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Films caught on video or in rerelease...
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last update 22.Jun.06
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Ellie Parker   4/5
Writer-director-actor-cinematographer Coffey sharply catches the life of an aspiring actress in this entertaining fly-on-the-wall comedy, which contains another tour de force performance from Watts.

Ellie Parker (Watts) is a bundle of nerves as she drives from audition to audition across Los Angeles, changing clothes, make-up, hairstyles and personalities in the car. And her personal life is just as fragmented, especially when she catches her boyfriend (Pellegrino) in bed with a casting agent (Syme) and she's rear-ended by a wannabe cinematographer (Coffey). Her best friend Sam (Riggs) takes her in and her agent (Chase) tries to talk her into sticking with the job. But is it worth all this pain?

The raw filming style--handheld cameras, natural lighting and sound--makes the movie feel bracingly real, and Ellie is thoroughly engaging, even though she's more than a little unhinged. Her inner fantasies and therapy sessions open up a deeply confused inner life. Jealousies, insecurities and mood swings are bad enough without all the nutty stuff that happens to her every day. But Coffey doesn't dwell on any of it; he nimbly bounces from scene to scene, piling on the misadventures and drawing us into her world of hope against all reason.

Of course, Watts takes this character and runs with it. The film is like a comical variation of the woman she played in Mulholland Drive as she zigzags from high comedy to intense tragedy in seconds to impress casting directors and to compete with Sam. She's perfect in every scene--funny, scary and surprisingly touching. She also gets one of the most hysterical spit-takes in recent memory. And the cast around her is terrific.

There are moments when it gets a rather silly or falls back on the obvious gag. Several scenes actually build to goofy punch-lines. But this is a witty observation of the mechanics of acting and the struggles of an actor. There's also a serious edge to it, looking at broken dreams and the fact that talent just doesn't equal success. Together, Coffey and Watts layer in so many telling touches that it becomes an unmissably scruffy little gem.

dir-scr Scott Coffey
with Naomi Watts, Rebecca Riggs, Scott Coffey, Mark Pellegrino, Chevy Chase, Kim Fay, Blair Mastbaum, Jennifer Syme, David Baer, Johanna Ray, Fanshen Cox, Keanu Reeves
watts release US 11.Nov.05;
UK 14.Jul.06
05/US 1h35


26th Shadows Awards
Naomi Watts

15 themes, language, nudity, sexuality, drugs
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Gwendoline   2/5
British censors refused to grant this film a release certificate in 1984 (and again on video in 1986) mainly due to the film's gleeful combination of violence with scantily clad women. Well, it finally makes it to DVD now, and looks positively ridiculous in retrospect.

The virginal Gwendoline (Kitaen) stows away to China with her friend Beth (Zabou) to go in search of Gwendoline's father, who disappeared during an expedition to find a rare butterfly. Immediately in trouble, the girls are rescued by the square-jawed American mercenary Willard (Huff), who they manipulate into taking them up river to the land of the Yik-Yak. Adventures ensue as they encounter pirates, outpost traders, cannibals, a sandstorm and, finally, an army of women in S&M gear led by a torture-happy queen (Lafont).

Despite inventive wide-screen direction by Jaeckin, this is one of the most ridiculously camp films you'll ever see. The stiff acting is atrociously dubbed, and the story is just appallingly silly, constantly adding mysterious legends, odd customs and lost civilisations, not to mention any excuse for the actors to lose their shirts. Or more. Stir in hysterically awful dialog ("Hey, are you guys OK? You're not dead or anything?"), not to mention a dire faux oriental rom-com score that runs right through the nutty fight scenes, and you have a movie so bad its fantastic.

Yes, the plot draws heavily from the Indiana Jones films as well as African Queen, with the tone of Flash Gordon or Barbarella. Huff clearly bases Willard on two snarky Harrison Ford characters--Indy and Han Solo--and then willingly goes far, far over the edge in a jaw-droppingly hilarious sequence in which Willard goes undercover as a supervixen, complete with g-string. But he bravely charges onwards, somehow developing chemistry with the wooden Kitaen along the way. Which is why the film wins us over despite itself. Riotously, wonderfully terrible.

dir-scr Just Jaeckin
with Tawny Kitaen, Brent Huff, Zabou, Bernadette Lafont, Jean Rougerie, André Julien, Hua Quach, Jean Stanislas Capoul, Maurice Lamy, Dominique Marcas, Roger Paschy, Roland Amstutz
huff and kitaen release Fr 8.Feb.84,
US 25.Jan.85,
UK 12.Jun.06 dvd
84/France Roissy 1h40
18 themes, violence, nudity, sexuality
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The Searchers 4.5/5
For its 50th anniversary, this film has been gorgeously remastered with a flurry of DVD extras. And it's well worth watching again to see why it's often called the greatest Western ever made.

