DID YOU READ

“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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New Nasty

Whips, Chains and Hand Sanitizer

Turn On The Full Season Of Neurotica At IFC's Comedy Crib

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Jenny Jaffe has a lot going on: She’s writing for Disney’s upcoming Big Hero 6: The Series, developing comedy projects with pals at Devastator Press, and she’s straddling the line between S&M and OCD as the creator and star of the sexyish new series Neurotica, which has just made its debut on IFC’s Comedy Crib. Jenny gave us some extremely intimate insight into what makes Neurotica (safely) sizzle…

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IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a fancy network executive you met in an elevator?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon.

IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon. You’re great. We should get coffee sometime. I’m not just saying that. I know other people just say that sometimes but I really feel like we’re going to be friends, you know? Here, what’s your number, I’ll call you so you can have my number!

IFC: What’s your comedy origin story?

Jenny: Since I was a kid I’ve dealt with severe OCD and anxiety. Comedy has always been one of the ways I’ve dealt with that. I honestly just want to help make people feel happy for a few minutes at a time.

IFC: What was the genesis of Neurotica?

Jenny: I’m pretty sure it was a title-first situation. I was coming up with ideas to pitch to a production company a million years ago (this isn’t hyperbole; I am VERY old) and just wrote down “Neurotica”; then it just sort of appeared fully formed. “Neurotica? Oh it’s an over-the-top romantic comedy about a Dominatrix with OCD, of course.” And that just happened to hit the buttons of everything I’m fascinated by.

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IFC: How would you describe Ivy?

Jenny: Ivy is everything I love in a comedy character – she’s tenacious, she’s confident, she’s sweet, she’s a big wonderful weirdo.

IFC: How would Ivy’s clientele describe her?

Jenny:  Open-minded, caring, excellent aim.

IFC: Why don’t more small towns have local dungeons?

Jenny: How do you know they don’t?

IFC: What are the pros and cons of joining a chain mega dungeon?

Jenny: You can use any of their locations but you’ll always forget you have a membership and in a year you’ll be like “jeez why won’t they let me just cancel?”

IFC: Mouths are gross! Why is that?

Jenny: If you had never seen a mouth before and I was like “it’s a wet flesh cave with sharp parts that lives in your face”, it would sound like Cronenberg-ian body horror. All body parts are horrifying. I’m kind of rooting for the singularity, I’d feel way better if I was just a consciousness in a cloud.

See the whole season of Neurotica right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

The-Craft

The ’90s Are Back

The '90s live again during IFC's weekend marathon.

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Photo Credit: Everett Digital, Columbia Pictures

We know what you’re thinking: “Why on Earth would anyone want to reanimate the decade that gave us Haddaway, Los Del Rio, and Smash Mouth, not to mention Crystal Pepsi?”

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Thoughts like those are normal. After all, we tend to remember lasting psychological trauma more vividly than fleeting joy. But if you dig deep, you’ll rediscover that the ’90s gave us so much to fondly revisit. Consider the four pillars of true ’90s culture.

Boy Bands

We all pretended to hate them, but watch us come alive at a karaoke bar when “I Want It That Way” comes on. Arguably more influential than Brit Pop and Grunge put together, because hello – Justin Timberlake. He’s a legitimate cultural gem.

Man-Child Movies

Adam Sandler is just behind The Simpsons in terms of his influence on humor. Somehow his man-child schtick didn’t get old until the aughts, and his success in that arena ushered in a wave of other man-child movies from fellow ’90s comedians. RIP Chris Farley (and WTF Rob Schneider).

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Teen Angst

In horror, dramas, comedies, and everything in between: Troubled teens! Getting into trouble! Who couldn’t relate to their First World problems, plaid flannels, and lose grasp of the internet?

Mainstream Nihilism

From the Coen Bros to Fincher to Tarantino, filmmakers on the verge of explosive popularity seemed interested in one thing: mind f*cking their audiences by putting characters in situations (and plot lines) beyond anyone’s control.

Feeling better about that walk down memory lane? Good. Enjoy the revival.

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And revisit some important ’90s classics all this weekend during IFC’s ’90s Marathon. Check out the full schedule here.

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Get Physical

DVDs are the new Vinyl

Portlandia Season 7 Now Available On Disc.

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In this crazy digital age, sometimes all we really want is to reach out and touch something. Maybe that’s why so many of us are still gung-ho about owning stuff on DVD. It’s tangible. It’s real. It’s tech from a bygone era that still feels relevant, yet also kitschy and retro. It’s basically vinyl for people born after 1990.

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Inevitably we all have that friend whose love of the disc is so absolutely repellent that he makes the technology less appealing. “The resolution, man. The colors. You can’t get latitude like that on a download.” Go to hell, Tim.

Yes, Tim sucks, and you don’t want to be like Tim, but maybe he’s onto something and DVD is still the future. Here are some benefits that go beyond touch.

It’s Decor and Decorum

With DVDs and a handsome bookshelf you can show off your great taste in film and television without showing off your search history. Good for first dates, dinner parties, family reunions, etc.

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Forget Public Wifi

Warm up that optical drive. No more awkwardly streaming episodes on shady free wifi!

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Inter-not

Internet service goes down. It happens all the time. It could happen right now. Then what? Without a DVD on hand you’ll be forced to make eye contact with your friends and family. Or worse – conversation.

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Self Defense

You can’t throw a download like a ninja star. Think about it.

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If you’d like to experience the benefits DVD ownership yourself, Portlandia Season 7 is now available on DVD and Blue-Ray.