Film Review: Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil, and Vile (dir by Joe Berlinger)


Early on in the new Netflix film, Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil, and Vile, there’s a scene in which Liz Kendall (Lily Collins) and her sister, Joanna (Angela Sarafyan) go to a bar.  Through some rather heavy-handed dialogue, we learn that Liz has just broken up with her boyfriend, that she has next to zero self-confidence, and that she’s a single mother.  She doesn’t think that there’s a man anywhere who would be interested in her.  Joanna responds by pointing out that there’s one man who appears to be very interested.  In fact, he hasn’t taken his eyes off of Liz since they entered the bar.

That man’s name is Ted (Zac Efron) and, at first, he seems like he’s too good to be true.  He’s charming.  He’s a law student.  He appears to love spending time with Liz’s daughter.  He looks like Zac Efron.  Perfect, right?

Of course, we know something that Liz doesn’t.  We know that Ted is Ted Bundy and that, eventually, he’s going to become one of America’s notorious serial killers, a symbol of evil so potent that, more than 30 years after he was executed by the state of Florida, he continues to get movies made about him.

Because we know who and what Ted is, we spend the first fourth of the movie cringing at everything that makes Liz happy.  For instance, Liz is shocked to discover that Ted apparently loves her daughter but we’re just like, “Oh my God, that’s Ted Bundy!  GET YOUR DAUGHTER AWAY FROM TED BUNDY!”  Liz thinks it’s romantic when Ted makes breakfast for her but we’re just staring at the big kitchen knife in his hand.  When Liz and Ted make love, only we notice the blank look on Ted’s face as he looks down at Liz and we find ourselves wondering what’s happening in his mind.

The film is told largely through Liz’s eyes and, with one exception, we never see Bundy actually committing any of his crimes.  (That’s a good thing, by the way.  We already know who Ted Bundy was and what he did.  There’s no need to sensationalize the very real pain that he caused.)  Like Liz, we find out about Bundy’s crimes through news reports and arrest records.  For instance, when Bundy is arrested for attempted kidnapping in Utah, Liz doesn’t find out about it until a story appears in the local Seattle newspaper.  When Liz demands to know why he didn’t tell her what was happening, Bundy gives her a bullshit story about how he’s being framed and how his lawyer is going to get the case thrown out.  We know that Ted’s lying but Liz believes him because …. what else is she going to do?  Is she going to believe that this perfect man who seems to love both her and her daughter is actually a sociopathic monster?

The film follows Bundy from one trial to another, as he’s charged with crimes across country.  It shows how this superficially charming law student became something of a media celebrity.  (When a reporter asks him if he’s guilty, Bundy grins and asks if the reporter is referring to a comic book that he stole when he was in the fifth grade.)  Bundy escapes.  Bundy is arrested.  Bundy escapes again.  Bundy eventually ends up being tried in Florida, where he revels in the attention.  When Liz loses faith in him, Bundy replaces her with an unstable woman named Carole Ann (Kayla Scodelario).  However, even while Carole Ann is dutifully delivering statements from Bundy to the press, Bundy is still calling Liz and begging her to believe that he’s innocent and he’ll soon be freed from prison.

Why is it so important to Bundy that Liz believe in him?  Is he just entertaining himself by manipulating her or, in his relationship with her, does he see the type of normalcy that he desires but knows he’s incapable of ever achieving?  Towards the end of the film, Liz comes close to asking Bundy if he was planning on killing her the first night that they met.  She doesn’t and it’s doubtful that Bundy would have given an honest answer but it’s still a question that hangs over every minute of this film (as does Liz’s physical resemblance to the majority of Bundy’s victims).

Though the film may be told from Liz’s point of view, she’s often comes across as just being a meek bystander, watching as the darkness of Ted Bundy envelops her world.  The film itself seems to be far more interested in Ted Bundy and his twisted celebrity.  Zac Efron plays Bundy as someone who knows how to be charming and who is good enough at imitating human emotions that he’s managed to keep the world from noticing that he’s essentially hollow on the inside.  Bundy has gotten so used to acting out a role that, even when he’s on trial for his life, he can’t resist the temptation to turn the courtroom into his own stage.  He demands to defend himself and, though he initially proves himself to be a good lawyer, his demands and his questions become progressively more flamboyant and self-destructive.  It’s as if he’s gotten so caught up in playing his role that he’s incapable of recognizing the reality of his situation.  He performs for the jury, the judge, and the television audience, treating the whole thing as if he’s just a character in a movie.  It’s only when he has no choice but to accept that he’s been caught and he’s never going to escape that Bundy finally shows some human emotion.  He cries but his tears are only for himself.  It’s a chilling performance and Zac Efron deserves every bit of praise that he’s received.

