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Tag Archive: Moneyball


chris-pratt-moneyball

It’s that time of year again.  The 2016 World Series is now in full swing with the first game a sweep by the Cleveland Indians.  How will the Chicago Cubs fare in Game 2 tonight?  If you’re not in the baseball frame of mind yet, we have five of the all-time best baseball movies you can stream right now for free or for less than four dollars on Amazon Prime’s streaming service.  Most of these can also be rented on Netflix.  And let’s face it–everyone should own our fifth movie on the list.

Have you seen them already?  Then you know these great films can be watched over and over again.

Let’s start with a classic:  Gary Cooper as Lou Gehrig in Pride of the Yankees from 1942.  The movie recounts the then-recent personal triumph and tragedy of what baseball as an American pastime has created over and over for more than a century: baseball players as American icons.  Pride of the Yankees shows the personal side of being a famous baseball player, and features real-life legends Babe Ruth, Bob Meusel, Mark Koenig, and Bill Dickey, all playing themselves on-screen.  Academy Award winners Teresa Wright and Walter Brennan co-star.  If you want to see classic baseball from a contemporary view, this is your movie.  Although the story is certainly bittersweet and a tear-jerker, it reflects baseball as more than just a game.

pride-of-the-yankees-babe-ruth-gary-cooper

The most recent movie on our list is Moneyball, from 2011, a modern classic we’ve already watched over and over.  Moneyball reveals the game as a modern business.  The conflict between playing the game as classically envisioned and the game as seen from an analytical angle is wrestled with from the real life mostly true story of the Oakland A’s general manager Billy Beane as he turned the team around in its 2002 season.
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Eddie the Eagle poster

At a critical point in last year’s World Series the crowd drew silent and a fan in the crowd could be seen in the Jumbotron holding up a sign with three words:  Never say die.  The crowd erupted.  And his team went on to win.

In Ice Castles a young woman overcomes blindness to become part of a successful figure skating team.  In Rudy a young man fights desperately to play college football.  In Caddyshack a kid picks principle over a college scholarship to compete in a round of high stakes golf.  In Slap Shot and Necessary Roughness a coach tries some innovative methods to turn a losing team into a successful hockey or football team.  In The Bad News Bears and The Mighty Ducks, a coach tries to make a team of youth baseball or hockey players out of a group of misfits.   In The Natural, Field of Dreams, and Moneyball a has-been baseball player returns to the game to save the day.  In Pride of the Yankees a professional baseball player tries to fight a terminal disease to keep playing the game.  In Jim Thorpe–All American a Native American overcomes racism and class struggle to become a track, football, and Olympic icon.  In Brian’s Song two professional football players move past racial differences and face a terminal illness.  In Rocky and Creed a guy from the streets fights to be a contender in the boxing ring.  In Cool Runnings (Jamaican bobsled), The Cutting Edge (pair figure skating), and Chariots of Fire (track) athletes overcome their personal trials to compete in the Olympics.

The underdog finally has his day.

Eddie the Eagle cap

Each of these sports movies follows a trial against adversity, whether it be a physical, mental, social, economic, or cultural barrier.  Some are seriously dramatic and others comical, but most manage to include more than an ounce of humor along the way.  And all incorporate plenty of heart.  But they all share the theme of “beating the odds”.

A new movie from 20th Century Fox looks destined to be the next beat-the-odds sports movie triumph, and seems like it may be good enough to be added to this list of great sports films based on a new trailer.  Eddie the Eagle follows a British skier who in 1988 became the first competitor to represent Great Britain in Olympic ski jumping.

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A bit of a theme this past week here at borg.com was big-time action hero mega-stars and their choice of roles in their later years.  We first discussed Arnold Schwarzenegger and compared him to John Wayne and Clint Eastwood in light if his new film The Last StandThen we compared Arnold with Sylvester Stallone in light of his new film Bullet to the Head.  Unless you’re a believer in the future of film with old movie stars as in Connie Willis’s award-winning novel Remake, we won’t be seeing any “new” John Wayne movies anytime soon.  So now we return to Clint Eastwood, in light of his September 2012 release, Trouble with the Curve.

