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“Moneyball,” reviewed

“Moneyball,” reviewed (photo)

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This review contains spoilers for historical events. If you don’t know how “Moneyball” ends already and don’t want to know, do not read further.

People who know baseball will have a very different experience watching “Moneyball” than the people who don’t. The film, an adaptation of a revolutionary non-fiction book by Michael Lewis, recreates the events of the Oakland Athletics’ 2002 season. Within the film, the A’s accomplishments in ’02, engineered by their iconoclastic general manager Billy Beane (Brad Pitt), are treated as a near-mythic triumph of baseball’s David over its collective Goliaths. Outside the film, as baseball fans know, the real story is a little bit different.

Consider this scene early in the film. Beane is in Cleveland during the off-season looking to acquire players. The A’s had a great year in 2001, but they lost three of their biggest stars — Jason Giambi, Jason Isringhausen, and Johnny Damon — because they couldn’t afford to pay their free agent contracts. Beane is scrambling. In Cleveland, Beane meets Peter Brand (Jonah Hill), a young assistant to Cleveland’s general manager with new ideas about evaluating talent based on statistics rather than instinct. He tells Beane he should be glad the Athletics lost Damon, explaining how he’s not worth the salary the Red Sox are going to pay him. They can find better deals on talent elsewhere, Brand promises.

The matter is dropped, and Brand joins the staff of the Athletics. His beliefs are implicitly validated. If you didn’t know baseball, you would have to assume he was right about Johnny Damon. But since leaving the Athletics, Damon’s won two World Series. The A’s have won zero. In Game 4 of the 2009 Fall Classic, Damon got on base with two outs in the top of the ninth, stole two bases on a single pitch, and ignited a game-winning rally. Was he really that overvalued?

“Moneyball,” directed by Bennett Miller, is a fun movie. That fact alone in and of itself is something of an achievement, since Lewis’ book was a fascinating but dry tome about the origins and history of statistical analysis in sports. The film ditches most of the history for a straight and effective underdog story. It makes sense: Beane, bucking 100 years of tradition and struggling with a microscopic budget, fielded a team that was in Brand’s words from the “island of misfit toys,” also-rans, has-beens, and never-wases undervalued by the rest of baseball and, thus, affordable. Pitt is in full movie star mode guiding us on this journey; he shines brightly and, given that the film is the story of a baseball team that succeeds without the benefit of star players, somewhat ironically. Hill is quietly hilarious as Brand, deliciously uncomfortable as the lone intellectual in the locker room. The film’s screenplay was co-written by Aaron Sorkin, and like Sorkin’s Oscar-winning work on “The Social Network,” it is about a bunch of nerds beating a bunch of jocks at their own game.

As a baseball lover and an admirer of Lewis’ book, I always knew where the story was going. I kept hoping for something about the film to surprise me. Very little did. Beane himself is a charismatic figure — how could he not be when he’s played by Brad PItt — but he’s little more than his drive to win. He has no friends and almost no social life. He shares one scene with an ex-wife (Robin Wright) and a few with an adorably shy daughter (Kerris Dorsey). Otherwise, he’s kind of a cagey dude. Beane considers himself a gambler; at one point, he compares himself to a card counter flipping the odds at a casino. Maybe it’s no surprise then that he never really lets the film behind his poker face.

The focus instead is really on the team and the statistical revolution in baseball that they inspired. It’s well-created but, at least for me, predictable. I haven’t even mentioned Phillip Seymour Hoffman as Athletics manager Art Howe, primarily because for maybe the first time in his career, Hoffman gives a performance that isn’t worth mentioning. Beane and Brand’s system doesn’t put a lot of value on managers, and neither does the movie.

The only moments that really impressed me about “Moneyball” came near the end. Things build, as they must, to a big game. Things end, as they must, in triumph. But then Beane and Brand share a moment that puts things in much needed perspective: Beane reminds his partner that their dramatic victory ultimately means nothing. They haven’t won the World Series yet, and they won’t either. That’s when the movie finally acknowledges the disconnect between history and the film’s rose-colored reenactment. A long epilogue follows, throwing more and more cold water on the Athletics’ parade. All the romance and magic of baseball (and baseball movies) collides head on with the harsh realities of Beane’s moneyball approach, and a slight film gains some much needed depth.

