Wednesday, 5 November 2014

Million Dollar Arm

PG, 2014, Directed by Craig Gillespie
Starring: Jon Hamm, Lake Bell, Suraj Sharma, Madhur Mittal, Alan Arkin

Jon Hamm continues an incredibly lingering transition to the big screen with Disney’s American hit MILLION DOLLAR ARM, part sports drama, part romance, part fish-out-of-water comedy which combines to make up what is essentially a biographical rags-to-riches tale.

Tracking the story of sports agent JB Bernstein (Hamm) and an innovative idea which takes him to India (via a path of self-enlightenment and Britain’s Got Talent), we are introduced to his tough-to-like cynic who, whilst residing in a pristine apartment decorated with a flash car on the drive, spends his days dating models, soullessly shunning hellos from Lake Bell’s kooky tenant, Brenda.
With this being Disney, there is a humanity hiding away under that surface. Hamm conveys it neatly, striding through the 124-minute running time with the sophisticated allure of an actor direct from Hollywood’s Golden Age; a real movie star. Akin to his Mad Men counterpart Don Draper, Bernstein is best utilised communicating for professional gain. Willing to go to uncharted lengths to revive his flagging career, and rather oddly inspired by a convenient bout of channel-hopping (Amanda Holden making her Disney debut…), he travels to India to find the ‘million dollar arm’ – a baseball pitcher to rival the best of them. Step forward two equally as impressive finds with varying techniques; Rinku and Dinesh (Life of Pi’s Suraj Sharma and Slumdog Millionaire’s Madhur Mittal, both holding their own).

A film of two parts, the film’s India-set scenes are a real delight with Hamm’s fish-out-of-water arc making him all raised eyes and exasperated glances – aided by Pitobash Tripathy’s true comedic knack as baseball fanatic Amit Rohan. Your laughter may just catch you off guard. Alan Arkin’s arrival as sports scout Ray Poitevint, a dynamite performance which completely steals the film from all, is balanced shrewdly, failing to throw the film wide and reintroducing him when repetition spills through the cracks.
Bernstein struggles to add ‘mentor’ to his capabilities once back in the States, and this paves the way for Lake Bell’s Brenda to complete his transition. Her character is adorable as hell and simply adds to the mixture pot of never-overwhelming sweetness. The friendship she develops with the two strangers in a strange land rings true, with Brenda becoming the mouthpiece for Rinku and Dinesh’s confidence issues. As the story propels forward, the main cast all click nicely into place offering the film its share of memorable moments (just try not to grin when Rinku and Dinesh catch Bernstein sneaking out of Brenda’s room the morning after the night before, each actor nailing what director Craig Gillespie asks of them).
Despite no uncertainty of the ultimate destination, MILLION DOLLAR ARM somehow keeps your attention held, providing a well-structured if overlong journey that has no right to be this charming. While not the home run Disney may have been aiming for, Gillespie’s film will fix a smile onto your face – and it will be worth a million dollars.



Sin City: A Dame to Kill for

15, 2014, Directed by Robert Rodriguez, Frank Miller
Starring: Josh Brolin, Eva Green, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Powers Boothe, Jessica Alba, Mickey Rourke

Frank Miller and Robert Rodriguez’s long-awaited Sin City sequel, A Dame to Kill For, arrives on a nine year wave of expectation, ready to soak you up and hurl you around with such ferocity you’ll feel as if it’s been mere days since the original unleashed itself back in 2005.
Concocted of a series of short segments, one of which – Booze, Broads & Bullets –  was torn from Miller’s very own pages, here the writer and returning co-director Rodriguez have created two completely fresh escapades for these inhabitants to endure: The Long Bad Night, in which Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s smarmy gambler learns what it’s like to lose, and Nancy’s Last Dance, which features Jessica Alba’s stripper hell-bent on avenging a crucial death from the previous film. Everything is much the same, differences be damned: the ensemble remain largely intact (with notable additions and numerous brilliantly-conceived cameos), the disparate segments integrate in lean ways designed to not only emphasise the ‘sin’ in Basin City but to broaden this monochromatic universe presented with noir qualities which are rolled up into one giant graphic novel joint.
Mickey Rourke’s beast-like powerhouse Marv slams onto the screen in an opening sequence that will reintroduce and recalibrate. Moody voiceover dialogue is mumbled – part poetic, part mumbo-jumbo; almost immediately fans of the original can consider themselves reacquainted and new inductees welcomed. Gordon-Levitt’s venture into darkness serves as a refreshing addition to the film’s mix bag of characters, perhaps serving to reintroduce the villainous Senator Roark (Powers Boothe, one of a fair few 24 alumni getting their hands dirtier than ever) which segues nicely into our villainess of the piece, Ava Lord.
In Eva Green, Sin City 2 finds its subtitle. Appearing in Dwight’s story, a returning character here played by Josh Brolin rather than Clive Owen (this is set before the character’s facial reconstruction), her incredibly nude titular (stop your sniggering) dame to kill for manipulates everything within her sights and beyond; audiences may be privy to Ava Lord’s motives, yet her alluring screen presence threatens to lull you at every turn. Eva Green relishes every second and elevates this section into becoming the sequel’s high point.

It’s with Nancy Callahan’s tale that the steam shows signs of dissipating. Spending the majority of her scenes before it dancing even more provocatively than the last (you’ll lose count) all Alba’s revenge-seeker amounts to is the film’s weak link. Minus the ripeness of the original, a Sin City sequel was never going to blindside audiences with something authentic – if it ain’t broke, etc. With each foray into this murky underworld feeling more of a sideshow than the main attraction – a tantalising block off the wedge – you will pointedly be left feeling gluttonous for more. How sinful.