Although the fictional Trouble with the Curve is about a famous baseball scout at the end of his career, it’s hard to say whether this will be anything like the ultimate baseball scouting movie, last year’s Moneyball.  The inclusion of Amy Adams character as Eastwood’s character’s daughter, and an apparent possible relationship between her and the baseball target played by Justin Timberlake, makes this a look a lot more romance in a baseball setting than a typical baseball flick.  That said, with baseball movies there is no typical baseball flick.

And this one seems pretty sappy, unless the trailer is totally mischaracterizing this “dad dumps daughter/daughter tries to get daddy back” plotline.  And heaping on the sap is the Phillip Phillips song “Home.”  This is bad timing for that song if you’re this writer.  I had to sit through watched the song performed live at this year’s All Star baseball game, and then we were inundated with it as one of the U.S. Olympic team’s theme songs during NBC’s coverage, over and over and over.  Now it’s that drippy song permeating through this trailer.  It’s a nice song.  But enough already.

The interesting tidbit about this movie is that Clint Eastwood retired from acting after his successful film Gran Torino.  Yet something about this one caused him to return to starring roles.  Maybe because he had never been in a baseball movie?  Hopefully we’ll be surprised and this one will compare to past baseball movies that gave a little tug to the emotions, like Field of Dreams and The Natural, and even Moneyball. 

Here is the trailer for the film:

Trouble with the Curve hits theaters September 21, 2012.

C.J. Bunce
Editor
borg.com

By C.J. Bunce

It’s All Star Major League Baseball week, and if you’re roaming around host city Kansas City this week, don’t bother trying to figure out those big symbols painted on the street at intersections throughout the city.  You’re probably better off not looking at the pavement as you drive, anyway.  They’re just ads for the event.  Planning and reporting for this week’s festivities made me ask myself:  How many host cities are asked to tear down dozens of houses to improve the appeal of major events?  That’s right, part of the deal to get the big MLB extravaganza into town was agreeing to tear down a bunch of abandoned east side homes near baseball fields holding related games.  Those supporting the action say it caused the city to get off its rear and act on something they needed to do anyway.  But local elected officials have been voicing their dismay on behalf of neighborhood residents–why do we need a sporting event to clean up our city?

This same week, halfway across the country, 150,000 or so fanboys and fangirls will descend upon San Diego for the annual International Comic-Con. It makes you wonder–how many houses are getting torn down in San Diego?  Both All Star Week and Comic-Con bring in money for their towns, and from a city management standpoint, that’s all that matters.  For a city like Kansas City, you don’t get many bites at the apple, not many chances to bring in national events, although the city has built up major convention centers like the Sprint Center and Kauffman Performing Arts Center–facilities that rival their counterparts across the country no matter what size the city, and these venues are attracting the commensurate talent. Kauffman Stadium, where the All Star game will be played Tuesday, is without dispute one of the best venues to see baseball anywhere–its giant scoreboard video screen is one of the top of its kind in the country.

Sponsors have dumped hundred of thousands of dollars into promotions for All Star week.  Nike, Chevrolet, Bank of America, even the Budweiser Clydesdales are all at the stadium, despite temperatures nearing 100 degrees (plan on buying a lot of bottled water if you’re going in person).  At the Sprint Center even more promotional activities are underway at the “Fan Fest,” including members of the original women’s baseball league featured in the movie A League of their Own.  Again, baseball is about money, money and money.  And so is Comic-Con.  If you’re a fan of either, you just ignore all the glitz and go after what you want–watching the baseball game (which seems like it may be an afterthought with all the promotions) and meeting your favorite comic book artists and writers and your favorite TV and movie stars, once you make it through the crowds at Comic-Con.

So I figured, what better way to start out All Star Baseball and Comic-Con week than revisiting the successful Brad Pitt movie Moneyball?  Last October, borg.com writer Jason McClain was a bit dismayed with the film.  He had read the source material, based on actual events and real people, and I think his best praise was that the film was just OK.  After finally seeing it, if you’re like me–less of a diehard baseball fan and more of a baseball movie fan, you may very well love Moneyball.  In fact, I’d argue inclusion of Moneyball is a must on a future borg.com Top 10 baseball movie list.

