Serial killers, both real and fictitious, have long been a source of fascination with the public, and of course by extension filmmakers, who often seek to plumb these depths for the sake of dark entertainment. Of the former category, the tales of real-life murderers, Ted Bundy is one figure whose infamy has received no fewer than eight showcasings, most recently in Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile, starring Zac Efron, and Ted Bundy: American Boogeyman, starring Chad Michael Murray. The third such offering in the last three years, and undeniably the best of the aforementioned group, is No Man of God, which locates a compelling and yet non-exploitative narrative frame, and digs into the psychology of evil in a manner which might unnerve some viewers.
Helmed by Amber Sealey and scripted by Doctor Strange co-writer C. Robert Cargill under the pseudonym of Kit Lesser, No Man of God stars Elijah Wood and Luke Kirby, and is based on real-life transcripts, audiotapes and other notes of interviews with Bundy. Wood stars as Bill Hagmaier, an up-and-coming agent in the FBI’s Behavior Science Unit in the mid-1980s tasked by his boss Roger Depue (Robert Patrick) with talking with Bundy (Kirby), in the hopes of both gaining a greater understanding into his psychology and also extracting some details about unsolved murders to which he might be connected. Hagmaier methodically gains Bundy’s trust over a couple years, but the film’s last half delves specifically into the final week of Bundy’s life, as he attempts to stave off an execution sentence by finally sharing details on cold cases.
Sealey’s direction here is superb, subtly giving victims a voice in this story in a way which feels organic, and even artful. But No Man of God, shot in an intimate manner which locks an audience into its cat-and-mouse mental gamesmanship and scripted in a complementary way which doesn’t exhibit any grand self-satisfaction with reminding viewers over and over that its co-lead is at the forefront of criminal profiling, is an actors’ showcase in the best and most natural sense of the phrase. Kirby (who physically resembles Frank Grillo by way of Oscar Isaac, or perhaps vice versa) delivers a coiled performance of considerable authority, evident in the first moments of his appearance. It’s a masterful turn, vacuumed free of any signposted “evil” or showy affectations to indicate his character’s intellectual superiority. Wood, meanwhile, has the perfectly placid face for the role of Hagmaier, who is a reactive figure in this story, existing wholly in counterpoint, even in quiet moments alone where we get to see the burdens of his compartmentalization. Each of these leads is great, and together they turn No Man of God into something special — a dark rumination on humanity’s id, and the fact that even and perhaps especially the most monstrous strains of evil will still seek to rationalize and justify its behaviors.
The film’s Blu-ray presentation in 2.39:1 anamorphic widescreen is quite nice, complemented by a DTS-HD master audio 5.1 soundtrack and optional English SDH and French and Spanish subtitles. A motion-animated main menu gives way to eight chapter selections; the release’s sole bonus material comes by way of a seven-and-a-half-minute behind-the-scenes featurette which includes very thoughtful and articulate interviews with Wood, Kirby and Aleksa Palladino.
Dreaming Grand Avenue, written and directed by Hugh Schulze, is the type of movie one really wants to be able to more heartily recommend, because there’s a lot about it which is ambitious and interesting, and certainly aiming for something different. A precocious indie oozing DIY energy from almost every pore, the film’s story centers on a young guy and girl, Jimmy (Jackson Rathbone) and Maggie (Andrea Londo), who keep running into one another… in their dreams. In a gambit which would no doubt make David O. Russell proud, the ethereal Andromeda (Wendy Robie) summons dream detective Jack Yancy (Tony Fitzpatrick), and orders him to figure out why exactly this is the case. Eventually, the nature of this duo’s linked destinies comes (a bit more) into focus.
Londo (Narcos) and Rathbone (The Twilight Saga) are both good — or it’s perhaps more accurate to say that they each give good, consistent effort. They’re plugged into the woozy quirkiness of the movie, and committed to trying to deliver line energy and readings which feed its vibe. They give it an anchoring likable presence, no doubt. And there are some interesting ideas herein, especially about dreams being the only thing not yet turned into a commodity. But Schulze’s predilection for wordy dialogue (sample: “You’re poking a screwdriver in the body electric,” says Andromeda) hurts, and certain subplots (Jimmy is hung up on his former half-brother James, there’s an even worse sequence involving Maggie’s irrational, hectoring father, and that’s not even mentioning the movie’s digression into some Walt Whitman cosplay) spin their wheels in the mud. Many of the film’s supporting performances, too, come across as wince-inducing at worst (Fitzpatrick reads as a budget JK Simmons-type) or amateurish at best.
Dreaming Grand Avenue‘s beautiful DVD presentation, via Music Box Films, features a 1.85:1 widescreen transfer, with a 5.1 Dolby digital English language audio track, and optional English SDH. In addition to its theatrical trailer, a healthy array of bonus features — a feature-length audio commentary track from Schulze, a clutch of deleted scenes, and a separate slate of interviews with Schulze and his cast — make this title a lot easier to celebrate for those who forgive or overlook its shortcomings and connect more aspirationally with its unique wavelength.
Tackling spirituality and the metaphysical from an entirely different plane, meanwhile, is the engaging documentary Lourdes, directed by Thierry Demaizière and Alban Teurlai. Taking its title from the mountainous village in the foothills of the French Pyrenees, the movie focuses on the upheaval the sleepy scenic town has undergone ever since, in 1858, a 14-year-old girl claimed to have seen the Virgin Mary. These days, Lourdes is part venerated shrine, part Disneyland, and this lived-in, well-crafted movie assays the complexity and contradiction of that fact by way of a stirring cross-section of humanity who come to visit, gawk, pay respects, and be healed. The DVD presentation from Icarus Films comes in a clean 2.35:1 widescreen transfer, with a 2.0 stereo French language audio track with English subtitles.
Co-scripted with Arthur Harari, writer-director Justine Triet’s Sibyl is a sly, sultry character study with seriocomic overtones which eventually gets bogged down in too-cute subplot machinations that really add a lot of value to the proceedings. The movie follows a jaded psychotherapist (Virginie Efira) who decides to wind down her practice and return to writing instead. As Sibyl starts dropping patients, she begins to struggle with excess time and a decided lack of inspiration. Things change, however, when she gets a call from Margot (Adèle Exarchopoulos), a young actress wrapped up in a steamy affair with her costar Igor (Gaspard Ulliel), who in turn happens to be married to the film’s director (a hilarious Sandra Huller). Suddenly Sibyl’s creativity and passion are enlivened, and she begins to use Margot’s life as source material for a novel. As she becomes further enmeshed in Margot’s life, though, past and present and fiction and reality start to blur together for Sibyl.
The performances here outstrip the filmmaking and particularly the writing, which provides a framework for a good number of funny scenes and showcases an obvious pinprick delight in taking shots at the vanity of moviemaking folks, but also doesn’t feel like it delves much beyond the surface in terms of its characters and motivations. Belgian-born Efira is a revelation, though, and Exarchopoulos gets a chance to show a different side of her talents. Presented on DVD, via Music Box Films, in 2.35:1 widescreen with a French language 5.1 Dolby digital audio track and optional English subtitles, the home video release includes a photo gallery and teaser trailers, plus excellent interviews with Triet, Efira, Exarchopoulos, Niels Schneider, and Paul Hamy.
Written by: Brent Simon