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Million Dollar Arm

As sports-underdog movies go, Million Dollar Arm isn’t bad. It’s based on a true story that baseball fans may already know, but it benefits from a strong performance by Jon Hamm in the lead and a top-notch supporting cast. I expected something a little less on-the-nose from director Craig Gillespie (Lars and the Real Girl) and screenwriter Tom McCarthy (The Station Agent, The Visitor); that’s the harshest criticism I can level at this long but likable mainstream movie.

Bill-Paxton-Alan-Alda-485

Photo by Ron Phillips – Courtesy of Disney Enterprises, Inc.

Hamm plays real-life sports agent JB Bernstein, a superficial, self-absorbed fellow whose business is falling apart. He and his partner (Aasif Mandvi) decide that the only way to avoid being scooped in signing young talent is to find their own, in the most unlikely place: India. They stage a high-profile competition to find the country’s most talented boys, then bring them to USC baseball coach Tom House (Bill Paxton) to train them, on an accelerated schedule, to be ready for scouting season. Bernstein ignores the human equation in all of this and is blind to the fact that he has uprooted two unworldly young men and left them adrift in Los Angeles, which couldn’t be more removed from the close-knit villages they’ve left behind. Suraj Sharma, from Life of Pi, and Madhur Mittal, from Slumdog Millionaire, are perfectly cast as the would-be baseball stars. Lake Bell is very likable as Hamm’s neighbor/ tenant, and Alan Arkin continues to dominate the pigeonhole of crusty older characters—in this case, an experienced scout who advises Hamm.

While it doesn’t break any new ground, Million Dollar Arm does provide Jon Hamm with a good starring vehicle—and an unconventional character who isn’t terribly likable. It tells its story well and, being a PG-rated Disney film, should entertain an underserved audience.

Leonard Maltin is one of the world’s most respected film critics and historians. He is best known for his widely-used reference work Leonard Maltin’s Movie Guide and its companion volume Leonard Maltin’s Classic Movie Guide, now in its third edition, as well as his thirty-year run on television’s Entertainment Tonight.

He teaches at the USC School of Cinematic Arts and appears regularly on Reelz Channel and Turner Classic Movies.

His books include The 151 Best Movies You’ve Never Seen, Of Mice and Magic: A History of American Animated Cartoons, The Great Movie Comedians, The Disney Films, The Art of the Cinematographer, Movie Comedy Teams, The Great American Broadcast, and Leonard Maltin’s Movie Encyclopedia.

He served two terms as President of the Los Angeles Film Critics Association, is a voting member of the National Film Registry, and was appointed by the Librarian of Congress to sit on the Board of Directors of the National Film Preservation Foundation.

He hosted and co-produced the popular Walt Disney Treasures DVD series and has appeared on innumerable television programs and documentaries. He has been the recipient of awards from the American Society of Cinematographers, the Telluride Film Festival, Anthology Film Archives, and San Diego’s Comic-Con International. Perhaps the pinnacle of his career was his appearance in a now-classic episode of South Park. (Or was it Carmela consulting his Movie Guide on an episode of The Sopranos?)

He holds court at leonardmaltin.com. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook; you can also listen to him on his weekly podcast: Maltin on Movies. — [Artwork by Drew Friedman]

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