Jason identified the best part of the film, namely Pitt as protagonist Oakland A’s general manager Billy Beane, and young Yale economics grad Pete Brand (name changed from the original person in the story) played by Jonah Hill (Superbad) in a much deserved Academy Award-nominated role for best supporting actor.  In an attempt to encourage Beane to push everything aside and do the right thing for himself, Pete shows Beane footage of a classic baseball moment–Jeremy Brown rarely takes the chance to round first and break for second base.  This one time he does he screws up and tries to make it back to first, getting tagged by the first baseman in the process.  What Brown didn’t realize was that his hit made it over the wall.  He’d hit a home run and didn’t know it.  Pete’s point?  Beane was a success and just didn’t know enough to stop and soak it up.

Moneyball is obviously about money in baseball–not just how baseball has changed from its origins into this established, maybe bloated system that resists any effort to change with the times.  It applies to movie stars in NYC and Hollywood, too, but you have to ask: Does anyone deserve $7 million for whatever they do?  I once made it to a day game to see the Yankees play in the Bronx.  Strawberry struck out at bat.  Twice.  Pretty underwhelming game.  But what was memorable was all the local kids at the game.  Each one had a well-marked season’s scorecard with plenty of margin notes.  These were the diehard fans.  And when you think about increasing prices everywhere, including tickets for baseball games or movies, you wonder at what point fans will just stop going.  Or for a change, when prices actually drop.  But that would require thinking differently.  That would require real change.

More than money, Moneyball is simply a great sports story.  Brad Pitt offers one of his less difficult but most subtle and smartly played roles.  For the first time since Twelve Monkeys I saw Pitt in the big leagues as an equal to the likes of Robert Redford in The Natural.  (One humorous bit is every scene he is stuffing his face with some kind of food or having a dip).  The fact that he is willing to stop and change when no one else wants to is inspiring.  As strange and unlikely as it seems, Pitt mirrors Gregory Peck’s role in the Hollywood classic Twelve O’Clock High.  In that film, the Allies keep fighting but keep losing at the same time.  It’s a war of attrition, and hard decisions must be made that affect lives of airmen but actually the fate of the world is at stake.  Peck’s role is clean-up man.  He’s the fixer.  In Moneyball, the stakes are different, but for Pitt, this could be the end of his world if he is not successful.  Can he change the very nature of baseball so his ball club can survive?  Years ago a CEO who was about to get the axe asked me for advice.  “Where did I go wrong?” he asked.  Set in his own ways, he resisted change.  I recommended he watch Twelve O’Clock High for some inspiration.  But it was advice asked and given too late.  Resisting change is natural, and it is powerfully hard to do.  That’s why those people who are successful at moving forward in the face of huge resistance make great stories.

As for criticisms, I will leave those to Jason–he noted (probably justifiably so) that the filmmakers (and underlying source work) may have been harsh in its portrayals of real-life coach Art Howe and scout Grady Fuson.  In brief, these guys are used to the old rules and resist change.  As the story of Moneyball is about change, and as those resisting it, they become the villains.  Whenever you portray real-life people in movies or non-fiction works, someone isn’t going to like the portrayal (particularly the public figures themselves).  Yet you always have to ask whether there is at least a grain of truth in these portrayals.  In what is one of the best pieces of storytelling of all time, Jon Krakauer’s account of a failed attempt of several climbers to reach the summit of Mount Everest was met with much opposition, by nearly every other guy who climbed the mountain with Krakauer.  But that does not detract from the fact that the story told by Krakauer is gut-churning, nail-biting, and exciting.  Ultimately accounts of real life can seemingly take on their own lives.  The events of May 1996 on Everest are separate and apart from Krakauer’s bestselling memoire Into Thin Air.  So, I think, may be the film Moneyball versus its source material, the Michael Lewis book Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game, or even the real events that summer where the Oakland A’s broke baseball’s winning streak records.  We don’t really know what Beane and the man Pete was based on were like then, but we know the characterization of these guys in the film was superb.  And we can love the film whether it got everything real life right or not.

Whether you’re in it for the fandom or the money, this is bound to be a great week from Kansas City to San Diego. Bring on the fans!

By Jason McClain (@JTorreyMcClain)

When the idea first came around to write the top five adaptations of comic books, video games, books or characters that I’d like to see, I thought, “Great, what a great idea.”  Then, it slowly dawned on me.  I hate adaptations in most every case.  Seabiscuit?  Hated it.  The Lorax?  That looks so despicable, I refuse to give it my money.  Harry Potter?  I will never trust anyone that says, “No really, the next one is when they start getting good.”

