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Million Dollar Arm: Blu-ray + Digital HD Digital Copy Review

Million Dollar Arm (2014) movie poster Million Dollar Arm

Theatrical Release: May 16, 2014 / Running Time: 124 Minutes / Rating: PG

Director: Craig Gillespie / Writer: Tom McCarthy

Cast: Jon Hamm (J.B. Bernstein), Aasif Mandvi (Aash), Bill Paxton (Tom House), Suraj Sharma (Rinku Singh), Lake Bell (Brenda Fenwick), Alan Arkin (Ray Poitevint), Madhur Mittal (Dinesh Kumar Patel), Pitobash (Amit Rohan/Deepesh Solanki), Tzi Ma (William Chang), Darshan Jariwala (Vivek), Greg Alan Williams (Doug), Allyn Rachel (Theresa), Rey Maualuga (Popo Vanuatu), Bar Paly (Lisette), Lata Shukla (Rinku's Mother), Yashwant Joshi (Dinesh's Father), Steve Levy (ESPN Reporter)

Buy Million Dollar Arm from Amazon.com: Blu-ray + Digital Copy • DVD • Instant Video

Jon Hamm deserves movie stardom, perhaps more than any other actor out there. Hamm was a nobody in 2007 when he landed the lead role of "Mad Men", AMC's decorated, adored, and iconic period drama, but it wasn't for a lack of trying. Hamm had already put in more than ten years of film and television, including recurring roles on "Providence", "The Division", and "What About Brian", bit parts in "Ally McBeal" and Space Cowboys,
and embarrassing take-what-you-can-get work like this 1996 episode of long-forgotten USA Network game show "The Big Date."

Hamm was 35 when he was cast Don Draper, a role that immediately opened doors for him. He appeared as the good guy antagonist in Ben Affleck's The Town and as the comic jerk in the blockbuster Kristen Wiig comedy Bridesmaids. Other film work, like The Day The Earth Stood Still and Sucker Punch, wasn't as widely seen, but Hamm has already long proven on his cinematic television show that he has the look, presence and chops to be a leading man in film. The actor finally got the chance to do that in Million Dollar Arm, a vehicle in Disney's ongoing line of inspirational true sports dramas.

This film and Hamm seemed like a match made in heaven. Disney's sports dramas are almost universally liked by both critics and the public. Even the ones that aren't very good, like Glory Road and Secretariat, have managed to fool the public into seeing and enjoying them. Most in the class have been good and they have extended juicy lead roles to actors like Denzel Washington, Kurt Russell, and Mark Wahlberg. Is there any reason we couldn't add Hamm to their ranks?

In "Million Dollar Arm", sports agent J.B. Bernstein (Jon Hamm) uses a bobblehead doll to try to land a major NFL player.

Hamm plays J.B. Bernstein, a sports agent who succeeded at a big agency, but is now struggling as leader of his own little company. As J.B. tells his business partner Aash (Aasif Mandiv), all they need to do is find their own Yao Ming, an athlete who could bring a huge new international market to one of America's big four sports and make them wealthy in sponsorships and merchandise fees. Watching television one night, J.B. is inspired by the sight of Susan Boyle on "Britain's Got Talent" to discover talent in an unlikely place. He believes that place is India and that with the right training, a cricket player could be turned into a pitcher good enough for Major League Baseball.

J.B. finds backing, getting a year to find two prospects and get them a tryout. The search is framed as a reality television competition (the film takes its title from the show). In India, J.B. and the sleepy scout agreeing to work cheap (a brief but good Alan Arkin) can't seem to find anyone who can throw a baseball faster than 65 miles per hour.
Eventually, though, J.B. returns to his Southern California home with three Indians: friendly aspiring coach Amit (Pitobash Tripathy) and potential pitchers Rinku Singh (Life of Pi's Suraj Sharma) and Dinesh Patel (Slumdog Millionaire's Madhur Mittal).

Overwhelmed by hotel elevators, the three young men move into J.B.'s enormous bachelor pad, where the poor villagers turned aspiring athletes (neither one actually a cricket player) simultaneously try to learn English, baseball, and American culture. They are trained by unorthodox USC pitching coach Tom House (Bill Paxton), who is not comfortable with the looming deadlines. When the big day arrives, Rinku and Dinesh have their tryout before dozens of major league scouts in a strip mall parking lot. It amounts to an embarrassing publicity stunt which earns J.B. a contract extension but may just signal the end of these young men's dreams.

Out of many hopefuls, non-cricketers Dinesh Patel (Madhur Mittal) and Rinku Singh (Suraj Sharma) are picked as the Indians most likely to become major league pitchers. USC pitching coach Tom House (Bill Paxton) thinks he'll need more time to turn these Indians into pitchers, but he'll try his hardest nonetheless.

