Starring Brad Pitt, Jonah Hill and Philip Seymour Hoffman
Directed by Bennett Miller
Rated PG-13 for some strong language

    Based on a true story and taken from the Michael Lewis novel of the same name, Moneyball follows former baseball player turned Oakland A’s general manager Billy Beane (Pitt) as he attempts to figure out how to beat teams with four times his operating budget.  When he meets Peter Brand (who is loosely based on Beane’s former assistant GM Paul DePodesta, he starts to employ Brand’s formulas to his recruiting in order to put together a team that doesn’t make much sense to anyone other than the two of them, but somehow begins to win games in spite of everyone’s disbelief.  

    I’ll admit that I’m not the biggest baseball fan in the world.  I never played as a kid and while I get excited to go to games now I tend to lose interest rapidly once sitting in the stands.  But baseball movies are a different animal.  Most of them follow a simple formula and end up far more entertaining than the actual thing.  Moneyball follows that formula to a point, but becomes more interesting in spite of it.  Rather than focusing on the team in trouble that comes out on top in the end, it focuses on the actual business behind the sport and how numbers can compete with heart.  For some this might sound tedious, but I was captivated.  

    Putting the film on first base is the writing.  Writing this good doesn’t usually happen in a baseball film.  The dialog is quick and full of quirks and surprises.  And just when you think you know what’s going to happen next, it takes you in a new direction.  

    Getting the movie to second is the fast-paced and skilled direction of Bennet Miller (Capote).  The film is so well put together on his end that sometimes you actually feel like you are watching the real story take place rather than a representation.

    Strike one comes from some of the drama.  Sometimes the perceived need for conflict in a scene acts against it and a few of the scenes and actions of the characters come off as contrived or overreaching.  I’m sure there was much tension in the real-life story, but a film like this doesn’t need a pronounced villain just because it might lack one.

    Third base is accomplished by it’s authentic look and feel.  While I’m not certain that the actors were actually taken from the baseball biz, I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised.  The conversations felt organic which usually stems from people that know what they are actually talking about.

    Strike two comes from the on the field action which looks too much like a low-budgeted baseball movie.  I’m much more interested in what goes on off the field and the playing of the sport distracts from that throughout.  

    And finally, bringing in the three runners with a grand slam to win the game is Brad Pitt.  While not as moving as his turn earlier this year in Tree of Life, Pitt gets into this character and is spot-on perfect for the role.  You may not like him and his actions all of the time, but you can’t take your eyes off of him.  He plays the flawed GM like no other actor could and proves that when you get him in the right role he can be electrifying.  B+

New in Home Entertainment – September 27, 2011

New in Home Entertainment

September 27, 2011

Transformers: Dark of the Moon
Rated PG-13 for intense prolonged sequences of sci-fi action violence, mayhem and destruction, and for language, some sexuality and innuendo
Available on DVD and Blu-ray

After the horrible reception of the second film (I actually received the worst hate mail of my career for my semi-positive review), the big metal robots are back for an even bigger adventure.  In this new film, the decepticons have a new weapon that threatens not just the autobots but the entire planet as well.  Just like the last film, the plot is just an excuse for a gigantic special effects extravaganza.  After watching the second film, I couldn’t imagine a bigger show of computer fire power, but director Michael Bay sure did deliver a huge spectacle with this one.  The only problem here is that the story really gets in the way of the action, and since the action seems to be more important, this turns out to hurt the film.  With Megan Fox out and new love interest played by the Rosie Huntington-Whitely in, the love story takes a sharp turn for the worse and makes Shia LaBeouf’s Sam Witwicky into a character that is very distracting from the larger story at hand.  And by the time you get to the finale you feel like you’ve wasted so much time on crap that doesn’t matter that its hard to enjoy the giant alien robots destroying Chicago.  But hey – that’s what the fast forward button is for.  My advice: grab the remote, skip any part that doesn’t have a talking piece of metal in it, and make lemonade out of lemons.  B-

The Tempest
Rated PG-13 for some nudity, suggestive content and scary images
Available on DVD and Blu-ray

Have you ever had a movie that you were really excited to see and then you heard some bad reviews that you knew couldn’t be true?  That somehow the critics must have it wrong?  I was certain of this for director Julie Taymor’s The Tempest.  With the director of Titus and Across the Universe taking on one of Shakespeare’s greatest works with such talented actors as Helen Mirren, Alan Cumming, Chris Cooper and Djimon Hounsou, how could the film be anything short of spectacular?  Well, it’s a lot short of spectacular.  As you would expect, the film is visually interesting, but unfortunately, the film turns out to be a little too creative and underwhelming at the same time.  It doesn’t help that the acting is less than impressive.  But the blame really lies in a project that is too ambitious and a vision that falls short.  C-