The next thing I realized is that in some, possibly misguided, corner of my mind, there are still some things that I’d like to adapt.  Stories that captured my attention and that are on my list of things to write after I finish my current project.  I may never get to them, especially since a couple have been on my list for a while, but hope spring eternal, especially at this time of year.

So, how would I approach this?  First, I have to assume that I trust the filmmaker, like I trust Peter Jackson after the The Lord of the Rings trilogy.  I know that’s not a rational assumption.  For every Fellowship of the Rings that Jackson did, there’s a filmmaker who does Batman and Robin, Iron Man 2 or any Harry Potter movie.  For every V for Vendetta that takes Alan Moore material and makes it great, there’s a From Hell or Watchmen and I go back to hating adaptations.

To make a great adaptation, the filmmaker has to respect the source (don’t get me started on Michael Bay and the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles), understand the vibe of the source and still be willing to go off script and put their own voice into it.  I wonder if instead of a shot for shot remake, if Gus Van Sant had done something new with Psycho, it would have worked.  The cynic in me doubts it very much, but the optimist wonders mostly to himself that it could have been interesting if nothing else.  A shot for shot remake with Anne Heche instead of Janet Leigh?  Why not just watch the original?

So, what does that leave to adapt?  I think it leaves things that I don’t consider sacred and fortunately that still leaves plenty.  I’m not saying these aren’t favorites, but I think they could work nicely as adaptations.  Just to make it more interesting, not only will I choose the five things to adapt, but make them in five different genres.  First the honorable mentions: American Gods (tough to make, but in the hands of someone like Tarsem Singh who did the underrated The Fall there would be some cool, trippy otherworld sequences) and Geek Love (come on, aren’t we due for a great carnie movie?).  Now, let’s do the countdown.

5.  Red Dead Redemption – Genre: Western

I don’t know if there has been a good video game movie.  However, if they follow the story of Red Dead Redemption they’ve already got a pretty cool cinematic western.  John Marston plays the typical western hero of a former rogue looking for redemption and trying to save his wife and child.  It’s been done many different times, but if you have good actors, good scenery and good dialogue to go with this story, it could work.  I can’t tell you much more about this particular story;  I just know that I’m still surprised that a video game actually moved me.

   

4.  Captain Carrot and his Amazing Zoo Crew – Genre: Animated Feature

Originally, this spot was for The Invaders as I love a good WWII movie and there’s nothing better than fighting Nazis.  Then, as I wrote it, I mentioned some other favorite comic book characters: The Powerpuff Girls and Captain Carrot and His Amazing Zoo Crew and how they would look cool fighting Nazis as well.  Then, I kept reading it over and over, and since Captain America: The First Avenger already went back to World War II, there’s not much space for The Invaders.  There won’t be more Bucky.  There won’t be the original Human Torch, Toro, Union Jack or Namor, the Sub-Mariner.  The Powerpuff Girls already have a TV show and a movie.  However, if you’re looking for a silly parody of super groups as an alternative to The Avengers or I have to assume an eventual Justice League movie, then look no further than Captain Carrot, Yankee Poodle, Fastback, Pig Iron, Alley-Kat-Abra and Rubberduck.  If they can fight the Nazis, that might be the perfect movie.

3.  Doomsday Book by Connie Willis – Genre: Medieval England Period Piece and Sci-Fi

C.J. Bunce introduced me to Connie Willis at his first San Diego Comic-Con when we went to a panel she did, and I read a few of her novels and found them charming, interesting and fun.  I think the appeal to adapting Doomsday Book comes from glimpsing a true epidemic in the form of the black plague in the eyes of someone from the future.  I didn’t like Contagion much, so maybe the book adaptation of Doomsday Book could effectively show the terror of an incurable disease spreading and the feeling of helplessness that follows.  For the protagonist Kivrin, trying to not reveal you’re from the future adds a great layer to that tension, having to remain disconnected while not being sure if she’ll ever leave this doomed time.

2.  Sleeper by Ed Brubaker – Genre: Noir

I’ve written about Sleeper in two previous Borg.com posts, so you know how much I like it.  I also think that it would make a fantastic film noir.  You have the femme fatale in Miss Misery, you have a guy that doesn’t know what’s good or bad anymore and you have crime galore.  If that’s not a great film noir, with bonus super powers, I don’t know what is.

