Miniseries Review: Dahmer: Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story

I finally watched Dahmer this week.

Dealing with life and crimes of serial killer and cannibal Jeffrey Dahmer (played by Evan Peters), Dahmer premiered on Netflix last September and, despite not getting a lot of promotional push, it went on to become Netflix’s most-watched miniseries to date.  I first tried to watch it in October.  Then I tried again in November.  And I tried a third time in January.  All three times, I couldn’t make it through the first episode.  The whole thing seemed so oppressively sad and dark that I couldn’t bring myself to stick with it.  The image of Dahmer killing people in his ugly apartment and then drinking a beer while watching The Exorcist III was not an image that I wanted in my head.

This week, I decided to give the miniseries another shot.  I did so for the most shallow of reasons.  The Emmys are approaching and I don’t want to end up pulling a repeat of last year, where I had to scramble to somehow cram watching all of the possible contenders into a two-and-a-half week period.  Because it’s a Netflix show and it’s a Ryan Murphy production and it portrays Dahmer has being the type of white male killer who could only thrive in a society shaped by systemic racism, Dahmer will probably be an Emmy contender.  So, this week, I finally watched the entire miniseries.

Using the same jumbled chronology that sabotaged Ryan Murphy’s The Assassination of Versace, Dahmer tells the story of Dahmer, his crimes, and some of his victims.  The first episode features Dahmer’s eventual arrest.  The second, third, and fourth episodes give us a look at his childhood.  The sixth episode tells the story of one of his victims.  The remaining four episodes  focus on the aftermath of Dahmer’s crimes.  For the most part, the series is well-acted and it makes a convincing case that Dahmer could have been stopped if not for the biases and the incompetence of the Milwaukee police.  That said, it’s also ten hours long and ten hours is a long time to spend mired in the darkness of Jeffrey Dahmer’s life and crimes.  Much as with the second half of The Assassination of Versace, Dahmer gets bogged down by its refusal to trust the audience to be able to understand the show’s message.  Any point that is made once in Dahmer will be made four more times, just to make sure that everyone picked up on it.

It’s a typical Ryan Murphy true crime production.  While Murphy didn’t direct any of Dahmer’s ten episodes, he did produce and co-write the first four episodes.  Both Murphy and Evan Peters have insisted that the show was not meant to make excuses for Dahmer.  Murphy reportedly told the directors to make sure that the story was never told from Dahmer’s point of view and to keep the audiences on the outside looking in.  To its credit, Dahmer doesn’t glorify him by portraying him as being witty, erudite, or in any way clever.  As portrayed in this miniseries, Jeffrey Dahmer was an alcoholic loser who peaked in high school, despite the fact that he really wasn’t that impressive back then either.

But again, Dahmer is ten hours long and there are really only three episodes in which Dahmer is not the main character.  Episode six is told from the point of view for Tony Hughes (Rodney Burford), who was one of Dahmer’s victims.  Episode seven is told from the point of view of Glenda Cleveland (Niecy Nash), who was traumatized as a result of being Dahmer’s neighbor and who later became an activist on behalf of the families of Dahmer’s victims.  In one of the many infuriating moments of the Dahmer saga, Glenda attempts to help one of Dahmer’s drugged victims, 14 year-old Konerak Sinthasomphone,  just for the police to tell her to stay out of it before taking the 14 year-old back to Dahmer’s apartment.  (Perhaps aware of how unbelievable that this scene will seem to some viewers, the show includes actual audio of the call that Glenda made to the police to check on what had happened to the child that she tried to save.  As Glenda points out that the child was bleeding and obviously drugged, the police brusquely tell her to mind her own business.)  Episode eight focuses on Lionel (Richard Jenkins), Dahmer’s guilt-stricken father.  All of three — especially Richard Jenkins — give stand-out performances but it is ultimately Dahmer who dominates.  Indeed, though the miniseries portrays Dahmer as being a compulsive killer, it still can’t resist portraying his grandmother as being a fundamentalist scold who won’t stop telling Dahmer that he needs to go to church.  It still can’t resist portraying Dahmer’s first victim as being a homophobe.  It still can’t resist a sequence depicting the execution of an unrepentant John Wayne Gacy, as if to argue, “At least Dahmer said he was sorry!”  Intentional or not, the decision to put Dahmer at the center of the story does encourage the viewer to make excuses for him.

