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last update 11.Jan.09
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Baby Mama
dir-scr Michael McCullers
with Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, Greg Kinnear, Steve Martin, Sigourney Weaver, Dax Shepard, Romany Malco, Maura Tierney, Holland Taylor, Denis O'Hare, Siobhan Fallon Hogan, Tom McCarthy
fey and poehler
release US 25.Apr.08,
UK 25.Jul.08
08/US Universal 1h39
baby mama A wry, knowing sense of humour combines with inspired comedy performances in this hilariously silly movie about the ticking biological clock.

At age 37, Kate (Fey) is finally tired of putting her career over having a family. When she discovers that she can't get pregnant, she hires a surrogate, Angie (Poehler), to carry her child. But Angie's white trash leanings are rather alarming, so Kate decides to oversee the pregnancy a bit more closely. Meanwhile, Kate meets a cafe owner (Kinnear) who offers a spark of romance. And as Angie and Kate begin to bond, Angie becomes terrified of a rather big secret she's hiding.

Fey and Poehler have such terrific chemistry, honed over years working together on Saturday Night Live, that they can make even the clunkiest plot points work, stirring just the right amount of goofiness into their characters while keeping them grounded as recognisably real people. Fey's sleek urban uptightness contrasts perfectly against Poehler's broader streetwise opportunist, even as we see a common ground developing between them.

And the film's supporting cast is terrific, with scene-stealing turns for Martin as Kate's new age guru boss and Weaver as the over-fertile owner of the surrogacy agency. Malco, Shepard and Tierney also make the most of their rather thankless side roles, but each gets a chance to add both sharp comedy and strong resonance to the story.

Fortunately, writer-director McCullers leaves this resonance in the background, resisting the urge to turn the movie into a soppy chick flick about the wonders of motherhood. Instead, he keeps the focus on the odd couple comedy where it belongs, letting the romance gurgle in the sidelines and ultimately allowing the emotion to sneak up on us in the end. It's a somewhat bold approach that may alienate audiences more used to the usual formulaic approach, but for the rest of us it's like a blast of fresh air.

12 themes, language, innuendo
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Dog Tags
dir-scr Damion Dietz
with Paul Preiss, Bart Fletcher, Candy Clark, Diane Davisson, Amy Lindsay, Hoyt Richards, Willam Belli, Barry Ratcliffe, Keythe Farley, Chris Carlisle, Bobby Trey, Justin Mortelliti
fletcher and preiss release US 8.Aug.08,
UK 27.Oct.08 dvd
08/US TLA 1h30
dog tags A gentle story about two guys who need to sort out their personal issues, this moody drama has some strong emotional resonance, touching on issues that really get us thinking.

Nate (Preiss) has no idea what to do with his life, but remembers a time when he was much more sure of himself and where he was going. His girlfriend Trish (Lindsay) promised to wait for him when he joined the army to go to war. But after leaving basic training, he comes adrift, wandering in the desert, where he mets another lost guy, the goth musician Andy (Fletcher). Together they return to Los Angeles to face up to their issues.

And there are a lot of issues here. Nate's mother (Clark) has never told him much about his father, and he discovers what most of the information he has is false. Andy's mother (Davisson) is caring for his young son, and he feels too young himself to be a dad. And Nate discovers that Trish isn't actually waiting after all. Both of these young men are in way over their heads, and their bonding is deeply realistic, as is their underlying attraction to each other.

Writer-director Dietz keeps the film's pace gentle and understated, flicking around in the story through flashbacks that fill in details that are sometimes surprising, even as the main plot twists and turns as it develops. There's a strongly bittersweet tone that keeps us involved; we're not exactly sure where this is going, or where these guys will be once they get through all of this. A happy ending is definitely not a certainly, which makes it feel extremely emotional without being sentimental, and sexy without being about sex or sexuality.

While some of the acting is uneven, the involving characters keep us engaged. Preiss and Fletcher make a terrific odd couple, which Nate's skinhead machismo contrasts against Andy's eye-linered artist. But as the story continues, we can see that they are kindred spirits who really need each other at this point in time. And in this sense, the film is a nicely observed tale about sorting out your baggage and starting life with a fresh slate.

