Tag Archive: Superbad


Review by C.J. Bunce

The daughter of the CEO of a wealthy prosthetics corporation is the world’s first cyborg in writer-artist Koren Shadmi’s new graphic novel Bionic, arriving in comic shops today from IDW Publishing.  It’s a mix of Let Me In, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Superbad, and Ex Machina.  Creeping along in a cold, off-kilter way like Amazon Studios’ series Tales from the Loop, Bionic is a twist on Marvel’s superhero Cyborg swapped out with a teenaged girl.

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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!

Of all the genre types there is one that doesn’t quite fit into any other bucket of movies.  These movies themselves are complex and rarely made, but when they are done right they tend to bridge popular audiences and critical acclaim.  They are about people who also don’t quite fit.  They are often referred to as “coming of age” movies, and with such a lame title it’s no wonder there is not a giant video header at the rental stores for “Coming of Age” movies.

Some of these are really just “teen angst” movies.  Some of the best of these for mid-teens, documenting the high school experience, are Clueless with Alicia Silverstone, 10 Things I Hate About You with Heath Ledger, The Breakfast Club and Sixteen Candles with Anthony Michael Hall and Molly Ringwald, Rebel Without a Cause and East of Eden with James Dean, West Side Story, Tex with Matt Dillon, Crossroads and The Karate Kid, both starring Ralph Macchio, and even The Wizard of Oz with Judy Garland, where Dorothy establishes a defining piece of the genre–dreaming of “getting out of Dodge” (OK, Wichita, so close enough).

A younger teen focus subset of these films, where kids are either turning into teens or otherwise encountering adult situations at a young age, include Bless the Beasts and Children, Lucas, Stand by Me, Angus, The Sandlot, A Christmas Story, Explorers, the Harry Potter films, Super 8, and a superb superhero genre crossover called Sky High, that is one of those movies that pulls itself apart from the typical kid-centric flick by brilliantly delving into kids’ relationships with each other.

One film proves we probably shouldn’t stop with three subsets of the coming of age film, and reflects the universal nature of life in change.  A film that covers the same themes yet for the transition from college to the “rest of life” is Buck Henry and Michael Nichols’ The Graduate.  The Graduate launched the careers of Dustin Hoffman (All the Presidents’ Men, Kramer vs. Kramer, Midnight Cowboy, Rainman, Tootsie) and Katherine Ross (Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, The Stepford Wives, Donnie Darko).  The subject is simple, yet believable and accessible, stuck in a rut, not ready to move onward, a recent college graduate needs some impetus to get moving forward.  In the 1960s of this movie, Hoffman and Ross’s characters step forward at the end, but you get the feeling the “coming of age” for them is still far outside their reach.  Similar elements of angst, alienation, and change are reflected in films of the older set, like St. Elmo’s Fire, Do the Right Thing, Lords of Dogtown, Wayne’s World, Shaun of the Dead, and even the 1976 movie Car Wash.

The subset of the genre targeted at older teens, those teens at the end of high school transitioning to “the rest of their lives” (or at least trying to) stand separately as their own class of film.  The greatest of these reach cult status, and often include all-star casts before they were to become stars.  Very likely it is these films that propelled the young actors into bigger roles as a next step in their careers because we, the audience, love these characters, and when we like characters we latch onto the actors that portrayed them.  Sometimes these themes cross into other genres that take over the film, such as the sci-fi film The Last Starfighter–where a teen must decide not whether to stay in town and work or go to college, but be a starfighter and save the universe.  Let’s look at a few of these classics that should be on your must-see list:

AMERICAN GRAFFITI (1973).  Even if George Lucas never came up with Star Wars he would have been remembered for creating this masterpiece of cinema.  All the key criteria of the genre are covered here: (1) fascination with cars, including races and chases; (2) incredible music, both as soundtrack as well as being listened to by the characters throughout the film; (3) teen rebellion, like pulling the rear axle off a police car (!), drinking, smoking, etc.; (4) alienation–one or more nerds, here exemplified by Charles Martin Smith’s Terry, who does the impossible, getting not only a girl, but THE girl, here Debbie (played by Candy Clark), and contrasted with the “cool kids,” (5) fitting in and not fitting in; (6) angst–Richard Dreyfuss’s Curt is the archetype for angst-ridden teen, not knowing his own abilities, uncertain and nervous about the next step in life: college; (7) life choices:  Go to college?  Go to which college?  Join the military?  Work in the garage at home?, (8) teens dealing with sex, and (9) an all-star or before-they-were all-star cast, launching careers:  Here that includes Richard Dreyfuss, Ron Howard, and Harrison Ford.  Why do audiences of all ages relate to these themes?  Is it because we all continue to go through choices, decisions, and angst every day moving forward?

