Brian Wilson leads the Wrecking Crew in recording instrumental tracks for the "Pet " album.

Brian Wilson leads the Wrecking Crew in recording instrumental tracks for the Beach Boys’ “Pet Sounds ” album.

“THE WRECKING CREW” My rating: B- (Opens April 24 at the Tivoli)

101 minutes | MPAA rating: PG

The Beach Boys’ “Pet Sounds” LP. The Byrds’ “Mr. Tambourine Man.” Virtually anything by the Monkees.

The instrumental backing for these classic recordings was provided not by the groups whose names were on the record label but by anonymous studio musicians who earned millions creating the hooks, beats and arrangements that translated into monster record sales.

These L.A.-based players — there were perhaps two dozen of them — came to be known as the Wrecking Crew. They were given that nickname by old-time record producers who in the early ’60s viewed these blue-jeaned, T-shirted newcomers as a threat that would wreck the recording industry.

Didn’t work out that way.

Denny Tedesco’s long-in-limbo documentary “The Wrecking Crew” — it made the festival rounds in 2008 but its commercial release was delayed by years of negotiations over the music rights — is the filmmaker’s tribute to his late father (legendary session guitarist Tommy Tedesco, who died in 1997) and to a generation of brilliant musicians.

The Crew wasn’t an organized group.  The musicians individually contracted to play at recording sessions (sometimes several in one day), and as the best of the best they kept bumping into one another. Friendships and musical relationships were formed.

Following on the heels of other recent docs taking us back to the formative years of rock ‘n’ roll — “20 Feet from Stardom,” “Muscle Shoals” — this piece provides talking-head conversations (with the likes of Dick Clark, Lou Adler, Herb Alpert, Leon Russell, Jimmy Webb, Brian Wilson), archival footage and photos, and a treasure trove of great tunes.

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Young Melanie Griffin and playful friend

Young Melanie Griffin and “playful” friend

“ROAR” My rating: C+ (Opens April 24 at the Alamo Drafthouse)

102 minutes | MPAA rating: PG

There’s a lot of blood in “Roar.” Much of it appears to be  real.

This oddity from 1981 — recently revived by the folks at the Alamo Drafthouse — isn’t a particularly good movie, but as a cinematic oddity with a bizarro backstory it’s unique.

“Roar” was made by Hitchcock star Tippi Hedren (“The Birds,” “Marnie”) and her husband, Noel Marshall. Both animal activists, they founded the Shambala Preserve for African cats in California. They star in the film (Marshall, who died a few years back, also writes and directs), along with their offspring (among them a young Melanie Griffith) and more than 100 untamed big cats: lions, tigers, leopards, panthers, cheetahs.

The threadbare plot centers on the African animal preserve maintained by Hank (Marshall).  Shortly after he’s called away to tend to some animal business elsewhere,  his estranged wife (Hedren) and kids arrive for a visit, unaware that they’re walking into an environment controlled by huge, hungry cats.

You could think of this as a zombie movie with voracious felines in the role of the undead. The rustic lodge in which Mom and the kids take shelter is besieged by the animals, which smash down doors and take out windows in an effort to get at the human smorgasbord inside.

The advertising for “Roar” assures us that no animals were injured during the filming, but that human casualties were extensive.

No kidding. Over the decade it took to make this movie, Hedren had a leg broken and her scalp raked by talons. Marshall was bitten and clawed repeatedly and at one point was hospitalized for gangrene.  Griffith, a young teen at the time, endured 100 stitches and reconstructive surgery (her mauling is part of the finished film).

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Michael Douglas...hunting big game

Michael Douglas…hunting big game

“BEYOND THE REACH” My rating: B- 

95 minutes | MPAA rating: R

Our worst suspicions about the One Percent are realized in “Beyond the Reach,” an outdoor thriller with Michael Douglas doing a murderous variation on his Oscar-winning Gordon Gekko character from “Wall Street.”

Douglas plays John Madec, a ridiculously wealthy and probably sociopathic master of industry who shows up in a small burg on the edge of the Mojave Desert  looking for a hunting guide. After 10 years Madec has finally gotten a rare government license to bag a Bighorn sheep, the one animal whose head is missing from his trophy wall.

beyond-the-reach-official-trailer-0The local sheriff (Ronny Cox) suggests he hire Ben (Jeremy Irvine), barely out of his teens but an expert guide and tracker thanks to the outdoor education provided by his late parents.  Ben is immediately put off by Madec’s crude cockiness, but he can’t turn down the $1,000-a-day pay.

Once in the vast barren landscape of blistered flatlands and sweeping mesas (the film was shot in the Four Corners area), things quickly go wrong. Madec gets his kill…only it isn’t a sheep.

Ion the midst of a huge business deal conducted over a satellite phone, Madec cannot afford the bad publicity the incident will surely generate (though didn’t Dick Cheney survive a similar mishap?)  His scheme is to blackmail Ben for the death — and to make sure there are no loose ends he forces his young companion to disrobe and start walking across the desert.

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seymour“SEYMOUR: AN INTRODUCTION” My rating: B 

81 minutes |MPAA rating

Seymour Bernstein is not part of any religious order, but it’s difficult not to think of him as some sort of holy man.

