Moneyball (movie review) one of the best baseball movies ever. September 25, 2011Posted by ronannarbor in Entertainment, Movies.
Tags: baseball movies, Moneyball movie
add a comment
I waited a few days to write this review, since I’m still basking in the thrill of what is possibly one of the best baseball movies of all time. Moneyball, which opened on Friday, is about baseball, financing a team, and assembling the best team possible given the circumstances. If you have read the book, you know how it works. If you follow sports, you know what happened and how Billy Beane transformed baseball. Skeptic? Look at the Red Sox who use the moneyball system.
But like all of the best baseball movies, its about much more than that. There is a saying that if you want to understand America, you better understand baseball. That is on full display here in Moneyball. More than baseball itself, its a story about finding strength in what you have; in giving people a second chance; and in achieving something unexpected in return. There is a lot of heart in this movie, and it wears its heart on its sleeve (most effectively in the sub-story involving Scott Hatteberg, which will break your heart).
Performances here are superb. Brad Pitt leads the helm as Billy Beane; Jonah Hill as his recent college grad assistant (based on real-life Paul DePodesta but fictionalized here, DePodesta actually started working for the A’s in 1999) in a subtle, underplayed manner; Philip Seymour Hoffman as A’s coach Howe; and some great supporting work by Chris Pratt as Hatterberg (who looks eerily like the real thing). Indeed, most of the A’s players look like the ragtag team that Beane assembled, from Justice (yeah, that Justice) to Giambi (no, not that Giambi, the other one).
What happens in the film is a snapshot of a season in which the Oakland A’s, with a measly yearly budget compared to the big boys (i.e. Yankees), assemble the most undervalued but highest on-base-percentage players and lead the team to a 20-game winning streak and the playoffs. Baseball fans can look at the historical record and see that the A’s didn’t win the World Series. There is no big home run where outfield lights shatter and sparkle to the ground (although one comes close, at least emotionally in this film). But what Beane and his team did was to change the way baseball players are managed forever.
In the very fine understated final reel, the full emotional impact of what occurred hits you pretty hard. And it stays with you for days. You get home, and you turn on the end of the game on tv, and you see the players in a completely different light. And that is what good filmmaking is all about. And that is what Oscar gold is about. Look for high accolades come next year’s award season.
Highly recommended, even for those who aren’t big baseball fans. It’s a movie movie. And it’s a great tale told well.
Simply put, “The Light in the Piazza” at Encore is their best production to date (Review) September 8, 2011Posted by ronannarbor in Ann Arbor, Broadway Musicals, Entertainment, musical theater, Musicals, Theatre.
Tags: Adam Guettel, Encore Musical Theatre Company, The Light in the Piazza musical
add a comment
Take a superior score and script; add Encore’s strongest singing cast ever; stir in a new sound system and some terrific direction, and you have, quite simply, Encore Musical Theatre Company’s best production to date with “The Light in the Piazza”.
I have to disclose that I am partial to this show to begin with: many friends worked on the Broadway production both on the creative team and on stage. I saw it at the Vivian Beaumont a half a dozen times during it’s run. That being said, this cast is as strong as any I have seen in the show.
The production is Directed by Steve DeBruyne, Music Directed by Brian E. Buckner, Costumes are designed by Sharon Larkey Urick, Sets by Toni Auletti and Lighting by Matthew Tomich. I mention their names up front because it is their work that frames this sparkling production.
The action, played out on a sparse but lovely set, allows the actors to truly shine. And you have never heard a cast like this on the Encore stage. The very difficult score leans heavily toward legit voices (you know, opera voices for those of you not in the biz), and they sound fantastic on the new sound system that mixes the orchestra with the vocals.
I don’t want to give away too much of the storyline for those who don’t know. Suffice it to say it involves a mother (Barbara Scanlon) and her daughter (Stephanie Souza) who travel to Florence in 1953 and where the daughter finds love with a young Italian man (Brian L. Giebler). The will-they-or-wont-they romance plays out in a storyline that heaps levels of surprise and emotion in a deeply layered script that unfolds slowly over the course of the musical and leaves the audience as breathless as the cast by the end of the show.