“Moneyball” opens this Friday. If you see it, let us know what you think. Leave us a comment below or write to us on Facebook and Twitter.

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WTF Films

Artfully Off

Celebrity All-Star by Sisters Weekend is available now on IFC's Comedy Crib.

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Sisters Weekend isn’t like other comedy groups. It’s filmmaking collaboration between besties Angelo Balassone, Michael Fails and Kat Tadesco, self-described lace-front addicts with great legs who write, direct, design and produce video sketches and cinematic shorts that are so surreally hilarious that they defy categorization. One such short film, Celebrity All-Star, is the newest addition to IFC’s Comedy Crib. Here’s what they had to say about it in a very personal email interview…

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IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Celebrity All-Star is a short film about an overworked reality TV coordinator struggling to save her one night off after the cast of C-List celebrities she wrangles gets locked out of their hotel rooms.

IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Sisters Weekend: It’s this short we made for IFC where a talent coordinator named Karen babysits a bunch of weird c-list celebs who are stuck in a hotel bar. It’s everyone you hate from reality TV under one roof – and that roof leaks because it’s a 2-star hotel. There’s a magician, sexy cowboys, and a guy wearing a belt that sucks up his farts.

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IFC: What was the genesis of Celebrity All-Star?

Celebrity All-Star was born from our love of embarrassing celebrities. We love a good c-lister in need of a paycheck! We were really interested in the canned politeness people give off when forced to mingle with strangers. The backstory we created is that the cast of this reality show called “Celebrity All-Star” is in the middle of a mandatory round of “get to know each other” drinks in the hotel bar when the room keys stop working. Shows like Celebrity Ghost Hunters and of course The Surreal Life were of inspo, but we thought it
was funny to keep it really vague what kind of show they’re on, and just focus on everyone’s diva antics after the cameras stop rolling.

IFC: Every celebrity in Celebrity All-Star seems familiar. What real-life pop personalities did you look to for inspiration?

Sisters Weekend: Anyone who is trying to plug their branded merch that no one asked for. We love low-rent celebrity. We did, however, directly reference Kylie Jenner’s turd-raison lip color for our fictional teen celebutante Gibby Kyle (played by Mary Houlihan).

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IFC: Celebrity seems disgusting yet desirable. What’s your POV? Do you crave it, hate it, or both?

Sisters Weekend: A lot of people chase fame. If you’re practical, you’ll likely switch to chasing success and if you’re smart, you’ll hopefully switch to chasing happiness. But also, “We need money. We need hits. Hits bring money, money bring power, power bring fame, fame change the game,” Young Thug.

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IFC: Who are your comedy idols?

Sisters Weekend: Mike grew up renting “Monty Python” tapes from the library and staying up late to watch 2000’s SNL, Kat was super into Andy Kaufman and “Kids In The Hall” in high school, and Angelo was heavily influenced by “Strangers With Candy” and Anna Faris in the Scary Movie franchise, so, our comedy heroes mesh from all over. But, also we idolize a lot of the people we work with in NY-  Lorelei Ramirez, Erin Markey, Mary Houlihan, who are all in the film, Amy Zimmer, Ana Fabrega, Patti Harrison, Sam Taggart. Geniuses! All of Em!

IFC: What’s your favorite moment from the film?

Sisters Weekend: I mean…seeing Mary Houlihan scream at an insane Pomeranian on an iPad is pretty great.

See Sisters Weekend right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib

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Reality? Check.

Baroness For Life

Baroness von Sketch Show is available for immediate consumption.

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Baroness von Sketch Show is snowballing as people have taken note of its subtle and not-so-subtle skewering of everyday life. The New York Times, W Magazine, and Vogue have heaped on the praise, but IFC had a few more probing questions…

IFC: To varying degrees, your sketches are simply scripted examples of things that actually happen. What makes real life so messed up?

Aurora: Hubris, Ego and Selfish Desires and lack of empathy.

Carolyn: That we’re trapped together in the 3rd Dimension.

Jenn: 1. Other people 2. Other people’s problems 3. Probably something I did.

IFC: A lot of people I know have watched this show and realized, “Dear god, that’s me.” or “Dear god, that’s true.” Why do people have their blinders on?