1.  The Great American Novel by Philip Roth – Genre: Baseball Comedy

The Great American Novel might be one of my favorite baseball books of all time.  I took it in the third round of a baseball book draft.  (I knew it would last until then, so I grabbed The Boys of Summer and The Glory of Their Times with my first two picks).  The story of the Ruppert Mundys and the forgotten Patriot League as told by “Word” Smith (thanks, Wikipedia) would run circles around Moneyball the movie.  I think the fictional 14-year-old manager (I think that’s the age – goodness, I need to buy a copy of this book to read again and so I can look up such queries) would make a better representative of sabermetrics than the “fictional” Peter Brand.

Moneyball the book was my fifth round choice in the baseball draft – and just another perfect example of how I dislike movie adaptations of books that I enjoy.  As much as I would like to see this list made into movies now that I’ve written this post, my gut tells me it’s probably better if they’re not.

Come back tomorrow and C.J. Bunce searches out some choices he think would be difficult to adapt but fun to watch.

By Jason McClain (@JTorreyMcClain)

I just finished rereading Cat’s Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut as I go through my idea to reread his novels in the order that he wrote them.  (Why?  Possibly because I didn’t realize Player Piano was his first novel and I wanted to put it in context with what followed it. Maybe a love of order?  Maybe I just wanted an excuse to read Vonnegut.)

As I was reading, a passage from pp. 86-87 of the Dell Paperback, copyright 1963, struck me a little differently, especially due to the news out of Washington, New Jersey and Maryland.  I’ll give you most of the whole thing:

‘He’ll never marry her.’
‘Why not?’
‘I’ve said all I’m going to say,’ she said.
‘I’m gratified to meet an indexer who respects the privacy of others.’
‘Never index your own book,’ she stated.
…(paragraph break)…
Sometime later, Ambassador Minton and I met in the aisle of the airplane, away from his wife, and he showed that it was important to him that I respect what his wife could find out from indexes.
‘You know why Castle will never marry the girl, even though he loves her, even though she loves him, even though they grew up together?’ he whispered.
‘No, sir, I don’t.’
‘Because he’s a homosexual,’ whispered Minton. ‘She can tell that from an index, too.’

I point this out, not because I think Vonnegut is making a moral judgment or an opinion on homosexuality, but rather its place in 1960s America.  In a plane with only a few people on board, homosexuality is something to be whispered about and is not appropriate for regular conversation.  It’s almost fifty years later and now gay marriage is legal in some countries and states, but still not even viewed as decent in others.  In fifty years, that seems a pretty big difference in acceptability, from what I captured in less than a page in a book and then moving to Stonewall, Harvey Milk, Rock Hudson and many other moments as the conversation on gay rights has evolved.

Despite being assassinated in office more than 30 years ago and posthumously awarded a Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Obama, there's still no U.S. postage stamp to commemorate the "Mayor of Castro Street"

Fifty years can be examined in two ways. In the view of all of time, it is but a blip.  In the view of a single lifetime, it can be everything. (R.I.P., Whitney Houston, 1963-2012.)

For people fighting against injustice, they can fight their whole lives and never see change.  The Fifteenth Amendment, giving people the right to vote no matter, “race, color, or previous condition of servitude,” was ratified in 1870.  The Nineteenth Amendment reads, “The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.”  It was ratified in 1920.

Along the way, both before and after these dates are times where rights for both groups improve and recede and there are many landmarks.  Just looking at one though, 138 years after African Americans had the right to vote, an African American became president.  92 years after women got the right to vote, there has yet to be a female vice-president or president.

Barack Obama, inaugurated as president in 2009, and made the cover of The Amazing-Spider-man

Unless you are very lucky, both of those time spans cover more than one complete life.  Fortunately there is happiness and joy from smaller milestones and hopefully those can make the setbacks of a lifetime more palatable.  To me and I’m sure many others, the U.S. Presidency is one of the ultimate proofs that you can do anything in this world, and until the time you see it done, open doors everywhere still might seem like a pie in the sky idea.  However, even the U.S. presidency doesn’t guarantee that racism or sexism will stop.

