Film

'Moneyball' Shows What You Can Tell

Moneyball makes visible the love of baseball as a game and a business, and as a mathematical system, the one devised by Bill James and a few other hardy souls, toiling in basements and on their lunch breaks.


Moneyball

Director: Bennett Miller
Cast: Brad Pitt, Jonah Hill, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Chris Pratt, Kathryn Morris, Robin Wright, Tammy Blanchard
Rated: PG
Studio: Columbia Pictures/Sony
Year: 2011
US date: 2011-09-23 (General release)
UK date: 2011-11-25 (General release)
Website
Trailer
Think about it. One absolutely cannot tell, by watching, the difference between a .300 hitter and a .275 hitter. The difference is one hit every two weeks.

-- Michael Lewis, Moneyball

Moneyball is all about what you can't tell, by watching. It's about how remarkable this notion was, when Oakland Athletics GM Billy Beane put it into practice during the early years of this century. And it's about how difficult this notion is -- still -- to make visible.

The eminently watchable movie Moneyball is based on Michael Lewis' terrific book. Published in 2003, that book explains the mathematical system by which baseball might be understood, a system made at least nominally visible by Bill James and a few other hardy souls, toiling in basements and on their lunch breaks, and taken seriously by Beane and Harvard grad Paul DePodesta in 1999.

As the book has it, the system was ridiculed by baseball veterans, whose careers were premised on watching, on interpreting what they watched, and on watching again (these same veterans and their descendents now use the system). James' ideas flew in the face of that, and as Beane and DePodesta adopted it, they looked at stats rather than players, at teams rather than individuals. And in drawing conclusions from what they didn't watch, they changed the game. Sort of.

Baseball remains a game that's mostly premised on watching, on seasoned scouts and managers sorting through film and making decisions (and best guesses and gambles) based on what they see, and also on fans who pay to watch, in various ways. But Moneyball, the movie, is less about baseball than it is about the guys who play and manage it, and about Brad Pitt as Billy Beane, paired with Peter Brand (the DePodesta character, played by Jonah Hill).

While Bennett Miller's film surely appreciates the beauty of baseball, the green fields and the athletic plays, it also provides other visual attractions. These include Pitt, of course, as well as some less necessary accoutrements to Beane as a character, a willowy ex-wife (Robin Wright), a lovely daughter (Kerris Dorsey), a barely furnished home where he spends precious little time. Flashbacks show you the brilliant, young, five-tool player Billy once was (Reed Thompson), how he loved the game and how he failed to play it well.

As Billy sees the abstractions of baseball as well as the business, he's working with a minimalist payroll at the A's ($39 million, compared to, say, the Yankees' $114 million: as Lewis puts it, "There is no simple way to approach the problem Billy was trying to solve"). Knowing he'll never win if he plays the game by the Yankees' rules, Billy turns to other sorts of numbers, not hits (so visible on TV), but on-base percentage (OBP), which counts walks as a means to runs, as well as other Jamesian innovations, runs created and range factors.

The film Moneyball helps you to understand what Billy can tell by showing him in action. Where the book describes Beane on the phone, reports what he says while making deals for players and cajoling other general managers who might realize what he's doing but hope there's something in it for them anyway (the book, thus, imagines what those GMs are thinking), here you see him with people. He flies out to meet with managers, sits down with his scouts, even encourages his players in the locker room. It has him arguing with manager Art Howe (Philip Seymour Hoffman), furious that the front office thinks it knows more about how to run the team on the field than he does, but also revealed to be wrong about that, because Billy and Peter do know more: they've put together pieces that need to work together in a certain way in order to produce the mathematical results they expect.

Billy Beane here is voracious: he reads, he processes data, he discusses that data with Peter. When he's sure he's right, which is pretty much always, he uses Peter as a source in front of the doubters (as Peter has extraordinary recall of numbers and formulas), literally pointing to him as a cue during one perfectly choreographed meeting. This and another scene, where Billy has a competing GM on speaker phone and Peter in the chair across form his desk -- exemplify what the film does well. He's talking and thinking, mostly out loud, and the camera cuts from one face to another, creating a comic rhythm that has as much to do with what's not said as what is.

