Wednesday, January 04, 2012

Small Bites: Meek’s Cutoff, Bellflower, Moneyball

Meek’s Cutoff
Kelly Reichardt’s film, Meek’s Cutoff, is a fascinating film because it manages to remain captivating despite the appearance of not much happening. The film focuses on settlers traveling across the harsh Oregon High Dessert to find a new life. Instead of making a film with grand set pieces, Reichardt opts for a film that takes a more contemplative tone. The film manages to really place the audience in the shoes of the settlers, who are struggling to find their way. Though mesmerizing, Meek’s Cutoff is bound to annoy some viewers with its deliberately slow pacing. However, those who are willing to stick with it will be rewarded.

Normally I try to avoid reading, and/or listening, to reviews for films that I am interested in seeing. However, there have been times, such as the case with Bellflower, where my curiosity about a film is based on a review. After listening to the guys over at the Film Junk podcast tear apart Bellflower on a previous episode of their show I had to see just how bad the film was. Surprisingly, I quite enjoyed the film overall, sure it has several flaws, but it was by no means the mess I was expecting. The whole “men who refuse to grow up” angle has been done to death, but Bellflower’s take on it was rather interesting. Writer, director, and star Evan Glodell uses the main character’s inability to cope with rejection as the catalyst for childlike obsession with violence. The performances by some of the supporting actors are spotty at times, and the film goes on far longer than it should, but Bellflower managed to keep my interest more than I thought it would.

As a sports fan, and fantasy sport pool addict who loves hearing people rattling off stats, Moneyball is a film I should have been clamoring to see. However, the mixed word of mouth at TIFF really lowered my expectations. It turns out that Moneyball was a quality film that does a nice job of highlighting one of the more memorable runs in recent baseball history. What really made Moneyball work are the performances of Brad Pitt and Jonah Hill. The two actors not only have great chemistry, but find a way to make guys sitting around a table talking statistics interesting. The best scene in the entire film is watching Pitt and Hill working the phones with various team general managers in an attempt to make a trade. While I enjoyed Moneyball, I do not see it as a worthy Best Picture contender.


  1. It's interesting that you mention watching Bellflower with lower expectations because of the Film Junk review. I'd heard some really good things before seeing it despite trying not to read much about it. I was not very impressed and felt like it fell apart in the second half. So I had the opposite reaction. I did enjoy both Moneyball and Meek's Cutoff a lot, for some of the reasons you mention.

  2. I heard Bellflower blows stuff up very well. That's really all I need to know about it to want to see it.

  3. I'm pretty much with you on Moneyball and Meek's Cutoff, but closer to Dan's take on Bellflower. I too had heard good things about it, so came away somewhat disappointed and a bit conflicted. The performances were distracting and there was a mean streak about the movie that I couldn't quite get past. However, the look of the film is very unique and the central concept of a relationship breakup feeling like the end of the world is strong. I'll be curious to see what Glodell does next (I just hope he isn't acting in it...).

  4. @Dan - The last act of Bellflower is not as captivating as the director intends it to be but there was enough in the the first 2/3 to keep my interest.

    @Mike - If you like flamethrowers and muscle cars that shoot fire then that is what Bellflower will give you.

    @Bob - The overall look of Bellflower was interesting, I could not tell if it was a preconceived stylistic choice or more a result of the budget they had to work with (probably a combination of both). I would like to see what Glodell can do giving a bigger budget and much better actors (his performance in the last act nearly ruined the film for me).

  5. I haven't seen Bellflower or Moneyball yet, but Meek's Cutoff was one of my favorite movies of the past year. Of course, I'm a sucker for slow-moving films.

    I have yet to see a Western that does as apt a job of conveying the misery and day-to-day drudgery of pioneer life.

  6. 'Meek' has kinda gotten an unfair rep from a few quarters last year. It may be slow, but plot-wise, it's not hard to follow. And maybe a whole lot doesn't happen in it, but I'll gladly take it over the overrated 'Tree of Life' any day. I liked 'Meek' and I still think it's one of the best of 2011.