It's 1868 in Texas, and the enigmatic Civil War veteran Ethan (Wayne) returns to visit his family. But he's barely home when Comanches raid the farm, kill his brother and sister-in-law and kidnap his nieces. So Ethan, the eldest daughter's fiance (Carey) and an adopted nephew (Hunter) ride off to find them. But it's pretty hopeless. Years later they find the youngest girl (now played by Wood) has gone native. Is it too late to rescue her?

This is a big movie with sprawling vistas, loads of important characters, soaring music, huge action sequences, buffalo stampedes (in the snow!), dust-blasted settlers, knowing glances, suspicious pasts, Mexicans in gigantic sombreros and Indians with Hollywood pin-up features and terrible costumes (although at the time it probably looked incredibly realistic). John Ford orchestrates it expertly, from the intimate drama to the epic expanse, getting the most out of his cast.

Wayne is at his most lovably gruff here--mysterious and dangerous, grumpy and yet fiercely loyal. Hunter is like the Paul Walker of his day: hunky, gratuitously shirtless and very dumb. And also extremely likable. He and Wayne have a terrific spark of chemistry that gives the film a solid core. And the side characters are all memorably quirky, with strong moments of comedy laced from start to finish.

This is a gripping story told with lots of passion and wit. The spacious cinematography and genuinely gritty plot keep us riveted, and compensate for the way some aspects of the film seem goofy in retrospect. There are scenes that are creepy or terrifying, as well as hilariously funny (such as when Hunter accidentally buys an Indian wife). It feels a little padded out with a heavy romantic subplot between Hunter and Miles, but as it heads for the massive, complex final sequence, the emotion and energy grab us completely. Essential.

dir John Ford
scr Frank S Nugent
with John Wayne, Jeffrey Hunter, Vera Miles, Ward Bond, Natalie Wood, John Qualen, Olive Carey, Henry Brandon, Ken Curtis, Harry Carey Jr, Hank Worden, Pat Wayne
hunter and wayne release US 13.Mar.56,
UK 23.Sep.56
56/US Warner 1h59
U themes, violence
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Stay   2.5/5
An intriguing tale of a man who loses his grip on reality, this artful and moody film gets seriously under the skin, even though it's impossible to follow.

Sam (McGregor) is a New York psychiatrist whose new patient Henry (Gosling) is a young artist determined to commit suicide on his 21st birthday. So Sam sets out to stop Henry, searching for him around the city and visiting his mother (Burton), who supposedly died several months ago. He also consults with his blind mentor (Hoskins), who might be Henry's father. And Sam's painter girlfriend (Watts) seems to know more than she thinks she knows. Or something.

Forster and Benioff blend the tone of films like The Sixth Sense and Jacob's Ladder to disorient us at every turn. The main problem is that they pretentiously keep us at arm's length, deliberately muddying the plot from start to finish. We're gripped simply because we are trying so hard to make sense of it all; but all this effort prevents us from really engaging with the characters and their dilemmas.

The cast is terrific--they create people who are so interesting that we are willing to work at figuring out who they are and what they're doing and how they're connected. McGregor and Gosling are fascinating as two men whose personalities seem to merge before our eyes. Watts is as powerful as ever, and the side characters register strongly.

But the film is just too ice cold. In the end, we just go along with the strong performances and Forster's retro-futuristic visual wackiness. He seems to be going for a David Lynch-like exploration of the dark recesses of the human soul, but he never gets there. And we give up trying to make sense of it, because we know that either the filmmakers will reveal everything when they're good and ready, or they'll just add one more twist and leave us in the dark. And it doesn't matter which, really.

dir Marc Forster
scr David Benioff
with Ewan McGregor, Naomi Watts, Ryan Gosling, Bob Hoskins, Kate Burton, Elizabeth Reaser, Janeane Garofalo, BD Wong, Amy Sedaris, Isaach De Bankolé, Mark Margolis, Jessica Hecht
mcgregor and watts release US 21.Oct.05,
UK 3.Mar.06
05/US Regency 1h39

26th Shadows Awards
Naomi Watts

15 themes, language, violence
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© 2006 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall