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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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John Paul II: “Open wide the doors to Christ,” urged John Paul II during the homily at the Mass when he was installed as pope in 1978. <br /><br />Born in Wadowice, Poland, Karol Jozef Wojtyla had lost his mother, father and older brother before his 21st birthday. Karol’s promising academic career at Krakow’s Jagiellonian University was cut short by the outbreak of World War II. While working in a quarry and a chemical factory, he enrolled in an “underground” seminary in Kraków. Ordained in 1946, he was immediately sent to Rome where he earned a doctorate in theology. <br /><br />Back in Poland, a short assignment as assistant pastor in a rural parish preceded his very fruitful chaplaincy for university students. Soon he earned a doctorate in philosophy and began teaching that subject at Poland’s University of Lublin. <br /><br />Communist officials allowed him to be appointed auxiliary bishop of Kraków in 1958, considering him a relatively harmless intellectual. They could not have been more wrong! <br /><br />He attended all four sessions of Vatican II and contributed especially to its <em>Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World</em>. Appointed as archbishop of Kraków in 1964, he was named a cardinal three years later. <br /><br />Elected pope in October 1978, he took the name of his short-lived, immediate predecessor. Pope John Paul II was the first non-Italian pope in 455 years. In time, he made pastoral visits to 124 countries, including several with small Christian populations. <br /><br />He promoted ecumenical and interfaith initiatives, especially the 1986 Day of Prayer for World Peace in Assisi. He visited Rome’s Main Synagogue and the Western Wall in Jerusalem; he also established diplomatic relations between the Holy See and Israel. He improved Catholic-Muslim relations and in 2001 visited a mosque in Damascus, Syria. <br /><br />The Great Jubilee of the Year 2000, a key event in John Paul’s ministry, was marked by special celebrations in Rome and elsewhere for Catholics and other Christians. Relations with the Orthodox Churches improved considerably during his ministry as pope. <br /><br />“Christ is the center of the universe and of human history” was the opening line of his 1979 encyclical, <em>Redeemer of the Human Race</em>. In 1995, he described himself to the United Nations General Assembly as “a witness to hope.” <br /><br />His 1979 visit to Poland encouraged the growth of the Solidarity movement there and the collapse of communism in central and eastern Europe 10 years later. He began World Youth Day and traveled to several countries for those celebrations. He very much wanted to visit China and the Soviet Union but the governments in those countries prevented that. <br /><br />One of the most well-remembered photos of his pontificate was his one-on-one conversation in 1983 with Mehmet Ali Agca, who had attempted to assassinate him two years earlier. <br /><br />In his 27 years of papal ministry, John Paul II wrote 14 encyclicals and five books, canonized 482 saints and beatified 1,338 people. <br /><br />In the last years of his life, he suffered from Parkinson’s disease and was forced to cut back on some of his activities. <br /><br />Pope Benedict XVI beatified John Paul II in 2011, and Pope Francis canonized him in 2014. American Catholic Blog Lord, may I have balance and measure in everything—except in Love. —St. Josemaría Escrivá

 
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