J.B. Bernstein (Jon Hamm) finds inspiration in the strangest places. The movie “Million Dollar Arm” would have us believe the down-on-his-luck sports agent channel surfed his way into an idea that would change his life and the lives of two Indian athletes.
Flipping between Susan Boyle singing “I Dreamed a Dream” on Britain’s Got Talent and a cricket match on ESPN, he is struck by the idea to scout Indian cricket players who could be converted into big league baseball pitchers.
Luckily he didn’t come across “Mad Men,” or “Million Dollar Arm” might have ended up being called “Don Draper goes Bollywood.”
Based on a true story, Hamm plays Bernstein, the founder of 7 Figures Management, a small sports management agency whose clients are being stolen by a firm with deeper pockets.
As his business situation worsens he hits on the idea of recruiting Indian crickets players by way of a contest called the Million Dollar Arm. First and second place winners will receive cash and a chance for a tryout for a US team.
After spending three months in India he finds two promising players, Rinku (Suraj “Life of Pi” Sharma) and Dinesh (Madhur “Slumdog Millionaire” Mittal), but back in the states Bernstein is told it’s not impossible that his new finds will become professional baseballers, “just highly improbable.”
“Million Dollar Arm” lays on the sentiment like a thick layer of lanoline on a new Rawlings Baseball Glove. It’s about underdogs and second chances, about finding the love of the game (and maybe some less metaphysical comforts as well). It’s about finding a balance between the business of the game versus the fun that should be inherent in the playing.
It is conventional in its approach, but hits a home run with the cast. Hamm’s gruff Don Draper-esque exterior will be familiar to “Mad Men” fans, but he has great chemistry with Lake Bell, who plays his tenant, spiritual guide and love interest.
Also appearing are Alan Arkin, who revisits his old coot routine to play baseball scout Ray Poievint, and Bill Paxton whoi is suitable stern as pitching coach Tom House.
Sharma and Mittal, who don’t speak any English until near the end of the film, wide-eyedly portray the inevitable culture clash of two young men leaving home for the first time.
Clichés aside, there is something appealingly old fashioned about how “Million Dollar Arm” wears its heart-on-its-sleeve.
At a time when many directors are leaving Bollywood for less exotic locations, Irish director Danny Boyle, following in the footsteps of Wes “Darjeeling Limited” Anderson, set his latest film in the New York of India, Mumbai, the most populous city in the world. Taking the lead from its setting Slumdog Millionaire is a chaotic movie; part nightmare, part fairy tale.
When we first meet Jamal Malik (Dev Patel), he’s an eighteen-year old orphan at a crossroad. As a contestant on India’s Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? he is just one question away from winning it all—20 million rupees, but as the show breaks for the night he is arrested for cheating. After a brutal night of questioning he begins to tell his story in an attempt prove his innocence. Told primarily in flashbacks Jamal recounts a troubled life in the slums of Mumbai with a violent brother and a mother killed when he was just a child. The only ray of hope in his life was Latika (Freida Pinto), an orphan girl who enters and exits his life. Each story reveals the life experience that taught him the answers to the game show’s questions; all set against the vibrant backdrop that is India.
Slumdog Millionaire is a wild ride from Boyle’s hyper visual style, to the pulsating musical score, to the elements of the story that binds together Romeo and Juliet, Bollywood gangster pictures, the Usual Suspects and an occasionally tender coming-of-age story. Boyle pulls out all the stops, leaving the quiet, austere feeling of his last film, Sunshine behind for a frenetic pace that assaults the senses—in a good way. Like the slum lifestyle he portrays the film is relentless, a barrage of images, music and sound. His characters are constantly on the run, and the movie is just as restless as they are but luckily for us Boyle keeps the story on track pushing it forward with every frame.
Boyle is a chameleon of a filmmaker, switching styles with every film, but he is a master of telling realistic stories with complicated parallel character threads. From the edgy Trainspotting to the heartwarming Millions to the intense 28 Days Later his films are immersive experiences that use images and music to maximum effect. Slumdog Millionaire is his most complex movie yet encompassing everything from romance to action, comedy to anguish, treachery, greed and yes, even a musical number (stay through the credits!). Exhilarating filmmaking and one of the year’s best.
Heath Ledger and “Slumdog Millionaire” are poised to sweep some of the biggest Academy Awards, but there’s still plenty of suspense in store for Oscar viewers. The show’s producers are promising big and bold changes to the main event.
As the clock ticks down to the biggest night in Hollywood, the Internet is buzzing with rumours about possible surprises from first-time show producers Laurence Mark and Bill Condon. The duo were responsible for reviving the movie musical with “Dreamgirls” and might just do the same trick for the Oscars.
