Clint Eastwood tosses an easy one across the plate with “Trouble With the Curve,” a predictable baseball dramedy with no wild pitches.
Eastwood, his growls and grimaces moving finally into a crotchety “On Golden Pond” phase, plays Gus Lobel, an old-school scout for the Atlanta Braves who disdains all things “Moneyball.”
He sneers at the “Interweb.” A computer, he says, “can’t look into a kid’s eyes.”
Actually, Gus is having similar problems, his vision blurred with the onset of macular degeneration. His diagnosis, and the prospect of an impending forced retirement, spurs a visit from his concerned but resentful daughter Mickey (Amy Adams).
A lawyer about to make partner on the condition that she win next week’s big case, Mickey ditches work for a few days to join Gus on a scouting trip.
Will she make partner? Will she resolve the longstanding bitterness over her childhood consignment to relatives and boarding schools by her widowed dad? And will she dump her “perfect on paper” boyfriend for the puppyish new scout (Justin Timberlake) who reveres Gus?
You’ll probably guess the answers long before this film’s seventh inning stretch.
Directed by Eastwood’s longtime producing partner Robert Lorenz, “Curve” has a winning roster of supporting players -- particularly John Goodman as Gus’s protective supervisor and Matthew Lillard as a scheming, computer-using rival.
But Randy Brown’s formulaic script is so one-dimensional that we know where every ball will land. The loutish high school batting phenom (Joe Massingill) might as well hit the showers as soon as he starts bragging about endorsement deals.
Mickey’s comeuppances on the road to redemption are harder to take. Here’s a woman who risks her career to babysit a fully functioning father and then is castigated by the men in her life as work-obsessed and cold when she dares to check her Blackberry.
Even a scout with failing vision should see what’s wrong with that.
“Trouble With the Curve,” from Warner Bros. Pictures, is playing across the U.S. Rating: **1/2 (Evans)
“End of Watch” starts out as a standard buddy movie. It’s more, and better, than that.
Following Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Pena as good-guy cops on patrol along the rough streets of South Central in Los Angeles, it becomes something like a Platonic ideal of its type.
Gracefully written and directed by David Ayer, who did time on those streets as a kid, “End of Watch” proceeds by episodes, with the tone changing every couple of minutes or so.
Brian Taylor (Gyllenhaal) and Mike Zavala (Pena) hunt for the missing babies of crackhead parents, run into a burning building to save more children, discover a roomful of dead torture victims and fall into the sights of a Mexican cartel.
In a funny encounter near the beginning, Zavala is so riled by the mouth on a trash-talking thug that he takes off his gun belt and the two of them whale away at each other. They both come out satisfied.
But the best scenes by far are the ones in the patrol car, with the partners ragging on each other, gossiping, telling stories and, when the talk turns to women, getting real. (Zavala is married; Taylor wants to be.)
The movie is so unembarrassed about letting them love each other that it feels neither homoerotic nor homophobic -- Gyllenhaal isn’t doing penance for “Brokeback Mountain.”
Nothing feels forced. Under a surface jagged with hand-held camera work and the constant possibility of violence, “End of Watch” is full of heart. It makes you think there really might be heroes out there.
“End of Watch,” from Open Road Films, is playing across the U.S. Rating: **** (Seligman)
Pink triangles blossomed in Lower Manhattan during the spring of 1987, as posters bearing the slogan “Silence = Death” heralded a movement that began with an occupation of Wall Street and changed the course of an epidemic.
First-time director David France’s remarkable documentary “How to Survive a Plague” chronicles the formation, work and impact of Act-Up, the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power.
The Greenwich Village group emerged -- erupted, really -- seven years into the crisis, with nearly 20,000 Americans dead and President Ronald Reagan still mum on the subject.
With a trove of amateur footage shot mostly by Act-Up participants, France assembles a point-by-point history that conveys national sweep along with the intimate inner workings of a movement that was often as fractious as it was devoted.
France, a veteran New York journalist who began covering AIDS before it had a name, introduces us to an unforgettable collection of front-line combatants. Chief among them: Larry Kramer (the Act-Up founder who, in one remarkable scene, silences a loud, contentious meeting by repeatedly shouting “Plague!”) and Peter Staley, a closeted HIV-positive bond trader would become the public voice of the Act-Up movement.
Educating itself on medical arcana and byzantine drug protocols, Act-Up focused on a simply stated mission impossible: To convince the hidebound Federal Drug Administration and Big Pharma to speed up the process for testing, approving and releasing AIDS medications.
The film concludes with the arrival of life-saving protease inhibitors in 1996. In a powerful reveal, France shows us the film’s heroes as they are today, a roster of survivors that’s both heartening, and too short.
“How To Survive a Plague,” from Sundance Selects, is playing in New York and select cities. Rating: ***** (Evans)
What the Stars Mean: ***** Fantastic **** Excellent *** Very Good ** Good * Poor (No stars) Avoid
(Greg Evans and Craig Seligman are critics for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are their own.)
Muse highlights include Jeremy Gerard on theater and New York weekend.