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Moneyball: Underdog Fights the System
Billy Beane (Pitt) is the general manager of the Oakland Athletics, a baseball team with the lowest budget in the entire league. The team makes it all the way to the last game of the season where they lose and suddenly they’re back at square one again; except this time, their three star players have been bought by bigger teams who can actually afford to pay them decent salaries.
Smarting from the loss, Billy vows to find a way to beat the system and make a championship-winning team out of the financially challenged Oakland A's. While looking for solutions to his dilemma, he meets Peter Brand (Hill), a recent Economics graduate from Yale who is a firm believer in the merits of analyzing the players’ worth according to statistics instead of perceived talent.
Beane is completely fed up with the constraints of the baseball system that decree whether or not you need to have an open budget at your disposal to be able to put together a halfway decent team. He has to find a way to assemble a team that is greater than the sum of its parts and not just a bunch of star players thrown together. Pitt conveys Beane’s exasperation at the injustice of the system well and he makes it seem completely rational when he puts his career on the line just to test out this newfangled system.
Brand is the kind of character that would usually go to Jesse Eisenberg; not Jonah Hill. He’s a super smart guy with little people skills and an all-consuming faith in the merits of this system that everyone seems to scoff at. He’s taken completely by surprise when Beane expresses an interest in what he has to say, being more accustomed to people completely ignoring his existence. Hill is decent as the unconfident and awkward geek even if he does occasionally border on autistic.
This film is based on a true story and the filming style keeps that firmly in mind. There’s plenty of footage of old baseball matches and some of the shots are similar to those of documentaries. It’s an interesting technique and a perfect fit for the film.
Baseball novices will find a lot of the jargon flying way over their heads. The basic theme - a man wanting to change the system and democratize it - comes over loud and clear. However, if you don’t understand the technicalities of the new data analysis system championed in the film, you may not appreciate just how revolutionary this new approach was.
Moneyball is very heavy on the dialogue and unsurprisingly, the most exciting bits involve Brad Pitt negotiating deals over the phone, and not any of the games. This is less of a film about the sport and more about a guy trying to make over the unfair system that governs it.
Marking the fifth instalment in the Underworld franchise, Blood Wars rests in the hands of a first-time feature director, Anna Foerster who, although managing to create a few notable moments of action, fails to bring any ingenuity or freshness to its now exhausted vampires-versus-werewolves narrative.
The story begins with a brief recap of events from the last four films where we learn that everyone’s favourite vampire death dealer, Selena (once again fully embraced by the leather-clad, forever sulking Kate Beckinsale) has been betrayed and banished by her kind.
Still trying to cope with the pain of having given up her vampire-werewolf hybrid daughter Eve for everyone’s safety, Selena is surprised to be summoned back into the vampire community - now led by the scheming Semira (Pulver) - who wish to make use of her skills in order to train the new generation of fighters, while still escaping her own chasers and searching for her daughter.
Taking quite a bit of time to get going, Blood Wars – written by Cory Goodman – is filled with lots of politics and nonsensical dialogue between characters who seemingly have a hard time in conveying any emotion, thus, making it all that difficult for the viewer to get invested in what they have to say. Drenched in a seemingly cold, metallic-blue tint, Blood Wars – although certainly not heavy on the action front – does manage to offer a couple relatively exciting action set-pieces. However, considering that this is a vampires-verses-werewolves kind of a movie, there just isn’t enough of that that specific mythology to set it apart from any other action movies – no wooden stakes or silver bullets to see here folks, just plenty of swirling swords and guns that can’t hurt anyone.
Another problem here is that the mythology behind the franchise in general – something the keeps spinning around aimlessly with no real focus or ending in sight – is a little hard to take seriously.
All of the characters, including the PVC-wearing Kate Beckinsale, who thinks that scowling her way through the scenes will get her anywhere, are all without an ounce of charm or personality – which sadly, brings us to a conclusion that there is no fun to be had in this rather forgettable cinematic offering and generic continuation of a franchise which, perhaps, might be ready now to close its doors and call it a day.
What can you say about the seemingly unstoppable force that is Nicolas Cage that hasn’t been said before? A magnet for the most troubled, muddled and just generally exasperating films to hit cinemas in the last five years, his latest work in USS Indianapolis: Men of Courage does nothing to change his fortunes.
Despite being based on one a true story that has all the makings of a war epic, the Mario Van Peebles-directed USS Indianapolis bleeds all and any gravitas and emotion out of its incredibly dramatic source material.
The story goes as thus: the eponymous US Navy cruiser delivered the first parts of the atomic bomb that would go on to devastate Hiroshima, before being torpedoed by the Japanese navy, leaving some 300 of the 1000-plus crewmen dead and the rest stranded in shark-infested waters. Said sharks, along with dehydration and salt water poisoning, leave just over 300 survivors to be rescued.
At the centre of the ensuing hubbub is Cage’s Captain McVay, who many, very unreasonably, blame for the death of the 700 or so victims – so you see, it’s a very complex story, but one that very quickly descend into and exercise on how not to make a war film.
The occasional laughable CGI aside, Cage is oddly sedate, bordering on placid, in his role – yes, the central character is possibly the flattest element of the film, while seasoned actors, Tom Sizemore and Thomas Jane, are given little to chew on in their respective roles.
While starting exactly as one would expect a war film to, the wreckage part of the film turns into cheap disaster movie, before turning into a courtroom drama in the final act. It’s a muddle of a film that fails to really drum to the beat of McVay’s potentially brilliant arc as a firm commander that eventually buckles under the unjust pressure he receives back at home.
Bad CGI, a mammoth two hour-plus running time and Nic Cage can be forgiven, but what’s at the heart of this film’s mess is the script. Jumping from event to event, plotline to plotline, at a whim, with Cage’s soft murmured speech used to pave over the transitions, USS Indianapolis’s pacing is that of a film hurrying to stuff as many ideas and threads as possible – expect that’s not the case. Van Peebles tries so hard to build the layers of an epic, when, actually, all he needed to do was tell this simple but stirring story as it is.