Million Dollar Arm starts strong. The hour spent in India is certainly the film's better half. There, director Craig Gillespie (Lars and the Real Girl, 2011's Fright Night) borrows some moves from Danny Boyle's Oscar-winning Slumdog Millionaire playbook. There is score by A.R. Rahman (including one song recycled from Slumdog) and a general interest in the crowded streets, the improvised architecture, the energetic youth, and the quirks of the society (like "bypassing the system"). In these early scenes, Million Dollar Arm displays flavor and personality. We appreciate J.B.'s culture shock as something we might experience when visiting the world's second most populous country.

The film loses its way some when it comes back to the United States. Rinku and Dinesh's culture shock is obviously less relatable for those of us who have always called America home. Papa John's pizza and "The Hills" don't really have the same exotic allure. The movie also seems to take a very long time to move us through the inevitable setback en route to potential redemption. You're always aware there will be a happy ending; Disney doesn't make any other kind of inspirational sports drama.

A big drawback to the film is a romantic subplot that feels forced and obligatory. J.B. has his eye caught by the doctor in training next door (Lake Bell), who offers something different and more substantial than the models he usually beds. Even if the relationship is explicitly designed to illustrate how his Indian experience has changed him, it never wins us over or justifies all the time spent on it. There is easily a better version of this movie that could be obtained by cutting out about 20 minutes from the over two-hour runtime.

Too much time is spent developing next door neighbor Brenda Fenwick (Lake Bell) as a potential love interest for J.B. J.B. Bernstein's (Jon Hamm) future is so bright he's gotta wear shades.

While producers Mark Ciardi and Gordon Gray are the same guys behind most of Disney's sports movies including The Rookie, Invincible, Miracle, and Secretariat, Million Dollar Arm boasts a screenwriter with a more impressive and less one-track résumé in Tom McCarthy.
McCarthy's first three films as writer-director (The Station Agent, The Visitor, and Win Win) all deservedly won raves and the first movie he wrote but didn't direct, Pixar's fantastic Up, earned him an Original Screenplay Oscar nod. The word out of Toronto is that McCarthy's newest film, the independent Adam Sandler fantasy The Cobbler, isn't very good.

If that's true, McCarthy's Million Dollar Arm script does kind of push him in the direction of where we can start discussing a lost touch. The screenplay is good-natured and shows greater interest in humans than sports. But it's awfully standard and routine for a scribe who has previously succeeded by defying convention. One can only assume that Ciardi and Gray hired McCarthy to write the script and made sure he watched their previous contributions to the genre, as opposed to an independently written McCarthy true sports drama script catching Disney's eye. Gillespie doesn't have the vision or clout to really distinguish this from the class and make it stand out from the pack. At its best, Million reminds one of Cool Runnings, the winning 1993 comedy about the Jamaican Olympic bobsledding team that long predated the notion of a Disney sports movie as a brand. Unfortunately, it can't sustain that likable atmosphere and therefore cannot withstand comparisons, even if its designs are more to today's prevailing tastes.

Hamm plays Bernstein as a modern-day Don Draper, a man who shares his bed with many women (premarital sex is implied quite prominently and repeatedly for a PG-rated Disney movie), makes confident pitches, somehow always sports a day or two of facial hair, and generally triumphs against the odds. The film does little to show the actor's range, but it does reinforce that he's perfectly qualified for leading man duties in major mainstream films.

Hamm and his agent probably wish the film's box office performance did more to support that view. Grossing $36.4 million domestically (and barely anything abroad, where baseball isn't that popular) on a $25 M production budget, Million Dollar Arm wound up in the shallow end of the wide release sports drama pool, significantly trailing the $60 to $75 million earned by the producers' past Disney outings. Some of that has to be placed on Hamm, but it's also true that the story is not one with universal appeal. As someone who likes Hamm, loves Disney, and sees and enjoys most of the sports movies out there, even I couldn't bring myself to review the movie in theatrical release.

For those like me who figured this one would be just fine to see on the small screen, Million Dollar Arm is ripe for discovering in this week's DVD and Blu-ray + Digital HD Digital Copy releases.

Million Dollar Arm: Blu-ray + Digital HD Digital Copy cover art -- click to buy from Amazon.com Blu-ray Disc Details

2.40:1 Widescreen
5.1 DTS HD-MA (English), Dolby Digital 5.1 (French, Spanish),
Dolby Surround 2.0 (Descriptive Video Service)
Subtitles: English for Hearing Impaired, French, Spanish
Not Closed Captioned; Extras Subtitled
Release Date: October 7, 2014
Single-sided, dual-layered disc (BD-50)
Suggested Retail Price: $39.99
Blue Keepcase with Side Snap in Cardboard Slipcover
Also available on DVD ($29.99 SRP) and Amazon Instant Video

VIDEO and AUDIO

Million Dollar Arm looks good on Blu-ray. The 2.40:1 picture shows off a production that did not skimp on location shooting in both hemispheres. Some shots exhibit a noticeable amount of grain that is inconsistent with the rest, but in scenes light and dark, the transfer still impresses with its sharp, clean, vibrant element. The 5.1 DTS-HD master audio warrants unconditional praise for its consistently crisp dialogue and nice use of score and music. Most of the film's modest amount of Hindi dialogue is translated by default player-generated subtitles.

