FlixChatter Review: Secretariat

I saw this on day 4 of the film festival last week. There aren’t a lot of movies with strong female roles in Hollywood, so it’s nice that three out of four of the studio films at TCFF feature characters based on real-life strong women in a male-dominated arena. Secretariat is more than just a horse race movie, the heart of the movie is its owner Penny Chenery, and Fair Game‘s true heroine Valerie Plame is a CIA spy — it doesn’t get any more feisty than that. Fair Game review forthcoming.

Before I saw this movie I had never heard of a horse named Secretariat and its legacy. But I was up for a feel-good, rousing movie and that’s exactly what I got and more. In fact, I was quite moved by the story of Penny Chenery, an ordinary housewife who ends up taking over her ailing father’s Meadow Stables in Virginia, despite her lack of experience with horse-racing business. Apparently the name came courtesy of the Stables’ secretary, Elizabeth Ham, who was had submitted 10 names to the Jockey Club, all of which were denied for various reasons [per Wikipedia]. Heh, I wonder what the other 10 were if this was considered a winning name??

I haven’t seen Diane Lane play such a ‘button-up’ role, I initially thought this is a rather unusual role for her, I guess she’s known for her sensual presence on screen. But you know what, she delivered a believable and affecting performance as Penny. In fact, this movie focuses as much on her as it does on the Triple Crown winner, and does it in a captivating way that I wasn’t at all bored during the almost 2-hr running time.

It’s nice to see John Malkovich playing a somewhat ‘normal’ character, but of course he retains his signature quirkiness, which is what makes him so watchable. He plays the French Canadian veteran horse trainer Lucien Laurin who’s dressed like Superfly, quite possibly the zaniest-dressed horse trainer there ever was. I hope he didn’t design those himself (in case you didn’t know, Malkovich has his own fashion label) There’s a funny scene where Miss Ham commented about how much he paid for his hat, both characters are quite the comic relief here.

The action shots of the horse races are fun to watch, I found myself cheering for Secretariat as if I was right there watching him on the Kentucky Derby racetrack. The grand finale of the race at Belmont Stakes is particularly memorable and made me want to stand up and cheer. The gospel-style music also helps set the mood though I’m not quite sure what the connection of that and the occasional Bible references are to the story. The heart-stirring scene of the large chestnut colt being born was also one of the highlights, no shortage of beauty shots of the super horse, that’s for sure.

Directed by Randall Wallace, who’s best known as the writer of Braveheart, he only had 3 directing credits in his career. One of which is The Man in The Iron Mask, another personal favorite of mine. I thoroughly enjoyed this movie, it’s right up there with the underdog football movie Rudy and the similarly-themed Seabiscuit.

I highly recommend this to everyone of all ages, whether or not horse race is your thing.

Have you seen this movie? What did you think?

TCFF Day 5: Fair Game concluded the 5-day film festival

Bill Pohlad (far right) with Naomi Watts and the writers of Fair Game at Cannes

The Twin Cities Film Fest concluded its five-day event with a festive Fair Game screening, attended by Minneapolis-native film producer William (Bill) Pohlad (who’s also part owner of the Minnesota Twins). The Pohlad family foundation was one of the primary sponsors for the festival and played a huge part in funding this event, the Pohlad Family Foundation offered a dollar-for-dollar matching grant if consumers and film lovers can collaboratively donate $5000 leading up to the festival. Many moviegoers outside of Minnesota might not have heard of him, but most likely you’ve heard of the films he’s produced. Some of his biggest projects include Brokeback Mountain, A Prairie Home Companion, and the Sean Penn-directed Into the Wild. According to bizjournal, Pohlad launched a new production company Apparition last year, which was the company behind the Jane Campion period drama Bright Star and the upcoming Terrence Malick’s drama Tree of Life, starring Brad Pitt and Sean Penn. That movie marks the third collaboration between Mr. Pohlad and Sean Penn (who also stars in Fair Game) and reportedly a fourth one is forthcoming, according to Filmofilia, Pohlad will direct Penn in book editor Max Perkins’ biopic.

I finished my shift late afternoon last night, which gave me enough time to grab some dinner and back in time to see Fair Game. About 10 minutes before the movie started, Mr. Pohlad arrived dressed in jeans, white shirt and black sports coat. He also introduced the movie, a political drama based on the autobiography of real-life undercover CIA operative Valerie Plame (Naomi Watts) whose covert identity was exposed by a politically motivated press leak.

