Friday, October 14, 2011

Creating a Indy Video Game

I'll be attempting to create a indy-style video game in the vein of LoZ: A Link to the Past, but with more RPG elements.

Here is a link to some of the resources I'll be referencing, as I have no background knowledge of creating video games.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Moneyball: My Opinions on a Great Movie

Before reading any critiques, it's good to know how a writer thinks in order to compare and contrast your thoughts or opinions, as well as get an idea of how their brain functions.
Personally, I'm an avid baseball lover, and I have been following the Yankees, basically since I was born. I played little league in my younger days for over 7 years, and I still retained my love of the game even though I didn't play for my High School or College. To give some movie insight, I think Captain America and Midnight in Paris stand among my favorites of this year, and were my most enjoyable releases thus far. In a quality film, I look for professional and quirky acting, enjoyably portrayal of substance, serious attempts at emotional or personal connections, proper pacing of the plot, and a certain fluidity which varies and captures the audience; keeping the viewer interested in the progression, rather than bored with hollow and easily predictable filler.

Now, The Movie:

Recently released in theaters nationwide, Moneyball is the film adaptation of Michael Lewis' hit 2003 novel of the same name, "Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game." Walking into the theater, I expected Moneyball to fall in the vein of the typical sports drama (eg; 1999's "Love of the Game"), maybe fluffed up by some sprinkles of light-hearted comedy. Having been an avid baseball fan all my life, I didn't expect a relatively bare cast of Brad Pitt, Jonah Hill, and Philip Seymour Hoffman to give any sort of convincing semblance of real baseball feel. All signs in my head pointed towards a mediocre film and the boring rehash of a sports book, lacking any substantial personality or qualities to garner my full attention. Furthering my doubting theories, I found advertisements painfully exaggerating the film's household actors with viewer pull, and I've found this is usually a desperate move to sell tickets for a bad movie. To explain, I think It's fine to put a star actor's name above or tied to the movie title as they want to promote their investments; but I am seriously concerned when Brad Pitt's name is the same size and same font as the film's title and comes above it (on some posters); I know it's good business, but it screams "this movie sucks, but come see it because Brad Pitt is in it." Now, after explaining every problem and preconceived notion fueling my heavy pessimism before the movie, Moneyball ironically ended up managing to shove my foot right in my mouth; this is while it shattered every thought I had about the movie and replaced my false perceptions with some two hours of genuinely enjoyable, completely engaging, seriously great baseball cinema.

With one of the lowest budgets of any professional baseball team and facing the loss of their three star players in free agency, the Oakland Athletics were preparing for a dismal 2003 season in baseball. General Manager Billy Beane decides to gamble on the statistical theories of Peter Brand (Jonah Hill) which take the classic rules of baseball and throw them out the window. Replacing the keen eyes of the talent scout with pure mathematical equations and statistics, Brand and Hill attempt to evaluate talent which is undervalued by other teams. One example is a player who can no longer throw but can still hit fairly well and drive in runs. While other teams consider him a useless catcher, Oakland's GM thinks creatively and decides to have him play first base (where he won't need to throw as much). Focusing on a system which promotes the on base percentage stat and scoring runs using statistics and mathematics, Bean and Brand acquire replacements whose combined ability is equal to that of their star players being lost. By finding value in seemingly undervalued players, the Athletics formed a competitive playoff team with an extremely low budget. Moneyball focuses on overcoming challenges in today's baseball game, which is generally dominated by high spending teams like the Yankees, using intellect and ingenuity to beat brute force.