The film exploits Pitt-as-Billy's photogenic beauty when he drives, which he does a lot, during games he can't bear to watch, but only listen to on a portable radio: the shots are close and low, the shadows striking. And the fun also makes fun of that same point, as it shows Billy eating, which he also does a lot. Billy eats in most every scene, everything from candies and peanuts to popcorn and Twinkies. The eating helps to make discernible the internal workings that otherwise you might miss.

Billy's interest in players stops at their stats, and the movie explains this in sympathetic terms. He doesn’t want to know their life stories because he will, eventually, have to fire them. He and Peter sit in an office with a computer screen at the ready, as they explain to players the deep value of walks or the unreasonable risk of stealing bases.

The players listen intently, most of them apparently believers by the time Moneyball gets to the part of the A's incredible 20-game winning streak. Billy, notoriously superstitious about watching, does his best not to. And then he does, which leads to on-field drama and close-ups and big music. As you watch all this hackneyed nonsense and know it's been contrived for you, you're briefly distracted. And then the movie, having revealed again the seductive fiction of baseball, the romance and the mythology, returns to what you can tell, and them various ways you can tell it. And now you know, these are fictions too.

8

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

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Music

The Best Dance Tracks of 2017

Photo: Murielle Victorine Scherre (Courtesy of Big Beat Press)

From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

In June of 2016, prolific producer Diplo lambasted the world of DJ's in an interview with Billboard, stating that EDM was dying. Coincidentally enough, the article's contents went viral and made their way into Vice Media's electronic music and culture channel Thump, which closed its doors after four years this summer amid company-wide layoffs. Months earlier, electronic music giant SFX Entertainment filed bankruptcy and reemerged as Lifestyle, Inc., shunning the term "EDM".

So here we are at the end of 2017, and the internet is still a flurry with articles declaring that Electronic Dance Music is rotting from the inside out and DJ culture is dying on the vine, devoured by corporate greed. That might all well be the case, but electronic music isn't disappearing into the night without a fight as witnessed by the endless parade of emerging artists on the scene, the rise of North America's first Electro Parade in Montréal, and the inaugural Electronic Music Awards in Los Angeles this past September.

For every insipid, automaton disc jockey-producer, there are innovative minds like Anna Lunoe, Four Tet, and the Black Madonna, whose eclectic, infectious sets display impeccable taste, a wealth of knowledge, and boundless creativity. Over the past few years, many underground artists have been thrust into the mainstream spotlight and lost the je ne sais quoi that made them unique. Regardless, there will always be new musicians, producers, singers, and visionaries to replace them, those who bring something novel to the table or tip a hat to their predecessors in a way that steps beyond homage and exhilarates as it did decades before.

As electronic music continues to evolve and its endless sub-genres continue to expand, so do fickle tastes, and preferences become more and more subjective with a seemingly endless list of artists to sift through. With so much music to digest, its no wonder that many artists remain under the radar. This list hopes to remedy that injustice and celebrate tracks both indie and mainstream. From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

10. Moullinex - “Work It Out (feat. Fritz Helder)”

Taken from Portuguese producer, DJ, and multi-instrumentalist Luis Clara Gomes' third album Hypersex, "Work It Out" like all of its surrounding companions is a self-proclaimed, "collective love letter to club culture, and a celebration of love, inclusion and difference." Dance music has always seemingly been a safe haven for "misfits" standing on the edge of the mainstream, and while EDM manufactured sheen might have taken the piss out of the scene, Hypersex still revels in that defiant, yet warm and inviting attitude.

Like a cheeky homage to Rick James and the late, great High Priest of Pop, Prince, this delectably filthy, sexually charged track with its nasty, funk-drenched bass line, couldn't have found a more flawless messenger than former Azari & III member Fritz Helder. As the radiant, gender-fluid artist sings, "you better work your shit out", this album highlight becomes an anthem for all those who refuse to bow down to BS. Without any accompanying visuals, the track is electro-funk perfection, but the video, with its ruby-red, penile glitter canon, kicks the whole thing up a notch.

