Bob and Justin's Mad Movie Blog

My name is Bob. My friend Justin and I are aspiring filmmakers and we have pretty similar tastes in movies. This will include our take on what's going on in film and television today as well as updating you on the status of our own work.

Sunday, September 25, 2011


In 2001 the Oakland A's won 102 games on their way to a second consecutive trip to the playoffs. Their season ended however when they lost the American League Division Series to the New York Yankees, a team with more than three and a half times the payroll. Despite the disappointing finish, the fantastic season would lead one to believe that there would be hope for Oakland's future. But with the loss of three key free agents whom the team can no longer afford, A's General Manager Billy Beane (Brad Pitt) is faced with the seemingly impossible task of finding suitable replacements who can not only get back to the playoffs but overtake the likes of the Yankees to win a World Series.
In preparation for the 2002 season Beane attempts to solve a problem that seems to have no existing solution. With no new ideas coming from his scouts or front office Beane buys a Yale economics major named Peter Brand (Jonah Hill) off of the Cleveland Indians. Brand doesn't bring a wealth of baseball experience with him. What he does bring however is the understanding of a formula originated in the late '70s by a pork'n'beans man named Bill James. One that organizations have been ignoring for 25 years. "Baseball thinking is medieval," Brand insists. Instead of buying players Brand believes, "You should be buying wins. And in order to buy wins you need to buy runs." Taking James' formula and running with it Beane and Brand set about putting together an unconventional championship team, the only kind a $38 million payroll could possibly buy.
Directed by Bennett Miller ("Capote") and with a screenplay by Aaron Sorkin ("The Social Network") and Steven Zaillian ("Schindler's List"), "Moneyball" boasts an impressive pedigree and the three of them have given us an equally impressive film. It's a film that will appeal to non-baseball fans because it's just a great story that's very well told. It takes us inside what goes on behind the scenes of the world of baseball without being too "inside baseball." We see Beane as a man of passion who has an ambition beyond just winning and who loves his daughter more than anything in the world. Appropriately for being a lifelong baseball man, Beane is also superstitious, to the point that he won't allow himself to attend games or even watch them on TV for more than a minute or two. Pitt has always had an ease on screen, rarely chewing the scenery. This may be his most naturalistic performance in a career full of them. He infuses Beane's relentless passion with a sense of adventure and wry humor that one would need to try to change the way baseball works.
"Moneyball" features a fine supporting cast as well. Philip Seymour Hoffman gives a solid performance as A's manager Art Howe, a man who doesn't understand the new philosophy and fights against it daily when filling out the lineup card. Chris Pratt ("Parks and Recreation") is funny and likeable as Oakland's unlikely new first baseman, Scott Hatteberg, a guy who's never been anything but a catcher. The real standout though is a seriously toned down Jonah Hill. Funny in an entirely different way than he's ever been before, Hill gives the most complete and impressive performance of his career. The demeanor he brings to Brand belies the importance of his role as the true architect of the team.
For lifelong baseball fans such as myself "Moneyball" is a brilliant film within a brilliant film. It's a movie that acknowledges that yes, nerds like baseball too, which is after all the only way that Bill James' sabermetrics approach could come about. There's a sense of excitement in the moments of Beane's and Brand's meetings with players to get them onboard with the mindset. With a philosophy that includes, "no more stealing bases or bunting," legendary Orioles manager Earl Weaver would be proud.
It is also more realistic in terms of its baseball scenes than the vast majority of baseball movies. Granted there are only a small handful of scenes involving on-field action but you never find yourself shaking your head at an actor's terrible swing or pitching motion. It just looks and feels the way it should. Miller also does an excellent job of creating tension within these scenes even if you know the outcome.
Like any film that tells of true events it plays around with historical fact. For instance, the real Peter Brand (Paul DePodesta) actually joined the A's organization in 1999 and the principles he'd brought with him had been implemented throughout his time there. That hardly matters though. What matters is that this isn't just tagged with the qualifier of being a great baseball film. It's a great film, full stop. For the second week in a row I am deeming a movie "unmissable" ("Drive" being the other). Besides, as Beane puts it near film's end, "How can you not be romantic about baseball?" With a movie this good you have to be. 9.5/10.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011


