26 September 2011


Ryan Gosling is shown in a scene from "Drive."
 "Drive" is proof action movies need not be a deafening assault on the senses nor a nonstop barrage of explosions and feats that defy the laws of physics. "Drive" is an action movie with a brain, that allows its characters to use theirs, that spends more time focusing on its characters than the action around them.

The Driver (Ryan Gosling) is at the movie's center. He's a taciturn protagonist in the tradition of Clint Eastwood's Man with No Name; one even wonders if his employer ("Breaking Bad's" Bryan Cranston), who owns an auto repair shop, knows his name. He also works as a stunt driver for Hollywood movies and moonlights as a wheelman.

He doesn't carry a gun or go inside to take an active role in his clients' heists. He drives. He gives his clients a five-minute window to get the job done while he waits in the car, his watching ticking away.

23 September 2011


Brad Pitt, left, and Jonah Hill are shown in a scene from "Moneyball."

Baseball long has been a popular subject in the movies, but "Moneyball" is not about the drama on the field. Its concern is the behind-the-scenes action that, in 2001-2002, revolutionized how talent is evaluated and teams are built.

And it just might be the best movie I have seen so far this year.

The subject of Bennett Miller's ("Capote") film, which is based on a book by "Blind Side" writer Michael Lewis, is Billy Beane (Brad Pitt), general manager of the Oakland Athletics. Following a 2001 playoff loss to the New York Yankees, a team with a payroll nearly three times that of the small-market A's, and the offseason defections of several star players to clubs with deeper pockets, Beane realizes a change in philosophy is in order.

09 September 2011


Jennifer Ehle is shown in a scene from "Contagion."
The disease/pandemic movie has grown up. And with "Contagion" in the hands of Steven Soderbergh, we should expect nothing less.

During the past two decades, the director has swung wildly from populist fare (the "Ocean's" series) to award-winners ("Traffic," "Erin Brockovich") to obscure indie pictures ("Bubble," "The Girlfriend Experience") to everywhere in between and back again.

"Contagion" falls into the between category. Soderbergh employs a cast of Hollywood stars, but this is no "Outbreak." Rather, it is a clinical, procedural telling of how a disease spreads from a bat to a pig to one woman to virtually the entire world.

Starting on "Day 2," Soderbergh and screenwriter Scott Z. Burns (Soderbergh's "The Informant!") mark the passage of time by counting the days and measure the threat by identifying on screen the population of each new location.

06 September 2011

Our Idiot Brother

Adam Scott, left, and Paul Rudd are shown in a scene from "Our Idiot Brother."
"Our Idiot Brother" is a misleading title.

Ned, brought to life by the great Paul Rudd, isn't an idiot at all. He merely is naïve, possessed of an innocence stemming from a good-natured, well-meaning manner that completely overwhelms him at times.

Take the event at the movie's start. A uniformed police officer (Bob Stephenson) approaches Ned at his organic vegetable booth and asks to buy marijuana. Ned refuses and laughs it off until the officer appeals to his senses of compassion and trust. "It's been a really rough week," he says. Ned offers to give him what he wants, but the officer talks him into letting him buy it for $20—then arrests him after the money changes hands.

At the end of his jail term (which is shortened due to good behavior, naturally), Ned returns to the organic farm where he had lived with his girlfriend, Janet (Kathryn Hahn), for the previous three years. But Janet has a new man (T.J. Miller) and won't even let Ned take his beloved dog, Willie Nelson, when she kicks him out.