With the exception of the episodes centering on Tony Hughes and Konerak Sinthasomphone, it is hard not to feel that the documentary focuses on Dahmer at the expense of his victims.  (It should be noted that Tony Hughes’s mother is among those who have been critical of the miniseries and its portrayal of Tony as being Dahmer’s “boyfriend” before his murder.)  Until the end of the miniseries, we don’t find out the names of the majority of Dahmer’s victims and it largely feels like an afterthought.

In the end, the miniseries is overlong and, while it certainly doesn’t glorify him, it still occasionally falls into the trap of making excuses of Dahmer.  The film ends by ruefully noting that, despite the efforts of Glenda Cleveland, no memorial has ever been built for the victims of Jeffrey Dahmer.  This miniseries could have been that memorial if it had focused on them instead of on him.

Here’s The Trailer For Murder Mystery 2!

The first Murder Mystery was an entertaining and even rather sweet mix of comedy and mystery so I guess we shouldn’t be surprised that both Adam Sandler and Jennifer Aniston have returned for Murder Mystery 2.  Apparently, in the years since the first film, Nick and Audrey have started their own detective agency and they’ve even taken that trip to Paris!  However, an invitation to an island wedding put them right in the middle of another mystery!

If this film is successful, I imagine we’ll get several more Nick/Audrey films.  And why not?  Sandler and Aniston had a really fun chemistry in the first film.  Let’s hope the same is true for the second one.

Here’s the trailer for Murder Mystery 2!

Film Review: The Hatchet Wielding Hitchhiker (dir by Colette Camden)

How dumb can people be?

That is the question that’s posed by the new Netflix documentary, The Hatchet-Wielding Hitchhiker, and the answer would appear to be that they can be extremely dumb.  The documentary takes a look at the story of Caleb “Kai” McGillvary, who went from being an internet sensation to an accused murderer over the course of three months in 2013.  Even more so, though, it’s about the people who enabled him, through a combination of their own stupidity and greed.

Kai first found fame when he was credited with stopping a hate crime.  A man named Jett McBride smashed his car into a black pedestrian and, while the pedestrian was trapped between the car and a parked truck, McBride attacked the people who attempted to help.  Kai, who was a hitchhiker who McBride had apparently picked up just a few hours before, jumped out of the car and proceeded to hit McBride three times with a hatchet.  A local news reporter interviewed Kai afterwards and was immediately taken with Kai’s spaced-out style.

At the time, it’s perhaps understandable that people were so happy that Kai had prevented McBride from killing several people that they didn’t stop to ask themselves why Kai had a hatchet with him in the first place.  Still, it does seem like it would have been a good thing to consider before the reporter uploaded his interview with Kai to YouTube.  And when Kai became a viral sensation (though I have to admit that I had never even heard of him until I saw this documentary so perhaps viral is in the eye of the beholder), maybe a few people should have said, “Before we try to make him a star, maybe we should consider that the only thing we know about him is that he’s been traveling around the country with a freaking hatchet in his backpack.”

Instead, the reporter tracked down Kai for a second interview.  Kai played guitar and expounded on his philosophy of life.  (Jack Kerouac would have kicked Kai out of a moving car but other people were impressed.)  Jimmy Kimmel had him on his show as a guest, though the interview was cut short by the fact that Kai was obviously unstable.  Despite the fact that Kai was an unpredictable alcoholic with a violent streak, there was talk of giving Kai his own reality show.  One of the documentary’s cringiest moments comes when someone says that it was felt Kai could be an unhoused Kardashian and that he could star in a show about how happy people were to be living on the streets.  None of those plans really came to fruition but Kai still remained popular enough that someone was always willing to buy him a drink or let him crash at their place for the night.  When a prominent New Jersey attorney was found beaten to death in his home, police were surprised to discover that the last man the attorney had been seen with was Kai, the Hatchet-Wielding Hitchhiker.

