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ON FAITH & MEDIA View Comments

Million Dollar Arm

By
John Mulderig
Source: Catholic News Service


CNS photo/Disney
Strong humane values permeate director Craig Gillespie's breezy baseball-themed conversion story "Million Dollar Arm" (Disney).

So it's a shame that some relatively discreet, but still misguided sexual content precludes endorsement of the film for youthful viewers—all the more so, since screenwriter Tom McCarthy shows unusual restraint in his use of objectionable language.

McCarthy's fact-based script introduces us to down-on-his-luck Los Angeles sports agent JB Bernstein (Jon Hamm). Facing bankruptcy after their bid to sign a major NFL star (Rey Maualuga) falls through, JB and his India-bred partner Aash (Aasif Mandvi) are desperate to find an alternative moneymaker.

Partly inspired by Ash's love for the game of cricket, JB hits on the scheme of traveling to his colleague's homeland and staging an "American Idol"-type reality show in which cricket bowlers will try their skills at pitching. The two players who come out on top in the completion, JB announces, will receive not only a cash prize but the opportunity to travel to the States and train for a major-league tryout.

Despite some culture shock on both sides of the divide, and despite the comic eccentricities of Ray Poitevint (Alan Arkin), the retired scout Ash hires to help judge the contest, JB's plan succeeds. And he acquires the volunteer services of local baseball enthusiast Amit (the single-named Pitobash) along the way.

But personal challenges arise when JB returns to the Left Coast with victors Rinku (Suraj Sharma) and Dinesh (Madhur Mittal) in tow. Since both were raised in remote rural villages, they find life in urban America utterly bewildering. Though slightly more sophisticated, Amit, who has also made the journey to California to serve as the lads' coach, is almost equally at sea.

Thus begins JB's transformation from callous, business-obsessed loner to protective mentor. JB is also being changed by his warming relationship with Brenda (Lake Bell), the comely tenant who occupies a cottage on his property.

JB and Brenda's romance is marked by premature intimacy. Though this takes place off-screen, a morning-after "walk of shame" for JB is followed up by some banter about the situation among the male characters. Interestingly, all three Indian men take it for granted that JB will now marry Brenda. Though JB shrugs off the idea, it's clear that the pair does have a future together.

To that extent, however flawed JB's bond with Brenda may be, it too marks something of a moral advance for him. As earlier scenes have shown us, up to now, JB has devoted himself to throwaway liaisons with fashion models.

Along with learning to place people ahead of profits, JB's growth also involves becoming more open to religion, though in a way that may leave Christian moviegoers with mixed feelings.

Hindu devotions are very much integral to the lives of the two would-be pitchers and their coach. At first, JB wants no part of this, and goes so far as to state flatly, "I don't pray." Yet, by the time the picture concludes, we've seen him join his friends in prayer—both before a meal and in front of a makeshift shrine they've erected.

However mature viewers may choose to receive this aspect of the movie, it's another reason to leave the impressionable at home.

The film contains nonmarital situations, an implied premarital encounter, a smattering of sexual humor and some crass language. The Catholic News Service classification is A-III—adults. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG—parental guidance suggested. Some material may not be suitable for children.

*****
John Mulderig is on the staff of Catholic News Service.





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Junipero Serra: In 1776, when the American Revolution was beginning in the east, another part of the future United States was being born in California. That year a gray-robed Franciscan founded Mission San Juan Capistrano, now famous for its annually returning swallows. San Juan was the seventh of nine missions established under the direction of this indomitable Spaniard. 
<p>Born on Spain’s island of Mallorca, Serra entered the Franciscan Order, taking the name of St. Francis’ childlike companion, Brother Juniper. Until he was 35, he spent most of his time in the classroom—first as a student of theology and then as a professor. He also became famous for his preaching. Suddenly he gave it all up and followed the yearning that had begun years before when he heard about the missionary work of St. Francis Solanus in South America. Junipero’s desire was to convert native peoples in the New World. </p><p>Arriving by ship at Vera Cruz, Mexico, he and a companion walked the 250 miles to Mexico City. On the way Junipero’s left leg became infected by an insect bite and would remain a cross—sometimes life-threatening—for the rest of his life. For 18 years he worked in central Mexico and in the Baja Peninsula. He became president of the missions there. </p><p>Enter politics: the threat of a Russian invasion south from Alaska. Charles III of Spain ordered an expedition to beat Russia to the territory. So the last two <i>conquistadors</i>—one military, one spiritual—began their quest. José de Galvez persuaded Junipero to set out with him for present-day Monterey, California. The first mission founded after the 900-mile journey north was San Diego (1769). That year a shortage of food almost canceled the expedition. Vowing to stay with the local people, Junipero and another friar began a novena in preparation for St. Joseph’s day, March 19, the scheduled day of departure. On that day, the relief ship arrived. </p><p>Other missions followed: Monterey/Carmel (1770); San Antonio and San Gabriel (1771); San Luís Obispo (1772); San Francisco and San Juan Capistrano (1776); Santa Clara (1777); San Buenaventura (1782). Twelve more were founded after Serra’s death. </p><p>Junipero made the long trip to Mexico City to settle great differences with the military commander. He arrived at the point of death. The outcome was substantially what Junipero sought: the famous “Regulation” protecting the Indians and the missions. It was the basis for the first significant legislation in California, a “Bill of Rights” for Native Americans. </p><p>Because the Native Americans were living a nonhuman life from the Spanish point of view, the friars were made their legal guardians. The Native Americans were kept at the mission after Baptism lest they be corrupted in their former haunts—a move that has brought cries of “injustice” from some moderns. </p><p>Junipero’s missionary life was a long battle with cold and hunger, with unsympathetic military commanders and even with danger of death from non-Christian native peoples. Through it all his unquenchable zeal was fed by prayer each night, often from midnight till dawn. He baptized over 6,000 people and confirmed 5,000. His travels would have circled the globe. He brought the Native Americans not only the gift of faith but also a decent standard of living. He won their love, as witnessed especially by their grief at his death. He is buried at Mission San Carlo Borromeo, Carmel, and was beatified in 1988. Pope Francis canonized him in Washington, D.C., on September 23, 2015.</p> American Catholic Blog Hope and faith can outshine the darkness of evil. However dense the darkness may appear, our hope for the triumph of the light is stronger still. Though violence continues to stain us with blood, the shadows of death can be dissipated with one act of light.

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