JOHN DOE, VIGILANTE
This Australian production turned out to be far more intriguing that I expected from the press release. "John Doe, Vigilante" is no simple tale of an irate citizen taking the law into his (or her) own hands a la Charles Bronson; it's a complex look at the issues it raises. The film begins with "John Doe" (Jamie Bamber), he is never given a proper name, granting a jailhouse interview to reporter Ken Rutherford (Lachy Hulme) while he awaits the deliberations of the jury. He has committed 33 murders, all of them executions of repeat offender rapists, wife beaters, pedophiles and the like; all have served minimal prison time – or none at all – for their transgressions. It comes out later that Doe is a social worker and has identified his targets through client interviews. He has been caught because – as he has done with all his executions - he broadcast his final "mission" on the Internet; this time however he removes the bland white mask he has always worn before dispatching the man who murdered his daughter. But in a final act surprise (that the film doesn't need) it transpires he wants to be caught so he can get to his ultimate target.
The timeline of "John Doe, Vigilante" is anything but straightforward – think of it as a slightly more fractured "Citizen Kane" in its structure. Prior to meeting John Doe, Rutherford has interviewed police, the TV reporters who took Doe's internet posts and broadcast them to the wider public and a psychologist. Rutherford's interviewees also include the leader of a pro-Doe movement calling itself Speak for the Dead, some of whose members may be involved in copycat killings. Every possible pro and con regarding vigilantism is explored and the viewer is left to decide if Doe's actions are reprehensible or laudable or if the man has simply found a rationalization and an outlet for his homicidal impulses. Doe at one point contends that war – where one country invades another and slaughters a great many people – is no more than a large scale vigilante action. Kelly Dolen's film presents a great deal to chew over and no easy answers. It even has an ambiguous ending that compensates for its pointless surprise revelation. Its only other mis-step is presenting worldwide news organizations breathlessly following the exploits of a serial killer in Australia. And perhaps I'm naïve but I can't quite swallow that the justice system is quite as inept as presented here. But on the whole this is an exceptional film with riveting performances from Bamber and Hulme. I can't recommend it highly enough.
2015 / ARC Entertainment / 93m / $20.99 [R]
ENTER THE DANGEROUS MIND
It's difficult to define "Enter the Dangerous Mind," and I think that's in part because the movie can't quite decide if it wants to be a thriller or a serious examination of mental illness. Certainly the latter can be a tough sell without the involvement of a major A-list star and the best Youssef Delara and Victor Teran's film can manage is Scott Bakula and Jason Priestley supporting roles – Priestley's could even be called a cameo. The real star is Jake Hoffman – son of you-know-who and looking very much like his dad at around the time of "The Graduate" – as Jim, a musician who creates his work by manipulating natural sounds and snippets of TV news broadcasts. The music helps drown out the voices in his head – personified by his long-departed bullying and abusive brother and caused by a traumatic childhood incident involving that sibling. Because he's a whiz with computers, he sometimes gets called for help by his social worker Kevin (Bakula), and becomes interested in Wendy (Nikki Reed), a young woman who works in the office. His hopes for a romantic relationship don't go quite as planned and he slides into madness, unable to shut out the negative voice the prompts him toward taking revenge against the people he thinks are mocking him.
It's here that "Enter the Dangerous Mind" goes astray as Jim becomes homicidal, killing a neighbor's dog and invading a dinner party that Wendy is attending. The gore is minimal, mostly suggested, in keeping with the serious tone established at the outset but the plot sure careens into melodrama. It's the acting that holds things together; Delara and Teran are too fond of camera tricks (more appropriate to a music video) that don't enhance the drama a whit. I suppose these are meant to convey Jim's disturbed state of mind but the film fares better when it leaves things to its actors. The two most chilling scenes occur when Jim gets drunk on vodka prior to driving a screwdriver into his ear in a futile attempt to stop the voices and when Kevin hears Jim's rampage over a cell phone but is powerless to intervene. The ending features one of those revelations that isn't quite the surprise I'm betting Delara and Teran think it is and conveys the disturbing message that all schizophrenics are going to become homicidally inclined. There is something like three-quarters of a good film here – though pacing is not among its assets – but the ending disappoints.