Well, this week was a record for me as far as movie-watching is concerned, I don’t think I have seen that many films within a 5-day period! In my post last week, I was hoping to catch these five movies during the film fest, and guess what, I got four out of five! Tuesday I got to see Nowhere Boy (read my review), followed by the documentary World’s Largest and Secretariat on Friday, and Fair Game on Saturday. As the festival attached two short films in front of some feature films, I also got to see Per Bianca and Flourtown shorts, the latter combined live action and animation, which was quite a visual feast.

Glad to say that all the movies I saw were all enjoyable, my favorite of all of them was probably Nowhere Boy, with Secretariat a close second. I should have my review of this one and Secretariat sometime early next week, I was hoping to get ’em done tonight but I’m kind of taking a bit of blogging break after such a hectic week.

My first time volunteering at a film festival was a blast, I probably was a bit ambitious trying to fit everything in: blogging, on-site volunteering and watching the films, so maybe I’ll just do two out of three next year 🙂 World’s Largest‘s director Amy Elliot held a Q&A after the screening and she said that the highlight of making the movie was meeting the people she met along the way, some of which became personal friends. Well, I would have the answer if someone asked me what the best part of this whole volunteering experience was. Of course watching the movies were great, but the highlight of being a part of TCFF for me was getting to know the staff and fellow volunteers, a lot of them from the local film community. Ulysses, Lee Jordan, Kathleen, Holly, Michael, Melissa and MJ, it was a pleasure knowing you and hope we’ll meet again at some point. Becky, a.k.a. Prairiegirl, thanks for signing up to volunteer with me, it wouldn’t have been as fun without you!

Congratulations to Jatin Setia and co. for the success of the TCFF debut, it was truly a feat to transform your vision into reality. Of course it helps to have such a great staff alongside you: Bill Cooper, Robyn Johnson, Erin Halvorson, Naomi Dahlgren, John Mellesmoen, and the rest of the staff – great job everyone, I’m sure you all deserve the much-needed sleep by now! 😀 As a passionate movie fan, I thank you all for allowing me to be a part of this wonderful event. Here’s hoping for continued success for TCFF in the years to come!

TCFF Day 4: Secretariat, Flourtown, Nature of Existence

TCFF day 4 has come and went, and we’re about to close the 5-day film festival with FAIR GAME later tonight. Executive Producer Bill Pohlad will be on-hand at this red carpet event to introduce the movie at 7pm. Do you have your tickets yet? The online ticket sales is closed right now, but you may still purchase tickets at the box office before the show using cash or check.

I volunteered again all afternoon yesterday, doing various tasks such as passing out schedules at the ticket booth, tearing out tickets of people going into the screening, and handing out rush tickets (or stand-by tickets) of Secretariat to people who might be interested. It’s kind of expected that people are cautious about strangers handing out stuff in a public area, you practically see ’em as they walk toward you. The best you can do is put on the best smile you can muster and try to use the word ‘free’ or ‘complimentary’ in there somewhere 😀 A mother & daughter were actually looking to see a movie and had been interested to see Secretariat, so their eyes lit up when we gave each of them a rush ticket. That really made the whole thing worthwhile.

One of the two main features of Day 4 is The Nature of Existence, directed by Minnesota’s own filmmaker Roger Nygard, who did TREKKIES back in 1997. This time he took on a more spiritual/metaphysical quest by traveling the globe to interview various people and start by asking the biggest question: “why do we exist?” After a four-year world-wide odyssey beginning in 2005, he had over 450 hours of footage to boil down to an hour and a half worth of feature-length documentary. You can check out the reviews of this at RottenTomatoes. I ran into Mr. Nygard during my shift but as I was wearing my volunteering hat, I didn’t get a chance to ask him any question of my own. I personally would like to know if he had learned anything from this journey, and what his real motivation was in making this. At first glance it seems that despite its thought-provoking appeal, it’d probably raise far more questions than answer… which makes me think that the tag line in the poster (every mystery of human existence… explained in one movie) is nothing more than wishful thinking.

After my shift, I checked out Secretariat, the ‘horse movie’ as everyone calls it, which was a rousing good fun. I don’t know much about the subject matter, but I really enjoyed it. The movie was preceded by a short movie Flourtown, about a couple who search for a reason to live after their boys die, and make a surprising discovery in their own lives as artists. It’s a really beautifully-filmed short, created by William Slichter who uses his background in Fine Arts in his storytelling. Check out the trailer:

Another volunteer shift beckons, so watch for my review of Secretariat and Fair Game hopefully tomorrow. Stay tuned!