THOSE who despair of the Premier League’s seemingly unbreakable domination by ultra-rich clubs can perhaps take heart from the baseball movie, Moneyball (Cert 12A), in which the team with the lowest wages goes on a record-breaking winning streak.
It’s not wishful fiction either but based on the 2002 American League season of the Oakland Athletics. And at this point it is perhaps worth mentioning that this is a film which contrives to be much more than a sports movie (or indeed a Brad Pitt vehicle), largely thanks to a savvy script which carries the name of The Social Network’s Aaron Sorkin.
Pitt is Billy Beane, a baseball wunderkind who never quite made it as a player and is now general manager of the As. Having the previous season failed at the last hurdle to make it through to the World Series Finals, the team then had their three best players poached by the rich clubs which made him wonder how they could possibly afford to compete in future.
The solution comes in the unlikely shape of tubby geek Peter Brand (Josh Hill), an Ivy League graduate who provides statistical analysis which identifies cost-effective under-rated players who can be moulded into a team without stars.
The idea (known as sabermetrics) is anathema to the club’s old school scouts and, more crucially, the head coach (a grizzled Philip Seymour Hoffman), who refuses to co-operate and seems to be vindicated when the season gets off to a disastrous start. But that only makes the eventual turnaround and march to baseball history all the more sweet.
Pitt carries the story as Beane, a lonely figure whose life is entirely consumed by the ball game, apart from occasional tender meetings with the daughter from his failed marriage.
Tempering his handsomeness with constant chomping on tobacco and junk food, he creates a complex character, outwardly charismatic and cocksure but in reality full of self-doubt (he can’t even bear to watch the matches) which only Brand witnesses.
Comedy actor Josh Hill not surprisingly provides the film’s laughs but also brings depth to his (apparently fictional) character.
Alhough a classic uplifting tale of victory against the odds, director Bennett Miller’s movie doesn’t go for the obvious feelgood ending but something more poignant – although at a running time of 133 minutes it takes a long time coming.
It’s hard to know what exactly to make of Take Shelter (Cert 15). At various times it comes across as a pre-apocalyptic drama, a disaster movie, a study of mental illness and its treatment, or a metaphor for modern society’s fears for the future.
Perhaps it is all those things. Whatever, right from the start writer-director Jeff Nichols’s drama movie establishes an unsettling sense of dread which continues to the end – and even afterwards.
In an Oscar-tipped performance, Michael Shannon is construction worker Curtis LaForche who lives with his wife (Jessica Chastain) and daughter in rural Ohio. His best friend admires him for having “a good life” but Shannon is an extraordinary actor whose face is always the opposite of contentment.
Curtis begins suffering disturbing nightmares which all suggest an oncoming devastating storm, causing him to become increasingly obsessed in a way which threatens his family and his job.
The problem is that the audience knows we can only make sense of these dreams and Curtis’s actions – and therefore the whole movie – once we get to the final reveal which is frustrating.
Nearly 40 years since he bagged a job as a lowly assistant on the set at Pinewood Studios of The Prince and the Showgirl, directed by Laurence Olivier and starring Marilyn Monroe, Colin Clark published his diary of that summer in 1956 when he formed a friendship with the most glamorous star in the world.
As a film, My Week With Marilyn (Cert 15) directed by Simon Curtis, is lovely to look at and boasts an impressive line-up of British thesps in walk-on roles, but is nothing special, apart from the radiant performance of Michelle Williams opposite Kenneth Branagh as an exasperated Olivier.