Review- ‘Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile’ (2019)

Review- ‘Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile’ (2019)

When I first saw a still of Zac Efron as Ted Bundy I thought that whoever came up with that casting choice deserved an award. Not only do Ted and Zac look very similar but there was a sweet irony that the star of High School Musical had progressed to portraying one of America’s most notorious serial killers.

I first learnt of Bundy’s crimes after watching the brilliant 1986 TV movie The Deliberate Stranger which was released on two video tapes here in the UK soon after it aired in the US. This production showed that one thing is vital to any depiction of Bundy and his history- casting. Bundy was as all American as apple pie. He also goes against the stereotype of the type of person most think that a serial killer is. He was educated, handsome and extremely charismatic. Mark Harmon was cast as Bundy and this choice was brilliant. Harmon had been the star of many TV shows (most famously St Elsewhere)  and always as the dashing leading man. Harmon was using these very qualities to depict a man who used the same attributes for his own evil ends. It’s also worth noting that the man (Harmon not Bundy) who was voted The Sexiest Man Alive by People Magazine in 1986 (the year that Deliberate Stranger was made and aired) should be portraying the serial killer who had multiple female fans who decided that his good looks and sex appeal outweighed his alleged crimes.

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Since this TV movie there have been other movies regarding Bundy but none have been especially noteworthy in terms of either casting or content (it’s a shame that the adaptation of Ann Rule’s amazing book ‘The Stranger Beside Me’ wasn’t either cast or made better. It’s still, in my opinion, the definitive book on Ted).

So when it was announced that Zac Efron was to star in Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Wicked and Vile as Bundy I just wished that the whole film would live up to the genius casting decision. I resubscribed to Netflix in time for the premiere date of 3rd May only to learn that whilst it’s being shown on Netflix, that isn’t the case in the UK. The movie could either be seen on Sky Movies (no thanks, Rupert Murdoch) or at one of the few cinemas which were showing it.

This, however proved to be a blessing in disguise. The film looks gorgeous and deserves to be seen on the big screen. In fact, there is plenty to like about this movie.

I had never heard of the 1981 book The Phantom Prince by Elizabeth Kendall which was written by Bundy’s fiancee about their life together. This book is still out of print- a golden opportunity for a reprint to coincide with this movie missed. Although there is an online copy available to read (Google is your friend…)

The fact that this story is from the perspective of Bundy’s partner proves to be a major strength here. This isn’t a straightforward account of Bundy’s crimes resplendent with depictions of them but rather what happened as seen through someone else’s eyes. This is a novel take on one of America’s most infamous serial killers and because of this feels fresh and original. Bundy is depicted as charming, charismatic and utterly human. It also means that when Bundy’s partner (and the audience) hears the details of Bundy’s crimes they appear even more shocking and appalling.

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Careful with that knife, Ted

Zac Efron’s depiction of Ted is rightly garnering plaudits from critics. His performance is multi-facted, nuanced and utterly brilliant. He portrays Bundy as not only as the All-American success story but also as a human being wearing a mask or shell. Check out the scene in the courtroom as Bundy is rising to his feet to hear the first of many verdicts- the trumped up show of confidence is shown to be a facade by Efron as we see that this event is so traumatic that it has actually mined down into the darkest and genuine core of Bundy. The mask has slipped as Bundy is about to discover his fate. Also, check out the scene where Bundy has just had sex with his ‘girlfriend’ after Liz leaves him. Momentarily we see the revulsion on Ted’s face when he has just shot his load and realises with whom. We see more evidence that Bundy doesn’t love Carole at all and is just using her so she will extol his innocence to the outside world. His skills of manipulation and control have been brought to the fore and we get to see behind the huge smile and good looks. We also then see the shell come back into place as Bundy starts to recompose himself and falsely reiterate his ‘love’ for her. She’s important to him but not for the reasons she thinks.

But this isn’t just a one performance film. The rest of the cast are great with Metallica’s James Hetfield and The Big Bang Theory’s Jim Parsons also shining. John Malkovich is as ever brilliant in his role as Judge Cowart presiding over the Florida trial. He makes parallels against the fact that himself and Bundy have a great deal in common with Ted being a law student whilst he was committing his heinous crimes. It is one of the most poignant scenes in the film in which the judge mentions that Bundy had decided to use his considerable judicial skills for evil rather than good and that if he had decided to go down a better path Cowart would have loved to have witnessed these skills used in his courtroom.