Unfortunately, the film itself doesn’t really tell us anything that we didn’t already know.  Director Joe Berlinger is best-known as a documentarian and he talks a “just the facts” approach to the story.  We don’t really get any insight into how a monster like Ted Bundy could come to exist.  Outside of Efron’s revelatory performance, there’s not much here that couldn’t be found in any of the other films that have been made about Ted Bundy.

(Interestingly enough, as I watched the film, it occurred to me that Ted Bundy was a monster who could have only thrived in a pre-Internet age.  For all the books and movies that portray him as being some sort of cunning genius, Bundy actually wasn’t that smart.  He approached two of early his victims in a public place and introduce himself as being “Ted,” usually within earshot of a handful of witnesses.  He was so brazen that the police even ended up with a sketch that pretty much looked exactly like him.  In all probability, the only way that Ted Bundy avoided getting arrested in Seattle was that he moved to Utah, where his crimes were unknown and the sketch wasn’t readily available.  Today, of course, that sketch and Ted’s name would be on Twitter and Facebook as soon as they were released by the police.  My friend Holly would probably retweet the sketch and say, “Do your thing, twitter!”  He would have been identified and arrested in just a matter of time.  Instead, Bundy committed his crimes at a time when news traveled slower and law enforcement agencies were not in constant communication with each other.)

The good news is that Extremely Wicked is not, as some feared, a glorification of Ted Bundy.  He’s a monster throughout the entire film.  Zac Efron proves himself to be a far better actor than anyone’s ever really given him credit for being.  It’s a flawed film but, at the very least, it’s also a disturbing reminder that sometimes, darkness hides behind the greatest charm.

 

 

Playing Catch-up: Yoga Hosers (dir by Kevin Smith)


I have to admit that the main reason I watched Yoga Hosers is because I’m currently in the process of making out my “worst of 2016” list and everyone that I’ve talked to has insisted that Yoga Hosers happens to belong on that list.

Well, for once, I actually happen to agree with other people.  At the risk of losing my contrarian reputation,  Yoga Hosers definitely belongs on any list of the worst films of 2016.

I mean … Look, I get it.

I know that making crappy-looking films with juvenile humor has, in the past, worked out very well for Kevin Smith.  It’s made him an icon.  It’s won him legions of fans.  Some of my best friends love Kevin Smith and his movies.  I, personally, appreciate that he’s a fan of Degrassi.

And I know that there are literally thousands of interviews with Kevin Smith where he talks about the fact that he’s not the world’s greatest visual stylist.  He always pokes fun at the fact that he rarely moves the camera.  He’s open about the fact that he’s better at writing dialogue than filming it.  And I also know that he has regularly encouraged people not to take anything that he does too seriously.

I get all of that.

But here’s the thing … Yoga Hosers is really, really bad.  And Kevin Smith openly admitting that he’s not a very good director doesn’t make Yoga Hosers any less painful to sit through.

It’s actually kind of sad that Yoga Hosers isn’t better.  The film deals with two 15 year-old Canadian convenience store workers.  They’re both named Colleen and they’re best friends.  They’re also very well-played, by Harley Quinn Smith and Lily-Rose Depp.  In fact, they both give such likable performances that it actually makes the film just a little more bearable than it otherwise would have been.  And, hey — Kevin specifically made Yoga Hosers so that his daughter could have a starring role.  That’s more than my Dad ever for me when I was fifteen!

But, God, the movie is just so bad.

And by bad, I mean boring.  It’s not even so bad that it’s good.  It’s just a boring, bad movie.

Of course, If you just heard a rough outline of the film’s plot, you would probably think that Yoga Hosers was destined for cult immortality.  The Colleens are forced to spend a Friday night working at the store and they end up having to fight off a bunch of Nazi bratwursts, all of whom seeking to continue the hateful legacy of a Canadian Nazi played, in painfully unfunny flashbacks, by poor Haley Joel Osment.  Johnny Depp shows up as Guy LaPointe, a “man-hunter” who has a huge mustache and who speaks with a thick accent that’s obviously supposed to be hilarious.

But seriously, it takes forever for those little Nazis to show up. First, you have to deal with about an hour of the Colleens obsessing over their phones and saying “aboot” a lot.  This is one of the slowest films that I’ve ever seen and Kevin Smith is not the type of director to make a joke and then move on after he gets a laugh.  No, instead, he’s going to make a joke and then make it a second time and then keep pounding you over the head with it.  Watching Yoga Hosers is the equivalent of having Kevin Smith in your face for 90 minutes, screaming, “This is funny, right!?  RIGHT!?”

