The story of the most dominant racehorse of all time does not easily fit into the standard inspirational sports flick mold. Such films typically require its protagonists to overcome seemingly insurmountable obstacles be they competitive (Hoosiers) personal (The Natural) societal (Ali) or some combination of all three (Remember the Titans). But by all accounts the greatest challenges to Secretariat capturing of the 1973 Triple Crown were not rival horses — indeed Secretariat had no true rival — but a pair of slow starts and an abscess. And abscesses — apologies to dermatologists — simply aren’t all that effective as dramatic devices.
Lacking most of the vital ingredients of the traditional underdog movie formula Disney’s Secretariat is forced to synthesize them. Its screenplay written by Mike Rich and based rather loosely on the book Secretariat: The Making of a Champion by William Nack adopts a conventional save-the-farm framework: When her parents pass away within months of each other Denver housewife Penny Tweedy (Diane Lane) is advised to sell off her family’s Virginia-based Meadow Stables a beautiful but unprofitable horse-breeding enterprise in order to pay the onerous inheritance taxes levied by the state. But Penny her deceased father’s hackneyed horse-inspired counsel fresh in her mind (“You’ve got to run your own race ” etc. etc.) is loath to depart with such a cherished heirloom. So she concocts a scheme just idiotic enough to work betting the farm — literally — that her new horse Big Red in whom she has an almost Messianic faith will win the Kentucky Derby Preakness and Belmont races in succession.
Of course Big Red under the stage name Secretariat goes on to do just that but only after the film subjects us to nearly two hours of manufactured melodrama. Lane grasping all-too conspicuously for awards consideration treats every line as if it were the St. Crispin’s Day speech. Her character Penny exhibits a hair-trigger sensitivity to the sounds of skeptics and naysayers bursting forth with a polite rebuke and a stern sermon for anyone who dares doubt her crusade from the trash-talking owner of a rival horse to her annoyingly pragmatic husband (Dylan Walsh).
Lane isn’t alone in her grandiosity. The entire production reeks of it as director Randall Wallace lines the story with fetid chunks of overwrought Oscar bait like so many droppings in an untended stable even using Old Testament quotations and gospel music to endow Penny’s quest with biblical significance. John Malkovich is kind enough to inject some mirth into the heavy-handed proceedings hamming it up as Secretariat’s trainer Lucien Laurin a French-Canadian curmudgeon with an odd sartorial palette. It’s not enough however to alleviate the discomfort of witnessing the film's quasi-Sambo depiction of Secretariat’s famed groom Eddie Sweat (Nelsan Ellis) which reaches its cringeworthy zenith when Sweat runs out to the track on the eve of the Belmont Stakes and exclaims to no one in particular that “Big Red done eat his breakfast this mornin’!!!” Bagger Vance would be proud. Whether or not Ellis’ portrayal of Sweat’s cadence and mannerisms is accurate (and for all I know it may well be) the character is too thinly drawn to register as anything more than an amiable simple-minded servant.
Animal lovers will be happy to know that the horses in Secretariat come off looking far better than their human counterparts and not just because they’re alloted the best dialogue. In the training and racing sequences Wallace effectively conveys the strength and majesty of the fearsome animals drawing us into the action and creating a strong element of suspense even though the final result is a fait accompli. It's too bad the rest of the film never makes it out of the gate.
WHAT IT’S ABOUT?
Claire is an attractive CIA operative and Ray is an M16 agent who simultaneously leave their Governmental spy activities in the dust to try and profit from a battle between two rival multi-national corporations both trying to launch a new product that will transform the world and make billions. Their goal is to secure the top-secret formula and get a patent before they are outsmarted. While their respective egomaniacal CEOs engage in an unending battle of wills and one-upmanship Claire and Ray start out conning and playing one another in a clever game of industrial espionage that is even more complicated due to their own long-term romantic relationship.
WHO’S IN IT?
Reuniting Closer co-stars Julia Roberts (as Claire) and Clive Owen (as Ray) turns out to be an inspired idea. They turn out to be the perfect pair oozing movie-star charm and electricity in this elaborate con-game that might have been the kind of thing Audrey Hepburn and Cary Grant might have made in the '60s (in fact they did in Charade). Roberts with that infamous hairstyle back the way we like it and Owen looking great in sunglasses prove they have what it takes to navigate us through this ultra-complex plot in which no one is sure who they can trust at any given moment. They play it all in high style and the wit just flows as the story skirts back and forth during the period of five years. The supporting cast is well-chosen with juicy roles for Tom Wilkinson and Paul Giamatti (out of their John Adams duds) as the two CEOs going for each other’s throats. Giamatti who sometimes has a tendency to overdo it is especially slimy here and great fun to watch.