CSI: The Eleventh Season
Available on DVD

I still can’t believe that after 12 years, CSI is still at the top of the ratings and it’s partners (CSI: NY and CSI: Miami – also releasing seasons on DVD this week) are also churning out investigation tales with good writing and strong acting.  Sure, some of the story lines are pretty contrived and yes, some of the plots get you asking if you’ve seen this before, but overall, CSI is still entertaining, and that’s saying a lot.  And one of the reasons they remain so popular is because unlike a lot of the shows on television today, you don’t have to watch the previous episode to know what’s going on.  This is a good thing for the viewer on the go who doesn’t have time to become committed to a particular television show – although a lot of folks with that point of view still make the time to watch all three religiously.  B   

New in Home Entertainment – September 20, 2011

New in Home Entertainment

September 20, 2011

Dumbo: 70th Anniversary Edition

Rated G
Available on DVD and Blu-ray

In 1941 Walt Disney was in a financial jam.  He had spent so much money making Pinocchio and Fantasia that the studio was almost broke and in dire need of a hit.  With WWII consuming Europe, the international box office was all but lost when a baby elephant with humongous ears flew in and rescued the studio.  Seventy years later the film is seen as controversial due to its portrayal of African Americans, but Dumbo is much more than a controversial film.  It still holds up as a visual and musical work of art and having put it to task with my sixteen-month-old, I can assure you that it is still capable of winning over the hearts of both children and adults.  This new enhanced digital restoration is gorgeous and with blu-ray picture and sound, the film has never been better.  I do wish Disney had included digital copy so I could pull it up on my iPhone every once in while, but aside from that the set is loaded with both new and old features.  A

Rated R for some strong sexuality and language throughout
Available on DVD and Blu-ray

Desperately trying to escape the labeling of “chick flick,” Bridesmaids became a word-of-mouth sensation this past summer and should hit big with this new DVD/Blu-ray release which offers up both the theatrical and a new unrated edition.  This story of a bride and her crazy girlfriends filled the originality gap left awkwardly vacant by Hangover 2.  Watching Kristen Wiig knock it out of the park with this screenplay she co-wrote with pal Annie Mumolo is a blast.  But even more fun is watching co-star Melissa McCarthy (who just won the Emmy last Sunday for Mike & Molly) steal every scene she steps into.  She pretty much walks away with the picture and might even walk away with some statues come the end of the year.  A-

It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia: The Complete Season 6
Available on DVD and Blu-ray

Seasons one through five of this comedy from FX have provided me with some of biggest laughs of the past few years.  Danny DeVito and gang, week after week, push the envelope of decency until there’s no where left to go.  So it’s no wonder that the only direction the show can turn is down weird street.  Season six has many laughs, but way too many scratch your head moments.  I loved the episodes “Who Got Dee Pregnant?” and Dee Reynolds: Shaping America’s Youth,” but cringed during “The Gang Gets a New Member” and “Mac’s Big Break.”  The good news is that season seven just started and it appears that things could be back on track again.  C+

My Life as a Dog: Criterion Collection
Available on DVD and Blu-ray
Swedish with English Subtitles

Before cranking out hit films like The Cider House Rules and Chocolat, Swedish director Lasse Holstrom hit the scene big-time with this little indie about a boy who goes on a journey of discovery when he is sent away to give his dying mother some rest.  It’s a weird little film and I’m never really fully understood it, but you can definitely see why so many people hold it up with reverence.  For a Criterion title, this release has relatively few special features but the new digital transfer looks terrific and the 1973 short film included here is an interesting look at Holstrom’s earliest work.  B-



Starring Ryan Gosling, Carey Mulligan, Bryan Cranston and Albert Brooks
Directed by Nicolas Winding Refn (Valhalla Rising)
Rated R for strong brutal violence, language and some nudity

    Ryan Gosling is a Hollywood stunt man who at night moonlights as a getaway driver for hire.  It doesn’t appear that he does it for money, but maybe merely for the fact that he is good at it and that he simply can.  When he falls in love with his neighbor (Mulligan) the film transforms into a sweet romance that is soon to be crushed by a disturbingly violent turn of events.  

