Trouble with the Curve

Clint Eastwood is a man who has earned the right to do what he wants. Having starred in movies like Dirty Harry, A Fistful of Dollars, and The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly, his acting career in Hollywood spans more than 50 years and is replete with more iconic characters than most actors could ever hope to play.  He has also directed more than 30 feature films as well as several episodes of TV shows, and despite his recent oddball speech at the Republican National Convention he commands respect among his peers like virtually no one else.  After 2008’s Gran Torino Eastwood decided to trade his acting chops for a director’s chair, making movies like Invictus and J Edgar.  But recently, because Clint Eastwood does what Clint Eastwood wants, he took another turn in front of the camera for the baseball movie Trouble with the Curve. While the film is certainly not going to win awards for originality it is an enjoyable and well-told tale of family, friendship, and what happens when time simply passes one by.

Eastwood plays Gus Lobel, a scout for the Atlanta Braves who knows baseball backwards and forwards but couldn’t fix a broken relationship if he had instructions that were written in crayon. The ever-charming Amy Adams is daughter Mickey (named after the great Yankees switch hitter) is a workaholic lawyer (is there any other kind in Hollywood movies?) who can’t find time in her life for anything resembling a relationship, thus her interactions with dear ol’ dad are relegated to the occasional dinner at a local pub while checking text messages on her blackberry.  Gus is so old that his ancient art of baseball scouting has been all but replaced by soulless computers, and has long since given up trying to have a real relationship with Mickey. And then there’s Johnny (Justin Tiberlake, basically playing himself), the plucky upstart scout from the Red Sox who follows Gus around as they scour high school games for up-and-coming talent. Ticking off other boxes on the character checklist are Pete Klein (John Goodman), Gus’s old friend who has been with him in the baseball business through thick and thin, and Philip Sanderson (Matthew Lillard), the young upstart Braves scout  who finds players based on spreadsheet data, not gut instinct.  Gus mouns the fact that the great game of baseball has changed, and young punks like Sanderson only see numbers and not real players.  Mickey is this close to making partner at her law firm, but might lose it all thanks to a conniving coworker who also wants the open spot. And Johnny just wants to be the best gosh-darned baseball scout he can be, and maybe score a date with Mickey while he’s at it.

So what’s Clint Eastwood doing in a by-the-numbers dramadey like this? Who cares! Trouble with the Curve is as predictable as they come, but Eastwood’s grizzled old man is second to none–particulary when paired with Adams’ pitch-perfect sweetness.  We’re not so much watching a movie as we are enjoying some solid performances from a few great actors. It’s fun to watch because Eastwood is so pitch-perfect for his role–who else could get a theater full of people to laugh with a line like “Get out of here before I have a heart attack trying to kill you!” as he threatens a bar patron who won’t take no for an answer after striking out with Mickey.  Adams does her best to portray a stressed-out lawyer trying to reconnect with her dad, but she’s not fooling anyone: this is the same girl sang her way into audience hearts as the gleefully innocent Gisele in Disney’s gem Enchanted.  Timberlake…well, no one is ever going to watch him in a movie for his acting chops but he’s clearly enjoying the role and having fun playing the third wheel to Gus and Mickey.  There’s no surprises here, and no cheap deaths for the sake of baiting the Academy.  What you expect is what you get, and when you want two hours of solid if not-exactly-groundbreaking entertainment, you could do a lot worse than this movie.



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The Social Network

Mark Zuckerberg is the youngest billionaire in the world.  How did he do it?  Well, I think we all know full well what he did as most of you probably have your Facebook profile open as you read this.  The mere introduction of social networking changed the way people live their lives and communicate, in much the same way that the internet and e-mail changed communication in their fruition.

Today, hundreds of millions of lives are paraded to users and viewers of social networking sites, and Facebook stands out among crop.  I can remember the early days of MySpace until it became old news once Facebook hit the web.  When I joined Facebook, it was university-based, meant exclusively for college students.  Not long after, the site was opened up to high schools, and ultimately to anyone.  Now it has become a staple in society that anyone and their grandmother uses.

It is safe to say that Mark Zuckerberg has forever changed the world and our way of communication.  That is no small feat for a man in his 20s.  And while his story may be profound, I had my doubts that a feature film portraying his rise to success would be anything but a dull seminar of comuter mumbo-jumbo.  Even when the established director David Fincher came on board to helm the project, it is clear this makes for a striking departure from his previous thrillers Zodiac, Seven, and Fight Club.  How could the story of a young web page designer translate into an exciting drama?

