October 29, 2011

Moneyball

Who knew you could make a compelling movie about statistics?

I am not a statistics expert, but I love sharing interesting baseball stats so much, that I struck a deal with my wife: I only share ONE interesting baseball stat per week from the Boston Sunday Globe's Baseball coverage. While reading the MONEYBALL book, I had to limit myself to one tidbit per chapter. Lots of tongue-biting going on.

MONEYBALL the movie is also interesting and well-told, even if there isn't a lot of plot. A baseball career as a metaphor for life isn't a new idea, but Brad Pitt is compelling playing Athletics GM Billy Beane, a grown-up real person who's coming to terms with the good and bad choices in his past, while he makes similar "life choices" for the life of his baseball team. Who better to discover that the team need to turn its back on tradition than a man who learned too late that he wasn't meant to be a traditional baseball player?
Jonah Hill (right) does not play a passive-aggressive
bitter rageaholic in this movie, for a change.

Making changes to a baseball team is like u-turning a cruise ship: you can't expect to see results right away. It's convenient for the plot of the movie that the same season that Beane makes his radical changes to the Athletics, the team caps that season with a dramatic winning streak, featuring of Beane's radical Moneyball choices, newbie first baseman Scott Hatteberg (the terrific Chris Pratt). Maybe less convenient for the movie (and the Moneyball philosophy as a whole)? In the following decade, the Athletics have won 90 games only four times (with three playoff appearances).

Brad Pitt deserves some award recogition for his quiet, deep portrayal of a mid-life... well, it's not a crisis, more of a mid-life re-evaluation. Also, it's nice to see Pitt playing a guy who wears polo shirts and drives an SUV. Has he ever played an ordinary dad before? Anyone? My grade: B-plus (Somerville Theater, during the Halloween Snowstorm, with my wife)

MORE Brad Pitt movies on STUB HUBBY

October 28, 2011

The Rum Diary

A shaggy-dog story; an overheated and drunk dog too. Wildly colorful, joyfully verbose and splattered with insults, casual racism, potent sexuality, and deranged fervor. At the center is the relatively stable Johnny Depp as dissolute journalist Paul Kemp, his latest love letter to author Hunter S Thompson.
Mixed in with the drunken adventures in the Third World is Kemp's mild outrage at corporate imperialism exploiting the native population and environment. If it weren't for Kemp's occasional railing against the inevitable, there'd be no plot at all. His moral fiber is the only thing he seems to care about, and it seems inorganic.
Aaron Eckhart is really good at playing the charming dick, it's too bad there's no other side to his character. Amber Heard has a classic beauty, which is fully explored here. I'm hopeful she can leverage her beauty, Charlize Theron style, but the jury's still out.
With Johnny Depp's relatively restrained antics at the center, Richard Jenkins, Giovanni Ribisi, and Michael Rispoli are able to unspool their id completely, to high comic effect. If Depp where more zany, the film would resemble an unlocked monkey cage.
I wasn't expecting any more that what I've described, and Johnny Depp is such a charming and loveable comic actor, that I thoroughly enjoyed the ride. My grade: B-plus! (Harvard Square Church St Screen 1, with George and Adam)