For instance, do you think it’s funny that Canadians say “aboot” and “oot?”  If you do, Yoga Hosers might be for you.  Or it still might not be, because how many times can you laugh at the Colleens saying “aboot?”  After the 10th time, you’ve gotten the joke but rest assured, you’re going to hear it a hundred more times.  Do Canadians ever get tired of Americans demanding that they say “aboot?”  I think I would.  I’m from Texas and I know I get sick of people from up north going crazy whenever I say “y’all.”

I think the main problem with Yoga Hosers is that Kevin Smith apparently didn’t trust his audience to pick up on all of the film’s comedic details.  Hence, the film never makes a joke without then beating us over the head to make sure that we understand that we’ve just heard or seen a joke.  For instance, it’s clever that, in Yoga Hosers, Canadian cereal is called “Pucky Charms.”  I saw one of the Colleens walking around with an open box of Pucky Charms and I smiled and I thought it was a clever little joke.  But it becomes less clever once Smith starts to have other characters specifically point out that Canadian cereal is called “Pucky Charms.”  Then it becomes just another mildly funny joke that quickly gets old.

I love Canada!  And I’m pretty sure Kevin Smith is a nice guy too.  But seriously, Yoga Hosers is the worst.

Lisa Reviews on Oscar Nominated Horror Film: The Sixth Sense (dir by M. Night Shyamalan)


The_sixth_sense

Before I talk about the 1999 best picture nominee, The Sixth Sense, I have to ask — is it really necessary to give a spoiler warning?  I mean, everyone knows that this film has a big twist at the end and everyone’s aware of what that twist is, right?  I’m going to assume that’s the case because, quite frankly, it’s kind of pointless to talk about this film without talking about the twist.  I mean, the Sixth Sense has been around for 16 years and it’s still a film that people seem to frequently talk about.  (For instance, “Why aren’t any of M. Night Shyamalan’s other films as good as The Sixth Sense?”)  If you’re over the age of 20, you really have no excuse for not knowing the twist ending of The Sixth Sense.

But, fair is fair — THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS!  

Anyway!  The Sixth Sense is the story of a 9 year-old named Cole Sear (Haley Joel Osment).  Cole lives in Philadelphia with his harried but devoted mother, Lynn (Toni Collette).  Cole is a withdrawn child, haunted by the fact that he’s constantly seeing and hearing people that nobody else can hear.  As Cole explains it to his psychologist, Dr. Malcolm Crowe (Bruce Willis), “I see dead people.”

(And you know what?  That line has been quoted and parodied a thousand times since The Sixth Sense was released but that’s because it’s a great movie moment.  Haley Joel Osment was a great child actor and did deserve the Oscar nomination that he received for his performance in this film.)

Malcolm has some issues of his own.  The previous year, one of his former patients (Donnie Wahlberg) broke into his house and shot him, while Malcolm’s terrified wife (Olivia Williams) watched.  Malcolm feels that he was shot because he failed that patient and that he can achieve some sort of redemption by helping Cole.  Of course, as Malcolm devotes more and more time to Cole, he finds it harder and harder to speak to his wife.  In one scene, Malcolm sits down across from her and tells her all about Cole.  She responds by ignoring him and then standing up and walking out of the room.

And when she does that, your natural response is to go, “What a bitch!” and feel sorry for Malcolm.  Except, of course, Cole really does see dead people.  And, as we discover in the film’s twist ending, Malcolm is one of them.  If his wife seemed distant, it was because she didn’t know he was there.  If she seemed emotionally withdrawn, it was because she was deeply mourning him.  Everyone — including Cole — knew that Malcolm was dead.  Everyone but Malcolm.

And you know what?  Film bloggers like me spend a lot of time making snarky comments about M. Night Shyamalan and his twist endings but the ending of The Sixth Sense works beautifully.  It worked when I first saw it and it has worked every time that I’ve seen it since.  Even knowing that Malcolm is dead, it’s still incredibly poignant to watch him realize it.

And that’s why I’d love to have a time machine.  I would love to be able to hop into my time machine and go back to 1999 and see what it was like for the very first audience that watched this film.  How did they react when they discovered — for the very first time — that Bruce Willis was a ghost?  I’d love to find out.

But, even without that time machine, The Sixth Sense holds up surprisingly well.  Haley Joel Osment and Bruce Willis tend to get so much attention for their excellent performances that I’m instead going to praise Toni Collette, who does great work as Cole’s loving but overwhelmed mother.  She didn’t get a great catch phrase nor was she a part of a huge twist but the heart of the film is to be found in her performance.

The Sixth Sense was nominated for best picture of 1999.  It lost to one of the worst films to ever win an Oscar, American Beauty.

 

Embracing the Melodrama Part II #99: Pay It Forward (dir by Mimi Leder)


Pay_it_forward_ver1Speaking of crappy films…

Listen, I’m not going to say too much about the 2000 film Pay It Forward because it’s such a terrible movie that I feel like writing too much about it would be like the equivalent of having sex in It Follows.  Seriously, you talk too much about Pay It Forward and you’ll end up with some sort of shape-shifting demon following you around, doing you favors and demanding that you do three more favors for three other people and then those people have to do three more favors and pretty soon, everyone in the world is doing favors for everyone and…

AGCK!

