'Moneyball' hits a homer

From the opening set up to the final credits, "Moneyball" follows in the fine tradition of Hollywood baseball movies.

While baseball is the film's context, and the thread that stitches every scene to the next, there's a parallel universe that resides behind the patina of hustle, and that's numbers. The stats. The scoreboard. There are legions of fans, sitting in the stands with pencil and notebook in hand, recording every twitch and nuance, inning after inning. It's always been that way.

But there's another dimension to baseball, a parallel universe, one that's embedded with superstition, emotion, intuition and layers of irrational, wear-the-same-socks-for-a-season faith.

And when it comes down to filling out a player's roster, the latter has always been if not dominant at least a contender, especially with scouts. There's a scene in "Moneyball" when Billy Beane (Brad Pitt), general manager of the Oakland Athletics, is seated with his scouts around a table. They're discussing the coming season's roster. It's a wonderful moment in the film, and the dialogue, written by Aaron Sorkin ("The Social Network," "West Wing") and Steve Zallian, is crisp and hugely funny. One scout is ready not to hire a player because his girlfriend is, well, ugly which demonstrates, says the scout, that the player lacks confidence.

The tension in that scene is the fulcrum for the rest of the movie. Billy asks them and himself a question that proves to be elusive: how do you turn a squad with a meager budget into a winning team? They were all growing tired of having the A's viewed as a farm team for the Yankees.

And that's when Beane makes an astonishing turnaround. He hires Pete Brand, a disciple of numbers and a system called "sabermetrics." It's convoluted, steeped in statistics, based on the number of times a player gets on base, and it represents a major risk for Beane. What transpires is astonishing.

However, "Moneyball" is not just about what occurs on the field or about baseball arcana. It's a fascinating character study exploring the immense courage required of Beane to trust Brand and himself.

He was told that Brand's methodology was flawed in the extreme; and it just wasn't baseball. Baseball was something else. His own scouts were first to resist, followed by a bevy of pundits and fans, all convinced he had lost his way and was gambling with a team that had actually made the American League division playoffs.

Pitt is remarkable as Beane. And Jonah Hill gets it just right as a Yale graduate who chews up baseball statistics. Together they are an odd couple complimenting each other in ways that are often funny and engaging as they run together along a precipice. "Moneyball" is a great movie. Unexpectedly good.

Dolphin Tale

If there are tweens or early teens somewhere in the house, don't hesitate to make the case that "Dolphin Tale" is sweet and moving and worth seeing. The youngsters will relish every minute.

The film is based on the true story of Winter, a young dolphin that became entangled in a crab fisherman's lines and was washed up on the Gulf Coast, near Clearwater, Fla. Seriously injured, she is nursed back to health by the staff at the Clearwater Marine Aquarium.

And so the story begins. Sawyer Nelson (Nathan Gamble), abandoned by his father some years before, resisting spending his summer enrolled in summer school, discovers the bleeding dolphin on the beach and cuts her loose from the entangling ropes. And in that moment he and Winter bond, changing his life forever.

Drawn to the aquarium, he soon discovers a world where people are dedicated to rescuing and caring for marine mammals so they can eventually be released back into the environment.

And it is at the Clearwater Aquarium that he meets young Hazel Haskett (Cozi Zuehlsdorff); her father, the lead marine biologist, Dr. Clay Haskett (Harry Connick Jr.); and Reed Haskett (Kris Kirstofferson), Clay's father. But most importantly, he finds Winter, struggling to survive.

With regret, Dr. Haskett makes the decision to surgically remove Winter's tail in order to save her life.

How Winter's life is changed parallels the changes brought about in the life of Sawyer. All are transformed and in some way rescued in a wonderful, uplifting way. "Dophin Tale" is a family movie not to be missed.

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