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Tobey Maguire stars as jockey Red Pollard in Seabiscuit
Seabiscuit
Writ. & dir. Gary Ross, based on the book by Laura Hillenbrand; feat. Tobey Maguire, Jeff Bridges, Chris Cooper, Elizabeth Banks, Gary Stevens, William H. Macy (PG-13)

"You don't throw a whole life away just 'cause it's banged up a little," insists Tom Smith (Cooper), rescuing an injured horse from imminent execution. A cowboy who has outlived the age of the open range, Smith is himself banged up a little by the time he is hired by Charles Howard (Bridges) to train his horses. Yet so is Howard, who found a fortune selling cars but lost his son and his marriage to an automotive accident. And so is Johnny "Red" Pollard (Maguire), the one-eyed, oversized jockey whom Howard adopts as his rider and surrogate son.

Seabiscuit, which Gary Ross deftly adapted from Laura Hillenbrand's richly textured book, is the improbable story of how three banged-up men found redemption in a scruffy bay colt no one else thought was worth much more than glue.

 
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Charley Kurtsinger (Chris McCarron) rides War Admiral and George Woolf (Gary Stevens) rides Seabiscuit in the legendary match race at Pimlico
If only for its spectacular sequences of man-on-horse in motion, Seabiscuit is a splendid addition to the cinema of sports. But with the judicious use of stills and the voiceover of historian David McCullough, it also provides the snapshot of an era, the late 1930s, when Depression America was more than a little banged up and the little colt that could gave hope to millions who could not. When Seabiscuit, the people's pony, Horatio Alger of the hippodrome, defeats War Admiral, the pride of the Eastern elite, at Pimlico, heart and sweat trump privilege. And when Seabiscuit and Pollard both return from career-ending injuries to take the Santa Anita Handicap, we can all take heart in the truth of second chances. "This is a horse who won't give up even when life beats him by a nose," says Howard. Seabiscuit is a horse's tale about underdogs, and from starting gate to finish line it is a timely and tonic reminder that once upon a time in America neither wealth nor birth counted as much as spunk. Steven G. Kellman


Lara Croft Tomb Raider: Cradle of Life
Dir. Jan de Bont; writ. Steven E. de Souza and James V. Hart; feat. Angelina Jolie, Gerard Butler, Ciarán Hinds, Chris Barrie, Noah Taylor and Djimon Hounsou. (PG-13)

I enjoy action flicks far more than I should. As appalled as I am by the genre's trademark hyper-masculinity, heterosexist, violence-solves-all tent poles for whatever plot may or may not hold it all together, I have to admit to being an adrenaline junkie who will jump and clap like a giddy teenager during kung-fu fights and climactic car chases. And why shouldn't I? A well-crafted action movie provides cheap thrills. The most innovative of the mainstream can impart a philosophical message, like the Matrix, or, like the Hulk, even toy with the language of film itself.

Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life is no such film.

 
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(Left to right) Gerard Butler as Terry Sheridan and Angelina Jolie as Lara Croft in Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life
In TR2, Croft, a freelance adventurer-archaeologist, must prevent a maniacal bio-terrorist from tracking down the "cradle of life" - the Pandora's box of legend which, if opened, will cause the death of millions. An advocate of social Darwinism (only the strong - and those able to afford it - will survive, he says), the bio-terrorist is more menacing while serving drinks on his private jet than when he is involved in fisticuffs with Croft. On the other hand, Jolie-as-Croft just goes through the motions, without imparting any sense of danger or risk. Sort of like playing a videogame.

Standard, unimpressive fare, TR2 is all the more disappointing considering that director Jan de Bont once helmed an enjoyable, if light, movie about a runaway bus. Speed kept moving, even when the vehicles stopped. Here, it seems the movement all but grinds to a halt outside of a brief-but-enjoyable fight between our heroine and a secondary villain 30 minutes into the movie. The inappropriately jumpy camera work and overused slo-mo shots (both warning signs in my book) appear far too often and distract from the rhythm of subsequent fight scenes. De Bont even botches what should be the film's breathtaking moment, where Croft and her partner make a daring escape by leaping off a skyscraper, a la Rocky the Flying Squirrel. This moment is just one of several different costume changes throughout the film. (Croft: swimsuit edition! Croft: biker! Croft: riding horseback! Croft: swimsuit edition!) Yet, rather than being campy or tongue-in-cheek (a la Charlie's Angels), TR2 downplays its laughs - which is too bad, because it's far too ridiculous to be taken seriously. Alejandro Pérez


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