Trouble with the Curve

Image_square_webby CosmicTwin3

2012, Clint Eastwood, Amy Adams, Justin Timberlake. Directed by Robert Lorenz. Written by Randy Brown.

Clint Eastwood entertainingly growls and scowls his way through yet another film about an old curmudgeon unwilling to make meaningful connections with the people who want to be close to him.

Trouble with the Curve is this year’s response to last year’s Moneyball. Remember that one? It was the true story of how using a computer to analyze statistics could accurately indicate which players were necessary to build a winning team. This time around we are treated to a story about how no computer program can replace the human instinct for spotting true talent and detecting potential flaws in kids who hope to become the next great Phenomenal Baseball Player. And, of course, there is one outspoken idiot in the organization who insists that the traditional method of sending seasoned scouts to evaluate potential talent is outdated and unnecessary.

Clint Eastwood is Gus, an aging baseball scout for the Atlanta Braves with failing eyesight who is unwilling to admit that he will soon be unable to perform his job. If he can’t see young ball players perform on the field, how can he rate their potential for success in the major league? Amy Adams is Mickey, his successful high-powered-attorney daughter who keeps her distance from her dad and is all but completely estranged from him. Justin Timberlake is a pitcher Gus recruited some years ago who shows up to scout the up-and-coming talent for the Boston Red Sox.

Life has thrown some interesting curves at these people. Gus has had to deal with losing his wife when his daughter was only six years old; Mickey has spent years trying to understand why her father abandoned her – twice; Justin Timberlake blew out his pitching arm and is now hoping for a job as a broadcaster, desperate to remain “in the game.” Trouble with the Curve offers nice performances from all of the actors, right down to John Goodman, Matthew Lillard, and Robert Patrick as the executives in the Braves’ organization.

One thing left me puzzled – even though Atlanta is a huge metropolitan city of great diversity, I expected to hear that pleasant and soft Georgia drawl from at least one or two people who are presumably from there. I mean, even in giant law practices in Atlanta, surely there are some native Georgians? In this instance the director apparently believes that southern accents belong out in the boonies of North Carolina along with quaint little aging motels and bars where young attractive people spontaneously break into a specific type of folk dance known as clogging. The clogging-in-the-bar scene provided an opportunity to let Mickey loosen up a little bit but it felt entirely contrived.

The good old “Hollywood” ending was also completely predictable, yet entertaining and satisfying. Don’t lose any sleep if you miss this one in theaters, but do catch it on cable or disc. Clint Eastwood is still reason enough to see Trouble with the Curve.

Two boxes of popcornRating: Double Serving 

The Muppets

Image_square_webby Susan

2011, Amy Adams, Jason Segel, Chris Cooper. Directed by James Bobin. Written by Jim Henson, Jason Segel, and Nicholas Stoller.

Think of the coziest, happiest, sweetest, most enchanting memory of your childhood. Now triple that feeling and you are getting close to capturing the special magic that is, collectively, the Muppets. Sure, they’ve been around for a while, but in their own classically unique and ageless way, they are as fresh and relevant now as they ever have been.

I was privileged to see the new movie The Muppets with not only the other two-thirds of, but several members of a multi-generational pack that included a five-year-old, a guy in his late twenties, some thirty-somethings, and a couple of old geezers. It’s difficult to say who enjoyed it more, the five-year-old or the rest of the group. (There was some particularly noisy laughter and enjoyment emanating from a couple of the thirty-somethings, who shall remain nameless. For now.) Some of the sight gags and jokes were a little over the five-year-old’s head, but he was just as engrossed in the story as the rest of us. The Muppets’ special brand of humor still transcends age.

In this latest film from the empire that Jim Henson built, the Muppets have each gone their own way, missing the glory days of the old Muppet Show and the Muppet Theater where they performed their variety acts and welcomed a new guest host each week. The old show has lived on in syndication and on disc, capturing the imaginations of new fans with the passage of time. One of these fans in particular, Walter, is such a devoted follower of the Muppets it is his life-long dream to some day tour the Muppet theater and maybe even (gasp!) meet Kermit. Walter’s brother Gary (Jason Segel) and Gary’s girlfriend Mary (Amy Adams) decide to help Walter realize his dream and do a lot of singing about it before they hit the road to Hollywood.

When the trio arrive in L.A. and discover that the old Muppet theater is not the museum it should be, but a dilapidated, neglected, derelict, their disappointment is understandable. Then they also discover that a greedy bad guy is going to tear it down and drill for oil! This cannot be allowed to happen! The only way to save the historic home of Kermit, Miss Piggy, Fozzie Bear, Gonzo, and all the rest of the troupe is to raise $10 million in an impossibly short time. The only chance of raising all that money in such a short time is to get the old Muppet gang back together and put on a telethon to get donations from Muppet fans. The problem is that all of the Muppets have scattered far and wide and Kermit is afraid that they are no longer interested in the old variety show. Even worse, Kermit fears that Miss Piggy will never consent to rejoining the act as she has declared that she is through with him once and for all.

Will Kermit, with Walter, Gary, and Mary’s help, be able to find all of the old gang? Will Miss Piggy reconsider and take Kermit back? Will Gary realize that Mary wants a life for the two of them that might not include Muppets on a 24/7 basis? Will the Muppets be able to find a willing guest host for the telethon? Will Walter ever realize just how much of a Muppet he is on the inside (as well as on the outside)? These questions and more are answered as the gang careens through innumerable sight gags, double entendres, hilarious situations, fantastic cameo appearances from Hollywod A-listers, and riotous jokes, not to mention some spectacular song and dance numbers. The nostalgia factor for those of us who have been long-time Muppet/Henson fans is off the charts, but even more importantly, it gets the five-year-old’s stamp of approval. To quote him: “It was awesome!

A full bucket of popcorn!Rating: Full Bucket plus some nachos with extra cheese, a box of Milk Duds, a large soda, some cotton candy, a big bag of peanut M&M’s ….