THE FILM YAP » Philip Seymour Hoffman We Never Shut Up About Movies Sun, 23 Nov 2014 20:53:41 +0000 en-US hourly 1 The Hunger Games: Catching Fire Tue, 04 Mar 2014 05:51:07 +0000 Continue reading ]]> The Hunger Games Catching Fire - inside

The problem with many fantasy book franchises that get turned into a series of movies is the individual films often seem much like one another. I enjoyed the first couple of “Harry Potter” flicks, but by the time the third one rolled around, I felt like I’d already paid enough for the same dance.

“The Hunger Games” only needs two films to arrive at dreary repetition. “Catching Fire,” the sequel to 2012’s mega-hit, unrolls in very much the same fashion, culminating with gladiator-like games where young champions vie to kill each other off while an agitated populace is forced to watch on TV.

The only real difference is that Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) is no longer an unknown novice from a remote district but the reigning champion along with her childhood friend Peeta (Josh Hutcherson), with whom she carries on a faux romance for the benefit of the cameras.

She’s recruited (aka forced) to participate in a new set of games featuring former champions by the evil President Snow (Donald Sutherland), who fears Katniss has become the linchpin of a brewing rebellion. He’s even hired a new Games Master, Plutarch Heavensbee (Philip Seymour Hoffman), to devise insanely diabolical challenges for the competitors.

Katniss and Peeta quickly find themselves in an unlikely alliance with other players, but at times it seems like the very environment is out to get them.

“Catching Fire” isn’t bad, but it takes a long time to get going, and even when it does, we’ve already seen all there is to see.

Video extras are decent enough. The DVD version comes with a feature-length commentary track by director Francis Lawrence and producer Nina Jacobson and deleted scenes. Go for the Blu-ray combo pack, and you add a nine-part feature-length documentary about the making of the film, “Surviving the Game: Making Catching Fire.”

(Note: “The Hunger Games: Catching Fire” will be released on video Friday, March 7.)

Film: 3 Yaps
Extras: 4 Yaps

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The Hunger Games: Catching Fire Fri, 22 Nov 2013 15:29:28 +0000 Continue reading ]]> The Hunger Games Catching Fire - inside

“The Hunger Games: Catching Fire” isn’t any worse than the smash hit from last year, but that isn’t really saying very much. This overly faithful adaption of the super-popular young adult novels by Suzanne Collins returns brave heroine Katniss Everdeen for another go-round that plays, in large part, like a broken record.

The tearful selection to the Games, in which champions from 12 districts across a dystopian America must fight gladiator-style for all the world to watch? It’s here. The blunt tutoring by burnt-out former victor Haymitch (Woody Harrelson)? Ditto. Costumed pageantry and a gleeful skewering of our celebrity-obsessed media? Loved ones in peril? Sneering resentment by other, pampered champions? Here, here, here.

And, of course, the actual games themselves, which take up the latter half of the film. Once the action starts, things pick up well, but it’s a long, long slog until the arrows start flying.

The only real difference here is that the stirrings of rebellion against evil President Snow (Donald Sutherland) have blossomed after Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) and her district partner, Peeta (Josh Hutcherson), managed to defy all expectations and win the last Games together. Snow believes she’s the face of the rebellion and would snuff her out if he didn’t fear that would stoke unrest even more.

He recruits a new Games Master, Plutarch Heavensbee (Philip Seymour Hoffman), to come up with a devilishly sadistic scenario for the 75th annual games centered around bringing back past victors. It’s all just an excuse to put Katniss in peril.

We get the familiar scenes of the champions at practice, making threats and showing off their killer muscle definition. There’s a pair of Aryan siblings, some older scientist types, a gal who files her teeth to jagged points, a mentally unhinged chick with an axe, an anonymous big bald dude and a scattering of others who are quickly forgotten or killed off.

Chief among the new arrivals is Finnick (Sam Claflin), a golden boy who seems to absolutely smack his lips at the prospect of going up against Katniss and Peeta.

