Friday, September 23, 2011

Bears On Film: Moneyball

Greetings to all!  We're Joey and Iggy Beartran and this is the premier edition of Bears On Film, which is not to be confused with Men On Film, the old skit starring Damon Wayans and David Alan Grier from In Living Color or Girls On Film, the classic song by Duran Duran.  In today's segment, we're going to review "Moneyball", a film based on the best-selling book by Michael Lewis.

(By the way, this review comes with a HEAVY SPOILER ALERT, so if you don't want to know what happens in the film, you should stop reading this now.  However, since we went through all this trouble to write it, you'll have to get us some popcorn so that we don't call your house and leave a voice mail with the entire synopsis of the film.)

The cast of the film includes Brad Pitt as Oakland A's general manager (and former Mets first round draft pick) Billy Beane, Academy Award winner Philip Seymour Hoffman as A's manager (and former Mets manager) Art Howe and Jonah Hill as assistant general manager Peter Brand (since Paul DePodesta was presumably too hard to spell).

The film begins with the 2001 ALDS between the Oakland A's and the New York Yankees, focusing on Johnny Damon (the opening shot of the film is of Damon batting against Roger Clemens in Game 5 of the ALDS) and Jason Giambi, two high-priced members of the A's who were free agents at the end of the season.  The A's fell to the Yankees in that deciding fifth game and Damon and Giambi signed free agent contracts with the Red Sox and Yankees, respectively.  (Former and current Met Jason Isringhausen was another free agent mentioned in the film who packed his bags following the Game 5 loss and took his wares to St. Louis.)

General manger Billy Beane was left with a problem after the departures of his star players.  How would he replace their numbers without breaking the bank?  Enter Peter Brand. (Or Paul DePodesta - if you're still calling it Shea, then we're calling him DePodesta!)

In a meeting with Cleveland Indians' GM Mark Shapiro (played by Reed Diamond), Beane attempts to trade for relief pitcher Ricardo Rincon.  When that fails, he decides to acquire outfielder (and future Met) Karim Garcia, a player Shapiro is originally open to dealing.  However, Brand/DePodesta, through a series a hand and head gestures, tells Shapiro not to deal Garcia.  Beane ends up with nothing from Cleveland.  However, he didn't leave empty-handed.  Shortly after the meeting, Beane convinced Brand/DePodesta to come work for him in Oakland as his new assistant general manager.

We missed the next few minutes of the film because we wanted some snacks.  It was really hard to pass up that freshly popped popcorn and the oodles of snacks on display, so we sacrificed a few minutes of the film to refuel (that's code for filling our tummies).  Eventually, we'll catch those missing minutes on DVD/Blu-ray.  For now, you'll have to either see the film or ask someone who saw it in its entirety and wasn't as tempted by the snack display as we were.

The movie continued with Beane and Brand/DePodesta bucking the system, while at the same time alienating the other members of the A's front office/talent evaluators with their new approach to evaluating players, namely through the use of on-base percentage as a way to properly replace Damon and Giambi without having to pay an arm, a leg and Rollie Fingers' mustache for it.  Billy Beane was down with OBP (yeah, you know me), while the old farts of the old regime were left with questions like "Who's Fabio?".  (Trust us, it's a very funny scene.)

Damon and Giambi were replaced by David Justice and Scott Hatteberg.  Justice had helped defeat the A's in the 2001 ALDS, but was considered to be over-the-hill and a liability on the field by all of the talent evaluators on the A's not named Beane and Brand/DePodesta.  Hatteberg had played all or parts of seven seasons with the Boston Red Sox, primarily as a catcher.  However, he could no longer throw the ball and was not being sought after by any major league teams.

Despite their shortcomings on the field, both Justice and Hatteberg did have one thing in common.  They walked more than Caine in Kung Fu.

So down came the Damon, Giambi and Isringhausen banners at the Network Associates Coliseum (that's what the ballpark was called in 2002) and up went a lone David Justice banner.  The 2002 A's were built to walk, and over the first two months of the season, they walked their way to the bottom of the AL West standings.

