Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile: Film Review

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Continuing Joe Berlinger’s year of Ted Bundy, Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile is Berlinger’s second Bundy relate project of 2019, following the four-episode documentary released earlier this year. Starring Zac Efron as Bundy and Lily Collins as Bundy’s love interest; Liz Kendall. For those unfamiliar with the story, Ted Bundy was a serial killer, active during the 70s and 80s, whose trial was the very first nationally televised trial in United States history. The fascinating aspect of Bundy’s story is the incredible contrast between the gruesomeness of the crimes he was accused of and his own persona. Bundy was famous as a charismatic, charming, friendly man who couldn’t possibly be guilty of the unspeakable crimes with which he was being charged. The story is told predominantly from the perspective of Bundy’s longtime girlfriend, portraying his story from the point of view of an invested third party.

I was very much looking forward to this film. I’m absolutely fascinated by the Ted Bundy story, he was this ridiculous enigma that leaves so many questions unanswered even after his confession to only the murders we know about. I’m also a huge Zac Efron fan (yes, I am an HSM fan. Back off.) and I’d heard some rave reviews of his work. My expectations were absolutely met, as Efron delivers a performance conveying every inch of Bundy’s infectious charm and downright innocence. Until late in the film, you don’t actually get an obvious stance from the filmmakers on Bundy’s innocence or guilt. Watching it, I found myself conflicted in much the same way those who watched the trial at the time likely felt, an effect which comes by way of some first rate work from Efron and some occasionally very strong writing. Lily Collins, while perhaps not equal, does a fine job in the communication of the depths which Bundy’s situation leaves her in. While her actions in calling Bundy in at the very beginning have never been appropriately justified to me, her desperation and emotional turmoil really hits home.

The film makes a point out of the juxtaposition of Ted’s external nature and the nature of the crimes he was charged with, and it’s affecting. I’ve seen a little bit of Berlinger’s Netflix documentary on the same topic earlier this year, admittedly not all of it, which I found a little bit dull. This film does not suffer from the same lag, exuding a brooding, suspenseful energy. The factual basis helps, however, with much of the film’s dialogue ripped straight out of sound bytes from the events themselves.

The main issue I had with the film was that intentions were often given less importance than description. Many a times you’d see action on screen that didn’t make intuitive sense. There probably were reasons, they just weren’t expanded on as they could have been.  Threads were often left loose and motivations left unexplained for the purposes of moving the plot forward. In the context of a biopic, this might not be a crime, but I’m honestly not certain that’s what this film is. The perspective is too skewed, maybe too impassioned, to qualify as a traditional biopic. From a historical perspective, not necessarily a problem. But, from a narrative perspective, it just leaves one wanting.

I greatly enjoyed this film. I’ve read some articles detailing explanations of controversy. Some see the ambiguity in the way Bundy’s guilt is depicted as an insinuation that Bundy could have been innocent. I can see where that interpretation comes from, I wouldn’t go as far as to say it’s misguided, but I definitely don’t agree with it. The ambiguity, while potent, serves the purpose of communicating the ambiguity that weighed on the mind of the American public. The end of the film does what it needs to do in terms of making his guilt clear, so I didn’t really see a problem there. All in all, Efron’s striking performance was the driver in a film that fully delivered for me.

– Aman Datta

Aman’s Score – 77/100                                                                  Aryamaan’s Score –

Gully Boy: Film Review

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Directed by the illustrious Zoya Akhtar, Gully Boy is the story of a passionate young man, Murad Ahmaed (portrayed by Ranveer Singh). A rap and hip hop lover, Murad “Gully Boy” Ahmed makes his way in the musical industry from Dharavi slum in Mumbai, India. The film is based loosely on a true story, that of two underground artists from Mumbai, Divine and Naezy, and stars Ranveer Singh, Alia Bhatt, and Kalki Koechlin among others. The film has been met with largely strong positive critical response, and has taken Bollywood by storm both as a film and as a soundtrack.

