24 Frames

Movies: Past, present and future

Category: Secretariat

Meeting John Malkovich, always a dangerous liaison

October 18, 2010 |  8:00 am


John Malkovich leans back in a wicker chair in the garden restaurant of the Chateau Marmont and, after a long drag on a cigarette says, “I guess I'm not a very contemplative person.”

Coming from many actors, the statement might seem credible. From Malkovich, whose every utterance is both intensely introspective and drolly absurd, it's an Escher-like impossibility, a joke that folds in on itself.

Malkovich seems as intent on upending expectations as he has at any point in his 25-year film career. After parts in auteur movies from the likes of Clint Eastwood (“Changeling”) and the Coen Bros. (“Burn After Reading”) and a role in a commercial failure this summer (“Jonah Hex”), the actor is off to work on two operas. But not before a stopover in Los Angeles to promote, with his usual mix of the thoughtful and the deadpan, “Red,” one of the most populist films he's done since playing the Cyrus "The Virus" Grissom in “Con Air” 13 years ago.

In his new film, a violent, comic book-derived action comedy that grossed a solid $22.5 million over the weekend, Malkovich inhabits the role of a trigger-happy paranoid. “Like most actors, I like to squeeze off a few rounds whenever possible,” he says, before adding, in his trademark overly enunciated articulation, “Not in life, hopefully. And as long as everything is safe and the armor is competent.”

In recent months, Malkovich has been feeling his commercial oats. He currently also can be seen in “Secretariat,” Disney's feel-good family film about the iconic horse. Six weeks away from his 57th birthday, the actor has a surprisingly youthful face, though the rigid Shakespearean bearing we've seen in many of his screen roles remains present as ever.

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Critical Mass: 'Secretariat'

October 8, 2010 |  2:29 pm


Secretariat was one heck of a horse. In 1973, it became the first U.S. horse to win the Triple Crown of thoroughbred racing in 25 years. Disney's "Secretariat" is more of a mixed bag, however. And the possessive is key here, because as The Times' Kenneth Turan points out, this film is "merely 'suggested by' [William Nack's nonfiction work] rather than the customary 'based on.' "

Turan comes out with lukewarm praise for the film, which "shows no fear of the sentimental, and that's putting it mildly." But he does say "a trio of interlocking factors keep the winces at a minimum and stop the film from going too far off the rails."

Those factors are the great real-life story behind the film, the directing-writing combo of Randall Wallace and Mike Rich and the "most significant factor in the success of 'Secretariat' is Diane Lane's crucial performance as Penny Chenery, who owned the horse and was a trailblazer in a male-dominated world that was unapologetically unfriendly to women with power."

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Preview review: 'Secretariat' tries to sneak up on the blind side

April 29, 2010 | 12:44 pm

Diane-Lane-and-John-Malkovich-in-SECRETARIAT_jpgAt a Disney meet and greet last week, Chairman Rich Ross gushed over the company's October release "Secretariat," saying the film tells a "very impactful" story and "sends a signal of what we believe Disney is and what Disney can be."

But the trailer sends a slightly different signal:  that of a dubious TV movie.

The movie is based on the "impossible true story" of homemaker Penny (Diane Lane), who seizes control of her father's stables when he falls ill. Though Penny doesn't know a lot about horses, she employs famous trainer Lucien Laurin (John Malkovich), and the two are able to bring one horse to racing glory.

We're really not fans of the voice-over that Lane narrates as the preview begins, as she extols the virtues of horses. "In frenzied excitement he eats up the ground," she says as we see hoofs clomp fiercely around the race track. She sounds like a mother excitedly reading her children a bedtime story, and we're not all that jazzed about the tale we're about to hear.

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