Big-star studio movies today rarely take risks and often talk down to the audience but in Duplicity writer/director Tony Gilroy (Michael Clayton) has crafted a complicated con-comedy that requires complete attention at all times just to keep up with the dense plot’s twists and turns. It’s the cinematic equivalent of a New York Times crossword puzzle and Gilroy and his top-drawer production team deliver a glossy beautiful-looking film that’s easy on the eyes hitting locations from Dubai to Rome to New York City.
Like any good puzzle it sometimes can be frustrating putting it all together and Gilroy’s habit of taking us back in time and then inching forward gets a little confusing even with the on-screen chyron pointing out where we are at any given moment. Stick with it though and you will be well-rewarded.
A scene near the end where the formula must be found scanned and faxed in a matter of minutes is sweat-inducing edge-of-your-seat moviemaking and it provides the ultimate opportunity for Roberts and Owen to take the “con” to the next level. Another where Roberts uses a thong to try and trick Owen into admitting an affair he never had is also priceless and gets right to the heart of the game-playing.
GO OUT AND GET POPCORN WHEN ...
Never. Stock up during the coming attractions. If you miss a moment of this entertaining romp you might never figure it all out.
Top Story: Scholars Find Inaccuracies in Gibson's Passion
To add more fuel to the fire burning over Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ, scholars say the film has more than a few historical errors, Reuters reports. Some of these inaccuracies include hairstyles ("The Jewish texts ridiculed long hair as something Roman or Greek," New York University's Lawrence Schiffman told Reuters, yet Jesus has continually been pictured with long hair, as he is in Passion), languages (historians say Greek, Aramaic and Hebrew were spoken in Jerusalem during Jesus' time, not strictly Latin and Aramaic as depicted in the film) as well as overall historical context. Brushing off such criticism, Gibson has said he consulted with various experts before making the film and often times found contradictory opinions. "Since the experts canceled each other out, I was thrown back on my own resources to weigh the different arguments and decide for myself," Reuters reports Gibson said in one interview.
Rings Hits Billion-Dollar Mark
The Oscar-nominated The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King crossed the $1 billion box-office mark worldwide after only 10 weeks in release, setting a new record, Reuters reports. The third and final installment J.R.R. Tolkien's fantasy trilogy now ranks as the second-highest grossing film of all time after the 1997 iceberg romance Titanic, which floated to $1.8 billion worldwide. "The holding power and longevity at the box office I think is a real testament to the artistry and vision of Peter Jackson and his cast and crew," New Line worldwide marketing prez Rolf Mittweg told Reuters.
Hilton Ran the [Sex] Show
Seattle-based Marvad Corp.--currently being sued by Rick Salomon for releasing clips from the infamous video of Salomon and ex-girlfriend Paris Hilton having sex--filed papers Monday claiming Hilton directed and helped shoot the video and therefore owns rights to the video, Reuters reports. Salomon claims to be the sole copyright holder of the video and has sued Marvad for violating those rights when it distributed clips on its Web site sexbrat.com. In the filing, however, Marvad has countered Salomon's claim, saying Hilton has rights over the video as well and therefore Salomon's suit should be dismissed. "Salomon's failure to identify Ms. Hilton as a co-author on the application for copyright registration renders the certificate of registration invalid and fraudulent," the Marvad filing said.
Goldberg Pens Kiddie Book
Whoopi Goldberg is following Madonna's lead into kiddie publishing, The Associated Press reports. The actress-comedian has agreed to a multibook deal with publishing company Hyperion's Jump at the Sun series. "If I can give kids and their parents something that'll make them smile and maybe teaches them a little something about living with one another on our planet, it makes me a happy granny," Goldberg said in a statement Monday. The first of several expected books is scheduled for 2005.
Super Millionaire Racks Up Ratings
Regis is back! Super Millionaire, a revamp of the defunct game show Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?, premiered Sunday night on ABC with huge results, drawing in 17.5 million viewers, AP reports. Super Millionaire offers hefty prizes of up to $10 million, or 10 times the jackpot of the old show, and a handful of new lifelines.
Crooner Vinton Collapses Onstage
Singer Bobby Vinton collapsed onstage Sunday night while performing at the American Music Theatre in Lancaster, Penn., AP reports. About an hour into the show, Vinton sat down beside the piano player and dropped his head toward the keys. "The piano player caught him, and Bobby said the show was over for the night," audience member Don Eves of Washington Boro, who said Vinton had been heavily perspiring. Jim Herr, a supervisor with Lancaster County Communications, confirmed to AP early Monday that the ambulance service had been called to the theater about Vinton. He did not know details of the singer's condition, but said he was not transported for treatment.
