Review- Secretariat

Diane Lane in Secretariat (Disney)

Secretariat is now available to stream from Netflix

Perhaps what impresses most about Secretariat isn’t necessarily that it might be Disney’s strongest sports-themed effort since 1992 and The Mighty Ducks but the fact that it’s a overdog story in the guise of an underdog story. Meaning that if the film was really only dealing with the horse itself it would’ve been chronicling one of the most dominant performers and biggest champions in all of sports. That’s great when you’re watching horse racing on Saturday afternoon but it’s hardly the stuff of great drama.

The underdog element comes in the the form of the horse’s owner Penny Tweedy played by Diane Lane. She was new to the sport and not as knowledgeable as some but she knew her horse and trusted her gut. In the film we see her try to balance her family in Colorado and the farm and her horse in Virginia- in making it about her the dramatic element is added in skillfully.

When if you think about it makes this ludicrously good filmmaking at times because it makes a foregone conclusion riveting. A blowout no less. It’s quite something and furthermore last year (2009 as of this writing) in the Triple Crown races there were a rash of injuries which put the sport under some fire, being a less-than-casual fan found that reasonable, yet this film shows the beauty of the sport itself as few could. In essence it does something that The Black Stallion failed to do in that regard.

Much of the talk surrounding this film is centered around Diane Lane. She does do a wonderful job in this film and is convincing every step of the way and having heard the buzz as I was watching it I spotted what I think is her Oscar clip. While I think it might be superficially too similar a part for her to win, her nomination if it comes and is the only one may overshadow what is a much better film than The Blind Side.

A fact I was reminded of almost immediately as both films start with their protagonist speaking in voice over about the sport it is that obsesses them. I complained of the Bullock dialogue’s didacticism, there are no complaints about how Secretariat opens. It is a poetic opening which doesn’t teach the uninitiated about the Sport of Kings, that comes in due time when necessary.

It’s treatment of all the races is different in each case and appropriate. What is most crucial in sports films is the handling of in-game scenes because while there aren’t usually that many they are some of the most lasting ones there are. The Kentucky Derby gets it seems the longest and most complete uninterrupted start to finish coverage which eases the audience into it, and the stakes are very high as it is the first triple crown race that her investors need her to win. The Preakness meanwhile gets played all in one shot on a TV in the Colorado home while her family watches, it forms a wonderful completely visual bridge in the family. The kids are finally realizing what it is mom’s doing and its an unspoken apology between husband and wife.

The film’s supporting cast also buoys it tremendously. Most notably the horses team: John Malkovich as Lucien Loren the horses trainer, Nelsan Ellis as Eddie Sweat and Margo Martindale as Miss Ham and Penny’s family: Dylan Walsh, Amanda Michalka, Carissa Capobianco, Sean Michael Cunningham and Jacob Rhodes.

Secretariat is a great sports film that the whole family can enjoy and is usually the case with the really good ones it is more about the people involved rather than the sport itself.

10/10

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Make Your Own Film Festival- Pick A Country (3 of 7)

Zuzu Angel


Windows doesn’t discriminate between regions any longer, and neither does Macintosh. Even if they do you should get a warning when inserting a Non-Region 1 DVD (meaning one made for distribution outside the US, Canada and Mexico) saying what region it is and asking if you want to change your computer’s region. Typically, there has been a set limit on how many times you could change regions before it became a permanent switch. Even if your computer is more finicky you still have an opportunity to watch many more DVDs, many of which you can only find online, that you never thought you could before.

Some foreign films have limited appeal and distribution internationally. With that in mind you should take that into account when traveling overseas and pick up some movies you won’t find in the US. Taking that in to consideration this critic made a number of purchases when in Brazil in 2008 to set up a mini-festival.

Patricia Pilar and Daniel de Oliveira in Zuzu Angel (Warner Bros.)

Another interesting piece of history examined through the lens of fiction – the historical drama. The reason this form is likely so dominant in Brazilian art is because a documentary though more true to fact will be harder to piece together after the fact. The other key factor is the audience for fiction will always be bigger, like it or not.
So much of the material that is relevant is dramatized history that is being re-earthed for dramatic purposes and to avoid history repeating itself. It is interesting in that it tells the tale of Brazilian woman who meets an American, marries, becomes a famous fashion designer and her son becomes a radical opposed to the military regime. In trying to unravel the mystery surrounding his disappearance she becomes a radical herself.

It starts out on a very high note in medias res emotionally speaking and gives us a slightly telenovela moment (this kind of moment in Brazilian terms is much more naturalistic than its Mexican cousin). Patricia Pillar is spectacular in this role not only working bilingually but in terms of her arc and range she goes from uncaring and aloof to angry, embittered, passionate, sad and plays the lady when she has to.

Like many of the new era of Brazilian films it refuses to go in chronological order and yet becomes more engaging because of it and tells cumbersome tales that encompass years deftly. This proclivity for temporal distortion could be one of the reason many in Brazil do not like domestic films because they are not the simplistic Hollywood product they are used to seeing. The stories aren’t easy and to tell them in perfect order would be rote and trite and in these films would be all history lesson and no story, no emotional involvement whatsoever. This was without a doubt one of the most powerful entries in this festival.

The Importance of Being Joel Courtney

Joel Courtney (Photo: Mark Brennan)

The way Variety tells it Joel Courtney headed to Los Angeles seeking to take some acting lessons and maybe land some commercial work if he was lucky. However, he not only landed a lead in a major motion picture but has also parlayed it into three more jobs within a month of his screen debut’s release.

Things worked out much better for him than he could’ve expected as he got into the Super 8 after an extended, elaborate and at times secretive casting process. One in which Spielberg and Abrams gambled on a few newcomers (and won big time) likely in spite of studio pressure to err on the side of experience.

The casting process started with an open call.
and what can be learned on both sides of the camera in this portion of the story is that open calls can lead to something good.

Courtney’s case is one of a natural talent being discovered and it benefited not only the film but, as recent stories have shown, Courtney as well.

While some were getting tired of the glut of Taylor Lautner news a while back, as he seemed to be signing deals at a record pace, I saw it as expected and good for him. It’s always been my contention that an actor has to strike while the iron is hot especially if he/she is being offered work they want to do. Fear of over-exposure ought not be a deterrent as it is a high class problem to have. Talent will win out over perception in most cases especially when an actor fits a part perfectly.

Courtney had already shot a two-episode stint on R.L. Stine’s The Haunting Hour, a series on The Hub Network, when it was announced that he was attached not only to a new Tom Sawyer/Huckleberry Finn film but also to an indie horror/sci-fi tale called The Healer. The films’ principal photography will occur in consecutive months (August & September) and shoot in Bulgaria and North Carolina respectively.

From being a cinematic debutant to suddenly in demand has taken about a month. Of course, as with most overnight successes, it hasn’t truly been that fast. There was a long audition process, principal photography and the worldwide press junkets and after all that one might expect Joel and the kids of Super 8 to be wary of taking on new commitments, however, many of them seem to think as I do and are seeking to keep working while there’s demand. Gabriel Basso is still a regular on The Big C and Zach Mills has signed on to be a regular on The Hub Network’s new series Clue.

In closing, I just want to address the fact that Joel is a child actor, which is for the most part virtually irrelevant. The bottom line is he’s a working actor who’s taking advantage of opportunities earned and should serve as a template for future actors who knock it out of the park upon getting their big break and that’s the importance of being Joel Courtney: not being content with or being disoriented by newfound stature but immediately seizing other great opportunities as they come along.