    When Drive director Nicolas Winding Refn won the award for best director at the 2011 Cannes Film Festival, my first thought was how can a heist pic win best director.  All heist pics have a twist so this one must be special.  What was sold as a heist film though is far from it.  Drive comes off as more of a character study with extreme amounts of action, all pulled off with furious intensity.  The character arc of the driver played by Gosling manifests itself as three unique personas.  There is the stuntman/risk taker driver, the romantic and then finally the adaptive, capable and calculating survivor who is capable of doing whatever it takes to make it out alive and save the ones he loves.  And Gosling pulls it off beautifully with very words coming from his mouth.

    Of course Gosling has some help.  Carey Mulligan is great as the confused friend and love interest and Bryan Cranston, who looks nothing like his Breaking Bad character here, is a treat to watch as Gosling’s boss and criminal colleague.  The most impressive performance here though comes from Albert Brooks who plays the deceptively friendly gangster and I will predict that he will get his first Oscar nomination (and possible win) in over twenty years.  

    But its not all roses here.  While the writing and performances are all as good as it gets, I found myself getting very uncomfortable watching the movie.  Not only is there an uneasy claustrophobic feeling to the pic, but the violence is so extreme and unsettling that there were times that I just wanted to look away or simply take a break.  While it is getting a huge screen count and a big studio release, the film is essentially an art film in disguise.  Many audiences will be turned off by the excessive violence and independent film style.  Then again, many might find a film they really enjoy by accident.  Overall, I’m glad I saw it, but I really have no desire to revisit it again.  B

New in Home Entertainment – September 13, 2011

New in Home Entertainment

September 13, 2011

Rated PG-13 for sequences of intense sci-fi action and violence
Available on Blu-ray 3D, Blu-ray and DVD

Marvel superhero Thor is a god who is cast to Earth by his father, Odin, and forced to live there as a mortal until he learns the valuable lesson his father wishes to teach him.  As Marvel prepares for its big Avengers movie next summer it was important to introduce the genesis stories for the remaining cast including Thor and Captain America.  While Captain America did a decent job of bringing the fourth Avenger to the screen, Thor was merely mediocre and almost seemed as more of a commercial for the upcoming film rather than a complete movie itself.  At least we know how Thor came to Earth, but it could have been done so much more impressively.  The special effects were okay, but the 3D was headache-inducing, the script was weak and the music by the gifted composer Patrick Doyle was a huge letdown.  It seemed as if the marketing machine was turned on and it managed to suck out much of the creativity that should have been there.  As for Thor, I liked both the actor (Chris Hemsworth) and his portrayal of the character.  I just wish a better film could have come from this hero.  C+

Rated R for disturbing violent behavior, sexual content including graphic dialogue, pervasive language, and drug content – some in the presence of a child
Available on DVD and Blu-ray

After a teenage boy (Devin Brochu) loses his mother in a car crash, he meets a homeless headbanger named Hesher (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) who weirdly attaches himself to the boy by moving in and consuming his life.  At first the film is played out as a fantasy where you are almost certain that  you are going to discover that Hesher is a figment of the boy’s imagination.  But when you discover that he is for real and not a modern-day Harvey, the film takes a humorous but disturbing turn.  While the script is highly unusual and creative, it’s also frustrating.  The performances were all very good, especially that of Gordon-Levitt, and if what you need is a film that keeps you guessing rather than spoonfeeding you the same old stuff, this might fit the bill.  B

Conan O’Brien Can’t Stop
Rated R for language
Available on DVD and Blu-ray

When talk show host Conan O’Brien was ousted at NBC, he was contractually obligated to not appear on television again for six months.  In order to not waste this valuable time, he launched a 32 city music and comedy show called the “Legally Prohibited from Being Funny on Television Tour” where he was able to hit the road and perform for his biggest fans.  This movie shows some of the concert, but focuses mainly on the creation of the tour and the behind the scenes.  I don’t think that anyone would deny that Conan got the shaft from NBC, and to watch a man bravely move on in the face of adversity is a refreshing true story.  While I have never watched a lot of Conan in the past, this film has very much peaked my interest in his new TBS talk show.  B+

