A Wolf at the Door (2013)

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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)

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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

The Wrecking Crew (2015)

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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

VANish (2015)

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VANish ★★★★✫ Director: Bryan Bockbrader Dark Sky Films (Official Site) 79 Minutes Available February 24 on VOD, iTunes, DVD and Blu-ray – Bryan Bockbrader’s directorial debut VANish (2015) is a tight little action-horror film with plenty of twists, turns and splatter to entertain even the most jaded of indie movie fans. This ultra low-budget flick was shot in just 13 days and runs at a confident, snappy pace. Stalwart indie legends Tony Todd and Danny Trejo have small but pivotal roles, and they’re both terrific here, of course, because they’re Tony Todd and Danny Trejo. But make no mistake, VANish belongs to its four leads, especially Maiara Walsh, who puts in a fantastic turn as a strong and savvy hostage victim. Jack (Austin Abke) and Max (Bryan Bockbrader) have a solid plan: to kidnap Emma (Walsh) and hold her hostage until her father coughs up $5 million. But the plan goes south almost immediately as the unhinged Max starts shooting at the first sign of trouble, and the addition of Jack’s old Army buddy Shane (Adam Guthrie), a man sporting a nasty case of PTSD, doesn’t help. Jack finds himself in the thankless role of the smartest guy in a room full of dimwits who have no idea how to handle their captive. A surprise visit from some goons in ski masks and a series of startling revelations turn what at first seemed like a typical (albeit ill-advised) kidnapping into a very dangerous situation. Filmed entirely from inside the van … Continue reading

The Wild Affair (1963)

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The Wild Affair (1963) is a charming, light and sophisticated British sex comedy, sadly forgotten despite being incredibly influential in its day. A vehicle for early-60s cinematic It Girl Nancy Kwan, The Wild Affair concerns a young working girl, her hapless fiance, assorted colleagues and the ever-present worry that one has not lived enough before jumping into that metaphorical death known as marriage. Though a rather calm and collected film once it gets going, The Wild Affair opens with some truly bonkers credits that feature a series of still photos of Kwan, staid and serene on one side of the frame, adorable and spirited on the other. “Spirited” in this case means the stills of Kwan’s head vibrate and hop around like they were cut out and glued onto a popsicle stick, and then filmed as a little kid played puppets with them. And then come the legs: I have absolutely no idea what this is implying.   The Wild Affair is based on the William Sansom novel The Last Hours of Sandra Lee, a title that evokes a sinister end, undoubtedly the author’s intent, but certainly not the film’s. Sansom, now mostly unknown, was once called “London’s closest equivalent to Franz Kafka,” and was known for writing characters made to “face inscrutable futures with patience and resignation, knowing that they can do little to influence the outcome of their lives.” In his novel, Sandra Lee has to deal with some very harsh truths and a future that’s difficult to … Continue reading

White Comanche (1968)

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  Johnny Moon (William Shatner) is a loner and wanderer in the unsettled American West, on a mission to find his long-estranged twin brother Notah (also Shatner) and settle a score. Both men are of mixed race, half European white and half Native American, and while Johnny identifies as a white man, the murderous Notah has hitched his wagon to the Comanche tribe, where he leads a small but vicious group of warriors. Johnny is tired of being accused of his brother’s crimes, and tells Notah to meet him in a few days in nearby Rio Hondo, where they will duel, because the only solution to the problem is that one brother must die. White Comanche (1968) is a Paella Western (frequently mislabeled as a Spaghetti Western, even by William Shatner himself in his autobiography Up to Now) long favored by bad cinema aficionados who appreciate the finer points of a classic Good Shatner versus Evil Shatner story. For a while, it seemed there was some irresistible gravitational pull that forced Shatner into these plots, starting with “Star Trek” episodes such as “The Enemy Within” and “Mirror, Mirror.” The nutritious goodness of two Shatners for the price of one, combined with Notah’s halting speech and Shatner’s propensity to go shirtless at every opportunity, well, it’s undeniable that White Comanche has plenty of cheese to spread around. There’s just so much in White Comanche that doesn’t make any sense, and trying to explain it is basically pointless. Notah, for instance, has … Continue reading

Panic Button (1964)

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When a Hollywood production company discovers they have a half million dollars in unclaimed profit they have to lose to avoid prosecution by the Feds, they come up with a wacky scheme: to film a truly awful television pilot so bad it guarantees a loss. The president of the company sends his son Frank (Mike “Touch” Connors) to Italy to put the deal together. Frank quickly convinces elderly, washed-up actor Philippe Fontaine (Maurice Chevalier) and his beautiful ex-wife and manager Louise (Eleanor Parker) that this new modern production of Romeo and Juliet will be a great comeback opportunity for the former star. Add the buxom Angela (Jayne Mansfield), a gorgeous local prostitute with a heart of gold, as Juliet and one truly terrible director known as Pandowski (a wonderful Akin Tamiroff) to the mix and you have a recipe for disaster — just what Hollywood ordered. Panic Button, recently released for the first time on DVD through Warner Archive’s made-on-demand series, is a surprisingly pleasant spoof of the early 1960s trend toward lavish Hollywood productions in Italy. There are elements of a sex farce here — Louise runs a hotel for women, Frank likes the ladies, and Angela’s vocation is meant to raise eyebrows — but mostly, Panic Button is a light romantic comedy. Parker looks absolutely stunning and gives the kind of performance that, had everyone else involved been so dedicated, would have prevented Panic Button from becoming basically forgotten. Chevalier is charming and has a couple of musical … Continue reading

