Archive for May 2, 2015

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Pity poor Jamie Bamber. Five or six years ago, fresh from his fan-favorite turn as Apollo on Ronald D. Moore’s “re-imagined” Battlestar Galactica, it looked like the world was his oyster. Fast-forward to the present, though,  and about the only place you can catch him apart from “starring” turns on various SyFy Channel movies of the week is headlining in stuff like 2014’s  John Doe : Vigilante, a preachy, irritating straight-to-video Australian “revenge thriller” that’s decidedly short on thrills (as well as intrigue, sense, and coherence) and long on AM radio-style conservative boiler-plate sermonizing.

Here’s the damn thing, though : it should be so fucking cool.

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I admit it — I’m more than willing to lock my political conscience away in strong box for 90 minutes or so to enjoy a good, bloody, brainless revenge flick. When I see out hero wronged, I’m as out for self-imposed “justice” as any other viewer (especially when he’s wearing  a kick-ass creepy, expressionless mask). The problem with John Doe : Vigilante is that we don’t see our hero wronged, and that director Kelly Dolen and screenwriter Stephen M. Coates decide to play up some sort of flat, uninvolving “mystery” angle in relation to the motivations driving Bamber’s “John Doe” character in his quest for a pound (plus interest) of flesh. In order for that to work, of course, it helps for the audience not to have figured out who the protagonist is after and for what reason, but our less-than-visionary Aussie auteurs don’t seem to have that much faith in their viewership’s ability not to grasp a point that isn’t jack-hammered into their skulls, so by the time the “big moment” finally comes and Doe goes directly in for the kill against the guy who is the root cause of all his troubles, any and all “revelatory” qualities the scene might have had are well and truly lost,  and instead you just want the whole sadistic thing over with already.

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If it weren’t already obvious, subtlety is one thing this flick just doesn’t do. Which is okay by me in and of itself, but considerably more difficult to pull off if you’re convinced your film is “smart” (in this case they seem convinced that it’s actually smarter than anybody watching it) and has a “point.” Yeah, okay, maybe the cops aren’t doing their job and sometimes it looks like all the bad guys get off scott-free, but on the other side of the coin we have a much bigger problem : cops who are entirely too enthusiastic about their jobs and a criminal “justice” system that routinely convicts and incarcerates perfectly innocent people — and if you “take the gloves off” in the “war against crime,” as John Doe : Vigilante seems to yearn for, you’re going to end up with a good number of those perfectly innocent people not only locked up, but dead.

Do I expect  low-budget DTV fare like this to take a probing look at that particular flip-side to the equation? Not in the least — unless it seems obsessed with treating these issues in some sort of thought-provoking, quasi-intellectual matter, as Dolen and Co. apparently think they’re doing here. If they could only have satisfied themselves with offering up an intellectually and morally dubious yarn about “getting even” by the most direct, violent means possible, I’d be right on board, but instead, they chose to nael-gaze their way into a plodding, sanctimonious quasi-“topical” take on the “evils” of a “lenient” and “permissive” society, and why those supposed “wrongs” are best dealt with by taking the law into your own hands. That’s not just offensive — it’s downright stupid. Here’s a tip : if you want to make a “smarter” version of the standard revenge flick, have a smarter take on the subject. If you don’t, then please — just give us the “kicking ass and taking names” that we’re used to.

To his credit, Bamber does what he can with the decidedly weak material he’s given (framing much of the flick in faux-TV-documentary style doesn’t help), and the film is, at times, able to reasonably approximate the high production values it’s trying to hoodwink you into thinking it employs (although the dodgy CGI helicopters and explosions right at the beginning don’t help), but that’s about all the praise I can muster up for this one. In the end, shit is still shit.

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One thing that’s not shit, though, is Arc Entertainment’s DVD presentation of the film.  Not only are the widescreen picture and 5.1 stereo sound pretty much perfect (as, admittedly, you’d expect from an essentially brand-new movie), but it’s positively loaded with extras, including a raft of behind-the-scenes “making-of” featurettes, a generous helping of cast and crew interviews, and two full-length commentary tracks (one featuring Dolen and Coates, the other featuring Bamber on his own) that are considerably more interesting and involving than is the picture itself.

