Sunday, September 23, 2012

Cinema Babble: The Anti-Moneyball

The Flick: Trouble With The Curve

The Peeps: Clint Eastwood, Amy Adams, John Goodman, Justin Timberlake, Matthew Lillard, etc, etc.

The Dealio: Widower Gus is an old-fashioned baseball scout with a great track-record on 'finds' and failing eyesight. His track-record with his daughter- indeed with all those who care about him- is decidedly less successful. Mickey, his daughter, now a power attorney with a large Atlanta firm, is angling for a partnership, trying desperately to avoid committing to a significant other and struggling with her prickly relationship with the dad she adores, but doesn't really 'get'. Rubber-hits-the-road time (literally) poses an interesting dilemma for father and daughter: there is a mega-huge prospect down  North Carolina way, and Gus wants to check him out in person. And  eyesight is only one of the problems Gus has to face: at work, with only three months left on his contract, the man who vowed never to retired is being marginalised by a younger, computer-driven up-and-comer, (Lillard's snotty, sneaky and condescending Phillip), who just wants to seal the deal from the front office and divest the team of the traditional scouts. The adventures start, not only for Gus and Mickey, but also for Johnny 'The Flame' Flanagan, an ex-pitcher scouted by Gus and now looking for a way into the broadcast booth in Boston. Who happens to be scouting the same prospect.

The Grading Session: 4.82 pengies out of 5. I am a total fool for sports movies with a multigenerational thorny problem to figure out and a chance to balance the scales. Therefore, when you add Eastwood- always interesting to watch, Adams, a fine and feisty Mickey, wearing her tender heart on her sleeve and a certain tentative proud/angst-filled attitude towards her gruff, but overwhelmed father, plus the always up-for-it Timberlake to the mix: ta-DAH! It's a decent way to spend a hot afternoon. The middle third dragged a tiny bit, when we we in perilous danger of going real-time with the scouting. Then, at one point, my date leaned in and asked, 'Are we starting another movie here?' But, after about 20-30 minutes of meandering, we course-corrected and headed for the bigs. Your mileage may differ...less usual commute miles.

Lessons Learned: While you can teach an old dog new tricks, it is both hard, and, perhaps, not entirely necessary. I found it interesting that, in one scene, a youngster is talking about Gus, and says, 'Computer?! He couldn't even turn on an electric typewriter!' and then, in the very next scene, we are in Gus' house, and there, sitting on the credenza, is an electric typewriter, which does look well-used. Next this: what qualifies as 'the cheap seats' varies considerably, depending on what it is you are trying to see. Lastly this: how hard is it to clog, if Justin Timberlake can pick it up in under two minutes?

Friday, September 7, 2012

Cinema Babble: Not A Job For The Faint Of Heart...Or Body.

The  Flick: Premium Rush

The Peeps: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Michael Shannon, Dania Ramirez, etc.

The Dealio: Gordon-Levitt's Willee, a bike messenger extraordinaire,  is asked by the roomate of his gal pal (Ramirez) to deliver an envelope to Chinatown. In 90 minutes. A creep with anger/impulse issues, (Shannon), is apparently trying to stop this from happening. The entire story is told in a series of flashbacks, rapid recalculations of possible outcomes and stomach-churning-literally-  wind-sheer sharp action sequences that will leave you wrung out and begging for mercy- and maybe a massage and an aspirin-by the end of the film.

The Grading Session: 4.29 pengies out of 5. The stunning action scenes- which are the foundation of this plotline- are almost crippling in their extreme manipulation of time and motion. While this was certainly an exciting movie, it was also very, very, very improbable. Very. The major idea upon which this plot hinges is as paper-thin and needlessly complex as an old 007 movie or a Rube Goldberg infernal device. Sheesh, gimme the job. I can get it done in about 5 seconds and no one gets beaten, kicked, run over, thumped repeatedly, thrown from a moving vehicle or loses a tooth. But then, that would be a short movie, wouldn't it?

Lessons Learned: I was never meant to be a bike courier. Don't look good in the second-skin shorts, can't dispense with brakes, can't find my way around my own naybe, let alone NYC. And, too, thump the melon 10-15 times and I am totally out of the action. Seriously.  Lastly this: in what weird alternate universe can an out-of-shape cop outrun/keep pace with/be able to run back to his cop car and catch up with a guy on a bike? Without brakes.

Cinema Babble: This Is Your Marriage On Automatic.

The Flick: Hope Springs

The Peeps: Meryl Streep, Tommy Lee Jones, Steve Carrel, etc.

The Dealio: Kay and Arnold are a couple who have already raised their kids but are not yet ready for retirement. But they- especially Kay- is ready for something. Their life together has become one great slide into a stylised kabuki: filled with rituals and the barest amount of actual interaction and physical contact. When Kay learns about a couples' therapist in Maine, (Steve Carrel, in a muted, but so graceful performance),who offers a week-long intensive workshop, she realises that this, this now, is what she needs. What they both need. Problem is, Arnold doesn't see anything wrong with the way things are going at present. Now what? Well, if you've seen the trailer, you know that Kay is going, no matter what; but she truly does wish Arnold would go, too. So, reluctantly, angrily, fussily, spluttering off into stoic silence- he does. But you can't make him like it.

