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in the organization who insists that the traditional method of sending seasoned scouts to evaluate potential talent is outdated and unnecessary.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

Image_square_webby Susan

2011, Jean Dujardin, Bérénice Bejo and John Goodman. Written and directed by Michel Hazanavicius.

Why would anyone make a black-and-white silent movie these days, you ask? Why not!? Particularly if it’s exceptionally good in its use of the style of a bygone era to tell a familiar story in a way that is fresh and appealing. And that’s what The Artist does so well – use a style of storytelling that is less dependent on dialogue and more about an actor’s ability to convey emotion and sentiment through facial expression and physical gesture.

George Valentin is a silent film star at the peak of his career enjoying all the trappings of Hollywood success: fancy car, big mansion, buckets of money, adoring fans, etc. He also appears to be a self-involved ham, stealing the spotlight from his co-stars (except for his faithful four-legged companion). A young lady, Peppy Miller, bumps into him, literally, at his movie’s premier and when the resulting photo is splashed across the newspapers, she decides to audition as an extra in the movies. Coincidentally she is cast in one of Valentin’s movies and reconnects with him on-set. And so begins the story of Peppy’s meteoric rise to stardom.

In the meantime, talking pictures have seized the public’s imagination and Valentin’s studio decides it must keep pace with the latest technology. Valentin will either make talking movies or get the boot. In a scene that makes magnificent use of sound effects – not dialogue – Valentin realizes that he will never be able to make the transition. The world is filled with sound but it will never hear his voice. One last desperate attempt to prove that the public would still embrace him in a silent film rather than flock to the “novelty” of talking movies ends disastrously.  Valentin is left clinging to the past as he descends into pennilessness and drunkenness. But even as Miss Miller ascends the ladder of fame and fortune, she remains attracted to him.

Another impressive scene uses the metaphor of a staircase where Peppy and George cross paths as some people are climbing up, some are walking down, some faster, others slower, to illustrate how their careers are progressing.  Or stalling, as the case may be. This is the genius that makes The Artist so mesmerizing – rich visual symbolism strategically employed to give depth to the actors’ performances. By its very nature a “silent movie” demands undivided attention; the viewer’s attention is rewarded from start to finish in this film.

The Artist is not about the silent movie era; most of the action takes place after the advent of talkies. It is about an iconic actor who cannot adapt to changing times, an homage to the earliest roots of filmmaking. In a broader sense it is also about an industry that must constantly adapt to new technologies, and the talented artists who might be left behind if they don’t adjust as well. The behind-the-scenes episodes depicting studio executives making business decisions taking priority over artistic sensibilities is a subtle commentary on how some things never change. But in the end, what matters most is the story being told. This one is told brilliantly.

A full bucket of popcorn!Rating: Full Bucket