VIFF Day Two: iPhone Creepiness and Buddhist Assassins

Without directed by Mark Jackson (USA)

A young woman named Joslyn (played by a young woman named Joslyn), travels to an island off the coast of Washington for a job taking care of Frank, an elderly man in a vegetative state, as well as to avoid dealing with some recent events in her own past. Before long, the remoteness of her location, the lack of response from her charge, as well as her inability to get a decent signal on her iPhone, start to affect her mental state.

It’s a simple and interesting premise, and it’s impressive to see just how subtly Mark Jackson adds both an interesting and sad back story, as well as an engrossing and provocative mystery, to it. In Joslyn, he and Joslyn Jensen create a fully realized, 3 dimensional character, that is so complex, and so watchable, that they can perhaps be forgiven for not paying off the actual plot in a way that’s entirely satisfying. Although it’s a compelling drama, numerous questions are asked that never get answered, and one might guess that the real thing that this movie is “without” is an ending.  Still, that’s are minor quibbles for a directorial debut as fine as this one.

Rating: B+

Headshot, directed by  Pen-Ek Ratanaruang (Thailand)

So the first thing that happens is that the producer of the movie comes out to talk to us, and tells us most emphatically  that the movie we’re about to see is NOT a thriller. I guess he was hoping that we all hadn’t just looked at page 86 of the VIFF program guide that tells us that the movie we’re about to see is a “vehement thriller”.

Unfortunately, I would have to go with the producer on this one. Although Headshot has many things (overly convoluted plot, unnecessary narrative devices, mysterious femme fatales who serve no real purpose to the plot) going for it, “thrills” is not one of them.

It’s unfortunate, as there’s a great idea here: Former cop-turned-hitman is trying to run away from his violent past. It’s a simple premise, and one that fits the neo-noir genre that Pen-Ek Ratanaruang is trying to emulate here. But rather than explore his hero, and try to create empathy for a character that’s on the down and out, Pen-Ek fills his movie with so many silly plot twists and turns, so many unexplained happenings, and far too many characters, that any real sense of noir tension is quickly lost.

Rating: C-

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