Mark Ciardi

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Million Dollar Arm Review


Very Good

Based on a true story, this is one of those relentlessly uplifting Disney movies that mixes comedy and emotion to inspire and move the audience. Thankfully, it also has a very smart screenplay by Tom McCarthy (Win Win) that draws out some resonant themes while tackling cross-culture issues with wit and honesty. This makes it easy to identify with the sparky characters who are trying to reinvent themselves.

Sports manager JB (Jon Hamm) certainly needs a reinvention. He has lost all of his high-profile clients and now needs to find the next big thing. Perceived as washed-up, he has some difficulty convincing someone to fund his crazy plan to stage a talent competition in India to find baseball talent among the local cricket players. With the help of his easily distracted assistant Aash (Aasif Mandvi) and cantankerous ex-coach Ray (Alan Arkin), he narrows the candidates down to two potential stars: Rinku and Danesh (Life of Pi's Suraj Sharma and Slumdog Millionaire's Madhur Mittal). After JB brings them back to Los Angeles, along with over-eager interpreter Amit (Pitobash), renegade coach Tom (Bill Paxton) has to whip them into shape to see if they can attract interest from the big-league teams.

While the film continually threatens to indulge in smiley culture-clash slapstick, McCarthy's script continually grounds the action in the characters, who emerge as fully rounded people who are engagingly unpredictable. The cast is earthy and natural, anchored ably by Hamm as a likeable guy who remains self-absorbed even though he's desperate, and who takes a long time to learn his rather simple lesson. His chemistry with Lake Bell (as the plain-talking tenant in his pool house) is superbly messy. And ace scene-stealers Mandvi and Arkin bring plenty of comic relief to their hilarious roles.

Continue reading: Million Dollar Arm Review

The Game Plan Review


OK
Sure, it's maudlin and manipulative, about as realistic towards professional sports as it is in its insights regarding human relationships. And yes, its wit borders on the buffoonish, with slapstick so regressive that the late Three Stooges are scoffing at its simplicity. True, Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson and Roselyn Sanchez make an attractive onscreen couple, and little Madison Pettis is a fine Shirley Temple substitute, yet as a trio, they don't inspire much box office confidence. So why is it that Disney's family-meets-football fantasy The Game Plan is so effective? Even the most suspicious of cinephiles may find themselves welling up over the story of an egotistical pro quarterback and the darling dumpling of a daughter he never knew.

As a member of the fictional Boston Rebels, Joe Kingman (Johnson) is fixated on two things - winning and Elvis. His swanky Beantown bachelor pad is laden with memorabilia -- both his own and the King's -- and he loves his millionaire athlete lifestyle. One day, there's a knock on the door. It's a young girl named Peyton (Pettis), and she claims that Joe is her dad. Taken aback, the QB contacts his agent, Stella Peck (Kyra Sedgwick), and begs her to straighten out this mess. A little backwards glancing confirms paternity -- at least for the time being -- and Joe finds himself juggling the demands of the playoffs, the ribbing of his teammates, and the needs of his sudden offspring. When she expresses an interest in studying ballet, Joe sends the child to Monique Vasquez's (Sanchez) elite school. Yet newfound fatherhood is taking its toll, and just Joe's luck, the championship game is coming up.

Continue reading: The Game Plan Review

The New Guy (2002) Review


Terrible
When the screenwriter responsible for one of the worst movies of one year directs an equally miserable film the following year, you'd have a hard time believing it was just coincidence. But Ed Decter, writer of the horribly unfunny Freddie Prinze Jr. clunker Head Over Heels, takes the directing reins for the first time with the remarkably lame teen comedy The New Guy.

The premise is simple: a high school ugly duckling named Dizzy (Road Trip's DJ Qualls) turns it around and starts fresh at a new school, strutting like a badass and making a new personality for himself as a guy named Gil. The supposedly funny twist is that he gets his education in cool while hanging at a prison, taking lessons in toughness from Eddie Griffin (wasted in his short appearance), learning how to dance like a hipster from Horatio Sanz (also wasted), and getting a makeover from the stereotypical cross-dressing cons in the pen. In each scene, Decter and screenwriter David Kendall (big blame goes to him too) want to get right to the funny immediately - the only problem is that each attempt results in a vacant black hole.

Continue reading: The New Guy (2002) Review

Miracle Review


Excellent
You'd have to work extra hard to botch the feel-good story of the underdog U.S.A. hockey team that overcame adversity in the 1980 Olympics and earned an unexpected gold medal. Miracle, which recounts the team's remarkable Olympic run, receives a calculated, polished, and affectionate treatment courtesy of Disney's involvement, but benefits immensely from the casting of relative unknowns in the prime hockey player roles. These actors actually look a lot like kids from Minnesota and Boston. Think how distracting it would be to see Matt Damon as Mike Eruzione or Ashton Kutcher as unflappable goalie Jim Craig.

Miracle's focuses falls heavily on coach Herb Brooks (Kurt Russell), both in how he chooses his players and how he re-trains them to play his way en route to the winter Olympic games in Lake Placid, N.Y. Brooks preaches team chemistry to his players, but it's the cast that catches on. Miracle isn't a movie of individuals, it's the perfect combination of unknown actors and veteran stars.

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Mark Ciardi Movies

Million Dollar Arm Movie Review

Million Dollar Arm Movie Review

Based on a true story, this is one of those relentlessly uplifting Disney movies that...

The Game Plan Movie Review

The Game Plan Movie Review

Sure, it's maudlin and manipulative, about as realistic towards professional sports as it is in...

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The New Guy (2002) Movie Review

The New Guy (2002) Movie Review

When the screenwriter responsible for one of the worst movies of one year directs an...

Miracle Movie Review

Miracle Movie Review

You'd have to work extra hard to botch the feel-good story of the underdog U.S.A....

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