9. Touch Sensitive - “Veronica”

The neon-streaked days of roller rinks and turtlenecks, leg warmers and popped polo collars have come and gone, but you wouldn't think so listening to Michael "Touch Sensitive" Di Francesco's dazzling debut Visions. The Sydney-based DJ/producer's long-awaited LP and its lead single "Lay Down", which shot to the top of the Hype Machine charts, are as retro-gazing as they are distinctly modern, with nods to everything from nu disco to slo-mo house.

Featuring a sample lifted from 90s DJ and producer Paul Johnson's "So Much (So Much Mix)," the New Jack-kissed "Veronica" owns the dance floor. While the conversational interplay between the sexed-up couple is anything but profound, there is no denying its charms, however laughably awkward. While not everything on Visions is as instantly arresting, it is a testament to Di Francesco's talents that everything old sounds so damn fresh again.

8. Gourmet - “Delicious”

Neither Gourmet's defiantly eccentric, nine-track debut Cashmere, nor its subsequent singles, "There You Go" or "Yellow" gave any indication that the South African purveyor of "spaghetti pop" would drop one of the year's sassiest club tracks, but there you have it. The Cape Town-based artist, part of oil-slick, independent label 1991's diminutive roster, flagrantly disregards expectation on his latest outing, channeling the Scissor Sisters at their most gloriously bitchy best, Ratchet-era Shamir, and the shimmering dance-pop of UK singer-producer Joe Flory, aka Amateur Best.

With an amusingly detached delivery that rivals Ben Stein's droning roll call in Ferris Bueller's Day Off , he sings "I just want to dance, and fuck, and fly, and try, and fail, and try again…hold up," against a squelchy bass line and stabbing synths. When the percussive noise of what sounds like a triangle dinner bell appears within the mix, one can't help but think that Gourmet is simply winking at his audience, as if to say, "dinner is served."

7. Pouvoir Magique - “Chalawan”

Like a psychoactive ayahuasca brew, the intoxicating "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique's LP Disparition, is an exhilarating trip into unfamiliar territory. Formed in November of 2011, "Magic Power" is the musical project of Clément Vincent and Bertrand Cerruti, who over the years, have cleverly merged several millennia of songs from around the world with 21st-century beats and widescreen electro textures. Lest ye be worried, this is anything but Deep Forest.

In the spring of 2013, Pouvoir Magique co-founded the "Mawimbi" collective, a project designed to unite African musical heritage with contemporary soundscapes, and released two EPs. Within days of launching their label Musiques de Sphères, the duo's studio was burglarized and a hard drive with six years of painstakingly curated material had vanished. After tracking down demos they shared with friends before their final stages of completion, Clément and Bertrand reconstructed an album of 12 tracks.

Unfinished though they might be, each song is a marvelous thing to behold. Their stunning 2016 single "Eclipse," with its cinematic video, might have been one of the most immediate songs on the record, but it's the pulsing "Chalawan," with its guttural howls, fluttering flute-like passages, and driving, hypnotic beats that truly mesmerizes.

6. Purple Disco Machine - “Body Funk” & “Devil In Me” (TIE)

Whenever a bevy of guest artists appears on a debut record, it's often best to approach the project with caution. 85% of the time, the collaborative partners either overshadow the proceedings or detract from the vision of the musician whose name is emblazoned across the top of the LP. There are, however, pleasant exceptions to the rule and Tino Piontek's Soulmatic is one of the year's most delightfully cohesive offerings. The Dresden-born Deep Funk innovator, aka Purple Disco Machine, has risen to international status since 2009, releasing one spectacular track and remix after another. It should go without saying that this long-awaited collection, featuring everyone from Kool Keith to Faithless and Boris D'lugosch, is ripe with memorable highlights.

The saucy, soaring "Mistress" shines a spotlight on the stellar pipes of "UK soul hurricane" Hannah Williams. While it might be a crowning moment within the set, its the strutting discofied "Body Funk", and the album's first single, "Devil In Me", that linger long after the record has stopped spinning. The former track with its camptastic fusion of '80s Sylvester gone 1940s military march, and the latter anthem, a soulful stunner that samples the 1968 Stax hit "Private Number", and features the vocal talents of Duane Harden and Joe Killington, feels like an unearthed classic. Without a doubt, the German DJ's debut is one of the best dance records of the year.

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