The love triangle from the last film continues, again without much resolution. Katniss loves Gale (Liam Hemsworth), a stolid miner from back home, while Peeta is hopelessly smitten by her. They continue their supposed romance for the benefit of the cameras, even concocting up a planned wedding. It’s taken its toll on Peeta, though, who wants to sacrifice himself to save his unrequited lady love.

New director Francis Lawrence has a good eye for the action scenes, but anytime the characters have to just stand there and talk to each other, it’s pure death. It’s a turgid, curiously emotionless affair — something you’d think would be difficult, given all the death and ardor being flung around.

“The Hunger Games: Catching Fire” will likely please its molten core of fans, mostly teen girls. But I found it to be a fantasy-adventure soap opera, where clothes and media gossip get just as much play as the battles to the death.

3 Yaps

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The Master Tue, 26 Feb 2013 05:14:30 +0000 Continue reading ]]> The Master - inside

Ambitious, vexing, jubilant and depressing, “The Master” is a film that neither Hollywood nor audiences quite knew what to do with.

It was first touted as “the Scientology movie,” received respectful but somewhat puzzled reviews, and was then largely ignored by ticket buyers. But it scored three Oscar nominations for its wonderful acting, including Joaquin Phoenix, who I think gave the performance of the year.

It is writer/director Paul Thomas Anderson’s first film since “There Will Be Blood,” and if there’s any mainstream filmmaker today who deserves to be called an auteur, it’s him.

The tale is about Freddie Quell (Phoenix), an unhinged, alcoholic veteran struggling to assimilate back into society after World War II. He stumbles into the den of Lancaster Dodd (Philip Seymour Hoffman), the charismatic leader of a quasi-religious order called “The Cause,” and the two men each discover the other satisfies a yearning in themselves they didn’t even recognize.

Freddie is a twitchy wreck, a guy who suspects that his mind isn’t right and is constantly trying to fake normalcy so he can fit in with those around him. Dodd is bombastic and slithery, a guy who’s been deluding others with notions of his self-importance for so long, he’s even fooled himself. In Freddie he sees a perfect test case for his odd theories.

“The Master” is less concerned with plot than the strange, spinning dance between this pair, with other characters such as Dodd’s wife (Amy Adams) forced to resentfully orbit around the gravitational pull they share.

It’s not always a smooth cinematic ride, but one worth taking.

Video extras are decent without being terribly expansive. There are three making-of featurettes, including “Back Beyond,” a 20-minute collection of outtakes and additional scenes set to music. It also comes with “Let There Be Light,” a 1946 documentary directed by John Huston about mentally wounded WWII veterans returning from war.

Movie: 4 Yaps
Extras: 4 Yaps

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A Late Quartet Fri, 02 Nov 2012 13:00:55 +0000 Continue reading ]]>

Only a chosen few can spend their lives following their passion. It’s a matter of time and circumstance as much as talent and dedication. However, anyone who’s pursued performing arts will relate to “A Late Quartet.” Though Yaron Zilberman’s classical music indie has a rather odd bit of casting, its depiction of fate’s effect on already-complex artistic temperaments is right on the money.

World-renowned string quartet The Fugue formed decades ago at Julliard and is going strong. When cellist Peter (Christopher Walken) is diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease, his retirement announcement sets a chain of events in motion. Second violinist Robert (Philip Seymour Hoffman) suddenly wants a bigger share of the spotlight and realizes his marriage to violist Juliette (Catherine Keener) has been lacking. Meanwhile, obsessive first violinist Daniel (Mark Ivanir) fights his attraction to his protegee Alexandra (Imogen Poots), an up-and-coming Julliard student — and Robert and Juliette’s daughter.

