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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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Rev Up

Your Portlandia Personality Test

The New Portlandia Webseries Is Going Your Way

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Carrie and Fred understand that although we have so much in common, we’re each so beautifully unique and different. To help us navigate those differences, Portlandia has found an easy and honest way to embrace our special selves in the form of a progressive new traffic system: a specific lane for every kind of driver. It’s all in honor of the show’s 8th and final season, and it’s all presented by Subaru.

Ready to find out who you really are? Match your personality to a lane and hop on the expressway to self-understanding.

Lane 10: Trucks Piled With Junk

Your junk is falling out of your trunk. Shake a tail light, people — this lane is for you.

Lane 33: Twins

You’re like a Gemini, but waaaay more pedestrian. Maybe you and a friend just wear the same outfits a lot. Who cares, it’s just twinning enough to make you feel special.

Lane 27: Broken Windows

Bad luck follows you around and everyone knows it. Your proverbial seat is always damp from proverbial rain. Is this the universe telling you to swallow your pride? Yes.

Lane 69: Filthy Cars

You’re all about convenience. Getting your car washed while you drive is a no-brainer.

Lane 43: Newly Divorced Singles

It’s been a while since you’ve driven alone, and you don’t know the rules of the road anymore. What’s too fast? What’s too slow? Are you sending the right signals? Don’t worry, the breakdown lane is nearby if you need it.

Still can’t find a lane to match your personality? Check out all the videos here. And see the final season of Portlandia this spring on IFC.

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Give Back

Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

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GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

It’s the final countdown to Christmas and thanks to IFC’s movie marathon all Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, you can revel in classic ’80s films AND find inspiration for your last-minute gifts. Here are our recommendations, if you need a head start:

Musical Instrument

Great analog entertainment substitute when you refuse to give your kid the Nintendo Switch they’ve been drooling over.

Breakfast In Bed

Any significant other or child would appreciate these Uncle Buck-approved flapjacks. Just make sure you’re not stuck on clean up duty.

Cocktail Supplies

You’ll need them to get through the holidays.

Dance Lessons

So you can learn to shake-shake-shake (unless you know ghosts willing to lend a hand).

Comfy Clothes

With all the holiday meals, there may be some…embigenning.



Get even more great inspiration all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC, and remember…

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A-O Rewind

Celebrating Portlandia One Sketch at a Time

The final season of Portlandia approaches.

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GIFs via Giphy

Most people measure time in minutes, hours, days, years…At IFC, we measure it in sketches. And nothing takes us way (waaaaaay) back like Portlandia sketches. Yes, there’s a Portlandia milepost from every season that changed the way we think, behave, and pickle things. In honor of Portlandia’s 8th and final season, Subaru presents a few of our favorites.

via GIPHY

Put A Bird On It

Portlandia enters the pop-culture lexicon and inspires us to put birds on literally everything.

Colin the Chicken

Who’s your chicken, really? Behold the emerging locavore trend captured perfectly to the nth degree.

Dream Of The ’90s

This treatise on Portland made it clear that “the dream” was alive and well.

No You Go

We Americans spend most of our lives in cars. Fortunately, there’s a Portlandia sketch for every automotive situation.

A-O River!

We learned all our outdoor survival skills from Kath and Dave.

One More Episode

The true birth of binge watching, pre-Netflix. And what you’ll do once Season 8 premieres.

Catch up on Portlandia’s best moments before the 8th season premieres January 18th on IFC.

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