All the fancy bells and whistles in the world aren’t enough to elevate John Doe : Vigilante from the mire, though. If your crazy right-wing uncle that no one wants to talk to at the Thanksgiving dinner table were to make a movie based on what’s “wrong” with a system that “lets criminals (and let’s be honest, if your crazy right-wing uncle is like my crazy right-wing uncles, what he really means is blacks)  go free while hard-working (as in, white) people have to cower in fear” this is probably the sort of nonsense he’d come up with.

 

 

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At first glance, Saskatchewan-based writer/director Lowell Dean’s 2014 horror/comedy hybrid Wolfcop looks like it’s a movie that’s come along about 20 years too late — seriously, wouldn’t this have been more at home among the avalanche of low-budget direct-to-video schlockfests that tried to piggyback onto the success of Maniac Cop? Surely you remember seeing some of those on the shelves of your local video stores in the early ’90s — Psycho CopSamurai CopBeast Cop, Vampire Cop (my personal favorite of the bunch) — the list was endless there for awhile. But their day has almost certainly passed, right?

Well, piss on all that. It’s never too late for a good idea, I say.

Sure, Wolfcop (now available via Netflix instant streaming, and soon to be arriving on  Blu-ray and DVD from Image Entertainment) is an entirely self-aware homage to the “Fill-In-The-Blank” Cop films of days gone by, but that doesn’t preclude it from being a shit-ton of fun. As a matter of fact, if this isn’t the kind of flick that leaves you grinning from ear to ear, then it’s a pretty safe bet that this little blog site of mine is probably not among your regular internet “hangouts,” because for lovers of cheap n’ cheesy celluloid, Dean’s little intentionally brain-dead opus is pure gold.

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Meet Lou Garrou (the first of many groaningly obvious lycanthropic puns lamely inserted throughout), washed-up alcoholic deputy cop of the fictitious burg of Woodhaven, a town where shuttered-and-padlocked industrial plants have given rise to a local obsession with alcohol and firearms that borders on the pathological, and where the occult seems to have gained a foothold in conjunction with the establishment of a permanent, and of course thoroughly crooked, political power structure. How Lou (played by Leo Fafard, who both looks and acts like something of a poor man’s approximation of William Petersen) manages to hang onto his job is anyone’s guess, but having another deputy on hand, Tina (Amy Matysio) to actually solve most of the cases that come up seems to help in keeping the Sheriff (Aidan Devine) at bay so that our ostensible “hero” can continue to get shit-faced during working hours and try to get in the pants of local barmaid Jessica (Sarah Lind).

Still, when Lou wakes up one morning after a bender to find a pentagram carved into his chest and hair starting to grow in places he’s not accustomed to, it’s obvious that something is up. Cue a series of impressively-realized creature transformations, lots of beyond-lame “humor,” plenty of blood and guts, enough nudity to keep things interesting, and a plot that, in the grandest of “B”- movie traditions, really doesn’t matter in the least,  and you’ve got just about 80 minutes of awesome for those of you, like myself, whose tastes are refined enough to appreciate this sort of thing.

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Is a good chunk of the acting here suspect at best? Of course. But what do you want from a Saskatchewan production with a total budget of a million bucks (Canadian) that of necessity spends pretty much all of that on effects? And besides, dodgy performances only help to give flicks like this one character. Bitching about the acting here is about as pointless as bitching about the plot holes — Saskatoon ain’t Hollywood (thank God), and you either meet a movie like Wolfcop on its own terms or you move on.I recommend the former, without reservation.

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Evidently this did get some theatrical play in its home country, and while I would love to have seen this with an audience, the fact that it’s so widely and readily available on various so-called “home viewing platforms” is reason for optimism for those of us who love trash cinema. Sure, Troma’s got their niche and all that, and we’re happy for them, but why should Lloyd Kaufman and company have all the fun? Wolfcop proves that the Canadians can do “instant cult favorite” stuff as well as anyone, and we can only hope that the modest success Dean and his cohorts are enjoying will inspire other backyard filmmakers to try their hand at adding to the glorious garbage heap.

So come on, enterprising would-be directors — wherever you may be!  Zombie CopSnake CopNinja Cop, and Mummy Cop are all dying to be made!