Saturday, October 22, 2011

Week of October 21 to October 27 (Mann)

What’s on at the Tropic
by Phil Mann
Like last year’s Oscar nominee Social Network, MONEYBALL is a movie, based on a true story, about smart guys using their brains, and winning out because they’re clever and geeky enough to reinvent the game. The game this time is not the internet, but major league baseball, which means that there are years of tradition to overcome.

Billy Beane, the general manager of the Oakland A’s (Brad Pitt) and his assistant Peter Brand (Jonah Hill) are looking for a way to make their low-budget team competitive in a league dominated by free-spending franchises like the Yankees and Red Sox. The “game” is not on the field, but in the back office, where trades are made and players drafted. Brand is a statistical nerd, crunching numbers and evaluating performance data in a way that makes the A’s old-school scouts crazy. They have intuition about who is going to be a great player, while Brand has nothing but spreadsheets and regression analyzes.

But Beane has his own intuition, shaped by his brief career as a red-hot prospect -- according to scouts -- and a quickly flamed-out player when he hit the field. With his team on the bottom and his owner unwilling to play the spending game to hire the “best” new talent, he’s ready to try anything, even overriding the judgments of his inner circle of sage scouting veterans.

This, of course, is not merely a story about the American League; it’s about the American ethos. We invent and reinvent, while those foreigners just follow the rules: it could never have happened with a Japanese baseball team, we think.

is a hot prospect for the Oscar, both for the film and for Brad Pitt, according to all the movie sages.
Will we ever get an Oscar-predicting statistician?

Speaking of statistics, 50/50 is the title of a movie and also the odds facing Adam Lerner (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) when he is diagnosed with a rare cancer. Not to worry, the theme here is comedy. The movie is not about the big C, but rather a big F – friendship. About how the most important thing is having a friend (Seth Rogen) who can observe:
"Fifty-fifty—if you were a casino game, you'd have the best odds!"   
Based on screenwriter Will Reiser’s own experience with cancer, and his actual friendship with Rogen, it’s also a lesson in how comedians can draw on their professional skills to get through tough times. “Laughter is the best medicine” is not just a trivial cliché. “It’s almost impossible to overstate how lovable a film this is. It’s endearing, clever, moving, and, yes, funny.” (Baltimore Magazine)

While on this subject, allow me to throw in a plug for a great book, The Etiquette of Illness, by Susan Halpern. The theme is “what do you say, what do you do” when you or a friend faces a grave disease. It’s a great place to turn for guidance. Available online at or
But the movie will help, too.

Enough with the true stories. BRIGHTON ROCK is pure fiction, a British noir thriller set in the 1960’s, based on Graham Greene’s earlier novel. Pinkie (Sam Reily), the punk anti-hero, revels in being a gangster, in being even less moral than his immoral colleagues. Rose (Andrea Riseborough) is an innocent waitress who becomes caught in his web, seduced  by and then mesmerized by him. Her only hope is Ida (Helen Mirren) her employer and would be protector. Ah, good versus evil. I can’t tell you which prevails, but, “the film is almost distractingly beautiful to look at, something that accentuates the tension between the film's conflicting quantities, i.e., the glories of the physical world, and the corrupted humanity it hosts.” (John Anderson, Wall St. Journal)

The Tropic’s supporting cast includes a passel of holdovers, and YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN for the Monday night Undead Are Fundead Classic.

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