Million Dollar Arm (2014) – Review

As seen on CinemaParadiso.

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I am not an athlete. I played team sports in school, but it was not something I was passionate about, nor particularly skilled in. That being said, for some reason, I find myself drawn to sports films; and this is my kind of sport film. Like the series Friday Night LightsMillion Dollar Arm is a sports film that is not about sports. The film is based on true events, which I hadn’t heard about before. The story is quite simple, but enjoyable.

Disney’s Million Dollar Arm is the story of sport, triumph, and unity. JB Bernstein (Jon Hamm) was a successful sports agent. He worked because he loved what he did, and he had a good time doing it. That is, until the playing field became a lot less fair and even. Faced with the prospect of losing his business, JB searches for any way to save it, and finds it: cricket. JB and his partner head to Mumbai, and come back with two eighteen-year-old boys with throws that can knock the breath out of you. Will this be enough to save JB’s business? Is baseball ready for a change? And will these boys get signed to a major league team?

I will begin by saying how good the acting was in this film. The lead – Jon Hamm, who shot to fame from the series Mad Men – definitely plays a different character, and is a likeable leading man. The Indian teenagers are also brilliantly acted by Madhur Mittal and Suraj Sharma. They have both acted before, but do not have extensive film backgrounds. It was not particularly surprising for them to be able to hold their own, as recent films like 12 Years a Slave and Captain Phillips (review HERE) have shown that Hollywood casting is pretty spot-on, even for those that haven’t acted much before.

The story and script was also engaging. There were some very funny moments and lines were delivered seamlessly. There were no visual effects or special camera movements; just a good story.

I also like their mix of cultures. There have been a recent slew of American/Indian films – mainly starting with the roaring success of Slumdog Millionaire, and continuing with The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel and The Hundred-Foot Journey – and it seems to be working well.

Reviews have been mostly positive. I would be surprised if they won any major awards, but it does what it sets out to do – educate and entertain. For the most part, the criticisms have claimed that Disney dulled the story down for a younger audience, and that India was only shown from a ‘tourist’s-eye’, such as disregarding the very low-income areas. But in defence of the film, I don’t think they needed to give a history of India just to have characters come from there.

You might not want to bring little kids, because it does contain some swearing, but otherwise, I think most people will enjoy it.

4 out of 5 stars

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Draft Day (2014) – Review

As seen on CinemaParadiso.

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Kevin Costner is back, and he has picked an excellent project for his return. Draft Day balances the line between sport and drama, and manages to keep both sides happy and entertained. Don’t worry if you do not know much about American football, the sport vernacular is not too complex, and it is viewable by a wide audience.

The story follows Sonny Weaver Jr. (Costner), who has quite a load on his shoulders. His girlfriend (Jennifer Garner) is pregnant with their first child; he has fired his father, who then died; and he is torn between the draft pick he is expected to make, and that which he feels in his heart. Will he choose the obvious choice? Or will he take a chance on the underdog, step out from his father’s former shadow, and make a name for himself?

There has not been much talk of this film, so I was surprised to find it quite interesting. When it comes to films with these mixed themes, it is important for there to be a good balance between the general story drama, and the sports action. It is something that has been done so well in the 2000 film Remember the Titans, and the TV show Friday Night Lights (2006 to 2011). Of course people want to watch the game, but it is the connection to the characters that makes them care. There are times when the story can become stale because, after all, it is not a real team that we are seeing constructed. Team spirit is such a strong element in sport, and is why something so dull as trading business is so enthralling during the NFL draft. Without this important element of allegiance to a player or team, it is harder to make the audience care.

The acting pool is also quite deep. I was perhaps one of the few that liked Waterworld (1995), so I knew that Costner could carry a film, but it was the female characters that entertained me the most. Garner and Ellen Burstyn (who plays Costner’s mother Barb Weaver) were compelling and really added to the non-sport parts of the film. Barb was witty and lightened some scenes. She expertly delivered her dialogue, and the other actors (including Terry Crews, Denis Leary, and Smallville’s Tom Welling) were right on par with her.

Director Ivan Reitman (who has directed predominately drama/comedy films) also made some interesting visual effect choices. There are going to be some who watch this movie who are not much of a sports fan, so this will help to keep them entertained. It is also just cool to see this experimentation with visuals in a non-sci-fi and fantasy film.

For the most part, the reception has been pretty positive. Kevin Costner has not always been the most popular actor, and though I do not think this will be a multiple award winner, it is definitely a good watch.

4 out of 5 stars