Thursday, September 29, 2011


Last night I saw Moneyball, starring Brad Pitt and Jonah Hill.

The story chronicles the rise of Oakland A’s general manager Billy Beane (Pitt) after he adapted the concept of choosing players based on statistical analysis of their abilities.

Beane was faced with a potential losing team in 2002 and a lack of budget to rectify the situation—he caught wind of an analyst, Peter Brand (Hill), who had a theory about recruiting talent based on mathematical equations and hired him. In real-life, “Peter” is really “Paul” and he went to Harvard, not Yale. But who really cares, right? A good story is a good story and this one happens to be well-told on the big screen.

Aside from the slow beginning, the film’s pace will keep you watching even if you could care less about baseball. The magic of Aaron Sorkin (who co-wrote the screenplay) is evidenced in the clever dialog; the bromance between Pitt and Hill adds a spark to the rest of the story, which is alternately nail-biting tense and satisfying.

Phillip Seymour Hoffman is great as the understated team manager Art Howe and Robin Wright makes a great cameo as Beane’s ex-wife, Sharon. All of the players are also well-cast, some truly resembling their real-life counterparts, and no one jumps out as unrealistic or cartoonish (except perhaps Sharon’s second husband, but his appearance is so brief it’s not too annoying).

There’s also a healthy balance of on-field (real life and reenacted) footage and locker room chatter. Really, there’s not much wrong with this film.

If you want a somewhat lighthearted, engaging two hours of entertainment, go see it.


Sunday, September 25, 2011


Today I saw Drive, starring Ryan Gosling and Carey Mulligan.

A Hollywood stunt driver (Gosling) strikes up a friendship with his neighbor, Irene (Mulligan), with whom he shares an immediate chemistry, but soon learns she is married. Her husband is in prison and will be home in the next few weeks.

In the meantime, the Driver acts as a caretaker for Irene and her young son, not pretending to deny the elephant in the room.

By day the Driver works on Hollywood sets and in a nearby garage; by night he drives getaway cars but somehow manages to keep his hands clean of the crimes ... until Irene's husband comes home.

Standard (Oscar Isaac) owes a debt to some folks from his prison days. He wants to lead a crime-free life, but fears what may happen to his family if he doesn't make good on the promise. He mentions his predicament to the Driver, who agrees to help him purely to keep Irene and her son safe.

When the robbery spirals out of control (featuring an electric cameo from Mad Men's Christina Hendricks), the Driver finds himself guilty of more than driving, and in the worst danger of his life.

Ryan Gosling plays the main character with a controlled chaos that's fastly becoming his trademark. You can see by the look in his eyes he'll do anything for this woman, yet he's a man of few words. Only the Johnny Depps and Leo Dicaprios of the world could've played this part as well.

The directing is also phenomenal—a battle is acted out in shadows; flashes of light build tension after a crash and nothing is as scary as the glimpse we get of a bad guy through the bathroom blinds.

All of this is intensified by a perfect musical score. The sounds that accompany the actions add to instead of subtract from the action, and there's plenty of it.

I could've done without much of the blood and gore, but none of it was gratuitous. In fact, it was probably all the more shocking because it was completely believable.

Easily one of the best films of 2011.


Sunday, September 18, 2011

Straw Dogs

This morning I saw Straw Dogs, starring James Marsden and Alexander Skarsgard.

It's a good thing I went into this film with low expectations.

Though I've never seen the 1971 original, I knew the premise and figured it wouldn't be a genius production. Boy was I right.

David (Marsden) needs a quiet place to finish his writing and Hollywood isn't cutting it. So he and his wife Amy (Kate Bosworth) head to her hometown in the south to stay at her parents' seemingly abandoned house.

Of course, time has stood still in this rural town and her apparent high school sweetheart Charlie (Skarsgard) still carries a torch for her. He is part of a 'construction' crew that her husband hires to replace a roof on the property. The other three bumpkins aren't good looking or 'smart' like Charlie, so he calls all the shots.

Amy isn't so smart either. She jogs barefoot and braless along this country path, then gets upset when the filthy men gawk at her. Even her husband sort of tells her she's asking for it.

The fish-out-of-water situations they put David in grow boring quite rapidly, but thankfully the sweaty, dirty shots of Charlie don't.

Really, that's all that kept me watching.

The couple gets tormented by her ex's posse yet they still stick around. James Woods is a nasty old drunk who targets a mentally challenged man, who we see get berated and beaten repeatedly. The whole town goes to church together because they're all the same religion in the Bible Belt. Need I say more?

