HomeVideodrome: 'Moneyball' Tackles Universal Themes, Not Just Sports

The HomeVideodrome podcast returns with a meaty show this week, as Jim Dirkes and I discuss the movies we saw over our Christmas break, and of course, we catch up on the new releases.

Speaking of Jim, he was kind of enough to provide the review of “Moneyball” below. You can find more of Jim’s reviews, as well as his weekly podcast, over at The Film Thugs, as well as older episodes of HomeVideodrome. -Hunter

There are sports movies that aren’t really about sports. Some are pretty heavy-handed about it, like “Remember the Titans” (racism is bad), others are more subtle, like “Million Dollar Baby” (redemption), and others cast the sport in a very small supporting role, like “Brian’s Song” (the power of a friendship, and no, I’m not crying, the room is just dusty and I have allergies!).

“Moneyball” falls in the middle category. On the surface it is about the struggling Oakland A’s trying to compete against teams with much higher budgets. If taken just as that, it’s a solid underdog sports film. However, if that’s all you get from it, you are missing a fantastic and innovative movie.

Beyond the simple underdog angle, this is the story of a man who challenged the very foundations of one of the pillars of America itself. Baseball doesn’t cotton to change. The idea of doing something new or different in baseball is… well, it’s easier to change the U.S. Constitution. To give you an idea, the designated hitter (being able to substitute a person to hit in place of the pitcher without removing the pitcher from the game) was introduced in 1973, and there are still people who view it as cheating. Basically, you don’t mess with baseball.

So when Oakland manager Billy Beane decides to go against 100 years of baseball tradition by ignoring the instincts of scouts in favor of a statistical approach… well, he would have been viewed more favorably had he killed someone on field during a game.

What makes the film so engaging is that it focuses on the drama of two outsiders who have the audacity to state that instead of signing players based on how nice their swing looks or how fluid their pitching motion is, that things like on base percentage, the ability to draw walks, or a low ERA might be a better barometer of potential.

Add to this innovative editing as well as striking visual and sound design, and you have a solid and surprising film that is more reminiscent of “The Social Network” than any sports film.

Not only are the story and style outstanding, but also the performances are fantastic. Brad Pitt and Philip Seymour Hoffman deliver the type of solid performance you have come to expect, and Jonah Hill gives by far the best performance of his career and shows that there is a lot more to him than his light comedy resume would lead you to believe.

It might sound like a dry film meant just for baseball fans, but I cannot stress enough how much more it is. This is a movie about what people can do if they just step back from the expected norms and stay true to their beliefs. Even if you don’t care for baseball that much, there is a lot going on here for you to enjoy.

– Jim Dirkes

Available on Blu-ray, DVD, and Amazon Instant

Other Noteworthy Releases

Boardwalk Empire – The Complete First Season: I’m a fan of the gangster genre, and I’m too cheap to pay for cable packages that have thousands of channels I’ll never watch, so I’ve been chomping at the bit to catch up with this show, which sports an impressive pedigree of talent in front of, and behind the camera. As Jim noted on the podcast this week, Scorsese had to make a lot of movies before he won the Oscar, yet he directs one episode of television and walks home with an Emmy.

Available on Blu-ray and DVD

Killer Elite: Even though I’m always happy to get action flicks starring rugged-looking dudes like Jason Statham and Clive Owen (Robert De Niro isn’t really a selling point these days), “Killer Elite” didn’t grab me while it was in the theater. Seems like one I’ll catch up with whenever it rolls around for availability on the ol’ Netflix Instant queue.

Available on Blu-ray, DVD, and Amazon Instant

There Be Dragons: Roland Joffe hasn’t done much since “The Mission”, and what little he has done in the meantime hasn’t been exactly been up to scratch (I was shocked to his name attached to a cheap Saw cash-in like “Captivity”). “There Be Dragons” looks to be more in the vein of his earlier historical epics, dealing with heavy subjects such as the Spanish Civil War and Saint Josemaria Escriva.

Available on Blu-ray, DVD, and Amazon Instant

Higher Ground: Vera Farmiga’s directorial debut, in which she also stars as a woman living in a strict-yet-warm religious community. This one flew under the radar in 2011, but people I trust who saw it said they really enjoyed it.

Available on Blu-ray/DVD combo and Amazon Instant

1911: Jackie Chan takes on an unorthodox role for him in this Chinese historical epic about the revolt against the Qing Dynasty. Period epics have been a staple of Chinese cinema since people there started making movies, yet it feels like they’re getting bigger, and becoming more frequent.

Available on Blu-ray and DVD

The Scorpion King 3: Billy Zane, Ron Perlman, AND Kimbo Slice?! I’ll admit, it’s tempting.

Available on Blu-ray, DVD, and Amazon Instant

Never Been Kissed: A supposedly-ugly Drew Barrymore goes undercover at a high school and attracts one of her teachers in a premise that would be kinda creepy if it happened in real life.

Available on Blu-ray

Shallow Hal: Remember when Jack Black could still star in movies?

Available on Blu-ray

Legally Blonde: I’ll proudly admit that if this comes on TV… I’ll watch it. I’m not ashamed! Okay, maybe just a bit. This was back when Reese Witherspoon was poised to be the next “America’s sweetheart,” since people had thankfully grown tired of Julia Roberts. It didn’t pan out. But the idea of the movie star is rapidly becoming irrelevant, and it seems Hollywood currently lacks a sweetheart (despite the limp bids by Katherine Heigl). Today, America’s sweetheart is branding.

Available on Blu-ray

Just Married: In case you haven’t noticed, we’re getting rom-coms shotgunned at us this week. “Just Married” is the sort of disposable fluff we’ve come to expect from Shawn Levy, but this one getting a re-release has me thinking about the decline and tragic sudden death of Brittany Murphy. Hollywood chews up the ladies and spits them out; some of them survive, others aren’t so lucky.

Available on Blu-ray

When Harry Met Sally: If you hit up one romantic comedy on Blu-ray this week, you don’t need me to tell you that this is the best of the lot. We discussed in this week’s podcast how Nora Ephron’s script does a good job giving “the male perspective,” never devolving into the “am I right ladies??” humor that plagues sitcoms today.

Available on Blu-ray

Film Socialisme: Jean-Luc Godard’s latest fit of intellectual wankery. On the one hand, I respect that Godard never stopped being a film critic after he started making movies. But as his career progressed, he slowly disappeared up his own ass, as the films he made became boring and often unwatchable (I angrily stormed out of a screening of the wretched “Tout Va Bien!” starring Hanoi Jane during a film course in college). This one is apparently about how movies and art in general can be anything to anyone, or something. I don’t think I’ll ever bother to find out. The trailer is the whole movie crammed into a minute, so that’s kinda neat and stupid at the same time.

Available on Blu-ray and DVD


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