The Grading Session: 4.56 pengies out of 5. First of all, this movie is marketed as a comedy. It is not. Are there funny moments? Yup. But most of the attention-grabbing scenes are anything but funny. These are two actors who bring an authenticity to their performances: Jones' Arnold, with his saddle-leather, lived-in face seems the  average stuck-in-a-rut middle class businessman of a certain age. And then, his eyes flicker and you see usually-masked emotions: love, fear, anger, frustration, self-doubt. Streep's Kay owns the tiny gesture or moue that speaks volumes and makes you move forward in your seat. It is almost as  if each of these gifted  peeps are about to involve you in what is going on behind their stiff expressions and squelched emotions. Carrel, too, contributes a finely crafted performance that is far more challenging, I think, than his broader charactisations, because of the exquisite skill required. So, why not more pengies? Editing. We both felt that the movie could have ended five different times.  This is not a good feeling, once you have invested so heavily in the characters. Tune-up, please! Your mileage may differ.

Lessons Learned: Apparently Arnold-despite his many problems- doesn't have to worry about cholesterol: eggs and bacon. Every. Single. Morning. Then this: I will never look at corgies in quite the same way again. Thanks, Carol ('I can only handle three! Three is my limit'). Thanks, Arnold ('Yeah. Carol. With the corgies.'). Lastly this: love is often hard work, but always worth the labor to keep it green and growing.  Can I get an amen?

Biblio Babble: Our Lady Of The Ladle Rides Again. Sorta.

The Book: Dearie

The Writer: Bob Spitz

The Dealio: Julia McWilliams Child's 'remarkable life', told from the viewpoint of a writer who admits he always had a crush on her. Julia- an indifferent student, a self-described 'social butterfly', one-time clerk (registry manager, if you please) for the OSS, and, finally, arguably the most original and authoritative culinary voice in America, was a mass of contradictions. But she was never boring. Perfectionistic, bossy (a true Leo), Julia started as a non-cook and evolved into an authentic antidote for the TV dinner, the can-opener cookery movement and the emphasis on staying out of the kitchen as much as possible. Along the way, she codified French cooking in a way that anyone-ANYone-could understand. But, if you  think of Julia only as embodied  by Dan Ackroyd's woobly-tippy-toed voiced on SNL-which, BTW, she adored, and made friends watch when they visited- you are rather missing the point. Once Julia found her niche-in teaching, writing and especially on that newfangled invention the television-she set about kicking down the obstacles and stereotypes of what people wanted to see, how people wanted to cook and how they wanted to both entertain and be entertained. Two weeks ago was Julia's 100th birthday, and what more fitting tribute than a brand new books all about the grand dame of cuisine media?

The Grading Session: 4.71 pengies out of 5. This was a behemoth of a book. Agreed, she had almost 92 years of living an extraordinarily populated life to relate...but, please, let's do some editing. I don't think we need to hear 15 times that she loved men her whole life and was constantly on the look-out for a 'real he man'. Also, I confess to becoming depressed - as Julia surely was- by the last few chapters' thumping litany of deaths of those near and dear. I get it. Truly. I do! Now stop that, right now. I did so enjoy the book, and, if you think you really knew pretty much everything about Julia (I have read about 5-6 books on the subject, including the excellent My Life In France, so thought that I did), get ready for some surprises. And, not all of them will be pleasant. Such is her remarkable life. As always, your mileage may differ.

Lessons Learned: First of all, for all her seeming natural personna on the small screen, every single detail- including where utensils, ingredients and comments were to be placed-was mapped out in advance in excruciating detail. Next- and this I learned the hard way (bitter experience, mostly)- let's hear it for  Julia's # 1 tip for successful cooking: read the recipe through all the way to the end first! Would have saved me some really...interesting results. And, having been ignorant of that  tip, I should definitely have  gotten hold of tip #2: never apologise. Lastly this: Julia despised Meryl Streep because of the actress's stance on  Alar on apples. Kind of ironic when you think about it. Kind of mean-spirited, when you think about it again.

Notable Quotable: 'Remember, if you are alone in the kitchen, no problem,' said when she dropped a roasted chicken on the floor.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Cinema Babble: Well, really, who doesn't

The Flick: Jiro Dreams of Sushi

The Peeps: Jiro Ono, Yoshikazu Ono, etc.

The Dealio: This doc highlights 85 year old Jiro Ono, who operates arguably one of the finest sushiya in Tokyo. After looking at his past, we  get to see his relationship with his son and heir, Yoshikazu. We are introduced to those chefs who have been influenced by him, inspired by him, and even felt driven from  the business entirely, based on their experiences with this perfectionist. Unlike most celebrated Western chef-personalities, Jiro is a quiet- not a publicity-seeking- man who holds everyone who works with him to excruciating standards. Standards from which he does not exempt himself. Whether it is the detail of using the wrong shoyu or spending too much for the fish, no detail goes unnoticed. And there is a price to be paid for this level of perfection. Don't believe me? Check out this movie.

The Grading Session: 3.98 pengies out of 4. It absolutely drove me full goose looney that the captioning was white on white background, which made it, for large lengths of time,  very difficult to make out. Jiro and company are not exactly cut from the Jim Carrey school of profound facial expressionism, so this made the job of following  the discussions pretty challenging. Your mileage may differ.

Lessons Learned: Don't tick off a man who is tremndously talented with  large knives. Also this: if, when it is right, you just know, too, when it is wrong, you know that , too. Lastly this: ten points to Griffendor if you can name Jiro's other son. And, yes, there is one.