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last update 28.Jan.08
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The Ex 3/5
the ex Likeable but uneven, this comedy is a bit too gentle for its own good, falling somewhere in between the Judd Apatow and Ben Stiller schools and relying on charm more than an astute sense of humour.

Tom (Braff) is still amazed that he married the beautiful Sofia (Peet), and he's especially insecure when he loses his job on the day she gives birth to their first child. So they relocate from Manhattan to Ohio, where Tom can take a job with his father-in-law (Grodin) at a touchy-feely ad agency. But it's not quite so nice when a colleague, the wheelchair-bound Chip (Bateman), starts to ritually humiliate him. Not only is it impossible to stand up to a disabled man, but Chip is also Sofia's teen boyfriend. And he wants her back.

The comedy has two distinct targets, and it's unclear which one the filmmakers are really going for. We've got the whole relationship issue, with new parenthood, goofy in-laws and the obsessive ex of the title. And then there's the satire of corporate life (the original title was Fast Track) in the advertising business, complete with colourful office workers and nutty clients. These two elements never quite merge, and instead fight for our attention.

What we're left with is unfocussed but fairly enjoyable. Braff is as disarmingly goofy as always in a less-cocky variation on his usual persona, while Bateman provides a terrific comic foil as the shark-like rival with a whiff of desperation about him. It's also great to see the terrific Grodin back on screen after a long absence, and Farrow is superb as his dithering wife. Then there's the roster of hysterical cameos.

In the end, the film earns the price of the ticket (or rental) with several genuinely funny sequences and a warm heart that doesn't drift too far into sentimentality. We know from the start exactly how it will all turn out, and even if the final act is badly strained--overreaching for both slapstick silliness and emotional resonance--at least we're still smiling at the end.

dir Jesse Peretz
scr David Guion, Michael Handelman
with Zach Braff, Amanda Peet, Jason Bateman, Charles Grodin, Mia Farrow, Lucian Maisel, John Benjamin Hickey, Donal Logue, Paul Rudd, Amy Poehler, Amy Adams, Josh Charles
peet and braff
release US 11.May.07,
UK 24.Sep.07 dvd
07/US Weinstein 1h33
12 themes, lanuage, innuendo
26.Dec.07 dvd
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One Two Another: To Each, Their Night 3/5   Chacun Sa Nuit
one two another Sharply filmed and acted, this elusive drama is based on a true story that highlights some uncomfortable truths about modern society even as it deftly examines a sense of teen identity.

Lucie (Brocheré) has three extremely close male friends: her ex Nico (Baché), her lover Sébastien (Perrier) and the sexy, sensitive Baptiste (Nollet). But her closest confidante is her gay brother Pierre (Dupont), and together these five late-teens make a sort of makeshift family group. Then one day Pierre doesn't come home, and Lucie becomes obsessed with finding him, tracing him through the older man (Bouvet) who hires Pierre to work his sex parties. Or maybe sleeping with a hunky cop (Boujenah) will help her learn more. Or tracking down a local skinhead (Gouix).

Arnold and Barr assemble the story with a terrific sense of perspective, getting into Lucie's head as she imagines Pierre accompanying her as she searches for him (at one point she literally wrestles with his memory). In this sense, the film feels almost like Lucie's ode to her lost brother, emphasising memories and dreams over any real demands of storytelling. The emotions are strong and the images are evocative, but the plot itself is sometimes infuriatingly hard to grasp.

The acting is terrific, as these young people develop an almost startling sense of relaxed physicality, blurring every line imaginable in their amorphous group relationship. Since they all grew up together, echoes of childhood issues and past events continue to haunt them. Yet since the film is so resolutely angled from Lucie's point of view, we never quite get into the boys' minds.

This leaves the whole film feeling somewhat mopey and melancholic. It's thoroughly intriguing, and utterly beautiful to look at, but the chain of events is deliberately vague and unsatisfying. This may make the story much more genuine (there aren't always any answers in the real world, after all), but it also makes it strangely unengaging. And only worth seeing as an artful festival film.

dir-scr Pascal Arnold, Jean-Marc Barr
with Lizzie Brocheré, Arthur Dupont, Guillaume Baché, Pierre Perrier, Nicolas Nollet, Valérie Mairesse, Karl E Landler, Matthieu Boujenah, Jean-Christophe Bouvet, Guillaume Gouix, Fabrice Michel, Marion Donon
brocherie, dupont and bache release Fr 20.Sep.06,
US 29.Jun.07,
UK 3.Mar.08 dvd
06/France Zentropa 1h35
15 themes, language, sexuality
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Third Man Out: A Donald Strachey Mystery   2.5/5
third man out Clearly designed to spark a series of gay Columbo-type mysteries, this mediocre whodunit is too corny and cliched to really work.

