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.

 

 

The Things You Find On Netflix: To The Bone (dir by Marti Noxon)


Way back in January, when I first heard about To The Bone, I had high hopes for it.

After all, To The Bone was the directorial debut of Marti Noxon, who is well-known both for her work on Buffy the Vampire Slayer and for co-creating Unreal.  To The Bone was reportedly based on Noxon’s own struggle with an eating disorder and it was said to feature an outstanding lead performance from Lily Collins as an artist struggling with anorexia.  Even the casting of Keanu Reeves as a doctor sounded intriguing.

And, to me, it didn’t matter that To The Bone got mixed reviews at Sundance.  Who would seriously expect critics, especially male critics, to understand a movie about body issues and eating disorders?  When I heard that To The Bone had been purchased by Netflix, I did sigh a little.  Far too often, Netflix is where good films end up getting lost in a sea of mediocre offering.  But then again, perhaps To The Bone was exactly the type of intimate character study that would actually benefit from being viewed on a small screen.  After all, it’s not a film about a bunch of space lizard attacking the great wall of China.  It’s a film about a young woman struggling with an eating disorder.

When Netflix finally released To The Bone back in July, I was excited.

Then I actually watched the movie.

To The Bone actually gets off to a pretty good start.  The first 20 minutes or so are dedicated to establishing who Ellie (Lily Collins) is.  She’s 20 years old.  She’s smart.  She’s sarcastic.  She’s an artist.  She’s a college dropout who apparently used to have a very popular tumblr that dealt with being thin.  She’s also anorexic and, from the first minute that we see her, Ellie looks like she’s on the verge of death.  (To the film’s credit, it makes clear that there is a huge difference between being naturally thin and being anorexic.  That’s a distinction that is far too often overlooked.)  We meet Ellie’s dysfunctional family: her frustrated stepmother (Carrie Preston), the father who often can’t be bothered, and the half-sister (Liana Liberato) who both loves and resents her.  The relationship between the two sisters is especially well-handled.  Even if it takes a while to get used to Keanu Reeves playing a compassionate but tough-talking doctor, the film still works during his first few scenes.

Then, Ellie joins Reeves’s inpatient program and moved into a house with six other patients and this is where the film started to annoy me.  Ellie is such a well-drawn and well-acted character that it makes it all the more obvious that the rest of the patients are not.  Instead, the rest of the patients are all easily identifiable types.  As soon as they show up on screen, you know everything about them and you know exactly what is going to happen to each and every one of them.  From the minute that Ellie reluctantly steps into that house, To The Bone starts to feel less like an honest look at anorexia and more like a well-meaning and predictable PSA.  One of the patients is pregnant and always talk about how worried she is that her eating disorder is going to lead to her losing the baby.  Can you guess what happens?

And then there’s Luke (Alex Sharp).  Luke is the ballet dancer who is recovering from a knee injury.  As soon as I saw that Luke was the only male in the house, I knew that he was destined to eventually declare his love for Ellie.  But my problem with Luke has less to do with his predictable character arc and more to do with just how annoying a character he is.  Luke is relentlessly upbeat.  Luke constantly tells corny jokes.  Luke just will not stop talking!  When Luke leaves a room, he starts singing a song called Sugar Blues.  When Luke reenters a room, he is still singing Sugar Blues.  SHUT UP, LUKE!

(Whenever Ellie would visit Luke in his room, I would find myself distracted by the posters on his wall.  The majority of them said “Jazz Festival” and featured some saxophone clipart.  As strange as it may sound, it really started to annoy me that there was no date or location listed.  Why would you go through all the trouble of making — or buying, for that matter — a poster for a jazz festival and then not bother to include a date or a location?  That may sound like a minor thing but, as I watched the film, that inauthentic poster came to represent everything that felt inauthentic about Luke as a character.)

I guess the main problem with To The Bone is that it never succeeds in convincing us that the inpatient program is actually going to do any good for Ellie.  It’s not for lack of trying.  However, the scenes in the house are too overwrought and predictably scripted.  There’s a scene where Reeves takes the patients on a field trip and it’s supposed to be inspiring but it doesn’t work because, as a first-time director, Noxon doesn’t trust her material enough to allow us to draw our own conclusions.  Instead, she beats us over the head with her message.  For To The Bone to work, it needed a director like Andrea Arnold, someone who specializes in a naturalistic performances and who is willing to embrace ambiguity and take the time to let a scene play out.  Noxon makes the mistake of not trusting her audience to draw the right conclusion and, as a result, To The Bone goes from being an intriguing character study to being the cinematic equivalent of the last 15 minutes of an episode of Intervention.

Though it all, Lily Collins continues to give a good performance.  Even when she’s forced to deliver some unfortunate dialogue, she’s the best thing about To The Bone.  Unfortunately, the rest of this movie just collapses around her.

Jazz Festival

 

The Alliance of Women Film Journalists Announced Their Picks For The Best of 2016!


american_honey_poster

The Alliance of Women Film Journalists (of which I am not a member and what’s up with that!?) announced their picks for the best of 2016 earlier this week.

