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Review: Moneyball, The Ides of March, Shame, Weekend, This Means War, Romantics Anonymous and Big Miracle

By March 1, 20122 Comments

Moneyball posterThis week Philip Seymour Hoffman fea­tures in two new American sports movies, one about their most ven­er­able – if not impen­et­rable – pas­time of base­ball and the oth­er on the modern-day equi­val­ent of bear-baiting, the pres­id­en­tial primar­ies. In Moneyball, Hoffman plays Art, team man­ager of the Oakland Athletics, left behind when his boss – Brad Pitt – decides to throw away dec­ades of base­ball tra­di­tion and use soph­ist­ic­ated stat­ist­ic­al ana­lys­is and a schlubby Yale eco­nom­ics gradu­ate (Jonah Hill) to pick cheap but effect­ive players.

Hoffman steals every scene he is in but dis­ap­pears from the story too early. Having said that, Pitt and Hill do great work under­play­ing recog­nis­ably real people and all are well-supported by Steve Zaillian and Aaron Sorkin’s script which has scene after scene of great moments, even if some of them lead nowhere (like poor Art’s arc). Moneyball might start out a sports movie but it’s actu­ally a busi­ness text­book. If the place you work at clings to received wis­dom, exper­i­ence and intu­ition over “facts” then organ­ise an out­ing to Moneyball as fast as you can.

The Ides of March posterHoffman then pro­ceeds to act the great Ryan Gosling off the screen in every scene they share in The Ides of March, George Clooney’s latest as dir­ect­or. It’s com­ing up to the cru­cial Ohio primary and Clooney’s ideal­ist­ic state gov­ernor Morris needs a tiny push to con­firm the nom­in­a­tion against his more tra­di­tion­al oppon­ent. Hoffman is seasoned cam­paign man­ager Paul Zara and Gosling is the gif­ted young appren­tice. When the wheels start to fall off – mostly self-inflicted by a cam­paign that doesn’t know wheth­er it prefers win­ning to being right – they turn on each oth­er and the ven­eer of ideal­ism disintegrates.

I’m still not sure wheth­er Gosling is genu­inely out his depth in The Ides of March or is just play­ing someone who is. Even so, Clooney’s film is strangely cyn­ic­al about polit­ic­al motiv­a­tion but would have been much more enter­tain­ing if he’d focused on the clowns cur­rently fight­ing it out on the Republican side.

Shame posterSteve McQueen’s Shame may be the best por­trait of addic­tion and trauma ever com­mit­ted to the screen, a har­row­ing yet riv­et­ing story of two sib­lings fail­ing to deal with some unspe­cificied child­hood trauma in dif­fer­ent but equally self-destructive ways. Michael Fassbender plays Brandon: a suc­cess­ful career in Manhattan hides his addic­tion to sex, an addi­cition that pre­vents him from form­ing rela­tion­ships or even stay­ing too long in his own head. Meanwhile sis­ter Sissy (Carey Mulligan) goes from one depend­ant rela­tion­ship to anoth­er, mask­ing her own unhappiness.

What could be – and let’s face it, is – a troub­ling sub­ject to watch is softened by McQueen’s beau­ti­ful eye and even though he and co-screenwriter Abi Morgan occa­sion­ally over­play their hand with the visu­al allu­sions the film itself is nev­er less than rav­ish­ing. Shame is one of the most import­ant films of recent years and it thor­oughly recommended.

Weekend posterAnother side of the same coin – and equally man­dat­ory view­ing – is the ultra-low budget Brit indie Weekend. Two gay men meet at a bar and have a one-night stand but it doesn’t take too long before they real­ise that some­thing deep­er has been stim­u­lated and they simply have to see each oth­er again. Which would be great – except one of them only has the week­end before he leaves the coun­try for two years. What con­nec­tions can (or should) they make in only two days?

Weekend is a beau­ti­ful por­tray­al of the dance that is the first stage of a rela­tion­ship, when intim­acy – of the kind that Fassbender’s Brandon is so unable to exper­i­ence in Shame – is that potent mix of ter­ri­fy­ing and transformative.

This Means War posterLast week Valentine’s Day went unre­marked in this house apart from watch­ing the films that were released to exploit it. This Means War is about two young men com­pet­ing for the same girl (Reese Witherspoon) and treats the lying, cheat­ing, spy­ing and double-dealing that res­ults as simply all fair in love and war. Speaking as someone who has nev­er know­ingly under-prepared for a date, I can under­stand the impulses at the core of This Means War but what I can’t for­give is the bone-headed exe­cu­tion from dir­ect­or McG (Charlie’s Angels) and the utter charm­less­ness of the two leads (Star Trek’s Chris Pine and usu­ally bril­liant young Brit Tom Hardy).

Romantics Anonymous posterThe French entry in the “make Valentine’s Day go away” com­pet­i­tion is Romantics Anonymous, a com­edy about two shy people work­ing togeth­er in a chocol­ate fact­ory who – for no appar­ant reas­on – fall instantly in love and then fail to do any­thing about it. Bearing no resemb­lance to real life what­so­ever, Romantics Anonymous will prove to be a waste of time for most of you.

Big Miracle posterRegular read­ers will know that I have a soft spot for anim­al redemp­tion movies (Dolphin Tale, Secretariat) but Big Miracle won me over with more than just the true story of a fam­ous 1988 Alaskan whale res­cue. In a very tidy 107 minutes it man­ages to cov­er lots of ground smartly and sens­it­ively – indi­gen­ous rights and cul­ture; the ten­sion between eco­nom­ic devel­op­ment and envir­on­ment­al pre­ser­va­tion, region­al polit­ics versus nation­al polit­ics and the end of the Cold War.

Big Miracle is a film with plenty of ant­ag­on­ists but no vil­lain – even Drew Barrymore’s hero­ic Greenpeace act­iv­ist turns out to be more stub­born and inflex­ible than Ted Danson’s oil exec­ut­ive – and one of the more bizarre con­clu­sions to the story even turns out to be true with the wed­ding pho­tos over the clos­ing cred­its to prove it. Big Miracle is a good, pos­it­ive, cockle-warming film and is well worth a fam­ily trip to the pictures.

Printed in Wellington’s Capital Times on Wednesday 22 February, 2012.


  • perky says:

    Like it Dan as always – Graeme Tuckett on National Radio did­n’t like Shame one little bit. I sense if you’ve come from, or had a close exper­i­ence with addic­tion, your appre­ci­ation of this film may be deep­er. Good stuff mate.

    • Dan says:

      Thanks Perky. It may have been too close to home for GT, who knows? It’s such a trouble­some area. I found it hard to dis­cuss without relat­ing it back to my own experience.