Those are the big issues and the important ones as far as equality and kindness to our fellow humans go.  However, generally when we talk about science fiction books, we talk about technology.  We talk about different ways of looking at things (ice-nine!) and future possibilities.  Does every aspect of our life really move that slowly?

In the 1890s, Thomas Edison and Louis Lumiere created the ability to make a motion picture.  Thirty years later came the first “talkie.”  Thirty years later and color pictures are ubiquitous.  Twenty years after that and most homes have a VCR and the ability to watch movies at any time of day in the comfort of their own home.  Ninety years from beginning to end of this timeline, and you see how the world has changed for viewing images, people and places from all over the world as you sit in your comfy chair, though the endpoint could be argued as arbitrary.

Another one I find interesting relates to baseball and F.C. Lane.  Almost 100 years ago, he argued that the press didn’t measure the contributions of baseball players correctly.  Today, after Moneyball and many, many blog posts by intelligent, interesting and rabid fans of the game, we have started to actually measure the contributions of baseball players in that way.

In his 99.5 years, F.C. Lane not only became the first sabermetrician, but wrote about a variety of subjects

In the even broader picture, for music we went from wandering minstrels to prominent people owning musical instruments in their homes. We went from having to know how to play an instrument to have music in our homes to pressed vinyl.  We went from pressed vinyl to reel to reel to 8-tracks to cassettes.  We went from a Walkman to a Discman to an iPod and its increasingly small forms.  Where we used to depend on a single person to crack their knuckles and tickle the ivories around 220 years ago (Mozart died in 1791 and if I remember my Amadeus correctly as my source for history, that’s exactly how life in those times was) we can now hold thousands of songs by thousands of artists in our front pockets.

You haven't heard Mozart until you've heard him in the original 8-track format.

As a friend likes to say, “Change equals death.”  (I don’t think he got it from Woody Allen, but who knows.)  Even on the small things and the things we know we want, it takes us a bit to adapt, to figure out how things work, to make things better.  As The Artist shows, not even the idea to make movies with dialogue was met with universal approval.  But, when change does happen, eventually we all adopt it and it comes to pass as “normal.”

When we look at science fiction, we look at the future, we look at what’s possible and at the same time, we look back to when the book was written to see from where we came.  Those dreams give us a chance to imagine a better world through love and technology in a time that so far to date, is always tomorrow.  (As it says in The Fourteenth Book of Bokonon, entitled “What Can a Thoughtful Man Hope for Mankind on Earth, Given the Experience of the Past Million Years?”  “Nothing.”)  Those glimpses back sometimes let us know how far we’ve really come and sometimes, it is a little bit more than nowhere.

By Jason McClain (@JTorreyMcClain)

“But if the battle looks to be going sour they’ll break, and they’ll break bad.” – Jocelyn Bywater, p. 710 of A Clash of Kings by George R. R. Martin, Bantam Paperback.

I declare right up front that if you haven’t watched Season 4 of Breaking Bad, read A Game of Thrones or read A Clash of Kings, there will be SPOILERS ahead.  I warn you because part of the joy of these pieces of art is the unknown journey and a spoiler would change your perception.  However, it’s also because part of the journey consists of knowing that no character is truly safe.  I found that out as did viewers of the HBO Game of Thrones series when four-fifths of the way through the first book of the A Song of Ice and Fire series, Eddard, the Stark patriarch and one of the narrators, gets his head separated from his body.  Needless to say, he doesn’t return in the second book.  If you know he dies and the others live, part of the experience is gone.  However, once a main character–not only a main character, but one of the narrators–perishes, you know that no one is safe.

Viewers of Breaking Bad saw that with the finale, as the main bad guy for the past two years, Gus Fring, died as well.  I’ve already spoken with at least six people on the magic of that final episode of the season as well as his death scene as everyone excitedly wants to talk about it.  As fanatic, or even casual viewers, that episode makes us giddy.

When real stakes exist, I posit that a show is better for it.  If we know that the two main characters of a romantic comedy will end up by the last act no matter if one likes pizza and the other likes sushi, it’s not near as interesting.  If the only time a TV show takes a chance is during sweeps or a “very special” episode, then we know all of the other car chases, break-ups, boat chases, misunderstandings or motorcycle chases will end up ok.

However, to have real stakes, you have to care about the person.  To care about the person, they have to be real.