The film also brilliantly examines the celebrity status given to serial killers. Bundy’s trial is the first in which cameras are allowed in the courtroom and so the trial will be transmitted to millions of homes across America. Bundy knows this and fully exploits it whilst using his charm to bewitch and enchant his audience. He puts on a dazzling performance, makes sure that he peers directly into the camera at multiple occasions to establish a bond with his viewers and even on one occasion, proposes to Carole live on air. It’s showbiz, baby.

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The courtroom as TV studio

The film also examines the phenomena of hybristophilia- the term used to describe the sexual attraction to serial killers. Ted always has a strong female groupie contingent in the courtroom. This will be multiplied many times over with the cameras catching the carefully cultivated performance and sexual charisma Bundy is having broadcast across America and indeed the world.

Whilst the film isn’t a straightforward chronological timeline of Bundy and his crimes we do get to hear about his alleged crimes throughout the film, especially the Chi Omega sorority house that he invades before going on a one-man massacre of several of it’s occupants. But even with the details of these crimes being peppered throughout the movie, the ending in which Liz confronts Bundy is still a shock to behold. She has been given a photograph of one of Ted’s victims by a detective that has brought home the true evil of his crimes. We get to see the picture of a naked female corpse which has had it’s head removed. Bundy still protests his innocence as he has throughout the duration of the film up until this point. He even offers the flimsy explanation that wild animals could have inflicted that on the cadaver. Liz demands to know the truth. We then get to see Bundy take off his mask altogether. He argues that he couldn’t tell her the truth as the phone they are using to communicate with each other is probably tapped by the authorities. He then calmly puts down the receiver he is speaking into and writes the word ‘HACKSAW’ onto the plastic screen that separates them. It’s an immensely powerful scene as it shows that Bundy is ‘Bad’ and not ‘Mad’ and that he knew exactly what he was doing and that there are no multiple personalities at play here.

This scene is also one of the movie’s major aces up it’s sleeve. Up until that point we had never seen Bundy commit one of the crimes he has been accused of or even admit culpability for them. Here he has. The whole celebrity status awarded to serial killers and that grimy culture has now been placed under the spotlight. We have been watching High School Musical’s Zac Efron charm his way into our hearts throughout the film. And we have been duped. For all of his escape antics, winks to camera and good looks, he is a monster and knew exactly what he was doing. Just as Bundy charmed his way into Liz and Carole’s lives for his own ends, he has done to same to us. The film has also done this without glamorising Bundy and his deeds or trying to substantiate them. The audience was kept in the dark regarding his crimes just like Liz was, which is fitting as this story is told from her perspective and not Ted’s. We get to see the full impact of the full truth and how it must have felt for Liz.

It also brings up the question of if he truly loved her or if that was just a well manicured and cultivated lie. The film also begs the question that what we have seen during the movie might not be the whole truth. One early scene involves Bundy being next to Liz in bed under the covers using a torch. When she wakes up startled he gives the explanation of reading a law book ahead of an exam and not wanting to wake her up. We later see the same scene replayed but the audience is awarded the knowledge of what Ted was actually doing- looking at Liz’s dormant sleeping body under the sheets. Was he aroused by her unmoving form? Was he aroused by his victims in the same way? Was he planning to do away with Liz?

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The mask slips

The main question I had after seeing this film was whether Efron is eligible to be nominated for an Oscar for his portrayal with this film being a Netflix production. Now just imagine that- Ted Bundy winning an Academy Award.

4/5 out of 5 stars

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31 Days of Halloween- Day 19- Halloween (2018)

31 Days of Halloween- Day 19- Halloween (2018)

So, the day has finally arrived. Fanboys have been counting down to this release since the start of the year. Yes, even though the film was due to drop in October. This film is a direct sequel to the first film, the filmmakers told us. We must pretend Parts 2-8 didn’t happen.

So, whats it like?

It feels like some kind of faux sequel made exclusively for Netflix. Even John Carpenter’s score feels like a plastic pastiche.

It’s quite an achievement to make a horror film that has no tension or atmosphere. They have managed with this film. Which is such a shame. The original Halloween has atmosphere, tension and menace by the bucketload.

I have never rolled my eyes so many times during any other film. The starting sequence in which Michael is shown his old mask and then all the surrounding asylum inmates start to go crazy made me want to stab myself in the eyes. That was followed by a title sequence which made me scream ‘Oh please!’ in the cinema. A flattened and deflated pumpkin filmed in reverse becomes whole again. In fact it’s a good metaphor for the whole film- inadvertently funny yet tragic at the same time.

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Unintentionally hilarious/vomit-inducing. Michael is shown his mask again

The only character I liked in this film was Michael. Some of his moments were the only moments of light in the whole affair. When asked to speak by his doctor (imagine an Omar Shariff impersonator doing a dreadful Donald Pleasance impression) Michael stamps on his head making it smash like the pumpkin at the beginning of those awful titles. Michael speaks through violence. Another moment has Michael walking through a house which he has adorned with his latest victims- like a very sick art installation. This was a nice touch and a great (and subtle) reference to the original.

But the worst aspect of the film were the nods to modern politics. There is a very obvious thread of ‘diversity’ that comes across as ham-fisted and very patronising. Theres a character whose gender is unconfirmed (looks like a boy, talks about getting back for dance class) but might be a girl. Strode’s granddaughter and her boyfriend go to a Halloween party dressed as Bonnie and Clyde- her as Clyde (male), him as Bonnie (female). Edgy. Except it’s not. There’s even the grotesque stereotype of the sassy black child. I honestly expected him to exclaim ‘What You Talking About, Willis?!’ Please have a diverse cast, please don’t make it so obvious so that it feels like tokenism.

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Sarah Connor Laurie Strode

There’s also plenty of references to Me Too, Times Up and The Sisterhood (I’m dry-heaving typing this). Laurie exclaims ‘Times up!’ at one point and screams over her colleagues who are talking over her. She will have her voice heard! The film further reinforces this sense of the sisterhood with a prominent scene really obviously placing Strode, her daughter and granddaughter all together in the frame (I could say more about this scene but I’d hate to spoil the film for you hahahaha). In fact this scene is so repellent that when I saw it I actually screamed ‘Oh *beep* off!’ in the cinema. But, the film depicted Me Too and Times Up a bit too well. Laurie is hysterical, irrational and deranged most of the time. Kudos to the director for holding up a mirror.

For a brilliant, deft, and innovative example of feminism and diversity in a film check out Patty Jenkins’ Wonder Woman. The ‘No Man’s Land’ sequence epitomises ‘We Can Do It!’ in action and without the amateur dramatics. The scene in which she recruits the member for her expedition team is a far greater and emotionally moving demonstration of diversity and a sense of everyone being empowered to get involved and engaged.

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Genuine feminism, genuine diversity- WW kicks ass

Back to Halloween 2018. The references to the original film will have you rolling your eyes/wanting to scream/wanting to actually inflict violence. Theres a moment that copies the ending of the first film- but with a twist. It’s so obvious, heavy-handed and irritating that I felt like randomly slashing cinema seats with my keys. Whats more, they use footage from the 1978 film within this film which is a very risky manoeuvre. Especially when you’ve made an utterly inept piece of crap. It reminds the viewer that they could be watching a much, much better film instead.

But then that’s one of the few good things about this sequel- it means there there are screenings of the original in cinemas at the moment and a new Blu-ray release. Every cloud has a silver lining.

Oh, and for the record- this film isn’t fit to even be compared to Halloween 2 (1981). In fact, the argument should be about which film is worse? This or Halloween: Resurrection. Yes, it’s that bad.

1 out of 5 stars.

 

Review- ‘Upgrade’ (2018)

Review- ‘Upgrade’ (2018)

Following a mugging in which his wife was killed and he was made a quadriplegic, Grey Trace has an AI chip installed into his neck that makes his seemingly super-human. He then goes after the bad guys who killed his wife and left him for dead.

I knew nothing about this movie but just knew that it was critically acclaimed (Thank you, Rotten Tomatoes) and so rocked up to the screening. I was amazed! This film is fantastic.

