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Picks and Pans Main: Movies

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Diane Lane, John Malkovich, Scott Glenn | PG |


Sniping that a big, triumphant Disney movie is formulaic is like kicking a tree for making oranges. They do it well, and who on earth would want them to stop? Secretariat, about 1973’s triple crown winner, has great performances and a fine story, even if it feels like it’s been trotted out before.

Lane is feisty and inspiring as Penny Chenery, the woman who literally bet the horse farm on a plucky foal. With her father (Glenn) slipping away, Penny defies her husband (Dylan Walsh) and her brother (Dylan Baker), hires Lucien Laurin (the devilishly fun Malkovich), a cranky trainer who “dresses like Superfly,” and makes a run at horse racing’s most elusive prize. Director Randall Wallace capably handles the tension between Penny and her family as she sacrifices time with them for the horses, but he’s at his best in staging the races, making them as exciting and visceral as if we’d been in the stands 37 years ago. With its old-fashioned storytelling Secretariat isn’t exactly a lock for an Oscar nod, but it’s more than worthy as a family-friendly outing.

Life As We Know It

Katherine Heigl, Josh Duhamel, Josh Lucas | PG-13 |


There’s a smart, tragicomic film in Life As We Know It, but it’s nearly drowned by waves of cliche-riddled romantic-comedy goop. Holly (Heigl) is uptight and lonely; Messer (Duhamel) is an overaged frat boy. When their best friends die in a car crash, Holly and Messer must take in their daughter, Sophie. Amid the now-standard scenes of new parents covered in globs of what goes in and out of babies, there are real moments of honesty. Duhamel nails Messer’s terror and resentment, while Heigl capably handles the tougher job of showing Holly’s struggles with having the life she wants while despising the way she got there. Nice supporting performances from Lucas, as a far more appropriate love interest for Holly than Messer, and Sarah Burns as their bracingly hilarious child services agent, keep Life on this side of watchable. But it should have been so much more.


Robert De Niro, Edward Norton, Milla Jovovich | R |


They may be onscreen together, but I’m still not sure De Niro and Norton are in the same movie. De Niro underplays his role as Jack, a tired parole officer overseeing a squirrelly arsonist, but Norton is nearly operatic as the squeaky-voiced firebug Stone. Worse, the film doesn’t seem to know if Stone is some sort of master operator bent on destroying Jack to get out of prison or a converted religious zealot. At least Jovovich, as Stone’s devoted honeypot of a wife, knows precisely what she’s doing.