I was very much looking forward to this film. Zoya Akhtar is one of the few highest quality filmmakers in Bollywood at the moment, attested to by the fact that I’m writing a Bollywood review (shocking, I know). The lady made ZNMD, which is the equivalent of a rubber stamp saying “will definitely watch whatever she makes.” I saw the trailer and was excited, however, it took me till last week to actually get a chance to watch it, for which I got a lot of flack (deserved, of course). My expectations were very high, and were absolutely met by a film that positively oozes character, flair, and energy. Not my favorite Zoya Akhtar film, ZNMD is still king of the hill for me, but there is absolutely no denying that this is a very, very good film.

I had, until this point, more or less given up on the idea of Bollywood delivering a truly good ensemble performance in the foreseeable future. Strong individual performances aren’t an uncommon occurrence. However, I honestly did not imagine witnessing such a broad and quality showing from an ensemble cast from this industry. Ranveer Singh is extraordinary, truly, but it’s not just him and Alia Bhatt that deserve recognition. From Siddhant Chaturvedi (MC Sher) to Ikhlaque Khan, the entirety of this cast deserves the highest applause for a phenomenal display of acting ability. Credit goes, naturally, to the writers and director as well, for fleshing out an entire spectrum of rounded, developed characters, but good writing has been wasted in the past and this was not an example of that. The film does an excellent job of juggling it all too. Gully Boy is a dense film, there’s a lot happening with a lot of threads. A lot of times you’ll see even the best of narrative intentions squandered by way of trying to hold too much; not, however, in this situation. Relationships, particularly that between Alia and Ranveer’s characters, are pressure pointed with expertise. To be frank, had it not been for the purity and strength of their characters’ relationship, I don’t imagine I would’ve much liked Safeena’s character. Alia does a fantastic job, but her character has a little more edge than I was comfortable with. Her’s was the facet I enjoyed least in the film, but it was more than made up for by a glimmering chemistry between her and Murad.

Writing in the film was generally very strong, with a couple moments of dialogue that could have done with being a little less clunky but an overall very, very strong piece of work. Zoya Akhtar has done a phenomenal job, as per usual, with the same sense for style with which we are accustomed. The story is told against a backdrop of Mumbai’s diverse cityscape, from high-rises to slum cities like Dharavi, which is obviously not uncommon for a Bollywood film. But the soundtrack and the immersive camera work allow for some magic to happen. The visuals don’t technically change, but there’s something so infectiously stylistic about the way the film is put together, with most every shot conveying an intricacy and artistry to the thought process behind the image, the likes of which are impressive on any screen, not just a Bollywood one. The way she’s put Mumbai together, from the very first scene, it manages to convey the full breadth of Mumbai’s situation, puts it in a place, and adds a beat to it. The way music is integrated, not just in the songs you ought to be paying attention to but the score and the filler; she gives Mumbai a beat, and suddenly I’m drawing comparisons in my head to the streets of New Orleans and Philadelphia, music towns, places that have a beat in my head. Obviously it has a lot to do with the nature of the film she was making, but I’ve never been made to see Mumbai like that, and that’s a job exceptionally well done.

In the end, film is about communicating something. All of the above indicates artistry, skill, and technique, but it all serves little purpose if the film doesn’t have a direction and something to say. Luckily, we didn’t have to worry about that here, though the communication doesn’t stop there, and there are certain worries I have about the way something like this film is consumed in the environment it’s consumed in. The film says important things, things about the nature of respect, things about class divides, things about talent and ambition and the right kinds of friends. These are messages we all sorely need right now, more, perhaps, than ever, and what better weapon to deliver those messages than hip-hop and rap music. But this medium has the tendency to act as a double edged sword in this case. The flash and bang that the film wields through the form of the music and the situation allow for a scope to outshine a lot of the important content of the film, not as a result of miscommunication on the filmmakers’ part but on the part of the audience. The film says important things, the main takeaway from it can’t be a bluntly rebellious attitude and that raps can happen in Bollywood too. I’ve noticed examples, both in the way that people react to the film and in the way that the film is portrayed oftentimes, that suggest to me that majority of the messages of the film might have been overlooked in favour of the flash and bang that comes with them, and that ought to be avoided at all costs.

One way or another, however, this is a fabulous film. My hat is tipped to the entire team, from a stellar ensemble to the brains behind the camera, for making not only a high quality film, but for treating some important ideas with the respect they deserve.

– Aman Datta

Aman’s Score – 85/100                                                         Aryamaan’s Score –