Hung: The Complete Second Season

Rated TV-MA
Available on DVD and Blu-ray

A loving father and school teacher who becomes a male prostitute in order to rebuild his life financially might sound like a tough sell, but in its second season, Hung has proven to be quite a good little dramedy from HBO.  Thomas Jane, who could have been a huge superstar were it not for his unfortunate name, turns in another great performance and Jane Adams is masterful as his luny yet focused pimp.  The second season wasn’t as strong as the first, most likely due to the lack of nuance, but with these great performances, strange story lines and unusual characters, I can’t wait to see where they bring us in season three.  B+

Spartacus: Gods of the Arena
Available on DVD and Blu-ray

When Spartacus star Andy Whitfield could not return for season two due to cancer treatments, Starz made a creative move and opted for a prequel instead.  Focusing on Batiatus (John Hannah) and his rise to prominence within the gladiator world, the franchise was able to pull off a respectable season of gratuitous violence and sex that is incredibly over-the-top yet still pretty fun to watch.  The writing and production doesn’t come close to what you’ll find on HBO, but if in the right mood, Spartacus: Gods of the Arena is passable entertainment.  B-

New in Home Entertainment – September 6, 2011

New in Home Entertainment

September 6, 2011

Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action, some sexual material and language
Available on DVD and Blu-ray

Sixteen-year-old Hanna (Saoirse Ronan) is raised in remote Finland by her father (Eric Bana) to be a lethal killing machine in order to ensure her survival once a government agent (Cate Blanchett) discovers her whereabouts.  Not only is Hanna’s story unique and wildly original, but so is the creative directing and overall production.  Director Joe Wright (Pride and Prejudice) puts on an extraordinary show here fully utilizing his talented cast to the best of their abilities and adding in enough of himself to dazzle the audience.  Wright is one of the most exciting directors out there right now, especially in regards to the musical choices of his films.  Hanna forgoes the typical spy score in exchange for an exhilarating and dizzying composition by The Chemical Brothers.  It’s weird, but it fits, and you’ll want to turn the sound way up.  Watching a young girl in such a violent film is unsettling to say the least, but once you get past that element, the film becomes a top piece of entertainment.  A-

Everything Must Go
Rated R for language and sexual content
Available on DVD and Blu-ray

Will Ferrell, taking a far departure from comedy, stars in this drama about a man who is laid off from his job only to find all of his possessions in the front yard when he gets home.  At rock bottom, and without a home to live in, he must decide what to do with his life, and what next step, if any, he needs to take.  Sounds depressing?  Well it’s not overly so.  Rather than invite you to a pity party, the film takes you on an introspective journey of a very faulted middle-aged man that has some tough choices to make.  What I was most fascinated about is that the film was surface level rather than metaphorical.  And while the “stuff” he had collected through the years served their purposes in telling his story, I fully expected him to wake up from a dream.  As for Ferrell, he gives a  great and stirring performance here and proves once again that his acting can have depth when he wants it to.  B+

X-Men: First Class
Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of action and violence, some sexual content including brief partial nudity and language
Available on DVD and Blu-ray

When they went back and did an X-Men prequel for Wolverine and it stunk as bad as it did, it was hard to get excited about another prequel.  But upon the discovery that Matthew Vaughn (Layer Cake, Kick Ass) would be directing, I started to get excited.  Turns out that excitement came for a good reason.  The origin story of the X-Men was handled well by the writers and director and they couldn’t have come up with a better cast including James McAvoy as Charles Xavier and Michael Fassbender as Magneto.  There are some moments where the cheese factor is a little high, but overall, the film turns out to be a fun and exciting adventure that even manages to place itself in not only X-Men history but our actual history as well.  By far, this is the best super hero film I have had the pleasure of seeing so far this year.  A-

Rated R
Available on Blu-ray

It’s easy to appreciate the influence this Cuban American gangster film has had on world cinema, but after watching it again, I just don’t see what all the fuss is about.  While The Godfather Parts One and Two, as well as Goodfellas, are almost as violent and still rank at the top of my favorite movies, I have never found a place for this iconic picture.  It starts out interesting, but ends up way too over-the-top for my taste and there are too many moments where I just don’t want to keep watching.  There’s a reason why this film was ignored by the Academy and was even nominated for  1984 Razzie for worst director: it’s just not that good of a film.  But for those of you who are fans, I’ll stop hating.  This new Limited Edition Blu-ray release gives you a pristine print with tons of extras included.  And if you are a big, big fan, you might want to consider checking out the Scarface Limited Edition Humidor/Blu-ray combo on for the sale price of $699.99.  This over-the-top edition matches the movie perfectly.  C