Tag Archives: baseball

Movie Review: Million Dollar Arm (2014)


As a fan of baseball, cricket, true stories and Hollywood movies, I was naturally attracted to Million Dollar Arm, the biographical sports drama about the discovery of Indian baseball pitchers Rinku Singh and Dinesh Patel by sports agent JB Bernstein via a reality TV program.

The true story is out there for people who want to learn about their incredible journey, but for the sake of those interested in watching the movie I will keep spoilers — including whether they actually succeeded or not — far far away.

The film stars Mad Men’s Jon Hamm as Bernstein and comedian Aasif Mandvi as his business partner, with Life of Pi‘s Suraj Sharma playing Singh and Lake Bell playing Bernstein’s love interest. Alan Arkin co-stars as an ancient baseball scout, while Bill Paxton plays real-life pitching coach Tom House.

The premise is that Bernstein comes up with the idea of finding baseball pitchers in the world’s last untapped talent market — India — and convinces a financier to create a reality TV show that can help the winner rake in potential prize money of up to a million US dollars (hence the title). After a long and arduous search, he finds Singh and Patel, and brings them back to the States to train, with the aim of having them participate in a Major League tryout within a year.

What should be noted upfront is that Million Dollar Arm is a Disney production, meaning it’s very pleasant, family-friendly, safe and sappy, with some bits of light humour that won’t risk offending anyone. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but this is not where you will find gritty, hard-hitting drama that pushes the envelope. This is one true story that feels pretty made up.

In some ways, Million Dollar Arm is like a Disney version of Jerry Maguire, where a down-and-out sports agent tries to revive his career with a potential star(s), except he kind of loses his way along the journey and must find himself before it’s too late.

The entire ensemble cast is very good, though there is nothing particularly special about the script or the direction of Craig Gillespie (Aussie director of the 2011 remake of Fright Night), which treads on the safe side in delivering themes and an overall trajectory that will feel eerily familiar if you’ve ever seen any American sports movies.

I found it interesting that the film change the backgrounds of Singh and Patel to make them cricket players, when in real life they were javelin throwers. Perhaps it was a marketing decision to appeal to all the cricket fans in India. Those who want to know just how faithful the film is to real events can check out this very informative link.

Anyway, Million Dollar Arm is what it is — a Disney-fied inspirational true story with likable actors that will make you feel all warm and fuzzy inside.  Despite the overlong running time of 124 minutes, this is definitely a fastball right down the middle of the pitch for those don’t mind the family-friendly feel and the typical sports drama manipulation.

3 stars out of 5

Movie Review: Moneyball (2011)

To me, there is simply something romantic about the sport of baseball.  It really is the only sport where anything can happen until the last out and sometimes does.

The biographical sports drama, Moneyball, directed by Bennett Miller (Capote) and starring Brad Pitt, Jonah Hill and Philip Seymour Hoffman, does an outstanding job of capturing the essence of that romance.  Based on the Michael Lewis’s book of the same name, it tells the true story of Oakland Athletics GM Billy Beane (Pitt) and his attempt to use sabermetrics (basically statistical observations) to build a winning baseball team with limited money. It sounds kinda lame, I know — I thought it would be a boring movie too — but somehow, Moneyball works as a moving drama that hits all the right emotional notes.

Moneyball is, at its heart, an underdog story. Beane was a high school standout that made it to the majors but failed to live up to expectations, and as GM of the Athletics, he constantly faced an uphill battle with one of the smallest budgets in the MLB and constantly losing good players because they can’t afford them. By chance, he comes across Peter Brand (Hill), a young Yale economics grad who introduces him to sabermetrics, a system of player selection that was ridiculed and almost regarded as blasphemous amongst Beane’s old (in experience and age) staff.

Personally, I knew very little about what actually happened in real life, which made Moneyball an exhilarating experience to watch. If it wasn’t a true story I would assumed it was too good to be true — you really can’t make this kind of drama up. And full credit to Miller for approaching the story with a steady hand and the requisite subtlety, without overplaying things too much, something a lesser director easily could have done. It’s not so much the baseball action as it is the action behind the baseball, if you know what I mean.

As a result, Moneyball achieves the rare feat of being a sports movie that doesn’t feel bogged down by cliches. It helps that the baseball action looks incredibly authentic, and you could have fooled me into believing that what I was watching was real game footage.

The screenplay by Steve Zaillian and Oscar winner Aaron Sorkin (The Social Network) also plays a big part in the film’s success. As is typical of Sorkin’s writing, Moneyball‘s screenplay is witty and sharp, with awesome dialogue and no wasted words.

But of course, it’s the terrific performance of Brad Pitt that anchors the film from start to finish. I’m not sure about an Oscar win, but the nomination was certainly well-deserved. I can’t say I can agree with Jonah Hill’s nomination for best supporting actor though. Sure, it’s one of the rare times he isn’t playing an obnoxious bozo, but was his supporting performance really one of the top five of the year?

The only other minor complaint I have is the slightly over long 133 minute running time, but given the amount of things that happen throughout the film I didn’t find it that big of a deal.

I’m not sure if you need to be a baseball fan to appreciate film, but for me, Moneyball was a personal delight — a film about taking chances, believing in yourself, and ultimately, knowing what is important.

4.5 stars out of 5!

PS: Young Kerris Dorsey, who plays Pitt’s daughter, almost steals the show with her few scenes. I am currently hooked on her rendition of Lenka’s The Show, which has a key role in the film.