October 27, 2011

Dr. No

Watching Dr. No (1962), the first James Bond movie, on DVD this week, I was struck by the plot which didn't make any sense, and the cliches which make taking the movie seriously in 2011 impossible.
We begin in Jamaica. Professor Strangways, the man we later learn is the British Intelligence agent in the Kingston office, is killed. While walking to his car at the gentlemen's club, he's caught off guard by three Jamaican thugs posing as blind beggars. They shoot him in the back with pistols equipped with silencers. Suddenly, their getaway car roars around the bend to whisk the body away. Their getaway car is a hearse (get it?) but it makes so much noise, with tires squealing and the engine roaring, that the hearse negates the stealthy silencers? This is only the first example of terrible "foley" sound effects. This is one of those 1960s movies where you can clearly hear every footstep CLIP clop CLIP clop...
Moments later, at Strangways' office, his secretary dials in the shortwave radio for the daily bulletin to London when the thugs arrive. Weirdly, one of the thugs, standing outside French doors, breaks a pane of glass with the barrel of his silencer-equipped pistol, then shoots her? Why pre-break the glass?
  • Breaking the glass makes noise, so why are you using a silencer?
  • There's no need to pre-break the glass; the bullet will do that on its way through!
We learn later that these attacks were ordered by genius megalomaniac Dr. No, in order to prevent Strangways from learning more about his nuclear-powered stronghold on Crab Key. However, the manner of the deaths looks very suspicious to M, so he sends Bond to Kingston to investigate.
Even before he leaves the airport, he's lured into a trap- another thug poses as a chauffeur. Bond immediately discovers the ruse, and, for the first of many times in the Bond franchise, he lets himself be trapped in order to hunt the hunter and get some answers.
As Bond rides in the convertible (with another car following) across Jamaica, we are treated to some nice location shooting, including footage of Sean Connery shot from a car-mounted camera rig. Remember this for later.
The next attempt on his life is death by tarantula, a rightfully memorably scary scene...but how exactly do you murder someone with a tarantula? Bond is sleeping in his hotel suite. The advantage of a tarantula is that you don't have to physically enter the suite- the spider can slip in through a window. BUT tarantulas aren't predatory carnivores who crave hot blood! If you drop a spider in a hotel suite, are they inclined to seek out bodies in beds and bite them to death? OR you could place the tarantula in the bed with Bond BUT if you're able to break into his suite and get close enough to Bond's bed, why bother with the spider? As Scott Evil said in Austin Powers, just shoot him!
In the course of Bond's investigation, he determines that there's a leak between the Intelligence office in Kingston and Dr. No. Bond immediately suspects foxy secretary Miss Taro. Did James Bond invent the "He knows she's a spy, and she knows he knows, but neither admits it" dynamic? Bond gets himself invited to Miss Taro's bungalow, basically inviting her to try to kill him.
As Bond drives his convertible up into the hills of Jamaica to pick her up, Miss Taro phones the hearse-driving thug to run him off the road. Bond is chased around the twisty dirt mountain roads by the hearse. All of the footage of Bond being pursued by the hearse feature Connery fake-driving against a rear-projection of the hearse following, intercut with location footage of stunt drivers. How come they used a car-mounted camera rig to shoot Connery on location earlier, but this chase is filmed in a studio? To make it worse, the foley sound effects are of cars skidding on asphalt, not dirt or gravel.
Once Connery arrives at the bungalow-- Miss Taro never expected him to make it-- he seduces her, and they have sex. She consents in order to delay Bond long enough to give another of Dr. No's agents a chance to arrive and kill Bond. Bond sleeps with her to give the local office time to arrive and arrest her. He could have just arrested her personally, and held her at gunpoint until the cops arrived, but no, he basically slept with her out of spite. She spits in his face as she's taken away.
Eventually Bond lands secretly on Dr. No's Crab Key, site of his nuclear-powered NASA-sabotaging SPECTRE Evil Lair. He is captured along with local beauty and simpleton Honey Rider (Ursula Andress; voice looped by Nikki Van der Zyl) I don't think I am being racist or sexist to say her character is written as an ignorant savage.
Bond and Honey are escorted into the bunker, scrubbed clean of decontamination in a lengthy "watch our movie stars shower" sequence, then locked in a deluxe suite of cells. The set design for the underground lair is terrific. Very authentic 1960s brutalist design on a large scale, with sleek modern furniture. They're served coffee in their suite, which is spiked with knockout drops. Poisoned drinks are a common trope in mystery stories, but why Dr. No chose to knock them out after they've been captured and neutralized is the real mystery. Is this just a dirty trick? They wake up in their feather beds, so unless Dr. No was taking embarrassing photos of them while they slept, there seems to be no logic to it.

Next is the "dinner with the megalomaniac" scene. Dr. No is a Chinese expat, played by a Canadian actor Joseph Wiseman, with latex hoods over his eyelids, a plain grey Dr Evil tunic, and glossy black robot hands. It's really hard to take him seriously in this post-Austin Powers era. As part of SPECTRE, he is assigned to jam radio signals for the latest NASA rocket in order to crash it into the Atlantic. Bond continually baits Dr. No in an attempt to rattle him, but it doesn't work. Dr. No eventually sends Honey off with the security thugs, hinting that he'll permit some old fashioned gang-raping before they kill her.
Instead of killing Bond, as he had tried to do throughout the movie, he locks him in a cell. The cell has a air vent measuring at least 2 feet by 3 feet. The grate blocking the vent is electrified, but Bond only has to take one zap before he can jostle the grate free and escape.
If your workplace has a sign like this, maybe it's time to refresh your resume.
Maybe something less "radiation-y" would suit you better?
Bond survives several drenchings of water, one of which might be red hot nuclear coolant? I am not sure why Bond didn't mutate into Radioactive Bond? And why is the ventilation system and drain system the same set of pipes? Bond manages to disable a nuclear engineer, steal his coverall radiation suit (which nicely obscures his identity) then makes his way to the nuclear reactor just in time to force a core meltdown and foil Dr. No's plot. In the following pandemonium, Dr. No drowns in the coolant tank, Bond saves Honey from drowning in the rising tides, and they escape the island before the reactor blows up.
BOND & BOURNE MOVIES on Stub Hubby



134 Mayhem

 
  1. "Twenty-Five Miles" Edwin Starr (1969), or, as my wife put it, "that song from Adventures In Babysitting"
  2. "Junk Of The Heart (Happy)" The Kooks
  3. "Cold Comfort Flowers" Fountains of Wayne
  4. "Hammer And A Nail" Indigo Girls
  5. Upon listening to "Careful" by Guster last month, I was immediately reminded of "Hammer and a Nail"
  6. "Mayhem" great muscular arrangement and sassy vocals by Imelda May.
  7. Eurythmics "Would I Lie To You?" This song (from Be Yourself Tonight) has always been one of my favorite rave-up fast driving songs. I found this extended edit on a 12 inch single. As far as I can tell, it's the same mix as the LP, but it doesn't fade out until 25 seconds later.
  8. Pearl Jam "Jeremy" [2009 Remix] Thinking about this song a lot lately as "Pumped Up Kicks" has been all over the airwaves.
  9. Gomez: "How We Operate" I love the loud-and-soft dynamics. Reminds me of Led Zeppelin?
  10. "Lost In My Mind" The Head And The Heart
  11. "Ramble On" Led Zeppelin
  12. "It's Only Natural" Crowded House
  13. "Stripped" A cover of the Depeche Mode song from Duncan Sheik's Eighties Covers LP.
  14. "Outta Mind (Outta Sight)" Wilco
  15. "Candy" from Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers' MOJO LP.
  16. "For You Blue" The Beatles
  17. "She Walks In So Many Ways" As soon as I heard this new Jayhawks song on the radio, I immediately knew (by the two-part harmonies) that it was the Jayhawks, and I knew I wanted to buy it!
  18. "As for Now" Another "thanks to SoundHound" find. This song by newcomer Lindsay Rae Spurlock (the EP is called Heart On) was featured on the Adult Swim show Childrens Hospital. I held my smartphone up to the speaker, triggered SoundHound, and her name popped up!
  19. David Bowie "Modern Love" Nile Rodgers is one of my favorite producers, definitely my favorite producer of the 1980s. Love his drum sound.
  20. The Cadillacs "Speedo" Recently picked up the soundtrack CD for...anyone, anyone? GoodFellas.
  21. "You're The Inspiration" At the Beelzebubs' chapel show at Tufts Homecoming Weekend, the Bubs performance of this Chicago classic (from Chicago 17) was a highlight. Of course, the song is old enough to be the prom theme of the Beelzebubs' parents! Aiee!

October 1, 2011

Random Thoughts for a Slow Autumn

It's been a slow fall for moviegoing at Stub Hubby HQ. I loved the Moneyball book, so that's on my list. If I weren't so busy, I might have seen Columbiana- a no frills revenge thriller? Sign me up. My wife says Crazy Stupid Love was much better than the trailer made it look. Also relegated to the on demand list: Apollo 18, Cowboys & Aliens, Fright Night, and Pearl Jam 20.
I think Anna Faris is an underrated genius (go rent Just Friends!), but no way am I seeing What's Your Number? I am a big Paul Rudd fan, but I simply don't believe him as an Idiot in Our Idiot Brother. And I saw The Lion King in 2D back in 1994, I don't need to see it again in 3D.