Moneyball (dir. Bennett Miller, Columbia, 126 minutes)
God help you if you don’t like baseball and wander into Moneyball. The fact-based sports drama is one of the most esoteric films of its kind, dealing with numbers and percentages in place of physical action. It puts its head in the game, so to speak. Baseball above all other sports lends itself to minute analysis of various positions, something GM Billy Beane (Brad Pitt) and his assistant Pete Brand (Jonah Hill) want to take full advantage of.
Their Oakland A’s team is slouching. Brand envisions a roster built on underemphasized elements of the game, such as a player’s ability to get on base as opposed to batting average. Beane puts the plan into practice, creating a team cheaply, built of players excelling in those devalued areas while earning scorn from sports purists. He wants to change the game, and through an emotional arc I assume not carried over from Michael Lewis’s book, makes up for his failure as a major leaguer in the early ‘80s.
The script doesn’t do much to connect Beane’s past disgrace and current ambitions. It also leads to one of the most jarring casting choices of recent memory, with Pitt playing Beane in middle-age and Reed Thompson, who kinda sorta looks like Pitt if you squint as Beane in rookie years only a few decades earlier.
Aside from that tacked-on part of the story, Moneyball involves those who are already interested in some great back-room drama. As an attempt to introduce a unique idea to a wide audience, it doesn’t really work, but as I count myself among the curious ... 3.5/5
You’re Next (dir. Adam Wingard, distributer TBD, 96 minutes)
Adam Wingard has become something of an indie horror icon for creating low-budget genre titles quickly and efficiently that, wouldn’t you know it, don’t suck. You’re Next has a premise that has fuelled a thousand straight-to-DVD crapfests but Wingard’s ensemble cast and tightly controlled setup (with a gleeful sense of humour) make it, if not great, at least better than slasher fans usually ask for.
The Davison family has gathered at their remote lakeside cottage. Three brothers and a sister have brought along their significant others for an evening jammed with potential victims dinner guests. After some banal conversation and idle conflict, an arrow shoots through the window, signalling the arrival of some very nasty customers. I won’t reveal the particulars of who is doing the killing or why in You’re Next, but I will say they face one hell of a lead heroine, an Australian student named Erin (Sharni Vinson) who kicks like a mother kangaroo.
Vinson and Wingard pour so much energy into You’re Next that you may not realize how little originality it actually has until it’s long over. What it lacks in brains it makes up for in spirit, something sorely lacking from this year’s Hollywood thrillers. 3/5
Alois Nebel (dir. Tomáš Lunák, Match Factory, 84 minutes)
A rail line runs through a forest in Czechoslovakia, not long before the fall of the Berlin wall. In a remote station, dispatcher Alois Nebel has succumbed to memories of losing his German caregiver at the end of World War II, and spends his days coldly reciting train schedules. He will be whisked off to a sanitarium, in hopes of regaining some sanity. Meanwhile, a mysterious mute runs loose in the woods, carrying an axe. Nebel is kind to this stranger in their first meeting, and their fates will soon cross in unexpected ways.
That’s the setup of Alois Nebel, a visually striking and deeply moving debut feature from Tomáš Lunák. Filmed in stark shades of black and white (with a lot of grey in between) and rotoscoped into animation to resemble its source material, a graphic novel by Jaroslav Rudiš, it yields great visual power, with every shot enveloping the viewer. It’s not hard to imagine how much Alois Nebel would have lost its impact on standard film; the way Lunák and his animators make beautiful, fluid imagery out of presumably drab stations and winter landscapes is close to ingenious. 5/5