Reel Reviews

‘Million Dollar Arm’

Audience:
A-III – Adults

 

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Flawed movie has noble theme

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 United 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.

By John Mulderig, Catholic News Service
Copyright (c) 2014 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops

‘The Amazing Spider-Man 2’

Audience:
A-II – adults and adolescents

 

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Hero weaves a good theme for teens and up

Patrons are unlikely to walk away from the overstuffed but diverting 3-D comic-book sequel “The Amazing Spider-Man 2” (Columbia) feeling that they’ve failed to get their money’s worth. In fact, director Marc Webb's follow-up to his 2012 reboot covers enough material for more than one movie.

In doing so, the film showcases a good deal of mostly stylized mayhem that’s too intense for little kids. But the positive use to which the web-slinger – once again played by Andrew Garfield – puts his powers, together with a script that’s virtually free of objectionable vocabulary, makes this adventure acceptable for just about everyone else.

Garfield brings an appealing – and approachable – goofiness, both to his titular persona and to the superhero’s alter ego, average teen Peter Parker. Peter’s high school graduation provides the setting for some early scenes during which we see that Spider-Man is so busy protecting the people of New York that Peter misses his girlfriend Gwen Stacy’s (Emma Stone) valedictorian address and barely arrives in time to claim his own diploma.

Webb gives those viewers who may not have seen his earlier movie only a minimum of information about Spider-Man and how he got that way. He does let us know, via flashbacks, that Peter’s father (Campbell Scott) was a genetics researcher with uber-conglomerate Oscorp who, together with Peter’s mom (Embeth Davidtz), disappeared under mysterious circumstances when Peter was still a small child.

Raised by his kindly Aunt May (Sally Field) and now-deceased Uncle Ben, Peter’s quest to learn the truth about his parents led to his being bitten by a genetically altered arachnid – with results familiar to every 4-year-old who cherishes a “Spidey” figurine.

While Peter’s initial conflict involved balancing his new powers with a concomitant sense of responsibility, he now struggles to reconcile the dangers of his mission with his desire to safeguard Gwen. Is there any way for him to do so short of parting with her forever?

Romantic troubles have to be put on the back burner, though, when a new foe for Spider-Man emerges in the person of Electro (Jamie Foxx). The confused victim of a power-grid accident at Oscorp headquarters, Electro angrily hurls bolts of his namesake form of energy hither and yon, disturbing the denizens of Times Square and testing even Spider-Man’s ability to contain him.

As Peter continues to probe the circumstances of his parents’ long-ago departure, he has a fraught reunion with his best friend from childhood, Oscorp heir Harry Osborn (Dane DeHaan). Afflicted with a fatal hereditary disease, Harry believes that Spider-Man can help to cure him, and he’s desperate to arrange a meeting with the wall-crawler.

Did we mention that there’s also a crazed Russian gangster named Aleksei Sytsevich (Paul Giamatti) in the offing?

Giddy special effects and a lively pace help pass the long running time and make the excess of storylines somewhat less noticeable. More substantially, moviegoers will appreciate Spider-Man’s knack for making the ordinary people he routinely rescues feel good about themselves. He thus not only battles evil but affirms and encourages goodness as well.

The film contains much action violence, including torture, a single crass expression and a mild oath. The Catholic News Service classification is A-II – adults and adolescents. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG-13 – parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13.

By John Mulderig Catholic News Service

Monthly List of Recent Film Ratings (May 2014)

CNS classifications: A-I -- general patronage; A-II -- adults and adolescents; A-III -- adults; L -- limited adult audience, films whose problematic content many adults would find troubling; O -- morally offensive.

MPAA ratings: G -- general audiences. All ages admitted; PG -- parental guidance suggested. Some material may not be suitable for children; PG-13 -- parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13; R -- restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian; NC-17 -- no one 17 and under admitted.