This documentary is about the odd nature of fame in the internet age.  It’s been said that, due to social media, everyone has at least 15 devoted fans and that’s probably true.  That said, this documentary is even more about stupidity.  Kai is not interviewed but the people who made him famous are spoken with and, with one or two exceptions, every single one of them comes across as being either extremely stupid, extremely callous, or both.  Everyone was so eager to discover (and profit off of) the newest sensation that none of them stopped to consider that Kai was an obviously unstable alcoholic who was hitchhiking across the country with a hatchet.  Indeed, he would later brag that Jett McBride went crazy specifically because Kai gave him a joint laced with LSD.  (For the record, when Jett McBride was arrested and taken to prison, he tested positive only for marijuana.  So, Kai probably was lying about that but who would brag, even falsely, about inspiring someone to commit a hate crime?)  Everyone was so eager to make Kai a star that no one stopped to wonder if they should.

Anyway, it’s an interesting documentary.  The main lesson is don’t trust anyone who just happens to have a hatchet on them, regardless of whether or not they’re a funny stoner who can play the guitar.  It’s a good lesson to learn.

Netflix surprises with the Love Death+Robots Vol 3 Trailer

I absolutely love Love Death + Robots! Since the first Volume aired, I’ve been hooked on this series, which is produced by David Fincher. It feels like a mix between The Animatrix and MTV’s Liquid Television (which spawned Aeon Flux). I’ve been a bit out of the mix, so I forgot this was in production. Nine new short animated pieces using various styles will air when Vol 3 drops May 20, exclusively on Netflix.

Film Review: The Bubble (dir by Judd Apatow)


The Bubble is the latest film from Judd Apatow.  Taking place during the first year of the COVID pandemic, it follows a small group of actors as they attempt to make the sixth installment of the Cliff Beasts franchise.  The spoiled, pampered, and pretentious actors find themselves isolated, not allowed to go anywhere other than the set or the hotel.  The film becomes a disaster as the actors are driven mad by all the rules and the inconvenience that comes along with trying to make a film in the middle of the global pandemic.  When the studio hires a security team to keep anyone from escaping, things get only dumber.

Even by the standards of what we’ve come to expect from Judd Apatow, The Bubble is a notably messy and self-indulgent film.  It’s a bit of a shame really because there’s much about the Pandemic that not only deserves to be satirized but also needs to be satirized.  For much of society, satire will be an important step on the road back to sanity.  Unfortunately, the humor in The Bubble often falls flat because Apatow doesn’t seem to really be sure what his main target is.  Is he targeting COVID hysteria?  Is he targeting the pampered rich people who treated the pandemic like a two-year vacation while people who actually lived paycheck-to-paycheck were risking their health just so they could pay their bills?  Is he targeting bad action movies or pretentious indie directors or actors who think that the world revolves around them?  When Maude Apatow shows up as a TikTok star who has been given a role because she has 2,000,000 followers, is Apatow aiming at the shallowness of social media or is he poking fun at the older generation that can’t understand the kids and their wild and wacky ways?  Apatow seems to be going after everything and everyone but, at the same time, he also expects us to care about these characters when they start demanding to be allowed to leave the set.

The film’s action doesn’t really follow any sort of real storyline.  Instead, it feels like a collection of skits, all piled on top of each other and all dragging on for a bit too long.  Though The Bubble is shorter than the average Apatow film, it’s still over two hours long.  After the first hour, the film suddenly becomes obsessed with random dance scenes.  Usually, I love random dance scenes but, in this case, there’s really no humor or point to them beyond saying, “Wow, these people suck at dancing.”  It’s funny the first time but, by the fourth time, it starts to feel a bit lazy.  The film is like the improv student who, instead of building on the situation and working with his scene partners, just shouts out whatever pops into his head and begs the audience for a laugh.  The film does end on what would be a clever touch if not for the fact that it’s all pretty much lifted from the final scenes of Tropic Thunder.