Yes, leading actor Logan Marshall-Green looks like Tom Hardy’s twin. Yes, the film’s plot seems eerily close to the storyline of Hardy’s upcoming Venom. Upgrade is a great film and will quite possibly be in my list of the year’s best films.

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The action sequences are terrific and theres more of a passing nod to a comic book type vision for the film’s look and feel. Check out the bar that Grey goes to to try to find his wife’s killers.

But there’s also emotional depth here. This is especially seen in the scenes where Grey tries to adopt to life in a wheelchair with his mother taking over the small tasks of everyday life that he could do before the mugging. The scene in which he bursts into tears at his own newly discovered inability is unexpected but very welcome in a futuristic action movie like this. It provides extra layers to a movie that in lesser hands would be more generic fare. He is later seen trying to take an overdose.

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Tom Hardy Logan Marshall-Green

Whilst there is gritty action and heartbreaking emotional depth to the film there is also laugh out loud humour also. Check out the scene where Grey fights an adversary with STEM in control for the first time. Marshall-Green’s comic timing is impeccable.

Some of the action sequences end gorily- in fact, very gorily. There was more than one occasion during the screening in which audience members where audibly grossed out at special effects that seem to be straight out of a video nasty. And if you’re a gorehound like me thats a great thing.

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In fact, one gore scene reminded me of the left sequence from Drive. There are faint echoes of many other films within Upgrade (including The Matrix, 2001, Scanners, Blade Runner and it’s sequel, Westworld… Hell, it even reminded me of Knight Rider. Yes, it’s that good!) but you never get the feeling that Upgrade if ripping off these ideas and blending them together, hoping the audiences and critics won’t notice. Upgrade feels fresh, original and innovative- because it is.

An amazing film- don’t miss it.

4/5 out of 5.

Review- ‘Searching’ (2018)

Review- ‘Searching’ (2018)

A girl goes missing. Or has she been abducted? Her father digs deeper to try and find his daughter.

A film that takes place either through words, pictures and footage on instant messenger, FaceTime or social media. The telling of the story through these mediums feels innovative to begin with but grates by the end of the movie.

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Great performances all round, an ending that feels a bit forced and rushed though.

But I’m not going to criticise a horror movie that strives for innovation and originality. Even though this movie doesn’t hit all of it’s targets it deserves applause.

2/5 out of 5

Review- ‘The Meg’ (2018)

Review- ‘The Meg’ (2018)

Theres ‘good bad’ and theres ‘bad bad’. This is definitely ‘bad bad’.

The Megalodon was a huge shark thought to be extinct. A research expedition into deeper levels of the ocean finds that ol’ Meg is still alive. Megsy then decides to move away from these deeper ocean depths and invade the shallower depths of the sea which the expedition came from in search of human chow.

This film contains the worst CGI since Escape From LA which just reinforces to me that this was made to make money and for no other reason. John Carpenter’s film at least had the excuse of being made when CGI as we know it was in it’s infancy.

The CGI in The Meg was so bad that a scene that should have contained a huge jump scare looked so fake and artificial just before said scare that you just knew something was going to happen. And it did. And zero forks were given.

This film also contains some of the worst most stereotypical and generic characters that I’ve ever seen- the cutesy little girl (far too irritating for her own good and deserves to become shark fodder), the edgy female scientist (tattoos, Lara Croft hair, probably a lesbian) the comedic black character (he makes Jovial Jemima look restrained. Time to send back your NAACP membership card, Page Kennedy).

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Edgy. And stereotypical.

Rainn Wilson has a face for radio, not for film. ”Why has he been cast in such a role?” I thought whilst watching this cinematic abortion. Then it hit me. His brash billionaire character who is in part responsible for bringing The Meg into our waters seems to be based on Elon Musk- someone else with a face for radio and a personality just as rancid.

Jason Statham is a great action hero. That is until he opens his mouth and undoes all of his good work. I have a theory- the more dialogue Statham has to deliver in a film, the worse the film is.

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Jason Statham with his mouth closed. Hooray!

We get the obligatory scene of Jason just out of the shower and only wearing a towel. So what. A Google search for such fare is cheaper and more painfree than watching this movie.

There are also some of the most awkward ‘comedy’ moments that I’ve ever seen. Lines that aren’t funny and have never been funny being delivered completely ineptly.

