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Movie Review: Sachin - A Billion Dreams


Sachin: A Billion Dreams is a documentary about the Indian cricket prodigy, who went on to inspire a nation. Directed by James Irvine and featuring a host of interviews and voiceovers from cricket legends, personalities, family and friends - this comprehensive film covers his early childhood, how he was introduced to cricket and how it became his life. While many will have heard the name, Sachin Tendulkar, known as "The Little Master" in cricketing circles, few know the back story and impact he's had on the face of the sport and its borderline religious status in India.

Sachin Tendulkar started playing cricket at an early age and attributes much of his passion for the game to his brother, Ajit, whose influence has been ever-present throughout his career. Starting with the fanfare of Sachin's destiny as a world-class batsman and an icon for the game, we're whisked back to his pre-teen days as a prankster, growing up in a conventional middle class setting the youngest of four. Through docudrama and narration from Tendulkar himself, we get an inside perspective on his early life from the bustle of his neighbourhood to receiving his first bat and training at the cricket academy nets.

From his youth, Irvine paints a picture of a young man, whose obsession for cricket and natural talent led him to become a force and local schoolboy legend. Breaking cricket records and staying in to the complete frustration of his peers, he quickly became a media sensation as his rise to fame saw the teenager appear for his country. Sachin: A Billion Dreams tracks Tendulkar's meteoric cricket career from a memorable and defiant early innings to lauding critical acclaim and winning the hearts of the adoring Indian fans who would tune in just to see his innings or chant "Sachin... Sachin".

Sachin: A Billion Dreams

"Photographers, I think I'm ready for my close-up..."

However, this biographical documentary isn't simply about Sachin's personal life and achievements, but covers Indian cricket's highs and lows... starting with their impressive World Cup win in 1983 and following their triumphs and blunders up until 2011. Sachin: A Billion Dreams pores through decades of uneasy team dynamics, captaincy changes, coaching disasters, mismanagement issues, national embarrassment and scandals that rocked the sport. While taken from Sachin's perspective, we get a wonderful crash course overview of cricket in India, chalking up the good, the bad and the ugly with a sense of objectivity.

From being the nation's darling to being cooped up in a hotel for 7 days to avoid confronting angry fans, we get a strong sense of just how much value was placed on Tendulkar and the pressure he underwent to perform for his team. Perhaps Sachin became a national symbol of hope, demonstrating that the game of cricket cuts across classes and everyone has the opportunity to seize their destiny, represent their country and achieve success.

The documentary features archive footage, interviews and includes present day material as Tendulkar becomes the storyteller. At almost two and a half hours, it's almost as long a slog as his historic double century one day innings, yet manages to keep you locked in thanks to great sound design, glossy visuals, sharp editing, good pacing, engaging infotainment and some fresh insights. The filmmakers aren't getting up close and personal with Tendulkar, whose face and demeanour has always appeared to be guarded much like his playing style. Instead, we're getting a fan's summation of his career, which is empathetic and ultimately glorifying.

Tracking India's world cup triumphs and failures gives the film an international flavour as they detail a longstanding rivalry with Pakistan and many gripping games against Australia during the Shane Warne years. Unfortunately, South Africa doesn't feature much apart from the match-fixing saga with Hansie Cronje, some great bowling from Alan Donald and Gary Kirsten's years as India's coach. Perhaps Tendulkar didn't fare as well against the Proteas than he did against other great cricketing nations.

Sachin: A Billion Dreams is a competent, lightweight and entertaining sports documentary. While it borders on becoming a puff piece, the correlation between Tendulkar's prowess and India's collective sighs, and the multi-generational family ties give the film a greater sense of importance and intimacy, which is brought together in a moving farewell speech to a stadium of devotees. While it's primarily aimed at Indian, and then international cricket fans, there's enough pulpy biographical material, news history and sports trivia to satisfy the curious, much like a flashy celebrity behind-the-scenes round-up.

