FILM new releases

Lawn Dogs

(15) 101 mins ****

Set in the pristine suburb of Camelot Gardens, this quietly subversive fable about liberating imagination and stifling conformity starts, as all good fairytales do, with a child defying a parental prohibition.

'Whatever you do, don’t go outside the walls,’ insist ten-year-old Devon's parents, as she sets off to sell cookies in aid of her local girl scout troop. So Devon heads straight for the nearby woods, where she befriends local gardener Trent (Sam Rockwell), a fellow outsider with whom she compares scars, shares her tales of the evil witch Baba Yaga, and tastes a little of the freedom denied her.

As the rebellious Devon (newcomer

Beret picking: Mischa Barton in lawn Dogs

Mischa Barton) invests both her dialogue and her fairytale voiceover with a beguiling innocence, making it easy to see how Trent could be seduced into a naive friendship that breaks taboos and is bound to end in tears.

After a brief idyllic interlude, prejudice and fear worm their way back in, giving Devon’s father, the local private security man and a confused rich kid the excuse they need to destroy the evil spirit lurking in the woods.

Even so, director John Duigan offers a glimmer of hope, with an ending that is both magical and inspiring. One of the most unexpectedly delightful films of the year. (Nigel Floyd)

I Selected release from Fri 27 Nov.

8 Heads In A Duffle Bag

(15) 95 mins air air *

Imagine the ultimate baggage carousel nightmare. Not only do you collect the wrong holdall, but you get back to your hotel to discover it contains eight severed, rotting heads. This is the disturbing scenario facing Charlie (Andy Comeau), a medical student travelling to meet his girlfriend’s parents, in Tom Schulman’s gruesome comedy 8 Heads In A Duff/e Bag. Unbeknown to Charlie, his neighbouring flight companion is Tommy (Joe Pescr), a mobster carrying the bloody evidence of eight successful hits back to his boss. When these two guys accidently swap bags at the airport, all hell breaks loose. Charlie

30 THE US! 21 Nov—4 Dec 1997 I

Head boy: Joe Pesci in 8 Heads

In A Dufer Bag

unzips the dreadful evidence of this mistake and totally loses his cool in front of the future in-laws, while Tommy’s frantic attempts to locate his precious bag of bonces increase With reckless desperation as the delivery deadline approaches.

It may be daft, in bad taste and slightly over-long, but the darineg sick humour lining the film’s old-fashioned slapstick plot gives it a wicked appeal. With a comical cast, including DaVid Spade and Kristy Swanson, 8 Heads /n A Duff/e Bag boasts some breathtakingly horrific but funny moments and an unforgettable, mad dream sequence which in itself is worth the price of a ticket.

(Beth Williams) I General release from Fri 28 Nov

Excess Baggage (12) 101 mins mt

Excess Baggage is the first project to come from actress-cum-mogul Alicia Silverstone’s First Kiss Productions. Unfortunately, but not entirely surprisingly, the film's hallmark is immaturity. In many ways, it is quite appealing, but it has neither wit nor wisdom, and the characters and relationships are very superficially realised.

The central idea, however, is an inventive one. Unloved rich kid Alice T. Hope (Silverstone) ’kidnaps’ herself to gain the attention of her mean father, but the plot goes dangerously wrong when car thief Vincent (Benicio Del Toro) steals her BMW, with her in the boot. It's no surprise that romantic sparks start flying when Alice claps eyes on streetwise himbo Vincent: he’s a rough diamond and bad enough to upset her dad.

In the main part, Silverstone exhibits a lot of her characteristic spunky charm and she has the cutest face, but in Excess Baggage she is not supported by the sharp script that enabled her to be so brilliant in Clueless. Of the adult character, none are three-dimensional, although Christopher Walken as Alice’s mysterious 'uncle’ brings a certain menace to even this light comic part. (Hannah Fries)

I General release from Fri 27 Nov

Alicia Silverstone in Excess Baggage

My Mother's Courage

(12) 92 mins a at

Playwrig George Tabori provides the contemporary framing device for this restrained account of his mother’s real life experiences at the hands of the Nazis. The story takes place in Budapest towards the end of World War II, when Hungarian Jews were being callously rounded up and sent to the death camps.

In the role of Mrs Tabori, Pauline Collins relies too much on ’cuddly auntie' acting, although her warmth does seep through, making the one scene in which her composure slips all the more affecting. The problem is that neither she nor anyone around her questions their fate. As the Jews are treated with cold-hearted humiliation and made to Cram onto trains like livestock ready for slaughter, it would appear that the 'courage’ of the title is little more than naive acceptance coupled with quiet dignity. The meek don't always inherit the earth.

ln The Nasty Girl, director Michael Verhoeven pricked Germany's conscience over war events. Here, however, the impression is that another six million stories could have been told, none of which would have been as dull and uninspirational as this one. (Alan Morrison)

Edinburgh Filmhouse, Tue 2—-Sat 6 Dec.

The Gambler

(15) 97 mins s: s a?

What, at first glance, looks like unpromismg material for a night at the local multiplex can, in fact, deliver more thoughtful entertainment than so many big budget adventures. The Gambler may not be everyone’s cup of vodka, but it has much that Will intrigue anyone willing to give it a chance.

The film contrasts a tale of unrequited love and reckless gambling in 19th century Russia with the circumstances in which Dostoevsky wrote this same short st0ry. The writer (Michael Gambon) is a man in failing health, rumed by his own love of gambling, but persuaded by his weasely publisher into completing hm latest novel Within a set deadline, in order to have all his gambling debts cancelled. Failure on his part of the bargain Will, hov-JFWCF, ensure his future rights to his own work Will be forfeited. It's a Faustian bargain, and Dostoevsky seems unequal to his task until a beautiful young stenographer named Anna (Jodhi May) comes into his life.

Hungarian director Karoly Makk gives insight into the creative process While subtly commenting upon the eternal qualities of love and human relations. It's a slow movmg, powerfully wrought drama enlivened by the central performances. (Anwar Brett)

% Selected release from Fri 27 Nov See prevrew.

Michael Gambon in The Gambler