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Non-Review Review: Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil And Vile

There’s an interesting film somewhere within Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil And Vile.

After all, the serial killer is a fascinating figure in the American popular consciousness. Although the serial killer’s stature has declined since its peak in the nineties, the recent “true crime” boom on both streaming services and in podcasts have helped to reignite some interest in the figure. Indeed, it is worth noting that Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil And Vile feels almost like a companion piece to director Joe Berlinger’s other Ted Bundy project, the Netflix documentary Conversations with a Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes. As such, it is perhaps revealing that Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil And Vile feels like an appendix to The Ted Bundy Tapes, an extra that dramatises the meatier material presented in that streaming service true crime documentary.

Killer good looks.

After all, although Berlinger has worked on narrative films before, he is known primarily as a documentarian. (There is some small irony that his most prominent narrative film is Blair Witch 2: Book of Shadows.) Inevitably, Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil And Vile would feel secondary. It may have premiered on the festival before The Ted Bundy Tapes, but it was released afterwards, ensuring that to the casual viewer it will seem like something of a response to that breakout hit. More than that, though, Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil And Vile feels like it has very little new to say about either its serial killer or its cultural context. There is surprisingly little in Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil And Vile that isn’t evoked by the words “Ted Bundy.”

The serial killer is a well-explored subject in popular fiction, having been the focus of decades of narratives and deconstructions. Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil And Vile looks for an interesting angle on its subject, but never finds a way in. The result is a film that has an interesting premise, but which struggled to get under the skin of a serial killer.

Slice of life.

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Non-Review Review: Baywatch

The most damning criticism of Baywatch is that it is actually a pretty decent Baywatch movie.

Of course, it is hard to define exactly what Baywatch is. The show ran for eleven seasons, launched a handful of spin-offs, built up an instant recognisable iconography. However, the most striking Baywatch was just how hazily the concept was defined. As imagined by Baywatch, the beach front was a tabula rasa, a canvas as blank as the sand dunes on the shore or the expressions on most of the cast’s faces. The beauty of Baywatch was in its lack of a distinct identity, its capacity to be almost anything that it wanted to be, albeit in the clumsiest and cheapest manner possible.

To Beaches, or Not To Beaches?

Baywatch was nominally a show about lifeguards, about beautiful people running in slow motion. However, it could also be a show about shark attacks, about drug smuggling, about wrestling matches, about illegal immigration, about mermaids, about possession. It could even launch a spin-off Baywatch Nights, about private investigators pursuing beach-themed crimes that evolved into a water-themed X-Files knock-off. Baywatch could be whatever the audience wanted it to be, and even sometimes what they needed it to be.

Baywatch was a mirror unto which anything could be projected, the most popular show in the world about the day-to-day adventures on Malibu Pier. Baywatch became a window into the popular consciousness, an abyss that gazed back. Many tried to decipher its mysteries, to account for its popularity. Was it as simple as the fact that very pretty people were running while wearing very little clothes? Did Baywatch speak to a deeper yearning in those landlocked countries where it proved so popular? Did Baywatch know the audience better than they knew themselves?

A versatile storytelling engine.

All of this is to say that Baywatch comes with a baked-in absurdity. It is so elastic a premise, and so ridiculous a concept, that it is pretty much immune to mockery. It is hard to imagine a joke about Baywatch that the show never embraced in earnest during its two-hundred-and-forty episode run. Baywatch is beyond parody as a pop culture object. It is a möbius strip of ridiculousness and earnestness, taking itself so seriously that it doubles back around into self-aware absurdity.

This is the biggest problem with Baywatch. It is a terrible parody of Baywatch, if only because the source material seems to exist in a realm where parody has been folded in on itself and presented as an entirely sincere beach-bound adventure.

Lost at sea.

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Non-Review Review: We Are Your Friends

Appropriately enough, We Are Your Friends feels like a selection of remixed samples of other movies.

The script for We Are Your Friends dutifully hits all the requisite beats from a coming of age story about a young man trying to find his way in the world; in this case, “the world” refers to “the San Fernando valley”, just over the Hollywood Hills. Appropriately enough, We Are Your Friends positions the valley (“the Valley”) as a sort of purgatory for those who want to get out towards better things; aspiring DJs and actors trapped in dull routine who must learn to stay true to themselves to attain meaningful (and not just material) success.

The beat goes on...

The beat goes on…

It is a very familiar story structure, one that lends itself to the sense of social striving associated with other (more substantial) films about life in Los Angeles. We Are Your Friends doesn’t have a story as much as it has an outline; the requisite steps that young would-be DJ Cole Carter must take on the path to stardom. There is an older mentor with feet of clay, a troubled love interest also looking for meaning in the world; there is the false promise of financial security, a tragic lesson about life lived to access.

However, all of this is drawn so broadly that We Are Your Friends is a tracklist rather than an album. Director Max Joseph brings commendable energy to the film, and Zac Efron is quite affable as a protagonist more cliché than character. Wes Bentley adds just a hint of flavour to an otherwise ambient film. We Are Your Friends is inoffensive, but ultimately more visually interesting than completely satisfying.

Hey, Mister DJ, put a record on...

Hey, Mister DJ, put a record on…

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Non-Review Review: Bad Neighbours

Bad Neighbours is a serviceable – if unexceptional – comedy. The story of two young parents engaged in a turf war with the college fraternity next door, Bad Neighbours feels somewhat slight, even for its abbreviated ninety-seven minute runtime. The laughs are there, and the movie never outstays its welcome, but there’s a sense that the film spends a considerable amount of its runtime in neutral – ramping up for some wonderful sequences, but never building enough momentum to truly take off.

So you think you can dance...

So you think you can dance…

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Non-Review Review: Hit & Run

This movie was seen as part of Movie Fest, which was as much of a joy this year as it was last year. If not moreso.

Hit & Run is just a mess. It is, like its protagonists, all over the map. It never seems to be entirely sure of what it wants to be. Is it a high-speed comedy, a road-trip adventure, or a romantic comedy about an unconventional couple? There are moments when the film seems to work, on the verge of coming together, but there are also moments where it misses the mark completely. The problem is that Dax Shepard is not quite as versatile as Dax Shepard seems to think that he is.

Tres Bell?

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Non-Review Review: The Lucky One

It’s hard not to feel a tad manipulated by The Lucky One, a story that seems to want to be about the relationship between fate (or chance) and choice. Following a veteran of a foreign conflict as he tries to adjust to life back home, trying to make sense of his survival in a war that claimed the lives of countless friends and colleagues, I don’t doubt that The Lucky One was intended as a profound meditation on those themes. However, what we end up with is a rather muddled romance that never truly gets off the ground thanks to a lackluster central performance from Zac Efron and some rather uncomfortable subtext.

Not quite picture perfect...

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Academy to Cut Honorary Awards from Telecast…

I’m going to give the expansion of the Best Picture category the benefit of the doubt and I don’t really care about the Original Song rules, to be completely honest, but I am a little ticked off at the announcement that the Honorary Oscars are being shunted back stage. Talk about completely missing the point – the Academy doesn’t seem to get that most viewers aren’t clamoring for that extra High School Musical song so badly that they’re shunt off someone who has made such a massive contribution to popular culture as to warrant the Honorary Award. I just don’t get this decision.

We want the Academy to take its hat off to Charlie Chaplin...

We want the Academy to take its hat off to Charlie Chaplin...

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