Madhur Mittal and Suraj Sharma are trained into athlete fitness levels by Ahmed Yusuf. The real Rinku Singh, J.B. Bernstein, and Dinesh Patel, seen in "Their Story", bear a good amount of resemblance to their Hollywood movie counterparts.

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS, PACKAGING and DESIGN

The Blu-ray's all-HD extras begin with "Training Camp" (6:18),
which shows actors Suraj Sharma and Madhur Mittal being trained to pitch by former major leaguer Mike Ribaudo and the real Dinesh Patel as well as getting in shape with fitness coach Ahmed Yusuf.

"Their Story" (2:54) reunites the real J.B. Bernstein, Rinku Singh, and Patel to reflect on their experience and to discuss what it's like having it turned into a film.

"Million Dollar Music" (2:34) celebrates A.R. Rahman's contributions, with comments from the composer and clips from the songs he wrote, sung, and/or oversaw.

Academy Award winner Alan Arkin appears in two of the Blu-ray's three deleted scenes. Jon Hamm hams it up for the camera in the outtakes reel.

Three deleted scenes (2:28) are presented in jerky 1.78:1 video. Two of them give us more of Alan Arkin's character, while the other finds young Indian men dreaming of winning the competition while acknowledging the unlikelihood of becoming millionaires.

An alternate ending (0:49) would have closed the film on a very odd note after wrapping up the romantic arc. Some commentary might have been in order here.

Finally, "Outtakes" (2:04) serves up flubs and actor tomfoolery.

The disc opens with promos for Disney Movies Anywhere, Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day, and 101 Dalmatians: Diamond Edition.
The menu's Sneak Peeks listing does not replay any of these, instead treating you to ads for Disney Movie Rewards, Disney's Aulani resort, ABC Family's "The Fosters", Maleficient, "Star Wars Rebels", and the concurrent Sleeping Beauty: Diamond Edition. M$A's own trailer is sadly but characteristically not included.

The menu applies a variety of effects to clips it plays within a colorful layout while an excerpt of A.R. Rahman's score plays. The radar gun loading icon is an inspired touch. The Blu-ray doesn't resume playback or let you set bookmarks, but it remembers where you left off on the movie if you didn't finish it.

Inserts for Disney Movie Rewards and the Disney Movie Club accompany the plain blue disc inside a side-snapped, slipcovered blue keepcase.

J.B. Bernstein (Jon Hamm) becomes chauffeur and father figure to the three Indian men to whom he opens his home.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

For a while, I thought Million Dollar Arm would break through the ceiling that hangs over many true sports dramas to provide something unusually enjoyable. It does, briefly. But it comes down to Earth as it has to make the familiar stops and fit the inspirational sports film mold to a T. Despite a game effort from Jon Hamm and his supporting cast, the movie suffers from hackneyed elements (like an unnecessary romance) and manufactured conflict (warranting the end credits' standard fiction disclaimers). It's certainly not a bad time, but it's not something that will be featuring on sports movie countdowns decades from now or even be singled out as one of the better dramas of this year.

Disney's Blu-ray provides great picture and sound plus a light but sufficient handful of extras. It's worth a rental.

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Blu-ray + Digital Copy / DVD / Instant Video

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Related Reviews:
Disney Sports Dramas: Remember the Titans • Invincible • Miracle • Secretariat • The Rookie • The Greatest Game Ever Played • Glory Road
Baseball: Trouble with the Curve • Moneyball • 42 • Angels in the Outfield • Angels in the Infield • Mr. 3000 • A League of Their Own
Sports Dramas: Million Dollar Baby • Draft Day • Any Given Sunday • Rocky • The Fighter • Invictus • The Mighty Macs
Jon Hamm: Mad Men: Season Six • Clear History • Friends with Kids | Lake Bell: In a World... • Over Her Dead Body
Bill Paxton: Titanic • Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.: The Complete First Season | Alan Arkin: Argo • The Santa Clause 3: The Escape Clause
Written by Tom McCarthy: Win Win • The Station Agent • Up | Directed by Craig Gillespie: Fright Night (2011)
India: The Lunchbox • Eat Pray Love • 3 Idiots | New: Edge of Tomorrow • Transformers: Age of Extinction • Are You Here

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Reviewed October 9, 2014.



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