Editor’s Notes: Len & Company, Les Cowboys, The Infiltrator, Vamp, Sins of the Guilty, & Phantom of the Theatre are out on their respective home entertainment formats October 11th.
Len & Company
Len & Company (IFC Films) stars Rhys Ifans as Len Black, a one-time punk rocker who’s become a successful record producer. Following a public meltdown, he retreats to his country home for some time away from the pressures of the business. His solitude is interrupted by a visit from some surprise guests — his estranged son Max (Jack Kilmer) and his pink-wigged pop star protege (Juno Temple) — who arrive with complications of their own and shake Len out of his depression.
Ifans has appeared in such films as Alice Through the Looking Glass, The Amazing Spider-Man, and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1, but has never had a lead role in a movie before this. The role allows him to be ridiculous, vicious, and sympathetic. He can deliver a line with acerbic precision, make you laugh, or touch you emotionally. He makes the role complex by showing facets of Len’s personality. When he laces into Max for not being edgy enough to be a real musician and we see the pain and hurt on his son’s face, Len is a monster. But when he explains what rock ’n’ roll means as artistic expression, he is passionate and remarkably straightforward.
In its balance of drama and comedy, Len & Company is a fascinating character study of a man on the brink, trying to piece together a life in crisis.
There are no bonus features on the unrated widescreen DVD.
Les Cowboys (Cohen Media Group) opens in 1994 at a fair in rural France where everyone is dressed in Western attire. It’s a celebration of the frontier spirit put on by a middle-class community. Among the revelers are Alain Balland (Francois Damiens), his wife, Nicole (Agathe Dronne), and their two children, 13-year-old Kid (Maxim Driesen) and 16-year-old Kelly (Iliana Zabeth). When Kelly mysteriously disappears, the family panics. They soon learn that she has run off with her boyfriend and possible jihadi, Ahmed (Mounir Margoum). Even though Kelly writes, saying she’s fine, has decided to live under Islamic law, and pleads that they mustn’t look for her, Alain throws all his energy into tracking her down.
Inspired by John Ford’s The Searchers, Les Cowboys uses the theme of a man searching for a person who doesn’t want to be found, incorporating it into contemporary concerns about terrorists. Alain is so devastated by his daughter’s disappearance that it shakes the foundations of his own place in the world. That she has given herself to a religion that treats women as less than second-class individuals further grates on his soul. What resonates most is the fragility of the family unit and the toll its breakdown can take.
The artificiality of the opening adds an almost surreal touch. This is a Western, and yet it isn’t. The peculiar blending of time frames is a dramatic device to underscore director Thomas Bidegain’s ideas about the traditions of family and reverence for a time in which men rose to action when those traditions were threatened.
Bonus extras on the R-rated Blu-ray release include a making-of featurette and theatrical trailer. The film is in French, with optional English, French, Arabic, Flemish, and Pashto subtitles.
The Infiltrator (Broadgreen), based on a true story, focuses on Federal agent Robert “Bob” Mazur (Bryan Cranston), who goes undercover to infiltrate Pablo Escobar’s drug trafficking organization plaguing the nation in the 1980s by posing as slick, money-laundering businessman Bob Musella. Teamed with impulsive, streetwise fellow agent Emir Abreu (John Leguizamo) and rookie agent posing as his fiancee Kathy Ertz (Diane Kruger), Mazur befriends Escobar’s top lieutenant, Roberto Alcaino (Benjamin Bratt). Navigating a vicious criminal network in which the slightest slip-up could cost him his life, Mazur risks it all building a case that would lead to indictments of 85 drug lords and the corrupt bankers who cleaned their dirty money, along with the collapse of the Bank of Credit and Commerce International, one of the largest money-laundering banks in the world.
Director Brad Furman creates tremendous tension as Mazur insinuates himself into Escobar’s criminal circle. We never doubt for a moment that discovery would mean his immediate death. Cranston is playing two roles here, Mazur and the undercover Musella. The role offers the actor the ability to take on two distinct personalities and lifestyles within the same film. When things don’t go as planned and it appears Mazur’s cover will be blown, the movie really amps up the suspense.
Benjamin Bratt’s Robert Alcaino is smart, cagey, suspicious of everyone, and congenial, which makes him more than a mere drug thug; we also see him as a family man. Mazur develops a sham friendship with Alcaino to help build his case and find out key information. Mazur is acting, Alcaino is sincere. When Alcaino is brought down, there is a look on his face of utter surprise, realizing he has been mightily conned.
