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Digi@themovies: Trouble with the Curve, End of Watch, The Master
Trouble with the Curve is very close to a Hallmark Channel-ready feel-good movie, only with much bigger stars. A father-daughter baseball tale starring a flinty Clint Eastwood (sans chair) and a luminous Amy Adams, this minor entertainment with major league Hollywood names is an old-fashioned crowd pleaser that works best if you don’t expect it to stay tethered to reality.
Eastwood stars as an aging baseball scout, once the best, now being challenged by the young front office guys who’ve all read Moneyball. The scout’s prowess is challenged just as his eyes start to go, so his partially estranged workaholic daughter (Adams) -- who’s really only been able to bond with her dad through baseball -- tags along with him when he’s tapped by the Atlanta Braves to decide whether it’s thumbs up or thumbs down on the latest phenom.
The script, by Randy Brown, is as serviceable as it is conventional, and the direction -- from first-timer Robert Lorenz, who has served as Eastwood’s assistant director many times (did Clint take his name off this one?) -- is straightforward and no-nonsense. It’s the performances that make the movie worth it. Eastwood plays a crotchety, not-too-bright guy who happens to be very good at one thing: spotting baseball talent. There’s a great scene at a gravestone, where you feel deeply the character’s frustration at his limited intellect and social graces; later, when he finally spills his guts, it comes matter-of-factly, totally within what you’d expect from the character. Adams gives a much better performance than the role is written, with spark and warmth and depth, as she takes a mostly thankless part and puts soul to it. There are lots of familiar old faces in supporting roles, all hitting their notes like the pros they are, while Justin Timberlake does a decent job in a lightweight supporting turn as a new scout and romantic interest for Adams.
While Trouble with the Curve seems at first to be a melancholy rumination on aging and change, the film itself throws a major curve in the last 15 minutes, when it suddenly turns from a melodrama with humorous moments into a straight-up feel-good comedy, deux ex machina and all. It’s totally ludicrous -- especially if you know anything about baseball and the baseball business -- but by that point we’re attached to the characters so it’s easy to shrug and take it.
Certainly not one of Clint’s classics, but an agreeable couple hours spent with one of Hollywood’s all-time greatest movie stars -- let’s call it a solid single from an aging but perennial All-Star, still deserving applause. (***) -- Tom Siebert
End of Watch: Whew. I have never seen a movie as disturbingly and profoundly real and immediate, and yet so funny and moving at the same time. It’s a cop movie, but with a twist, and it launches the moviegoer into the thick of it from the opening scene, with a calm, introspective monologue mission statement from Brian Taylor (Jake Gyllenhaal) in the midst of a high speed chase through Compton, LA, with his partner Zavala (Michael Peña). When the chase comes to a sudden stop, perpetrators firing directly at the audience, it’s shocking and mind-blowing for us, but for the cops it’s business as usual. I guess for them it is.
The first impression of officers Taylor and Zavala leaves a bitter taste, but as the story unfolds and the characters open up, we become immersed and invested in their lives. This is not the journey of a hero, but the journey of a partnership, a first person experience of the lives of two officers that really do care: for the public, for their families, for each other. The only thing they have to cope with the dark reality around them is humor and an arrogant facade, but inside they are real people just like everybody else.
As dauntingly serious as End of Watch is, it's twice more funny. The dialogue is smart, witty, well delivered, and the humor wild but sometimes poignantly appropriate. Each conflict has a resolution. Each subplot has a backstory.
I highly recommend this film! Be forewarned, though, it's not for the faint of heart or stomach. It's shot in that hand-held camera style so if you have problems with motion sickness be ready. The language is also relentlessly profane and there are very graphic moments of violence, like a knife lodged in an eye socket (for just one example). Apart from its dark side, though, there is much pleasure to be found in End of Watch’s humor and it's no-holds-barred depiction of real-life. (****) -- Justin Grant
The Master is a film for film and art lovers--it’s definitely no blockbuster. At (plenty of) times it’s slow, but in a beautiful and uncomfortable way -- as life is slow, beautiful and uncomfortable at times.
You might have heard The Master is that movie “about L. Ron Hubbard” or “about Scientology.” Not so. It’s about a relationship between two men in post-WWII America: Freddie (Joaquin Phoenix), a pathetic lost soul, a Navy vet with severe “shell shock” and debilitating alcoholism, who stumbles onto a boat to find Lancaster Dodd (Philip Seymour Hoffman), the leader of a powerful cultish movement called “The Cause.” The film is much less about Dodd and much more about Phoenix’s character as he undergoes “processing” with Dodd and begins on a tumultuous journey with Dodd’s family and entourage of blindly-following lemmings.
The cast’s acting is phenomenal. Philip Seymour Hoffman and Amy Adams (as Dodd’s pregnant and obedient wife) are mesmerizing, with Hoffman already generating much Oscar-buzz, but I thought Joaquin Phoenix steals the picture from them. He completely transforms into his character and embraces the violent cycle of ups and downs masterfully (no pun intended). Perhaps not co-incidentally, Phoenix spent his early childhood dragged around Latin America by his parents, members of the Children of God cult.
The whole film is beautiful. In fact, The Master is a collection of some of the most beautiful shots and scenes ever. Just as many of my favorite books are not about getting to the end of a story -- they’re about enjoying an experience, swimming casually in every word on every line of every page -- The Master is a film-equivalent of a non-pageturner. You enjoy every moment of it. But if you’re waiting for an action-packed ending, you’ll be sorely disappointed. ***1/2 -- Kristina Eastham