Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile

Zac Efron steals the show as serial killer Ted Bundy, and that’s the problem.

Written by Michael Werwie and directed by Joe Berlinger, Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile (2019) is based on the memoir The Phantom Prince: My Life with Ted Bundy by Elizabeth Kendall. While ostensibly about Ted Bundy’s relationship with his longtime girlfriend, whose call to the police eventually led to his capture, the film focuses too much on Bundy’s dark charisma and courtroom antics.

The film opens at a bar in Seattle in 1969, where single mother Elizabeth Kendall (Lily Collins) meets handsome Theodore “Ted” Bundy (Zac Efron) for the first time, and the audience is mercifully spared the usual nods to 1960s counter-culture. Ted gets along well with her daughter, Molly, and seems to embrace the fatherly role. Things turn dark, however, when Ted is arrested at a traffic stop in 1975 and charged with kidnapping Carol Daronch (Grace Victoria Cox).

Though conflicted, and despite the protestations of her best friend, Joanna (Angela Sarafyan), Elizabeth is in denial that Ted could have committed the horrible acts of which he’s suspected. She grows increasingly distant as Ted’s legal troubles multiply, and he is accused of multiple murders. In prison, Ted rekindles an old flame with Carol Ann Boone (Kaya Scodelario), while trying desperately to keep Elizabeth’s affection. Can Elizabeth break this destructive emotional bond and move on with her life?

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Did ‘White Privilege’ Enable Ted Bundy?

Police, prosecutors, and a Florida jury had no problem strapping this heinous killer in the electric chair.

Actor Zac Efron, who plays serial killer Theodore “Ted” Bundy in Netflix’s new film Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile (2019), has claimed in multiple interviews that ‘white privilege’ allowed Ted Bundy to continue his killing spree that resulted in the murder of 30 young women in the 1970s.

Efron told an interviewer at the Tribeca Film Festival “The fact is that this movie really happened. The fact is that the whole world, literally, all the media, everybody, was capable of believing that this guy was innocent. Talk about white privilege, talk about white… whatever. Every major topic in this movie is bent on showing you how evil this person is.”

He also told Ellen DeGeneres, “Ted Bundy was a clean-cut white dude who just did not seem ‘white person.’ So, talk about white privilege,” Efron said. “What he got away with back then, nobody would be able to do today.”

It’s indisputable that Bundy cultivated the image of a clean-cut law student to mask his homicidal tendencies. He often posed as an injured person in need of help to lure women into a false sense of security. His conventionally handsome features continued to work in his favor as he proclaimed his innocence at trial and racked up a bevvy of female admirers.

“The first time I saw him, he didn’t look like a serial killer. He looked like a Philadelphia lawyer,” said Jury Foreman Patrick E. Wolski.

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BlacKkKlansman: An Ahistorical Dark Comedy

An African-American police detective in 1970s Colorado Springs fights for acceptance at work while infiltrating the local branch of the Ku Klux Klan with help from his Jewish partner. Will he win the affection of a Colorado College activist and foil the KKK’s violent schemes? Starring John David Washington, Adam Driver, and Laura Harrier, BlacKkKlansman (2018) was written and directed by Spike Lee, et al. While entertaining, it jettisons historical accuracy to score contemporary political points.

BlacKkKlansman was inspired by the book Black Klansman (2014) by Ron Stallworth. Stallworth was a police officer and detective in the Colorado Springs Police Department who in 1979 responded to an ad in the newspaper looking to start a local branch of the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan. With the help of a white officer posing as Stallworth at meetings, he successfully infiltrated the Klan for nine months. The Colorado Springs PD shut down the investigation after Stallworth was asked to lead the chapter, fearing word would get out that the police department had Klan affiliations.

Aside from a few incidents, like Stallworth speaking to David Duke (Grand Wizard of the KKKK) and having his picture taken with him, that’s where the comparison parts ways. It turns out “based on a true story” is really “inspired by true events.” The writers took many creative liberties to forward a cinematic narrative and spoon feed the audience an overtly political message.

Attacks on the film’s accuracy have come from many corners. Sorry to Bother You (2018) director Boots Riley criticized Spike Lee for allegedly ..er.. whitewashing Ron Stallworth, turning him into a hero and downplaying his infiltration of black student organizations. “It’s a made up story in which the false parts of it try to make a cop the protagonist in the fight against racial oppression,” he argued.

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First Impressions of BlacKkKlansman

I finally went back to the theater (instant sticker shock, btw) to see the one movie I’ve been looking forward to for the past several months, BlacKkKlansman. Spike Lee is always an interesting if not controversial filmmaker, and the story of a black detective infiltrating the KKK promised to be entertaining if nothing else. The fact it was based on a true story sealed the deal. Unfortunately, it just wasn’t as good as I hoped it would be. Here are some of my initial thoughts, with a full review to follow next week.

  • After doing some research, it turns out “based on a true story” is really “inspired by true events.” Only the basic premise, and a few scenes, actually happened. The rest was made up.
  • This opens a can of worms for me, and not just from a historical perspective. If Spike Lee wanted to make a movie about racism, why fictionalize events from the 1970s, when there are so many other clear cut and dramatic examples of racism in U.S. history?
  • The dialog in BlacKkKlansman is so bad and anachronistic. It’s literally “I’m a racist character so I do nothing but talk about how much I love whiteness and hate minorities,” or “I’m a black activist so I do nothing but talk about black power, blaxploitation references, and how much I hate cops.”
  • The acting among the lead cast was decent. Topher Grace stole the show as race huckster David Duke.
  • What was Spike Lee’s message? Is it just to make parallels between racism in the 1970s and racism in the 2010s? Because he does that. A lot. He beats the audience over the head with it.
  • Or is he criticizing identity politics as a whole by making a side by side comparison of black power activists and white power activists? At one point a jump cut shows both groups shouting their respective slogans. This is contrasted with the main character’s chummy relationship with coworkers of different backgrounds.