Eminem Sues Apple
Rapper Eminem has filed a copyright infringement suit against Apple Computer, Inc., claiming the computer company used his song "Lose Yourself" in a television commercial without his permission, AP reports. The ad for Apple's iTunes pay-per-download music software shows a 10-year-old singing the rapper's award-winning song. AP reports the suit claims that Apple Computer CEO Steve Jobs personally called Joel Martin, manager of Eight Mile Style, and asked Martin and Eminem to "rethink their position" about using the Grammy-winning song. Eminem responded by ending discussions with Apple, according to the suit.
Combs Wins in Court
A jury found in Sean "P. Diddy" Combs' favor Monday in a lawsuit filed by a TV talk show host who claimed the hip-hop mogul's entourage roughed him up during an interview, AP reports. Roger Mills said members of Combs' entourage also stole the tape of the 1999 interview--breaking a camera in the process--after he asked Combs to comment on allegations he contributed to the death of rapper Notorious B.I.G. Combs testified last week he couldn't remember the incident.
Analyze This Actor Dies
Joe Viterelli, a character actor best known for playing wiseguys in films including Analyze This and Bullets Over Broadway, died Jan. 29 in Las Vegas from heart surgery complications. He was 66.
Role Call: Cusack, Bellucci and Thornton To Reap Harvest
John Cusack, Monica Bellucci and Billy Bob Thornton will star in the comedic thriller Ice Harvest directed by Harold Ramis. According to The Hollywood Reporter, the film is set on Christmas Eve in a snowbound town, where a not-so-bright lawyer (Cusack) is about to embezzle money from his mob superiors. Bellucci plays a strip bar owner who is in cahoots with Thornton's character, who is using the lawyer to swindle the mob and plans to double-cross him.
Top Story: Madonna's Two Cents on Celeb Marriages
Madonna has some advice for Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez: get over it. In an interview for Access Hollywood that aired Thursday, Madonna said, "To a certain extent, [Affleck and Lopez] courted the media attention. At the end of the day I feel like that's their job, and then there needs to be a part of the relationship that you keep private." But the pop diva added, "You know, I'm not making a judgment call on Jennifer and Ben ... we can only make assumptions about why it did or didn't happen. Ultimately, if you have a strong relationship, and there is understanding of what a committed marriage is, I don't think that having a lot of media attention can break it up."
P. Diddy Is No "Sweat" Daddy
In an investigation into whether Sean "P. Diddy" Combs is using "sweatshops" to make his trendy clothing line, Honduran officials said Thursday they could find no evidence of worker's exploitation at the factory, Reuters reports. "We haven't found instances of exploitation, or slave-like conditions," Honduran Labor Minister German Leitzelar told Reuters. The U.S. National Labor Committee accused Combs' factory managers earlier this week of cursing at Honduran workers, refusing to pay overtime, or firing them when they became pregnant. In a press conference, Combs vowed to have "zero tolerance" for any labor law violations in factories producing his Sean John clothing line.
Rocker Weiland Ordered Into Another Drug Program
While still completing a court-ordered drug counseling program, Stone Temple Pilots' lead singer Scott Weiland was charged Thursday with driving under the influence and ordered to a live-in detox program, to be followed by a six-month stay in a residential drug rehabilitation center, Reuters reports. Weiland was arrested Monday after crashing into a parked car in Hollywood.
Chong's Jail Release Denied
A federal judge ruled that Tommy Chong, one half of the pot-smokin' comic duo Cheech and Chong, must continue serving his prison sentence for conspiracy to sell drug paraphernalia while his appeal is pending, AP reports. The 65-year-old actor and comedian pleaded guilty to conspiracy last spring in federal court and was sentenced to nine months in prison.
Tyler's Daughter Marries Drummer
Plus-size model Mia Tyler, Aerosmith frontman Steven Tyler's daughter and actress Liv Tyler's sister, married Papa Roach drummer David Buckner in front of thousands of people during an Aerosmith concert at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas, AP reports. The proud father of the bride reportedly told the audience, "Hey Vegas, I need a favor, my daughter wants to get married tonight. Can I get a witness?" It's the first marriage for both.
McCartney Tops British Rich List
Former Beatle Paul McCartney, 61, was named the biggest earner in Britain--the same week his second wife, Heather Mills, gave birth to a baby girl, Reuters reports. The latest Sunday Times Pay List reports McCartney earns $68 million a year. "Maybe a baby will make him feel young and stay in touch with modern trends in his dotage," list compiler Philip Beresford told Reuters. Other rockers on the list include Sting, Phil Collins, Eric Clapton and Rod Stewart.
