- The Washington Times - Friday, May 1, 2009

How versatile is Michael Caine? Enough to inspire a theory named after himself.

The mediocre campus comedy “PCU” had one keen idea: the Caine-Hackman Theory. In an effort to show just how far academic standards had fallen, one of the characters was shown working on a senior thesis about the fact that no matter what time of day, if you turned on a television, either a Caine or a Gene Hackman movie would be airing.

“I used to work a lot,” Mr. Caine says when asked about the frequency of his big-screen adventures. “I wanted to become a very experienced movie actor.”

These days, he is more content to select only roles he finds intriguing.

“I don’t have to work, and I only want to work if I’m really going to enjoy myself,” he says. “I have complete choice now. I don’t work for a living.”

With financial concerns off the table, and as one of the most professionally honored actors in the history of filmmaking — he has six Oscar nominations and two wins — he can pick and choose his projects as he sees fit.

As work has become a lower priority, family concerns have become a higher one. “Very often I’m not the lead, which is great because you don’t have to turn up every day,” he says. “You get lots of days off. I have a very, very good, fulfilled other life. My family life is more important to me than the movies.”

A surefire way to get Mr. Caine away from the family and back on-screen is to team him with young, talented directors like John Crowley, the helmer of his new film “Is Anybody There?” or Alfonso Cuaron, director of “Children of Men,” or Christopher Nolan, who has directed Mr. Caine in two Batman movies and the magical thriller “The Prestige.”

“I like working with young directors,” he says. “They bring new things. You’d be surprised by how many old directors get stuck at what they did, that this worked, so let’s do it.” Younger directors, meanwhile, “are always experimental.”

Mr. Caine demurs when asked what advice he passes on to younger co-stars such as Bill Milner, who stars opposite the legend in “Is Anybody There?”

“You leave them alone,” he says. “I thought Bill was wonderful. He’s so natural, you see? He doesn’t try to act, but he does understand what acting is. He does understand the amount of acting he should do, which is very important in a movie: If you do too much, you get found out because the camera won’t forgive you.”

Inside baseball

Ryan Fleck and Anna Boden, the husband-and-wife writing-directing team behind the new baseball film “Sugar,” were more interested in looking at the people behind the game than the game itself.

“I think fans of baseball really appreciate the movie,” Mr. Fleck says, adding that he’s unsure whether fans of sports movies are going to enjoy it as well. “I think if you come into this movie expecting a traditional sports movie that cares about whether the team wins or loses, you might be a little bit disappointed.”

“It’s a really honest portrayal of an athlete,” Ms. Boden explains. “The ones who have responded to the movie and that we’ve heard firsthand are really excited about seeing an authentic portrait of that aspect of the game, which most sports movies aren’t about.”

“Sugar” tells the story of Miguel “Sugar” Santos, a prospect for a fictional Major League Baseball team who hails from the Dominican Republic. Though most fans of the game have seen the influx of talent from the Latin American country in recent years — all-stars such as Manny Ramirez, Miguel Tejada and David Ortiz all hail from the island — few truly appreciate the process they and others like them have gone through to get to the pros.

Even fewer understand what happens to those who fail.

Every major-league team houses a baseball academy in the Dominican Republic, where the most talented players are chosen and put through rigorous training in the hopes of molding them into major-league talent.

“When I first learned that these places existed, I came to it thinking that it was a very clear sign of exploitation,” Mr. Fleck says. “Find talent in a poor country and sign them for cheap, and if they can’t produce any more, throw them away. I think what we discovered is that it’s very complicated — the hope is some of that money [the teams are spending] is filtering out into the poorer communities.”

Though the special players who make it through the academies and into the minor leagues are few and far between, because the island is so small and so many people are in the baseball schools, that provides an unrealistic goal for many children.

“There are 11-, 12-, 13-year-olds dropping out of school to pursue this very nearly impossible dream because it feels attainable to them because everyone knows someone who has made it to the United States to play baseball,” Mr. Fleck says. The vast majority of those children will never get a trip to spring training, let alone a stint in the big leagues.

“We became very interested, once we realized this industry was in place, in what happens to those guys you never hear about, the hundreds, literally, coming through every year. What happens to those guys who don’t make it?” he asks.

The filmmaking duo hope to answer that question in some small way with “Sugar.”

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