The bottom line: Enjoyable

 
Talking Movies with Spling - Last Men in Aleppo, Goldblatt and The Challenge


Spling reviews Last Men in Aleppo, Goldblatt and The Challenge (screening as part of the Encounters Documentary Film Festival in South Africa) as broadcast on Talking Movies, Fine Music Radio. Catch Talking Movies on Fridays at 8:20am and Saturdays at 8:15am every week on Fine Music Radio.

 
Movie Review: The Founder


The Founder is something of a biographical docudrama, telling the story of Ray Kroc, the man who founded McDonald's as we know it today. The golden arches have become embedded in popular culture as the McDonald's empire has supplanted itself in countries around the world. Adapting its menu to suit its market, the Big Mac giant has certainly drawn its fair share of lovers and enemies from health gurus to documentaries like Supersize Me. One thing's for sure, this brand is here to stay, making The Founder a fascinating behind-the-scenes tour of its origins, bringing a curious business case study to life.

Kroc may have passed on, but the gregarious spirit of entrepreneurship and persistence has been documented in this brand's coming-of-age tale. Much like The Lego Movie, you'd imagine that McDonald's would be punting its own product and using this film as a marketing tool. Apart from the nostalgia of the original McDonald's store and ethos, the constant references to McDonald's or the retrospective heydays, the branding experience becomes secondary to the actual story. It had to do this to come across as a credible drama and to lure actors like Michael Keaton and directors like John Lee Hancock.

The casting of Keaton is a boon to the drama. Having made a sweeping return to form on the back of Birdman and Spotlight, he's regained much of the respect he lost as an actor over the last two decades. His trademark quirks make him unpredictable and constantly surprising, the sort of currency that actors like Robert Downey Jr. have been trading on. While not as charming as Downey Jr., this fuzzy and divisive demeanor works for him in the role of Ray Kroc. Originally, a milkshake blender salesman, Kroc's sheer determination ties into the values of the American dream and makes him admirable from a Capitalist standpoint.

"It's all about cutting costs, ribbons and ties."

Yet, The Founder isn't a feel good drama about a little guy making the big time. It's a story about a little guy becoming "the Man". His questionable "business is war" strategy made Kroc ruthless like many corporate back stories. From the lowly ranks of ambitious salesman, he recognised the company's potential and channeled his tenacity into the enterprise taking it from local to national in a short space of time. The Founder deals with this chapter in the history of McDonald's from Kroc's perspective. His devil-may-care attitude underwrites his dogged swagger and compels this film on the back of a well-balanced performance from Keaton, whose charming smile makes way for a sinister sneer.

The film benefits from strong production values as we're given a less romantic depiction of the golden age of burger joints and American diners. Authentic cars, wardrobe and scenes transport us to the days before fast food and faster lives when American values centred on family and white picket fences. It's refreshing for its drivethru of American pop culture. Hancock finds a balance between extrapolated product placement and worthy coming-of-age drama, yet there's an ugly hollowness to The Founder as we're forced to identify with the villain. Much like Jobs and The Social Network, we're dealing with a success story that has been tainted by the backroom politics. This undermines the overall enjoyment value and explains why Oliver Stone made Gordon Gekko a supporting character in Wall Street.

You can appreciate the film's fine qualities, the authentic backdrop, the sincere performances and the intrinsic value of the strategic management case study, yet there's no escaping the mixed feelings and emotionally unsatisfying spirit it engenders. The Founder doesn't glorify or condone its lead's smug and cutthroat nature, yet this film's moral compass doesn't appear to have a true North. Trying to excavate the true story without taking sides, makes it seem resigned to a "that's life" standpoint. This safe tack makes it seem more objective and while The Founder doesn't sympathise for Kroc, it becomes hardened to the point of being callous and emotionally distant.

The bottom line: Callous


 
Talking Movies with Spling - Johnny is Nie Dood Nie, Bypass and Denial


Spling reviews Johnny is Nie Dood Nie, Bypass and Denial as broadcast on Talking Movies, Fine Music Radio. Catch Talking Movies on Fridays at 8:20am and Saturdays at 8:15am every week on Fine Music Radio.

 
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