And here they are:

AWFJ BEST OF AWARDS
These awards are presented to women and/or men without gender consideration.
Best Film
Arrival
Hell or High Water
La La Land
Manchester by the Sea
Moonlight

Best Director
Damien Chazelle – La La Land
Barry Jenkins – Moonlight
Kenneth Lonergan – Manchester by the Sea
David Mackenzie – Hell or High Water
Denis Villeneuve – Arrival

Best Screenplay, Original
20th Century Women – Mike Mills
Hail Caesar – Joel Coen and Ethan Coen
Hell or High Water – Taylor Sheridan
La La Land – Damien Chazelle
Manchester by the Sea – Kenneth Lonergan

Best Screenplay, Adapted
Arrival – Eric Heisserer
Lion – Luke Davies
Love & Friendship – Whit Stillman
Moonlight – Barry Jenkins
Nocturnal Animals –Tom Ford

Best Documentary
13th – Ava DuVernay
Gleason – Clay Tweel
I Am Not Your Negro – Raoul Peck
OJ Made in America – Ezra Edelman
Weiner – Elyse Steinberg and Josh Kriegma

Best Animated Film
Finding Dory – Andrew Stanton andAngus MacLane
Kubo and the Two Strings- Travis Knight
Moana – Ron Clements, Don Hall, John Musker, Chris Williams
Zootopia – Byron Howard, Rich Moore, Jared Bush

Best Actress
Amy Adams – Arrival
Isabelle Huppert – Elle
Ruth Negga – Loving
Natalie Portman – Jackie
Emma Stone – La La Land

Best Actress in a Supporting Role
Viola Davis – Fences
Greta Gerwig – 20th Century Women
Naomie Harris – Moonlight
Octavia Spencer – Hidden Figures
Michelle Williams – Manchester by the Sea

Best Actor
Casey Affleck – Manchester By The Sea
Joel Edgerton – Loving
Ryan Gosling – La La Land
Tom Hanks – Sully
Denzel Washington – Fences

Best Actor in a Supporting Role
Mahershala Ali – Moonlight
Jeff Bridges – Hell or High Water
Ben Foster – Hell or High Water
Lucas Hedges – Manchester By the Sea
Michael Shannon – Nocturnal Animals

Best Ensemble Cast – Casting Director
20th Century Women – Mark Bennett and Laura Rosenthal
Hail Caesar – Ellen Chenoweth
Hell or High Water – Jo Edna Boldin and Richard Hicks
Manchester by the Sea – Douglas Aibel
Moonlight – Yesi Ramirez

Best Cinematography
Arrival – Bradford Young
Hell or High Water – Giles Nuttgens
La La Land – Linus Sandgren
Manchester by The Sea – Jody Lee Lipes
Moonlight – James Laxton

Best Editing
Arrival – Joe Walker
I Am Not Your Negro — Alexandra Strauss
La La Land – Tom Cross
Manchester By The Sea – Jennifer Lame
Moonlight – Joi McMillon and Nat Sanders

Best Non-English-Language Film
Elle – Paul Verhoeven, France
Fire At Sea – Gianfranco Rossi, Italy
The Handmaiden – Chan-Wook Park, South Korea
Julieta – Pedro Almodovar. Spain
Toni Erdmann – Maren Ede, Germany

EDA FEMALE FOCUS AWARDS
These awards honor WOMEN only

Best Woman Director
Andrea Arnold – American Honey
Ava DuVernay -13TH
Rebecca Miller – Maggie’s Plan
Mira Nair – Queen of Katwe
Kelly Reichardt – Certain Women

Best Woman Screenwriter
Andrea Arnold – American Honey
Rebecca Miller – Maggie’s Plan
Kelly Reichardt – Certain Women
Lorene Scafaria – The Meddler
Laura Terruso – Hello, My Name is Doris

Best Animated Female
Dory in Finding Dory –Ellen DeGeneres
Judy in Zootopia – Ginnifer Goodwin
Moana in Moana – Auli’i Cravalho

Best Breakthrough Performance
Sasha Lane – American Honey
Janelle Monáe – Moonlight and Hidden Figures
Madina Nalwanga – Queen of Katwe
Ruth Negga – Loving

Outstanding Achievement by A Woman in The Film Industry
Ava DuVernay – For 13TH and raising awareness about the need for diversity and gender equality in Hollywood
Anne Hubbell and Amy Hobby for establishing Tangerine Entertainment’s Juice Fund to support female filmmakers
Mynette Louie, President of Gamechanger Films, which finances narrative films directed by women
April Reign for creating and mobilizing the #OscarsSoWhite campaign

EDA SPECIAL MENTION AWARDS

Actress Defying Age and Ageism
Annette Bening – 20th Century Women
Viola Davis – Fences
Sally Field – Hello, My Name is Doris
Isabelle Huppert – Elle and Things to Come
Helen Mirren – Eye in the Sky

