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Nine Bucks on Secretariat 

Ur-Disney exercise shines against this week's crap cavalcade of horror, rom-com


RED. Based on a DC graphic novel about a former black-ops CIA agent marked for assassination, this shoot-’em-up stars Bruce Willis as Frank Moses, a "retired, extremely dangerous" spy who reassembles his old crew (Morgan Freeman, John Malkovich and Helen Mirren) to fight the power. Directed by Robert Schwentke (The Time Traveler's Wife). 111 m. Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of action violence and brief strong language. Opens at the Broadway, Mill Creek and the Fortuna.

JACKASS 3-D. Johnny Knoxville and his Jackass crew are back with more stupid death-defying don't-try-this-at-home stunts, this time recorded with 3-D cameras. Rated R for male nudity, extremely crude and dangerous stunts throughout, and for language. Opens at the Broadway and the Fortuna in 3-D, in 2-D at Mill Creek and the Minor.

Humboldt State's Associated Students present Fixer: The Taking of Ajmal Naqshbandi, a documentary about the relationship between American journalist Christian Parenti and Afghan interpreter/fixer Ajmal Naqshbandi, who is kidnapped by the Taliban. The film's director, Ian Olds, will attend Thursday's screening at the Kate Buchanan Room and will answer questions after the film.

KMUD and the Mateel Community Center co-sponsor a free screening of the concert film Jane's Addiction's** **Live Voodoo on Friday at the Mateel. Shot on Halloween last year at Voodoo Experience in New Orleans, the film captures the reunion of the classic Jane's Addiction line-up with Perry Farrell, Dave Navarro, Eric Avery and Stephen Perkins jamming on a bunch of old tunes. Come early for dinner (proceeds go to KMUD) and bring a few bucks for beer, wine and cocktails (the Mateel runs the bar).

Arcata Theatre Lounge has the cult flick Donnie Darko Sunday, with Jake Gyllenhaal as Donnie, a troubled teen with a giant invisible rabbit for a friend. Directed and written by Richard Kelly.

Next Wednesday's Sci-Fi and Pizza Night at the ATL has a pair of B-movies: The Gorgon, a British horror tale based on Greek mythology about a monster that turns its victims to stone, and The Phantom Creeps, with Bela Lugosi as the crazed inventor Dr. Zorka, out to destroy the world.

One more weekend to see the silent horror classic with Lon Chaney as the Phantom of the Opera, with a score assembled by Maestra Carol Jacobson played live by the ArMack Orchestra. The screenings at Arcata High School run Thursday, Friday and Saturday evenings with a matinee Saturday.

Charlie's back and will resume his Filmland reviewing post next week, but first he's host for Tuesday's "Based on the Book" film at the Eureka Library: The Manchurian Candidate. John Frankenheimer directs the tale of Cold War intrigue based on a novel by Richard Condon, with Frank Sinatra and Laurence Harvey as soldiers with deep secrets.

-- Bob Doran


SECRETARIAT. I feel fortunate that I watched this after the three movies I'll discuss below. I went into the theater so cynical and jaded that I didn't expect to like anything I saw. I can't count how many times I've chosen not to see movies like this out of film-freak self-righteousness. As a result I was caught completely, joyfully off-guard.

Like the titular horse, Secretariat is big and glossy and long-legged and focused and driven. It made me realize that I actually love movies, despite all their recent attempts to convince me otherwise.

This is old-school Hollywood filmmaking ... maybe not "at its finest," but still better than most. It's the kind of movie that many of us look down our noses at. But in reality, movies like this drew the blueprint and set the standard by which all the others are judged. If it weren't for big, expensive, conventional pictures like this one, we wouldn't have any sort of cinematic compass for all the "artier, more important" stuff we pretend to love but really only appreciate academically.

Say what you will about Disney -- and I've said plenty in my time -- their movies, this one included, are filled with cool, accurate period detail, smooth editing, effective musical cues and solid if occasionally over-large performances. They bear the unmistakable mark of competent professionals. They've been doing this a while, and it shows.

Watching this, I was reminded of all the great theater experiences of my childhood. I found myself, despite myself, cheering silently in my seat while chills ran up my spine. I know I've probably by now sacrificed what little street cred I had, but I don't care. Seeing that horse race around a red-dirt track with a tenacious little dude strapped to his back made me genuinely happy. Without question the high point of my movie-going weekend. 116m. Rated PG for brief mild language. At the Broadway, Mill Creek and the Fortuna.

MY SOUL TO TAKE. This horror exercise from Wes Craven fails on so many levels that its crimes are hard to enumerate. A small sampling: using the hackneyed paranoid-schizophrenia/multiple-personalities device as a central conceit, but reducing it to a cartoonish pastiche of weird voices; burdening the actors with roles that are simultaneously overblown and underdeveloped; loading the dialog with gratuitous, wooden cursing; tossing in every feint and dodge in the horror-director handbook without any attention to continuity or story or structure. The list goes on ad infinitum.