For 50 years he has lived in a monk’s cell of a Manhattan studio apartment, sharing the tiny space with his beloved grand piano. He is celibate…possibly asexual.

And in a sense he prays daily for the salvation of mankind, except that he addresses his devotions not to the Almighty but to the muses of music, fingering not rosary beads but the keys of his piano.

Beginning in the early 1950s Bernstein, who is now 87, had a spectacular career as a concert pianist.  But he gave it all up at age 50, having concluded that the business side of his profession — and his innate fear of performing before an audience — was sapping his love of music.

So he turned to teaching piano, both at a university and in the privacy of his apartment.

A few years ago he met actor Ethan Hawke at a party. At the time Hawke was going through his own crisis involving fame and art, and Bernstein provided a sounding board, offering his own life experiences as and example of how to find balance.

Hawke was so impressed that he made the documentary “Seymour: An Introduction.”

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James Franco

James Franco

“TRUE STORY” My rating: C+

100 minutes | MPAA rating: R

Every big-city newspaper has a reporter like Michael Finkel (Jonah Hill).  A hotshot writer with an unlimited expense account, Finkel keeps his own schedule, visiting the office only a few times each year to smile condescendingly at his envious colleagues and bathe in their bitter admiration.

Early in writer/director Rupert Goold’s “True Story,” Finkel pays one such rare visit to the newsroom of The New York Times, which has just published his latest Sunday magazine cover story, this one about contemporary slavery in Africa.

Except that this time around Finkel doesn’t have his facts straight. He apparently has combined several individuals into one semi-fictional character (moreover, in the opening scene we saw him pay a source for information…a no-no in the world of legit journalism).

Suddenly this perfect master of newsprint is out on his keister. Plus, once word of the scandal gets out, no other paper will hire him.

“True Story” is based on what happened to the real-life Michael Finkel in the wake of his firing.  He learned that Christian Longo, an Oregon man facing charges of having murdered his wife and three young children, had stolen Finkel’s identity in order to survive on the run.

Having spent way too much time in disgrace, Finkel decides to visit Longo (James Franco) in his jail cell.  Hey, Finkel needs a fan, even if the guy’s a multiple murderer.

He encounters a hooded-eyed sociopath who can seem friendly and perfectly rational, but who refuses to address his own guilt or innocence.  The desperate Finkel,  smelling a best-selling book, cultivates Longo, even coaching him in wordsmithing once the accused man reveals that he’s always wanted to be a writer.

But who’s playing whom?

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Rich twits party hearty in "The Riot Club"

Rich twits party hearty in “The Riot Club”

“THE RIOT CLUB” My rating: B-

107 minutes | MPAA rating: R

Most major universities have a secret society, an invitation-only clan that allows tomorrow’s leaders to behave like yesterday’s Neanderthals.

“The Riot Club,” director Lone Sherfig’s adaptation of Laura Wade’s stage play, is an angry expose of bad behavior in high places.

The film begins with a sequence set in the 17th century.  The hard-partying Lord Ryott dies at the hands of a cuckolded husband, and his fellow carousers at Oxford form the Riot Club to honor his lurid memory as a world-class debaucher.

In the present,  Alastair (Sam Claflin) and Miles (Max Irons, son of actor Jeremy) come to Oxford as freshmen. Both are sons of wealthy and privileged families.  But while Alastair is a moody, mean alcoholic, Miles is outgoing and open minded.  At least he’s willing to date below his caste, launching a romance with proletarian coed Lauren (Holliday Grainger of Showtime’s “The Borgias”).

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Naomi Watts, Ben Stiller

Naomi Watts, Ben Stiller

“WHILE WE’RE YOUNG”  My rating: C+

97 minutes | MPAA rating: R

There may have been a time when we aged — if not gracefully — at least appropriately.

But in a society where youth is worshipped and Botox is a household word, how does one come to terms with getting older?

That question is at the heart of “While We’re Young,” writer/director Noah Baumbach’s latest comedy — albeit a dour comedy that could have used a lot more more laughs.

Ben Stiller and Naomi Watts star as Josh and Cornelia, 40-something New Yorkers out of sync not just with youth but with their own peers. While their friends are now fully invested in parenthood and career paths, Josh and Cornelia have managed to avoid most of the trappings of middle age.

Adam Driver, Amanda Seyfried

Adam Driver, Amanda Seyfried

He’s a documentary filmmaker who has spent the last decade futzing around with a project about a grizzled philosopher (Peter Yarrow of folk music fame) that he’ll probably never finish and that nobody will want to see. She’s the producer for her father, a legendary grand old man of documentaries.

They’ve no children, no car, no mortgage.

But their biological clocks are accelerating — he’s got arthritis and she’s conflicted over her inability to have a baby. Mortality is rearing its ugly head.

Enter Jamie and Darby (Adam Driver, Amanda Seyfried), a young married couple auditing Josh’s documentary film class at a New York City university. Jamie endears himself to the filmmaker by claiming his life was changed by Josh’s early (and only successful) documentary.

TO READ THE REST OF THIS REVIEW VISIT THE KANSAS CITY STAR‘s WEBSITE AT http://www.kansascity.com/entertainment/movies-news-reviews/article17831633.html


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