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

The Duke of Burgundy (2014)

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The Duke of Burgundy ★★★★½ / ★★★★★ Director: Peter Strickland IFC Films 106 Minutes In Theaters Beginning January 23, 2015 (Limited) – Evelyn (Chiara D’Anna) arrives at the opulent home of Cynthia (Sidse Babett Knudsen), a beautiful but stern entomologist. Angry at her maid Evelyn for her lack of perfection, Cynthia spends the day reading books and eating bon-bons and becoming increasingly hostile. By evening, Cynthia has had enough, and subjects Evelyn to perverse and oddly sexual punishment for her failures. When the same scenario begins the very next morning, we see this ritual for what it is: a fantasy concocted by Evelyn, desperate to be dominated by her lover Cynthia. This intricate love affair is the heart of Peter Strickland’s The Duke of Burgundy, the follow-up to his well-received thriller Berberian Sound Studio (2012). A romance with more than a hint of horror and melodrama, The Duke of Burgundy is filled with the kind of vague and inexplicable moments that define softcore porn flicks of the 1970s. It’s a fantasy world, of course; there’s not a single man in the land, the homes are luxurious, all the women are chic and beautiful. There is an abundance of leisure and a standard of living so decadent that the economy can sustain an entire village filled with nothing but lepidopterists and the occasional BDSM equipment salesperson. But who fashions the expensive, custom-made wardrobes that figure so prominently in this world? Why does no one tend the impeccable landscapes? And why does … Continue reading

Loitering With Intent (2014)

Loitering With Intent ★★★★☆ Director: Adam Rapp Metal Rabbit Media 80 Minutes In Theaters Beginning January 16, 2015 (Limited) – “What do writers do?” Dominic (Michael Godere) asks his friend Raphael (Iván Martín). “They go to the country. We’ll go to the country.” The chance to write and star in their own low-budget indie has just magically fallen into Dom’s and Raph’s laps, and the pair scramble to get a script together in 10 days in Adam Rapp’s gentle comedy Loitering With Intent. After a brainstorming session or two — a few of their ideas are good, a couple hilariously awful — the tranquility at the beautiful home of Dom’s sister Gigi (Marisa Tomei) dissolves, interrupted first by the arrival of Gigi’s friend Ava (Isabelle McNally). Soon, Gigi herself arrives, drunk off her ass and in obvious trouble, with news that her war veteran boyfriend Wayne (Sam Rockwell) has gone just a touch crazier than usual. By the time Wayne reappears with his brother, the annoying surfer bro Devan (Brian Geraghty), Raphael has thrown himself into the drama around him, while Dom sequesters himself, refusing to give up on what he believes is his last big chance at success. Loitering With Intent comes pre-packaged with a comfortable and familiar plot. It features the requisite whimsy and heartfelt emotion of a low-budget indie, plus plenty pf introspection and meta references and a handful of 30- and 40-something white guys who realize they finally need to grow up. But there’s something else … Continue reading

The World Made Straight (2015)

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The World Made Straight ★★★ / ★★★★★ Director: David Burris Millennium Entertainment (Official Site) 119 Minutes In Theaters Beginning January 9, 2015 (Limited) – Teacher-turned-drug-dealer Leonard (Noah Wyle) takes a wary interest in restless high school dropout Travis Shelton (Jeremy Irvine) in David Burris’ neo-Gothic drama The World Made Straight. Travis has shown up at Leonard’s door with some stolen pot plants in the back of his pickup, hoping to score some funds after losing yet another job. It’s 1974, and the Appalachian hills of Madison County, North Carolina offer few prospects for the locals beyond chronic unemployment, booze and drugs or, for the lucky few, working at the hospital where most everyone gets stitched up after things go predictably wrong. It’s a grim world of muted colors and cold drizzly days, a place where all of life’s answers can be found at the end of a gun. Cast out of his home by an abusive father and seriously wounded by Carlton (Steve Earle), a dangerous local drug dealer, Travis is begrudgingly taken in by Leonard, despite his sometimes-girlfriend’s protestations. The former teacher, known locally as “the Professor,” sees a curious soul in the boy. He may be cursed with a lack of education, hot temper and worthless friends, but Travis has a keen interest in learning, especially the history of the county and the Civil War-era tragedy which his own ancestors had been involved in. The Shelton Laurel Massacre is no fictional construct but rather a very real event, … Continue reading