Relationship dramas about the creative process always run the risk of narcissism and indulgence. Thanks to Zilberman’s incorporation of action, music and documentary-esque film clips, “A Late Quartet” never falls into this trap. New York City is as much character as setting, the gray sky and blanket of snow mirroring the musicians’ angst and confusion in the face of losing one of their own. Seth Grossman’s screenplay is quiet and realistic, skillfully weaving together the tapestry of shifting interactions that form the group’s history with a few chuckles thrown in for good measure.

“Quartet”‘s principal actors clearly relish this project, resulting in subtle, thoughtful performances. It’s nice to see Walken play a dignified teacher and father figure — in other words, something other than the self-parody he’s become in recent years. Keener strikes the perfect balance of prickly and introspective, and Ivanir is wonderful as the consummate perfectionist who spends so much time in his own head, he hasn’t quite mastered the art of conversation. (Anyone who’s dabbled in the arts has encountered someone like Daniel.) Not surprisingly, Hoffman emerges as the film’s standout, exploring Robert’s descent from happy-go-lucky to searching for validation without ever chewing scenery. If there’s one word for Hoffman as an actor, it’s this: gracious.

The only problematic element of “Quartet” is Poots. Alexandra is a character that would have been played by Winona Ryder or Claire Danes 15 years ago, Julia Stiles or Natalie Portman a decade ago, or Anna Kendrick five years ago (maybe even now if Kendrick hadn’t achieved mainstream stardom). Alexandra is an interesting young woman, frustrated with her parents’ dedication to their art while willingly following in their footsteps. While Poots’ interpretation is decent, I never believed her as Hoffman and Keener’s daughter. For one, she doesn’t resemble either, and even worse, her American accent is awful. It’s possible Zilberman had a challenge finding an actress who was willing to work for scale and who didn’t look too L.A., which speaks ill of the Hollywood system and its unnatural standards of beauty.

Casting hiccup aside, though, “A Late Quartet” resonates. When an artist leaves a group, amateur or professional, the absence is deeply felt. This past summer, a friend with whom I’d shared the stage and teaching duties at an arts camp decided to end his life. Though we hadn’t acted together in many years — I don’t even live in the area anymore — there’s a gap now. It’s the size of a man, and it will be smoothed over but never fully refilled.

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Mastering “The Master” Wed, 03 Oct 2012 04:06:54 +0000 Continue reading ]]>

In our new podcast, Austin Lugar and Christopher Lloyd attempt to puzzle out the hidden meanings — if any — behind the grandiose but head-scratching “The Master.”

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The Ides of March Tue, 17 Jan 2012 05:09:55 +0000 Continue reading ]]>

“The Ides of March” is an ambitious, well-executed political drama that loses points because of its utter lack of freshness. From the inspiring presidential candidate with secret dark spots to the ambitious campaign insiders and journalists ready to cut throats to get ahead to the naive young thing who gets caught up in the crossfire, there’s virtually nothing in this movie that we haven’t seen before.

George Clooney directed, co-wrote and has a supporting role in “Ides” as Mike Morris, a liberal governor who’s the frontrunner for the race to the White House. Ryan Gosling stars as Stephen Myers, Morris’ number-two man behind grizzled political veteran Paul Zara (Philip Seymour Hoffman).

Paul Giamatti plays the campaign manager for Morris’ main opponent, who’s got an ace up his sleeve as they head into the Ohio primary. Rounding out the cast are Marisa Tomei as a sly New York Times reporter and Evan Rachel Wood as a 20-year-old campaign volunteer who catches Stephen’s eye.

That’s a killer cast, and Clooney knows exactly how to exploit it, resulting in many winning scenes of dueling repartee and clashing egos. It’s during these times that the movie reminds one of other, better political flicks like “The Candidate” or “Primary Colors.”

But the screenplay by Clooney, his longtime collaborator Grant Heslov and Beau Willimon, based on a play by Willimon, continually goes down paths far too well-traveled. The audience knows almost everything that’s going to happen long before it transpires.

Inevitability is a quality that may work when it comes to winning elections, but it turns otherwise promising films into cinematic also-rans.

