Tag Archives: moneyball

A Few Good Men (1992)

A-Few-Good-Men

I had never seen A Few Good Men until recently, and, even though I knew the film’s famous quote (“You can’t handle the truth!”), I did not know that it belonged to this film. When my good friend TJ, Editor-in-Chief of MovieByte.com and head host of the site’s podcast, The MovieByte Podcast, on which I am his co-host, suggested that we review this film together, I said, “why not?,” and set out to watch it – and I had a great time talking about it with TJ on Episode 69 of The MovieByte Podcast!

A Few Good Men, directed by Rob Reiner (The Princess BrideThis is Spinal Tap) and with a screenplay by Aaron Sorkin (The West WingThe Social NetworkMoneyball), is based on Sorkin’s 1989 play of the same name. When two US Marines are court-martialed for killing a fellow Marine, the young, inexperienced Navy lawyer Lt. Daniel Kaffee (Tom Cruise) is assigned to the case. After striking a deal with the prosecution, Captain Jack Ross (Kevin Bacon), Kaffee learns from the defendants that their actions were the result of an order given by Lt. Jonathan James Kendrick (Kiefer Sutherland), Kaffee drops the deal and takes the case to court. With help from Lt. Sam Weinberg (Kevin Pollak) and Lt. Commander JoAnne Galloway (Demi Moore), Kaffee sets out to prove that the two Marines were merely acting on orders, bringing him against Kendrick and his superior, hardball Col. Nathan Jessup (Jack Nicholson).

Courtroom dramas are just fun, with the prime example being the classic To Kill a Mockingbird, based on Harper Lee’s book of the same name and starring Gregory Peck. Tom Cruise is no Atticus Finch, but his inherent on-screen likability works well for him here as he works to convince the jury of his clients’ innocence. For me, it was interesting seeing Cruise outside of an action role, and I certainly wish he did more of them because he’s excellent here. Demi Moore does a decent job of showing uncertainty from a character who is usually so sure of herself, and most of the other characters do a fine job as well, though they’re nothing to speak of. Jack Nicholson, however, is obviously the shining star of the film, despite his limited screen time, which can be compared to Anthony Hopkins’ performance as Hannibal Lecter in The Silence of the Lambs, in which he was onscreen for only 12 minutes but still won the Academy Award. Though Jack Nicholson didn’t win the Academy Award for his performance here, he still does a fantastic job of portraying such a stubborn character, and his delivery of the classic line doesn’t at all feel forced or cliched. In fact, I think that that is Nicholson’s greatest strength as an actor: he is able to play crazy/angry/etc. so believably without it seeming forced.

The star behind the scenes here is Aaron Sorkin, who wrote both the screenplay and the original play that it is based on. His dialogue is sharp, and his storytelling is strong, and the relationships between characters develop nicely and provide several nice moments throughout the film. Most of the humor he writes into the script is good as well, though I must admit that there were a few jokes that seemed forced, being there simply for the purpose of being jokes rather than being a byproduct of something that actually advances the story.

On the whole, my complaints are minimal, and I was entertained throughout. A Few Good Men is a well-deserved classic that has withstood the test of time; I think that I was destined to like this film. With the combination of so many amazing talents – Rob Reiner, who directed one of my favorite films (The Princess Bride; (my review)), Aaron Sorkin, who wrote the screenplay for another of my favorite films (The Social Network), Tom Cruise, who I have only recently discovered and enjoyed in films such as Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol (my review) and Oblivion (my review), and Jack Nicholson, one of my favorite actors (The ShiningOne Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest) – what’s not to love?

-Chad

Rating: 4 (out of 5)

MPAA: R – for language

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Rush (2013)

Rush

When I first saw the trailer for this film over the summer, I thought it was a strange pairing…Ron Howard and race cars? I mean, this is the same guy who directed Apollo 13A Beautiful Mind, and The Da Vinci Code – none of which are even remotely related to the idea of racing. I was initially skeptical, but I withheld judgement, and I actually started to become excited for the film the closer it got to release. I’m by no means a fan of racing, but the trailers made it look to be more of a drama than anything, which intrigued me. After all, aren’t the best sports films less about sports and more about characters (i.e. MoneyballThe SandlotRocky, etc.)? Thankfully, the trailers didn’t false advertise – Rush is definitely a drama, and an inspiring one at that.

Rush is based on the true story of the rivalry between Formula One drivers Niki Lauda (Daniel Brühl) and James Hunt (Chris Hemsworth) in the 1970s. Both actors give compelling performances, and the contrast between the two of them and what pushes them to do their best is fantastic. Lauda’s “drive,” if you will, is love for his wife and for the sport itself, whereas Hunt’s drive is the thirst for fame and recognition. Lauda has an abrasive personality, and Hunt is well-liked, but despite these character differences it’s hard to not root for both drivers throughout the film; it’s almost as if you would have been disappointed by the outcome no matter who had won. It’s the conviction that Brühl and Hemsworth bring the roles that make both characters so lovable in their own way. I should also mention that at no point in the film did I think to myself, “wow, Thor looks so weird driving a race car!” So that’s a plus for Hemsworth.

The emotional stakes of the film are also high; the car crash that nearly takes Lauda’s life is painful to watch, and Lauda’s subsequent difficult recovery is heart-wrenching, especially as we watch him try to put on his racing helmet for the first time after the crash. Olivia Wilde briefly appears in the film as Hunt’s wife Suzy Miller, but she literally has two and a half scenes before her character is finished onscreen, which is a shame because it seems like a waste of talent. Alexandra Maria Lara as Lauda’s wife Marlene Knaus is a new face for me, but not an unwelcome one – her sweet disposition and pretty smile provide a nice contrast to Lauda’s considerably less attractive physique, which makes the pair’s relationship all the more endearing.