Lest anyone think that I’m totally trashing the film, I did chuckle a few times.  There’s a recurring bit with Kate McKinnon’s studio exec constantly being at either the beach or on safari.  That made me laugh.  And Keegan-Michael Key, as an actor who has written a spiritual guide, delivers the majority of his lines with just the right amount of self-importance.  For the most part, though, The Bubble falls flat.  This is not the Netflix film to watch this weekend.

International Film Review: Don’t Kill Me (dir by Andrea De Sica)

Don’t Kill Me, an Italian film that is currently available on Netflix, opens with two teenagers in a car.  Robin (Rocca Fasano) is driving.  His girlfriend, Mirta (Alice Pagani), is in the passenger’s seat.  Robin is driving fast and erratically.  In fact, he nearly crashes the car more than a few times.  This is because Robin is driving with his eyes closed, forcing Mirta to shout directions at him.  It’s almost as if Robin wants Mirta to come to a violent end.

Eventually, they end up in a quarry.  Having taken a break from attempting to crash the car, Robin wants Mirta to take a drug with him.  Mirta’s never tried the drug before.  She’s nervous, even though Robin assures her that it will be a wonderful experience.  Mirta finally agrees but requests, “Please don’t kill me.”

Yeah, good luck with that.

Of course, Mirta dies.  Mirta’s body is sealed up in her family’s vault.  A few hours after the funeral, a very confused and angry Mirta smashs her way out of the vault.  Dazed, she wanders back to her old house.  She’s definitely not alive but she’s not completely dead either.  Instead, she is one of what the film calls “the Overdead.”  She’s nearly immortal.  At one point, she gets shot several times and, while it’s not a pleasant experience, it also doesn’t come anywhere close to killing her.  She still has her memories of what life was like before she died and, to judge from the other members of the Overdead who she meets, it appears that she won’t ever age.  Unfortunately, being one of the Overdead also means that if she doesn’t regularly drink the blood of the living, she’ll start to decay.  Starvation is the only way to destroy a member of the Overdead.  There’s a secret group of men who have spent centuries tracking down and starving the Overdead.  Those men are soon chasing after Mirta.

Don’t Kill Me is at its strongest during its first half, when the film skips through time and the emphasis is on atmosphere and ennui.  The scene where Mirta breaks through the crypt carries hints of Jean Rollin’s Living Dead Girl and, much like Rollin’s best films, the first half of Don’t Kill Me often focuses on both the importance and the mystery of how we recall things.  Meanwhile, the scenes of Mirta wandering through the countryside and prowling the clubs for food are reminiscent of Jess Franco’s Female Vampire.  The first half of the film feels like a tribute to the wonderful Eurohorror of the past.  Unfortunately, the film starts to lose its way once Mirta is captured by the secret society that’s trying to destroy her.  In its second half, it just becomes another film about escaping from a military base.  Don’t Kill Me is based on a YA novel and it’s obviously meant to be the first in a series of films about Mirta’s life as one of the Overdead.  As a result, the film’s ending is a bit unsatisfactory.  For all the build-up, it sputters to a “to be continued” style conclusion.

That said, there was enough that worked about Don’t Kill Me that I’m willing to forgive what didn’t work.  I may be alone in that as most of the online reactions that I’ve seen towards this film have been overwhelmingly negative.  Well, so be it.  There was enough atmosphere to keep me interested.  Alice Pagani gave a pretty good and sympathetic performance as the conflicted Mirta and Fabrizio Ferracane, as the man determined to capture and starve her, was enjoyably villainous.  Don’t Kill Me may not be for everyone but it worked for me.