“I hope it does what they want it to do,” says Canada AM movie critic Richard Crouse. “They’re showbiz guys, they understand how to put together a show that will attract people.”
Choosing Broadway over comedy with host Hugh Jackman, unveiling a new set and keeping the presenters top secret are just some of the major changes in the works.
The presenter list is being kept top secret, and those who are handing out Oscar statuettes are asked to enter the Kodak Theatre quietly, and skip the red carpet this year. Their designer duds and jewels will make their big reveal on the show itself.
But will the stars behave and obey the new rules? Word is that nominees Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie may cross paths on the red carpet with Brad’s ex, Jennifer Aniston, and her new beau John Mayer. Jolie is rumoured to have spent the past week seeking a $20-million necklace in an effort to dazzle the cameras in the event of a run-in. Can this foursome avoid a red carpet encounter? Will Aniston be assigned to hand out the Best Actor award?
“I think it’s a great idea to sneak in the presenters through the back door and not let the general public have a look at them until they come out on stage,” says Crouse.
“If you don’t see them on the red carpet the idea is that you’ll tune into the ceremony to see them — and I think that could very well work.”
Other plans include:
* Keeping the speeches to a strict 45-second limit (we’ll believe it when we see it!)
* Handing the awards out in a new order, possibly grouped in themes.
* Cutting back on the musical numbers, but teaming Jackman up with director Baz Luhrmann for something spectacular.
Peter Gabriel was apparently so ticked about being asked to sing a condensed version of “Down To Earth” from “WALL-E” — in a medley with the two other songs nominated from “Slumdog Millionaire” — that he backed out of the performance altogether.
Gabriel will be in the audience in event of a win, and there will be plenty of other musicians on stage. There are indications Beyonce will perform (she’s been spotted rehearsing in New York), and the younger demo would be thrilled if “High School Musical” stars Zac Efron and Vanessa Hudgens do a number.
It all begs the question: Is there anything about this year’s show that will still resemble the Oscars?
“It wouldn’t be such a bad thing if they radically changed it … these shows have to change otherwise people just get tired of it,” says Crouse.
Crouse will be watching the awards Sunday night at Toronto’s Drake Hotel, where he’s hosting a free Oscars party, and he thinks all the buzz will have many others glued to their screens as well.
“I think there’s just been enough talk about how much things are changing — about how they want to keep it to three hours and of Hugh Jackman and what he’ll do — that people are curious about it.”
Watch CTV’s live coverage of 2009’s Academy Awards on Sunday, Feb. 22 at 8:30 p.m. EST.
During the Toronto International Film Festival you’ll see stars sipping lattes at the Starbucks in Yorkville and dolled-up on the red carpet at Roy Thompson Hall, but my favourite way to see them is up on the big screen. Celebrity gazing is a pleasant enough festival diversion, but the star attraction is the films.
Over the last 35 years the festival has run over 10,000 movies through their projectors. Obviously not all have gone on to win awards and break office records, but the festival has a surprisingly good track record at picking and showcasing hits. Chariots of Fire, The Big Chill and The Princess Bride all took home the fest’s People’s Choice Award and recent Oscar winners from TIFF include four award winner No Country for Old Men and Capote, which earned a Best Actor Oscar for its star Phillip Seymour Hoffman.
This year as the Oscar buzz is already building for TIFF treats Black Swan (director Darren Aronofsky’s follow-up to The Wrestler), Paul Giamatti’s performance in Barney’s Version and the Bruce Springsteen documentary The Promise: The Making of Darkness on the Edge of Town, I thought I’d look back at movies that used Toronto as a springboard for later success.
Although not technically a TIFF premiere — it was first shown at the Telluride Film Festival — director Danny Boyle credits the Toronto festival audience’s reaction to the film with saving it from a terrible fate — going direct to DVD.
Before Ray premiered at the 2004 TIFF Jamie Foxx was best known as a comedian whose credits included dressing in drag as the ugliest woman in the world, Wanda Wayne, on In Living Color who occasionally dabbled in serious films like Oliver Stone’s Any Given Sunday. After TIFF he was a serious actor, on the path to winning a Best Actor Academy Award.
ROGER & ME
At the start of the festival 21 years ago Michael Moore was an unknown documentary filmmaker hawking a self-financed film about the economic impact GM CEO Roger Smith’s decision to close down several auto plants in Flint, Mich. By the festival’s end Moore was a media celebrity with a People’s Choice Award and a film that would go on to win ten other major awards — although no Oscar. Moore would have to wait until Bowling for Columbine — which also played at TIFF — won the 2003 statue for Best Documentary.