GREASE (1978).  The PG-13 rating really reflects components of all the films on this genre list: “sexual content including references, teen smoking and drinking, and language.”  Showing that you can successfully deal with the transitional phases of life in musical version like West Side Story (who doesn’t like music at any level in these movies?) here the 1970s portrays the 1950s again (this time 1959) as did American Graffiti.  Social strata, growing up rich or poor, from the south or west or north or east side–it all has meaning in the genre.  Like Rebel Without a Cause and West Side Story this is focused on high school teens–yet Sandy is thinking about college and Danny and Sandy each need to figure out who they want to be when school is out.

FAST TIMES AT RIDGEMONT HIGH (1982).  With American Graffiti documenting the American teen experience of the 1950s in the 1970s, Fast Times reflected the day.  Who is more of a classic rebel than Sean Penn’s Jeff Spicoli?  Full of both nerds and chock full of household name actors to-be, like Penn, Phoebe Cates, Eric Stoltz, Nicholas Cage, Forest Whitaker, Anthony Edwards, Judge Reinhold and Jennifer Jason Leigh.  Fast Times included another piece of the genre, generational slang.

THE OUTSIDERS (1983).  Probably the biggest film to launch careers of teen actors is The Outsiders. Francis Ford Coppola was harassed by a high school class to make this film and finally agreed to do it.  Socs vs. Greasers.  Literally kids from opposite sides of the tracks.  Matt Dillon plays Dallas, the ultimate teen anti-hero.  C. Thomas Howell and Ralph Macchio again, the poster actor of the genre, play the alienated unlikely rebels with heroes within screaming to get out.  This one launched the careers of Tom Cruise, Emilio Estevez, Rob Lowe, and Diane Lane.  For teens who think they are alone, that the crap piled on them only happens to them, like the other films on this list, The Outsiders illustrates that everyone is an outsider sometime.

FERRIS BUELLER’S DAY OFF (1986).  Although it is Matthew Broderick’s character Ferris Bueller’s sister Jeannie, played by Jennifer Grey, that really shows the teen experience in the high school of 1986, it is Bueller and his girlfriend Sloane (Mia Sara) and best friend Cameron (Alan Ruck), that are soon moving away to separate colleges.  Bueller rebels differently than most characters in this genre, yet is he really any different from Jeff Spicoli in Fast Times or Curt in American Graffiti?

SAY ANYTHING (1989).  You don’t have to have an ensemble cast to make your point and here a small cast illustrates dealing with adult issues early, struggling with who you want to be and what you want to do.  If you don’t want to make something bought or sold, sell anything made or bought or buy anything made or sold, John Cusack’s Lloyd Dobler feels your pain.  Cusack, Ione Skye and Lili Taylor form a great team to reflect angst and confusion.  Dobler standing at the Gas and Sip with a bunch of “losers”–and Dobler leaving them behind, is what the genre is all about.  And blaring your stereo from the street so the girl of your dreams hears you to apologize outside her window–again, music is key to a classic like this one and made that single image iconic.

DAZED AND CONFUSED (1993).  Here the 1990s plays the 1970s, almost cementing the cyclical nature of these themes as a part of the genre.  The highs and lows of partying, friendship, and rebellion.  Every bit as much a classic film as American Graffiti, with authentic (not so cool) clothing and very cool cars, this movie probably doesn’t get the credit it deserves from a huge cast of good young actors.  Like some of the other films above, this one was an early film for later big names, like Milla Jovovich, Ben Affleck, Matthew McConaughey, and Parker Posey.

ORANGE COUNTY (2002).  Orange County is one of those films you can watch over and over, with Colin Hanks’s Shaun Brumder a wanna-be writer whose high school guidance counselor (Lily Tomlin) sends the wrong stats to his college of choice.  His girlfriend wants him to stay home.  His brother (played by Jack Black) chose to stay home and shows Shaun what he doesn’t want.  A mentor emerges in the form of a professor played by Kevin Kline at just the right time.  Like Ron Howard in American Graffiti, Shaun makes a different choice from his friends, a different path than he’d originally planned.

SUPERBAD (2007).  Christopher Mintz-Plasse takes Charles Martin Smith’s alienated nerd full circle in Superbad as the self-named “McLovin.”  Despite being the third wheel in the film, he manages to conquer all the roles of the myriad of characters throughout all the above films.  Speeding along with Van Halen’s “Panama” blaring as he buddies up with two local police officers, McLovin practically gets arrested trying to buy beer, and ends up setting fire to a police car in a near parody of the genre.  And he gets the girl.  Future Academy Award nominee Jonah Hill and pal Michael Cera show what good friends will and won’t do for each other as Hill’s character learns Cera’s character will be rooming with McLovin at college.  Yet it all works out somehow, after the “quest for beer” and obligatory party, and Hill’s character giving his girlfriend an inadvertent black eye.  Superbad proves the genre stays strong, and that the themes of life in transition remain universal and accessible to movie audiences.

C.J. Bunce
Editor
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