Aurora: Because most people when you’re in the middle of a situation, you don’t have the perspective to step back and see yourself because you’re caught up in the moment. That’s the job of comedians is to step back and have a self-awareness about these things, not only saying “You’re doing this,” but also, “You’re not the only one doing this.” It’s a delicate balance of making people feel uncomfortable and comforting them at the same time.

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IFC: Unlike a lot of popular sketch comedy, your sketches often focus more on group dynamics vs iconic individual characters. Why do you think that is and why is it important?

Meredith: We consider the show to be more based around human dynamics, not so much characters. If anything we’re more attracted to the energy created by people interacting.

Jenn: So much of life is spent trying to work it out with other people, whether it’s at work, at home, trying to commute to work, or even on Facebook it’s pretty hard to escape the group.

IFC: Are there any comedians out there that you feel are just nailing it?

Aurora: I love Key and Peele. I know that their show is done and I’m in denial about it, but they are amazing because there were many times that I would imagine that Keegan Michael Key was in the scene while writing. If I could picture him saying it, I knew it would work. I also kind of have a crush on Jordan Peele and his performance in Big Mouth. Maya Rudolph also just makes everything amazing. Her puberty demon on Big Mouth is flawless. She did an ad for 7th generation tampons that my son, my husband and myself were singing around the house for weeks. If I could even get anything close to her career, I would be happy. I’m also back in love with Rick and Morty. I don’t know if I have a crush on Justin Roiland, I just really love Rick (maybe even more than Morty). I don’t have a crush on Jerry, the dad, but I have a crush on Chris Parnell because he’s so good at being Jerry.

Jenn: I LOVE ISSA RAE!

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IFC: If you could go back in time and cast yourselves in any sitcom, which would it be and how would it change?

Carolyn: I’d go back in time and cast us in The Partridge Family.  We’d make an excellent family band. We’d have a laugh, break into song and wear ruffled blouses with velvet jackets.  And of course travel to all our gigs on a Mondrian bus. I feel really confident about this choice.

Meredith: Electric Mayhem from The Muppet Show. It wouldn’t change, they were simply perfect, except… maybe a few more vaginas in the band.

Binge the entire first and second seasons of Baroness von Sketch Show now on IFC.com and the IFC app.

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G.I. Jeez

Stomach Bugs and Prom Dates

E.Coli High is in your gut and on IFC's Comedy Crib.

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Brothers-in-law Kevin Barker and Ben Miller have just made the mother of all Comedy Crib series, in the sense that their Comedy Crib series is a big deal and features a hot mom. Animated, funny, and full of horrible bacteria, the series juxtaposes timeless teen dilemmas and gut-busting GI infections to create a bite-sized narrative that’s both sketchy and captivating. The two sat down, possibly in the same house, to answer some questions for us about the series. Let’s dig in….

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IFC: How would you describe E.Coli High to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

BEN: Hi ummm uhh hi ok well its like umm (gets really nervous and blows it)…

KB: It’s like the Super Bowl meets the Oscars.

IFC: How would you describe E.Coli High to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

BEN: Oh wow, she’s really cute isn’t she? I’d definitely blow that too.

KB: It’s a cartoon that is happening inside your stomach RIGHT NOW, that’s why you feel like you need to throw up.

IFC: What was the genesis of E.Coli High?

KB: I had the idea for years, and when Ben (my brother-in-law, who is a special needs teacher in Philly) began drawing hilarious comics, I recruited him to design characters, animate the series, and do some writing. I’m glad I did, because Ben rules!

BEN: Kevin told me about it in a park and I was like yeah that’s a pretty good idea, but I was just being nice. I thought it was dumb at the time.

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IFC: What makes going to proms and dating moms such timeless and oddly-relatable subject matter?

BEN: Since the dawn of time everyone has had at least one friend with a hot mom. It is physically impossible to not at least make a comment about that hot mom.

KB: Who among us hasn’t dated their friend’s mom and levitated tables at a prom?

IFC: Why do you think the world is ready for this series?

BEN: There’s a lot of content now. I don’t think anyone will even notice, but it’d be cool if they did.

KB: A show about talking food poisoning bacteria is basically the same as just watching the news these days TBH.

Watch E.Coli High below and discover more NYTVF selections from years past on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

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