At the Movies: Secretariat, It’s Kind of a Funny Story, Never Let Me Go

If I’m understanding the trailers correctly, “Life as We Know It” is about two unrelated people who are given custody of a baby because they were friends of the baby’s dead parents. How is that life as anybody knows it? That’s so stupid I don’t even want to think about it anymore. Let’s move on.

Secretariat

The inspirational true sports story. So inspirational. So heart-warming. So exhilarating. So fascinating. So touching. And if you can fit an animal into it, so much the better.

“Secretariat,” the new movie about the racehorse who won the Triple Crown in 1973, offers all the elements you want from a sports story. It’s a well-made film with strong performances, a compelling story and gripping racing sequences.

Based on the Novel “Secretariat: The Making of a Champion” by William Nack, “Secretariat” isn’t so much the story of Big Red as it is of Penny Chenery and her transformation from housewife to champion racehorse owner.

Diane Lane gives a standout performance as Penny Chenery, wife and mother of four living the suburban life in Denver. When her mother dies, Penny returns to the family horse farm in Virginia to look after her ailing father (Scott Glenn) and put his affairs in order.

The farm has fallen on hard times in recent years and Penny’s husband (Dylan Walsh) and brother (Dylan Baker) want to sell it. But Penny was confident she could turn things around  with the luck of a coin toss and a young colt with untapped potential. Assisting with this endeavor are the stable’s longtime staffers Elizabeth Ham (Margo Martindale) and Eddie Sweat (Nelsan Ellis), eccentric trainer Lucien Laurin (John Malkovich), and jockey Ron Turcotte (Otto Thorwarth).

“Secretariat” goes through all the true sports story routines — there are setbacks before the victories, obstacles to be overcome and a cocky rival racehorse owner to jeer.

The film has its flaws. It paints a bit too perfect a picture, I suspect. I wondered how the Chenery children felt about their mother being gone so much but that’s skimmed over. And whatever skills Lucien had as a trainer remain a mystery since the film spends no time with him actually training the horse.

Did it work for me? The actors all deliver fine performances, the horse is adorable and the story trots along at a good pace. “Secretariat” is a good, old-fashioned, feel-good flick.

It’s Kind of a Funny Story

“It’s Kind of a Funny Story” isn’t all that funny but it is kind of sweet and kind of nice and very, very predictable.

Based on a novel by Ned Vizzini, it’s the story of a depressed teenager named Craig (Keir Gilchrist) who goes to a hospital seeking help and winds up in an adult psychiatric ward. By the time he realizes this isn’t where he wants to be, it’s too late to get out.

Craig meets up with all kinds of wacky characters and is befriended by fellow patient Bobby (Zach Galifianakis), whom he initially believes is part of the hospital staff. He also meets Noelle (Emma Roberts), a cute teenager who is sure to be a better cure to teenage depression than any drugs or psychiatric advice.

“It’s Kind of a Funny Story” is fine but rather pat. The right girl for Craig just happens to be in the asylum. The girl he’s had a crush on takes an interest in him just as he’s getting to know Noelle. Craig helps his fellow inmates out of their shells; they help him realize his life’s not that bad.

Did it work for me? “It’s Kind of a Funny Story” is sometimes quirky and somewhat clever, but it’s not something I’d pay money to see.

Never Let Me Go

One of the nice things about the movie-reviewing gig is that you see movies before they’re talked to death and all the surprise has been sucked out of them.

I try not to read up on movies before I see them so I can go in fresh. Sometimes that doesn’t make any difference, like with “It’s Kind of a Funny Story,” and sometimes it pays off, like with “Never Let Me Go.”

Not having read the Kazuo Ishiguro novel on which it’s based, all I knew of the film was a brief synopsis that was vague and called it a story of “love, loss and hidden truths.” Boring. I almost skipped it but then I read elsewhere that it has a science-fiction element, so that was intriguing enough to draw me in.

And I’m glad it did. “Never Let Me Go” is a melancholy, slow-paced but thoughtful story of love, loss and hidden truths. Hey, sometimes the PR people get it right.

Kathy, Tommy and Ruth (Izzy Meikle-Small, Charlie Rowe and Ella Purnell as children; Carey Mulligan, Andrew Garfield and Keira Knightley as adults) are students at a private English boarding school.

And that’s all you need to know about that. I will warn you that it’s not really an “upper.” The cast is very good, especially Mulligan. Director Mark Romanek crafts an intriguing and foreboding atmosphere.

The one thing I didn’t care for was the film’s opening. It follows the common practice of starting near the end of the story before taking you back to the beginning. While that’s often effective, in this case it saps dramatic tension from the tale because we know how it’s going to turn out.

Did it work for me? Yes, but it’s probably too dark for most people.

 

 

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