A

About Time, L (R)

All Is Lost, A-III (PG-13)

American Hustle, O (R)

Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues, A-III (PG-13)

August: Osage County, O (R)

B

Baggage Claim, A-III (PG-13)

Battle of the Year, A-III (PG-13)

The Best Man Holiday, O (R)

Big Mommas: Like Father, Like Son, A-III (PG-13)

Black Nativity, A-II (PG)

The Bling Ring, O (R)

Blue Jasmine, L (PG-13)

The Book Thief, A-II (PG-13)

C

The Call, O (R)

Captain Phillips, A-III (PG-13)

Carrie, L (R)

Christmas for a Dollar, A-I (PG)

Closed Circuit, A-III (R)

Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs 2, A-II (PG)

The Collection, O (R)

The Conjuring, A-III (R)

Conviction, L (R)

The Counselor, O (R)

Creature, O (R)

D

Dallas Buyers Club, O (R)

Dark Skies, A-III (PG-13)

Delivery Man, L (PG-13)

Despicable Me 2, A-I (PG)

Devil's Due, A-III (R)

Don Jon, O (R)

E

Elysium, L (R)

End of Watch, O (R)

Ender's Game, A-II (PG-13)

Epic, A-I (PG)

Escape Plan, L (R)

F

The Family, O (R)

The Fifth Estate, A-III (R)

The Five-Year Engagement, O (R)

Flipped, A-III (PG)

47 Ronin, A-III (PG-13)

Free Birds, A-I (PG)

Frozen, A-I (PG)

G

Getaway, A-III (PG-13)

Gimme Shelter, A-III (PG-13)

The Grandmaster, A-III (PG-13)

Gravity, A-III (PG-13)

Grown Ups 2, A-III (PG-13)

Grudge Match, L (PG-13)

H

Haywire, L (R)

The Heat, O (R)

Hellbound?, A-III (no rating)

Hereafter, A-III (PG-13)

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, A-II (PG-13)

Homefront, L (R)

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, A-III (PG-13)

I

The Incredible Burt Wonderstone, L (PG-13)

Inside Llewyn Davis, O (R)

Insidious: Chapter 2, A-III (PG-13)

The Internship, L (PG-13)

J

Jack the Giant Slayer, A-II (PG-13)

Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa, O (R)

Jobs, A-III (PG-13)

Jurassic Park, A-II (PG-13)

Justice League: War, A-II (PG-13)

Justin Bieber's Believe, A-II (PG)

K

Kick-Ass 2, O (R)

L

Labor Day, L (PG-13)

The Last Exorcism Part II, L (PG-13)

Last Ounce of Courage, A-II (PG)

Last Vegas, A-III (PG-13)

Lee Daniels' The Butler, A-III (PG-13)

The Lone Ranger, L (PG-13)

M

Machete Kills, O (R)

Man of Steel, A-III (PG-13)

Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom, A-III (PG-13)

The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones, A-III (PG-13)

N

Nebraska, L (R)

Nitro Circus: The Movie 3D, A-III (PG-13)

The Nut Job, A-I (PG)

O

One Direction: This Is Us, A-II (PG)

Out of the Furnace, L (R)

P

Pacific Rim, A-III (PG-13)

Paranoia, A-III (PG-13)

Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones, L (R)

Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters, A-III (PG)

The Perfect Family, O (PG-13)

Philomena, L (PG-13)

Pitch Perfect, A-III (PG-13)

Planes, A-I (G)

Prisoners, L (R)

Promised Land, A-III (R)

The Purge, O (R)

R

RED 2, A-III (PG-13)

Restless Heart, A-II (no rating)

Riddick, O (R)

Ride Along, L (PG-13)

R.I.P.D., A-III (PG-13)

Runner Runner, L (R)

Rush, L (R)

S

Saving Mr. Banks, A-II (PG-13)

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, A-III (PG)

Sinister, L (R)

The Smurfs 2, A-I (PG)

Son of Batman, A-II (PG-13)

The Spectacular Now, L (R)

T

This Is the End, O (R)

Thor: The Dark World, A-III (PG-13)

To the Wonder, A-III (PG-13)

Turbo, A-I (PG)

12 Years a Slave, L (R)

2 Guns, L (R)

Tyler Perry's Good Deeds, A-III (PG-13)

W

Walking With Dinosaurs, A-I (PG)

The Way, Way Back, A-III (PG-13)

We're the Millers, O (R)

White House Down, A-III (PG-13)

The Wolf of Wall Street, O (R)

The Wolverine, A-III (PG-13)

World War Z, A-III (PG-13)

The World's End, A-III (R)

Y

You're Next, O (R)