Film Review: My Best Friend Anne Frank (dir by Ben Sombogaart)

The year is 1944 and 16 year-old Hannah Goslar (Josephine Arendsen) and her younger sister, Gabi, are among the many Jews being held at the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp.  Death is all around.  At night, when Hannah is sent to empty out the buckets of waste that have been filled up in her barracks, she sees another prisoner being casually shot by the guards.  Whenever things get to be too much for her, Hannah closes her eyes and asks herself, “What would Anne do?”

As terrible as things are where Hannah is being held, it’s rumored that things are even worse behind the wall that runs through the center of the camp.  The less “privileged” prisoners are kept there.  The wall is thin enough that Hannah can talk to the people on the other side, even if she can’t see them.  Hannah asks them if her best friend, Anne, is among them.  “She has beautiful hair,” Hannah says.  The voice on the other side of the wall explains that no one in the other half of the camp has hair.  Everyone on the other side of the wall is being starved and worked to death.

Occasionally, Hannah remembers what life was like before she and her family were arrested by the Nazis.  Two years earlier, she was a student in Amsterdam and her best friend was Anne Frank (Aiko Beemsterboer).  Hannah was shy but Anne definitely wasn’t.  Hannah was often naïve and fearful but Anne was always intellectually curious and up to try almost anything.  Occasionally, they fought as friends sometimes do.  But Hannah always considered Anne to be her best friend.

The Amsterdam scenes do a good job of contrasting Hannah and Anne acting like ordinary teenagers with the evil that’s always lurking in the background.  Haughty soldiers in German military uniforms stroll the streets of Amsterdam, moving with the arrogance of men who know that no one can defy them.  Because Hannah and Anne wear gold stars on their clothing, they have to sneak into the movies and, when they do, they find themselves watching a propaganda newsreel about how much better life is in the Netherlands now that the Germans are in charge.  Hannah often sees her father having hushed conversations with other nervous-looking adults.

Of course, those of us watching at home know what is going to happen.  We know who Anne Frank was.  Or, I should say, I hope we know who Anne Frank was.  I tend to assume that everyone knows about the horror of the Holocaust and that everyone knows about the anti-Semitism that fueled the rise of Adolf Hitler and the Third Reich.  Unfortunately, over the past year or so, my faith has been shaken.  Anti-Semitism has never gone away but, in recent years, it seems as if it’s become socially acceptable within certain parts of mainstream society and that really should scare the Hell out of anyone who has any knowledge of history.  I have seen reportedly intelligent people either playing down the horrors of the Holocaust or trying to act as if the Holocaust was not about the Third Reich’s obsession with wiping out a race of people.  Whoopi Goldberg may have been the most famous person to have recently gotten the facts of the Holocaust wrong but she’s hardly the only one.

To me, that’s why a film like My Best Friend Anne Frank is important because it reminds us of not only what happened at camps like Bergen-Belsen but also what happened beforehand.  The camps and the ideology that fueled them didn’t just spring up out of nowhere.  Instead, they were built while the rest of the world tried to deny what was happening right before their eyes.  The concentration camp scenes in this film are harrowing but even more disturbing are the Amsterdam scenes where people casually walk by signs that declare that no Jews allowed and almost everyone merely averts their eyes.  When Anne and Hannah walk through Amsterdam, they are insulted not just by the Nazis but also by the Dutch citizens who don’t wear gold stars, many of who seem to take an attitude of, “At least it’s not me being othered.”

My Best Friend Anne Frank is currently on Netflix.  Josephine Arendsen and Aiko Beemsterboer both give good and heart-breaking performances as Hannah and Anne.  The film is not just a story of survival under the worst of circumstances but it’s also a tribute to the power of friendship.  Though Anne did not survive the camps, Hannah was liberated after 14 months at Bergen-Belsen and now lives in Jerusalem.  She is now 93 years old.

Here’s The Trailer For True Story

The Wesley Snipes comeback continues in the upcoming series True Story. This series will also feature Kevin Hart in a serious role. To be honest, I think Kevin Hart can handle a serious role. It’ll be interesting to see if I’m right.

True Story drops on November 24th, on Netflix. Here’s the trailer: