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Damn it! If you want to believe
in something, then believe in
it! Just because something isn’t
true, that’s no reason you can’t
believe in it!

What a great bit of dialogue that is… what a saying to carry around. At some point or another in SECONDHAND LIONS it is spoken with absolute conviction by Robert Duvall. It is the sort of dialogue that you can take outside a movie, apply to so many things. In it’s simplest form it is about faith.

When you’re a kid growing up in this world you realize there’s all sorts of things that grown-ups tell kids that are lies. Usually it starts with something like Santa Claus… moves on to cover phrases like, “Everything is going to be all right,” and well… you know what I’m talking about. Those moments in life where you just stop believing in things, be they your parents, God, public officials and ultimately in yourself. It is all a part of growing up, becoming a man, a woman… an adult some say, but the thing that happens along the way is if you’re lucky you find things to believe in. Things you know not to be true, but it’s those bits of fantasy in a life that make it magical. That give it a sparkle, a comfort and a reason to go through that next day, to achieve that goal you have in mind. You learn the proper use of tall tales and mythological creations… Along with the need to pass them on. SECONDHAND LIONS is about that. It’s about ceasing to be that boy that’s scared of that crazy world out there and instead embraces it and dares to dream and believe in things he can’t see, know or touch as being certainties. Personally, that’s beautiful to me.

SECONDHAND LIONS is the best film that a friend of mine has made. I’ve known director/writer Tim McCanlies for a good while now. He’s attended 3 out of 4 Butt-Numb-A-Thons, never with a film, always as a fan of it. He wrote perhaps the best film this site has ever championed… THE IRON GIANT. He’s just directed one of the best films I’ve had a privilege to write about.

In a media sense, this film is where Haley Joel Osment makes the transition from being a great child-actor, to being a great teenage-actor. This is the film that Shirley Temple never found. The one that took her from being just the cutest little girl in the world to being a young woman. Because she never found her SECONDHAND LIONS, she wound up becoming a politician.

The story can be told very glibly by a reviewer:

SECONDHAND LIONS is the heart-warming tale of discovery. When young Walter is left with a pair of cantankerous old coots for the summer, he learns more than he bargained for.

YUCK, right?


In many ways, that’s how SECONDHAND LIONS is being sold in trailers. “I SEE GRUMPY OLD MEN!”

Instead, in many ways… the film is far closer to being about the childhood of Bill Watterson as one would imagine. What’s the story behind Calvin & Hobbes? What were his parents really like? Who bought him the rayguns? Where’d he get Hobbes and who named him? This film in many ways is the story behind that all. You see, we begin with a cartoonist drawing a strip with a young boy and a lion… Art by Berkeley Breathed, btw… Actually… that’s not true, we start in a plane, a bi-plane… an old World War 1 plane doing aerial ballet moves… the sequence seems to celebrate life, then we cut to an adult Walter amongst his art, when the phone rings… It’s the sheriff, he’s got some bad news… Walter… Walter…

BAM – we’re on Haley Joel Osment (Walter as an old boy/young man age… the cusp of being a teenager.) It was like watching a live-action Pixar movie, except better than that. You see, I know that’s hard to believe, but this is the writer of THE IRON GIANT, which is, for me at least, even better than the Pixar films. Here, you have the same basic perspective. A young kid being placed in an unlikely tale. One filled with whimsy and characters and things that are all sorts of improbable… but they happen to be true, well… as true as a fictional film goes, but for this boy… this fictional film is his reality, and he has a lot to learn about life here… and he does.

I wish the film had been being sold to audiences as a mystery. Shots of a room filled with money, a shot of a room filled with gold. That old lady saying, “I know, for a fact, that they’re really ex-Mafia hit-men, on the run with millions they stole from Al Capone…” While Showing Hub and Garth alternately firing shotguns at salesmen and hoe-ing the garden. Then Haley saying, “So that’s how you got all your money? The gold from the sheik?” As we see hub sword fighting with the plunger in his sleep. Next: “…your uncles match the description of two big-time bank robbers from the 20’s and 30’s.” as he uncovers a picture of a beautiful Arabic lady covered in sand. Sell the mystery of a boy in the care of insane men that may be heroes or villains… Treasure that may be gold or stolen loot. A farm with Lions, Giraffes, Dogs and a Pig. Sell it as a summer of mystery that changed his life forever. That’s what this film is. Not some goofy wink and nod Disney knock-off.

