Thursday, December 29, 2011

Short Take:"Moneyball" and "Tuesday After Christmas".

Moneyball is a good movie but its sensibility is unquestionably, perhaps exclusively, American given that it centers around the world of baseball. Screenwriters Aaron Sorkin and Steven Zaillian do a superb job of trying to sketch out the universal in the real-life story of Oakland Athletics' general manager Billy Beane (Brad Pitt) who single-handedly tried to revolutionize the sport by recurring to mathematics and statistics.
Jonah Hill plays Peter Brand, the Yale graduate who was hired by Beane to scout players using a strange method that has them choose players who have been rejected by other teams based on their "on base percentage". The Athletics become the laughing stock of the baseball world until they suddenly begin to go on a winning streak the likes of which had never seen before in baseball history.
If you see past the baseball lingo and all the mathematics and numbers, you will discover a movie that's essentially an example of how we try our best to excel in the face of adversity. Pitt is exceptionally magnetic as Beane, finally showing some signs of rugged wisdom beyond his pretty boy looks. The rest of the cast does a wonderful job circling around him, Kerris Dorsey is particularly good as his daughter Casey, but the film can't tap into the universality to make it really work outside the American context. Sorkin and Zaillian try to make its outer layer become more accessible, but the end result is quite marred by one's own tolerance for sports, particularly because director Bennet Miller keeps everything under such precise control that you can't help but feel unwelcome. "How can you not get romantic about baseball?" asks Beane, if you agree with him, then this is the movie for you.

The Romanian New Wave might just be the singular, most exciting film current to have occurred in decades! Every film coming from the formerly troubled country, feels like a breath of fresh air in the midst of all these pre-produced, highly disposable works done all over the world. What results so strange about these movies is that they're essentially telling us stories we've heard a million times before; even the fact that they often seek to portray the social angle makes us wonder what makes them superior to similar schools of thought. Can it be maybe, that having been repressed for so long gave these young filmmakers the ability to see the world with fresh eyes? To find uniqueness in what's become so ordinary and unnoticeable to others?
Take Tuesday After Christmas for example, an exercise in Bergmanian restraint that's as dark and strangely humorous as the master's best works. The film opens with a naked couple engaging in post-coital conversation. Raluca (Maria Popistașu) teases her lover Paul (Mimi Brănescu) about his stamina, the size of his penis and then wonders when she will see him again. Paul it turns out, has a wife (Mirela Oprişor) waiting for him back home.
The film, which takes place in the days leading to Christmas Eve, has none of the usual twists we'd expect from plots in which infidelity is a major theme, perhaps precisely because the film isn't about cheating. It's a carefully constructed slice of life that gives us access to lives that could very well resemble ours. Watching Paul and his wife arguing about what to get their daughter for Christmas makes for a slightly disturbing nod to what we might see every day at the mall. These people, we are constantly told, are not special or unique, they are pieces of a larger universe.
Perhaps director Radu Muntean is emphasizing the blasé fascination with others' lives as a way to encourage us to empathize with others. The film isn't even "interesting" in strictly superficial terms; there are no insane plot twists, sudden shocks or scenes that alter the main landscape, yet somehow watching these parents take  their daughter to the dentist becomes more thrilling than watching alien-robots fight each other, watching the wife cut her husband's hair as he stands naked, rings with more urgent humanity than a dozen activist documentaries and the camera's stillness throughout the film is a perfect reminder that cinema might be the ultimate window to the soul.

Grades:
Moneyball **
Tuesday After Christmas ***½

1 comment:

Andrew: Encore Entertainment said...

"finally showing some signs of rugged wisdom beyond his pretty boy looks" Offensive line. What's so weird is that even though Billy says that line there is little that is actually romantic about Miller's direction. I completely get where you're coming from with him making you feel unwelcome, it worked for Capote, not so much here.

That being said, I liked Moneyball even though I still have no idea what goes on in baseball...and even though I've seen In a League of their Own a lot, and The Natural is in my top 100.