15 themes, language, sexuality, drugs
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No Regret
dir-scr Leesong Hee-il
with Lee Young-hoon, Lee Han, Cho Hyun-chul, Kim Dong-wook Chung Seung-gil, Kim Hwa-young, Lee Seung-chul, Kim Chung-hwa
young-hoon and han release Kor 16.Nov.06,
US 25.Jul.08,
UK 12.Jan.09 dvd
06/Korea 1h54
no regret Strongly internalised performances help overcome this Korean film's tendency to dip into overwrought melodrama and violence. Both sleek and bleak, it keeps us involved through the collision of two intriguing personalities.

Su-min (Lee Young-hoon) is an orphan trying to raise money to go to university in any way he can--as a driver, a dishwasher and even a rent boy. But one of his tricks, Jae-min (Lee Han), becomes far too attached to him. Jae-min is engaged to be married and hates the fact that he has fallen for another man. But Su-min sees something beyond Jae-min's unstable-stalker persona, and they start an obsessive relationship. Of course, it all goes horribly wrong when Jae-min's high-powered family catches up with them.

Filmmaker Leesong keeps the film moody and fairly silent. What little dialog there is feels almost unnecessary, as these men express everything through their faces. Their interaction is sharply directed in a style that continually undermines our expectations. We're never quite sure what Su-min sees in Jae-min; he certainly seems far more trouble than he's worth, not to mention dangerously unbalanced, with a whole range of terrifyingly violent people trying to impose their will on him. But once they connect with each other, there's an underlying tenacity that won't let go.

As the film turns increasingly heated and thriller-like, it kind of drifts out of focus. It's not easy to care about characters who choose to be in such a dangerous situation. (Run away together, you idiots!) And the film somewhat overplays the massive contrast between their two backgrounds--poor orphan vs spoiled rich kid. There are also a couple of deeply contrived plot points and an climactic sequence that leaves us feeling both drained and unsatisfied.

But along the way, Lee Young-hoon delivers a remarkably complex performance that lets us vividly see Su-min's internal struggle and outward bravado, while Lee Han gives Jae-min a consuming sense of paranoia and despair. Yes, it's pretty grim stuff, and yet through their performances the actors somehow reveal a tiny glimmer of hope. But only if the characters can somehow deal with their baggage and snap out of their bitterness.

18 themes, language, sexuality, violence
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dir-scr Greg Loftin
with Sean Harris, Sarah Matravers, Michelle Connolly, Tony O'Leary, Divian Ladwa, Sue Maund, David Mayberry, Paul McNeilly, Neelam Bakshi, Susan Scott, Farzana Dua Elahe, Henry Kelly
harris and the twins release UK 12.Jan.09 dvd
07/UK 1h32

edinburgh film fest
saxon Writer-director Loftin takes an audacious approach to what's essentially yet another British crime thriller, investing the film with loads of style and attitude. But it's not easy to see what the point is.

When he gets out of prison, the first thing Eddie (Harris) learns is that his £500 debt to loan shark Salmon (O'Leary) has grown to £10,000. And Salmon takes out one of Eddie's eyes to prove he means business. So Eddie returns to the Saxon Housing Estate to see his old friends Linda (Matravers) and Jackie (Connolly) for help, but both of them have problems of their own. And it begins to become clear that Eddie is going to have to stand up to Salmon's vicious "bailiffs" if he hopes to survive.

The film has an abrasive, unsettled tone that keeps us off balance all the way through. These are desperate people in pretty terrible situations, and as we follow Eddie we realise sooner than he does that he can't really trust anyone. Harris gives the role a driving energy that keeps the film moving even when we struggle to like anyone on screen. And it's a seriously nightmarish odyssey; the gouged-out eye is literally just the beginning as the grisliness just continues to circle around Eddie in very nasty ways.

Much of this feels rather random, as the violence accelerates through pepper spray, a nail gun, sledgehammer and crossbow, not to mention a seriously bad haircut and some scary fishmongers. It's not particularly easy to follow the plot through choppy filmmaking that consists of short blurts of dialog and sudden edits. And it's only watchable because Loftin injects everything with a dose of black humour, including some bits that are laugh-out-loud funny.

That said, the plot itself seems rather underdeveloped and snarky, as if filling the screen with wacky grisliness makes up for simplistic plotting or underdefined characters. It definitely marks Loftin as a filmmaker to watch, although next time it would help if we had a clue what he's trying to say amid all the mayhem. The only observation here seems to be that it's virtually impossible to start over cleanly. Not exactly a blinding revelation.

15 themes, language, violence
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© 2009 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall