Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

Moneyball (2011)

moneyball
Image is property of Scott Rudin Productions, Michael De Luca Productions and Columbia Pictures

Moneyball – Film Review

Cast: Brad Pitt, Jonah Hill, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Robin Wright, Chris Pratt.

Director: Bennett Miller

Synopsis:  A true story focusing on Billy Beane’s efforts to restructure a baseball team on a shoestring budget and in doing so transforms the sport of baseball.

Review: Sports films often feature scenes of glorious success, and sometimes dark misery for the protagonist in question, whether that be Chris Hemsworth as James Hunt or Niki Lauda in 2013’s Rush. Or Sylvester Stallone from the Rocky series. The viewer watches with glee and sometimes anguish as the main sporting hero is either put through their paces, goes through a horrific event, or comes out on top in glorious fashion. There is that moment where everything appears to be going completely horribly wrong and the protagonist must find a way to turn it all around. However, in the case of Moneyball, there is a remarkable absence of sporting-y action to witness. Is this a problem? Well no not really, because director Bennett Miller to use a baseball analogy, has hit a home run to win the championship with this remarkable tale of triumphing against the odds. It’s not all balls, bats and runs that define this engaging story, but one of numbers, facts, and one man’s relentless desire to see his methods through.

The story focuses on Billy Beane (Brad Pitt) as the general manager of the Oakland Atheltics, who has the unenviable task of rebuilding the club’s squad after a number of high profile exits, yet he has to operate on a very small and tight budget, with not much room for negotiation. Through his challenges he hires economics graduate Peter Brand (Jonah Hill) and together, they develop some unprecedented ideas about the value of a player and seek to revolutionise the very nature of the sport and change the game forever. It’s not about the big dollars of a brand new signing, but rather the clever way to cut costs down and still produce a team that is capable of challenging for the very top honours in the sport. This may not sound like a thrilling premise, or one to get the pulses racing like many other sports films would. However, the sport is on the periphery of this story, and even if you have never watched a baseball match before, or have no interest in the sport, it is not a vital ingredient of the enjoyment of this movie, that comes in the shape of their performances and the brilliant screenplay penned by The Social Network‘s Aaron Sorkin. One could think you’re sat in the middle of a very boring maths class with all these stats and numbers being chucked in your direction, and you’re sat there struggling to make sense of it all. However, thanks to the excellent screenplay and dialogue, this is not so.

The acting here is certainly championship quality with Brad Pitt really shining in the lead role as Billy Beane. He anchors the movie with his usual charm and you root for him, because he’s the underdog, going up against all the seasoned scouts who ridicule him and his seemingly preposterous ideas. Also on top form is Jonah Hill as the economics graduate. A man who has spent many years of his career in comedy and has honed his craft in said genre, really showed his terrific acting ability with a serious and strong performance that earned him his first well earned Oscar nomination. The late Philip Seymour Hoffman also delivered a subdued but nonetheless powerful portrayal of the Oakland A’s manager, and the clashes between him and Beane do provide some first class acting and riveting story-telling under the masterful direction of Bennett Miller. For many sports fans, the action on the pitch, be it football, baseball, rugby, cricket or whatever, is what matters. Yet after watching Moneyball, you will come to realise that what goes on behind the scenes is equally, maybe even more important than what goes on on the field of play.

Acted to perfection, with a sharp and engaging screenplay, Bennett Miller and co have hit a home run, and in some style too, to the tune of 6 well earned Oscar nods.

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Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (2013)

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Image is property of Lionsgate

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire – Film Review 

Cast: Jennifer Lawrence,  Josh Hutcherson, Woody Harrelson, Liam Hemsworth, Elizabeth Banks, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Sam Claflin

Director: Francis Lawrence

Synopsis: Katniss has sparked rebellion in the twelve districts of Panem and she has become the target by the ruthless Capitol. As rebellion is brewing, the Capitol prepares for the 75th Hunger Games, also known as the Third Quarter Quell, and one that will change Katniss’s life forever…

Review: A bigger and better adventure than the first film of what already has the makings of a very successful franchise.  A franchise that is quite simply not a plain rip off of Battle Royale as some people would have you believe.

The opening begins with the consequences of Katniss and Peeta’s open defiance against the Capitol following their victory in the previous film. Katniss in particular feels the full wrath of the cold President Snow (Donald Sutherland) who threatens Katniss with the deaths of all those she holds dear unless she cools the brewing rebellion that is gaining momentum throughout the nation’s twelve districts. Katniss is seen as the symbol of rebellion and Snow desperately wants to kill her to crush the rebellion. Yet Plutarch Heavensbee (Philip Seymour Hoffman) suggests that she be brought down to the level of the Capitol and the symbol of hope that she has become will be eradicated. Sutherland takes his performance form the first film up a gear and he definitely comes into his own as the cold and cruel leader of Panem.

Jennifer Lawrence rose to super stardom following her performance as the film’s star heroine in last year’s film. Following on from this, the 23 year old has got bigger and now has on Oscar for her role in Silver Linings Playbook. The only way is up for her and her performance as the film’s lead character was again fantastic. A strong and powerful female heroine is rare in films these days but with Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss, she gives us the strong female lead that has helped define this franchise and dare I say, helps bring a positive image of women in action movies and not the sulking and needy women that has come from franchises of the past (*cough* Twilight *cough) The returning cast are also on form again with Stanley Tucci as the bubbly Casear Flickman and Elizabeth Banks as the ever colourful and this time much more emotional Effie Trinket.  Josh Hutcherson and Woody Harrelson also reprise their roles to great effect. Among the new members of the cast, Sam Claflin is the most noteworthy as Finnick Odair. Yet the likes of Beetee (Jeffrey Wright), Wiress (Amanda Plummer), Mags (Lynn Cohen) and Johanna (Jena Malone) also make strong impressions.

Under a new director, Francis Lawrence who is not a relation of Jennifer, the film’s action scenes definitely improve and the frustrating shaky cam has been done away with. This film does focus a lot more on some of the crucial elements that are within the books and as the content of this film is considerably darker than its predecessor. A notable example of this is the significance of the Mockingjay pin that went completely amiss in the first film. The director does a great job in bringing those elements from Collins’ novel to the big screen and all in all it is pulled off really well with some exciting and pulsating  scenes especially when we get to the arena which again is done extremely well.

Under Lawrence’s direction, this franchise is in good hands and the final two parts of the franchise have got the potential to be even better than the first two. With the third biggest opening in the UK for 2013, it seems the UK public continue to want the odds to be in their favour. This film definitely delivers what the hordes of passionate Hunger Games fans wanted to see.  It was exciting, dark and was all round perfectly executed. It was  much more loyal to the book  than the first film. While it was not completely loyal, it was still very enjoyable and I eagerly await the next instalment of this franchise.

Upping the stakes as a sequel should, Catching Fire  delivers much more compelling action with a really solid story that ensures the odds are very much in this franchise’s favour.

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