Baseball-themed big hitters Bull Durham and Field Of Dreams fared better on this side of the pond than most American sports movies.
So it’s strike three for MONEYBALL (12: Sony), which gets a home run after its recent Best Picture nomination at the Oscars.
This engrossing drama is based on the true story of the Oakland A team’s general manager Billy Beane and his pioneering system, which used statistics and computer analysis to build a trophy-winning side.
Strapped for cash and reeling from humiliating defeats, Beane (Pitt) sees his star players being bought by richer clubs.
He can’t afford to replace them, but an economics student offers him a solution with a ground-breaking way to analyse the performance of cheaper players and combine their abilities to form a winning outfit.
Beane’s radical methods are opposed by the sport’s sport’s traditionally minded personalities, until results start to go his way. While it seems, on the surface, to be dry subject matter, Moneyball is a well-paced and thrilling film.
Pitt brings a winning blend of charisma and enthusiasm to the lead role, ably supported by Jonah Hill as Beane’s number-crunching deputy and Philip Seymour Hoffman stealing scenes as a curmudgeonly representative of the old guard.
> Steven Spielberg uses the motion-capture process for the first time for the much-anticipated adventure featuring bequiffed boy reporter Tintin.
And although there’s enough in THE ADVENTURES OF TINTIN: THE SECRET OF THE UNICORN (PG: Paramount) to delight undemanding young viewers and it’s passable entertainment for the rest, how much better this film would have been if Spielberg had not buried it under layers of digital jiggery-pokery and really brought it to life.
The juvenile hack’s purchase of a model ship brings him under threat from a ruthless criminal as it’s one of a series of clues to the location of the real vessel, which holds a pirate’s lost treasure.
He sets off on a globetrotting quest to find it, assisted by a drunken sea captain, two bumbling detectives and his faithful dog.
Tintin was always a tad bland for robust Anglo-Saxon tastes and despite some thrills and spills, the big-budget dramatisation of the comic strip series does little to make the young reporter’s personality any more compelling.
Despite Jamie Bell’s valiant voice contribution, it becomes increasingly difficult to care about our shiny-faced hero.
Only Andy Serkis’s boozy Captain Haddock and Snowy the hyper-intelligent mutt triumph over the deadening effects of the technology.
> An aspiring journalist returns to her Mississippi home in the 1960s, where she begins documenting the lives of black servants working for wealthy white familes, in critically acclaimed THE HELP (12: Disney).
The Deep South is well-trodden territory for melodrama, but this picture gives a voice to those usually cast in supporting roles.
Viola Davis is the heart and soul of the film as Aibileen, a black housemaid who has spent her life looking after the children of white employers.
But, fed up with the treatment of her fellow maids by snooty matrons like Hilly Holbrook, who wants segregated toilets for the help, she decides to dish the dirt to aspiring writer Skeeter Phelan.
The problem for Skeeter is convincing Aibileen’s colleagues to come forward, too. Despite a lengthy running time, much is glossed over here with too many of the characters and subplots being given short shrift.
Yet there are some saving graces, with Jessica Chastain and Oscar winner Octavia Spencer a great double-act as helpless, uneducated Celia Foote and her “sass-mouthing” housekeeper.
> Charlotte Bronte’s romance JANE EYRE (PG: Universal) has been adapted for the screen many times,the most memorable being the 1943 version starring Orson Welles and Joan Fontaine.
In the latest, the title role is played by Mia Wasikowska, who made a good impression in Tim Burton’s Alice In Wonderland.
Though looking as fragile as porcelain, she stands firm against Michael Fassbender’s fiery Mr Rochester, who employs her to be a governess at his gloomy mansion.
At times, the noticeable age difference casts him as a predator rather than a potential lover, although Fassbender cleverly conveys a deeper yearning for something pure and wholesome to cherish.
Above all, it’s a very respectful treatment, even if a little more wild abandon that originally draws Jane to Rochester would have helped.
> British boy gang films are two a penny. British girl gang films, like SKET (15: Revolver) are much rarer.
Made in collaboration with a South London charity that supports young women affected by gang culture, it tells a gritty tale of violence and vengeance among rival girl groups and their criminal cohorts on a London housing estate.
The plot doesn’t amount to much, but there’s an authenticity about the dialogue that extends to the acting.