Extra features aren’t a landslide, but certainly make a solid showing that should please the electorate of video lovers.

The DVD version comes with a commentary track by Clooney and Heslov plus two featurettes: “Believe: George Clooney” and “On the Campaign: The Cast of ‘The Ides of March.’ ”

Upgrade to Blu-ray and you get two more featurettes: “Developing the Campaign: The Origin of ‘The Ides of March'”  and “What Does a Political Consultant Do?”.

Film: 3.5 Yaps
Extras: 4 Yaps

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Moneyball Tue, 10 Jan 2012 05:28:11 +0000 Continue reading ]]>

I truly believe Brad Pitt gave the performance of his career in “Moneyball,” far outpacing his overrated work in the pedantic “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.”

Playing Billy Beane, the general manager of the dirt-poor Oakland Athletics baseball club, Pitt shows layers and nuance that have been missing in his previous straightforward acting turns.

Billy is outwardly brash, even cocky in the face he presents to the organization, the media and even his family. He has to when he’s trying to beat teams that can spend three times as much on player salaries. Inside, he’s a nervous wreck who’s convinced he’s cursed.

With the help of a socially awkward young computer genius, Peter Brand (Jonah Hill), Billy institutes the then-radical concept of sabermetrics. Essentially, this means jettisoning tried-and-true methods for evaluating players and instead relying on complex mathematical algorithms to determine the best team to be had at the lowest price.

Soon, Billy and his apprentice have assembled a cast of players who are over the hill, injured or playing out of position — what Peter dubs “an island of misfit toys.” After some initial stumbles, they start racking up W’s.

Director Bennett Miller and screenwriters Aaron Sorkin and Steve Zaillian succeeded in making a baseball movie with very little baseball, where the real action happens not on the diamond but in the executive offices.

Video extras are a solid base hit, but they failed to put some mustard on the offerings.

At least the basic DVD edition has a few nice features; it’s so common nowadays to find all the good stuff saved for the Blu-ray. The “Moneyball” DVD comes with a making-of documentary, a feature on the real-life Billy Beane, a blooper reel with Pitt and Hill and a number of deleted scenes.

The Blu-ray version adds a featurette on selecting the movie’s cast and crew and another about adapting a nonfiction sports book into a feature film. There’s also a preview for the 2012 season of the “MLB” video game series.

Film: 4.5 Yaps
Extras: 3.5 Yaps

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Happiness (1998) Mon, 19 Dec 2011 18:20:39 +0000 Continue reading ]]>

Todd Solondz’ 1998 film “Happiness” is a look at white-picket-fence America and its rotting foundation. The collision of suburban subterfuge and the dark underbelly it covers is most evident in the story of small-town therapist — and pedophile — Dr. Bill Maplewood. The “sandwich scene” emphasizes the tension between these two worlds through classical cutting and distinguishes them with contrasts in lighting and sound.

The scene finds Bill making his family and son’s baseball buddy hot fudge sundaes, thus fulfilling his image as an all-American, “Ward Cleaver type” of father. Little do they know, Bill is a pedophile, and has spiked the fudge in an effort to rape his son’s friend. When little Johnny Grasso doesn’t want the chocolate treat, Bill panics, urging him to try something else and finally seducing him into eating a tuna salad sandwich. The sequence ultimately evokes the voyeuristic thrill of watching a predator at work from a safe distance — safe in the sense that the viewer is physically detached from the situation, but in actuality, the scene is unsettlingly intimate.

Just as Bill intended to make it, the scene initially seems innocent — a mood reflected by the comfortably distant establishing shot of his family room. The scene grows uncomfortable as the camera quickly cuts between close-ups of Bill and even tighter ones of his sexual target Johnny. In pulling these characters close together, director Solondz visually bridges the gap between the worlds they respectively symbolize — the wicked and the innocent.

