DVD Picks: Secretariat, RED, Which Way Home

February 2, 2011

DVD Picks
Raleigh News & Observer
Glenn McDonald

Pick of the Week
Secretariat

Drama; rated PG for brief mild language; also available on Blu-ray

The Gist: The genuinely amazing and mostly true story of Secretariat, considered the greatest race horse to ever live.

The Lowdown: Starring Diane Lane and John Malkovich, “Secretariat” is a straight-up Hollywood fastball, thrown right down the middle. You know exactly what’s coming, and it still blows you away.

Highly shellacked and polished in the usual Disney fashion, the movie relates the saga of Secretariat, the race horse who, in 1973, won the Triple Crown and broke a few dozen records that still stand today. Lane is great in the role of Penny Chenery, the feisty owner who stands her ground in the old boys’ club of horse racing, and Malkovich lets some genuine warmth shine through as the eccentric trainer Lucien Laurin.

Director Randall Wallace finds interesting ways to switch up the texture on what is essentially a series of horse races, and skillfully parallels the human drama concerning Penny and her family. It’s all surprisingly dramatic and inspirational, considering that everyone knows the ending.

The Extras: The DVD/Blu-ray combo pack has director’s commentary track, deleted scenes, two short production docs and some archival race footage.

The Bottom Line: “Secretariat” can really mess with a guy’s film snob credentials. This was one of my favorite movies of 2010.

Double Secret Bonus Tip: When Secretariat died in 1989, it was discovered that his heart was two-and-a-half times the size of the average horse.

 

Red

Action comedy; rated PG-13 for intense sequences of action violence and brief strong language; also available on Blu-ray

The Gist: More Malkovich fun as a team of retired CIA operatives reunite for one last adventure.

The Lowdown: Adapted from the inspired comic book series, “Red” gets a lot of mileage out of its CIA-meets-AARP premise, and is just about perfectly cast. On board: Bruce Willis as the gallant hitman, Malkovich as the lunatic sidekick, Helen Mirren as the still-foxy spy, and Morgan Freeman as Morgan Freeman. They’re joined by the divine actress Mary Louise Parker, whose comic chops are on display weekly over on Showtime’s “Weeds.”

The basic story – superspy geezers show the young punks how it’s done – is entirely disposable. And that’s fine, because it’s all about the characters, the jokes, and to a lesser extent the action scenes. “Red” seems to be the movie that a lot of recent films really wanted to be. The plot is similar to “The Expendables,” the tone recalls “The Losers,” and the overall Bourne-lite vibe echoes “The A-Team” and “Knight and Day.” “Red” puts it all together properly.

The Extras: Deleted scenes, interactive trivia and interview snippets, and a commentary track from a real retired CIA dude.

The Bottom Line: Fun, funny and stylish – a good time all around.

Double Secret Bonus Tip: “Red” also borrows heavily from the “Ocean’s 11” movies. If you liked those, you’ll probably like this.

Which Way Home

Documentary; unrated

The Gist: A thrilling and touching documentary on unaccompanied migrant children from Mexico and Central America who hop freight trains to the U.S.

The Lowdown: A 2010 Oscar nominee for Best Documentary Feature, “Which Way Home” initially premiered on HBO and only got a limited theatrical release.

Director Rebecca Cammisa’s film isn’t overtly political concerning the immigration issue – but it is a focused glimpse into that world that we can all benefit from. Cammisa follows the stories of about a half-dozen kids – some as young as nine years old – who run away from home, hop these trains, and hope for a better life in America.

You can imagine the risks these children face, riding the rails all alone. Cammisa’s team keeps the cameras rolling from Guatemala to Texas – this is some serious guerrilla film making.

The Extras: Deleted scenes, additional info on the National Center for Refugee and Immigrant Children

The Bottom Line: Another amazing entry in a yearlong string of strong documentary films.

Double Secret Bonus Tip: Among the film’s executive producers? John Malkovich. Seriously. It’s freaking me out a little.

Quick Picks: Three more excellent new-to-DVD docs to check out: the Elliot Spitzer documentary “Client 9,” “Gasland,” concerning natural gas drilling, and “Freakonomics,” based on the popular book. For a transgressive cinema double feature, consider pairing director Gaspar Noe’s most recent, the hallucinatory “Enter the Void,” with the surrealist horror classic “Santa Sangre,” finally released to DVD and Blu-ray.

Also New This Week: “The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest,” “Open Season 3,” “Inspector Bellamy,” “Zorro: The Complete Series” and “Saw: The Final Chapter” (sure, it is…)

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