Okay, okay — I know that probably doesn’t sound too bad to some people.  “People being nice to each other!?  What could be wrong about that?”  Well, watch the damn film and find out.

In Pay it Forward, Haley Joel Osment plays a creepy little kid who basically “saves” the world.  At the end of the film, he’s violently murdered and the entire population of Las Vegas gathers outside of his house with candles.  His mother Helen Hunt is truly touched that everyone was so moved by Haley’s mission.  That said, if Haley had never decided that everyone should pay it forward, he probably wouldn’t be dead.  I mean, let’s just be honest here.

Before he died, Haley was challenged by his social studies teacher, Kevin Spacey.  Mr. Spacey challenged an entire class of 7th graders to come up with an idea that will change the world.  (Honestly, don’t 7th graders already have enough to deal with?)  Haley’s idea is that he’ll do a favor for three random people and then those three people will do three nice things for three people and then…

BLEH!  God, I hate this movie!

Anyway, Haley gives money to a homeless man and then that homeless man keeps a woman from committing suicide and then that woman does something nice for Angie Dickinson and then somehow, this all eventually leads to some rich guy giving Jay Mohr a car and telling him to “pay it foward.”

And Jay’s a reporter!

So, naturally, he starts to work his way backwards on the chain of good deeds.  Along the way, he meets a prison inmate who has been converted to Pay It Forwardism.  “This is going to change the world!” he tells Jay.  “I’m even getting the brothers in here in on it!”

By the way, there’s exactly one person of color in Pay It Forward and he’s a prison inmate who thinks that other inmates will want to do random favors for each other.

Oh, but Haley has to do two other favors!  So, he sets Helen Hunt up with Kevin Spacey and when he catches his teacher coming out his mom’s bedroom, Haley gets really, really excited and … well, it’s pretty creepy.

At first, Helen thinks that Kevin thinks that she’s not smart enough to date him.  When Helen asks him point blank if he thinks that she’s dumb, he responds by giving a really long monologue about the time that his father set him on fire.  Kevin does not mention what his father was attempting to pay forward…

And then Jay shows up in town and interviews Haley and oh my God, Haley’s going to change the world!  Yay!  But then Haley spends his third favor trying to protect a kid (played by Degrassi‘s Marc Donato) from some bullies and ends up getting stabbed to death.

But fear not!  Along with that candlelight vigil, we also hear an anchorwoman breathlessly reporting that there have been reports of “Pay it Forwardism” across the country.

Now, there’s a lot of negative things that I could say about Pay It Forward but … well, I kinda already did.  Pay It Forward pops up on TV a lot and there’s a lot of idiots who always get excited about it.

Here’s my fear concerning the whole Pay It Forward idea.  It seems like anybody can just do anything and then go, “Pay it forward,” and suddenly, you are obligated to go do three favors.  You may be running late.  You may have other things you need to do.  But no, you’ve been told to pay it forward and now, you have to!  Because of one creepy little kid who wanted his social studies teacher to have sex with his mom, you have now been inconvenienced.

There doesn’t seem to be any rule about how big of a favor anyone actually has to do before they can smugly order you to “Pay it forward.”  Think about this.  You’re trying to get a Coke from a vending machine but all of your dollars are all crumbled up and the machine won’t accept them.  You’re about to give up and go home when suddenly, a stranger walks up and deposits three quarters in the machine and punches a button.

He tosses you a grape drink.  You wanted a Coke but, because you’re nice and you think he was selflessly trying to help you out, you smile and say, “Thank you.”

“Pay it forward,” he replies before walking away.

Well, now, you’re screwed, aren’t you?

Now, suddenly, you have to go find three people who need a favor.  You didn’t want grape.  You wanted a Coke and, even if you had never gotten that Coke, it would not have been the end of the world.  But, because you were polite and said thank you, you are now obligated.

As you look for people to help, it occurs to you that stranger really didn’t care about whether you wanted a Coke.  What he cared about was completing his third favor so he could actually get on with his life.  So, no, he wasn’t trying to help you or trying to make the world a better place.  Instead, he was just trying to free himself of a nagging obligation.

So, after a long search, you’ve finally found your three strangers and you’ve done your three favors and you’re finally free of your obligation.  And then suddenly, another stranger runs up and tosses you the keys to one of those stupid looking Smart cars and yells, “Pay it forward!”

SERIOUSLY, IT NEVER ENDS!

Don’t tell me about paying it forward.

Just leave me alone and let me drink my damn Coke.