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in the organization who insists that the traditional method of sending seasoned scouts to evaluate potential talent is outdated and unnecessary.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 

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Moneyball

by CosmicTwin3

2011 Brad Pitt, Jonah Hill, Phillip Seymour Hoffman

“It’s hard not to get romantic about baseball,” says Billy Beane (Brad Pitt) in this latest sports movie. Really? What’s so romantic about baseball? From my perspective, having enjoyed my fair share of T-ball and Little League seasons, it’s a fairly slow-paced, usually long game that inspires grown men to spout obscure statistics and get practically misty-eyed talking about legendary players. Isn’t it a kids’ game that grown-ups have turned into a multi-billion dollar business? Well… sort of, but maybe it’s also more than that.

Inspired by the book about the real Billy Beane and actual events in 2002-2003, Moneyball tells the story of how one team’s General Manager (the GM for those who are more familiar with professional sports than I am) changed the game of baseball forever by ignoring conventional wisdom about how to choose players to assemble a winning Major League Baseball team. The problem, apparently, has to do with the ability to afford players with the right combinations of certain outstanding skills.  A team such as the Oakland A’s, with a meager budget for player salaries, has practically no hope of competing with a lavishly funded team such as the New York Yankees. Rich teams dominate every season and go to the World Series year after year. Hence the entire title of the book by Michael Lewis: Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game.

In order to level the playing field, so to speak, someone, somehow must start to figure out how to put together a winning team on a tiny budget. Billy Beane stumbles upon fresh-faced, recent Yale graduate Peter Brand (Jonah Hill) with a degree in economics and a deep abiding love of baseball who seems to have the magic formula for just such a predicament. With Peter’s help and computer whiz-kid number crunching abilities, Billy starts acquiring players in a way that antagonizes more than one or two long-time A’s talent scouts, not to mention the team’s coach (Phillip Seymour Hoffman in a supporting role).

Will this new method of team-building prove to be the right course, or will Billy be ridiculed out of a job? An added dimension to an already intriguing story is that Billy Beane gave up a full scholarship to Stanford University to play baseball in the Major Leagues. Recruited for his good looks and amazing abilities to hit, throw, run, and whatever else is required to be a baseball superstar, no one can adequately explain why Billy’s career as a professional player never really took off. Still craving the “wins,” Billy as a GM is still devoted to the game and probably has a unique insight into why Peter’s team-building choices could really work.

I’ve seen many sports-themed movies over the years, many about baseball: Mr. Baseball, The Natural, Angels in the Outfield, Eight Men Out, Bull Durham, Major League, The Rookie, and A League of Their Own, to name a few. I remember enjoying Field of Dreams, but not quite understanding the mysticism of it. Some of the better “sports-as-metaphor” non-baseball movies that I’ve enjoyed include The Mighty Ducks, Miracle, Remember the Titans, Bend it Like Beckham, Invictus, The Blind Side, etc. Moneyball is as good as any of these.

I’m not especially keen on any movie just because it involves sports, but I do like really good movies. Moneyball is a really good movie. It forgoes the mysticism of why baseball matters so much to so many fans and gives insight into what it’s really like to be a professional player and how the business side of the game takes a toll on the mind as well as the body. Surprisingly, perhaps, this film deftly gets to the heart of the matter by putting emotions front and center in a story about a subject that is dominated by statistics. At the very least, I’m starting to understand why some people find it “hard not to get romantic about baseball.” Hill was superb as the baseball-loving genius computer geek and (forgive me for using another sports metaphor here, but it actually is appropriate) Pitt hit it out of the park in his performance as athlete turned GM searching for a way to achieve the ultimate goal: winning the last game of the season.

Cosmic Twins Popcorn Rating: Full Bucket