Bringing in writer Aaron Sorkin changed things.  Responsible for A Few Good Men and Charlie Wilson’s War, Sorkin has a knack for biting, intelligent dialogue.  The Social Network survives because of two main ingredients: the fact that the subject couldn’t be more than timely, and the fact that Sorkin’s writing is nothing short of stunning.  Many viewers may be quick to dismiss this as what I feared it to be: a lot of techy computer babble.  The dialogue is so fresh, however, and so perfectly tuned that I became drawn to these actors simply speaking intelligently (which is rare for a Hollywood film these days, especially involving youth).  The characters, while most of them not likable (including Zuckerberg’s character), are sizzling without our approval.  Even when the script veers into instances of detailing uploading, downloading, hacking, lines of computer code, formulas, and so much more I wouldn’t even begin to comprehend, Sorkin doesn’t try to bring his audience to school.  He brings us into the lives of these characters, and David Fincher utilizes the talents of his actors to present the creation of a website as profound and impacting.

Jesse Eisenberg (Zombieland) plays the socially awkward Harvard student, Mark Zuckerberg.  Desperate for acceptance of his peers, he has trouble channeling his colliding intelligence and self-consciousness when in conversation.  This keeps him from enjoying intimate relationships (as evidenced in the film’s opening scene) and invisible to exclusive school clubs.  Even when his best friend, Eduardo Saverin (Andrew Garfield), spends countless hours trying to get into these clubs through his own embarrassment, Mark mocks him out of jealousy.  The ‘day of Mark’ eventually arrives, as three Harvard club members, including the Winkelvoss brothers (Armie Hammer) “built of brawn” (as Ron Burgandy would say), recruit Zuckerberg to design a unique home page exclusive to Havard students.  Whether or not Mark’s creation would be an act of defiance and resentment against these club members remains a gray area, but eventually over many sleepless nights the design of “the facebook” comes to light with the help of Eduardo and his checkbook.  Ignoring the Winklevoss phone calls and e-mails, Zuckerberg launches the site and it becomes an instant hit with unseen potential.  Eduardo wants to find advertisers, but Mark wants to keep it clean and think bigger.  Enter former Napster co-founder Sean Parker (Justin Timberlake) to tempt Mark into eating the forbidden fruit and turn Facebook into the hottest thing the world has seen, while leaving Eduardo in the dust.  According to Parker: “A million dollars isn’t cool. You know what’s cool? A billion dollars.”

These events ultimately lead Mark to a double lawsuit, one led by the Winklevoss brothers claiming Mark stole and capitalized on their idea.  The other lawsuit comes from Mark’s own best friend, Eduardo, seeking a pricey settlement after being sabotaged out of his original shares.  The movie cuts between deposition proceedings with this back story that leads up to Mark being the richest 24-year-old on the planet.  The material is handled extremely well as written by Sorkin.  He will be budding heads with the Nolan brothers for screenplay of the year.

Fincher applies a deft visual aid to Sorkin’s words.  The movie is gorgeously shot and continually exciting.  His four leads in Eisenberg, Garfield, Timberlake and Hammer deliver very distinct and engaging performances.  Eisenberg has sort of become the alternate-Michael Cera, but with the Zuckerberg role he has a chance to one-up his usual socially-awkward characters and make Mark a total jerk whose desires for friendship and status ultimately cost him the one friend he has.  Garfield is the heart of the film as the unknowing financial key to Mark’s early success in designing Facebook.  His performance details a sympathetic soul looking to share in the success he and his best friend collaborated on only to lose out to a fierce competitor: Mark’s jealousy and envy.  By the time Timberlake arrives, he gets to portray one of those juicy playboy roles that all actors dream of.  He’s like the Mark Wahlberg of The Departed, only Timberlake doesn’t need a running sarcastic mouth to be cool.  Each actor, big and small, complete this arresting movie.  However, as good as it is, it certainly isn’t for everyone.  If you haven’t been captured by the Facebook phenomenon, or have little interest in the digital landscape of society, then The Social Network may not seem like such a big deal.  Only once in a while does the film get lost in its information uploading.  That doesn’t keep it from being very good.  Is it the real story?  Is Mark Zuckerberg portrayed in a harsh light?  I really don’t know, but the lawsuits are real, and everyone has their side of a story.  Fincher and Sorkin attempt to capture multiple angles, and they do so quite successfully.  The Social Network is a writing and acting explosion of fine craftsmanship.

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