Tuesday, 6 December 2011

Sense and Sensibility

Last week I finished reading my second Jane Austen novel, Sense and Sensibility, and for the second time I was left a little disappointed.

Early on in the book I was very much amused by Austen's wit and subtlety. I particularly enjoyed the scene in chapter two where Fanny convinces Mr John Dashwood to significantly reduce the amount of financial support he offers his sisters. I could see a great deal of these early characters in the world around me today which I felt made the book both modern and relevant.

This wit was carried throughout the story very effectively, even until the very last pages of the book, where I came to find another of my favourite lines,
After just so proper resistance on the part of Mrs Ferrars, just so violent and steady as to preserve her from that reproach which she always seemed fearful of incurring , the reproach of being too amiable, Edward was admitted to her presence, and pronounced again to be her son.
 So what did I find disappointing? Well, for me, large parts of the action were missing. Having read 350+ pages of evenings in the drawing room, ball room antics and sisterly interaction - all of which I enjoyed - the scenes I had been looking forward to, the marriage proposals, were skipped over by authorial narrative,
How soon he had walked himself into the proper resolution, how soon an opportunity of exercising it occurred, in what manner he expressed himself , and how he was received, need not be particularly told.
And so, my pay-off for reading the whole book was sadly lacking. I do appreciate that these missing details are not integral to the book's message and that their absence makes a clearly thought out point, but selfishly, I couldn't help desiring those details for my own enjoyment of the story. Of course, this all depends on your purpose for reading the book - entertainment or analysis. And I expect that I am missing something, but I can't help wondering how different the flesh on the bones of this plot might have been if a Bronte had penned the story. We would certainly have been treated to more insight in to Colonel Brandon and Edward Ferrars, their complexities and their passions. Whilst I appreciate her wit and comments on society, I think that, perhaps for me, Austen is just a little too polite and, dare I say it, too happy ever after.

Please feel free to leave a comment with your own thoughts and interpretations - perhaps you can change my mind?

Monday, 5 December 2011

Moneyball: Re-inventing the Game

Sport is probably one of my least favourite things. Why then, in a bumper week for cinema, did I make Moneyball my first choice? Well, I have to admit that it had something to do with my husband's fascination with American sport and the plethora Oscar rumours flying about online.

Even though it is based on a true story, I have to say that Moneyball's plot is a little formulaic: a financially struggling and poorly performing baseball team uses a new tactic (statistics) to build the right team. No-one, except the stories two key protagonists, believes this will work. A large injection of jeopardy at the film's mid point, made for a story that structurally followed all the rules. And for good reason. What makes Moneyball so special is not the plot structure, but its characterisation and wonderfully written dialogue by Steven Zaillian (Schindler's List) and Aaron Sorkin (Social Network, The West Wing).

Like me, it is possible for you to know nothing about baseball and still enjoy this film. Typical of Aaron Sorkin is his ability to immediately engage the audience whilst immersing them completely in an unknown world. In Moneyball, the unfamiliar environment of baseball is made familiar within moments, becoming instantly convincing and entertaining.

A series of amusing 'boardroom' scenes set the premise in Sorkin's quick and witty trademark style. The highlight for me comes later though, in the fast paced and intelligently written telephone negotiation between Billy Beane, Peter Brand and an array of other team managers.

Boardroom debates
Jeopardy founded so early on in the story was built to a perfect crescendo. Sound and vision were used inventively to deliver sporting scenes from the realms of cliche. Still, had the film ended where I thought it might, it could have been distinctly unoriginal. Thankfully, the action played on to a positive, but not unrealistic close.

'No-one re-invents the game' 
'The first man through the wall always gets bloody'

Ultimately, Moneyball is story about underdogs, which is one of the main reasons behind its appeal. The film's key messages were introduced early and re-affirmed throughout, being finally cemented by a well timed ending that takes Moneyball beyond a story of achievement and reminds us of the importance of seeking improvement, being a team player (both at work and at home), the need to have faith in others and confidence in ourselves.

This year, Brad Pitt has been tipped for Oscar success. As Billy Beane, Pitt subtly drew out both vulnerability and conviction, but for me there are other more deserving actors out there (such as Michael Shannon for Take Shelter). Jonah Hill perhaps comes closer to Supporting Actor, with his amusing and heartwarming portrayal of the polite and unassuming Peter Brand.

I would have thought it near impossible to create an engaging film about baseball but Moneyball is just that, being intelligently written and inventively directed and produced. It is certainly worthy of a Best Picture Academy Award nomination.

'We may never lose again' - written on a sign at one of the team's later games
Click here for the official Moneyball site