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.

 

 

Here Are The Very Confusing SAG Nominations!


Spotlight

The nominees for the SAG Awards were announced earlier today!  The SAG Awards are usually one of the more accurate of the various Oscar precursors.  Because so many members of the Academy are also members of the Screen Actors Guild, the SAG Awards are usually a pretty good indication of what films are on the Academy’s radar and which ones aren’t.  Occasionally, an actor will be nominated by SAG and then snubbed by the Academy.  Last year, for instance, SAG nominated Jake Gyllenhall for Nightcrawler, Jennifer Aniston for Cake, and Naomi Watts for St. Vincent.  None of those three received any love from the Academy.  But, for the most part, SAG is one of the most reliable precursors out there.

And that’s why so many of us are in shock today!  The SAG Awards in no way resembled what many of us were expecting.  Other than Spotlight, none of the film’s that many of us expected to be nominated for best ensemble (the SAG’s equivalent of the Academy’s best picture) were nominated (and even Spotlight only received one other nomination, for Rachel McAdams who, up to this point, hasn’t really figured into the Oscar discussion).  The Martian was not nominated for best ensemble or anything else for that matter.  Creed was totally snubbed.  Brooklyn was nominated for actress but not ensemble.  Mad Mad: Fury Road was nominated for its stunt work and nothing else.  Helen Mirren received two nominations, for films that hardly anyone (outside of the SAG, obviously) was really paying any attention to.  Sarah Silverman received a best actress nomination for I Smile Back, which I hadn’t even heard of until about a week ago.  It’s an unexpected and strange group of nominees.

Keep in mind, it’s not necessarily a bad thing that the nominees are unexpected.  Beasts of No Nation and Straight Outta Compton will both receive deserved boosts in their hunt for Oscar gold.  At the same time, I have to admit that I wasn’t happy to see either The Big Short or Trumbo nominated for best ensemble because I know I’m going to feel obligated to see them and they both look so freaking tedious and blandly political!  But consider this: if The Big Short and Trumbo are both huge Oscar contenders, we may face a situation where both Jay Roach and Adam McKay are nominated for best director in the same year.  I think that’s one of the signs of the apocalypse and, at this point, I’m kind of ready to welcome the end of the world.

Anyway, here are the SAG nominations!  Look them over and, after the Golden Globe nominations are announced tomorrow, update your Oscar predictions accordingly.

Best Performance by a Cast Ensemble in a Motion Picture

Best Performance by a Male Actor in a Leading Role

Best Performance by a Female Actor in a Leading Role

  • Cate Blanchett – Carol
  • Brie Larson – Room
  • Helen Mirren – Woman in Gold
  • Saoirse Ronan – Brooklyn
  • Sarah Silverman – I Smile Back

Best Performance by a Male Actor in a Supporting Role

Best Performance by a Female Actor in a Supporting Role

  • Rooney Mara – Carol
  • Rachel McAdams – Spotlight
  • Helen Mirren – Trumbo
  • Alicia Vikander – The Danish Girl
  • Kate Winslet – Steve Jobs

Best Performance by a Stunt Ensemble in a Motion Picture

Best Performance by an Ensemble in a Drama Series

  • Downton Abbey
  • Game of Thrones
  • Homeland
  • House of Cards
  • Mad Men

Best Performance by a Male Actor in a Drama Series

  • Peter Dinklage – Game of Thrones
  • Jon Hamm – Mad Men
  • Rami Malek – Mr. Robot
  • Bob Odenkirk – Better Call Saul
  • Kevin Spacey – House of Cards

Best Performance by a Female Actor in a Drama Series

  • Claire Danes – Homeland
  • Viola Davis – How to Get Away with Murder
  • Julianna Marguilles – The Good Wife
  • Maggie Smith – Downton Abbey
  • Robin Wright – House of Cards

Best Performance by an Ensemble in a Comedy Series

  • The Big Bang Theory
  • Key and Peele
  • Modern Family
  • Orange is the New Black
  • Transparent
  • Veep

Best Performance by a Male Actor in a Comedy Series

  • Ty Burrell – Modern Family
  • Louis CK – Louie
  • William H. Macy – Shameless
  • Jim Parsons – The Big Bang Theory
  • Jeffrey Tambor – Transparent

Best Performance by a Female Actor in a Comedy Series

  • Uzo Aduba – Orange is the New Black
  • Edie Falco – Nurse Jackie
  • Ellie Kemper – Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt
  • Julia Louis-Dreyfus – Veep
  • Amy Poehler – Parks and Recreation

Best Performance by a Male Actor in a TV Movie or Mini-Series

  • Idris Elba – Luther
  • Ben Kingsley – Tut
  • Ray Liotta — Texas Rising
  • Bill Murray – A Very Murray Christmas
  • Mark Rylance – Wolf Hall

Best Performance by a Female Actor in a TV Movie or Mini-Series

Best Performance by a Stunt Ensemble in a Comedy or Drama Series

  • Blacklist
  • Game of Thrones
  • Homeland
  • Marvel’s Daredevil
  • The Walking Dead

What Lisa Watched Last Night: The Golden Globe Awards


Last night, I watched the annual Golden Globe Awards show.

Why Was I Watching It?

