We Live Again (1934)

If early Hollywood films are any indication, a good 47% of women by volume found themselves abandoned, unmarried and pregnant at some point in their lives. They rarely suffered much by way of social ostracism — there was almost always a progressive aunt or someone willing to pass the child off as their own — and the years between birth and the child’s teens flew by at a curious speed. And by “flew by” I mean “were shrugged off with a title card announcing that the film has skipped 18 or so years because it’s easier that way.” We Live Again (1934), recently released on MOD DVD by Warner Archive, is one of the most dreary of these abandoned women plots. Based on Leo Tolstoy’s novel Resurrection, We Live Again concerns young Prince Dmitri Ivanovich Nekhlyudov (Fredric March) and his undying passion for farm girl Katusha (Anna Sten). Set at some vague point prior to the 1905 Revolution — one assumes roughly 1899, given the publication of Tolstoy’s novel — the 20-something Prince Dmitri is an idealist embracing anti-capitalist philosophy, though his family is irritated by him and Katusha is mostly uninterested. Well, the child-like Katasha is uninterested in politics, but very interested in him. After a few years in military service, where Dmitri indulges in gastronomic (and other) orgies like the good, capitalist member of nobility he is, he returns to the farm a changed man — the kind of man who seduces Katusha and leaves her an envelope … Continue reading

The Barber (2014)

The Barber ★★★✫✫ Director: Basil Owies ARC Entertainment (Official Site) 95 Minutes Release Date: March 27, 2015 (limited) – It was almost twenty years ago when serial killer Francis Allen Visser, a middle-aged man with a penchant for burying his young, female victims alive, was released from prison, thanks to the many mistakes the cop who had doggedly pursued him made on the case. With his failure all over the network news and his obsession beyond his reach, the police officer kills himself, leaving a young son behind. Two decades later, 30-something John McCormack (Chris Coy) comes rolling into a small Northwestern town, looking for Visser. He stalks a kindly old barber named Eugene Van Wingerdt (Scott Glenn), sure that this is Visser with a new name and a new life, and shows the elderly man his own recent kill. “I’m your biggest fan,” John tells him, and demands Eugene teach him the finer points of murder. The Barber (2014) is a fresh-looking if somewhat typical thriller, with some fine acting from the well-chosen cast. But the film also features multiple missteps, such as plot holes and the curious way no one in this small town ever sees any of the suspicious behavior going on right out in public. Similarly, the timeline, which was so carefully cultivated early in the film, goes completely haywire during the run-up to the finale. After establishing past events as occurring in the 1990s, The Barber, like so many other films, retreats to the 1970s … Continue reading

A Wolf at the Door (2013)

A Wolf at the Door ★★★★½ / ★★★★★ Director: Fernando Coimbra Outsider Pictures (Official Site) 100 Minutes Release Date March 27, 2015 (limited) – It’s a warm and sunny day in Rio de Janeiro when six-year-old Clara (Isabelle Ribas) goes missing from her school. Her panicked mother Sylvia (Fabiula Nascimento) reports it to the police. During questioning, the girl’s teacher explains that a family friend named Sheila came to get the girl, but Sylvia has no idea who this Sheila could be. Then the teacher drops a bombshell: the girl knew who the woman was, because she ran to her as soon as she saw her. When the girl’s father Bernardo (Milhem Cortaz) arrives at the station, he has a bombshell of his own: he knows a woman named Rosa (Leandra Leal) has taken Clara to get back at him in some way. Bernardo won’t readily admit to who Rosa is, but the detective (Juliano Cazarre) has already figured out that she’s his mistress. A Wolf at the Door (O Lobo atrás da Porta, 2013), writer-director Fernando Coimbra’s first feature-length film, is a taut, well-paced thriller that many critics have likened to Fatal Attraction (1987). With its slight police procedural feel, it’s also reminiscent of Kurosawa’s High and Low (1963), albeit with a non-linear timeline and never any serious talk about ransom for the little girl. And Wolf at the Door is no scorned woman flick for the paranoid males among us, anyway, but a harrowing look at the costs … Continue reading

Without a Clue (1988)

Before they became the kind of actors one gets when one wants to add a little class to an otherwise iffy production, Ben Kingsley and Michael Caine headlined the Sherlock Holmes spoof Without a Clue (1988), a gentle period comedy that cheekily posits that the fictional Holmes both did and did not exist. Without a Clue places Holmes and Watson in a series of very silly situations, not quite what you’d call lowbrow, but far less sophisticated than one would expect the duo to encounter. But it was always a conceit of modern times to portray the detectives as particularly classy; our view of the turn of the 20th Century is a bit more stodgy than those who lived it, and Without a Clue is happy to remind us of that. After Holmes (Caine) and Dr. Watson (Kingsley) solve yet another case to much public acclaim, we learn that Holmes is no detective: he’s the gambling, womanizing, alcoholic actor Reginald Kincaid, hired by Watson years ago to portray Holmes. Whatever Holmes appears to be in print, Kincaid is essentially the opposite of it, with the exception of his wardrobe and a true fondness for making Inspector Lestrade (Jeffrey Jones) look ridiculous. For all of Kincaid-Holmes’ bravado, Watson is the genius sleuth of the duo and Holmes merely a character created to preserve Watson’s reputation as a solid, dependable doctor. After one too many slip-ups, Watson has had enough of Kincaid because he is, well, a gambler, a womanizer, and a … Continue reading

Tallulah Bankhead Photo #1


Tallulah Bankhead


Alfredo Valente portrait of Tallulah Bankhead, 1930′s

The Wrecking Crew (2015)

The Wrecking Crew ★★★½ / ★★★★★ Director: Denny Tedesco Magnolia Pictures (Official Site) 101 Minutes Release Date March 13, 2015 (limited); DVD release June 15, 2015 – It was the 1960s and American pop music, long dominated by the so-called “Brill Building Sound,” had moved across the country. California was where it was at, and any musician who wanted to make it big needed to get themselves to Los Angeles. And get there they did, though many bands discovered something very strange: they wouldn’t be playing the instrumental tracks on their own albums. The fans never learned that they weren’t hearing their favorite hunky guitarist on the latest hit, but rather an unknown L.A. studio musician who belonged to an informal group known as The Wrecking Crew. Denny Tedesco’s documentary, in limited theatrical release after years of festival and press screenings, is filled with fantastic songs and photos and interviews from a host of musicians and stars. Crew follows the careers of several members of this group, primarily Denny’s father Tommy Tedesco, a fine and prolific guitarist you have heard even if you think you haven’t. He played on thousands of songs such as “Be My Baby” by the Ronettes and Sinatra’s “Strangers in the Night,” the themes to the “Batman” and “Bonanza” television shows, on the soundtracks to The French Connection, Enter the Dragon and Skidoo and, well, pretty much everything. The same could be said for nearly every member of the Crew. Bassist Carol Kaye and drummer Hal … Continue reading