April Round-Up

Friends, I have been remiss and not offered some reviews of late, due to radio commitments and watching my kids play at a footy tournament… so here’s a round-up of the best out there – and some of the worst…

I’m recommending Eighth Grade (featured image) to anyone who was once a teenager… and particularly to those of us who now know teenagers, or have them in the house. Elsie Fisher gives a remarkable, loveable performance as a 12-year-old in her last year of ‘middle school’ and feeling the pressure to conform.

She makes vlogs in her bedroom about ‘being yourself’, or ‘putting yourself out there’ or ‘how to be confident’ and they’re the sweetest, most honest little things you’ll ever see. She’s no internet sensation, just a teenager writing her diary entry, and what she talks about is then illustrated with some episode or action in the film – a pool party, or a first date, or a meeting with her sponsor at senior school.

Director Bo Burnham has made a quasi-anthropological study about teen life, with a very confused but well-meaning Dad, played by Josh Hamilton, desperately trying to protect, connect and be a friend to his daughter.

Elsie has her crush (on the hot jock with the great eyes) and her skin issues and her curiosity about blow job, as well as the pressures of body issues and high school shooter drills. What world is this? Whatever, it makes for a brilliant film. one of my year’s best right now.

Vox Lux doc

Vox Lux

There’s more high school action in Vox Lux, a proper curio from young actor turned cool director Brady Corbett. I have to say, the opening half of this film is astounding, amazing – I had my mouth open, so I won’t spoil what happens. It’s a must-see.

Sadly, the second half, which features Natalie Portman as a veteran pop star (well, one in her 30s) is a real disappointment and a trashy bore. Portman is simply not very good, failing to find anything relatable or admirable in her character, over-acting like a bad audition, and her singing just isn’t interesting enough to be credible.

Pond Life is worth seeking out, if you can – a rather sweet British indie, set in an ex-mining town in Yorkshire, and concentrating on the youth of the town as they prepare for a night fishing trip to catch a legendary carp.

It’s based on a play, which shows, but the tone and the heart of the film are refreshingly positive and often charmingly funny, with nice but unpatronising details of bingo and quiz nights at the Miners’ Welfare Club while Esmee Creed Miles does a fine job with the tricky part of Pogo, a traumatised, withdrawn teenager at the centre of the community. Richard Hawley provides several original songs.

I don’t get the popular fascination with true crime these days, in films, docs and podcasts. It seems the minds of evil-doers exert a powerful, dark hold on us. The seductive performance of Zac Efron as mass murderer Ted Bundy is perhaps a clue in Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile.

That title should probably put you off, but something draws you in – wicked, evil, vile, you say? oh lovely, I’ll watch that… seriously, what’s the matter with us all? I mean, politicians now run on slogans like that title –  and they get elected.

The film, directed by true-crime specialist Joe Berlinger, is fascinated by Bundy’s appeal. He was a what you might call a very successful serial killer – brutally murdering 30 women, maybe more, across America throughout the mid-1970s.  But the director’s not alone in his fascination  – the film focuses on two women who loved Bundy throughout, totally hooked by his charismatic charms.

Liz Kendall is played by Lily Collins, hoodwinked by Ted’s protestations of his own innocence. You do feel for her, and this is a decent, vulnerable performance, as a woman who doesn’t want to admit she’s given her heart, and her little daughter, to a wrong ‘un.

Meanwhile, Kaya Scodelario plays Carole Ann Boone, also in love with Ted – a more sexually passionate connection, perhaps, leading up to a shock moment, in court, that demonstrated Bundy’s intelligence and arrogance – like the judge, played by John Malkovich, you feel it’s almost fun sparring with Bundy.

The film made me queasy, the lurid obsession with the gruesome details of the murders, the more forensic, the more gleeful.  And there’s a lot of surface style to the film, particularly in the period clothing – isn’t that just dressing up evil? 

This film isn’t smart enough to just stick with the two women and tell of their willingness to lie to themselves and believe Ted, or to fathom their attraction to him, even if he is “dreamy”. Like them, the film falls to glamourising Bundy without getting anywhere near probing his atrocious thoughts.

The human mind is indeed a fascinating and dangerous place and ripe ground for drama, a pull between good and evil, or at least getting away with whatever you can behind a facade and a smile  – but, as the women who loved Bundy showed, so is the human heart.