Sleeping Beauty

[Amazon Image] I'm working through Ross MacDonald's Lew Archer novels in slow-motion. How slow? I read the previous one in the series back in 2008. And the one before that in 2004. Sleeping Beauty, published in 1973, is the penultimate book in the series.

Not that it matters, I just like using the word "penultimate".

As things kick off, Lew is bemused by an offshore oil spill threatening the Southern California beaches. He visits the site of the disaster and is taken with a troubled young woman, Laurel, whose family (it turns out) owns the leaky well. She's also on the outs with her husband, Tom. Quickly, she gets into a spat with Lew and takes off. But not before she's filched a bottle of sleeping pills from his medicine cabinet. Lew sets off in search of Laurel, but she turns out to be surprisingly elusive.

As with most of the Archer books, Lew soon finds himself trying to sort out a sordid and devilishly complex history spanning decades. It's a challenge for the reader. In addition to Tom and Laurel, we're rapidly introduced to Jack, Blanche, Joyce, William, Sylvia, Marian, Benjamin, Elizabeth, Gloria, Harry, Allie, Connie, Tony, Martha, Ethel, Wilbur, Harold, … I may be missing a few. You don't know who's important, and you only gradually learn of unexpected past relationships and activities of these folks over the recent and distant past. Pay attention! Maybe take notes!

Lew goes down those mean streets, neither tarnished nor afraid. He does (however) get tired, sad, and lonely. I'm pretty sure that he only grosses $50 out of the deal, too. It's a tough way to make a living. But at least he finds time for some brief illicit canoodling with one of the ladies.

Last Modified 2016-07-15 8:25 AM EDT


[4.0 stars] Moneyball (2011) on IMDb

[Amazon Link]

Perhaps a baseball movie for people who don't like baseball movies? It was nominated for six Oscars, including Best Picture, Actor, Supporting Actor, and Best Adapted Screenplay. In an interesting case of life imitating art, it got skunked at the end of the season.

Anyway: it's the story of Oakland A's manager Billy Beane, as played by Brad Pitt. (When they film my life story, I want Brad Pitt to play me too, OK?) After the A's almost-but-not-quite 2001 season, their superstars are moving on to more lucrative positions with richer teams. (Johnny Damon to the Red Sox, for example.) Beane doesn't have the budget to hire equivalent replacements. What to do?

What he does is semi-revolutionary: during a visit to the Cleveland Indians, Beane notices a tubby nerd (played by Jonah Hill) to whom management listens when making player deals. Why? The nerd is a fan of Sabermetrics, the technique of mining baseball stats to discover undervalued players, who might be had on the cheap. This is in contrast to the subjective guidance Beane is getting from his team of old-school ex-jock scouts. Beane hires the nerd, and proceeds to build a team according to Sabermetrics principles, at the risk of his job and reputation. And also to the scorn of his coach (Art Howe, played convincingly by Philip Seymour Hoffman). The movie shows how this played out during the 2002 season.

Fine actors are working from a very intelligent (and occasionally very funny) script here, and the results are excellent. I especially liked this bit, where Beane and coach Ron Washington are trying to convince Scott Hatteberg to play first for Oakland:

Scott Hatteberg: I've only ever played catcher.

Billy Beane: It's not that hard, Scott. Tell him, Wash.

Ron Washington: It's incredibly hard.

I was thinking the movie would attempt to make the too-easy point that the real game is not on the field, but mostly in the behind-the-scenes financial machinations. There's some of that. But the movie makes clear that there's still room for old-fashioned teamwork, pep talks, and unexpected game performance.

Brad Pitt seems to be turning into Robert Redford, by the way. Not that there's anything wrong with that.

Last Modified 2012-09-24 4:39 AM EDT