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.

 

 

Music Video Of The Day: Nothing Else Matters by Metallica (1992, directed by Adam Dubin)


“At first I didn’t even want to play it for the guys. I thought that Metallica could only be the four of us. These are songs about destroying things, head banging, bleeding for the crowd, whatever it is, as long as it wasn’t about chicks and fast cars, even though that’s what we liked. The song was about a girlfriend at the time. It turned out to be a pretty big song.”

— James Hetfield, on Nothing Else Matters

Eventually, Hetfield did play it for the guys and Nothing Else Matters went on to become one of Metallica’s signature songs.  The song may have been inspired by Hetfield’s feelings about being away from his girlfriend while he was on the road but, as Hetfield explained it to Mojo Magazine, “It’s about being on the road, missing someone at home, but it was written in such a way, it connected with so many people, that it wasn’t just about two people, it was about a connection with your higher power, lots of different things.”

The video was directed by Adam Dubin and edited by Sean Fullan and is made up of clips from the 1992 Metallica documentary, A Year And A Half.  Along with the song, the video is best remembered for a scene where Lars Ulrich throws darts at a poster of Kip Winger.  Do you blame him?

For his part, Kip Winger has said about Metallica’s hatred of him, “That is why it’s the great irony that we ended up on that geeky guy’s shirt on Beavis & Butt-head, because Metallica couldn’t play what we play, they couldn’t do it, they literally — technically — couldn’t do it. And I’ll challenge those chumps to that any day of the week, but we could play their music with our hands tied behind our back. And so, I was a little teed off about that, but in the end, none of that shit matters…”

If you say so, Kipster.

26 years after the release of Nothing Else Matters, Metallica is still selling out stadiums worldwide.  And Winger?  Look for them at the closest county fair.

Let’s give the final words to James Hetfield:

“I remember going to the Hells Angels Clubhouse in New York, and they showed me a film that they’d put together of one of the fallen brothers, and they were playing ‘Nothing Else Matters.’ Wow. This means a lot more than me missing my chick, right? This is brotherhood. The army could use this song. It’s pretty powerful.”

Song of the Day: Turn the Page (Metallica)


MetallicaTurnthePage

Through good times and bad I have always been a huge fan and follower of Metallica. Even as they foolishly went off track following the path Bob Rock set for them throughout most of the 1990’s through the disastrous St. Anger debacle as they tried to return to their earlier sound, I have always followed this band which made up the original Big 4 of thrash metal (Metallica, Anthrax, Slayer and Megadeth).

It was on their 1998 cover album, Garage Inc., that the band released one of their most popular songs. It wasn’t an original, but a cover of the classic Bob Seger hard rock song about the hard road and life of a musician. Seger’s “Turn the Page” is just one of those hard rock tunes that latches onto the listener and forces them to listen and understand. Most such songs tend to be quite pretentious with nothing much to say once the listener really pays attention. The same cannot be said about Seger’s song.

Metallica decided to cover this song for their Garage Inc. album which was all about them covering their own favorite hard rock and metal songs of the past. While Metallica kept the original’s tempo, they added their own heavier and harder edge to song that straddles the line between hard rock and heavy metal. Even James Hetfield’s alcohol and cigarette ravaged vocals lent a sense of the hard road and life the track sings about.

The biggest change from the Seger song to Metallica’s cover has to be the accompanying music video which still remains one of the most controversial in MTV’s music video history (well, when they still played music videos). Seger’s song was released in 1973 when the concept of music video was nonexistent. With Metallica’s cover it was almost a guarantee that it would get a music video and what a video it was and still is.

The video was directed by Jonas Akerlund who had made a name for himself directing some of the most creative and innovative music videos of the day. His take on the song switches from a musician’s hard road and life on the road to that of a single mother trying to make ends meet as an erotic dancer by day and a prostitute by night to provide for her young daughter. The video was banned from receiving any sort of airplay on MTV as it dealt and showed the disturbing side of such a life. The fact that the tamer version of the video (below) still couldn’t make it on the airwaves just showed how much more haunting and controversial the uncensored version turned out to be.