The formerly mentioned world overtakes the latter, enveloping the otherwise bright, chipper setting in shadow (shadows which are significantly darker around Bill than the other characters — his wife and two sons).

The editing and lighting work together in a moment wherein the camera lingers on an otherwise friendly (albeit in an artificial, posed way) family portrait — including the dog — bathed in darkness. The shadows hover stealthily like demons over Bill and his sons–boys the age of Bill’s prey. The camera lingers just long enough to underscore the fact that Bill’s seemingly pleasant domestic life is a veil. The shot is relatively brief, reflecting Bill’s hesitance to dwell on his demons.

As is the case with most classical cutting, the editing here highlights details like this for dramatic effect. Another example of this is evident in the frequent cutting to, and close focus on, Johnny’s drug-laced tuna sandwich — an object made even more dominant by the intrinsic interest it holds for the audience, and the weight it carries as Johnny’s ticket to doom.

Solondz also stresses the scene’s diegetic sound to make for a jarring contrast to its subject matter. As Bill fixates on Johnny, we hear the loud, constant beeping of his son’s video game — a simultaneous reminder of Johnny’s innocence and aural representation of Bill’s piercing obsession with him. When Bill is not in the room with Johnny (as when he practically tip-toes through the house’s bedrooms to make sure his family is asleep), the film is almost dead quiet, making the beeping that much more unnerving when it is present.

The most striking aural contrast to this situation is the “Leave it to Beaver”-esque musical cue that creeps in toward the end of the scene. It swells as Bill gazes upon Johnny, ready to pounce upon his prey. The fleeting music also serves as a stark reminder to the viewers that they are watching the furthest possible thing from a pleasant family sitcom. Just as Bill Maplewood slips a mickey in fudge, Solondz coats the subject matter with “sugar” (an aesthetically pleasant setting) to make the medicine or harsh realities go down unexpectedly — in other words, to subvert the ideal image of America and show that the white-picket-fence American Dream is deteriorating and being replaced by far more morally questionable desires.

Within the perversion of wholesome imagery and sound lies the scarily exhilarating thrill of this scene. The juxtaposition of Bill’s hideous sexual desire and his home’s Mayberry aesthetic adds tension and twisted irony to the situation. It also serves as an unsettling reminder of the all-too-real coexistence and commingling of mayhem and mundanity.

The “sandwich scene” is one of the film’s few night sequences, which is fitting because, thematically speaking, it is easily the darkest chapter in the film — darkness literalized and underscored by the ever-lingering shadows.

The quick cutting, shadowy suburban setting, and persistent video game beeping work together to give the scene a seductively otherworldly quality. As Entertainment Weekly’s Owen Gleiberman wrote in his review of the film, “Solondz has a gift for tweaking our curiosity, so that, like children waiting for a monster to leap from the shadows, we’re left giddy with anticipation at whatever seamy private horror is coming next.”

Like the rest of the film, watching the “sandwich scene” feels like being a fly on the walls of the ordinary and looking through a funhouse mirror of them. It has an otherworldly, dreamlike quality as it presents a disturbingly conceivable situation, creating the kind of distance people want when confronted with such real-world horror (in this case, child rape.)

Solondz keeps viewers on edge as he seamlessly straddles this line between escapism and reality. He has accomplished what few filmmakers have, turning everyday life into both a disturbing, depressing concept and scarily exhilarating entertainment — the kind of popcorn, albeit slightly perverse, entertainment evoked by its classical style. A scene involving a man trying to rape a child probably wouldn’t be tolerable if executed in any other fashion.

By the end of the film, any notions of what is normal seem anything but. As Roger Ebert wrote in his review, the film is ultimately about “the horrifying suggestion that its characters may not be grotesque exceptions, but may in fact be part of the mainstream of humanity.” Solondz’ conveys their infiltration into the seemingly normal world with hypnotic artistry.