2013 / Well Go USA / 90m / $29.98 BR [NR]
HE LOVES ME, HE LOVES ME NOT (A la folie pas du tout)
What with Audrey Tautou's smiling elfin countenance prominent on the DVD box case and a title like "He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not," you might expect a romantic comedy. But if you pay attention to the copy, you'll note the film is described as a thriller and it most decidedly once it gets going – and a devilishly clever one – though it does have its lighter moments in the beginning. Still this is not, for instance, "Charade." Tautou portrays art student Angelique who is in love with a married doctor (Samuel Le Bihan). She rationalizes that because Dr. Le Garrec's wife is pregnant it will take him a while to extricate himself but we see her slowly become discontent with how much time it seems to be taking. Her friends – including a young medical student David (Clement Sibony), who is head over heels in love with her – think the doctor is just toying with her. Angelique deteriorates mentally, slathering black painting over the finished canvases she needs completed to qualify for a scholarship and her strategies to pry the doc free of his spouse become desperate – such as painting messages to him on his car windshield. She trashes the house on loan to her over the summer and even pawns some of the furniture.
There's only one more thing I'm going to tell you about "He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not" because the less you know going in the better. At one point the film shifts to Le Garrec's point of view and a very different picture emerges. It's one that fully complies with what you've seen to that point but also adds new information (some of which you may have guessed) and transforms the film into a thriller. Co-writer (with Caroline Thivel) and director Laetitia Colombani plays fair; all the clues to what you discover in the latter portion are in plain sight – or at least inferred. There are two instances near the end of characters being inexplicably stupid to allow events to proceed and that rather mars the film but for the most part this is a splendid exercise. Both Tautou and Le Bihan turn in exceptional work; that they are not better known outside France is more than a shame. Both are major figures in French cinema but Tautou's appearance in "The DaVinci Code" and Le Bihan's in "Brotherhood of the Wolf" are about their only work seen in the U.S. outside arthouse venues or the "foreign" section of video stores. Certainly this film deserves a wider audience than that; it may be subtitled but its appeal strikes me as pretty mainstream. Fans of thrillers will definitely want to give this a look as will anyone who appreciates intelligent filmmaking.
2002 / First Run Features / 96m / $24.95 [NR]
"Long Weekend" is an entry in the co-thriller sub-genre that has enjoyed intermittent popularity thanks to the success of Alfred Hitchcock's "The Birds." That such films still enjoy some ininterest from filmmakers may be judged by this one's having been remade a few years back. The original Australian production presents Peter and Marcia (John Hargreaves and Briony Behets), a tediously quarrelsome couple who set off for a camping holiday at a remote, secluded beach. That Marcia would prefer a weekend in a hotel is only the tip of their disagreements. (It seems that she also had a fling with a neighbor in the recent past and became pregnant; as she wasn't certain whose child she was carrying she aborted it angering her husband.) Peter takes a shortcut to the beach on a dirt road through the woods and ends up going in circles – not the first time in the film this forest will play tricks on the couple. Next morning, Marcia awakes to find that Peter has set up camp and is chopping away at a tree. (When his wife asks why he's doing it, he responds "Why not?") The couple litters the area with their rubbish, and Peter takes drunken walks with his dog Ginger shooting his rifle into the air or randomly at the wildlife with no intention of cleaning and cooking anything he might slay.
Nature fights back of course and Jim is attacked by an eagle, bitten by a possum that the moron tries to pet and plagued by a bunyip that doesn't seem to want to stay dead. Tree branches tumble on him, apparently of their own volition, and his spear gun keeps trying to impale Marcia (an activity he isn't allowed). This is slow-burn horror that would work better if it weren't also half soap opera about people so tiresome and unpleasant you can't wait for them to meet their end. If you're hoping they'll escape and stay together it's only because you wouldn't want them inflicting their nasty selves on others. Hargreaves and Behets are capable actors but they can't make you care about these characters. On the plus side "Long Weekend" boasts gorgeous nature photography with footage of koalas, pelicans, kangaroos – one of whom Peter runs over on his way to the campsite – and even a Tasmanian Devil (yes Warner Bros. cartoon fans, there really is such a critter). To its credit, the film is even ambiguous as to whether the couple is under attack or if stuff is just happening. But with this pair you just don't give a hang how, you just want them to die.