As for acting, I believe in Brad Pitt's talent and his ability to portray plenty of roles, but I never was on board with the idea of him in any screenplay churned out for this very unique movie. I'll praise Pitt's diverse acting ability, but his history of action, drama and romance personally taints my view of him as a convincing baseball character. Thankfully, Billy Beane (Brad Pitt) sticks to the business end of things in Oakland and Pitt really just captivates you from the start with his entertaining and genuinely managerial personality. Never straying too close to the thick of baseball itself, Beane's part was well-suited for a Brad Pitt, who I couldn't really see pulling off a true baseball aura. To clarify, I think Pitt was great because his role was essentially all off of the field, social and business, all of which are more of his strong suit; he's not exactly a character who oozes the aura of baseball fundamentals and he doesn't try to force that in Moneyball. However, Billy Beane's (Pitt) character is definitely not a solo act, as a young Peter Brand (who is played by Jonah Hill) provides an uplifting partner and catalyst for emotional depth.
Generally a comedic subtlety, Jonah Hill usually has a more substantial lead cast to support him. Needless to say, I wasn't expecting Hill to carry such a major role of the movie as well as he did. Similar to Pitt, managerial roles kept Jonah far from the thick of baseball technical and instead allowed him to thrive at what he does best, his quirky supporting comedy. One benefit of Brand (Hill's character) which differed from the very real Billy Beane, was that Peter Brand was actually made up. From 1999-2003, a man named Paul DePodesta was actually Oakland's assistant GM, but chose not to allow his likeness in the movie and thus was represented instead by the fictional Yale Economics graduate, Peter Brand (Jonah Hill). Because Oakland's actual Assistant GM was not being characterized, the lack of historical structure provided flexibility which attributed greatly to Hill's success in his role. Without the need to fulfill factual parameters, Bennett Miller (Director) could mold the character of Assistant GM Brand to help reinforce Jonah Hill's strengths by adapting to his acting archetype. Jonah made Peter into a great, entertaining personality, and proved he could stand tall to fulfill an essential supporting role (with tons of screen time) which complimented Pitt. Peter Brand acted as a voice of reason and calculations, a necessary foil to Beane's harsh words and reflexive actions at times; he was someone for audiences to emotionally connect with, as Brand was an Economics grad. thrown into a whirlwind of baseball unknowns. Hill emphasized an awkward, likable charisma, with an air of mathematical insight, a combination which emphasized his acting prowess and balanced the emotion of important scenes with Billy.

Phillip Seymour Hoffman was my one major grip with the movie, and really the only leading character who stuck out as awkward or misplaced. It seemed as if Hoffman was forcing his role as Manager (Head Coach) Art Howe, overacting in the few meaningful scenes he had with dialogue. I definitely got the image of a baseball coach, but I just couldn't shake some very stereotypical baseball caricature. It's almost as if Phillip just read a book on how to be a baseball coach, and proceeded to follow it explicitly and robotically throughout Moneball. Maybe I'd mistakenly attributed some of my general dislike of Hoffman to the shortcomings I perceived, but I still believe his name just another draw for more sales. I would consider plenty of other far less noteworthy actors to fill the role of Art, especially with the lack of overall screen time his character had in the film. He just seemed to be there, existing as a stand-in so the movie could continue. Either way, Hoffman served his purpose (albeit mundanely) playing A's coach Art Howe, he just didn't accelerate at it and take it to the next level; something which was painstakingly obvious among the convincing efforts of Hill and Pitt.

I can only blatantly express Moneyball as the greatest cinematic surprise I've had the pleasure of witnessing in the last 10 years. Director Bennett Miller takes some rather boring, historical, sports literature, and skillfully transforms it into a great story which maintains plenty of authenticity and conveys an amazing message of fighting adversity through intellect and overcoming the impossible. To capture the hearts of audiences not with the story of an amazing baseball team or players, but with a tale of faces farm removed from the field, I believe this film was a great success with a very challenging subject. A genuine baseball masterpiece which surpassed every expectation of mediocrity I had, Moneyball truly holds it's own among the movie greats of athletic triumph, sharing space in my heart with the likes of Remember the Titans, and comedic fair like Sandlot and Major League. Executing award-winning levels of acting without undermining baseball's true importance, Moneyball is a unique amalgam of memorable characterization, meaningful introspect, and great artistic portrayals turning bland recollections to lasting enjoyment.