Moneyball, Abduction, Dolphin Tale, Killer Elite, Higher Ground and two documentaries at the Denman Theatre
A baseball movie with Oscar hopes, a new turf for Taylor Lautner and a dolphin that needs an artificial fin lead off a long list of new movies this week.
Here’s the whole menu:
Moneyball: 4 stars
Abduction: 2 ½
Dolphin Tale 3-D: 3
Higher Ground: 3 ½
Killer Elite: 3
Chasing Madoff: 3
Limelight: 2 ½
MONEYBALL: Here’s a baseball film with a difference. It has almost no baseball in it. And with Brad Pitt in the lead, that could make it work for non-sport fans too. It deals with the business side. The theme here is how to win over the naysayers and get things done. Pitt plays Billy Beane, the Oakland A’s general manager, who built a winning team without much money to buy players. The Yankees spent three times as much. A young economist and computer geek, played by Jonah Hill, showed him how to find cheap players who could produce. Don’t key on batting averages, for instance. Check how often the player gets on base, no matter how he does it.
It takes work to push these ideas. Philip Seymour Hoffman, as the on-field manager, was a grumpy resister. The scouting staff, in a couple of bristling meetings, are offended that Beane doesn’t listen to their recommendations based as they are on the familiar ways they’ve always followed. These scenes are alive with tension. There’s also an authentic feel when Pitt gets on the phone making deals. The film was written by Aaron Sorkin, who won an Oscar for his last screenplay, The Social Network, another crackling entertainment from an arcane milieu. This film will have you hanging on to every point in arguments you never imagined you’d be interested in. Who hasn’t wanted to take on the stick-in-the-mud slugs at one time or another? Top notch acting and smooth direction by Bennett Miller, who’s last film was Capote, makes this one a winner. (5th Avenue, Dunbar, Scotiabank and many suburban theatres) 4 out of 5
ABDUCTION: Twilight’s Taylor Lautner branches out with this conspiracy thriller that starts off well, draws you into a mystery and then falters trying to keep the various story elements making sense. He’s a high school kid again, with parents he doesn’t understand and a recurring dream about an entirely different woman. When he’s assigned a class project, along with the school cutie (Lily Collins), on missing children, he finds his own face on a website. That stirs up a CIA agent (Alfred Molina) and a European freelancer (Michael Nyqvist of the original The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo) to give chase. By car, on a train, on a river, down a ravine, through the woods and through a couple of U.S. cities.
Taylor and Lily make a good looking pair on the run and have a prolonged kissing scene that oozes sexy vibes. Their acting is weak, though. The better work is left to the old hands, including Sigourney Weaver who shows up briefly to help out and cautions the couple about who they should not trust. The film misses the chance to build on that tension and plays out its standard chase and shoot story with more holes than thrills. (Scotiabank and many suburban theatres) 2 ½ out of 5
DOLPHIN TALE 3-D: This is a wonderful family film, for boys especially. They’ll respond to the young boy in the story as he learns about the world and grows to come out of his funk and care about others. The main other is an injured dolphin who’s tail fins got tangled in a crab trap and had to be amputated.
The boy, played by Sawyer Nelson, develops a close bond with the animal and in one euphoric sequence swims with it, in and under the water. To save the animal’s life, he imagines a prosthetic fin and leans on a technician, played by Morgan Freeman, to develop one. The story is largely true. It happened in a Florida animal rescue facility that was itself rescued from its money problems when the dolphin became famous. The real animal, named Winter, plays herself in the film. She became a favorite with children who have to wear artificial limbs. That angle is overdone in the film as the boy (a fictional addition to the story) also has a big brother who comes back from Iraq partially disabled. However, the actors, including Harry Connick Jr., Kris Kristofferson and young Cozi Zuehlsdorff, and the director, Vancouver’s Charles Martin Smith, keep the film bright and good-hearted in feel-good waters. (Oakridge, International Village, The Dolphin, naturally, and suburban theatres) 3 out of 5
HIGHER GROUND: Religious faith rarely gets as sympathetic a treatment as this in the movies. Mocking or pushing an evangelical agenda is easy. Examining what motivates believers and what brings on a crisis of faith is much harder. This film is based on a personal memoir, This Dark World, by Carolyn Briggs, and by treating it with respect, shows one woman’s struggle credibly and subtly.
