Secretariat

Diane Lane, John Malkovich, Scott Glenn | PG |

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DRAMA

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 |

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ROMANTIC COMEDY

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.

Stone

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

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DRAMA

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.

EMMA STONE should play Spider-Man's Mary Jane

SHE LOOKS THE PART

With that red hair, Stone looks like she stepped right out of Marvel comics.

SHE'S SWEET AND SASSY

As she proved in Easy A, even (and especially) when she's dripping with sarcasm she's a delight.

SHE + ANDREW GARFIELD = IT COUPLE

Paired with Garfield's Spidey, it's hard to imagine a duo with bigger buzz.

She's set to play mom to Julia Roberts in August: Osage County. Here are a few more of her famous "kids."

Renée Zellweger

Zellweger let tears flow for her cancer-ridden mom in One True Thing.

AMANDA SEYFRIED

Streep and Seyfried made a cheeky song-and-dance team in Mamma Mia!

LEONARDO DICAPRIO

A pre-Titanic Leo played her pyromaniac son in Marvin's Room.

LINDSAY LOHAN

Country singers Lohan and Streep duet in A Prairie Home Companion.

MILLA JOVOVICH

As the doe-eyed, sexually voracious wife of Edward Norton's convict in Stone, Jovovich displays a smart talent that goes beyond her Resident Evil girl-with-guns roles.

HOW I BECAME ...

JOHN LENNON

Aaron Johnson grabbed a guitar and learned to sing to play a pre-Beatles Lennon in Nowhere Boy.

A LITTLE HELP FROM A FRIEND

Jane Goldman, the Kick-Ass writer, lent me her guitar and showed me a few chords. I was doing Kick-Ass and spending lunch breaks learning John Lennon. I asked if I could have a singing coach.

LENNON 101

I watched everything possible and listened to interviews. I watched his mannerisms, the body language, the swagger that he had.

GRADUATION

Paul [McCartney] said, "You did a brilliant job, kid." And Yoko told [director] Sam [Taylor-Wood] that she thought I embodied the spirit and the essence of Lennon.