DVD Tuesday: ‘Red’ and ‘Secretariat’

by W. Andrew Powell

John Malkovich, Morgan Freeman and Bruce Willis in Red

John Malkovich, Morgan Freeman and Bruce Willis in Red

New this week on DVD and Blu-ray: Bruce Willis, Morgan Freeman and Helen Mirren kick butt in the action-comedy, Red; Diane Lane stars in the horse-racing drama, Secretariat; plus a look at Saw: The Final Chapter, and The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets’ Nest.

Starring: Bruce Willis, Morgan Freeman, Helen Mirren, Mary-Louise Parker, John Malkovich
Director: Robert Schwentke

Rated: 7.5/10

In this comic book adaptation from director Robert Schwentke, Bruce Willis stars as Frank, one of the CIA’s top agents who is now being framed, along with his former CIA cohorts, for a high-level assassination.

Co-starring Morgan Freeman, Helen Mirren, and John Malkovich as Frank’s CIA agent compatriots, the group will have to avoid capture and execution if they’re going to uncover a huge conspiracy that lies at the heart of the CIA headquarters.

Following Frank to begin with, as he uproots himself and goes off in search of his friends and a call centre employee he’s been wooing long-distance, Red is a funny, self-deprecating, big-bang adventure down the memory lane of yesterday’s action movies. It’s hard not to smile as Mirren kicks butt in combat boots, or even as Willis and Freeman rough thugs up in the name of laughs, rather than the usual blood sport.

Best of all though, Red pokes fun at the idealized image of Hollywood’s obvious ageism with a cast of actors that are quite simply perfect for these roles.

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 is exactly what you might 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 inspirational dramas again and again, and Secretariat has received a fair amount of praise from critics for that reason.

“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 Salon.com 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.”

Saw: The Final Chapter
Starring: Tobin Bell, Cary Elwes, Costas Mandylor, Betsy Russell, Sean Patrick Flanery, Gina Holden
Director: Kevin Greutert

The Saw franchise is apparently unstoppable.

No matter how many bad reviews the film receives, there is still just enough fan interest to keep this long-dead horror series from ever reaching a total conclusion.

That makes reviews of the film almost entirely pointless, but for anyone who pays attention to such things it’s no surprise that the film has received near-total disdain from major critics.

Edward Douglas of ComingSoon.net pretty much sums up the general response, commenting in his review, “The combination of convoluted storytelling and often gruelling-to-watch death traps will make you say, ‘Thank God that’s over!’ wrote Douglas, “and you may as well be referring to the entire franchise at this point.”

The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets’ Nest
Starring: Noomi Rapace, Michael Nyqvist, Annika Hallin, Per Oscarsson, Lena Endre, Peter Andersson
Director: Daniel Alfredson

In the third and final film adaptation of Stieg Larsson’s well-known thriller novels, Lisbeth is back, played once again by Noomi Rapace, recovering in a hospital as she waits for her trial for three murders. Meeting with her father, and plotting her revenge against those who have wronged her, it’s up to her friend and comrade Mikael Blomkvist, played by Michael Nyqvist, to try to defend her in court and discover why Swedish officials seem to have it out for the young, troubled hacker.

Compared to its predecessors, it’s clear the franchise has constantly slipped since the first film. This latest adaptation is by far the worst reviewed, coming in at just 52% Fresh at RottenTomatoes.com.

Betsy Sharkey of the Los Angeles Times was quite positive about the film though. Sharkey wrote, “An extremely satisfying ending to the story of Lisbeth Salander, the tough Swedish cyber punk that actress Noomi Rapace has turned into an iconic New Age heroine.”

While Owen Gleiberman of Entertainment Weekly wrote, “The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest is mostly an epic rehash of the tale Larsson has already told, and that makes it, at two hours and 28 minutes, the first movie in the series that never catches fire.”

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