Vera Farmiga, who also directs, plays her as a member of a born-again community. She’s baptized in the very first scene, recalls an earlier time of wild living, pregnancy and early marriage, and then chafes under the restrictive rules within her church. The women all wear long dresses, often in bright colors and flower prints, as in pioneer days. The pastor urges all to invite Jesus into their homes like a neighbor. He also gives the men sex instruction that’s so direct that you’re tempted to laugh. The film doesn’t, though; it stays with Farmiga’s character who finds the community stifling and comes to a distressing point when she tells God she feels nothing. Her religious struggle is played straight and with an observant eye for the little details that drive it.
(International Village) 3 ½ out of 5
KILLER ELITE: Think The Dirty Dozen, The Expendables and other macho missions by a rag tag international crew. This time, add Middle Eastern intrigue and oil wars and don’t forget this. The story is said to be true but also denied by almost anyone who should know. Sir Ranulph Fiennes claims it really happened and he was involved. He wrote about it in the book “The Feather Men" which is not really a good title for a movie like this.
Jason Statham leads a band of soldiers of fortune trying to rescue Robert De Niro. He’s been captured by an oil sheik who wants the British SAS agents who killed three of his sons eliminated, but it must look like an accident and include an apology. Trying to stop all this is Clive Owen who meets regularly with a group of oil company executives who want to keep secret their involvement in an oil war that set off the sheik’s ire. (It’s satisfying for a change to hear about someone other than the Americans fighting wars for oil). Clive and Jason eventually meet to fight hand to hand, which has the benefit of bringing an overly complex story back to the basics. It’s a fairly entertaining action picture if you can keep straight exactly who is doing what to whom. (Scotiabank and suburban theatres) 3 out of 5
CHASING MADOFF: Harry Markopolos says it took him five minutes to see that Bernie Madoff’s investment fund was a scam. The boys on Wall Street were making too much money to really look into it, but why did the Securities and Exchange Commission not notice? That’s the question that this intriguing documentary asks over and over again, mostly through Harry’s interview clips and, most entertainingly, through excerpts from a later Congressional hearing where SEC executives were squirming under the politicians’ relentless attacks.
Markopolos spent 10 years trying to blow the whistle. He’s a securities analyst in Boston and describes the outrage within him that turned into an obsession and then into fear as Forbes Magazine, the Wall Street Journal and government watchdogs all took his information and didn’t do anything with it. Madoff’s fund ran into trouble all by itself and investors lost over $17 billion dollars. Several talk about it in the film. Madoff, who is in prison serving a 150-year sentence, appears only in some old clips. So he remains a cipher. His crime is well-explained though. (Denman Theatre) 3 out of 5
LIMELIGHT: A Canadian success story is always worth savoring. And then there are stories like this. Peter Gatien from Cornwall, Ontario became the king of New York nightlife during the 1980s. He operated four clubs, including the famous Limelight, were the hip and the trendy came to dance to techno music all through the night, feeling the love brought on by ecstasy, a new and not-yet-illegal drug. Andy Warhol and Yoko Ono threw parties and Moby (who appears in the film) says he was inspired to create his music by the fun times he had there. “Degeneracy without negative consequences,” he calls it.
Gatien now lives in Toronto and talks fast and often in the documentary about what happened to him. Cocaine and crack took over as the quality of the ecstasy declined. Hip hop shows resulted in noise, fighting and upset neighbors. Then Rudolph Giuliani arrived as a law-and-order mayor. The feds were snooping around too and eventually got Gatien on a tax charge and deported him. Director Billy Corben tells the story briskly and with lots of drug-tinged atmosphere and thumping music. Supporters, prosecutors and even a snitch talk about those days but with Gatien getting most of the time, and his daughter listed among the producers, the film is fully on his side. (Denman Theatre) 2 ½ out of 5
Also now playing …
JIG: This is one of those little films that sneaks into town and lands at the Granville Theatre without previews. It’s a documentary by a BBC crew about Irish dancing, culminating in the 40th World Championships held last year in Glasgow, Scotland.
The story follows eight contestants, detailing a year of training and sacrifice. An American doctor gives up his practice and moves to England to help his daughter’s ambitions. Ten-year-old rivals are interviewed among their trophies and stuffed animals. A Sri Lankan boy is encouraged by the Dutch couple who adopted him. Two boys from England compete furiously like budding Billy Elliotts. The film is being praised for its cinematography and editing; and criticized for showcasing too many youngsters and thereby reducing the drama. (Granville Theatre)
NOTE: The images are movie stills provided by the studios and are therefore the exclusive property of their copyright owners.