Movies: 'Trouble With the Curve,' 'The Possession' & 'Arbitrage'
Published 4:38 pm, Friday, September 21, 2012
Following are Susan Granger's reviews of the latest movies playing in area theaters:
"TROUBLE WITH THE CURVE"
Twice in recent weeks, Clint Eastwood has led with his heart. First, there was that unscripted, unrehearsed, off-the-cuff trouble with the chair at the Republican National Convention ... Now, one of the most masterful actors of our time demonstrates loyalty to his longtime producing partner and first-assistant director, Robert Lorenz, by starring in his directorial debut.
Gus Lobel (Eastwood) has been one of baseball's most legendary scouts. He's more bitter and cranky than usual because he's losing his eyesight and could be benched permanently since his contract is up for renewal and the Atlanta Braves' front office is starting to question his judgment. General Manager Vince Freeman (Robert Patrick) and Phillip Snyder (Matthew Lillard), the Braves' contemptuous, computer-savvy director of scouting, are furious that one of Gus' discoveries, Billy Clark, is in a slump and that Gus has his doubts about beefy/bully Bo Gentry (Joe Massingill), the hottest young Major League prospect and a potential Braves first-round draft pick.
So Gus' colleague/longtime family friend, Pete Klein (John Goodman), begs Gus' estranged daughter, Mickey (Amy Adams), a hotshot Atlanta lawyer, to join Gus for one last recruiting trip to North Carolina, where genial Johnny Flanagan (Justin Timberlake), a Boston Red Sox scout, spends time in the bleachers scoping out Mickey.
Working from a forthright, often-amusing script by Randy Brown, Robert Lorenz' direction lacks subtlety, tipping a pivotal plot twist far too early. But his casting is terrific. Amy Adams has an appealing mixture of insight and uncertainty, while Clint Eastwood exudes earthy charm and a disconcerting sense of self-doubt. Their father/daughter dependency duet forms a delicately balanced, richly satisfying relationship.
Written 15 years ago, this sports drama -- the antithesis of "Moneyball" -- originally had Dustin Hoffman in the lead, and it's the first film Eastwood has starred in but not directed since "In the Line of Fire" (1993), coming after he stated that "Gran Torino" (2008) would be his final acting role.
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, "Trouble With the Curve" slugs in with an engaging 8, falling short of a home run.
Why should Catholicism be the only faith to experience possession, as evidenced in "The Exorcist" and "The Omen?" Reaching for equal opportunity horror, Danish filmmaker Ole Bornedal ("Nightwatch," "Just Another Love Story") digs deep into the "Based on True Events" trunk to unearth a dibbuk. In Jewish folklore, a dibbuk is a malicious spirit that can capture the soul of an innocent person and devour it.
At a yard sale in upstate New York, 10-year-old Emily Brenek (Natasha Calis, who actually bears a slight resemblance to a young Linda Blair) finds an old, wooden box with Hebrew letters carved into it and she begs her father, Clyde (Jeffrey Dean Morgan), to buy it. He's a basketball coach and recently divorced from her mom, Stephanie (Kyra Sedgwick), a jewelry designer. Like many an indulgent, "weekend" father, he complies with her wishes. Pretty soon, she's growling, gobbling food with a voracious appetite and spitting out giant moths. His ex-wife blames her ominous, anti-social behavior on Clyde, as does his sassy, often-hysterical elder daughter, Hannah (Madison Davenport). But Clyde's colleague, Professor McMannis (Jay Brazeau), and a hip Judaic exorcist, Rabbi Tzakok (Hasidic rap/reggae fusion artist Matisyahu), believe the box contained a dibbuk, which has now gained demonic possession of Emily. After an MRI confirms it -- a Jewish exorcism is scheduled.
Loosely based on a 2004 article in the "Los Angeles Times" by journalist Leslie Gornstein about the eBay auction of a "dybbuk box," it's superficially scripted by Juliet Snowden and Stiles White ("Knowing"), formulaically directed by Bornedal and "presented" (whatever that means) by Sam Raimi's Ghost House Pictures. Special credit is given to the "moth wrangler" Brad MacDonald, who managed 2,000 live insects during one particularly spooky sequence. And Rabbi Shmuel Birnham is credited as the expert "Judaic Consultant." For genial Jeffrey Dean Morgan ("Watchmen," TV's "Grey's Anatomy") and Emmy-winner Kyra Sedgwick (TV's "The Closer"), it was obviously a quick-and-easy paycheck.
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, "The Possession" is an underwhelming, supernatural 3 -- somewhat creepy but easily forgettable.
Problem is: He has "borrowed" $412 million from a colleague to cover his assets and is betting that John Mayfield (Vanity Fair editor Graydon Carter), representing the major bank that's about to buy his trading firm, won't catch on to how he's cooked the books before the deal is done.
Struggling to hide his fraudulent duplicity from his daughter Brooke (Brit Marling), who happens to be his chief financial officer, and his loyal, long-suffering wife Ellen (Susan Sarandon), Miller's also having an affair with a French art dealer, Julie Cote (former Victoria's Secret model Laetetia Casta), who, inconveniently, dies in an automobile accident, implicating Jimmy Grant (Nate Parker), the son of Miller's chauffeur. That arouses the suspicion of sleazy NYPD Detective Michael Bryer (Tim Roth), who knows Jimmy's not guilty but is using his vulnerability as leverage to get to a Wall Street tycoon like Miller.
The film is astutely written and directed as a debut feature by Nicholas Jarecki, who questions the ethics of our time, pushing the boundaries of acceptable behavior to avoid moral and financial bankruptcy.
Silver-haired Gere is perfectly cast as the charming and sophisticated billionaire who has always used his immense wealth to ruthlessly manipulate people and "buy" whatever he wants. Entitlement comes naturally to him, just as being a predatory benefactor has become his way of life. But then comes the market crash -- and he's suddenly caught in a bind, having made a stupid, irresponsible investment in a copper mine in Russia. To his credit, Gere manages to have the audience realizing his culpability yet rooting for him at the same time.
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, "Arbitrage" is a savvy 7, slick and suspenseful.