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The Ides of March Wed, 05 Oct 2011 14:49:58 +0000 Continue reading ]]>

Here’s the first serious would-be contender of the season for Oscar nominations, “The Ides of March.” And it’s a solid base hit, but not anywhere near out of the park.

This drama — directed and co-written by, in addition to starring, George Clooney — is a well-intentioned cautionary tale about the corrupting nature of modern electoral politics. It’s splendidly acted, with a top-notch cast that, in addition to Clooney, includes Ryan Gosling, Paul Giamatti, Philip Seymour Hoffman and Marisa Tomei — Academy Award winners or nominees all.

But it’s simply not up to par with Clooney’s other directorial efforts. “Good Night, and Good Luck” showed how to do old-fashioned Hollywood drama right, and even “Confessions of a Dangerous Mind” had a zany, over-the-edge frisson.

Compared to some of the films Clooney’s starred in lately, like “Up in the Air” or “Michael Clayton,” this movie isn’t even playing the same league.

The biggest downside of “The Ides of March” is that it’s so familiar. There are elements from a half-dozen political films one can pick out, but mostly it seems like the love child of “The Candidate” and “Primary Colors.” The crackling dialogue and gutsy performances barely keep ahead of an impending sense of redundancy, rolling in like an inevitable tide, reminding us we’ve seen all this before.

“Ides” is a well-executed retread that impresses without ever surprising us.

Gosling plays Stephen Myers, the wunderkind political operator who’s the number-two man on the presidential campaign of Mike Morris (Clooney). The Democratic governor of Pennsylvania, Morris is currently the leading candidate for the Democratic nomination going into the Ohio primary.

Morris’ campaign manager, Paul Zara, a savvy veteran played by Hoffman, is in cautious, playing-not-to-lose mode, while Stephen thinks they should be taking the battle for ideas to the voters — and Morris seems to be listening to Stephen.

This includes several scenes of Morris giving speeches championing the type of liberal orthodoxy favored in real life by Clooney that wouldn’t last a week in a presidential election. (Morris is an atheist who thinks young people should perform two years of mandatory public service in order to attend college.)

These sequences come across as Hollywood types feeling their oats and drag the narrative to a near-dead stop as the audience contemplates how much they agree or disagree with Clooney’s leftist politics rather than concentrating on the fiction.

On the other side of the chess board is Tom Duffy (Giamatti), campaign manager for Morris’ primary opponent. He’s down but not out, and Tom has some cards up his sleeve to put Ohio in their column.

Out of the blue, Tom calls Stephen and asks to meet with him, which turns into a fawning play to convince him to jump ship. Stephen isn’t having anything to do with it, but that doesn’t mitigate the danger of Paul considering it an act of disloyalty.

Then Stephen uncovers some unsettling information about Morris, causing him to doubt his own principles. Ultimately, he makes his own power play that could alter the political landscape.

Tomei has a small but tidy role as Ida Horowicz, a reporter for the New York Times. She and Stephen have a friendly, bantering relationship, but when the moment of truth arrives she makes it clear she’s primed to cut his throat to get the big story. (It may not seem like it, but that’s actually a compliment.)

More problematic is Evan Rachel Wood as Molly, a 20-year-old campaign intern who makes goo-goo eyes at Stephen. Wood does about as much as she can with the role, but it’s written as a human plot device rather than a person, existing merely to make the story turn in one direction or another — no matter that it requires the character to flip on a dime, absent any logic or reason.

The screenplay is by Clooney, Grant Heslov and Beau Willimon, based on a play by Willimon.

What “The Ides of March” does best is shine on a light on the grubby inner workings of the political machine, the petty rivalries and human failings hidden by the smooth, facile face of a campaign. Clooney pans his camera from the candidate giving a speech in front of a huge crowd to the cramped hallway behind the stage, where workers and cronies literally have to step over each other as they track how every utterance is playing in real time.

It’s a well-done film, respectable and serious. The actors acquit themselves with zest and skill. Unfortunately, “Ides” just has all the freshness of a outdated stump speech.