For example, I just saw the movie Moneyball last week.  It’s ok.  My favorite part is the footage of Jeremy Brown at the end because I cared about him.  The dialogue leading up to real footage of his time in the minors made him a real person (that and the fact that he is a real person with a cool story detailed in the book.)  I felt an emotional connection to that moment.  Brown diving back into first touched my heart more than any other moment in the movie.

On the other hand, the portrayals of Art Howe and Grady Fuson (probably very similar to the portrayals in the book, but it’s been a bit since I’ve read it, so I can’t say with an absolute certainty) made me shut off my mind.  Let me sum up the characters:

“I’m an old man, I’m set in my ways and I refuse to change. Harumph.”

That’s all the audience is given about these two real life people.  So, when they meet the wrong end of the pink slip, you’re expected to cheer.  Yea!  Stubbornness defeated!  Bad guys lose!  Yea!

It doesn’t have to be that way.

For example, in Breaking Bad, by my count, the main protagonist Walter White has killed eight people directly and put many more in danger.  He cooks meth for a living.  He lies to his family.  He’s arrogant.  He treats Jesse Pinkman, his best friend in the world and his substitute son in his life in the underworld, worse than you’d treat an enemy.  He has poisoned Jesse’s girlfriend’s son.  He has watched as Jesse’s ex-girlfriend died through suffocating on her own vomit.  As I write all of this, I can’t imagine too many former high school teachers that would be worse human beings.

Yet, everyone I talk to about the series cares about him and, dare I say, roots for him to survive.  Why?  Because we know him beyond a simple archetype like “man in a black hat” or “drug dealer” or “bureaucrat” or “stubborn old man.”  We know that he has survived cancer for now.  We know how much he loves his son and his daughter.  We know how he wants to provide for his family.  We know that he lets his pride get in the way of accepting charity.  We know he wants to live.

He didn’t get to murderer in one step.  It took a while.  He struggled with the first step.  Jesse and Walt flipped a coin to determine who would kill the first person that stood in their way of survival.  That he needed to keep breaking bad for his own self-preservation made sense the further and further he plunged down the road to becoming a drug lord.

For another example, take Game of Thrones or Clash of Kings.  At the heart of the story is the Stark family, the sons Robb, Jon, Bran and Rickon, the daughters Anya and Sansa, father Eddard, mother Catelyn and ward Theon.  As different narrators with different perspectives, we follow them as they separate across the Seven Kingdoms.  We see through their eyes how they perceive those around them, their friends and their foes.  For example, we see Catelyn refuse to acknowledge Jon, the bastard son of Eddard through some unknown woman.  We see Catelyn take Tyrion Lannister prisoner to answer for the partial paralysis of her son Bran, though Tyrion was innocent.  Later, we see Catelyn release one of the most notorious prisoners and her son’s best bargaining chip in a war so that she can try to get her daughters back.

In other words, she makes a whole lot of decisions that make the readers think she is a heartless, impulsive idiot.  But, we understand her idiocy.  Catelyn wasn’t supposed to marry Eddard, but rather his older brother who died in a war to usurp the Targaryen king, so as a woman in this time, she’s never really felt safe in her role as his wife.  All she has is her kids and as they are flung to the corners of the kingdom, she is alone and scared.  How do you react when your world is turned upside down?  I don’t know, but Catelyn makes decisions that are very probable.

Conversely, in A Storm of Swords we get narration from another Lannister (Jamie joins his brother Tyrion) and we see more of the viewpoints from the faction opposing the Starks.  We are familiar with their exploits and as we learn more about their father (Lord Tywin) we see how the Lannister “monsters” in the form of Jamie, Cersei and Tyrion came to be.  They also care about their family.  They also care about honor.  They also care about love.  They want to live.

We all do.  But, when someone opposes us, we don’t look at it from their viewpoint, but rather the view that they are blocking our happiness.  Their motivations are the same.  The pursuit of life, liberty, love and happiness are the daily stakes in our lives. We all want the same thing.  Great characters want the same thing.  The pleasure is seeing when an artist knows that and makes the “bad guys” every bit as sympathetic as anyone else.  That’s when a story captivates us.  That’s when we leave the movie theater, when we put down a book or stand up from the couch and smile in happy amazement.  I look for those moments in every piece of art and in the books of A Song of Ice and Fire and Breaking Bad I’ve found them.