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Wendy and Lucy





(OUT OF 10)

BusinessWeek recently ranked Portland, Ore., as the unhappiest city in America. The protagonist of this film probably wouldn't disagree.

Wendy (Michelle Williams), a young woman en route to a new home in Alaska, stops in Portland for some rest and recreation with her dog, Lucy. After a snooze in a drugstore parking lot, her car doesn't start. That's just the beginning of her problems.

Because she's on a tight budget (sponge baths in gas-station restrooms are her greatest luxury), Wendy tries to shoplift a few things for her and her dog. This movie stands as one giant shout-out to the evils and downsides of stealing shit: Wendy gets busted and is hauled off to jail while her dog remains tied up outside of the store.

Upon her release, Lucy is gone. Trips to the pound and to a sleazy mechanic (Will Patton in an amusing cameo) return nothing positive, and Wendy gets a real lesson in how life can suddenly become a true disaster, especially in hard economic times.

Writer-director Kelly Reichardt has made a small, interesting movie that benefits from fine work by Williams, who really makes you care about Wendy's plight. A quick phone call to relatives reveals that her family doesn't hold her in the highest regard, and Williams does a great job of conveying the resulting sadness.

The film feels real, as if the director gave Williams a few bucks, took away her makeup and told her to go live in a car for a few days. Some of the film's more powerful moments don't have dialogue; they simply have Williams physically reacting to something.

There is genuine sadness in the film's conclusion, but there's also hope expressed that Wendy has learned from the experience: Don't bet everything on the life of a 10-year-old car; don't shoplift when your dog awaits you outside; and, for God's sake, don't get caught sleeping in the parking lot of a Walgreens in Portland.

SPECIAL FEATURES: There is nothing here that directly pertains to Wendy and Lucy, but there are a few short films produced by the same company, and they are of marginal interest.

The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance: Centennial Collection





(OUT OF 10)

Acclaimed Western director John Ford was nearing the end of his career when he released this one, widely regarded as his last great film. It's also the last one Ford shot in black and white, and it marks the first time John Wayne uttered "pilgrim."

James Stewart plays Ransom Stoddard, an elder state senator returning to the small Western town where he is legendary for killing the murderous Liberty Valance (Lee Marvin) in a gunfight. He's there for a funeral, and he tells his story with the help of flashback.

The film depicts Stewart's character just out of law school and heading for the Wild West to make a name for himself. Stewart was in his 50s at the time, so he's not all that convincing as a man in his 20s. It's a good thing Ford opted to shoot in black and white, because color would've really brought out the obviousness of Stewart's hair dye. (Or is that a wig?)

On his way to his new home in Shinbone, the stagecoach is ambushed by Liberty Valance, and Stoddard gets himself a good ass-whopping. He's picked up and brought into town by Tom Doniphon (John Wayne, also in his 50s but playing someone around 25 years old). The two have eyes for Hallie (Vera Miles), which contributes to an antagonistic relationship.

This is one of Ford's darker films, and it offers one of Wayne's more complex performances. Doniphon is a mixed-up man, virtuous one moment and violently drunk the next. His character's destiny, in the end, is very depressing.

This is the first time Stewart and Wayne shared the screen together.

SPECIAL FEATURES: There are some brief audio clips from Ford, Stewart and Marvin passed off as a commentary. The better feature is a seven-part documentary on the history of the movie, on a second disc.

Johnny Got His Gun





(OUT OF 10)

Dalton Trumbo's experimental 1971 film, based on his own 1938 novel, has finally made it to DVD. Timothy Bottoms plays a World War I soldier who, after losing his face, arms and legs on the final day of the war, lies helpless on a hospital gurney, unable to communicate.

While the hospital footage is shot in black and white, the soldier's dreams and hallucinations are in color. The dreams are the best part of the film, and include Donald Sutherland as a card-playing, train-riding Jesus. Some of this film is a bit dated, but it's still a remarkable achievement, and an interesting career-capper for the controversial author.

SPECIAL FEATURES: An excellent documentary on Trumbo, a new interview with Bottoms, and Metallica's "One" video (which featured footage from the film).