Turn the Page

On a long and lonesome highway,
East of Omaha
You can listen to the engines
Moanin’ out it’s one note song
You can think about the woman,
Or the girl you knew the night before
But your thoughts will soon be wanderin’,
The way they always do
When you’re ridin’ 16 hours,
And there’s nothin’ much to do
And you don’t feel much like ridin’,
You just wish the trip was through

(Chorus)

Here I am, on the road again,
There I am, up on the stage
There I go, playin’ star again,
There I go, turn the page

So you walk into this restaurant,
All strung out from the road
And you feel the eyes upon you,
As you’re shakin’ off the cold
You pretend it doesn’t bother you,
But you just want to explode
Yeah, most times you can’t hear ’em talk,
Other times you can

All the same old cliches,
Is it woman, is it man
And you always seem outnumbered,
You don’t dare make a stand
Make your stand

(Chorus)
Ah But here I am, on the road again,
There I am, up on the stage
Here I go, ah playin’ star again,
There I go, turn the page
Woah

Out there in the spotlight,
You’re a million miles away
Every ounce of energy,
You try and give away
As the sweat pours out your body,
Like the music that you play

Later in the evenin’,
As you lie awake in bed
With the echoes of the amplifiers,
Ringin’ in your head
You smoke the day’s last cigarette,
Rememberin’ what she said

What she said

Yeah, and here I am,
On the road again,
There I am, up on that stage
Here I go, playin’ star again,
There I go, turn the page
And there I go, turn that page

There I go, yeah, Here I go, yeah, yeah
There I go, yeah, Here I go, yeah
Here I go, There I go
And I’m gone

Song of the Day: Fade to Black (by Metallica)


FadetoBlack

Metallica.

Love them or hate them there’s really no middle-ground when it comes to one of the Big Four of thrash metal. You either love the band even through their dabbling into hard rock and the Bob Rock-era or you hate them for  the perceived selling out and the Bob Rock-era. You ask any Metallica fan and they would pretty much agree that their third album, Master of Puppets,  was the band at it’s peak. There would be some debate on whether the Black Album was where the band began to alienate some of it’s earliest fans, but that’s not what we’re here for.

We are here for the latest “Song of the Day” and it’s from their second full-length album, Ride the Lightning. The song is the band’s very first power ballad and follows the album’s theme and exploration of death. Where the album’s title took on the concept of death by electric chair the song chosen this time around is about the band’s exploration of the concept of suicide.

Yes, this was the song that the band had gotten into hot water for it’s suicidal lyrics which purportedly led to teens offing themselves after listening to it constantly. What critics of the song failed to realize was just how much teens at the time the song came out saw the song as therapeutic. They related to the song and used it as an outlet for their own alienation and depression.

Just like it’s subject matter it begins with a melancholy melody that gives a glimpse into the singer’s mindset. It’s not the typical fast playing many have associated with thrash, but that arrives soon enough as the song finishes off it’s vocals with a fade out that leads into Kirk Hammett’s 2-minute guitar solo that ultimately fades out as well…

The song that critics of metal gets wrong then and continues to even now is the classic “Fade to Black”.


Fade to Black

Life it seems, will fade away
Drifting further every day
Getting lost within myself
Nothing matters no one else
I have lost the will to live
Simply nothing more to give
There is nothing more for me
Need the end to set me free

Things not what they used to be
Missing one inside of me
Deathly lost, this Can’t be real
Cannot stand this hell I feel
Emptiness is filling me
To the point of agony
Growing darkness taking dawn
I was me, but now he’s gone

No one but me can save myself, but it’s too late
Now, I can’t think, think why I should even try
Yesterday seems as though it never existed
Death Greets me warm, now I will just say goodbye

Bye…

(guitar solo)

Great Guitar Solos Series

27 Days of Old School: #21 “One” (by Metallica)


MetallicaOne

“Hold my breath as I wish for death
Oh please God, wake me”

Yeah, my taste in music see-sawed back and forth from one end of the spectrum to the other. Yesterday, I reminisced about one of the best R&B ballads from my time as a teenager in high school during the late 80’s. Today, I focus on one of the songs on metal end which remains (in my opinion) one of the best metal songs ever put out there.

“One” was the final single released from Metallica’s fourth album, …And Justice For All.

The song also had the distinction of being the first ever Metallica song which was accompanied by a music video shot for it. Metallica had avoided making music videos of their songs for years. Their success as a band never needed the assistance that MTV could provide. They saw it as a badge of honor that they’ve never made a music video, but that change in January 1989 when the single for “One” was released and a music video followed soon after.

