Archive for September, 2011

Brad Pitt delivers his best performance in “Moneyball”

Posted in Reviews on September 23, 2011 by Steve Mesa

Although there have been a number of fantastic films about America’s favorite pastime, it has been a while since Hollywood has produced a great baseball movie. “Moneyball” is a baseball movie where the most exciting action that occurs in the film is not limited to what is happening on the diamond field.

Billy Beane (Brad Pitt) is a former ballplayer who is now the general manager of the Oakland Athletics. In the 2001 season, players like Jason Giambi and Johnny Damon jump ship from the A’s to the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox, respectively. Forced to compete with a relatively small budget of $39 million, Beane meets Peter Brand (Jonah Hill), a Yale economics graduate who is good at statistics. With Brand as his assistant G.M., Beane collaborates with Brand to try to rebuild the team by using statistical analysis called “sabermetrics” and cheap, but effective players like Scott Hatteberg (Chris Pratt) and David Justice (Stephen Bishop) in order to rack up win after win.

Directed by Bennett Miller (“Capote”), “Moneyball” is an entertaining and fascinating look at the game of baseball that both baseball and non-baseball fans will enjoy. It is also not just about the game itself, as the filmmakers takes us behind the locker room to show moviegoers the goings-on of a baseball team that is in need of wins. Bennett manages to detract from the main storyline of the movie without any consequence by showing brief glimpses of how Beane became a baseball player after passing up a chance to go to Stanford on a scholarship. The movie also takes a peek at Beane’s personal life as a divorced father who spends time his daughter (Kerris Dorsey), while trying to reassure her that he will not be fired.

Adapted from Michael Lewis’ book by screenwriters Aaron Sorkin (“The Social Network”) and Steven Zaillian (“Schindler’s List”), “Moneyball” manages to make statistics interesting with a script that breaks down a list of complicated numbers and names and turns it into a movie that anyone can understand without knowing a lot about baseball. The quick-rapid pace dialogue that Sorkin wrote for “The Social Network” is present again in sequences when Beane is negotiating trades with other baseball clubs.

Brad Pitt’s performance is not only the best performance of his career, but it is also the soul of the film as an impulsive, superstitious and flawed character. He is so superstitious that he can’t make an appearance without feeling that if they lose, it would be his fault. He wants to make up for his failure as a baseball player by risking his job and doing whatever it takes to win. He is also a sometimes ruthless businessman who emotionally detaches himself from the players so that he would not be affected when the time comes to trade someone or send them down to the  minors league.

Jonah Hill delivers a surprisingly good performance as Brand and proves that he is not the just the “fat funny guy”, a role he has played time after time. He and Pitt have wonderful chemistry with one another whenever they share the screen. Phillip Seymour Hoffman has a small but interesting performance as the A’s manager Art Howe, who is constantly infuriated with the decisions that Beane is making behind his back.

Cinematographer Wally Pfister (“Inception”) reunites with Miller once again to create another good-looking movie that completely feels like you are watching an actual Oakland A’s game with some fantastically shot on-the-field baseball scenes. Pfister also captures some solemn and emotional scenes, including a shot of Beane sitting alone in an empty stadium while he listens to his team lose on his portable radio.

“Moneyball” is one of the best films of the year that is more then not just another baseball movie. It is also a character-driven movie with a tremendous performance from Brad Pitt and a great script from the screenwriting team of Aaron Sorkin and Steven Zalian.

“Moneyball”: 5 stars out of 5

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This “Drive” leads you to the best movie of the year

Posted in Reviews with tags , , , , , on September 16, 2011 by Steve Mesa

 

Movies such as “Faster” and “Drive Angry” feature well-known actors as furious or revenge-stricken men who are great behind the wheel. Unlike “Drive”, those films were neither great nor memorable. Directed by Danish filmmaker Nicolas Winding Refn, “Drive” is a gritty and violent film that features an intense performance from Ryan Gosling.

Set in Los Angeles, Gosling’s nameless character is a Hollywood stunt driver who moonlights as a getaway driver. One day, the driver meets and befriends his next-door neighbors Irene (Carey Mulligan) and his son Benicio (Kadens Leo). When Irene’s husband, Standard (Oscar Issacs), is released from prison, he gets a vicious beat down from some guys he owes a lot of money to.

In order to ensure that Irene and Benicio are safe, the driver decides to assist Standard in pulling out a heist at a pawn shop. However, things go downhill from there that causes the driver to go to the extreme in violent and methodical ways in order to ensure Irene and Benicio’s safety.

The opening sequence of “Drive” immediately captures your attention with a getaway that quickly turns into a cat-and-mouse game among the driver, his clients and the Los Angeles Police Department. As the opening credits roll, the text and the music used are very similar and reminiscent of “Grand Theft Auto: Vice City” or some cheesy ‘80s action movie.