Kill or Cure (1962)

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A series of cute pencil sketches and a light mambo-esque theme song in the opening credits hardly prepare us for the first frames of Kill or Cure (1962), a wacky British comedy-murder mystery starring the delightful Terry-Thomas. As the theme song (featuring someone who sounds an awful lot like Thurl Ravenscroft) fades out, a slow pan reveals that one Captain Barker-Rynde (Terry-Thomas) is a private investigator, the sneaky-sneaky-picture-takey kind of PI who specializes in divorces. Disgraceful! He receives a call from one Mrs. Clifford (Canadian singer and comedienne Anna Russell) to come visit her at the Green Glades estate, where she wishes to meet him to discuss a job. With the dreams of pounds sterling dancing in his head, he arrives at Green Glades, only to discover it’s not the posh vacation spot he had expected. The moment Barker-Rynde discovers Green Glades is a health resort.   Before he gets a chance to talk to Mrs. Clifford, she’s poisoned… with ricin! Her assistant Frances (Moira Redmond) is also poisoned but survives, yet cannot give any clues to her employer’s death. An investigation by Detective Inspector Hook (Lionel Jeffries, in fine form) ensues, and a £2000 reward is announced for anyone who can help capture the murderer. Barker-Rynde once again sees an opportunity to make bank, while Green Glades health consultant Rumbelow (Eric Sykes) does as well; unfortunately, Rumbelow is certain that Barker-Rynde is the killer, and Detective Hook is starting to suspect the same. What Britmovie condemns Kill or Cure … Continue reading

Soundtrack Review: Song One (2015)

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Song One Original Motion Picture Soundtrack ★★★★✫ Released by Lakeshore Records Available digitally and on CD on January 13, 2015 – There’s something pretty great about an informal mixtape, a quick compilation for yourself, or a few random songs here and there you kept meaning to send to a friend and finally got around to putting together, where accidental juxtaposition and comparison can reveal some truly wonderful things. At times, the soundtrack for Song One, the first feature-length outing from director Kate Barker-Froyland, soundtrack captures that kind of moment, where a Nina Simone jazz standard blends into the ’70s-style gospel funk of Naomi Shelton, and it’s held together by the unlikely glue of Dan Deacon’s techno-twist “The Crystal Cat.” But there’s something a little clinical about this mix, too, and the roots of that can be found in the film. The Song One script is bogged down by a self-conscious desire for indie cred, with what feels like a checklist of alternative-indie influences dutifully noted. That includes the an unintentionally hilarious moment when a character briefly mentions the Beatles’ “Blackbird.” If Wayne’s World were remade today, that music shop sign would have to read “No ‘Blackbird’” instead of “No ‘Stairway to Heaven’,” and Song One proves why. While half of the songs on the Song One soundtrack have been previously released, seven are new compositions by Jenny Lewis and Johnathan Rice, who also produced the album. Most of their songs are performed by actor-musician Johnny Flynn, whose calm, understated vocals … Continue reading

Song One (2014)

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Song One ★✫✫✫✫ Director: Kate Barker-Froyland Film Arcade (Official Site) 86 Minutes In Theaters Beginning January 23, 2015 (Limited) – When Franny (Anne Hathaway), a young graduate student estranged from her family, learns her younger brother Henry (Ben Rosenfield) has been critically injured, she races home to find him in a coma, and her estranged mother (Mary Steenburgen) as flighty and distant as ever. Feeling helpless and alone and with a crazy scheme to try to connect with her comatose brother, Franny takes Henry’s tickets to see his favorite musician, singer-songwriter James Forester (Johnny Flynn), and strikes up a romance with the popular indie-folk musician. Song One, written and directed by Kate Barker-Froyland, features a fantastic soundtrack and cameos from several alternative and indie performers, including Elizabeth Ziman, Dan Deacon and Paul Whitty. Strangely, the film keeps much of this terrific music at arm’s length, focusing on Franny’s face as she listens, or indulging in a few smash cuts in the middle of a song as though it were mere background noise. Had the film respected the music as more than just plot glue, it could have lent some depth to what otherwise is a gossamer-thin story. Much has been made of Barker-Froyland’s coup in landing A-lister Anne Hathaway for her directorial debut. Unfortunately, Hathaway is entirely miscast in the role of the quirky life newbie who is only now beginning to feel her way through adulthood. When Franny sticks shiny bits of paper to the walls of her brother’s … Continue reading