That’s all for now. My review is mainly going to focus on the historical accuracy of the film and divining its message. Look for it on Monday!

Christine: A Potently Pessimistic Period Piece

Events leading to journalist Christine Chubbuck’s 1974 on-air suicide are recounted in Christine (2016), a bleak but potent film written by Craig Shilowich and directed by Antonio Campos. Strong performances by its lead actors and its visual authenticity make Christine the best overlooked film of 2016.

Christine Chubbuck (Rebecca Hall) is a sincere but troubled woman working as a reporter for a local news station in Sarasota, Florida. She lives with her mother, Peg (J. Smith-Cameron), and performs puppet shows at a children’s hospital on the weekends. Her life begins to spiral out of control when, approaching 30, she discovers she has a cyst on one of her ovaries and may never have children.

Her boss, Michael (Tracy Letts), is concerned about falling ratings and wants Christine to cover more sensational stories. This professional dilemma is compounded by the arrival of station owner Bob Andersen (John Cullum), who wants to move some personnel to Baltimore. Christine is passed over in favor of anchor George Peter Ryan (Michael C. Hall) and sports anchor Andrea Kirby (Kim Shaw). This is a double-blow because Christine had an unrequited crush on George.

I won’t reveal how the film ends, but you probably already guessed. Rebecca Hall, who also starred in Professor Marston and the Wonder Women (2017) and The Dinner (2017), is outstanding as Christine Chubbuck, and won several awards for her effort. I’m not sure this film would have been nearly as good without her performance. She disappeared into the role, bringing her character to life with all the emotion and idiosyncrasies of a real person.

This film’s authenticity is also incredible. If you could somehow capture the look and feel of a decade, Christine does it. 1970s period pieces usually feature larger than life characters and situations. This film does the exact opposite–it shows normal people at a normal job, who happened to be involved in an incredibly tragic incident.

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Tragedy and Mystery at Marco Island Cemetery

Once part of the remote interior of Marco Island, Florida, Marco Island Cemetery stands as a testament to the resiliency of the island’s inhabitants. Spanish explorers named the island La Isla de San Marco, and it is the largest barrier island within southwest Florida’s Ten Thousand Islands region. Today, it is home to over 17,000 residents, as well as thousands of vacationers who visit every year to enjoy the beautiful weather.

In the early 1970s, however, less than 4,000 people resided there. Many had left earlier in the century due to economic hardship and the Great Depression. Old Marco Cemetery, as Marco Island Cemetery was called at the time, was all but abandoned, left to nature and the social outcasts who came there to drink and race dirt bikes and motorcycles along its trails. Then, in 1973, a tragedy occurred that triggered its renewal.

Linda Walters, 16, and Lisa Nankevill, 15, were staying at Lisa’s father’s home on Pepperwood Court, which according to newspaper reports was, at the time, located about two blocks from the cemetery. Lisa’s father awoke during the night to hear music coming from her bedroom. Thinking nothing of it, he went back to bed.

When he woke early the next morning, the music was still playing, and when we went to investigate, he found the two girls missing with a note taped to a picture of Lisa’s mother. He did not report them missing to police because they had taken off on their own before. Many teenagers on Marco Island hung out at the 7-11 convenience store a few blocks away, near Old Marco Cemetery, which was open 24 hours. Later, eyewitnesses placed them at a party that night. They left around 9pm.

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Battle of the Sexes: A Tedious and Unfunny 1970s Sports Dramedy

A female tennis star wrestles with the patriarchy and her own sexuality in the gyno-centric sports dramedy Battle of the Sexes (2017), written by Simon Beaufoy and directed by Jonathan Dayton. A retelling of the most-watched tennis match of all time, between ex-champion Bobby Riggs and top female player Billie Jean King, seemed promising, but something misfired along the way. It was partly billed as a comedy, and features both Sarah Silverman and Steve Carell, but ends up only being mildly amusing.

It’s the early 1970s. Tennis star Billie Jean King (Emma Stone) and her manager Gladys Heldman (Sarah Silverman) confront Jack Kramer (Bill Pullman) about gross inequality in tennis prize money between male and female players. In outrage, they storm off to found their own women’s tennis association. Meanwhile, ex-tennis star Bobby Riggs (Steve Carell) has hit a new low as his gambling addiction threatens to tear apart his family.

As her new league takes off, Billie Jean King’s behavior threatens her marriage as well, when she meets hairstylist Marilyn Barnett (Andrea Riseborough) and discovers she is attracted to women. This affair seems to have little effect on her life, however, when her cuckolded husband, Larry King (Austin Stowell), shrugs it off and continues to faithfully dote on her.

Meanwhile, Bobby Riggs comes up with a way to exploit controversy over the women’s lib movement to make money and challenges top female tennis players to an exhibition bout. He handily defeats Margaret Court (Jessica McNamee), who is portrayed as somehow flawed and weakened by her loving devotion to her husband and child. Billie Jean King finally accepts the challenge and ends up humiliating Riggs in a match dubbed “The Battle of the Sexes.”

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