Film Friday: ‘Secretariat’ and ‘Buried’

by W. Andrew Powell

Diane Lane in Secretariat

Diane Lane in Secretariat

Opening this Thanksgiving weekend at a theatre near you: Diane Lane stars in the Disney drama, Secretariat; Ryan Reynolds is trapped in a coffin for 90 minutes in Buried; plus a look at Life As We Know It and My Soul To Take.

Starring: Diane Lane, John Malkovich, Dylan Walsh, Scott Glenn, Dylan Baker, Margo Martindale
Director: Randall Wallace

The story of Secretariat’s rise to fame is one of America’s most well-known and beloved sports stories from the seventies. It’s a story that has it all: there’s the unlikely team, the unbeatable odds, and the would-be champion that no one believes in.

Based on William Nack’s novel, the film retells the real-life story of housewife-turned-stable-owner Penny Chenery, played by Diane Lane, as she takes over her father’s business, Meadow Stables.

Without any previous experience, Penny works to turn the business into a prize-winning stable, thanks in part to help from a veteran trainer, played here by John Malkovich.

Penny’s big plan is to win the Triple Crown, taking home top honours at the Kentucky Derby, Preakness Stakes, and Belmont Stakes, something that hadn’t been done in 25 years back in the seventies.

Directed by veteran filmmaker Randall Wallace, who also directed We Were Soldiers and The Man in the Iron Mask, the film looks like you would expect from a Disney drama, and while I say that with some condescension, it’s also with a hint of praise. Disney reliably delivers these kinds of inspirational dramas again and again, and Secretariat has received sweeping praise from the critics where many of the writers point out that fact.

“Secretariat is a glorious throwback to the days when inspiring family fare often came from such studios as Secretariat source Disney,” wrote James Verniere for the Boston Herald.

Andrew O’Hehir of also wrote, “The welcoming glow that imbues every corner of this nostalgic horse-racing yarn with rich, lambent color comes from within, as if the movie itself is ablaze with its own crazy sense of purpose.”

Starring: Ryan Reynolds, Stephen Tobolowsky, Ivana Miño
Director: Rodrigo Cortés

Rated: 8.5/10

On a darker note this week comes this claustrophobic dramatic thriller about a man who has been buried alive.

Trapped in a rough wooden coffin, we hover beside Paul Conroy, played by Ryan Reynolds, as we live through the 90 minutes of his life as he desperately tries to escape his small prison or wait for some kind of rescue.

Using the cell phone his captors left with him, Paul calls family and everyone he can think of to find some sort of clue why he has been captured as he also looks for help. Unravelling his story, we find small answers along the way as minute by minute, Paul starts to run out of oxygen.

Thanks to a very strong script by writer Chris Sparling, Buried is a daring, edge-of-the-seat thriller that frankly blew me away. The story moves deftly and earnestly to its finale, never quite letting on which way it will turn next, but just as importantly, Cortés and cinematographer Eduard Grau turn 90 minutes inside a box into riveting cinema.

Paul is not alone in that box though; Cortés and Sparling find many ways of giving Paul a finger-hold on the outside world, and it’s that grasp on reality that tethers the character to life and hope. As Paul tries to connect to that world, it’s his rise and fall that drives the entire story forward and makes Buried a powerful drama.

Debuting at the Toronto International Film Festival, Buried was hands-down one of my favorite films at this year’s festival, and it proves once again that great cinema needs only a great story to work, and clever filmmaking.

Also opening this weekend…

Life As We Know It
Starring: Katherine Heigl, Josh Duhamel, Josh Lucas, Alexis Clagett, Brynn Clagett
Director: Greg Berlanti

Life As We Know It is a romantic comedy with a premise that sounds more like it’s a tear-jerking drama.

Katherine Heigl and Josh Duhamel star in the film as would-be lovers who find themselves caring for an orphaned girl after her parents are killed in a tragic accident.

Trying to steady their careers, and social lives, the two will have to find a way to make it work so they can give their new bundle of joy a good home.

The film has received pretty much rotten reviews, as far as Rotten Tomatoes is concerned, but at least not as rotten as…

My Soul to Take
Starring: Max Thieriot, John Magaro, Emily Meade, Nick Lashaway, Denzel Whitaker, Shareeka Epps
Director: Wes Craven

Wes Craven has done it again; another dud. In his latest horror escapade, which currently sits at a perfect 0% fresh on Rotten Tomatoes, a serial killer is on the lose and about to kill of seven children as part of an age-old legend.

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