Sometimes — and I guess I should count my blessings that it’s only sometimes — I’m really slow on the uptake. Slow, as in not noticing something that’s right in front of my face. Embarrassingly slow. For example, it took me forever to get the joke behind the Charmin bears hawking toilet paper.
And as much as I love puns, some of them have sailed right over my head without mussing my hair. For someone who tries hard to pay attention to stuff, it really lets the wind out of your sails.
So just imagine my chagrin when I was halfway through the second movie before I realized they both had “million” in their titles!
I swear I didn’t pick that double bill intentionally. I didn’t select the second movie until after I watched the first one, so it’s possible there was something sub-conscious going on. But I swear it wasn’t a conscious pick!
It was more a case of, “Well, that was really good! Now I need something light as a chaser. What comedies have I been meaning to watch…”
As it turned out, I didn’t like the second one all that much (it rates an Eh on my six-point scale: Wow!, Ah!, Eh, Meh, Nah, & Ugh!). Perhaps it was due to my mind wandering that the light bulb finally went on:
“Yo! Dummy! Didja notice how both movies have “million” in their title?”
Those who read this blog (or who know the blogger) know that — to the shock of everyone who knew me prior to 2010 — I’ve become a huge baseball fan late in life. For me, sports were something other people did.
Better later than never, I guess, but I have so much catching up to do that I never will. I haven’t even scratched the surface of topics like the draft and trading rules, nor gotten as deeply into Sabermetrics as I’d like. I’m still trying to learn to recognize on sight the difference between a slider and a cutter!
Anyway, loving baseball no doubt biases me towards favoring baseball movies. So far the only one I’ve disliked was The Benchwarmers (which got a rare Ugh!) — an infantile waste of film directed by a guy who’s done a number of idiotic comedies and produced by the master of wasted film and infantile idiocy, Adam Sandler (who I loath).
Had I know he was responsible for it, I never would have bothered watching it. I like Rob Schneider okay, and David Spade as well, but I’ve never gotten the attraction for Jon Heder. (I keep meaning to watch Napoleon Dynamite again to try to figure out what the big deal was.)
The point is, generally speaking, I’ve liked most of the baseball movies I’ve seen.
Some of them stand out as enduring Wow! classics (Field of Dreams, The Natural, Bull Durham, Major League) while others vary from Ah! (Moneyball, The Sandlot, A League of Their Own) to Eh (Mr. Baseball, The Babe) and even Meh (Fever Pitch, For Love of the Game).
So it’s quite possible I award extra points to a baseball movie just because it’s a baseball movie. You might just want to keep that in mind.
Which brings us (in admittedly round-about fashion) to Million Dollar Arm (2014).
Start with your basic sports story theme: The wannabe winners who aren’t. (Yet!) The first act introduces them and explains why they don’t have a chance. The second act features a crushing defeat; they really don’t stand a chance.
Of course, you know how the third act goes. From Rocky to the Field of Dreams, the arc is American canon. The underdog against impossible odds (even Die Hard and others of that ilk follow that theme). The hope of a sports upset is deeply woven into our consciousness. The Little Engine That Could is an example from our childhoods. “I think I can. I think I can.” may be one of the our true creeds.
So start with that sports theme and stir in a healthy portion of Jerry Maguire, the story about a sports agent trying to be successful on his own. Cast the charismatic Jon Hamm (of Mad Men) as the agent and add Lake Bell as an initially unrecognized love interest.
To make it exotic as well as compelling, make it the true story about the first pitchers from India to play professional baseball in America: Dinesh Patel and Rinku Singh, neither of whom had ever thrown a baseball prior to entering The Million Dollar Arm, an Indian reality show designed to find new baseball pitching talent among the vast untapped population of India.
The idea: Cricket is big in India, and cricket involves “pitching” (they’re called “bowlers” in cricket). While the throwing style is radically different, a strong arm and good control are still required (cricket bowlers throw as fast as the low 90 MPH range), so it seemed like a good idea at the time.
And it basically was. Patel and Singh did pitch in professional American baseball (Minor leagues), although Patel (a self-trained javelin thrower) didn’t last long (two seasons: 2009, 2010). Singh did better, playing from 2009-2012. Injuries kept him out of the 2013 season, and Tommy John surgery kept him out of the 2014 season.
The real story behind the Disney movie adds weight to the story making it truly inspirational and heartwarming. In that sense, it’s reminiscent of The Perfect Game, another wonderfully true, really heartwarming, baseball story. (Or, for that matter, stories about Jackie Robinson or Lou Gehrig.)
Million Dollar Arm is a “rags to riches” story, a sports story, and a bit of a love story. It also has “fish out of water” elements as these young men from India confront American life.
On a purely emotional “I love baseball” level, I give it a Wow! On a more critical movie analysis level, I think it may still rate at least an Ah! There are no surprises along the way, but it’s well told and (I think) gets a lot of points for originality (first time that particular story has been told) and for being a true story.
It almost seems like my sub-conscious must have picked A Million Ways to Die in the West intentionally after having watched Million Dollar Arm. It definitely didn’t happen at a conscious level! The coincidence is pretty weird (all the more so for not even noticing it until halfway through).
Mostly what I have to say about it is: I got all the way through it.
I’m just not a Seth MacFarlane fan. The clips I’ve seen of Family Guy, American Dad! and The Cleveland Show have all put me off ever watching those shows. (Comments I’ve heard from others indicate I’m not the only one who feels that way.)
And if you recall my post about Ted, that was one I couldn’t get through. My intelligence was so insulted that I just had to turn it off to save my poor screaming-in-pain brain cells.
The thing is, MacFarlane seems like a very educated guy with a lot of talent and with interesting connections to people I respect and regard, plus he stands on the right side (i.e. my side) on a lot of important social issues.
So it bothers me that I don’t like his comedy. At all.
But I did get through A Million Ways to Die in the West. Charlize Theron (the love interest) buys the movie a lot of credits. She’s like Maggie Gyllenhaal — both light up anything they’re in. (Monster is an amazing tour de force albeit a very hard film to watch.)
Toss in bit parts by Gilbert Gottfried, Christopher Lloyd (as Doc Brown!), Bill Maher, Ewan McGregor, Jamie Foxx (as Django!), and Patrick Stewart, and you have a film that, while I didn’t actually like it that much, I actually do recommend seeing (if just for the cast and all the references to other westerns).
You may less sensitive to “dumb comedy” than I am and therefore really enjoy it!
[In point of fact, just about everyone is less sensitive to dumb comedy than I am. In my defense, I was way into joke books and Mad Magazine as a kid in grade school, so I feel like I left all that behind long ago. “Putting away childish things,” as it were. Surprise is a big part of humor, and it’s been decades since that kind of humor offered me any surprises.]
All-in-all, I give it an Eh (which is still a positive rating). Considering I gave Ted an Ugh! (my lowest possible, this film should not have been made, rating), and that I have no interest in his animated TV shows, it’s a definite step up.
I’ve hit the bottom of the page, so I’ll stop now.
Tomorrow I plan to tell you about the most enjoyable SF movie I’ve seen in a while. I’ve seen it twice in a matter of weeks and enjoyed it thoroughly both times. I don’t buy many movies anymore, but this one just might make my Buy List!