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Secretariat and Buried top a short line up of new films this week

The list for regular theatres is short this week. Good there’s so much to see at the Vancouver International Film Festival. There is the thrill of  racing horses  though and praise for local boy Ryan Reynolds movie in a box.

SECRETARIAT: Films about horse racing are pretty well all the same. You want a human story involving the owners and some great racing sequences. This true story of the last triple crown winner delivers all that. It’s colorful and entertaining and no worse and not significantly better that the films that came before, including Seabiscuit seven years ago.

The people get as much attention as the horse in this one. Diana Lane plays the owner who inherited her father’s Virginia horse farm and comes east to run it. Her family stays in Colorado. She resists her brother’s suggestion to sell out, stands up to a disloyal trainer and grows strong as a woman in the sport. Her biggest coup was in hiring two Canadians, jockey Ron Turcotte and as trainer, a Quebecker named Lucien Laurin. John Malkovich plays him with not even a hint of a  French-Canadian accent. It was harder to wring drama out of the horse’s story. Secretariat was never an underdog. He was a stand-up winner from the day he was born. His biggest challenge was to show he could run long distances as well as short. His races are spectacular partly because he had a habit of starting at the back and making a dramatic late push to the front. (Oakridge, Scitiabank and many suburban theatres) 3 out of 5  

 

BURIED: We’ve had films recently set entirely in an elevator (Devil) and an Israeli tank (Lebanon). Now the space is even tighter: a wooden box, the size of a coffin, buried somewhere in Iraq.  An American truck driver is trapped inside with only a lighter and a cell phone he can use to find a way out. His only chance is to find somebody to pay a ransom to an Iraqi named Jabir who makes that and later other demands on the phone.

Ryan Reynolds plays the hostage in a terrific bit of acting. He’s the only person we see on screen through 95 minutes of tension. He phones family, bureaucrats and bosses and runs through a catalogue of emotions from petulant sarcasm to foul frustration. He’s not a pleasant guy to spend so long a time with cooped up but he’s compelling to watch. Especially as the mood clicks tighter and tighter, the minutes go by, the oxygen is fading, sand is trickling in, Jabir makes more demands and help does not seem to be coming. Spanish director Rodrigo Cortés finds dozens of novel camera angles to make claustrophobia visually interesting. I especially liked one complete 360-degree camera roll-over, all inside the coffin, of course. Despite a few gimmicks (like the snake that wanders in briefly) this is a nifty little film. (The Ridge, Scotiabank and four suburban theatres)  3 ½ out of 5 

Also now playing …

LIFE AS WE KNOW IT: With so much serious and challenging fare showing these days at the Vancouver International Film Festival, I just wasn’t too interested in the latest Katherine Heigl movie. Even though she’s a nice person, I’m sure, and this film has a serious level in it besides the usual comedy. (Also I couldn’t make it to the promotional preview).

Heigl and  Josh Duhamel play two people who pretty well despise each other but are forced together anyway. Their best friends die in a car accident and they become de facto parents to their little girl. (Scotiabank and suburban  theatres)

MY SOUL TO TAKE: Wes Craven brought us the Scream and Nightmare on Elm Street movies. And many others, but few recently. He tries again with an old concern (a serial killer) and a new format (3D). The killer is after seven children in his hometown with the same birthday as the day he was put to rest, allegedly, as they say. Wes may have a tough slog. Horror films aren’t doing well right now and the studio didn’t preview this one for critics (not here anyway). (Tinseltown and the suburbs)

 

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