A misled hodgepodge of half-baked ideas and themes: numerology, voodoo and incongruous Christian, pro-life overtones, despite the fact that the only overtly religious character shows out like an unrehearsed tent-revival charlatan.

The pacing is slapdash and unintentional. Things are constantly happening without any sort of development, so by the time the bodies really start to pile up it's hard to care. The murder scenes are rushed and gross, trading gratuitous bloodletting for any genuine suspense or terror.

What little thrill there is here is of the cheapest, lowest sort. And don't get it twisted; this is worse than trash cinema, which can transcend its genre through competence and self-awareness. No, this is big-budget horror gone totally off the rails. 88m. Rated R for strong bloody violence, and pervasive language including sexual references. At the Broadway, Mill Creek and the Fortuna.

LIFE AS WE KNOW IT. There is nothing not to like about Life as We Know It, which is by no means an endorsement. It is mild, innocuous, almost confectionery; bland and pretty without any edges. Josh Duhamel and Katherine Heigl, two of the most imminently replaceable and inexplicably famous actors in Hollywood, are both very good looking. I guess that's what it takes to star in a movie like this.

The leads are tasked with raising the daughter of their recently deceased best friends, despite their seething mutual dislike. They soon learn that parenthood is a lot of work, and requires tremendous sacrifice, but at the end of the day raising a child is rewarding and can teach one a lot about oneself. Shocking, I know.

This is the stuff of countless rehashings, and by now it's pretty well-worn. In order to hedge their bets, the filmmakers dress it up with shallow, of-the-moment reference points: foodie culture (she's a chef and restauranteuse), professional sports (he's a technical director for NBA broadcasts) and casual sex without vicissitude or consequence.

For color, we get a peanut gallery of neighbors, all broadly drawn archetypes. There's the overweight ex-athlete with the empty beauty-queen wife; the catty, chubby over-sexed hausfrau and her frazzled, hen-pecked husband; the standard vanilla gay couple. All of whom are gushingly obsessed with Duhamel. Rob Huebel and Andrew Daly are standouts among them, though tragically under-utilized.

On the whole, this is serviceable but ultimately flavorless and uninteresting. 112m. Rated PG-13 for sexual material, language and some drug content. At the Broadway, Mill Creek, the Minor and the Fortuna.

L'ARNACOEUR (HEARTBREAKER). Like Life as We Know It, this one is predictable and light and blithe. It is packed with good cars, good suits, elegant hotels and people of severe beauty. The settings are opulent and bathed in golden, honeyed sunlight.

Structurally and stylistically, the movie is all over the map. A Bond-light opening sequence in Morocco is followed by a Wes Anderson-style expository montage introducing us to the main characters, a trio of schemers who break up couples professionally.

From there it shifts into standard rom-com mode, but with a weird tone: French charm mashed together with Hollywood tropes and trappings. Jaded chiseler boy meets engaged rich girl, attempts seduction with a few comic missteps and strategically placed Dirty Dancing sequences. She's drawn to him, then back to her fiancé, then back again, etc. Guess how it turns out.

The direction is deft and unremarkable, as is the story, which resolves in an easy, unsurprising way. It is certainly a cut above most American movies of the same type, but I wonder if I only think that because it's French.

For my taste, a little heavy on swagger and light on verve, but a pleasant enough distraction nonetheless.

-- John J. Bennett


CASE 39. Renee Zellweger plays a social worker attempting to protect a young client. Bad stuff happens. Rated R. 119m. At the Broadway and Mill Creek.

LEGENDS OF THE GUARDIANS: THE OWLS OF GA'HOOLE. CGI-animated owl wars -- in 3-D! Rated PG. 90m. At the Broadway, Fortuna and Mill Creek.

LET ME IN. Lonely kid likes the girl next door. Too bad she's a vampire. Rated R. 115m. At the Broadway.

THE SOCIAL NETWORK. You'll want to click "Like." Rated PG-13. 121m. At the Broadway, Fortuna, Mill Creek and the Minor.

THE TOWN. Ben Affleck stars as a bank robber who becomes romantically involved with one of his victims. That's when you know you're irresistible. Rated R. 112m. At the Broadway, Garberville and Mill Creek.

WALL STREET: MONEY NEVER SLEEPS. "Greed is good." This movie, not so much. Rated PG-13. At the Broadway and Fortuna.

YOU AGAIN. Not even the joy brought on by a wedding can stop Jamie Lee Curtis and Sigourney Weaver from getting all up in each other's grills. Rated PG. At the Broadway.

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John J. Bennett

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