The following is a transcript of a phone call that may or may not have taken place between Sony Pictures chairman Michael Lynton and Oakland A’s general manager Billy Beane, the subject of Bennett Miller’s new sports drama Moneyball. It could have taken place in July 2009, not long after the movie’s original director, Steven Soderbergh, was given the hook in favor of ace relievers Miller and script specialist Aaron Sorkin.
BB: “Michael, it’s Billy, calling to talk Moneyball. I know the movie’s in trouble. There’s speculation that the distribution deal is falling apart.”
Maybe this is how the world ends – not with a bang but a wheeze. Paranoia seems almost sensible under certain circumstances – a late-night stroll through a dark, deserted alley, perhaps – but what about riding the bus to work, where killers could be sitting beside us, polluting our space with their germs?
After five successful collaborations including Che: Part Two (2008), the corporate whistleblower comedy The Informant! (2009) and the star-studded Ocean's Eleven trilogy, director Steven Soderbergh and Matt Damon will reteam for the upcoming thriller Contagion, about a team of doctors hired by the Center for Disease Control to prevent the outbreak of a lethal virus. Better yet, Damon, along with co-stars Kate Winslet and Jude Law, will be filming their latest adventure in San Francisco, starting Feb. 9.
It begins, of course, with the box, a curious-looking device on which rests a large red button. It arrives on the couple’s doorstep along with a calling card, under the cloak of night. But why?
A stranger arrives at their door the next day with an offer too tempting to ignore. Press the button and collect a million tax-free dollars, in cash. The catch? Someone – comfortingly, another stranger – will die.
Hunger is a study in cinematic minimalism, and that, finally, is what lends it such blunt force. It follows the final six weeks in the life of Irish Republican Army militant Bobby Sands, who helped organize the seven-month hunger strike that would claim his life in 1981, after 66 days. But this is not a hagiography of Sands, or a shot at British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, whose reaction to his passing was at best unfeeling. First-time filmmaker Steve McQueen’s quietly devastating drama is a meditation on the depths of degradation men will endure in pursuit of the respect they think they deserve.
Happy New Year! As you all know, there is no better way to treat a holiday hangover than with an afternoon matinee. (Actually, that's not true. I recommend water, sports drinks that contain electrolytes, saltine crackers and, if possible, a full-body massage. And don't forget a healthy breakfast. Eating, like reading my columns, is fundamental.)
So once you're back on your feet and ready to venture out into the brave new world of 2010, be sure to check out these fine movies, now playing at an indie theater near you.
1. You, the Living
Where: Red Vic Movie House, 1727 Haight St., 415-668-3994
When: Jan. 3-4
For those who've never had the pleasure of attending, the Found Footage Festival is a riotous, one-of-a-kind experience, and it's coming to the Red Vic this weekend. Conceived as "a celebration of odd and hilarious videos" by founders Joe Pickett and Nick Prueher, who began collecting obscure footage in 1991 after discovering an embarrassingly simpleminded McDonald's instructional tape for prospective janitors, the festival previously featured commercials gone wrong and a priceless mini-documentary about Corey Haim. This year's edition promises many more must-see missteps. Elsewhere:
If you've never seen Dr. Strangelove or the original Nosferatu, here's your chance – both are returning to the big screen this week in extremely limited engagements. Elsewhere, Roy Andersson's acclaimed comedy You, the Living (currently boasting a perfect score on the Rotten Tomatometer) arrives at the Sundance Kabuki Cinemas, making this week a fine time to visit the Bay Area's indie theaters.
With the Mill Valley and Cinema by the Bay film festivals fast approaching, October promises to be one of the year's most exciting months for Bay Area moviegoers. Until then, there's no shortage of vital, engaging films awaiting you at the local indie theaters. Among them:
The biggest difference between Tom Ripley, the duplicitous drifter Matt Damon played in The Talented Mr. Ripley, and Mark Whitacre, the seemingly guileless whistleblower who tries to take down the agricultural giant Archer Daniels Midland in The Informant!, is that Ripley was a homicidal sociopath, while Damon’s Whitacre, whose book smarts are rivaled only by his idiocy in practical matters, is a pathological liar, and a sloppy one at that.
Whitacre, a paunchy Midwestern everyman who sports an unflattering mustache and a comically prominent hairpiece he adjusts whenever the pressure builds, is the subject of Steven Soderbergh’s latest farce. If his story seems unbelievable, as the movie’s billboards loudly suggest, so is the man himself.