It's not often that a film, even a very good one, truly defies expectations. I hadn't actually seen a trailer for "Drive" but when you say it's about a professional stunt driver who moonlights as a getaway man for hire you expect lots of fast cuts, explosions, lazy quips, outrageous car chases, and a general lack of mental or emotional engagement. Now this sort of thing can be fun every now and again but that isn't "Drive." This aims to be something more. Something that surprises and engages you in ways you hadn't expected. Does it succeed? Most definitely.
The stunt driver in question (Ryan Gosling) is a soft spoken young man blessed with lightning fast reflexes, intelligence, and an ability to keep cool under pressure that seems to suggest there's no trace of daredevil in him, despite his occupation. The closest thing he has to a friend is his boss Shannon (Bryan Cranston) and until a chance encounter at the grocery store he barely knows the young woman living across the hall in his apartment. The young woman in question is Irene (Carey Mulligan), a loving mother to Benicio (newcomer Kaden Leos). The young man becomes quickly attached to Irene and Benicio but a complication stands in the way.
Meanwhile, Shannon and his old friend Bernie (Albert Brooks) plan to start a racing team and they have only one man in mind to be the driver. The young man is willing but racetrack glory is insignificant to him. Only one thing in his life truly matters.
Based on a novel by James Sallis, "Drive" was written by Hossein Amini and directed by Nicolas Wending Refn. Perhaps it's because it was a book first, or maybe it's the combination of an Iranian screenwriter and a Danish director, but "Drive" is anything but a conventional Hollywood thriller. There's a streamlined precision to this movie that is perfectly in tune with its unnamed protagonist. We learn only what is absolutely necessary to know about each character. We never hear about the driver's childhood or just why he so rarely speaks or shows so little emotion. If he has daddy issues he's keeping them to himself. Those things don't matter. What's important to him is the job he has to do in that moment and now, how he can make the lives of Irene and Benicio better. That is his focus and that is what makes him so good at what he does.
Gosling's performance is superb. This isn't Steve McQueen-style detachment. There's a lot going on under the surface with this character, both emotionally and mentally. A lesser actor could have derailed this movie but Gosling keeps showing he's one of the best young performers of our time. Like the movie itself Gosling keeps us guessing. If he wants the position he could be the next thinking man's action star, a la Matt Damon.
The supporting cast (which also features Ron Perlman and "Mad Men's" Christina Hendricks) is terrific as well, particularly Brooks. Primarily known as the writer-director-actor of brilliantly sharp comedies such as "Real Life" and "Lost in America" (or the voice of Marlin in "Finding Nemo") he's the oddly perfect choice for his role. To say anything more than that would be to give too much away.
Amini and Refn's film is not one that can be easily categorized nor is it conventional in any sense. This is a movie that wants to set up expectations and make us think that we know what a character will do or say from moment to moment. It then likes to show us how wrong we were. "Drive" also doesn't really feel like a movie specifically from our own or any other era. In terms of character and storytelling it feels reminiscent of the '70s, while visually (and musically) it feels like the '80s.
Throughout its 100 minute running time "Drive" is an endlessly exciting film. Not because it's "an adrenaline-fuelled thrill ride"- honestly, how many times have we seen those words in a review?- but because it's not. It's the anticipation of danger and the uncertainty of what we will see next. Even the questionable choices the filmmakers make (and there are a few) aren't necessarily wrong and even if they are wrong they're just as fascinating as anything else in the film. They make us think and stir an emotional reaction. Actually the only scene in "Drive" that I didn't feel this way about is the rather conventional car chase that takes place about halfway through the film. In and of itself it's well done, but within the context of the overall movie it somehow seems out of place.
For some, "Drive" will be too weird. For others it won't be the action-packed car movie they were hoping for. And as much as I love it I can understand those arguments against it. This is a film for people who are excited by imaginative filmmaking, impeccable storytelling, and fascinating characters. If that's you then "Drive" is unmissable. 9.5/10.