All of the actors here are above this, which is why it's such a shame they were all in it.

It's perhaps the worst movie I've seen so far this year.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

The Whale

Last night I saw the documentary, The Whale, by Suzanne Chisolm and Michael Parfit.

In the spring of 2008, I screened a documentary at the Seattle International Film Festival that left me weeping and smiling all the same. It was called Saving Luna, and it captured the story of an orca from Washington's L-pod that became separated from his family and built a life in Canada, making friends with humans instead of returning home.

This film is a re-purposed version of that film, and delivers just as powerful a punch—reminding us to embrace nature and respect all of the treasures that our earth delivers.

My opinion hasn't changed since I wrote this review for Cinebanter, three years ago.

I encourage those of you in Seattle to get to The Whale before it leaves SIFF Cinema at the end of the week (and yes, I encourage you to take the kids). Those of you in other cities and countries should lobby for this beautiful film to come to your area. You won't be disappointed.

To view the trailer, click here.


Yesterday I saw Contagion, starring Matt Damon and Kate Winslet.

It will be the topic of Cinebanter #107, so tune in later this month for our review.

Sunday, September 04, 2011

A Good Old Fashioned Orgy

This morning I saw A Good Old Fashioned Orgy, starring Jason Sudekis and Leslie Bibb.

Eric (Sudekis) has had the same group of friends since high school. They all fit the stereotypes of a movie-centered-around-a-group-of-friends. There's a mental health professional (who happens to be beautiful), a corporate nerd, a struggling musician, a loser that latches on to everyone else, etc. The women are hot; the men are average at best, but that doesn't stop the women from hanging out with them. They all gather for lavish theme parties at their favorite summer home, which belongs to Eric's dad.

Sounds like a good teenage/college premise right? Well, it would have been. Trouble is, these folks are pushing 40.

And that's where they lose me.

When Eric's dad makes a cameo (it is Don Johnson, after all) to announce he's selling off the summer home for no particular reason, Eric and his posse decide they must have the Best Party Ever to say goodbye to it. After a brief brainstorm, Eric decides that they should go full monty (pun intended) and throw an orgy. His suggestion is met by a less than enthusiastic response (who wants to bang their childhood friends in front of each other?) but one by one, the group gets used to the idea and starts doing 'research' to plan the evening.

On a side note, the only not-completely-ridiculous part of the plot involves Eric falling in love with his realtor, Kelly (Bibb). They have a real, authentic chemistry and their scenes together make me wish this had just been a standard rom-com about a guy and a realtor having a meet-cute and living happily ever after.

But I digress.

Of course some of the friends like some of the other friends (who don't know they like them) and other friends have insecurity issues, body image issues, etc. They all have to get past this to get it on (but I would be spoiling things if I told you whether or not they did).

I can't say I exactly had high expectations going into this, but with folks like Sudekis and fellow SNL alum Will Forte on the roster, I did expect to laugh a lot more.

The 80s did raunchy (and comedy) so much better.


Saturday, September 03, 2011


Today I saw Beginners, starring Ewan McGregor and Christopher Plummer.

Oliver (McGregor) is pushing 40 when his father, Hal (Plummer), tells him that he's gay, and he's known he was gay since he was 13 despite his marriage to Oliver's mother, which lasted until her passing.

Instead of freaking out or distancing himself from his dad, Oliver embraces this new knowledge and accepts his father's new lifestyle, along with his much younger boyfriend.

Unfortunately, he also has to deal with the news that his father is ill—so the limited time they have together makes his questions rise to the surface probably faster than they would have otherwise.

Depressing? Uh-huh. Stories about loss usually are sad, and this one definitely qualifies despite its attempts at momentary lapses of light.

The film jumps around between present day, flashbacks, voiceover and dog subtitles. Yes, dog subtitles. And instead of finding the high maintenance Jack Russell "Arthur" adorable (like many surely did), I found him to be terribly annoying.

The quirky bits don't really have a place in this melancholy drama, which at the heart of the script is really only about loss. Loss of family, loss of love, loss of innocence.

And despite the actors' phenomenal performances, the slow pace and the tragic topics at every turn made this film a somewhat unpleasant experience to witness.

Just one of the story arcs would've been enough to keep me interested, and I wish the writer (who based this on his own life experience) had chosen to approach it that way instead.