A music video that combined elements from the 1971 anti-war film Johnny Got His Gun and the band playing inside a warehouse. It was an effective video that more than convinced many skeptics that when done properly a metal music video was possible. This wasn’t a video using garish colors, over-the-top imagery of hair metal music videos. It was a video that was just as heavy and through-provoking as the song it was made for.

Review: Metallica: Through the Never (dir. by Nimrod Antal)


MetallicaThroughtheNever

“And the road becomes my bride”

Concerts have been a major part of a teenager’s transition into adulthood. Often have we begged our parents to get us tickets to our favorite band’s concert as they toured straight into our hometowns. We’d beg, cajole, promise whatever just to be able to attend that big show that we thought everyone we knew would be attending. Rock concerts have been a huge part of this coming-of-age journey. It’s the show that our parents dreaded (especially the metal shows) and the ones that pulled in the outcasts kids.

We would either outgrow this youthful event because it’s not something that interests us, but most often it’s just because we either do not have the time to attend rock concerts due to work and other adult responsibilities. While we would still go to a concert of our favorite band when time and money affords for it in the end it’s something that’s become more of a past-time to reminisce about.

Metallica: Through the Never is the latest concert film that could change all that. Filmed during Metallica’s latest world tour, the film was directed by Nimrod Antal (Armored, Predators) and turns what could’ve been just your typical concert film into a surreal mixture of excellent concert footage and an apocalyptic narrative involving one of the band’s roadies. The latter felt like an extended music video and the lack of dialogue by the film’s narrative lead in Dane DeHaan does give this part of the film it’s surreal vibe. This part of the film could easily come off as one of Metallica’s music videos. It has mayhem involving nameless rioters battling an equal number of police right up to a nameless, gas-masked horseman who ends up paying particular attention to our beleaguered roadie.

Yet, while this apocalyptic-like narrative makes for a nice sideshow the main reason to see Metallica: Through the Never is the concert footage. While Antal does a good job with the story going outside the concert it’s inside where he shines. Making use of over 20 cameras on cranes, dollies and handhelds, Antal is able to make the concert footage feel like one was actually at the show. He uses every trick in the book from close-ups of each band member to sweeping crane shots that gives a bird’s-eye view of the concert.

It’s this part of the film that may just be one way for those of us who grew up going to concerts but have lost the time to return to such events to finally experience them again. It helps that the 3D used helps give the feel of not just being there but an enhanced experience that one may not find while actually attending the show live. But it doesn’t end in just the visuals.

A concert film can only go so far on how it looks. In the end, if the film doesn’t do a great job capturing the audio of the event then why even bother watching. Metallica: Through the Never doesn’t skimp on the audio assault. It is just exactly what I mean when I say audio assault. The audio in this film brought me back to attending past metal shows from my youth in near-perfect volume and clarity.

Metallica: Through the Never needs to be experienced in as big a screen as possible and if one’s able to see it on IMAX then I recommend they do so, but if that’s not possible then I still say go out and see this unique take on the ubiquitous concert film. It might not be the same as attending a Metallica concert, but it’s the next best thing to actually attending one.

Song of the Day: Orion (by Metallica)


MasterofPuppets Been more than a bit listless and tired of late so what do I do to fix that than listening to some classic metal. One can’t get any more classic metal than one of the best metal instrumentals ever: Metallica’s “Orion” off of their Master of Puppets full-length album.

“Orion” would mark one of the the last great works by Metallica’s great bassist, Cliff Burton. He would pass away while on tour to promoting this album. Details of his passing could be read anywhere so will bypass that to instead celebrate one of his great achievements with this extended instrumental which just showed how great a metal bass player he was, but also just one of the greatest metal musicians of his time.

Fans of metal always wonder just how much more he could’ve contributed to Metallica’s success if he had lived. Would their later albums have been up and down in quality? Would he have gone along with the changes wrought by the band’s producer after his death, Bob Rock, whoguided the band out from their thrash metal roots and into a more pop-friendly hard rock sound. Metal will never know the answer to these questions, but if Burton had lived and remained with the band it’s more than likely that Metallica wouldn’t be the one we know now after their many stylistic changes, but probably still considered by their early, loyal fans as being pure thrash.

One thing for sure, we probably would’ve been given more extended instrumentals like “Orion”.