The racing as seen in the film never bored me or made me uninterested, which is a testament to the actors’ abilities to draw me in and make a subject that I’m not interested in engrossing. The color scheme of both the race cars as they flash by and of the film as a whole is vibrant and exciting, especially when paired with composer Hans Zimmer’s equally exciting score. Zimmer’s music is an incredible asset to the film, combining the action of the racing with the drama of the characters; the main theme is adapted throughout the film to alternately “drive” forward (sorry, couldn’t resist making the joke again…) or to sit back and bring a little more weight to the scene at hand. I think I say it with the release of every new Zimmer score, but he is definitely improving with age.

I certainly have my complaints, however. For starters, the film’s biggest issue is that it often seems like it is trying to be overly profound, as if the screenwriter sat in front of his computer thinking to himself, “hmmm, what can I say in this scene that is really deep and intellectual-sounding?” As a result, many lines seem forced, with the best example I can think of being one heard in many of the film’s trailers, said by Hemsworth’s character: “Don’t go to men who are willing to kill themselves driving in circles looking for normality.” Perhaps it’s just the way that Hemsworth says the line, but it just seems completely unnecessary. My other complaint is with the ending, though I’m quickly changing my mind about it. In my initial opinion, it was too anti-climactic, which is a problem often associated with real-life films, especially after such incredible climaxes as the final race. However, what I love about the ending is that it truly highlights the contrast between the two leads. Lauda has matured quite a bit in his journey, but Hunt is still the same person he always has been, a difference that shows the contrast between the drivers’ motivations. So the ending isn’t awful, and the fact that it ends on a quiet note closes out the dramatic nature of the film nicely.

Anyway, I really liked this movie. It’s absorbing all the way through, and the performances of the two leads, especially Brühl, are wonderful. It’s not a perfect film, but it is an enjoyable one that is also brilliantly inspiring. Even if you’re not a racing fan, Rush is worth checking out.

-Chad

Rating: 4 (out of 5)

MPAA: R – for sexual content, nudity, language, some disturbing images and brief drug use

 


42 (2013)

I love baseball. I grew up playing baseball and have fond memories of attending Texas Rangers games with my family as a child, so I can always appreciate a good baseball film, whether it’s a baseball film that isn’t really about baseball (i.e. Moneyball), baseball films that ARE about baseball, or even cult classics like The Sandlot. After last year’s Trouble with the Curve left much to be desired (my review), I was quite excited to see 42, even from the very first trailer I saw for it last fall sometime. I desperately wanted it to be a great film, but, unfortunately, I was pretty disappointed.

42 tells the story of how Jackie Robinson (Chadwick Boseman) became the first African American baseball player to play in Major League Baseball in modern times. He’s now considered to be one of the greatest baseball players of all-time. His legacy continues in the form of Jackie Robinson Day, celebrated by players in the MLB every year on April 15 (which, not-so-coincidentally, is the date on which I’m typing up this review). Robinson was and continues to be a giant in the world of baseball; however, this film does a poor job of showing all of this.

Almost all of my complaints have to do with characters and dialogue. I understand the need to take liberties with history to make it fit into a movie that caters to its audience better, but 42 seems to me to be severely over-romanticized. The relationship shown between Jackie and his wife, Rachel (Nicole Beharie), is sickeningly sugar-sweet throughout, with there not being a single bit of conflict shown between the two of them. While “lack of conflict” is not a problem in and of itself, Rachel’s dialogue is disgustingly cutesy and over the top. Harrison Ford as Dodgers general manager Branch Rickey is strange; he talks in as low a voice register as possible, makes analogies that never make sense, talks at the rate of about seven words per minute, and constantly waves around a half-smoked, chewed-on cigar. As much as I love Harrison Ford in just about everything else he’s done, I really didn’t care for him here. Another character, a small African American boy who is apparently supposed to be younger version of someone who was inspired by Robinson in real life and eventually made it to professional baseball, has incredibly corny lines, namely one in which, after running after a train that Robinson is riding in, he places his head on the tracks and says to his friends, “I can still hear him!” It would have been perfectly achievable to show us that people were inspired by Robinson without this awful child character, and, in fact, that is done better later in the film when Rickey tells Robinson that he saw a little white boy pretending to be Robinson.

The only actor in this film who I can actually praise is Boseman, who plays the closest thing to a believable character to be found in the film. He never tries to be over-extravagant with his actions or emotions, and the moments in which his emotions ARE heightened never feel false. He plays the role admirably, which is a good thing considering the fact that the film is about him and we’re supposed to care about him; frankly, I didn’t care about any of the other characters. I liked some of the Christian statements made in the film by Rickey, who was known for his strong Christian beliefs, though I wasn’t overly fond of the bad language that often accompanied his biblical wisdom. I also liked some of the themes of struggle and equality that were present in the film, though I wasn’t overly fond of the characters who embodied these themes (i.e. Wendell Smith (Andre Holland), an African American journalist who wasn’t allowed to sit in the press box with the white journalists).

You can tell that I really didn’t enjoy this film, but you should also know that I didn’t hate it. Yes, it has its problems (including several that I didn’t mention here), but it’s still a decent baseball movie, and Boseman in the main role makes up for a lot of the film’s faults. I don’t claim to be a Jackie Robinson expert or even remotely knowledgeable on the subject, but I’d like to think that my points are valid and that I’m not the only one who thinks this way. 42 will certainly please casual moviegoers and those who may not be as bothered by the characters as I was, and hopefully fellow baseball lovers will find something to enjoy as well. After all, this movie is all about one person who just wanted to play the game.

-Chad

Rating: 2 (out of 5)

MPAA: PG-13 – for thematic elements including language