3.5 Yaps

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Moneyball Wed, 21 Sep 2011 04:24:56 +0000 Continue reading ]]>

“Moneyball” is simultaneously deeper and funnier than I thought it would be. Based on the nonfiction book by Michael Lewis, it’s a look at how number-crunchers have changed the game of baseball through something called sabermetrics. Instead of relying on gut instincts and baseball acumen to evaluate players, this method employs computers and bean counting to identify the best players that can be had for the least amount of money.

Now, baseball is not my thing. And mathematical algorithms are even less my thing. But instead of zeroing in on the technical aspects of sabermetrics, “Moneyball” is the story of Billy Beane. The General Manager of the cash-poor Oakland Athletics, Billy must try every year to put together a roster that can compete against teams like the New York Yankees, which can spend three times as much on payroll.

It’s a terrific performance by Brad Pitt, quite possibly the best of his career. His Billy Beane constantly operates on two levels: the brash, confident side he presents to his employees, the media and even his family; and the dark and brooding side that expects failure at every turn, refusing to even attend his own team’s games because he’s convinced he’s jinxed.

There’s one great scene where Billy confronts his newly acquired 37-year-old star player, David Justice (Steven Bishop). It’s a standoff between two savvy baseball veterans who see through each others’ bluster and want the other guy to know it.

Justice tells Billy he knows face-saving patter when he hears it. Billy cannily wins Justice’s loyalty by laying out their respective goals in stark terms: I want to squeeze the last bit of baseball ability out of your aging body, and you want to stay in the big leagues.

Billy’s scheme doesn’t go over so well with the rest of the organization. The head scout quits/gets himself fired after being pushed aside: “You don’t put together a team with a computer!”

The manager, Art Howe (Philip Seymour Hoffman), at first refuses to put Billy’s new recruits on the field, such as a catcher named Scott Hatteberg (Chris Pratt) with permanent nerve damage in his elbow who Billy thinks will make a cost-efficient replacement at first base for recently departed free agent Jason Giambi.

Howe, who’s been rebuffed in his demand for a contract extension, coldly tells Billy why he won’t put Hatteberg in: “I’m playing my team in a way I can explain in job interviews next winter.”

But Billy has faith in his young right-hand man, Peter Brand, played against type by Jonah Hill. Peter’s golden measuring stick for players is their on-base percentage; it doesn’t matter if it’s a home run or a walk, though players who get walked a lot tend to come much cheaper than those walloping dingers. Peter gets his own lessons from Billy on how to deliver the news when trading or cutting a player: “One bullet to the head rather than five in the chest.”

The end result of Peter’s calculations is what he dubs “an island of misfit toys” — players who are injured, too old or playing the wrong position and who have been systematically devalued by their teams and the sport of baseball. By patching together a quilt of utility men, Billy and Peter believe they can not only win games but change the game itself.

After a disastrous start, the A’s soon prove the naysayers wrong, even breaking the American League record for consecutive wins. Eventually, other teams come calling for Billy’s magic potion and with big paychecks to pay for it.

The film ends with a coda that doesn’t quite tell the whole story. It says Billy is still the GM of the A’s and is still trying to win “the last game of the season,” aka win the World Series. What it doesn’t mention is that the team hasn’t even made the playoffs since 2006 and that other teams have adopted Billy’s methods with more success than he.

“Moneyball” was adeptly directed by Bennett Miller (“Capote”), who wisely concentrates his energy less on the action inside the baseball diamond than the grunt work that goes on behind the scenes.

But this film’s success is attributable mainly, I think, to some heroic script work by two heavyweights: Aaron Sorkin, who won the Oscar for “The Social Network,” and Steve Zaillian, who has his own statue for “Schindler’s List.”

The creative team decided not to make a typical sports movie, but a deep and probing film that gives us a glimpse at the high-stakes games that happen off the baseball diamond.

4.5 Yaps

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