Bonus extras on the Blu-ray release include audio commentary with director Brad Furman and Bryan Cranston, deleted scenes, and two behind-the-scenes featurettes.
Vamp (Arrow Video) is a horror film set in 1986, when the film was made. Two fraternity pledges, Keith (Chris Makepeace, Meatballs) and AJ (Robert Rusler, A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge), want to make the right impression at college and so devise a plan to get into the best frat house on campus. They head to the After Dark Club where they hope to find a stripper for a party their friends won’t forget. Instead, they find themselves among vampires led by Kinky Katrina (Grace Jones, A View to a Kill).
The plot is similar to From Dusk Till Dawn, made ten years later. In both, innocent travelers inadvertently wander into a nest of vampires in their favored hangout. Though “Vamp” is not as well known as that film, it has its share of treats. The undead are strippers who know how to lure in tourists, transients, and the unsuspecting, and devour them whole. The movie has the look of vintage EC horror comics like Tales From the Crypt and Vault of Horror. The gore is prolific and graphic, and there is a dark, even twisted sense of humor.
The piece de resistance is Grace Jones’ portrayal of a vampire queen. Her make-up enhances her already imposing appearance. The movie holds up because of a fast pace, plenty of bloody action, and far above average special effects.
Bonus features on the Blu-ray release include director Richard Wenk’s short film Dracula Bites the Dust (1979), behind-the-scenes rehearsals, blooper reel, image gallery, and reversible sleeve containing original and newly commissioned artwork.
Sins of the Guilty
Sins of the Guilty (MYD Visual) is an urban drama. Vanessa Johnson (Trina McGee) has left her wealthy suburban family — and trust fund — to move into the city and pursue her art. A talented dancer, she’d rather live on the gritty edge of the city than continue her pampered existence. She thinks she knows what she’s doing, but finds herself in over her head when a dangerous romance starts to dominate her life. Her new lover (Bret Grantham) is just launching a glamorous fashion photography start-up, but he’s bad news, cheating his partner and brazenly sleeping with other women. When he gets violent with Vanessa, she turns to a paranormal seer for guidance. A double murder throws her life into an ever-escalating tailspin.
Reminiscent of such films as Enough, Fear, and Sleeping With the Enemy, the film proceeds along a traditional path so that the viewer knows well before Vanessa that her boyfriend is trouble. It’s never quite clear why she can’t pursue her career while living comfortably, but if she did, there’d be no movie.
Ms. McGee is certainly attractive, but has a lot to learn about acting. She tends to be bland in most scenes and when she’s supposed to be terrified, looks like she’s acting… badly. This hurts the film and distances us from the story. What starts as a young woman’s quest to become independent changes directions and, in its second half, becomes a murder who-done-it. The film might be OK for a TV movie, but it lacks originality and star power.
The only bonus features on the unrated DVD release are trailers for Sins of the Guilty and Confessions of Isabella.
Phantom of the Theatre
Phantom of the Theatre (Well Go USA) is set in Shanghai circa 1930. A theatre that has been abandoned since an acrobatic troupe burned to death there 13 years earlier is the setting for a spooky love story. Aspiring director Wei Bang (Tony Yang) is determined to film a horror movie there, even though the place is supposed to be haunted. He enlists Meng Si-Fan (Ruby Lin) as his lead actress. He’s forced to take the claims seriously when the male lead (Wu Xu Dong) ruins a take by spontaneously combusting in front of the entire crew.
Though the film is not, technically, a rip-off of The Phantom of the Opera, it incorporates several elements of that film and features beautiful costumes, lavish production design in period detail, and an imaginative use of color. It’s especially impressive in its evocation of the glamor of filmmaking in a bygone era. The problem with the movie is that it tries to encompass too much. As a horror film, it’s fairly tame. As a thriller, it’s pretty good, though there are lots of inconsistencies in the narrative. It entertains by virtue of its strong visuals and creepy atmosphere. The twists in the plot often don’t make sense, and are mere means to get to the end. The final half-hour is rushed, as director Raymond Yip frenetically attempts to tie together plot threads and provide explanations.
There are no bonus features on the unrated widescreen DVD release. The film is in Mandarin, with optional English and Chinese subtitles.