The film also changes gear and intent about two thirds of the way through. From being a suspense filled horror film (which it utterly fails at) the film then thinks it can master the ‘Sharknado’ sub-genre of ‘oh so camp, tongue in cheek’ horror movies (it can’t even master this- some feat).

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A Jaws reference. And another reminder that you could be watching Spielberg’s masterpiece instead of ‘The Meg’.

The Meg feels like a really anaemic, formulaic and boring straight to video movie from the early 90’s that has had millions thrown at it and given a theatrical release. It’s out of time and out of place. A bit like the megalodon really.

1 out of 5

The Day John Waters Taught Me Film

The Day John Waters Taught Me Film

On 8th November 2013 John Waters performed his one-man show at Liverpool Philharmonic and was on top form. I attended this show and had a whale of a time. There was a signing session after the show and the line to get stuff signed was HUGE.

But not many people knew that there was to be a very special event the next day. Mr Waters was to teach the Film Studies class at John Moores University. There would be a screening of one of his favourite films, Boom! and then he would talk about it. This event was private and not open to the public- but I managed to blag tickets.

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A pic I took just before the event was due to begin

As soon as I saw Waters walk in I thought I was dreaming- I was sharing the same oxygen as The Filth Elder.

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The Prince of Puke in da house

We then watched the movie Boom! And I can see why it’s one of Waters’ favourites. It’s fucking insane. Midget guards, Noel Coward and some of the best lines of dialogue in any film (An example- Liz Taylor’s character at one point says to no one in particular- ‘Hot sun, cool breeze, white horse on the sea, and a big shot of vitamin B in me!’)

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The insanity is off the scale. Boom! is a masterpiece.

After the film Waters spoke about the making of the film, why he likes it and how it has influenced his own work. He then opened up the discussion to us so that we could all talk about it.

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”Anyway- the singing anus…”

We then talked about film in general and specifically his films. It was amazing. We could ask him anything. I’d be here all day if I tried to recall all of the anecdotes but I’ll tell you one. Waters was asked about the song he wrote for Serial Mom that L7 (called ‘Camel Lips’ in the film) called Strait Jacket. He said that he still  received sizeable royalties from PRS because he wrote the song. He then said that if that was the case imagine what it must be like to be Madonna and the royalties she must receive!

This was such an amazing event and I felt so privileged to be there.

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The Master with an audience of jealous perverts. I’m so glad a photo exists of myself in the audience at the same event as The Sultan of Sleaze.

Review- Hereditary (2018)

Review- Hereditary (2018)

I was looking forward to this movie. Someone who had seen it in the States said that it was ‘grim’. Another said that it ‘stayed with you long after you’ve finished watching it’.

Having watched the movie I can now say that it is grim. But not in a good way. It’s the most pretensious, overly dramatic and ultimately vapid film I think I’ve ever seen.

In fact it reminds me of when I was at university studying film analysis. There was a drama department within the arts faculty. You just knew that the small minority of quiet and introspective drama students would go far whilst you got the feeling that those who were loud, strutting and attention seeking weren’t interested in acting at all but only in being centre stage. At the end of the year the drama students had to write and stage their own production which they would also act in.

Hereditary felt like the kind of end of year production that one of the extroverted dramatists would have produced if it had then been picked up by a film production company and allowed to pollute cinema screens worldwide. Hysterics are ramped up to the max whilst tension and depth, y’know the things that good horror should hinge on are nowhere to be seen. In fact, the only tension I experienced were by a couple near me who insisted on talking during the film. And they left halfway through. I was gutted and felt like running after them to try to persuade them to come back in.

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Maximum hysterics, no restraint

With Hereditary the film also seems to throw so many ideas into the pot that it really is a case of ‘Let’s throw all these ideas at the wall. Some are bound to stick!’ It didn’t work. In this age of remakes, sequels and reboots, especially within the horror genre, original and new ideas are paramount. It can still be done. Some critics and reviewers think this film might be the start of such a renaissance. It isn’t and I pity them.

I’m now going to watch Muriel’s Wedding- a genuine masterpiece that doesn’t squander Toni Collette’s considerable acting chops.

Hereditary is loud, hysterical, hyperactive and desperate for your attention. It’s clearly the James Corden of horror films.

1 out of 5