Barbara Scanlon turns in a mesmerizing performance as Margaret Johnson, and Stephanie Souza plays her daughter Clara with aplomb. Brian Giebler as Fabrizio has a wonderful voice and stage presence to hold his own in a cast in which one cast member delightfully outshines the other throughout the evening. Scott Crownover plays a commanding Signor Naccarelli with Marlene Inman-Reilly turning on the vocal dazzlement as his wife. Sebastian Gerstner and Angela Kay Miller humorously play off of each other as the elder son and his wife. All smaller parts are played by an ensemble that includes Curt Waugh, Gil Bazil, Anne Bauman, Natalie Burdick, Lauren Conley, and Elliott Styles.
The vocal work here is dazzling — notes are hit and resound in the theater space which is superb for this type of show. The tone is exquisite — nothing is sharp, nothing is undertone…everything is right where it needs to be. The very difficult score includes large portions sung in Italian, often in counterpoint to English, and at times instantly alternating between the two. Adam Guettel’s lush score mixes contemporary romantic melodies with more adventuresome musical styles. This is a very difficult score and it is handled here expertly.
The requisite tears come — are they tears of sorrow? Or joy? Do you cry at a wedding? Or does something occur to throw it all out of balance. You’ll have to go see it for yourself, because it all plays out as well as any suspense story you’ve seen. From the romance of a hat blown through the air across a piazza, to the touching moments of a mother learning to come to terms with her own grief — it’s all there.
By all means see this. It is the best production Encore has done to date, and you will kick yourself if you don’t get a chance to experience it. Buy tickets for your parents. Send a pair to your grandparents. Take your husband/wife/girlfriend/boyfriend/best friend. Go see it. I am personally getting tickets to see it again. I loved this production.
The Light in the Piazza continues through October 2nd. Tickets are available at the theater box office (3126 Broad Street, Dexter, MI) by calling (734) 268-6200, or online at http://www.theencoretheatre.org
“Warrior” movie joins ranks of best fight-movies (Review) September 5, 2011Posted by ronannarbor in Entertainment, Movies.
Tags: best movies of 2011, fight movies, Gavin O'Connor, Joel Edgerton, MMA, Nick Nolte, Tom Hardy, Warrior movie
1 comment so far
You’ve probably seen those posters around town — in subway stations and bus stops — in cineplex lobbies…you know, the type of poster that sells tickets without any other need for explanation:
I’m happy to report that WARRIOR, seen at an advanced screening yesterday, won’t need much more than those posters. It’s a terrific fight movie, and possibly the years first Best Picture candidate.
Tom Hardy (Inception) and Joel Edgerton (countless Australian movies and tv shows) playing brothers, are superb in Gavin O’Connor’s (Miracle) MMA-themed family tragedy movie. Nick Nolte positively shines in his role as their father. And there isn’t a single wrong note in the casting. O’Connor proves that Miracle wasn’t a fluke — he has a genuine knack for the inherent drama in sports and competition.
But this isn’t your standard fight movie. Mixed Martial Arts (MMA, or for us old-timers “cage fighting”) holds center stage here, but like the best fight movies, serves only as the background for the grander themes being played out: in this case, family-related loyalty, pain, and destruction.
Without giving away too much in this surprise packed drama that heaps one revelation upon another, I’ll give away only as much to say that Nolte plays an ex-alcoholic who has driven a wedge so deeply into its family system that brothers haven’t spoken for almost two decades, and there isn’t much love going around. Hardy’s character has cared for his mother and served in Iraq; Edgerton’s character has stayed behind and raised a family, now up to his ears in debt due to a sick child, and works as a schoolteacher.
The master-strokes of drama delve into Hardy’s attempts to escape the grief that follows him from one life situation to the next; while Edgerton’s follows an anything-for-my-wife-and-kids path.
Sure, the themes have been seen elsewhere. Sure, much of the symbolism has been seen elsewhere. But that doesn’t mean that O’Connor hasn’t discovered something all-together new and different in this tale. I won’t say anymore, but to add that the ending is about as perfect as you can get. Alternating between standard film, hand-held cameras, and media coverage, it all feels gritty and real…the movie is fiction, but it plays like a true story, and by the time you reach the final fight sequence, your emotions will be as conflicted as those depicted on the screen.
About halfway through the movie, O’Connor achieves something in film that rarely works well – and here it works spectacularly: escalating the action of almost two months into a several minute split-screen montage of slices-of-life of what is occuring in two parallel families, the film lifts from the ordinary to the sublime. And it stays there for the remainder of the film.
Choose your sides — root for your favorite brother — and have a swell time at the movies. This is an emotion-packed big old fashioned wallop of a motion picture, and I highly recommend it.