers football team. Manassas is a poverty-stricken public school for northern Memphis that has never won a playoff football game in the 100+ year history of the school. Six years prior to the events of the movie, head coach Bill Courtney takes over and vows to turn things around for this perennial loser.

Like all good sports documentaries, though, Undefeated is at its best when it touches on life outside of football. There are so many absolutely incredible scenes. Without trying to spoil them, the movie has stayed with me for a week after I saw it. I still have conversations with people about some of the things that I saw. While the football scenes are enjoyable, watching the relationship between coach Courtney and his players is something, as a coach, I can greatly appreciate. What really surprised me, though, was seeing the situations, mostly brought on by extreme poverty, a culture of single parent households, and crime, that just seem like they can’t possibly happen in America. Watching Undefeated, I had many of the same feelings I had many years ago watching the coverage of Hurricane Katrina. As in, I don’t even recognize this version of America and can’t believe that we have people in this country that live in these awful of life circumstances.

If you take one thing out of my review of the movie, let it be this: this is the single best documentary I have seen since I watched Hoop Dreams nearly 20 years ago. It’s a better football movie than whatever your favorite football movie right now is. Doesn’t matter if that movie is Friday Night Lights, Brian’s Song, We Are Marshall, Remember the Titans, The Blind Side, Rudy, Jerry Macguire, The Longest Yard, Varsity Blues, Any Given Sunday, The Program, Invincible or any other movie. This movie is better. I think it will gain a huge cult following when it’s released on dvd in two weeks and, especially, when it’s finally released to Netflix. When I get around to making a list of the top movies I saw in 2012, this will be very closer to #1 than #10. A must watch documentary…

9.5

out of 10

Check out the trailer:

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ckku5qEt-vA?rel=0&w=560&h=315]

02

01 2013