Culkin Signs Up for TV Projects
Macaulay Culkin signed a deal with NBC to develop several television projects, including a possible comedy show for fall 2004. "We're going to use him in an unconventional way," NBC's president of prime-time development, Kevin Reilly told AP. "I don't think you'll see Macaulay as a straight-down-the-middle romantic lead. I think you'll see him in something surprising, a little offbeat."
Miller Heads to CNBC
Dennis Miller will host a prime-time cable talk show on CNBC, Reuters reports. The politically charged comedian will also serve as executive producer for the hour-long show, set to debut in January. "With all that's going on in the world today, it's nice to have a nightly platform to air my opinions. I'm happy to be back in the NBC family," said Miller, a former Saturday Night Live regular on the peacock channel.
Role Call: Cain To Star in Peterson Story, Affleck Plays Coach
Dean Cain will portray Scott Peterson--the Modesto, Calif., man accused of killing his wife, Laci Peterson, and their unborn son--in an upcoming USA Networks television movie, AP reports. The film, tentatively titled The Perfect Husband, will be from the perspective of two of Laci's friends and will follow the real-life headlines about the search for Laci and subsequent revelations about Scott, network officials told AP… In more movie news, Ben Affleck has agreed to play retired University of Texas at El Paso basketball coach Don Haskins in a feature about the 1966 Texas Western NCAA championship, AP reports. Antoine Fuqua (Tears of the Sun) will direct.
Previous rumors that Jermane and Randy Jackson had refused to attend the Jackson 5 reunion for the Michael Jackson: 30 Anniversary Celebration, The Solo Years can now be dismissed. All five brothers from the eponymous Jackson 5 music group have confirmed their attendance at the event.
After feuding for the last month with the show's producer, David Gest, over the ticket prices, the guest list and the lineups for the all-star events, Jermaine agreed on Friday to perform at the September 7 and 10 shows, to be held at New York's Madison Square Garden.
"Having been accused of not wanting to be a part of my brother's 30th anniversary concert for publicity reasons is not right," Jermaine Jackson said in a statement Friday. "My concern was that our loyal fans were not invited nor able to attend because of excessive prices," he told SonicNet.com.
A combined total of 40,000 tickets for the September 7 and 10 Michael Jackson celebration concerts--priced $45 to $2,500 per ticket--sold out just five hours after going on sale on July 31, Launch. com reported.
"I place my family above all else and I would like to perform with my brothers in spite of all that has gone on. I'm sorry that loyalty to my fans and family has been perceived as betrayal," Jermaine added.
The Jackson brothers convened in Los Angeles on Friday to begin rehearsing for the shows.
A complete list of confirmed special guests goes as follows:
Friday, September 7: Marc Anthony; Ray Charles; Deborah Cox; Destiny's Child; Gloria Estefan; Billy Gilman; Whitney Houston; James Ingram; Quincy Jones & the Legends of Jazz including Al Jarreau, Herbie Mann, Les McCann, David "Fathead" Newman, Jimmy Smith, Clark Terry & Cassandra Wilson; Liza Minnelli; Monica; Mya; *NSYNC; Jill Scott; Shaggy featuring Ricardo "Rikrok" Ducent & Rayvon; Britney Spears; Tamia; 3T; Usher.
Monday, September 10: Marc Anthony; Mary J. Blige; Deborah Cox; Missy "Misdemeanor" Elliott; Gloria Gaynor; Al Jarreau; Gladys Knight; Lil' Romeo; Ricky Martin; Liza Minnelli; Monica; Mya; 98 Degrees; Jill Scott; Usher; Luther Vandross; Dionne Warwick.
In addition, stars from television, sports, movies, and the recording industry will honor Jackson during the concerts. Confirmed guests include: Marlon Brando; Elizabeth Taylor; Samuel L. Jackson; Willem Dafoe; William Shatner; Dr. Dre; Snoop Dogg; Yoko Ono; Sean Lennon; Jane Russell; Chris Tucker; Liam Neeson; Vanessa Redgrave; Franco Nero; Muhammad Ali; Kobe Bryant; Magic Johnson; Esther Williams; Gregory Peck; Jennifer Jones; Angie Dickinson; Master P; Robert Wagner; Jill St. John; Sir John Mills; Hayley Mills; Janet Leigh; Reggie Miller; Ann Miller; Jane Powell; Macaulay Culkin; Patricia Neal.