1978 / Synapse Films / 95m / $24.95 BR [NR]
POWER RANGERS SUPER MEGAFORCE: The Perfect Storm
Those five teenage defenders of earth are back – joined by a teenager named Orion from the planet of the same name – with more episodes of "Power Rangers Super Megaforce." Earth is under attack by an incredibly assorted gaggle of beings from some planet where no two inhabitants look even remotely alike aside from the soldiers. Fortunately for earth (which mostly seems oblivious to the menace orbiting the planet) the leader is an even bigger nitwit than usual who sends only one of his minions at a time (as usual) despite an armada of hundreds of spacecraft that must contain thousands upon thousands of beings. Now these goofy looking creatures may be a challenge to our teen warriors, but it scarcely needs the added involvement of, oh, say, heads of state, the military or the scientists of the world to combat them. For that matter our heroes aren't as concerned as they might be. Rather than launch some kind of strike against the mass forces in orbit they book off to the mall for some froyo (frozen yogurt) until the next beastie arrives to dominate the world by steal the happiness or drain the energy out of an assortment of extras or some similar lunatic plan.
"Power Rangers" is strictly formula and totally insane. The nasty of the week arrives on earth to perform some deed more nutty than dastardly; the Rangers respond and do battle with their idencipherable powers and gadgets; the beastie supersizes and the Rangers do battle with their Transformers-like giant robot whatsits. With luck a building or two might blow up. In these episodes the invaders are back to being wonderfully ridiculous. I'm not sure what they're on over at Toei Studios but I'm betting I'd have enjoyed partaking of it back in my younger days. A bonus for me was seeing Azim Rizk, the sometimes black and sometimes green ranger (don't ask), and the only member of the current troupe who has a lick of charisma, get a couple episodes that highlight his gift for comedy. Another comedic highlight had Gia (Clara Hanna) and Orion (Cameron Jebo) adopt a series of fast-change disguises to defeat one of the baddies and Jebo does an amusing riff on "Footloose" in the first installment here. I remain concerned over how appropriate the series is for very small children given its level of violence and the fact that it is obviously designed to sell a line of toys (some of them obscenely expensive). But I can't deny the gonzo amusement value.
2014 / Lionsgate / 115m / $14.98 [NR]
VENGEANCE OF AN ASSASSIN (Rew thalu rew)
It's best if you go into "Vengeance of an Assassin" expecting no more that a plethora of adrenaline-pumping action sequences. The plot is minimal in this Thai production and doesn't much stand up to scrutiny. What story there is pretty much lurches along with characters suddenly appearing with no introduction and the viewer having not a clue who they are. Similarly the good guys are set upon by baddies who somehow just know where they are, no exposition offered. Perhaps none is needed. Lots of fighting ensues, most of it with one good guy defeating dozens of bad ones. The set-up has two orphan boys in the charge of their drunken auto mechanic uncle. When the older, Thee, discovers some clues as to what brought on his parents' death uncle throws him out of the house. Cut to some years later and someone we assume is him (we never see his face) goes into a restaurant killing dozens of patrons before warning the only survivor not to enter a certain political race. Then he kills him too. Lurch forward again and Thee abducts a young actress; in this case he's been hired to protect her but it eventuates he's being set up as the fall guy in her murder. Or something.
Why she is to be slain is never addressed – though the very end of the film indicates we may find out in the sequel. I won't be there if possible. Little of "Vengeance of the Assassin" made a lick of sense but it certainly boasts some intricate and impressive, though occasionally ludicrous, fight sequences. For some they may make up for the appalling overacting in the dramatic sequences or the obvious CGI and greenscreen used for a battle atop a train. I found myself groaning a good deal I'm afraid. Now I know that plot is of little concern in these enterprises but what's here is so incoherent I couldn't help but wonder if the film was completely finished when director Panna Rittikrai passed away prematurely. It would explain much of the klutziness in everything except the action sequences. But those are the film's raison d'etre and I suppose everything else was of secondary (if that) importance. As a result this one is for action fans only.
2014 / Well Go USA / 90m / $20.99 [NR]