Even though the movie starts with an exhilarating chase scene, “Drive” is a quiet and subdued film that does not require a lot of action sequences in order to be exciting. The movie slowly unfolds from being a car-chasing action movie to a fantastic modern-day crime story. This movie is not for the squeamish as “Driver” features intense and violent scenes that appear at the most unexpected moments in the film.

Ryan Gosling delivers his most intense performance to date, even though he does not say much. His character starts out as a likable and shy person, but when the moment calls for it, he can become a vicious psycho who will do anything to protect his friends. Gosling gets support from a top-notch supporting ensemble that includes Bryan Cranston and Albert Brooks. Cranston is great as a man way over his head when things begin to spiral out-of-control. As Brooks is  better known for his comedic performances rather than dramatic films like this one,  he is surprisingly effective as a villain while his character becomes progressively more violent and sleazy as the movie develops.

After directing a couple of independent film such as “The Pusher Trilogy”, “Bronson” and “Valhalla Rising”, Nicolas Winding Refn’s latest film proves that he is an amazing storyteller with a unique cinematic vision. The film is visually stunning with a unique use of lighting that is unlike anything I have seen before. The stylish cinematography is fantastic; the movie displays some amazing aerial shots of the Los Angeles skyline and smooth shots and do not require quick rapid cuts to enhance the film.

“Drive” features a synthesizer-driven soundtrack composed by Cliff Martinez, who recently scored Steven Soderbergh’s “Contagion”. The soundtrack also includes songs that will instantly transport you to the 1980s with songs like “Tick of the Clock” and “A Real Hero”.

“Drive” is the best movie of the year that features another great performance from Ryan Gosling and showcases Nicolas Winding Refn’s skill as a brilliant filmmaker.

“Drive”: 5 stars out of 5

“Warrior” packs a powerful and sometimes emotional punch

Posted in Reviews with tags , , , , on September 16, 2011 by Steve Mesa

In the sports movie genre, the predictability factor of movies could be a turn-off for some moviegoers who have seen thousands of movies that always end with either the underdog winning or losing only to learn a valuable lesson. I believe that as long as the movie is entertaining, then predictability should not matter at all.

Warrior” may be predictable by sports-movie standards, but it an entertaining a film that not only focuses on the ferocious in-ring action, but it makes you care about the main characters and the problems they have.

Brendan Conlon (Joel Edgerton) and Tommy Reardon (Tom Hardy) are estranged brothers who come from different backgrounds despite being raised in the same household. Brendan is a high-school teacher, a family man and a former MMA fighter who is struggling to make ends meet.

Tommy is a former Marine who reconnects with his alcoholic father Paddy (Nick Nolte) with the intention having his father train him for an upcoming MMA tournament in Atlantic City.

What Brendan and Tommy don’t know is that they have put themselves on a collision course to face each other in the tournament where they will take their unstable emotions for one another in the ring with them.

Director Gavin O’ Connor (“Miracle”) does a great job introducing the character without overloading the first hour with a lot of exposition in terms of the characters’ background and how they became the men they are now. O’ Connor not only manages to make this story very compelling because of the family/brother drama, but enthralling with the nicely shot and well-choreographed MMA fight sequences.

The performances in this film by Joel Edgerton, Tom Hardy and Nick Nolte are truly are the best three performances to been seen in a single film this year.

Both Edgerton and Hardy are terrific as the feuding brothers with different approached to their fighting style. While Edgerton embodies his character as a calm and efficient fighter, Hardy’s character is fueled by rage and he has a more animalistic approach to his character’s behavior both in and out of the ring.

When they finally go toe-to-toe with each other in the ring, their fighting styles mesh together to make the final match of the film an emotional and brutal scene. Nick Nolte delivers his best performance in a while as the father of the two brothers and a former alcoholic who is trying to reunite his sons despite their troubled past.

Like “The Fighter”, the focus on the action in the ring and the characters in “Warrior” are equally balanced. However, there are major differences between the two films. While “The Fighter” was based on a true story that also happened to be an extraordinary boxing movie, “Warrior” is entirely fictional and where Mixed Martial Arts becomes a primary focus on the silver screen for the first time since 2008 where moviegoers got their first taste of the sport with the release of David Mamet’s “Redbelt” and Orlando-set “Never Back Down”.

If this movie is successful and generates enough word-of-mouth, this movie could make MMA even more popular than ever just like how “Rocky” made the sport of boxing interesting and popular again.

“Warrior” also mirrors real life with some of the characters that may be familiar to fans of Ultimate Fighting Championship; some of the characters that reminds me of Dana White and Brock Lesner.

The Dana White-esque character is a man who organizes an event to find out who is the toughest fighter on the planet and the Brock Lesner-like character is a seemingly unbeatable and undefeated Russian fighter, played by former World Wrestling Entertainment wrestler Kurt Angle.

Far from an ordinary sports movie, “Warrior” is one of the best movies of the year that manages to successfully become both a family drama and an exciting sports film with great performances from Joel Edgerton, Tom Hardy and Nick Nolte.

“Warrior”: 5 stars out of 5