Donald Strachey (Allen) is a scruffy private detective in Albany, New York, making ends meet by spying on unfaithful spouses while he lives happily with his partner Timmy (Spence). He says no when obnoxious gay activist John Rutka (Wetherall) hires him to find out who's trying to kill him. But a turn of events makes him change his mind. The problem is that far too many people want to see this guy dead, and it might also be a scam cooked up by Rutka and his boyfriend (Jeffreys).

The story is told with a light-comical tone that gently pokes fun at gay stereotypes, even as it indulges in all of them. But this isn't the film's main problem, and the cast is engaging and watchable even if the comedy is never very funny and the drama has no teeth. Allen is especially likeable in the central role, slightly against type for this kind of character, but in all the right ways.

Where it wobbles is in the undercooked mystery, complete with every hackneyed plot point in the book. Really, all that's missing is a cigar and a trench coat. And the story feels like it's reworked from a leftover episode of Hart to Hart, with red herrings galore, suspects lurking down every hallway and more surprise encounters than Jessica Fletcher's heart could handle. Especially a naked encounter with porn star Rush, playing a porn star-turned-entrepreneur named Dik Steele. Honestly.

It's a shame the screenwriter made so little of this premise, falling back on trite scenes of gay domestic bliss and incredibly simplistic dramatic tension. Despite being free from the restrictions of network TV, the film has no edge to it at all. It wouldn't have taken much to make this something fresh and unusual, and this cast seems to have been up to the challenge. But without an inventive script and director, they didn't have a chance.

dir Ron Oliver
scr Mark Saltzman
with Chad Allen, Sebastian Spence, Jack Wetherall, Woody Jeffreys, Sean Young, Matthew Rush, Sean Carey, April Amber Telek, Alf Humphries, John Moore, P Lynn Johnson, James Michalopoulous
allen and spence release US 7.Jul.05 pglff,
UK 4.Feb.08
05/US 1h38
15 themes, language, violence, sexuality
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Wind Chill 3/5
wind chill Strong acting rescues this extremely slight thriller from obscurity. The script starts nowhere and, as we learn, has nowhere to go either. But the central duo is fascinating enough to keep us gripped. And a bit frightened too.

A snarky university student (Blunt) arranges a ride-share home for the holidays with a shy guy (Holmes). But shortly into their journey, she begins to realise that he's not such a stranger: he's been stalking her all semester. What's really going on here? As they struggle to get along during the drive, he takes a scenic route that leads them into a strange stretch of wintry backroad and a hit-and-run accident that leaves them marooned in a snowbank. Suddenly, it's not just about them anymore.

Director Jacobs creates a terrific atmosphere right from the start, with unsettling camera angles and tiny touches that keep us off balance, focussing on the jarring interaction of the two central characters. Blunt and Holmes nail these roles perfectly, with her bristling arrogance a terrific contrast to his potentially dangerous insecurity. Everyone else in the film (including Donovan's state trooper and Bellamy's helpful snowplow driver) barely registers at all.

By focussing so tightly on the central characters, the horror doesn't really have a chance, even when their snowy isolation turns into a Twilight Zone-style freak-out involving an incident in the distant past, ghostly priests and menacing nightmares. But all of this feels under-developed and unimportant compared to these two intriguing students.

As a result, it feels very thin indeed, as these two well-defined young people are in a movie that has no real destination. So we never worry about the fact that the script fails completely to develop the grisly back-story or really tell us what's going on, because there are more interesting things to keep an eye on than the scary stuff. Once the action moves beyond the car that has thrown Blunt and Holmes together, we lose all interest. And even a few carefully staged jolts can't get us back.

dir Gregory Jacobs
scr Joe Gangemi, Steven Katz
with Emily Blunt, Ashton Holmes, Martin Donovan, Ned Bellamy, Ian Wallace, Donny Lucas, Chelan Simmons, Darren Moore, Linden Banks, Caz Darko, Heath Horejda
blunt and holmes release US 27.Apr.07,
UK 3.Aug.07
07/US TriStar 1h31
15 themes, language, violence
27.Dec.08 dvd
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