Million Dollar Arm (PG, 124 mins) 4/5 stars
IF Jerry Maguire and Slumdog Millionaire gave birth to an impossibly cute love child, it would look something like Million Dollar Arm. Based on an incredible true story, Craig Gillespie’s feel-good sports drama follows a down-on-his-luck agent, who attempts to introduce baseball to India via an outlandish rags-to-riches competition.
Screenwriter Tom McCarthy fashions an armful of well-worn cliches into an irresistibly sweet and charming tale of triumph against adversity that scores a home run when it matters. Key to the film’s appeal is handsome leading man Jon Hamm, who swaps the tailored suits of Mad Men for more casual attire as he travels around south Asia, searching for diamonds in the rough to an evocative soundtrack composed by AR Rahman.
Hamm lights up the screen as sports agent JB Bernstein. He and business partner Ash Vasudevan (Aasif Mandvi) are on the brink of financial ruin and need to find fresh talent. Unfortunately, home-grown sports stars are thin on the ground and overseas audiences are nuts about cricket, a sport which JB hates, but it sparks a brainwave: a competition to bring two bowlers from India to America to challenge for a lucrative Major League Baseball contract.
Million Dollar Arm is a polished amalgamation of countless other sports movies that compel us to root for the underdog. Familiarity breeds delight in Gillespie’s film, relying on a strong ensemble cast to milk laughter and tears when it seems the script will strike out. The romantic subplot involving Hamm and Bell follows the same trajectory as the rest of the film, but we’re powerless to resist each predictable beat of the characters’ hearts.
Sin City 2: A Dame To Kill For (18, 102 mins) 3/5 stars
CRIME pays in this visually arresting sequel to the 2005 neo-noir anthology based on Frank Miller’s comic series. Blessed with the same black-and-white aesthetic, Sin City 2: A Dame To Kill For is as twisted and depraved as its predecessor, festooning every frame with corrupt cops, gun-toting hoodlums and scantily clad molls.
Lurid splashes of colour, like a murderous vamp’s emerald eyes or a working girl’s tumbling copper curls, temporarily draw the eye away from the misery, degradation and mutilation. Directors Robert Rodriguez and Miller linger on the darker side of human nature, and the film wears its 18 certificate as a badge of honour.
Once again, three stories entwine on the godforsaken streets of Sin City. The ghost of police detective John Hartigan (Bruce Willis) haunts exotic dancer Nancy Callahan (Jessica Alba). She descends into booze-fuelled hell, desperate to put a bullet in scheming Senator Roark (Powers Boothe).
Nancy manipulates her protector Marv (Mickey Rourke) into taking down the politician and his goons, regardless of the consequences.
Meanwhile, cocksure gambler Johnny (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) and his lucky charm Marcie (Julia Garner) take on Roark at the poker table, and nearby, Dwight McCarthy (Josh Brolin) struggles to rein in his violent impulses following an encounter with old flame Ava Lord (Eva Green). She begs Dwight to help her escape the clutches of her sadistic husband Damien (Marton Csokas) and his hulking bodyguard Manute (Dennis Haysbert).
Arriving almost a decade after the first chapter, Sin City 2: A Dame To Kill For plunges us headfirst into a grimy universe where a bullet to the head settles most arguments.
If I Stay (12A, 107 mins) 3/5 stars
BASED on Gayle Forman’s bestselling novel, If I Stay centres on a talented teenager in limbo between life and death, who must choose between waking from her coma or skipping merrily towards the light. Screenwriter Shauna Cross sidesteps a serious discussion of mortality by distilling the teenager’s ruminations into a series of flashbacks and montages of an enviably carefree childhood and a fairy-tale school romance.
The teenager is Mia Hall (Chloe Grace Moretz), who has never felt like she fits in with her family.
Boyfriend Adam (Jamie Blackley) plays guitar in the band Willamette Stone and their romance burns bright until Willamette Stone are signed to a record label and touring takes Adam away from Mia. Soon after, Mia and family take an ill-fated drive down snow-laden roads, then she wakes from a head-on collision and watches paramedics rush her lifeless body into an ambulance.
If I Stay shamelessly tugs heartstrings, constructing an idyllic cocoon of love for Mia, which is shattered to smithereens by cruel misfortune.
Moretz and Blackley are an attractive pairing and spark pleasing screen chemistry that sustains our interest through some mawkish and emotionally manipulative moments.
The unavoidably fractured chronology hampers dramatic momentum, reducing a middle section laden with reminiscence and regret to a crawl. A contrived finale is sign-posted well in advance so teenagers have plenty of time to arm themselves with enough tissues to contain their sobs and sniffles.