Most Egregious Age Difference Between The Lead and The Love Interest Award
Dirty Grandpa – Robert De Niro (b. 1943) and Aubrey Plaza (b. 1984)
Independence Day: Resurgence – Charlotte Gainsbourg (b 1971) and Jeff Goldblum (b 1952)
Mechanic Resurrection – Jason Statham (b. 1967) and Jessica Aba (b. 1981)
Rules Don’t Apply – Warren Beatty (b. 1937) and Lily Collins (b. 1989)

Actress Most in Need Of A New Agent
Jennifer Aniston – Mother’s Day and Office Christmas Party
Melissa McCarthy – The Boss and Ghostbusters
Margot Robbie – Suicide Squad and Tarzan
Julia Roberts – Mother’s Day
Shailene Woodley – Divergent Series

Bravest Performance
Jessica Chastain – Miss Sloane
Naomie Harris – Moonlight
Isabelle Huppert – Elle
Sasha Lane – American Honey
Ruth Negga – Loving

Remake or Sequel That Shouldn’t have been Made
Ben-Hur
Ghostbusters
Independence Day: Resurgence
The Magnificent Seven
My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2

AWFJ Hall of Shame Award
Sharon Maguire and Renee Zellweger for Bridget Jones’s Baby
Nicholas Winding Refn and Elle Fanning for The Neon Demon
David Ayer and Margot Robbie for Suicide Squad
David E. Talbert and Mo’Nique for Almost Christmas

Here Are The 74th Annual Golden Globe Nominations!


Oscar season continued today with even more precursors announcing their picks for the best of 2016!  Perhaps most importantly, the 74th Annual Golden Globe nominations were announced today!  Even though they rarely match up 100%, the Golden Globe nominations are considered to be one of the best precursors for what will be nominated for an Oscar in January.

So, should Silence be worried?  Martin Scorsese’s latest acclaimed film was totally snubbed by the Golden Globes.  That could be an ominous sign for a film that everyone seems to respect but which is still going to be a far harder sell at the box office than either The Wolf of Wall Street or Hugo.

But again, it’s never an exact match between the Globes and the Oscars and the Academy can nominate up to ten films for best picture.  Though it would certainly be interesting (and kinda neat) if it happened, I somehow doubt that the Academy is going nominate Deadpool over Silence.

(For that matter, I doubt Simon Helberg is going to pick up an Oscar nomination for Florence Foster Jenkins.  Just a feeling…)

Below are the Golden Globe film nominations!

(For the TV nominations, why not check out the list over at Awards Watch?)

MOTION PICTURES

Best Motion Picture – Drama
Hacksaw Ridge
Hell or High Water
Lion
Manchester by the Sea
Moonlight

Best Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy
20th Century Women
Deadpool
Florence Foster Jenkins
La La Land
Sing Street

Best Motion Picture – Animated
Kubo and the Two Strings
Moana
My Life as a Zucchini
Sing
Zootopia

Best Motion Picture – Foreign Language
Divines (France)
Elle (France)
Neruda (Chile)
The Salesman (Iran)
Toni Erdmann (Germany)

Best Performance by an Actress in a Motion Picture – Drama
Amy Adams, Arrival
Jessica Chastain, Miss Sloane
Isabelle Huppert, Elle
Ruth Negga, Loving
Natalie Portman, Jackie

Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture – Drama
Casey Affleck, Manchester by the Sea
Joel Edgerton, Loving
Andrew Garfield, Hacksaw Ridge
Viggo Mortensen, Captain Fantastic
Denzel Washington, Fences

Best Performance by an Actress in a Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy
Annette Bening, 20th Century Women
Lily Collins, Rules Don’t Apply
Hailee Steinfeld, The Edge of Seventeen
Emma Stone, La La Land
Meryl Streep, Florence Foster Jenkins

Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy
Colin Farrell, The Lobster
Ryan Gosling, La La Land
Hugh Grant, Florence Foster Jenkins
Jonah Hill, War Dogs
Ryan Reynolds, Deadpool

Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role in any Motion Picture
Viola Davis, Fences
Naomie Harris, Moonlight
Nicole Kidman, Lion
Octavia Spencer, Hidden Figures
Michelle Williams, Manchester by the Sea

Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role in any Motion Picture
Mahershala Ali, Moonlight
Jeff Bridges, Hell or High Water
Simon Helberg, Florence Foster Jenkins
Dev Patel, Lion
Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Nocturnal Animals

Best Director – Motion Picture
Damien Chazelle, La La Land
Tom Ford, Nocturnal Animals
Mel Gibson, Hacksaw Ridge
Barry Jenkins, Moonlight
Kenneth Lonergan, Manchester by the Sea

Best Screenplay – Motion Picture
Hell or High Water
La La Land
Manchester by the Sea
Moonlight
Nocturnal Animals

Best Original Score – Motion Picture
Arrival
Hidden Figures
La La Land
Lion
Moonlight

Best Original Song – Motion Picture
“Gold,” Gold
“City of Stars,” La La Land
“How Far I’ll Go,” Moana
“Faith,” Sing
“Can’t Stop the Feeling,” Trolls

Moana