To me, the most appealing thing about the film is the mystery of who Hub and Garth are? What is the truth? Is there a truth? It is about believing in what you need to believe in. That’s the key. Ultimately, you must choose something to believe in, otherwise you have nothing to think about in those quiet moments in life. I mean… after the final revelations of the film, I can still argue a couple of different ways that perhaps it was all true. You see… For me, I didn’t want them to just be Heroes or just be Villains. I believe these old men did everything that life could ever throw at them. I believe there are mysteries about Michael Caine’s Garth that run even deeper than Duvall’s. I believe Duvall is more enigmatic in the film… But there’s a sly knowing glimmer behind everything that Caine says that tells of his story.

It might just be that cinematically – I know both Duvall and Caine. I know they’ve been both Heroes and Villains. I know that when I look at them, they carry so much history with every look and glance – that even though the story that is spoken is great – these two great actors are telling two or three other stories without saying em. But then, that’s why these two guys are Robert Duvall and Michael Caine. They’ve been lawyers, cross-dressing psychopaths, spies, hit men, pirates, lovers, sportsmen and more. The characters in SECONDHAND LIONS have been all that and more perhaps. One could scarcely imagine the adventures they’ve led.

In the throes of one action scene, Duvall clutches a character by the throat and over the gurgling of his victim he lets out:

I’m Hub McCann. I’ve fought in
two World Wars and countless
smaller ones on three continents.
I’ve led thousands of men into
battle with horses and swords,
artillery and tanks. I’ve seen
the headwaters of the Nile and
tribes of natives no white men
had ever seen before. I’ve won
and lost a dozen fortunes, killed
many men, and loved only one
woman with a passion a flea like
you could never begin to
Understand. That’s who I am.

You get the sense that Haley is in the care of the sort of adventurers that perhaps filled pages at a penny a word in the days of such pulp heroes. Here they are, after the villains all cowered and bruises ceased healing. Here they are with spirit and fire and character that you could only hope to come across meeting in your life… if you were so lucky. Hub and Garth are the type of men that don’t brag to riff raff, they set the record straight… put things in perspective, and wish to make men out of worms and punks… and they ain’t afraid of anything.

When I was a boy, there was a fella that was one of my father’s best friends, his son is one of my best friends now. Unfortunately, this man passed on way too early in life. Way too early. But these characters reminded me of him. He believed in this phrase he passed on to me. “LIVE GOOD” It was a mighty phrase. I climbed pyramids in far off jungles with this man, went to the race track with him, went to a clothing optional apartment complex with him and learned that life was something you got one shot at. He lived big, but though he is gone now, I will never forget him. He fought for justice as a lawyer, served sandwiches to the homeless, befriended bandits in Mexico and loved many beautiful women. And his son is one helluva good man. SECONDHAND LIONS is a film dedicated to folks that pass on eccentricities and a passion for life.

The film is going to open against UNDERWORLD, which is supposed to be a good film as well… DON’T OVERLOOK THIS MOVIE! Robert Duvall’s HUB is a character fully on par with Spencer Tracy’s MANNY from CAPTAIN’S COURAGEOUS. If you’ve never seen that film, then by God, get you away from this computer and seek it out immediately. Like SECONDHAND LIONS… it is a film that it is not worth living without!

Now... If Warner Brothers had sense one... if they really are getting rid of Jon Peters & McG as I've heard - they'll hand SUPERMAN to Tim McCanlies and we'll get a film that is more than empty popcorn tubs, we'd get a film that captures the soul of last son of Krypton and a film that really gets what it is to be a hero. Tim's done it with IRON GIANT and SECONDHAND LIONS. But hell, Warners doesn't deserve him, even if the characters do.

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