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Daily Pilot

Reel Critics: 'Arm' shows strength, while Godzilla's wanes

2:10 PM PDT, May 20, 2014

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Hollywood loves all things baseball. Disney continues the tradition with a light-hearted look at a true-life sideshow of the national pastime. The studio serves up a big fat 3-and-0 pitch down the middle of the plate in "Million Dollar Arm."

J.B. Bernstein is a real sports agent who once represented Barry Bonds. In 2007, he organized a competition in India to find a cricket player who could throw a high-velocity fastball. The winners would get a Major League tryout and a share of $100,000 in prize money.

John Hamm leaves behind his wild "Mad Men" persona to play Bernstein with understated insight. His sweaty scenes touring India present an unvarnished view of the jam-packed nation. Yet his contest produces two unlikely prospects from the teeming masses.

Renowned Indian actors Suraj Sharma ("Life of Pi") and Madhur Mittal ("Slumdog Millionaire") play the local heroes who win a chance at glory. Their sudden relocation from rural India to Southern California offers many opportunities for genteel humor. Lake Bell plays the sharp woman in Bernstein's life who understands the boys.

The story is charming to a fault and a bit long at two hours. But it's a feel-good movie that's family-friendly and ready for popcorn.

— John Depko

*

Recipe for Success

"Chef" satisfies cravings for good food and a good story. Written, directed by and starring Jon Favreau, this is my favorite movie of the year so far.

Favreau is a familiar face and name thanks to the big hits he's directed — "Iron Man" and "Elf," among others. This barrel-chested lug's endearing charm has never been better than as Carl Casper, a talented chef forced to crank out his best hits at a Los Angeles restaurant.

Carl gets a scathing review and his ensuing meltdown goes viral. Then he gets a food truck from his ex-wife's previous ex (drolly delightful Robert Downey Jr.) in Miami.

The truck gives Carl a chance to cook the Cuban food he first made as a chef, make some money and become a better dad to his doting son (amazing Emjay Anthony).

Lending warmth to this recipe are Sofia Vergara, Scarlett Johansson and the irrepressible John Leguizamo and Bobby Cannavale as Carl's sous chefs and comic relief. Throw in a spicy soundtrack and mouth-watering food, and "Chef" earns a 5-star rating.

*

'Godzilla' radiates mild excitement

"Godzilla" tries but doesn't succeed at scaling new heights as the popular monster of the deep.

Sleek new creatures wreak havoc in Japan, Hawaii and San Francisco while trying to mate, leaving it to Godzilla to bust up this match and regain world domination.

Acting is secondary though the cast is pretty stellar: Bryan Cranston, Juliette Binoche, David Straithairn and Ken Watanabe. They can't do much except gape and recite the usual "Oh…my…God…" with as much seriousness as they can muster. A Channing Tatum lookalike is the thick-necked stud du jour.

The movie finally gets good in the last half hour, when the monsters go at it tooth and tail. The audience applauded for our green-gilled hero as he waded back into the sea, his epic awesomeness intact for, no doubt, another record-smashing, unsatisfying sequel.

— Susanne Perez

JOHN DEPKO is a retired senior investigator for the Orange County public defender's office. He lives in Costa Mesa and works as a licensed private investigator.

SUSANNE PEREZ lives in Costa Mesa and is an executive assistant for a company in Irvine.