REVIEW: Trouble with the Curve

8 10 2012

Chances are you’ve already seen “Trouble with the Curve” … but you just don’t know it yet.

If you’ve seen “Gran Torino,” you’ve seen it.  Clint Eastwood is just doing a PG-13 version of his cranky, stubborn Walt Kowalski.  Don’t get me wrong, I still find that fairly entertaining though as I intend to pattern my 80-year-old willful disregarding of social conventions on him.  As aging Atlanta Braves scout Gus, he’s still got the ability to make curmudgeonly charming once again.

If you’ve seen “The Fighter,” you’ve seen it.  Amy Adams essentially does a dolled-up reprisal of her role as Charlene the MTV Girl, a tenacious sports groupie and strongly opinionated woman.  Here, she’s got some of those same qualities on display as Gus’ daughter Mickey, a baseball enthusiast looking to climb the corporate ladder but faces casual workplace misogyny.  She gets called onto the road to assist her ailing father, reawakening her love for the game.  Adams is a bright and fun presence on the screen, but it’s hardly of the caliber of performance David O. Russell got out of her.

If you’ve seen … really any Justin Timberlake movie, you’ve seen it.  Whether it’s “The Social Network,” “Bad Teacher,” or “Friends with Benefits,” it’s the same old schtick for the former N*Sync frontman.  It’s less Sean Parker-ish here, however, since the character doesn’t have nearly the dimensionality of an Aaron Sorkin creation.  Timberlake tackles the role of Johnny, a failed baseball player turned novice scout.  Gus has made, then broken, then made his career … and may have made his dreams with Mickey.

If you’ve seen “Moneyball,” you’ve seen this movie.  Even though “Trouble with the Curve”  is about the human calculations of baseball while Bennett Miller’s Best Picture nominee glorified computer models and statistics as the new great tool of baseball, both share an equal goal of bringing back a romanticism quickly disappearing from America’s pastime.

But strangely enough, “Moneyball” does a better job achieving this drawing parallels between computer pixels and the bright stadium lights.  “Trouble with the Curve,” clunking along at a leisurely pace it doesn’t earn (I mean seriously, it feels like an extra innings game), can only muster up cliches to show how much it loves baseball.  The game has seen better, and it deserves better.  C+

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REVIEW: The Descendants

14 03 2012

Mixing comedy and drama is a perilous task, but Alexander Payne makes it look like he could do it in his sleep in his remarkable new film “The Descendants.”  An absolute triumph of writing and directing, he finds the humor in the tragic situations and gravity in the funniest moments.  His pathos is unconventional and unexpected, leaving his words and messages lingering in your head for days.

Just like some of Payne’s previous films like “Election” and “About Schmidt,” he chooses to tell the story through the eyes of a prickly protagonist.  In “The Descendants,” it’s Matt King (George Clooney), the owner of a massive Hawaiian land inheritance.  After his unfaithful wife lapses into a coma after a freak boating accident, Matt must come to terms that he has been absent as the head of his family.  His role as the “understudy” comes to bite him in the butt as he is forced to assume both parenting roles actively on short notice.

Payne’s screenplay (which he co-wrote with Nat Faxon and Jim Rash) begins its narrations through voice-overs from Matt that illuminate his thoughts.  We get a chance to fully grasp his frustrations, his anxieties, and his fears before we really get down in the mud with him during these trying times.  The narration slowly disappears as the movie progresses, but that hardly means we lose our connection to Matt.  Instead, Payne wisely trusts leading man George Clooney to take over control of communicating his character to the audience.

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