Well, I wasn’t watching it because I was expecting to see the best films and tv shows of the last year recognized.  The Golden Globes are notorious for being odd and anyone who takes them too seriously needs to relax a little.  The appeal of the Golden Globes is that 1) it recognizes both television and film in the same ceremony which means you get to see unexpected sights like Jim Parsons, Robert De Niro, Johnny Depp, and the cast of Glee all in the same auditorium, 2) drinks are served throughout the ceremony which means that everyone’s pretty drunk by the end of it, and 3) you can make fun of what everyone’s wearing.

What’s It About?

As the show’s host, Ricky Gervais pointed out while commenting on the odd nomination of The Tourist for Best Picture (Comedy), the show is mostly about the shadowy members of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association getting a chance to hang out with people like Angelina Jolie and Johnny Depp.  And who can blame them, really?  Quite honestly, if it meant I might get a chance to spend a night with Johnny Depp (or, I’ll admit it, Angelia Jolie), I’m more than willing to love The Tourist too.

What Worked

Oh my God, it was such an odd three hours.  While the winners were kinda predictable and boring (how excited can you get — at this point — to see The Social Network win awards) and showed the typical tendency towards embracing the safe over the unpredictable, Ricky Gervais kept things lively.  He hosted with an attitude that basically said, “My career doesn’t need your approval so fuck off, Hollywood.”  It also pretty much guaranteed that Gervais will never host the Oscars.  My favorite Gervais moment came early when he made the comment about secretly gay Scientologists (an obvious reference to Tom Cruise and maybe John Travolta).  The way the audience gasped pretty much told you all you needed to know as far as the truth behind the joke was concerned. 

Robert De Niro won the DeMille Award and gave a speech that revealed that he’s actually a human being and apparently, a somewhat bitter one at that.  Also, I simply have to mention that Robert De Niro is aging really well.  As opposed to…oh, I don’t know…Al Pacino, maybe?

Melissa Leo is one of my favorites actresses and it was nice to see her rewarded for The Fighter but her speech did go on and on and the only thing that saved the moment was that some genius in the control booth decided to cut to Helena Bonham Carter who had the coolest “What the fuck?” look on her face.

Angelina Jolie’s green dress was quite simply to die for and I want it because it’s the same color as my right eye.  So, I’ll repeat the offer that I made earlier on twitter: whoever gets me this dress (by whatever means) can watch while I try it on and take it off.  (That’s a joke, by the way!  Seriously though, I so want that dress.  Except, of course, I’d want to have Hello Kitty on it somewhere…)

Natalie Portman won best actress in a drama and, out of all the awards given last night, that’s really the only one I agreed with.  When Portman’s name was announced, my twitter friend Jason Tarwater asked if I was doing cartwheels.  Well, I didn’t do cartwheels but I did attempt to do a pirouette and wow, that was a mistake because I so twisted my ankle the wrong way and ended up in really intense pain.  So, I missed Natalie’s speech but I bet it was great.

I do like the way that the Golden Globes divide their awards into a drama and a comedy section.  It’s a smart idea, I think.

What Didn’t Work?

I’m not going to complain about The Social Network winning most of the awards.  It’s not a bad film, at all.  It’s just not the great movie that so many critics are insisting that it is.  At this point, I’m not so much anti-Social Network as much as I’m just bored with it.

Al Pacino’s a great actor but seriously, I hit mute any time he wins an award.  And, seriously, would it kill him to wash his hair or something before he shows up for an awards ceremony?

Justin Bieber came out and gave an award or something and I’m sorry — he’s creepy.  I mean, like David Archuletta creepy.  Plus, I always have to go to Wikipedia to find out whether the i or the e comes first whenever I’m trying to type out the name “Bieber”.  I mean, I’m only 25 and this little punk and his fans are making me feel like an old woman complaining about “kids today.”  NOT COOL, BIEBER!

Aaron Sorkin won for his overrated screenplay and I guess he’s aware that he’s got an image problem because he tried so hard to be gracious but it was kinda like when James Cameron tried to be gracious while promoting Avatar.  It just didn’t work.   The more humble Sorkin tried to be, the more he came across like a prick.  The final insult came when he thanked the best actress nominees for being “smart” women as if that’s such an unusual thing to be.  I’m assuming this was Sorkin’s attempt to show that he’s not a sexist pig but it just came across as condescending and fake.  It’s interesting to contrast Sorkin’s speech with David Fincher’s speech.  Fincher was far more gracious and, quite frankly, the only reason that Sorkin’s screenplay came close to working was because, as a director, Fincher kept things visually interesting so you didn’t really spend too much time thinking about how every single character in the entire freakin’ movie sounded exactly like Aaron Sorkin.  Seriously, does Sorkin know anyone who doesn’t talk like him? 

Was it just me or did producer Scott Rudin — while accepting best picture for The Social Network — almost seem as if he had to be reminded to thank Fincher?  It’s interesting that, for all the acclaim Social Network and Sorkin have gotten, Fincher has often come close to being forgotten.  Could it be because Sorkin is a card-carrying member of the Hollywood establishment while Fincher, much like Fighter’s David O. Russell and Black Swan’s Darren Aronofsky, is not?

Finally, the first winner of the night was Christian Bale.  Was he deliberately trying to channel Colin Farrell last night or was it just an accident?  Regardless, when it comes Colin Farrell, I prefer the real thing.

“Oh my God! Just Like Me” Moment

“I’ll show you a pair of golden globes!”

Lessons Learned

As excited as I’ll be if Natalie Portman wins an Oscar for best actress, I will force myself not to dance.