  7. @Dave - Sometimes slow moving provides the best results. Meek's Cutoff is a perfect example of this.

    @Rich - Meek's Cutoff just missed my top ten of 2011. It is in my top twenty tough.

  8. Moneyball was good, but not great. I already knew how things were going to turn out (which was going to refute much of the "moneyball" concept), so that probably lessened the movie some for me. I agree that the trade scene is the best in the film.

  9. @Chip Lary – I found it odd that they made a movie about a concept that did not quite work in the long run. I know they allude to the Red Sox win as proof that it works, but then why not follow the Red Sox’s championship season instead of the A’s wild season?

  10. @CS - I'm a big Red Sox fan. They already did make a movie about the 2004 championship - Fever Pitch! (Seriously, I know the movie doesn't get a lot of love, but I enjoyed it for the obvious reason.)

    Without turning this blog into too much of a baseball one, the 2004 championship doesn't really count for moneyball either. Yes, Theo Epstein (big believer in moneyball) was the new GM, but the key players on the team (Pedro Martinez, Derek Lowe, Manny Ramirez, etc.) had been acquired by his predecessor and in the playoffs the two biggest things were a stolen base against the Yankees (a major moneyball no no) and Curt Schilling gritting it out and pitching through surgery on his ankle where he was ripping the stiches out (the "bloody sock" game). Moneyball says that you ignore things like heart and determination in favor of pure stats.

    As for 2007, yes people like Kevin Youklis ("the Greek god of walks" according to Moneyball - who's Albanian, by the way) were now starters, but the big hitters like Ramirez and Ortiz were not Epstein's guys and two other key people - pitcher Josh Beckett and third basesman Mike Lowell - were traded for against Epstein's wishes. The prospect given up - Hanley Ramirez - has been nothing but trouble for the Florida Marlins since they got him, but every year Epstein would still try to get him back from them.

    Nowadays, with both the Yankees ($200 million+) and the Red Sox ($160 million) paying big bucks for the moneyball type players, it still leaves the small budget teams like Oakland out of luck.

  11. God, I love 'Moneyball'! The way that movie finds ways to create drama is amazing. I think the direction is excellent too. It looks great, but doesn't overdo it either with quirky camera tricks. It feels really mature and serious, while still being funny at times. Man, I could go on and on...

  12. @Chip Lary – I hated Fever Pitch, could not figure out what Barrymore’s character saw in Fallon’s character at all. I hope my beloved Blue Jays do not get a Fever Pitch style film anytime soon. Though I guess they would need to win something again before that was even a consideration. LOL.

    @edgar – I was also impressed by the way the film managed to create a compelling drama out of statistics and numbers, something which many people would consider to be mundane.

  13. @CS - I haven't seen it, but my understanding of the original British film Fever Pitch is that the whole concept is the guy is a fan of a team that perennially loses, hence a more of a downbeat kind of movie that offsets the "fan-ishness". When they made the American version, the team probably most famous for getting close, but never winning, plus the team with the most ardent fans, was the Boston Red Sox. Wouldn't you know it, while they are filming the movie the Sox keep going deeper and deeper into the playoffs until they were up 3-0 in the World Series and it was obvious they were going to win it all for the first time in 86 years. They actually had to re-write the ending of the movie to incorporate this and it thus became more upbeat.

    And yes, the night that the Red Sox won it all in 2004 there really was a total lunar eclipse of a blue moon - the second full moon of the month - over the stadium.

    Anyway, short story long, the point of the movie was to be about a fan who stays true even though his team doesn't win, and a woman coming to understand him, so maybe they could make a truer remake using the Jays now. (On a related note, Joe Carter's homer in 93 was probably the most excited I've ever gotten about a baseball game that the Red Sox were not in. I'm not sure if you're old enough to remember it, but it was right up there with Carlton Fisk's homer in 1975 for drama.


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