Manager Art Howe (Philip Seymour Hoffman) refused to play Scott Hatteberg at first base, going so far as to reminding his general manager that it was his (Howe's) job to manage and Beane's job to be the general manager.  Needless to say, Beane wasn't exactly fond of his manager, so he traded Howe's other options at first base, Carlos Peña and Jeremy Giambi, to the Detroit Tigers and Philadelphia Phillies, respectively.  This led to a classic scene in the film where Beane orders Howe to insert Hatteberg in that night's starting lineup, to which Howe steadfastly refuses.  Howe insists on starting Peña that night before finally being told by Beane that he can't start a Detroit Tiger at first base.

Philip Seymour Hoffman must be a great actor if he could effectively play the most boring manager in major league history in Art Howe.

The film continues with the ascension of the new "Moneyball" A's, as they rise from the ashes of last place (after Beane assures the owner of the A's that they would be within seven games of first place by the All-Star Break) and adds a story not seen in the Michael Lewis book, namely the relationship between Beane and his daughter, Casey (played by Kerris Dorsey).

Although the father-daughter relationship scenes seemed out of place at first and an unwelcome addition to the film, one particular scene in a music shop set the stage for future scenes involving Beane's ability to "enjoy the show" that was his ragtag group of players (and yes, the quotation marks in the previous sentence are intentional).

And what a show it was!  The A's climbed all the way to the top of the AL West, winning an American League record 20 consecutive games late in the season.  They returned to the playoffs after being written off by many after the fleecing of their high-priced free agents, but were once again eliminated in the ALDS, this time by the Minnesota Twins.

Moneyball showed off the fantastic acting chops of Brad Pitt and Philip Seymour Hoffman, but what surprised us the most was the portrayal of Brand/DePodesta by Jonah Hill.  Hill's dramatic turn in Moneyball was a complete 180 from his usual comedic roles and should not be discounted.  Speaking of comedic roles, Brent Jennings was hysterical in his role of A's infield coach Ron Washington, producing some of the movie's funniest lines (a scene in Scott Hatteberg's house comes to mind).

Finally, we can't imagine what's it like to be a GM in the major leagues, but one scene involving Beane's attempt to finally land reliever Ricardo Rincon from the Indians at the trade deadline was pure genius.  The scene involves a hectic back-and-forth exchange between Beane, the always-in-the-background Brand/DePodesta, Beane's secretary Suzanne, and a plethora of other major league GMs, including former Mets GM Steve Phillips.

And to think this was all for a 32-year-old lefty specialist who pitched a grand total of 443.2 innings in 11 seasons in the majors (which, you guessed it, ended with this time as a Met in 2008 - did everyone in this movie have a job with the Mets at some point?  Even Chad Bradford, who "prayed" for Billy Beane in another fantastic scene, played in Flushing.)

Brad Pitt will certainly garner attention from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences come Oscar time.  His portrayal of Billy Beane showed a man who was willing to think outside the box, but did so because winning was the most important thing to him.  His passion for the game, despite not being able to play it well enough to stay in the major leagues (seeing him in a 1984 Mets road jersey with the racing pinstripes was worth the price of admission), was evident throughout the film.  Losing was unacceptable.  Beane would not accept anything less, even from players who on paper weren't supposed to compete with the Yankees or other teams that bathed in their own money, and Pitt played the character perfectly.

Brad Pitt rallies the troops, which includes former big league shortstop Royce Clayton, who plays Miguel Tejada (clearly before Tejada's "alleged" steroid use).

Since we are also the Studious Metsimus culinary experts, we couldn't help but notice various scenes with Beane eating peanuts, popcorn and an entire Twinkie in one bite.  He never seemed to eat anything but junk food, which is a trait we'd like to incorporate into our lifestyles when we're not reviewing baseball films.

So do we recommend Moneyball to our faithful readers?  Let's just say we gave the film TWO BIG PAWS UP!!

It's got tremendous acting (Philip Seymour Hoffman put Iggy to sleep a few times, which means he played Art Howe perfectly), fantastic baseball drama (the A's-Royals matchup at the end of the 20-game winning streak was full of tension - we felt like we were watching an actual game being played), and enough junk food to make any bear happy.

At two hours and 13 minutes, the film might have been a tad lengthy (gotta love those father-daughter scenes), but then again, it was about as long as four innings of a Red Sox-Yankees game.  If you think of it that way, the film flew by.

Moneyball was worth the money we found in the Studious Metsimus petty cash tin.  Even the Oakland A's, with their penny-pinching ways, would shell out top dollar for this film.  The A's might not have won a championship yet under Billy Beane, but the performances in this film are most certainly of a championship caliber.  Go see Moneyball!

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