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Million Dollar Arm Review


Based on a true story, this is one of those relentlessly uplifting Disney movies that mixes comedy and emotion to inspire and move the audience. Thankfully, it also has a very smart screenplay by Tom McCarthy (Win Win) that draws out some resonant themes while tackling cross-culture issues with wit and honesty. This makes it easy to identify with the sparky characters who are trying to reinvent themselves.

Sports manager JB (Jon Hamm) certainly needs a reinvention. He has lost all of his high-profile clients and now needs to find the next big thing. Perceived as washed-up, he has some difficulty convincing someone to fund his crazy plan to stage a talent competition in India to find baseball talent among the local cricket players. With the help of his easily distracted assistant Aash (Aasif Mandvi) and cantankerous ex-coach Ray (Alan Arkin), he narrows the candidates down to two potential stars: Rinku and Danesh (Life of Pi's Suraj Sharma and Slumdog Millionaire's Madhur Mittal). After JB brings them back to Los Angeles, along with over-eager interpreter Amit (Pitobash), renegade coach Tom (Bill Paxton) has to whip them into shape to see if they can attract interest from the big-league teams.

While the film continually threatens to indulge in smiley culture-clash slapstick, McCarthy's script continually grounds the action in the characters, who emerge as fully rounded people who are engagingly unpredictable. The cast is earthy and natural, anchored ably by Hamm as a likeable guy who remains self-absorbed even though he's desperate, and who takes a long time to learn his rather simple lesson. His chemistry with Lake Bell (as the plain-talking tenant in his pool house) is superbly messy. And ace scene-stealers Mandvi and Arkin bring plenty of comic relief to their hilarious roles.

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Maleficent Review


Disney rewrites its own history again with this revisionist version of its 1959 classic Sleeping Beauty. As she did with Alice in Wonderland, screenwriter Linda Woolverton uses simplistic plotting and clumsy dialogue to turn a children's story into an eerily dark Lord of the Rings-style effects extravaganza. Fortunately, it's held together by an imperious performance from Angelina Jolie.

She plays the story's wicked witch as a misunderstood hero, a happy fairy who grew up in a magical realm next to a kingdom of humans who were constantly afraid of what they didn't understand. And things take a grim turn when her childhood friend Stefan (Sharlto Copley) brutally violates her in order to become the human's king. Now the two lands are at war with each other, and in a fit of rage Maleficent curses Stefan's firstborn Aurora (Dakota Fanning) to fall into a deep sleep before she turns 16. So Stefan hides her in a country house cared for by three bumbling pixies (Imelda Staunton, Lesley Manville and Juno Temple). But it's actually Maleficent who watches over Aurora, and as they bond Maleficent begins to wish she could undo that pesky curse.

Yes, this is not remotely the familiar 17th century Sleeping Beauty fairytale: it's a completely different plot that reduces the "sleeping" bit from 100 years to little more than a power nap. It also re-casts Maleficent as a woman who had one brief moment of nastiness, while the increasingly paranoid and cruel Stefan is the real villain of the piece. The problem is that this shift leaves all of the characters feeling shallow and uninteresting. Aside from Jolie's fabulously prowling horned fairy, no one on-screen really registers at all. The terrific trio of pixies are sidelined in silly slapstick, while the Handsome Prince (Brendon Thwaites) is utterly hapless and Maleficent's crow-like sidekick (Sam Riley) is the victim of an over-zealous make-up designer.

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Sabotage Review


Arnold Schwarzenegger gets one of his most complex roles yet in this messy, violent thriller, another trip to the dark side for filmmaker David Ayer. As in Training Day and End of Watch, Ayer is exploring that moral tipping point where the people charged with protecting society become a danger. But the formula sags badly in this sloppily written script, which relies on grotesque violence instead of a coherent plot.

Schwarzenegger plays Breacher, the head of an elite DEA squad that has just stolen $10m in drug-bust cash. But someone takes it from them, after which the team members start turning up murdered in increasingly vicious ways. So Breacher and his colleagues - hothead Monster (Sam Worthington), prickly Lizzy (Mireille Enos), beefy Grinder (Joe Manganiello), hotshot Next (Josh Holloway) and smoothie Sugar (Terrence Howard) - band together to find the killer. Meanwhile, two local Atlanta cops (Olivia Williams and Harold Perrineau) are also on the case, clashing with Breacher at every turn. And shadowy goons hired by a drug cartel are lying in wait.

For about two-thirds of the running time, this is actually an intriguing whodunit, complete with clues and red herrings, suspicions and surprises. There's also a sense of urgency, as we never know who's going to get it next. Although the escalating grisliness is hard to stomach (it even reduces seasoned cops to retching wrecks), as is a hint of unnecessary romance. Then when the truth is revealed, the whole movie collapses into utter nonsense, desperately straining for moral resonance but undermining its own point with gratuitous brutality.

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Picture - Joe Roth, Sam Raimi, Joey... Los Angeles California United States, Thursday 7th March 2013

Joe Roth, Sam Raimi, Joey King, David Briem, Seth Rogen and Leron G - James Franco is honoured with a Hollywood Star on the Hollywood Walk Of Fame - Los Angeles, California, United States - Thursday 7th March 2013

Oz the Great and Powerful Review


Like Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland, this film shows the overpowering strength of Disney and producer Joe Roth, as they once again bury a gifted filmmaker and cast in an effects extravaganza that's strong on visuals but short on story. There are glimpses of Raimi's genius here and there, most notably in his eye-catching use of 3D. And the actors manage to inject a bit of spark into their family-friendly characters. But the plot and the relentlessly simplistic tone will only please children or undemanding adults.

At least it looks amazing. And like the 1939 classic The Wizard of Oz, the film opens in black and white with a Kansas-set prologue, where the womanising conman Oscar (Franco) performs as the flashy magician Oz. Chased into a hot-air balloon by an angry husband, he is engulfed by a tornado and drops into the colourful land of Oz, where people are looking for a messianic wizard named Oz to save them from the witch who murdered their king. But which witch is the wicked one? Oscar first meets the naive Theodora (Kunis), who hasn't yet decided if she'll be evil or not, then her big sister Evanora (Weisz), the steely interim ruler, and then the too-good Glinda (Williams). And even though he's not a real wizard, he might have some tricks up his sleeve that can help.

The film mixes ideas from L Frank Baum's stories with references to the iconic 1939 film, plus much more epic landscapes of Oz recreated with eye-popping digital trickery. On the other hand, the plot is formulaic and predictable, with characters who are only superficially complex and are far too obvious in the way they interact, badly underestimating the sophistication of even very young children in the audience. But the real problem is that the film is focussed on visual spectacle rather than endearing characters. The sidekicks this time are a slightly creepy-looking flying monkey (Braff) and a feisty china doll (King), both rendered with elaborate motion-capture effects that never quite seem to be there on the set with the actors.

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Picture - Joe Roth, actors Sam Claflin... , Tuesday 29th May 2012

Joe Roth, Kristen Stewart and Sam Claflin - Joe Roth, actors Sam Claflin and Kristen Stewart and director Rupert Sanders Tuesday 29th May 2012 The industry screening of 'Snow White & The Huntsman' held at the Mann Village theatre - Arrivals

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